Small Wars Journal

What is the Counter-Daesh Strategy?: A “Cohenian” Exercise

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 6:16pm

What Is the Counter-Daesh Strategy?: A “Cohenian” Exercise

Kevin Benson

“So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”[i]

Many pundits and politicians decry America and the Obama administration’s lack of a strategy on how to deal with ISIS.  For example, Sen. John McCain, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the Obama administration is “delusional” to think it is winning the fight against these terror groups.  “I’m afraid that (White House chief of staff Denis McDonough) and the president have lost touch with reality,” McCain told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”[ii]  Accepting the political nature of this on-going scenario highlighted by the latest presidential news conference and following commentary thereon, President Obama said the United States does not have a complete plan to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), saying Baghdad needs to show a greater commitment to building a fighting force. 

“We don’t yet have a complete strategy,” Obama told reporters during a news conference at the G-7 summit of leading industrial nations in Germany.[iii]  Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings said, “our Iraq policy is solid but under resourced and flawed.  [The President] does admit distinct and emerging frailties: The anti-ISIS game plan is stumbling enough “that it risks failing,” just like our Syria policy.  “We have some serious work to do.”[iv]  The pressure for action is great.  Presidential guidance, above, remains the start point for understanding the strategy to confront Daesh.[v]

Degrade then destroy ISIL is fairly straightforward guidance.  In the February 2015 National Security Strategy the guidance changed to, “We have undertaken a comprehensive effort to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.”[vi]   I would not ask for much more than this statement as it allows plenty of freedom of action to design a strategy.  The president also put a constraint on the use of US ground forces to wit; no US troops in direct combat.  US ground forces in both Iraq and Jordan serve as trainers for Iraqi military units and selected Syrian organizations.

There are whispers among military circles, uniformed and retired we are pursuing a “Strategy by CONOP” that is a piecemeal effort built upon the perceived and real results of the effects delivered during a series of short duration contingency operations.  We are better than all of this.  After years of war I am convinced there is a strategy based on politically aware military advice which is focusing our military efforts on attaining the objectives of our policy vis-à-vis Daesh.  Using the Eliot Cohen model for 21st century strategy and only open source information I offer what I think our strategy contains.[vii]

The Cohen model of strategy, broadly stated, requires assumptions, a discussion of ends-ways-means, articulation of accepted risks, priorities, and a theory of victory.  I begin with what I believe are the extant assumptions associated with our strategy.  Assumptions take the place of facts which are necessary to continue planning.  Assumptions made must be checked because if they do not become fact then the strategy is undermined and will definitely demand a new effort.

Our assumptions appear to be; 1] coalition interests will remain in confluence, 2] basing and over flight permissions will remain in effect, 3] airstrikes will work to encourage Iraqi security forces to fight, and 4] the counter Daesh policy will remain in effect in next administration.  The first two assumptions require constant vigilance and discussion between senior US diplomats and military leaders with their counter-parts within the anti-Daesh coalition.  Sustaining a broad coalition, even one brought together by mutual revulsion of Daesh’s barbarity, requires continuous dialogue.  Diplomats and military leaders must reassure each other and most especially those front line nations directly engaged with Daesh about the solid commitment to the cause of degrading and defeating Daesh.  A rush of doubt or the development of friction points between competing interests would undermine the coalition.  A denial of overflight rights completely disrupts the delivery of aerial fires which support ground forces.  The third assumption demands constant validation and challenge.  The final assumption is a US political assumption.

The diplomatic and military efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh demands firm commitment by the US government, irrespective of which party holds the White House.  The proposed authorization for the use of military force, AUMF, currently before the Congress contains the prudent clause of a reconsideration of the effort after three years.  This period carries the AUMF into the next administration.  This is prudent as strategy must always be assessed, adjusted and reconsidered based on whether or not we are attaining our desired results.  Nonetheless this is a necessary assumption as it serves as a forcing function for our government.  Each administration must represent the will of the people regarding the application of force against the threat Daesh represents.  The application of force leads to the consideration of the relationship of the ends-ways-means of our strategy.[viii]

A discussion of ends, ways, and means is by no means a relic of 19th and 20th century strategy.  The means and ways committed to attaining our policy and strategic ends must be equal to the task.  If they are not we are limiting ourselves to a “strategy by CONOPS” and risk squandering any tactical success we attain.  Our ends are stated and unstated, in my view.

The stated end of our strategy is Daesh defeated.  The unstated ends are, 1] Iraq secure as a nation-state, 2] Iranian ambitions in the greater Middle East checked, 3] Israel reassured, 4] the Jordanian kingdom supported, and finally 5] the US position in the Middle East strengthened.  The president announced our stated end in his speech of 10 September 2014; “Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”  The unstated objectives come from an analysis of media reports, written and video.

There are two distinct theaters of operations for the counter-Daesh strategy; Iraq and Syria.  The self-proclaimed Daesh caliphate consists of territory occupied in both countries.  A stable and whole nation-state of Iraq is in the interest of the United States.  The same is true of Syria with the additional end of the Assad regime replaced.  Attaining this end requires a separate strategy but the counter-Daesh strategy contributes to attaining this goal.

Checking Iranian ambitions in the greater Middle East is a worthwhile end for our strategy.  On the one hand, in Iraq, the Iranian military contributions on the ground will assist in attaining US objectives.  On the other we must ensure Iranian “success” diminishes Iranian standing by emptying Iranian coffers of treasure and tying up Iranian conventional and unconventional military forces for an appreciable amount of time.  The final three unstated ends are obtained enroute to attaining the previously stated ends.

The Jordanians are steadfast allies and deserve our support.  Daesh provided the motivation for Jordanian participation.  US operations in support of this end must be designed as support only with clear Jordanian leadership in the fore.  Israel, rough as our relations are at the moment, also deserves our support.  The Israeli people and government must know our one of our ends is a more secure Israel.  Finally the ultimate end of our strategy must be an improved situation for the United States in the Middle East and the world.  The ways of our strategy must reach conditions which assure attaining theses ends.    

The ways of our strategy, some of them at least, were sketched out in the president’s 10 September 2014 speech.  He stated,

“First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists.”  “Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground… Across the border in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition.”  “Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks.”  “Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who’ve been displaced by this terrorist organization.”[ix]

Another “way” which must be included in the execution of our strategy is a focused inform and influence operations/campaign.  Much is made of Daesh’s social media campaign, how it uses social media to attract a flow of volunteers into Syria and Iraq which sustains its fighting strength as well as filling its coffers.  Knowing people who work in the cyber domain I am convinced we are waging counter actions in the social media.  For example two stories from Reuters, published in the Hartford Courant cite living conditions in the region held by Daesh and condemnation of Daesh by Pope Francis.  

“Services are collapsing, prices are soaring and medicines are scarce in towns and cities across the “caliphate” proclaimed in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, residents say, belying the group’s boasts that it is delivering a model form of governance for Muslims.”[x]


“Pope Francis on Thursday condemned the “brutal persecution” of minorities by Islamic State insurgents and said the joy of Christmas was marred by the suffering of children in the Middle East and around the world…He condemned Islamic State fighters who have killed or displaced Shiite Muslims, Christians, and others in Syria and Iraq who do not share the group’s ideologies…he spoke of “contemporary Herods,” with blood on their hands.”[xi]

The struggle in the cyber domain for an information high ground must be a considered part of a holistic strategy to counter Daesh.  The other “way” which must be incorporated into our strategy is the Iranian presence in Iraq.

Iranian military operations in Iraq can be useful in reaching US policy and strategic objectives.  This will not be easy but Iranian actions must be considered in our overall strategy.  Where our interests coincide our strategy must allow us to take advantage of Iranian efforts.  Where our interests are at odds, in Syria, there must be active-overt and covert-actions to frustrate Iran.  As the Chairman, JCS stated during testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, 11 March, “anything anyone does to counter IS is a "positive thing."”[xii]  The challenge in executing our strategy is ensuring success on the ground in Iraq also serves to attain US policy objectives for the country. 

Broadly stated the strategy is designed around three major lines of effort. The first, “the struggle over the legitimacy to govern, make laws, and enforce them.”  This contest is between Daesh and the legitimate Iraqi regime and the regime which follows Assad in Syria.  The second line of effort is the defense of the populations in Syria and Iraq from the barbarity of Daesh during the fighting over each community. The third line of effort is the offensive designed to defeat Daesh in occupied Iraq and Syria, literally a town-by-town and village-by-village effort.[xiii]

The means of our strategy, broadly stated, are, the US training mission in Iraq, coalition training missions in Iraq, the US training mission for Syrian resistance, Coalition air forces, and the ground forces consisting of the Iraqi military and Syrian resistance.  Information operations conducted in the cyber domain contest this space with Daesh.  We must also consider the committed air and ground forces from Iran as additional means of our strategy.

The constraints on the US missions are a fact therefore use of these means must abide by them.  There are no reports of similar constraints on the reported Canadian, German or Australian trainers.  Chances are the undoubtedly highly skilled Soldiers from these countries can perform other roles nearer the line of contact with Daesh in conjunction with Iraqi units and the pesh merga.

The available means contribute to build and maintain the coalition. The US-led Combined Joint Task Force provides an organizing framework designed to integrate capabilities and amplify coalition efforts.  The forty-plus nations contributing to the effort provide a strategic advantage.

The means of the coalition will pursue Daesh to degrade and destroy its capabilities and defeat its efforts.  On 18 December 2014 the coalition air forces conducted 1,361 air strikes.  For example the 53 precision air strikes in support of Iraqi security force operations around Sinjar and Zumar resulted in allowing Iraqi forces to regain approximately 100 square kilometers of ground from Daesh.

Coalition means work to deny Daesh safe haven and sanctuary. The coalition uses more than precision strikes, but also enables Iraqi forces to expand their areas of control on the ground.  Coalition information operations remove the opportunities for Daesh to manipulate youth, harm citizens, deny basic services and recruit fighters.[xiv]

The risks attendant to our strategy are clear.  The Syrian resistance fails to coalesce into a force effective enough to defeat Daesh AND Assad.  The pesh merga reinforces gains in Iraq and Kurdistan becomes a reality.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s interests are threatened forcing more Saudi action counter to the coalition.  Finally, Iran’s interests are threatened and the ayatollahs act to strengthen their hand in the region.

Execution of our strategy demands constant attention is paid to these array of risks and actions are adjusted to fit the needs of attaining our policy and strategic objectives.  The National Security Council clearly plays the leading role in overseeing the execution of the strategy and its military, diplomatic, informational and economic aspects.

The priorities of the strategy can suggest a strategic sequencing, as was seen by the initial focus of air operations to disrupt Daesh’s advance in Iraq.  The first priority is degrade then defeat Daesh, all efforts must support this priority.  Second are the efforts to train/support the Iraqi military and the Syrian resistance.  Finally, but certainly not the less, are the associated international and regional diplomatic efforts to sustain coalition.

Managing the efforts associated with the strategic priorities is a full time job, a statement of the obvious perhaps.  The information operations to confuse Daesh and sustain public support, American and international, must be prudently conducted.  The counter-position to prudent management is a willingness to react to opportunity as opposed to trying to adjust while executing an information plan which may not be attuned to shifting conditions.  An effort along these lines demands an extremely agile group of information specialists.  This team must operate in the depth and breadth of the cyber domain and reinforce news that harms Daesh while sustaining positive news which sustains the home fronts.   

The theory of victory, why we believe our strategy will work is not overly complicated.  The strategy plays to US strengths, Special Forces and Special Operating Forces training, air delivered precision fires, a depth of diplomatic experience over years of war in the region and a confluence of interests among the countries of the region.

A Daesh action which plays to our strength is the drive to acquire territory.  MAJ Ian Fleischmann observed,

“By ceding terrain to an ideological adversary, we grant ourselves freedom of action to reform the front in a way that is more advantageous to ourselves. In this instance, we've allowed them to coalesce into a recognizable force. In Sun Tzu's terms, the formless adversary has taken form. This gives two key advantages: First, it gives our tactical actions moral weight they didn't have in the past…Now, tactical defeats can be arranged in time and space for the purpose of manipulating ISIS morale, as defeats are clear and recognizable. Second, it has begun the process of redrawing the ideological front and shifting bases of political support.”[xv]

The barbarity of Daesh actions in ruling its “caliphate” offer stark evidence of cruelty which can be used to influence a wider audience away from supporting this group.

It is an understatement to say getting this strategy right is important.  We study the theory of strategy and its relationship to policy in staff and war colleges.  We know, “What matters most is the ultimate perception of the situation, not the facts.  And the perception will be of the effects, not the effort-there is no credit for trying hard. Different people, depending on their perspective, can legitimately differ in their assessment.”  We understand, “[W]inning a war (as opposed to a battle or campaign) is a political condition. If war is a political act, victory at the highest levels must be defined in political terms. That is a fairly uncontroversial assertion today, but one with enormous implications…The implication is that military victory (tactical or operational victory) without favorable political outcomes is sterile, and by any reasonable assessment that is true.”[xvi]

It is also true, especially for the American people we serve winning and victory goes beyond achieving an esoteric political condition.  The expectation of the people of our Republic is our Army and the joint force reach a definitive, conclusive result, a result which defeats an opponent and ensures we do not have to repeat our efforts and expend our blood and treasure, at least in the near term.  As COL (ret) Rick Sinnreich succinctly observed, Americans are accused of being war-weary. We're not war-weary - we're failure-weary.”[xvii]

End Notes

[i] Transcript Obama speech on ISIL Policy 10SEP14   September 10 at 9:37 PM

[iii] Jordan Fabian, The Hill, 06/08/15 on line

[iv] James Warren, The NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, on line, Published: Tuesday, June 9, 2015

[v] I use Daesh instead of IS, ISIS, or ISIL.  Ken Pollack of Brookings first suggested this to me and from the 9 OCT 14 Boston Globe, in an essay by Zeba Khan, “Words matter in ‘ISIS’ war, so use ‘Daesh,’ “The term “Daesh” is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, “Daesh” can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” Already, the group has reportedly threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the term.”

[vi] National Security Strategy of the United States, February 2015.  Retrieved from White blog:

[vii] T.X. Hammes mentioned a model for 21st century strategy articulated by Eliot Cohen in a 7 August 2013 essay, “Sorry, AirSea Battle Is No Strategy,” written for The National Interest.  In an exchange of personal e-mail, in 2013, the author asked Cohen further explain the model.  This essay is built upon that understanding.

[viii] On 27 April 15, at a “town-hall meeting” in Leavenworth, KS with Kansas US Senator Jerry Moran, the author asked SEN Moran when the Senate would take up the President’s proposed AUMF.  SEN Moran said there was no interest in either the White House or the Senate to take up a new AUMF.  Counter-Daesh operations will continue under the authorization of the post-9/11 AUMF of 2001.

[ix] Transcript Obama speech on ISIL Policy 10SEP14   September 10 at 9:37 PM

[x]  Title “Living Conditions Deteriorate In Seized Territory” The Hartford Courant 26 December 2014 Page A 13 Reprint of an article by Liz Sly, Washington Post

[xi] 26 December 2014 Hartford Courant Page A10  Philip Pullella Reuters

[xii] 11 March 2015 Deb Riechmann, Associated Press 

[xiii] Huba Wass de Czege, “Defeating the Islamic State: A Commentary on Core Strategy,” in Parameters 44(4) Winter 2014-15, pp. 64-65.  I am indebted to BG Wass de Czege for his review and comments on this essay.

[xiv] Drawn from the transcript of a Department of Defense Press Briefing by Lt. Gen. James Terry in the Pentagon Briefing Room, 18 December 2014, found at

[xv] Drawn from a personal e-mail to the author by MAJ Ian Fleischmann, a 2015 graduate of the Advanced Military Studies Program of the School of Advanced Military Studies.  Used with his permission.

[xvi] J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr., Chapter 7, A Theory of Victory, U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, Vol. 1: Theory of War and Strategy, pp. 92-93.

[xvii] Electronic mail note written by Rick Sinnreich, 25 February 2015 on PLANSLIST, a distribution list for the exchange of ideas on strategy, the operational art and tactics.


About the Author(s)

Kevin Benson, Ph.D., Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired, is currently a seminar leader at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He holds a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, an M.S. from The Catholic University of America, an MMAS from the School of Advanced Military Studies and a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.  During his career, COL Benson served with the 5th Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, XVIII Airborne Corps and Third U.S. Army. He also served as the Director, School of Advanced Military Studies. These are his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense.


Bill C.

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 11:38am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


If I were arguing against Korb, I would suggest that he was in the wrong "time zone" and, therefore, was making the classic "apples v. oranges" comparison mistake. For example:

a. The "time zone" we were in when the republican presidents he (Korb) discussed acted was during the Cold War, when we faced an existential threat from the former Soviet Union and communism, and when "containment" (of the Soviet/communist way of life, etc.) was our overarching strategy. (Thus, "apples.") While,

b. The "time zone" in which President Obama is acting today is that of the post-Cold War, when we no longer face such an existential threat, and when "expansion" (of our way of life, etc.) is our overarching strategy. (Thus, "oranges.")

This suggesting that states and societies one might "throw under the bus" (the Ukraine?) during the Cold War and re: "containment," you cannot "throw under the bus" in the post-Cold War world; one in which your strategy is viewed more as "expansion." (What kind of message would that send to other budding democracies?)

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 10:57am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Bill--looks like Obama will be having his cognitive dissonance moment far faster than he even thought possible.

BREAKING--if true and this is the first mention in social media and not confirmed by any other means---THEN Russia forces are about to cross the demarcation line in a formal Russian offensive.

Urgent talks on #Ukraine in Normandy format is scheduled for Friday evening…] …

In one full year there never has been such an urgent meeting by the Normandy Four.

So if war is fully underway in the coming hours--what is then the "strategy"???

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 9:10am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill--my core argument and it has not changed for over a year now--regardless of how many WH smokescreens are thrown up--there is absolutely no "Obama strategies anywhere to be seen".

If we though define "legacy and hope" as strategies then I guess he has some.

From a Russian article today----sometimes "foreigners" understand US Presidents far better than they themselves understand themselves.

But regardless of whether Illarionov or Oleshchuk is correct, it is certain, Liliya Shevtsov writes, that Putin “will expect gratitude” from Obama for his “assistance” in allowing the US president to achieve his “dream.” And she suggests that such gratitude could take a variety of forms (

Among them are such issues as missile defense in Europe, a possible international tribunal on the downing of the Malaysian jetliner, and “finally on the war in Ukraine.” Consequently, “we shall see [in the near future] whether interests or principles predominate in American policy.”

Shevtsova does not say, but one could add the ancient observation that gratitude is often not a powerful motivating force but the expectation of gratitude is – and if Putin believes he has a right to that, he may act in ways now that he would not have before Obama gave his interview to the New York Times.

We call this "3rd and 4th order of effects in the military world or in the political world--"unintended consequences".

The pressure applied by Nuland yesterday on the Ukraine during their decentralization debate and her later attempt at walking back her oblivious pressure was I think the second indicator that Obama is "showing his gratitude" and that is dangerous for American foreign policy.

Having a direct back channel connection to Putin and not involving the Ukraine in the ongoing discussions is the first serious indicator and that was several weeks ago.

BUT how will Obama react if in fact the Russian general offensive which has started actually crosses the demarcation line with a rolling tank attack--"what will his gratitude then look like then???"--see the inherent cognitive dissonance at work?

Bill--BTW the bus this time sits in Central Europe and is the core to Putin's three critical geo political goals he has openly stated he wants to achieve AND there is in effect an ongoing war whether we want to call it that or not--militaries are fighting,dying and civilians are getting killed as well and we have a Russian invasion force of 12K with over 700 tanks sitting inside eastern Ukraine --that 25 years after the Wall.

So again why is there such a disconnect between the DoD senior leadership and the WH/DoS over what is the more critical threat to US security??

This disconnect between civilian and military decision makers has never been this bad in the last 50 years.

Bill C.

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 5:21pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


In the "JapanToday" article provided below, Lawrence Korb (former Assistant Secretary of Defense - Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics -- from 1981 to 1985 during President Reagan's first administration?) points to:

a. The republican-like pattern that he sees re: President Obama's national security strategy today. And to:

b. How President Nixon, back in his day, threw Taiwan under the bus; this, so as to achieve his (President Nixon's) larger national security goals and objectives.

(Korb uses numerous other examples and comparisons -- re: other republican presidents -- to support his thesis.)…


Outlaw 09

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 1:32pm

Legacy built on hope does not make a strategy--more and more pundits in Europe are openly questioning--did in fact Obama throw the Ukraine under the bus just to get Russia support in Iran and Syria when in front of Obama Russia has been doing deals with Iran and Syria--the latest is delivering gas from the Crimea to Syria.

Obama on 08.02.14:“Russia's a regional power.”Obama on 07.15.15:“We arent gonna solve problems in Syria unless there’s buyin from Russians.”

CNN: Obama, Putin congratulate each other for Iran deal

And here from Saudi newspaper AAS: Opinion: Iran nuclear deal opens the gates of evil in the Middle East:…

Saudi prince: Iran deal worse than one with N. Korea via @AlArabiya_Eng

Move Forward

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 9:59pm

Retired Colonel Benson said this a while back in another SWJ article:

<blockquote>Not being too badly wrong demands that the general-purpose forces in the active component of the Army be balanced forces: armored, infantry and motorized brigades, led by division headquarters in combined arms teams. The proposed floor and ceiling numbers of the standing Army must afford the nation the ability to respond to a range of crises from hurricane relief to firefighting, raids to war in a distant theater. 

I assert the best guarantor of deterrence is a balanced and capable team of land forces with both general purpose and special operations units. The challenge to this statement is the unstated assumption which has been around for a number of years, the U.S. technological edge will continue to enable the U.S. military to conduct swift, nearly bloodless, and tactically decisive campaigns. Reliance on improved technologies will enable “frictionless war.”

The trouble with this thinking is without links to strategic and policy objectives tactical success is squandered. We choose to forget that reason without passion is impotent, that our adversaries are rational actors from their frame of reference and they want to win just as much as we do. Small numbers of special operating forces and precision guided munitions will not guarantee the attainment of policy objectives under all conditions.</blockquote>

Someone correct me if I'm reading it wrong, but doesn't the gist of the above quoted section of his earlier article conflict with statements in his current effort quoted below? If, as he stated earlier, the best guarantor of <I>deterrence</I> is a balanced and capable team of land forces with both general purpose and special operations units, does it not follow that for actual decisive action involving offense, defense, and stability operations that the same kind of balanced force would work best?:

<blockquote>The theory of victory, why we believe our strategy will work is not overly complicated. The strategy plays to US strengths, Special Forces and Special Operating Forces training, air delivered precision fires, a depth of diplomatic experience over years of war in the region and a confluence of interests among the countries of the region.

A Daesh action which plays to our strength is the drive to acquire territory. MAJ Ian Fleischmann observed,

“By ceding terrain to an ideological adversary, we grant ourselves freedom of action to reform the front in a way that is more advantageous to ourselves. In this instance, we've allowed them to coalesce into a recognizable force. In Sun Tzu's terms, the formless adversary has taken form. This gives two key advantages: First, it gives our tactical actions moral weight they didn't have in the past...Now, tactical defeats can be arranged in time and space for the purpose of manipulating ISIS morale, as defeats are clear and recognizable. Second, it has begun the process of redrawing the ideological front and shifting bases of political support.”[xv]

The barbarity of Daesh actions in ruling its “caliphate” offer stark evidence of cruelty which can be used to influence a wider audience away from supporting this group.</blockquote>

It's easy to understand how combined arms maneuver could squash ISIL's now "recognizable force," arrange tactical defeats rapidly at the time and place of our choosing, AND stabilize and transition afterwards. I also recall another article somewhere where COL Benson spoke of the lack of planning for a stability operations force in OIF planning. He seemed to think a post "mission-accomplished" phase was important at the time. Why is it not important now in Iraq and Syria and how does he envision a Shiite or Alawite military and government stabilizing a Sunni population in either Iraq or Syria? Obviously, he envisions a Sunni government in Syria but where does that leave the current army and minority population? Dead?

He talks of Assad leaving power, but what are we doing to facilitate that transfer of power in any kind of rapid manner as Sunnis continue to be slaughtered breeding more support for ISIL? The final sentence in COL Benson's quote above speaks of evidence of cruelty yet Assad's unhalted barrel bombs and use of chemical weapons walks the walk of cruelty in a manner Sunnis must clearly recognize. They know the U.S. has the airpower to stop such bombing and defeat the Syrian air force and air defenses, yet we do nothing??

In addition, it has become fairly clear that ISIL cruelty is actually a pretty effective recruitment tool, and thus not a MISO win in pointing it out. Nor is a quote from the Catholic Pope likely to sway Islamic extremists or even rank and file Muslims.

Finally, there is this statement:

<blockquote>The means of the coalition will pursue Daesh to degrade and destroy its capabilities and defeat its efforts. On 18 December 2014 the coalition air forces conducted 1,361 air strikes. For example the 53 precision air strikes in support of Iraqi security force operations around Sinjar and Zumar resulted in allowing Iraqi forces to regain approximately 100 square kilometers of ground from Daesh.</blockquote>

Suspect he meant that as of 18 December 2014, a <strong>total</strong> of 1,361 air strikes had occurred. 53 airstrikes at many points represented as many as 5 days of strikes which is hardly going to degrade or destroy ISIL. 100 square kilometers is 10 km by 10 km or 6.2 miles by 6.2 miles for the civilians out there. That is hardly impressive in contrast to what combined arms maneuver of an armored ground force could achieve in terms of terrain seized and controlled.

Call me puzzled, but I can't fathom why retired COL Benson appears to be defending the lack of an effective strategy and is sugarcoating its effectiveness. If a <strong>stable</strong> Iraq and Syria is a desired end state, how can that possibly be achieved by a Shiite-led, Shiite militia, and Iranian force in Iraq and by 60 vetted Sunnis in Syria? We won't be there to lead the stability operation and we think this rag tag, unmotivated coalition of the unwilling is up to the task? There is barely much reference to the Kurd pesh merga but it has become pretty clear that they want their own state and that is in conflict with desires of Iraq, Syria's, and Turkey's government. At some point, the fighting will continue between Sunnis for control of Syria, genocide of Alawites is possible, and Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites will continue to fight given the absence of effective stability forces and no stated end state of new borders.

I guess given the disconnects in COL Benson's past co-written article about a South Carolina town's takeover by right wing elements that we should not be overly surprised by the lack of logic exhibited in this new effort. We saw decisive action by that state's governor and legislature to take down the Confederate flag. We witnessed massive unanimity in support for the black families of the fallen there and condemnation of the racist killer. Guess reality in South Carolina differed just as reality on the ground in Iraq and Syria differs from current solutions that this administration (and retired COL Benson?) continues to adhere to.

"The stated end of our strategy is Daesh defeated. The unstated ends are, 1] Iraq secure as a nation-state, 2] Iranian ambitions in the greater Middle East checked, 3] Israel reassured, 4] the Jordanian kingdom supported, and finally 5] the US position in the Middle East strengthened."

While I would agree that the stated end of our strategy is Daesh defeated, I would suggest that the unstated end is the transformation of the states and societies of the Middle East more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

In this "transformational" light only to understand how our national leaders expect to be able to (from the author's final paragraph above) "reach a definitive, conclusive result, a result which defeats an opponent and ensures we do not have to repeat our efforts and expend our blood and treasure, at least in the near term."

Strategies whose objective is simply to degrade and destroy ISIL (or, for that matter, simply degrade and destroy AQ) are thought to be only "Whack-A-Mole" exercises and, thus:

a. Not something that will get at the "root cause" of the problem and, therefore,

b. Something that will have to be repeated over and over again ad infinitum.

This "root cause of the problem" being thought to be that the states and societies of the Middle East have not "developed"/"evolved" as have other countries and cultures of the modern world; this, by these Middle Eastern states and societies embracing, as have many/most of their modern-day cousins, secularism and western uniformity as their dominant ordering principles.

The fact that various important nations throughout the world appear to be "backsliding" (Russia, Turkey, etc.?) does not bode well for our being able to address these "root cause" problems; in Iraq, Syria and, indeed, elsewhere.

This suggesting that, for the time being at least, "Whack-A-Mole" may be the only game in town.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 7:48am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

If such a great deal when why the WH efforts to end run Congress who is asking some rather concise questions as the deal is full of major holes---when one goes "legacy" nothing else counts.

BREAKING/@AP: In attempt to end-run Congress, WH to introduce UN resolution on Iran agreement this Wednesday…

Why the end run--no strategy that can be used to defend the deal.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 3:04pm

Confirms that there are really no strategies to speak of these days---

"Hadley on NSC's 'bandwidth problem': Cold War had 1-2 big crises, now so many crises at once can't put strategies into place."

So for the lack of strategies the NSC and this President is what--
"winging it" ???????

What happened to good old fashion "multi tasking" should be possible at their level and salaries?

Even college students do it.

Second reason we are in urgent need of a strategic Russian strategy and yet this NSC and Obama have none--

So exactly why has Obama backed himself out of the picture--because it does not lend itself to creating a favorable "legacy".


Hadley: Europe cannot manage by itself 'this kind of Russia' & Europe needs help to succeed #ACStrategy



Even if we don't want to be in a war with Putin, he's in one with us. Time for Europe to start thinking strategically

NOTE--time for the US civilian leadership as well to wake up.

Wonder if the NSC and Obama have heard of the "whole of government approach" to strategy????

"How can NSC be more effective? .@stavridisj: We need to integrate combatant commanders. They should be led by civilians." #ACStrategy

Outlaw 09

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 10:44am

Interesting that Obama threatens a veto if Congress does not go along with him--even more interesting last week that it was leaked that a major dark fund group supporting the WH has in fact threatened Democratic congressmen/women in withholding campaign funding if they vote against the President.

SO just again addressed to the author where is the clear concise national level strategic UW strategy from this President.

There is a saying out of Iraq--"does one have blood on his hands" Iran has a lot of American blood on their hands and that since 1979 and this President seems to think that being moderate towards the IRGC will actually modify their actions is either a fool and or knows nothing of the IRGC.

So again just exactly where is this so called strategy for dealing with IS
BECAUSE dealing with Is means dealing with Iran and at the same time Russia and we have not done well with both.

Matter of fact where is any national level strategic strategy????

Obama while only thinking of his "legacy" has opened Pandora's box in ways not seen in the ME in the last 50 years.

Check the Saudi initial statements--and that tone I personally have not heard in the recent 50 years of Me politics.

#saudi source to @BeckyCNN #IranDeal is "charade," US made "monumental historical miscalculation" - Will be met by "strong #Saudi response"

John Schindler @20committee
Remember when those crazy RWNJs said Obama wanted to empower Iran while burnishing his legacy, no matter the consequences? Yeah, that ....

Tom Nichols @RadioFreeTom
No one should be surprised at #IranDeal. The US wanted a deal in the worst way, and that's exactly how we got it.

Best analysis on Iran deal here by @AnshelPfeffer

Rouhani: "they wanted us to have 100 centrifuges now we will have 6000. They wanted restrictions of 25 years now we its 8" @ThomasErdbrink

Obama believes deal will moderate Iran & curb Nuke & IRGC activities - he has all the evidence he doesn't want

The text of the deal differs greatly fm what the President said - for one there is no 24-7 access to key facilities

Michael Weiss @michaeldweiss
This is why the Pentagon isn't popping the Bollinger: Lawsuit alleges Iran directed killing of US soldiers in Iraq

It is disheartening that the admin was talking about executing a CT strategy against an organization that even at the time was a governing power in much of Syria and a not insignificant portion of Iraq.

Air strikes, tier 1 raids, and training disparate groups of fighters to conduct conventional attacks to seize aren't going to pose an existential threat to IS any longer. We aren't just fighting a terrorist army, we are attempting to overthrow a governing power and we aren't willing to publicly commit ground troops to combat missions. UW seems like the only politically palatable way forward.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 9:30am

Maybe the author needs to rework his thesis on the Obama strategy for IS---as I have indicated there has never been a clearly stated concise understandable national level strategic UW strategy which is what IS is using.

Nor has there been a clearly stated UW strategic strategy for Iran, China and Russia from this President.

AND if the comments are anything below I am not the only one seeing a massive "gap" in no strategies whatsoever other than "legacy".

Would suggest the author rework his thesis from the view that what is the position of DoD if there is not declared open and clear strategy as right now there is a strong disconnect from the current JCoS and the incoming JCoS and this President---at a level never seen before.

When NYT compares #IranDeal to Nixon's strategic opening to China in 1971 in the very first sentence....get worried.…

BREAKING: #Iran deal will fuel global 'nuclear arms race:' US House speaker Boehner – AFP

Russia sees in the Iran and Greece deals signed this weak much to be pleased with: the decline of EU and U.S. power.

Executive Order 13572 of April 29, 2011 #Syria human rights sanctions still covers IRGC, Quds, Soleimani

Max Boot @MaxBoot
Obama has great Mideast track record: Libya, Egypt, Israeli-PA peace process, Syria, Iraq, Yemen. So we can trust his assurances on Iran...

John Schindler @20committee
Worst consequences of #IranDeal will hit after Jan 2017 - so #YOLO, amirite? Enjoy "peacemaker" photo ops now, leave the bad stuff to others

Nuke issues aside, this +150B cash infusion+arms embargo lift in 5yrs has makings of a complete disaster

NOTICE—the arms embargo lift was a “gift” from Obama to Putin and yet what has Putin done for the Minsk 2 agreement—totally ignored it.

Hm……Russia TV states that it is on the onus of the P5+1 to comply with the agreement AND Iran goes “free” how is that??????

One thing this President is not --that is aggressive and he has never served a day in a military uniform nor has been physically and directly involved in actually dealing with Khomeini and his declared Islamic revolution.

I am not exactly sure he even knows what he wants in the ME nor how to articulate it.

Right now the US appears to many in the ME as the stumbling bumbling elephant in a china shop.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 6:52am

Ah... the rule of unintended consequences or 3rd/4th order of effects as part of negotiations.

1. Iranian national TV selling this agreement as a great victory over the US and it's ME allies and demand that Israel also be placed into the agreement.

2. Khamenei stated yesterday that the US is arrogant and that he and his government will continue to fight that "arrogance"--AND we all know what that means.

3. From the Russian FM today----
Russia FM Lavrov says with Iran deal signed he'll hold Obama to his word of no need for Europe missile defense. "We expect a reaction."

The 2009 Obama remarks that Lavrov says mean no missile defense. Is Iran threat "eliminated?"… …

4. Iranian national TV openly stating that Iran is now a full member of the nuclear powers with full enrichment rights--notice the number of centrifuges 6400 or so are allowed for ten years BUT the agreement only goes for eight--how strange is that???? So who controls what the remaining two years??????

5. The #IranDeal lifts sanctions on #Iran's IRGC Qods Force as well as commander Qasem Soleimani. Will be controversial…

Nice to see Obama being "told" by Russia what to do and nice to "see how the US is fighting Iranian terrorism by the IRGC.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 6:02am

In reply to by Outlaw 09…
But access at will to any site would not necessarily be granted and even if so, could be delayed, a condition that critics of the deal are sure to seize on as possibly giving Tehran time to cover any sign of non-compliance with its commitments.

Under the deal, Tehran would have the right to challenge the U.N request and an arbitration board composed of Iran and the six world powers that negotiated with it would have to decide on the issue. UNQUOTE

Now the social media take on the announcement—which if anything shows us just how badly this agreement is –if true then a single disputed visit can take up to how many years of “debate” to reach a “decision”—and this is not “legacy at work--meaning I get something for the history books and the next President can kick the can down the road”?????

"Instead of limiting Iran's ambitions for fueling wars & conflicts in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq & Lebanon, we reward it with a nuclear deal and 150B USDs."

As an example of how desperate this "legacy" made the DoS and Obama---take the concept of "free and unhindered access to nuclear sites--the mantra of this President-- what did we get "managed access" and it is definitely not "free".

I will venture a statement here --we have actually today with this announcement seen the creation of a new nuclear power regardless of just how the White House spins it. The nuclear race will now begin in the Me and there are players with money who can drive it.

Just as there is no strategy for Iraq there is no strategy for Russia.

AND as it is with Iraq--just what is the national strategic level strategy for Russia that is clear, concise and coherent?

NSDC of Ukraine ✔ @NSDC_ua
Situation on frontline escalates. Number of ceasefire violations grows & more cases of heavy weapons use.
NOTE: there is a .pdf tied to this link

Friday 10 July 2015

Research Paper 117:

"Russia's 2014 Military Doctrine and beyond: threat perceptions, capabilities and ambitions", by Polina Sinovets and Bettina Renz.

In this latest paper by the NATO Defense College, two experts on Russia deconstruct Russia’s December 2014 military doctrine and ask a key question: To what extent does this new doctrine add anything substantially new to the understanding of contemporary Russian politics? Although on the surface the 2014 doctrine does not differ significantly from its previous versions, the devil is in the details—and the details in this case are not very reassuring. The main theme of the doctrine is rivalry with the West, which Moscow politely calls “equitable cooperation” whilst avoiding the word “partnership.”
The doctrine was written to influence two audiences: internal and external.

The 2014 doctrine, in comparison to its predecessor, stands out for emphasizing domestic threats to national security. Such threats include destabilisation of the political situation, including terrorist activities as well as outside political influence on Russia’s population.

For foreign audiences the message also appears to be quite clear. Changes made since the 2010 version explain Russia’s vital concerns vis-a-vis its neighbourhood, which are discussed under both headings of military dangers and military threats. The implication of the latter is to show potential adversaries, including NATO, that intervention in Russia’s neighbourhood could, in certain circumstances, be interpreted by Russia as a casus belli. Overall, the 2014 doctrine gives an impression of deja-vu, and harks back to the great power doctrines of the past. In the manner of the Monroe doctrine, it sends Western powers the message that Russia’s neighbourhood should be regarded as its sphere of influence, which Moscow is ready to defend, if necessary by all means. The implicit concern in the doctrine over the threat to Kremlin-friendly regimes in neighbouring states is like a modern version of the Brezhnev doctrine, where direct military intervention is camouflaged by hybrid war-type activity.

The successful use of hybrid tactics in Crimea and to an extent in eastern Ukraine has been the Kremlin’s most successful military endeavour in the past two decades for those states that Russia considers to be a part of its sphere of vital interests, this is a major concern, especially since those outside of the NATO alliance do not have the capacity to stand up against such approaches alone. Improving conventional capabilities and strong nuclear posture will only exacerbate such fears, as they deter any powerful actor or nation from interfering in conflicts in Russia’s neighbourhood.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 5:23am

Regardless of the number of quoted references--there is still not a single clear, coherent actionable national UW strategic strategy that allows for the development of a tactical strategy to counter the various UW strategies of IS, Iran, China and Russia.

Instinct tells me there will never been one as this NCA and his NSC do not want to be "locked in" and have placed too much emphasis on "talking ie soft power".

All the while Assad just keeps on barrel bombing and using chemical barrel bombs against his own civil society, the Shia just keep on killing Sunni's even if they do not support IS, and the Russians just keep on shelling the Ukrainians.

All the while this Administration is interested in one single thing--"their legacy" and as we all know "legacy" is not a strategy.

If the last week has shown us anything --it is this---more emphasis has been placed on the Iranian negotiations to the point of compromising one's own publicly and repeatedly stated limits, the US is more interested in resolving a 100 year long Greek poor governance problem (meaning they love spending OPM and OOPM and have for 100 years never really paid back any major loans) than finding a serious solution for the Ukraine.

Especially since one country is a ways away from a single nuclear weapon and another country constantly threatens us with using hundreds of tactical nukes.

How strange is that????