Small Wars Journal

The Long War: Four Views

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:29pm

The Long War: Four Views

Joseph J. Collins

While the Long War continues to march, four new books have presented challenging and sometimes contradictory conclusions about the war and its lessons for the future.  This review essay looks at: the memoir of a Secretary of Defense, a recent RAND study, the cri de coeur of a retired general, and the memoir of a combat veteran and leading coindinista.  What follows is not just a review essay, but also an exploration of lessons encountered, but not yet learned.  It ends with a call for help from the Small Wars Journal readership.

Robert Gates’s memoir, Duty: the Memoirs of a Secretary at War made tremendous splash[1] for its hard-but-fair critique of two Presidents, the firing of a few generals, its blow-by-blow description of the battle inside the Pentagon to improve support to war-fighters, and, surprise to many, the emotional bond that this tough secretary forged with the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Lost in the many great vignettes and secretarial sea stories is the fact that the last chapter of this book, “Reflections,” is a mini-war college, full of the kind of wisdom that can only come from years of strategic analysis, and a world class resume: Deputy National Security Advisor, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, President of Texas A&M, and Secretary of War for two Presidents with vastly different styles and priorities.  Gates’s take-aways are a short-course in strategy for future leaders.

Gates defends the Surges in Iraq and Afghanistan and lauds Presidents Bush and Obama for commanding and not just presiding over the Armed Forces.  Gates criticizes “more and more senior officers” who “seek a high public profile and … speak out, often on politically sensitive issues or even on matters beyond their area of responsibility (not to mention, expertise)” (p. 575).  His negative examples are Admiral Fox Fallon and General Stan McChrystal, both of whom were fired for their untimely and unfortunate statements.  At the same time, Gates praises General David Petraeus, a master communicator, for letting improving operational results in Iraq drive his command’s strategic communications.  He also lauds Admiral Mullen and General Peter Pace, his JCS chairmen, for their support. 

Gates highlighted an important problem for future senior officers: dealing with the Congress.  The dysfunctional legislature could not pass in a timely manner any of the five defense budgets that he sent up to the Hill.  He characterized the U.S. Congress as “uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling its basic constitutional responsibilities…micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, often putting self (and reelection) before country…” (p. 581). While condemning the polarization in the Congress, he reminded his successors to be bi-partisan and respect individual members. He credits his senior aide, Robert Rangel, a former HASC staffer, with keeping him sane and focused in congressional relations, but the Secretary concluded that the Congress “was just another battlefield in my wars” (p. 581).

A recent RAND study by Linda Robinson, Paul Miller, John Gordon IV, et al. has caught the attention of many strategists.  Lead author, Linda Robinson is an experienced combat journalist with a few books on the long war to her credit.[2] The new RAND study, Improving Strategic Competence:  Lessons from 13 Years of War, was prepared for the US Army’s Special Operations Command.[3]  ARSOC is led by an unusually thoughtful officer, Lieutenant General Charles T. Cleveland, USA (ARSOC). He and his command have made it their mission to learn from conflict and improve their understanding of the human domain and irregular conflict.  The RAND study built on the now well-known, Decade of War study from the Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis (JCOA) Division of the Joint Staff’s J-7.  While the JCOA study focused on the operational level, the RAND study focused on problems of strategy and planning.  RAND’s findings were:

  • The making of national security strategy has suffered from a lack of understanding and application of strategic art.
  • An integrated civilian-military process is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of effective national security strategy.
  • Because military operations take place in the political environment of the state in which the intervention takes place, military campaigns must be based on a political strategy.
  • Because of the inherently human and uncertain nature of war, technology can’t substitute for socio-cultural, political, and historical knowledge and understanding.
  • Interventions should not be conducted without a plan to conduct stability operations, capacity building, transition, and if necessary counterinsurgency.
  • Shaping, influence and unconventional operations may be cost-effective ways of addressing conflict that obviate the need for larger, costlier interventions.
  • The joint force requires nonmilitary and multinational partners, as well as structures for coordinated implementation among agencies, allies, and international organizations.[4]

Like Gates’s book, the RAND study noted the problem of civilian and military friction in strategic decision-making, as well as the difficulty of integrating war plans and national plans.  In particular, it contrasted the military’s linear approach to strategy development with the civilian decision-makers need for an iterative process and an active dialogue.  The RAND study recommends educating civilian policymakers and developing an integrated civilian-military process for strategy development (p. xvii).  It also recommends more civilian presence at appropriate echelons of command (p. xix).  At the same time, the study notes that many relevant interagency capabilities are shrinking or have never fulfilled their promises (p. 118).  Indeed, in my view, as the long war grinds on, the drive toward whole of government solutions and civilian expeditionary capabilities, which peaked in the second Bush administration, has faltered.  Many experts talk about the importance of whole of government solutions and unity of effort, but few officials are doing anything about it.  Its roots in the State Department were always shallow, and many in the Pentagon are happy to return to their preoccupation with high-tech conventional warfare.  Improving whole of government efforts are the least of their worries.

A thread that runs through both the JCOA study and the RAND study is yet another repetition of U.S forces not understanding the operational environment and the people who live there.  This is a particularly difficult problem for a global power with global responsibilities. LTG Cleveland and his command are right to be focused on the human domain.  More on this, below.

While Gates’s book and the RAND study focus on strategy and the civilian-military interface, Army Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger’s book focuses on generals, military advice, and life in the combat zone from the foxhole to the four-star command post.  The title of the book reveals its conclusions:  Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.[5] This book demands attention.  Bolger fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq and has an excellent reputation.  He also has a talented pen, a few books under his belt, and a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. 

In Bolger’s assessment, we did lots of things right in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We adapted quickly, used the Guard and Reserve, increased the active force when it became necessary, rotated forces by units, had great equipment, learned to fuse real-time intelligence and special operations, showed an admirable level of restraint,  fought well at the tactical level, and after a slow start, successfully trained two foreign armies (pp. 424-427). The problem was that on the military side, “above that tactical excellence yawned a howling waste” (p. 428).

The war required a way to use a tactically superb force to contain and attrit terrorist adversaries. In this, America’s generals failed. We found ourselves impaled and bogged down in not one, but two Middle Eastern countries, and this on the best advice of educated, experienced senior military men and women who had all studied Vietnam in their service schools.  Over time, piece by piece, the generals recommended slogging onward … Absent a realistic campaign concept in both countries, wars of attrition developed. Some saw it as a failure of imagination (p. 428).

Bolger argues that we should have pursued “short, decisive conventional wars for limited ends…” (p. 429).  While his observations are often spot on, his recommendations make little sense.  Bolger would have had US forces leave soon after the seizure of Kabul and Baghdad.   How soon and in what manner, he never says. In my view, if the United States had left quickly in these two cases, disaster would have followed.  If we left Baghdad in the summer or 2003, we would have left behind chaos in the form of an emerging insurgency.  In Kabul, it would have been worse: the Taliban and al Qaeda would have moved back into the vacuum, with their leadership laughing at how the United States had once again kicked the furniture and then went home.  These campaigns have been long hard slogs, but the notion that we could have succeeded by just departing after the conventional fight is wishful, to say the least.

Bolger criticizes the creativity of U.S. generals. While he admired the Iraq surge, he gave credit for it to a retired Army general, Jack Keane. In the case of the Afghanistan surge, he said that the inadequate options that the uniformed leaders gave the President were “some, more, and even more” forces.  In truth, on the Iraq Surge, a highly successful operation, the President did overrule his two generals in the field, but if you look at the big picture, that was not a failure of generalship, but the success of the Commander-in-Chief, his cabinet, an adaptive Joint Chiefs, and the new commanders, all of whom learned, shaped, and carried out a new Presidential intent.[6]  Bolger remains a skeptic on the Army’s new fascination “with the shiny objects of counterinsurgency theory.” He believes that, even before the manual came out, its tenets “had been tried and found wanting” (p. 429).  

Bolger’s book raises important questions, but has three major faults.  First, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over.  No matter how hard or prolonged the slog, it is wrong to say that we lost conflicts that clearly have not ended.  Secondly, he fails to examine the full course of Washington decision-making.  Generals may make campaign plans, but war plans are decided on by Presidents and managed by cabinet officers and the Joint Chiefs.  The Gates book and the RAND study are both right to focus on Washington as the centerpiece of the decision-making struggles.  Finally, the bulk of Bolger’s book --- nearly 90 percent of it --- is a well written narrative of soldiers and officers at war.  He has a terrific pen, a wonderful narrative style, and an eye for military detail. The sum of his chapters, however, does not add up to the conclusions of his book.  It is refreshing to see a general officer demand accountability from himself and his peers, but, in my view, the ‘failure of the generals’ fails as a thematic explanation for the Long war. 

The last book in this quartet is an interesting book because the author, John Nagl, was a scholar, a counterinsurgency (COIN) practitioner, an educator, and later, an important participant in the development of the new COIN doctrine.  Nagl’s first book produced a popular text that took its title in part from a famous T.E. Lawrence saying about the difficulty of counterinsurgency:  Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.[7]  His new memoir riffed off the title of his first book:  Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice.[8]       

Nagl, an armor officer, was an early convert to the importance of counterinsurgency, long before the war in Iraq.  As a battalion operations officer there, his unit fought as dismounted infantry against insurgents in Iraq’s al Anbar province. Nagl, who left the Army after a stateside battalion command, saw the fruition of his beliefs in COIN --- “the proof of concept” (p. 151) --- in the Iraq surge.  Afghanistan, however, proved a tougher nut to crack.  There was no “awakening” there to match the positive effects of Iraq, and Team Obama announced the end-date of the surge in Afghanistan before it began. As the U.S. and NATO combat mission ends in Afghanistan, Nagl the scholar reminds the reader that “great powers lose small wars for only one reason: they run out of will to continue the fight.” He recommends the continued presence of an advisory and assistance force to insure the survival of the Afghan regime and prevent a Taliban victory. 

Nagl believes, as Linda Robinson and her co-authors do, that future wars are more likely to be irregular conflicts than conventional fights.  Contemporary history surely bears out their observation.  He joins the critics of the American way of counterinsurgency in reminding the reader that COIN, an operational concept, is not a policy objective.  Rather, the national interest provides our goal.  Nagl writes:

The question is not whether the classical counterinsurgency principles of clear, hold, and build work … The question is whether the extraordinary investment of time, blood, and treasure required to make them work is worth the cost. The answer to that question depends on the value of long-term stability in the country afflicted by an insurgency, and that answer varies with time and place (p. 215).

In all, Nagl’s book is a valuable addition to the literature on the long war. It is doubly so for the inclusion of his poem, “Ghost Stories,” expressing the haunted memory of his fallen comrades.  Nagl reminds the reader of the need to take care of our volunteer-veterans who have borne so heavy a burden for more than 13 years.

These four disparate books demonstrate that as we learn about the Long War, there will be a number of key issues that will dog us for the next few decades.  The Long War has come with a high price tag:  a trillion and a half dollars and over 50,000 U.S. military casualties.  At the thirteen year point, it appears less a problem to be solved than a condition to be managed.  At the same time, this war has the potential to be a great teacher on the strategic lessons associated with decision-making, the character of contemporary conflict, and civil military relations.   Here are just a few observations suggested by my own research on this subject and echoed in some or all of these four books:

• Military participation in national decision making is necessary but inherently problematic. Part of this comes from normal and functional civil-military tension, but many instances in the Long War show unnecessary misunderstandings.  Civilian national security decision-makers must improve their understanding of the complexity of military strategy and the military’s need for planning guidance.  At the same time, senior military officers in particular need to provide comprehensive sets of feasible options to solve national security problems.  As noted in the RAND study reviewed here, while the military favors a comprehensive and linear process, civilian decision-makers look for an iterative process and a continuing dialog.  Bolger reminded us that the senior-most generals and admirals failed to offer a full range of options for the Afghan surge. 

• Neither national nor military intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan was a complete success in supporting decision-makers.  Intelligence on Afghanistan itself was scant and initially not actionable.  In Iraq, pre-war intelligence was wrong about WMD, the Iraqi police, and the state of Iraqi infrastructure.  In both wars, U.S. intelligence failed in telling battle space owners about the people whom they were protecting. The effects of these shortcomings were grave. 

• As Bolger noted, the greatest accomplishment in intelligence came in the intimate relationship that developed between special operations forces and all-source intelligence.  While there was often faulty execution or mis-coordination in raids, the excellence in blending operations and intelligence should serve as a model for national level decision-makers and conventional forces.  At the same time, efforts to bridge the gap between conventional and special operations forces must continue, a fact recognized by the RAND study reviewed here. 

• Neither national level figures nor field commanders fully understood the operational environment, including the human aspects of military operations.   To fight, in Rupert Smith’s term, “war among the people,” one must first understand them.[9]  We were not intellectually prepared for the unique aspects of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, just as we failed at the same requirement in Vietnam. Efforts to solve this problem --- human terrain teams and the Af-Pak Hands Program, for example --- came too little and too late.  Moreover, these efforts were inorganic adaptations, something apart from the normal unit activities.  This devalued their potential contributions.  The intelligence system was of little help here.  The need for information aggregation stands as an equal to classical all-source intelligence.  This problem calls for a whole array of fixes from improving language training, pre-deployment training, area expertise, and reforming the intelligence/information apparatuses.  The Army’s regionally aligned forces concept appears to be a step in the right direction.  The renewed emphasis on the human domain and the human aspects of military operations must be reinforced and sustained over time.

• When conventional warfare skills were called for, the U.S. Armed Forces achieved A+ results. At the same time, the military was insensitive to needs of the post-conflict environment and not prepared well for insurgency in either country.  Our lack of preparation for dealing with irregular conflicts was the result of a post-Vietnam organizational blind spot.  Military performance improved over time. Indeed, field-level innovation on counterinsurgency showed an admirable capacity for learning and innovation.  Furthermore, the development of the Army and Marine Corps doctrine on counterinsurgency, and its inculcation of the doctrine in the force was an excellent example of systemic adaptation under fire. The doctrine for COIN and stability operations needs revision, and this work is well underway.

• A prudent great power should avoid being a third party in a large-scale counterinsurgency.  Foreign expeditionary forces in another country’s insurgency have almost always failed.  At the same time, it should also be remembered that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did not begin as insurgencies, but evolved in that direction.  It is not possible for a super power to disregard the possibility of future large-scale COIN or Stability Operation.  The Armed Forces must be ready for combat across the spectrum of conflict, and irregular wars on the low end of the spectrum will remain the most frequent form of conflict that they encounter.

• Another salient issue in irregular conflicts is the question of sanctuary.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, our enemies exploited base areas in adjacent countries.  This presents the United States with a dilemma.  Does the United States violate international understandings about the sanctity of borders, or does it suffer the slings and arrows that come from letting your enemy have secure bases to attack you?  Pakistan has proven to be a particularly difficult case. 

• Wars that involve regime change are likely to be protracted conflicts.  They require a substantial, patient, and prudent international effort to bring stability and foster reconstruction, especially in the wake of weak, corrupt, or failed states. These exercises in armed nation-building are complex, uncertain, and, with the passing of time, increasingly unpopular in the United States. In the words of General David Petraeus, progress in such conflicts will most often be “fragile and reversible.” Nevertheless, regime changes and long-duration stability operations will sometimes be necessary.  The alternative is kinetic success followed by political chaos. There was an option not to invade Afghanistan or Iraq.  There was never an option to leave Afghanistan or Iraq right after the conclusion of the initial phase of major combat operations.  NATO’s experience in Libya --- a no-footprint, post-conflict presence --- shows that kinetic success in regime change requires dedicated follow-up actions.

• In a counterinsurgency, success may well depend in part on the political development of the host government, whose weakness, corruption and ineffectiveness are, ironically, elements in causation of the insurgency in the first place.  It is possible to wave the “whole of government response” flag here, but, in truth, there are few assets in the State Department or USAID kit bags at present to mentor and assist a host government in political development.  In associated areas, such as development and reconstruction, State and USAID have more assets, but far fewer than these contingencies required.  Sadly, as noted in Linda Robinson et al.’s RAND study, the urge to develop whole of government capabilities for irregular conflict is waning.  There needs to be a national discussion on these critical issues.

• Improving our ability to teach others to handle an insurgency or terrorists is likely to be a key to U.S. participation in irregular conflict.  The RAND study reviewed here also emphasizes the need to improve pre-conflict shaping operations to prevent conflicts.  Outside of its special operations forces, the United States is not well organized to accomplish this mission.  Two possibilities commend themselves:  the United States can form military assistance groups, or it can develop and refine ways to prepare conventional units for this mission in a rapid and effective manner. 

There are doubtless dozens of other high-level, strategic lessons that one should learn from the long war.  I invite the readers of Small Wars Journal to relate their key, strategic lessons, either as comments to this article, or in an email to the author at

Joseph J. Collins --- a retired Army Colonel and a former Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense--- is the Director of the Center for Complex Operations, at the National Defense University (NDU).  He and his colleagues are currently studying the strategic lessons of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The opinions in this review essay are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of his colleagues, NDU, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency.

End Notes

[1] Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Knopf, 2014).

[2] Linda Robinson’s two most recent books are Tell Me How This Ends:  General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq (New York:  Public Affairs, 2008); and One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare (New York:  Public Affairs, 2013).

[3] Linda Robinson, Paul Miller, John Gordon IV, Jeffrey Decker, Michael Schwille, and Raphael Cohen, Improving Strategic  Confidence:  Lessons from 13 Years of War (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation,2014).

[4] The RAND lessons are summarized between pages ix and xix and then are detailed throughout the 142 page text.

[5] LTG Daniel Bolger, USA, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (New York:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2014).

[6] One of the best descriptions of the Iraq Surge decision is Peter Feaver, “The Right to Be Right,” International Security (Spring 2011), 87-125.

[7] Nagl’s first book, in the paperback edition, was Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago, IL:  University of Chicago Press, 2005)

[8] John Nagl, Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice (New York:  Penguin Press, 2014).

[9] General Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (New York:  Knopf, 2007).


About the Author(s)

Joseph J. Collins, a retired Army Colonel, served DoD in and out of uniform for four decades.  His decade plus in the Pentagon was capped off by service as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations, 2001-04. He taught for 25 years at West Point and the National War College, and for more than two decades in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. He is an author in and co-editor (with Richard Hooker) of Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War, NDU Press, 2015. Collins is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and holds a doctorate in Political Science from Columbia University.


Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 9:41am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

So far, the West--so to speak--has fallen into every trap: leveraging proxies to create more disorder and destruction which aids recruitment, speaking of a monolithic Muslim world whose particular grievances must be understood whether at home or abroad, highlighting terrorist atrocities in a way that gives a very special kind of attention to them and allows radicals to puff themselves up as true visionaries and successes, spending ourselves into debt creating internal economic problems, and so on.

The internet seems both so "over" and pathetic and important, all at the same time.

What has happened in the West? Why can't we have intelligent public conversations anymore?

The blogger Pundita has been talking about the early and uncertain science of the effects of the internet on the brain. What are we training ourselves to become? I am talking here about even public officials tweeting, and so on, and so reinforcing the action-reaction paradigm, being reactionary and ADD, instead of calm and careful.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 9:33am

More and more, I am beginning to think that language is a key problem, beyond even jargon or buzzwords:

<blockquote>The report describes a wide gap between how Donald Rumsfeld represented the war and what was actually taking place. Rumsfeld had told reporters at the start of the Afghanistan bombing campaign, Rothstein wrote, that “you don’t fight terrorists with conventional capabilities. You do it with unconventional capabilities.” In December, the Taliban and Al Qaeda retreated into the countryside as the armies of the Northern Alliance, supported by American airpower and Special Forces troops, moved into the capital. There were many press accounts of America’s new way of waging war, including well-publicized reports of American Special Forces on horseback and of new technologies, like the Predator drones. Nonetheless, Rothstein wrote, the United States continued to emphasize bombing and conventional warfare while “the war became increasingly unconventional,” with Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters “operating in small cells, emerging only to lay land mines and launch nighttime rocket attacks before disappearing once again.” Rothstein added:


What was needed after December 2001 was a greater emphasis on U.S. special operations troops, supported by light infantry, conducting <strong>counterinsurgency operations. </strong>Aerial bombardment should have become a rare thing. . . . The failure to adjust U.S. operations in line with the post-Taliban change in theater conditions cost the United States some of the fruits of victory and imposed additional, avoidable humanitarian and stability costs on Afghanistan. . . . Indeed, the war’s inadvertent effects may be more significant than we think.</blockquote>

The Other War, Seymour M. Hersh (The New Yorker)

More recent books and studies have questioned whether the initial destruction of the Taliban was quite so complete, so the question of jointness versus what type of warfare should dominate is a key question.

Counterinsurgency, counter-unconventional warfare, does it matter what you call it? From an intellectual point of view, not necessarily, as long as you have a correct understanding about motivation and what you are seeing on the ground. The biggest and initial mistake in the Afghan campaign, falling into the "Pashtun" trap and seeing the world through the eyes of the Pakistani security state, even as also empowered groups associated with the old Northern Alliance. Governance and sanctuaries. A and B, not A or B.

Yet, armies need organizing principles (to steal a phrase from HIllary Clinton) and doctrine is the organizing principle. If you call it A, then B happens, if you call it C, then D happens, and so on.

We fell into a trap early on, I believe, in not understanding how concerns of Pashtun integration and the Taliban would be used by the Pakistani military leadership to create a sense that their narrative and their concerns should be paramount. As I've said many times before, this happened in Kashmir as well where Indian-occupied Kashmir became synonymous with all of Kashmir and the genuine concerns of a localized Muslim population in the Valley became a larger religious rallying cry for various groups, whether Pakistani, Saudi Arabia, Iranian, or various diaspora living in the West.

Peter Tomsen has a map in his book <em>The Wars of Afghanistan</em> titled, "ISI-organized insurgent counterattacks from Pakistani sanctuaries, 2005-2009." He says the methods are similar to those of the 90s and Douglas Livermore has written on that connection in a paper here on unconventional warfare by Pakistan against Afghanistan.

For all the talk of types of warfare and what is needed, the biggest problem seems to be understanding what is really happening, what kind of conflict we are in. This is made nearly impossible because of the way in which the American system looks at the world, through the needs of its various ideologies and ideologues, as well as those of vested interests.

The initial planning period of the Afghan campaign with its creation of an emotional connection--or intensifying, really--between Centcom and Islamabad remains an area ripe for further study.

I find it so strange to continue to focus on the battle of American military ideology versus looking at the world and trying to understand what might be needed.

Times change, however, and the American public is more concerned about ISIS that Assad or Iran. This seems to be a problem for those invested in forever relationships and alliances, a problem exacerbating our policy in Iraq today. The domestic American system is changing, however. We shall see.

The Nagl quote above:

"The question is not whether the classical counterinsurgency principles of clear, hold, and build work … The question is whether the extraordinary investment of time, blood, and treasure required to make them work is worth the cost. The answer to that question depends on the value of long-term stability in the country afflicted by an insurgency, and that answer varies with time and place (p. 215)."

It is critically important to understand that we believe that:

a. The prerequisites needed for achieving and sustaining "long-term stability,"

b. Is the successful and enduring transformation -- more along modern western political, economic and social lines -- of outlying states and their societies.

c. This such transformation to be achieved (in states and societies which we find valuable enough and/or necessary enough to intervene):

1. Via pre-conflict "shaping" operations if at all possible. And, if not,

2. Via conflict and post-conflict operations (such as clear, hold and build).

Thus, in terms of the amazing cost of pre and/or post-conflict state and societal transformation (essential, we believe, to the achievement of "long-term stability") to understand, as Nagl so aptly notes, the requirement for "extraordinary investment in time, blood and treasure" (ours and/or theirs).

To sum up:

a. "Instability?" To be understood as what we believe to be the defining characteristic of states and societies who ARE NOT adequately organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western lines.

b. "Long Term Stability?" To be understood as what we believe to be the defining characteristic of states and societies who ARE so organized, ordered and oriented. And, thus,

c. The present "Long War" (much as was the case with the previous long war, to wit: the Cold War)? To be understood as the conflict between those entities who are -- and those entities who are not and do not desire to be (but we feel must be) -- organized, organized and ordered more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

Move Forward

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 3:39pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

<blockquote>The folks at War on the Rocks and the Center for a New American Security also had a conversation worth listening to recently, which discussed "offset strategies"; I feel that the WOTR/CNAS focus on "offsets" is mostly a continuation of the myopic focus on tactical and operational capabilities enabled by technology that have hamstrung human-centric operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, and I don't believe it actually constitutes strategy, but there's some solid discussion of how the Cold War's various offset approaches were aimed at solving actual strategic challenges, so it's worth a listen.</blockquote>

Per your suggestion, I listened to their podcast and found little of value. Early on it became clear the "offset strategy" is a PR attempt to rename AirSea Battle to avoid its controversies. Someone else stated jokingly that AirSea Battle was not a strategy to penetrate China but rather a strategy to penetrate Congress. Why is the "offset strategy" any different? Someone openly admitted that the traditional "thirds" allocation of the defense budget is not "strategic allocation." To these think tank advocates unless you have domain weapons that penetrate at range in a contested environment you are not considered a strategic asset. Yet, if deep penetration by conventional proposed “offset” systems actually did occur and was misinterpreted, escalation to nuclear war could result.

LTG McMaster was mentioned claiming he sets up a false dichotomy between human and tech centric warfare. To some degree that is true because humans can and do use tech weapons to move, shoot, and communicate during warfare. As mentioned by the forum, the ground domain also has proven itself highly capable of defeating large ground forces using superior tech in both Desert Storm and OIF. In contrast, many proposed "offset strategy" weapons would require a high degree of autonomy that avoids humans in-the-loop. In a decade of recent wars that proved the need to avoid human casualties, why would any think tank ignore that autonomous targeting could not begin to apply accurate judgment in the near future on whether attacking a mobile missile or package truck surrounded by civilians.

Speculation about where and when the next war will be fought at best involves no more than informed guesses. Conjecture about the unknowable time of an unknowable war is equally problematic. We have a poor record in predicting war, yet our ability to deter large wars has been much better. We cannot know with certainty what deterred wars never fought. Yet, speculation runs rife over what prevented wars and what may have resulted had the “big one” been fought. Some attribute tactical nuclear weapons of the 50s through 80s as being a deciding “offset strategy” while others believe conventional forces and prepositioning were less-escalatory tripwire deterrents. Others point to precision deep attack weapons of the late 70s and 80s, while maneuver arms ask what about close combat?

This panel advocates “offset strategies” involving future air and sea weapons primarily required against stronger threats. Paying for these systems could require diversion of traditional land component and whole of government resources. Inadequately resourced close combat deterrents and stability operations when the “easy button” fails (as it did during the Russian relations reset) could lead to future national nightmares. “Offset” next-war-itis weapons may never be required because near peers already are deterred by nuclear weapons and trade interdependencies.

Most “offset strategy” technologies assume “10 feet tall” threat capabilities throughout the DF-21D anti-ship and other missile kill chains. Yet China struggles to design and build efficient, reliable jet engines, modern cars, or other products that are not counterfeits or stolen copies. Why claim China now is an innovator able to match the West? Meanwhile, our abilities to disrupt such technologies across numerous kill chain areas are minimized by think tanks and threat-exaggerators.

In addition, missile threats posed against large ships and unsheltered massed aircraft are not comparably lethal against armored and dispersed and/or dug-in Army and Marine forces. In addition, missile inertial navigation accuracy decreases with distance. Without satellite navigation updates or with U.S. jamming, mid-range missile accuracy could be degraded. Likewise, near peers and even terrorists could potentially disrupt our navigation making proposed U.S. autonomous unmanned aircraft a potential concern. Survival of both satellites and their surrogates are less than guaranteed.

Excessive reliance on conceptual undeveloped autonomous targeting techniques are a nightmare of potential collateral damage and fratricide. To assume we can build autonomous sensors that see under the ground and through buildings and trees to find tunnels and mobile vehicles from medium altitude through smog and clutter is foolhardy. It is as unlikely as many assumptions about Comanche, Future Combat Systems, and a variety of other failures where realistic near term technology did not match expectations. Yet that is the very thing many think tanks are asking us to accept. They ask us to trust that research and development can solve the problem rapidly if only we divert funding from proven air, land, and sea systems with a human element.

Reductions in F-35s to finance "offset strategies" such as a high end UCLASS would be eliminating the bird in hand for highly-speculative and costly "better" autonomous birds in the bush. Rather than losing cost advantages inherent in larger F-35s production buys by ourselves and coalition partners, consider creating an optionally-manned version during later block buys. Add jettisonable conformal auxiliary fuel and we have every manned aircraft advantage and most unmanned capabilities. Proven data links, radars, and infrared sensors would permit manned-unmanned interfaces that keep a man in the loop while looking for and engaging targets. It would be cost effective compared to new start small fleets of MQ-X and Naval UCLASS expected to operate alone over China or Russia without being downed by sophisticated equally invisible enemy fighters.

General DePuy observed, “What can be seen, can be hit. What can be hit can be killed.” Tunneled and underground targets and threats hidden in urban and complex terrain are not easily seen, and therefore not assuredly hit or killed without risking dead civilians or vulnerability to decoys and other countermeasures. In contrast, an MQ-X and Naval UCLASS surrounded by nothing but medium altitude air lacks all aspect stealth because it remains visually visible as are satellites helping them navigate and employ weapons. Greater autonomy would require low-cost GPS-navigation alternatives, foolproof artificial intelligence, stealth, and weapons systems able to survive J-20, J-31, and T-50 shoot-downs over China and Russia. All that likely would cost more than the $220 million cost of each Global Hawk and Navy Trident that are not stealthy, not armed, and don’t land on carriers.

Historians also should remind “offset strategy” advocates about Pearl Harbor and coalitions of adversaries. A similar surprise attacks could occur on our homeland against airbase and port “eggs” located in far too few” near-coast baskets.” Likewise, inland attacks by Special Operations forces on our consolidated B-2 and LRS-B bombers are a possible response that our near peer adversaries might consider. We failed to end Saddam Hussein’s reign with a no-fly zone alone, did not solve Libya, and WWII bombing alone could not have ended that war in either theater. Decisions about future strategies require realistic expectations that include the land component and whole of government investments.


Wed, 01/14/2015 - 1:21pm

In reply to by davidbfpo

davidbfpo: Thanks, I hadn't been aware of that resource. I thought I'd scoured the entire Internet for every last scrap on the conflict while writing my dissertation, but a number of sources have come out in the last year or two, and some greative search strings have revealed a number of items that I didn't see while I was writing initially. Once I finish my current project on the First World War, I'm looking forward to diving head first into these resources, and I appreciate you bringing this/these one(s) to my attention.


Sat, 01/10/2015 - 10:43am

In reply to by thedrosophil

I spotted your reference to the Dhofar Rebellion (as below), hopefully you area ware of the SW Forum thread on the Oman Campaign, in particular the post on a new resource on the OMANI contribution; most accounts I have read concentrate on the British role. See:

'My goal, probably to begin later this year or this time in 2016, is to use this rubric to expand my dissertation into a comprehensive discussion of the COIN and grand strategic lessons of the Dhofar Rebellion, with comparisons to mistakes and successes in Afghanistan and Iraq. If you're interested in discussing these items more, let me know and I'd be pleased to engage with you offline'.

joseph collins

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 8:34pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

thedrosophil, thanks for your kind words and excellent comments. They are doing a great job of teaching strategy at the National War College, I hope. All the best, jjc


Fri, 01/09/2015 - 4:06pm

Colonel Collins: I thoroughly enjoyed reading your analysis of these four works. I have a few observations, many of which I've discussed elsewhere at SWJ, but will now attempt to truncate as a solicited response to your request for feedback on these issues. There are a lot of relevant lessons and observations to be reaped from the last decade and a half, really two or three decades, of the Long War, so these are some of the "wave tops" in which I've taken the most interest.

1) As I've stated elsewhere, I have not and will not read LTG Bolger's book. Having read your treatment, I shall update my previous criticism of his book by noting that if the length of his book exceeds four hundred pages, then it's not even useful for leveling a table. LTG Bolger seems to not even understand the strategic justification behind the invasion of Iraq. He may have been a competent battlefield commander and/or tactician, and I acknowledge that being a competent strategist is not the sole or even prevailing qualification for a general officer. However, I'm rather confident that LTG Bolger is not competent to be discussing the issues on which he is trying to opine as a subject matter expert.

2) You said: <I>"Furthermore, the development of the Army and Marine Corps doctrine on counterinsurgency, and its inculcation of the doctrine in the force was an excellent example of systemic adaptation under fire."</I> I would disagree, and would point you to the embarrassingly prolific comment thread on <A HREF="">this SWJ post</A> for a lively of discussion on the topic. I believe that FM 3-24/MCWP 3.33-5 represents only a very narrow fraction of COIN case studies, best practices, and doctrine; I also think that the implementation of FM 3-24/MCWP 3.33-5 in theater has been spotty at best. The Marine Corps seems to have done consistently better at the Army; "Big Army" has resisted COIN from the outset, and attempted to throw more RMA/Transformation-enabled combined arms maneuver at the challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some here at SWJ would opine that COIN doctrine has been tested and found wanting; I maintain that it was not tested at all, at least not in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and the present day.

3) You said: <I>"This problem calls for a whole array of fixes from improving language training, pre-deployment training, area expertise, and reforming the intelligence/information apparatuses."</I> I am entirely in agreement. I would point you to <A HREF="… SWJ article</A> on the topic. As Colonel Outzen rightly asserts, there is no such thing as area expertise without language expertise, and by the end of 2015 I hope to submit an article to SWJ outlining a plan to train every recruit in a foreign language. It's a force multiplier, a key to building security relationships in both regular and irregular conflicts, with both allies and host nation personnel, and it would save the DoD billions annually by eliminating the need to lease language proficiency from contractors whose skills do not result in persistent capabilities once their contracts expire. With respect to pre-deployment training, having worked at the NTC for part of my career, I can say from experience that while there's plenty of room for improvement, the effort is there and TRADOC, the NTC Operations Group, and similar units at facilities such as the JRTC, JMRC, MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, and so on and so forth make an admirable effort to update training facilities and curriculum based upon emerging conditions in theater. I would give them a solid B grade in this respect. I believe that the Regionally Aligned Forces model offers an opportunity to apply the skills and lessons mortgaged with blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq to meet many of the West's global security challenges in the coming decades; however, to quote <A HREF="">Andrew "Abu Muqawama" Exum</A>: "If the United States has to fight another resource-intensive counterinsurgency campaign... it is easier to design and build new brigades than to design and build new aircraft or ships. I am more concerned the U.S. Army and Marine Corps will abandon the doctrine, training and education wrapped up in preparing for counterinsurgency and stability operations." America did precisely this <A HREF="… Vietnam</A>, and I fear that we are on the verge of <A HREF=""… that mistake</A>.

4) I studied COIN history and doctrine extensively for my MSc program in Strategic Studies (at a foreign, non-DoD institution). Much of my research was based upon the instructor-provided topic of one a project on which I collaborated with a former SOF-supporting intelligence officer from another NATO nation. Our topic was something to the effect of "assess the requirements for success in modern counterinsurgency". In my dissertation, I expanded upon our initial six requirements, and found it useful to divide these requirements into three categories: control of the human terrain (coherent mission and operational mandate, credible host nation actor, control of information, and operations facilitate political goals); control of the physical terrain (commensurate force strength, interdiction of insurgent logistics, and denial of insurgent maneuver); and what I termed "integrating factors" (organic language capabilities, effective SOF employment, effective logistics, and aviation operations). My goal, probably to begin later this year or this time in 2016, is to use this rubric to expand my dissertation into a comprehensive discussion of the COIN and grand strategic lessons of the Dhofar Rebellion, with comparisons to mistakes and successes in Afghanistan and Iraq. If you're interested in discussing these items more, let me know and I'd be pleased to engage with you offline.

5) My last "wave top" is one which causes me increasing consternation and concern, and one which I am very sensitive to having completed my MSc in Strategic Studies at a foreign university that actually teaches strategy: we are not teaching our officers strategy, and the result is that Washington's concept of "strategy" is dysfunctional. On occasion, you'll hear one officer or another discussing the link between political objectives and the use of force, but most officers seem echo LTG Bolger's flawed vision of "strategy", which is actually campaign planning. As I've observed elsewhere at SWJ, LTG Bolger's own "strategy research project" at the Army War College focused on a single engagement from the '91 Gulf War, which isn't strategy. This was further demonstrated by the revelation of just how flimsy the requirements for Senator Walsh's "master's degree" in Strategic Studies actually were; while I've used plenty of Army War College and Naval Postgraduate School theses as sources in my own research, the idea that Senator Walsh's plagiarism or the low standard for graduation that allowed him to receive a degree were in anyway unique strikes me as entirely naive. While many of those officers who reach the Flag/General Officer level are likely talented officers in one manner or another, few if any of them actually understand strategy. (I believe that recent exceptions to this trend are Generals Petraeus, Mattis, McMaster, and possibly Odierno; I also concur with Secretary Gates' praise of Admiral Mullen and General Pace.) This leaves them unable to effectively advise civilian policy-makers who by their very nature are usually strategically illiterate; and it leaves Fo/GOs poorly prepared to consolidate tactical and operational success into strategic ends when commanding in the field. These problems are compounded by Washington's "strategic planning process", which produces the Quadrennial Defense Review, the National Security Strategy, the National Military Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and very occasionally a Nuclear Posture Review (in the UK, if memory serves, this is accomplished by a single Strategic Defence and Security Review which isn't appreciably better than the American versions). None of these are comprehensible, especially in the context of its peer documents; none of them are particularly strategic; and all of them do a regrettable job of synchronizing means, ways, and ends. Professor Lawrence Freedman delivered an <A HREF="">excellent lecture on this</A> recently. The folks at War on the Rocks and the Center for a New American Security also had a <A HREF="">… worth listening to</A> recently, which discussed "offset strategies"; I feel that the WOTR/CNAS focus on "offsets" is mostly a continuation of the myopic focus on tactical and operational capabilities enabled by technology that have hamstrung human-centric operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, and I don't believe it actually constitutes strategy, but there's some solid discussion of how the Cold War's various offset approaches were aimed at solving actual strategic challenges, so it's worth a listen. The bottom line, though, is that American strategic success in the long remainder of the twenty-first century will be contingent upon Washington understanding, composing, and implementing actual strategies aimed at actual strategic (e.g., political) goals. This, in turn, will be contingent upon streamlining the current process into something that actually synchronizes ways, means, and political ends. This, in turn, is contingent upon reforms to the professional military education establishment to ensure that the Fo/GOs orchestrating key sequences in the planning (e.g., Washington/The Pentagon) and execution (e.g., COCOM/national level foreign commands like MNF-I or ISAF) understand strategy. Absent this, I fear that America will continue to find itself engaged in a series of conflicts (potentially even conventional ones) in which American troops win battles, only for senior military and civilian leaders to fail to consolidate them in order to accomplish actual strategic goals.

Again, thank you for your extremely compelling essay.

Move Forward

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:27pm


• Joint and State Department “Doctrine”: Current Ops against ISIS illustrate the difficulty in using airpower against hidden/hugging adversaries without JTACs embedded with ground units to call in CAS. Operations against ISIS and (hopefully) eventually Syria’s Assad also illustrate that civil leaders <strong>must consider</strong> seizing terrain to redraw international borders <strong>only where colonial influences created flawed nation-states.</strong> If implemented, this would allow new nation governments and security forces within new borders to reduce insurgency motivations and expedite transitions. Land swaps could be organized to relocate ethnicities to new territories from refugee camps. Barriers could divide disputed cities ala Berlin for decades. Perhaps it will take years of failed operations against ISIS and Syria to convince Joint leaders that a heavy ground footprint remains essential as part of most Joint efforts.

* It goes beyond “if you break it, you buy it.” It is in our own self-interest to stabilize post- and current-conflict territory as much as possible. Otherwise we will see repeat performances a few years later. Items: a) an unstable Europe after WWI led to WWII, b) Saddam Hussein’s continued reign after Desert Storm, and c) a return to Iraq and Syria just years later. The sole recent examples that brought lasting decades without open conflict were the Cold War in Europe and Korea using heavy coalition forces for deterrence and border separations to let each side choose their own path (even if misguided).

• Employment of airpower alone or some air/sea-based “offset strategy” with penetrating LRS-B and large autonomous unmanned aircraft are equally problematic. Imagine the Chinese, Pakistani, or North Korean general’s/leader’s uncertainty over the objective of such stealth aircraft near/over their airspace. Could this lead to a “use-it-or-lose-it” decision on nuke employment? Airpower leaders correctly cite a need for multi-mission aircraft to justify other fighters used in CAS. However, they appear to change their tune when applied to bombers. It would be feasible to modify an LRS-B with slightly reduced stealth to perform forward aerial refueling of stealth fighters and airdrop supplies/paratroopers despite remaining radar air defenses and fighters. That partly solves the A2/AD dilemma for light force and SOF entry/sustainment while still being able to effectively bomb 99.9% of suppressed threats. Build 50 full stealth, and 50 multi-mission LRS. That simply requires adaptable bomber pilots just as fighter pilots adapt to a number of different missions.

• Likewise, doctrinal Army use of Navy large afloat forward staging base-mobile landing platforms (AFS-MLP) for island-hopping Army aircraft would not duplicate Marine efforts. Army aircraft temporarily would employ these and other ships as lily pads vs. being permanently based like Navy/Marine folding-blade marinized aircraft. Temporary AFS-MLP employment as en route lily pads would allow larger numbers of Army aircraft to get from point A to B without permanently tying up limited space on these ships or risking cargo planes too close to short-range missile threats.

• COIN vs. FID vs. Stability Ops: The lines of effort are similar for all three. FID works when existing militaries and quality governments are present. That wasn’t the case in OEF or OIF. Should we continue to emphasize the “Build” in COIN that is costly and subject to abuse and graft? The “Transition” part of the new COIN would be expedited if the National Command Authority can be convinced to surge <strong>upfront</strong> rather than later. This would shorten the war’s duration because typically there is more insurgency and infrastructure destruction early. An early surge could transition sooner while simultaneously clearing and holding terrain. Evidence: Only 35,000 ANSF were trained by 2006 despite four years of a light coalition footprint in Afghanistan. Should we expect infantrymen to be diplomats? Just as critically, can diplomats and aid workers survive without support from lots of Soldier/Marine infantry? Given a multitude of civilians hanging out in the Green Zone and Kabul unless escorted/protected by troops, the latter seems pretty obvious.

• Counter-Terror: If conventional forces had not controlled/secured major airfields and routes in Afghanistan and Iraq, remotely piloted aircraft intelligence/attacks and night raids involving helicopters would have been difficult. Pakistan would not have accepted repeated requests to use its airspace and ground routes in an “on-again-off-again” series of punitive raids as the Taliban and al Qaeda kept on returning. A larger effort demonstrates a more serious mission to concerned and/or meddling neighbors. You can only threaten to “bomb them back to the Stone Age” once while simultaneously requesting their airspace and ground routes to get to Afghanistan. In addition, the Abbottabad raid and RPA attacks against the Haqqanis likely would have faced failure launched from the distant sea.

Move Forward

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:40pm


• Joint active manpower: Why can some services and SF/SOF deploy for 4-6 months while conventional Soldiers/Marines deployed 7-15 months and deployed every other year quite often? Deployment frequency clearly indicates which services have too little manpower. Frequency and duration of deployment probably lead to mental health and family problems, as well. A shorter war with an upfront surge can limit repeat deployments, family disruptions, and expedite the transition and exit strategy. It also would limit PTSD and brain injury exposure.

• Joint: Other services proved able to perform CAS with many types of units and aircraft. Again this depended on Pakistan, Afghan, and Iraqi airspace access and airbases vs. “on-again-off-again” access characterized by counter-terror or punitive raids. Cruise missiles did not work in 1998 nor will they work in the future against enemies that do not readily present themselves as targets.

• SF/SOF: Without multiple protected conventional bases for parking/servicing/supplying Joint air support, helicopters, UAS/RPA, and indirect fires, SF/SOF would have had difficulty getting rapid response to a massed attack. Air defenses and counter-GRAAM also are required, as well as secure supply routes. This applies in the foreseeable future given adversary (even non-state) denied access due to smart and rocket/missile munitions and a continuing IED environment. Techniques such as ALP/VSO created localized support for groups that often conflicted with goals of the larger host nation. In effect, they created mini-warlords that worked for the government in theory only. Even if cooperative, without funding and supply of such small militias, their viability is limited and competition resulted with local national police and security forces for resources and territorial control. Host nation SF/SOF often rely on U.S. support for resupply, medical evacuation, indirect fires, and air support. These may not be locally available or supportable over a wide area with a light footprint. For example, Bagram alone could not support Kandahar or Helmand province, and might have slow or no response to Kunar valley SF/SOF without access to Jalalabad air support. Light footprints mean limited and slow support as evidenced by low daily bombing totals in Iraq/Syria.

• Infantry: Why do Marines require a 13-man squad? Is that a potential joint active duty billpayer? Could Marine reservists fill in one of the fire teams? Active Marines are being cut far less proportionally than active Soldiers.

• Armor: Abrams were essential in Iraq the first years, and as late as 2008’s Battle of Sadr city. However, given the success of a single heavy BCT in OIF, do future threats truly dictate a balanced combine arms battalion particularly when adding a third battalion to the armored BCTs? Tanks are fuel intensive and deployment challenges, tear up roads, and require hefty bridges. Why not one armor company per battalion with 17 tanks and 3-tank platoons. That is still 51 tanks in the future armored BCT vs. the current 56 in two battalions. That retains the HHC and one tank company to offer armor officer command opportunities equaling the two infantry companies, plus a reconnaissance troop or two in the BCT. Give armor control of unmanned ground and air vehicles controlled by the tank loader.

• Aviation: A proven winner in these wars. The aviation restructuring initiative is sensible given planned reductions in active combat aviation brigades from 13 to 10. Given recently described USAF difficulties in supporting multiple combatant commanders with Reapers/Predators, the armed Army Gray Eagle fills the gap. In the future, satellite data links will be increasingly vulnerable and MQ-1C offers lower cost non-satellite data link alternatives. The Taliban called the Apache “monster” and teamed with MQ-1C the potential expands. Apaches and RPAs saved the day frequently in Iraq and no doubt now are contributing again against ISIS. Recent articles describe using Apaches for overwater Pacific duties, and Europe obviously requires additional rotating attack helicopter units to deter Russian armor.

• Artillery: G-RAAM “salesmen” keep reminding us of the wide access to guided munitions available to future adversaries. Yet except for some expensive Excalibur and G-MLRS rounds, our own capabilities despite larger defense budgets than adversaries are still rather limited due to cost. If Pakistan and Iran militaries truly were assisting insurgents in these conflicts wouldn’t we have seen more evidence of accurate mortar and rocket fire?

• Air Defense: Something must defend U.S. bases both overseas and close to our shores from conventional ballistic and cruise missiles. Similarly, the attack on Marine Harriers at Camp Leatherneck indicates an infiltrating SOF force could threaten our stealth bomber fleet with precision mortar or rocket munitions thus limiting our “offset strategy.” Some sort of laser or C-RAM defense is required within the U.S. and its territories in affected areas.

• Engineers: BCTs require more engineers. Why can’t we yet dig fighting positions for dismounts, fill HESCO, and create berms with organic BCT battalion and company capabilities? Did line charges and flailing chain robots for dismounts work? Rollers and the Marine M1 Assault Breacher Vehicles were successful.

• Intelligence: HUMINT is essential but often anecdotal. We need more realism about the quality of information provided by civilians speaking a different language telling tales of unknown veracity. Just as police understand that eye-witness testimony is often unreliable (Ferguson, etc), Soldier recall similarly is flawed and limited to areas briefly visible at ground level at low dismount speed. Adversaries often disappear or blend in as our patrols near and reappear later limiting the value of presence patrols. This increases IED and ambush risk that also effect locals. Greater prevalence of platoon and company-level unmanned ground and air vehicles, small aerostats, and telescoping and unattended sensors could provide greater persistence. They also would provide permanent and real time full motion video vs. typical OPs that violate prudent risk criteria for Soldier/Marine scouts, and create ambiguity in Spot reporting accuracy and interpretation of such reports.

• Military Police: These appear another OEF/OIF success story for logistics convoy security and training/augmenting host nation police. Are they the solution for escorting/protecting whole-of-government civilians around the battlefield? What about green-on-blue attacks? Infrastructure security? How many active MPs are enough and can more be reserve police officers?

• Signal: Did connectivity and networks work? Were command posts too large? Given a military philosophy where many indirect fire and CAS/CCA enablers depend on networks, radios, and command posts, are we on the right track? We appear heavily dependent on GPS and Blue Force Tracker. How do WIN-T, ABCS/FBCB2, CPOF fit into lessons learned and what of all these new proposed battlefield radios related to JTRS. I never understood all the radio systems associated with Future Combat Systems (FCS) but many were tied to JTRS that was not part of FCS and was equally screwed up. Given a mission command philosophy stressing greater lower echelon autonomy, are we spending too much effort and manpower on communication? Move-Shoot-Communicate implies that it retains a key place. Non-satellite communication on-the-move must improve or large command posts and their antenna farms risk becoming vulnerable to indirect fires and loss of satellites. Correct me if I’m wrong but SINCGARS won’t work well without GPS. A lot of things won’t work well.

• Chemical: Given Syria’s use of chemicals, Saddam Hussein’s repeated use, and evidence of potential future use by the Russians and North Korea, we cannot assume that MAD works with chemical munitions. Their potential use by Iran, ISIS, or Hezbollah/Hamas against Israel could lead to other WMD or conventional disproportionate responses that could drag us into conflicts. As such, we cannot assume that small SF/SOF or other small trainer elements would be immune to chemical barrel bombing, artillery or helicopter/jet dispersion.

• Logistics: This has proven to be a major host nation security force limitation. With a light footprint and an “on-again-off-again” punitive approach, Pakistan might have limited our ground routes and overflight. Reaching Syrian Kurds for instance from the sea is proving difficult. Light footprints of U.S. logistics elements may not be able to support larger host nation assets. Some host nations also have trouble maintaining equipment and still require parts and expertise access not prevalent with light footprints. Precision GPS airdrops proved effective but against future adversaries a stealthier airdrop platform will be essential in line with the earlier comments on the need for a multi-mission LRS “bomber” platform.

• Medical: Brain injuries and PTSD require extensive attention as do suicide other mental health issues. The fact that so many of the suffering are ground service members may indicate a link between numbers and length of deployments which is inexorably tied to numbers of active and reserve component units. Without conventional U.S. force personnel and medical facilities able to evacuate and handle mass U.S. and host nation casualties, SF/SOF alone would be a light footprint disaster. Air ambulances in particular are not readily available to most host nations and large areas may limit ground vehicle evacuation due to distance from aid stations.

Move Forward

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:18pm


• Individual: ?? Basic Training and AIT OK? TRADOC Learning Concept 2015? Will service members employ service-issued smart phones for individual and other training?

• Crew: ?? Aviation crew training certainly was successful and tank and Bradley/Stryker crews were outstanding in conventional warfare. Only artillery appears to have had problems retaining targeting skills when given other duties and prevented from firing in many cases.

• Collective: Combat Training Centers have been effective training tools but the heavy deployment burden of units often meant that brief time stateside between combat tours was spent preparing for and attending weeks of CTC training. Will the Decisive Action Training Environment change now that these wars will deploy smaller elements? Should there be enhanced emphasis on operating in an A2/AD environment?

• Simulation: This has been an aviation mainstay for years. Embedded training involving simulation appears to have great potential if it can be added to current and future vehicles and potentially aircraft. VBS3 and other tools can be used for individual, crew, and collective training and integrated with live training.

• Distance Learning and Constructive Training: This is only as effective as command pressure to use the tools.

• Interactive Multimedia Instruction (IMI): I’ve trained ROC-V and ROC-IED discs to groups and feel unless there is some classroom facilitation, these and similar tools will not be effectively employed. Similarly, outstanding IMI made available to units has not always been employed or emphasized in training. Such IMI also must be updated as changes occur in technical manuals and TTP. These updates are not easily accomplished. IMI also is seldom equally applicable to all MOS and leader grades.

Move Forward

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:16pm


• Did current conflicts demonstrate that squad integrity in one vehicle is required? Strykers/LAVs excelled but had poor off-road mobility, and had too little lethality for other threats. Marine replacements for the AAV could be smaller if their squads were smaller. Strykers also were too wide with slat armor and too heavy for C-130 transport with double V-hull. Can double V-hull be added to prepositioned and sea-deployed Bradley and AMPV? Can unmanned ground vehicles and unattended sensors replace infantry dismounts for night patrols?

• MRAPs/M-ATVs demonstrated the future need for JLTV for both troops and whole of government folks.

• There are renewed calls for a light tank and DARPA also has some interesting ideas. This could be an opportunity to test the concept of a common prime mover vehicle for infantry and armor with a separate rear module for either infantry or armor. By keeping prime mover and rear module weight each at 39,000 lbs, both could be separately transported by C-130 and joined in theater by PLS truck hydraulic upload.

* A future vertical lift (FVL) Apache and Blackhawk replacement requires greater speed and range for such intratheater island-hopping self-deployment and longer endurance on station. However, keep in mind that an MV-22’s max gross weight approaches CH-47 size yet its payload lift capabilities are closer to a UH-60M that is half as heavy. That does not bode well for a smaller tilt rotor for FVL. The high MV-22 cost per flying hour also could be problematic. Counter-rotating rotors are the likely superior solutions to achieve greater lift at still great speeds, while retaining access to smaller LZs/firing positions or multiple aircraft close together in the same LZ, while retaining good high-hot hover performance. More can fit aboard an LCS/SSC or AFS-MLP with counter-rotating rotors as well.

• M-777 appears a success and it should be transportable by the FVL rotorcraft. Our future COPs and assembly areas still require a counter-mortar capability and systems like C-RAM for larger FOBs and airfields. Systems like Switchblade loitering lethal UAS are possible alternatives to guided mortar rounds. Ground EW and other non-lethal capabilities require improvements.

• With MEADS and the ground AMRAAM’s demise, MLRS and HIMARS may need a four-pack sized identically to rocket six-packs carrying air defense loitering autonomous UAS with a pair of AMRAAMs vectored to targets by Patriot and AWACs/E-2D. Ground AEGIS should augment THAAD and PAC-3.

• The Battle of Sadr City and many other cities required T-barriers emplaced by engineers. Instead of concrete barriers can we use 3-D printers to create strong plastic box-like barriers similar to HESCO filled with dirt, rocks, and rubble? Can we also use such barriers at home to reinforce shores and rivers against rising seas and rivers? Cleared local earthquake and mudslide rubble could be put to good use. Can we construct border fencing? The lighter weight of the plastic material would simplify airdrop and sling loads of cubes subsequently melted and shaped into barriers and transported via PLS/LHS and HETTs/flatbeds to the local site where construction would occur.

• DCGS-A is really complex and needs to be simplified. The flaws of networks, space-based intelligence/communication/navigation will gravely affect intelligence support if the information never reaches the affected and has the wrong grid coordinates. How will we improve the lethality of the Battlefield Surveillance Brigade? Do we need more organic and DS brigade and battalion reconnaissance and surveillance?

• Unmanned ground and air vehicles can support logistics. K-Max proved that point to the Marines in Afghanistan. However, this probably does little to reduce the manned footprint as someone still must load and service the vehicles, program the flight/route, and maintain the unmanned systems. An unmanned convoy still will require escorts or it will be destroyed without interference or supplies will be seized. A light footprint spread widely over terrain the size of Texas is not a “lightweight” logistics challenge.

Move Forward

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:13pm

<strong>Leader and Education</strong>

• Can someone simplify Design leader education? How does Design apply to company and platoon level leaders that use Troop-Leading Procedures. Multiple wiring diagram nodes pointing every which way do not help nor does an effect-based operations approach that invariably involves fixed non-military targets instead of more difficult hiding and moving ones. Is Design amenable to accelerated decision-making and plans?

* Philosophy associated with Design is debatable or we would not have so many different philosophers with different viewpoints. History and cultural PhD studies are debatable in terms of applicability to the most likely unknowable conflict (until it occurs) let alone future wars with different circumstances. Plus, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, often multiple languages and cultures apply. Language training could be supplemented/replaced by automated translators for most units to include SF. How many potentially strong SF candidates were lost because they are not good at languages?

* Did these conflicts support that Mission Command is an all-echelons philosophy or mainly applicable to more experienced battalion and above leaders and staffs? Would the same mission command philosophy apply in bigger wars where synchronization of different elements was more critical rather than independent unit operations? Are PowerPoint CONOPS really that bad compared to reading/remembering 20-page OPORDs/FRAGOs?

joseph collins

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 8:36pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward: an incredibly exhaustive list. you should design the tactical and organizational lessons study. we are doing strategic lessons, which has been defined at a high level of abstraction. All the best, jjc

Move Forward

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:08pm


• Active vs. Reserve numbers? This returns to the argument about active force size leading to repeated deployments for Soldiers to a greater degree than Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. This alone should indicate that a 420-450K active Army is far too small.

• MOS and MOCS?

• Personnel management?

Move Forward

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:07pm


• Forward Deployment/Prepositioning: I’ve mentioned elsewhere that trains offer a possible means of defeating ballistic missile attacks by storing prepositioned stores and Army vehicles. An approach that combines existing host nation and parallel new tracks for parking trains in secured areas would create a targeting challenge if frequently moved during times of tension. Make each train car appear identical, 50’ in bed length, and covered so that a missile submunition has only a 50-50 chance of hitting the correct end of the train car where the tank is parked. Create 100-car trains with a mix of tanks, IFVs, and trucks on one end of the train car and dispersed supplies on the other end and you create a 14 in one hundred chance of hitting a car containing one of a company’s 14 tanks which means a 7 in one hundred chance of actually hitting a tank with a submunition if you somehow hit every train car with one submunition. The train approach also removes the need for prepositioned HETs for road transport and can feed major airbases directly for rapid Pacific intratheater airlift or move to the appropriate NATO country by rail for support. Give each rail car reinforced sides that double as a ramp so Army vehicles can offload nearly anywhere without requiring a train station.

• Major airbases: While I respect and understand the A2/AD argument, there is not yet clear evidence that insurgents or even major powers will escalate conflicts through massive surprise airbase attacks. The more countries and airbase locations we launch small groups of fighter aircraft from, the greater the adversary challenge in targeting numerous neighbors and creating a coalition opposed to that missile-launcher. The Rapid Raptor concept can apply to mixes of say two F-22s and four F-35s at each of many bases to greatly reduce vulnerability of too many fighter jet eggs in a few airbase baskets.

• Combat Outposts: Hundreds of platoon and company-sized COPs and Joint Security Stations were a proven success at providing wide area security in both urban and complex rural terrain. They also simplify logistics vs. attempting to locate and throughput to a constantly moving unit. That would be a nightmare for securing routes from enemy ambushes, mines, and IEDs. COPs along routes also provide a means of securing main supply routes.

• Forward Operating Bases: While COPs proved more effective for wide area security and local combined arms maneuver, a number of future FOBs would likely remain essential often co-located with airfields for helicopters and unmanned aircraft. C-130 and C-17 resupply and reinforcement are another advantage of such FOBs. Means must exist to secure such FOBs from precision and non-precision indirect fires and air attacks.

• Reach facilities: RPA full-motion video was fed to numerous locations both in theater and stateside. This has proven effective and likely will continue in the future although satellite data links may prove increasingly vulnerable.

• Power: I heard someone mention on a key leader forum video that power management has increased to reduce the need for too much fuel consumption supporting COPs and FOBs. At some point, solar and wind power and engineer vehicles that provide power to COPs, FOBs, and assembly areas may be essential. Future vehicles, particularly those with hybrid-electric engines, will increase tactical electricity generation to power numerous avionics and sensors.

joseph collins

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 8:51pm

In reply to by CBCalif

CBCalif: Sorry for the indirection ... but this great power lesson has also been learned by France, twice, Russia, and others. Indeed, in my knowledge, the only forn expeditionary force success in COIN came in Philippines, 1902 and Malaya. In both cases, and here is some irony, the foreign force was also the govt. In both cases, the forn. force did not have to deal with a cross-border sanctuary. [Interesting discussion: were the Marines in Haiti and Nicaragua successes?]

On staying the course in Astan and Iraq ... lots of comments on this on my email, even from War College professors. Bolger wanted to leave quickly. I contend that that was impossible. Were there any other "break it off" points in our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq? I don't see any. I might support going home if someone could tell me how it might have been done. As it was, it took us years to get out of both Astan and Iraq in the manner in which we did/are doing so.

Wars are made by countries, not armies. Armies win battles and campaigns but the start and end of wars is a thing of national leaders and cabinets. I think ODS was a clear success, also the Korean War, which gave us today's South Korea, which is , I am told, the 13 largest economy in the world. Bosnia and Kosovo are still in the W column. In Iraq, to 2011, we succeeded operationally, but not politically. Maliki bears much of that blame, but we could have done more to poke him. Afghanistan ... don't write them off. Our guys are fighters.

Thanks for your great comments. jjc

Bill C.

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 1:12pm

In reply to by CBCalif

If the five major military efforts Kissinger referred to were the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War and our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,

Then might it be important to consider that:

1. In the Korean and Vietnam Wars then, much as was the case with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan recently, our political objective was to:

a. Expand the reach of our political values and institutions. And/or to

b. Prevent the expansion of the political values and institutions of another.

2. Whereas, in the First Gulf War, this was not our political objective?

(The essence of "a" and "b" above taken from Morgenthau's quote in my comment below.)

There is something interestingly accurate and simultaneously contradictory or concerning about the paragraph content (in the above article) noting that:

“A prudent great power should avoid being a third party in a large-scale counterinsurgency. Foreign expeditionary forces in another country’s insurgency have almost always failed. At the same time, it should also be remembered that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did not begin as insurgencies, but evolved in that direction. It is not possible for a super power to disregard the possibility of future large-scale COIN or Stability Operation. The Armed Forces must be ready for combat across the spectrum of conflict, and irregular wars on the low end of the spectrum will remain the most frequent form of conflict that they encounter.”

The “great power [which should avoid being [the] third party in a large [so called] counterinsurgency” is obviously the U.S. -- because as the author notes, what he refers to as “Foreign expeditionary forces” acting in that role (of an invader and occupier) will always fail. If that is an accurate statement of the author (and history indicates it be accurate), than if this country elects to participate in “irregular wars on the low end of the spectrum” using “large scale COIN or Stability Operations,” that effort is doomed to fail – by the above logic.

If one fails at something repeatedly, it is generally considered not best to keep trying it again and again – especially when the costs of the failures (in today dollar value) runs into the Trillion Dollar Plus category. Our chosen enemies around the world are laughing at the U.S. for that approach and result far more than they would have laughed if we had smartly left Afghanistan early in the game – or perhaps more realistically used another approach to the problem of the so called Global War on [against] Terrorist Groups. An anti-terrorist military and police strategy more compatible with the economically low grade level of threat from those groups, and certainly one that was both far less cost and effort consuming than the failed long term invasion, occupation, and stability operations type efforts attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those “third party Foreign Expeditionary Forces” (i.e. those foreign military forces which invade and occupy a foreign land) will in this day and age “always fail” when that occupation is for a lengthy period during which the occupier attempts to impose upon a foreign occupied people a political, economic, and cultural system not of their independent choosing. Referring to that effort to forcefully impose upon an occupied people a political, economic, and social / cultural system chosen by the foreigner as Pacification, COIN, Stability Operations, etc does not and will not change its nature nor enable it to be successful. It remains nothing more than a form of Imperial Hubris in which the military forces of a foreign power attempts to impose its will on an occupied people at the point of gun.

General Bolger is not alone in his criticism of how the U.S. conducted its finally ending 13 year war in Afghanistan. See e.g. General Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, U.S. Army retired, recent article titled “Winning Battles, Losing Wars,” which was published in Army Magazine, then recall Retired Marine Corps Commandant, General Krulak’s early criticism of how the U.S. was conducting operations in Afghanistan and his proposed approach. There have also been other books including ones by British Officers and other articles criticizing how the Generals (Flag Officer) have conducted America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some that have appeared in SWJ, Armed Forces Journal, the Daily Beast, etc.

Unfortunately, much of the content of this article lauds asserted tactical improvements in conducting COIN / Stability Operations without recognizing that operational approach has brought this country a record of “losing wars.” The Prussian General Von Moltke the Elder is referred to as noting that a tactical victory which does not lead to a strategic success is in actuality a failed effort. An observation reflected by so many of America’s military pursuits in its decades long failed attempts at imposing its political will on invaded and occupied foreign countries, from which we have consistently withdrawn our military forces without achieving the political objective that motivated that military intervention. As Henry Kissinger recently noted in a televised interview, in four of the five major military efforts in which this nation has engaged since World War II it has failed to secure the political objective underlying that intervention – the successful exception being the First Gulf War.

Gates and his team were simply wrong and failed. Generals Bolger, Dubik and Krulak among others; Admiral Fallon; and a large number of military officers who had the political courage to openly criticize the U.S. military’s Generals and Flag Officers for their failures in Afghanistan and Iraq in blog and magazine articles were and are correct.

The United States seems to view today's "long war" in much the same way as Hans Morgethau described our previous "long war" (the Cold War) to wit:

" ... two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other. Thus the Cold War has not only been a conflict between two world powers but also a contest between two secular religions. And like the religious wars of the seventeenth century, the war between communism and democracy does not respect national boundaries. It finds enemies and allies in all countries, opposing the one and supporting the other regardless of the niceties of international law."

Today, of course, the difference being that we have:

a. A secular (great power) entity (the U.S.).

b. Being opposed by lesser, religious-based entities.

So -- using Morgenthau's term here -- we have a "secular religion" being opposed by a "religious religion."

With this comparison -- these differences -- and these parameters -- to now consider today's "long war?"

joseph collins

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 8:57pm

In reply to by Paul Kanninen

Paul, I share your anxiety and pain. I do think we had and have a plan to leave Afghanistan, and previously in 2011, in Iraq. Those plans are responsible and have taken a long time. I can't imagine a responsible alternative to them. Sadly, we are going back to a limited degree into Iraq. It seems as if the Long War is not a problem to be solved but a condition to be endured. Smartly, we are looking in the future more twd a Nixon Doctrine approach. Best, jjc

Paul Kanninen

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 11:08am

I have watched with dismay our continued commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan go on and on with our leaders saying the goal is to defeat the insurgency. Vietnam should have taught us that trying to outlast the enemy is a weak tactic. We seem to be focused on body counts and not on strategy.

I feel that the Executive branch and Congress have failed to develop a realistic strategy for either war. We have a magnificent military and our leaders have thrown them into combat with very little thought to what is the outcome we seek and how will we achieve it.

With all of the advisors and staff available to our political leaders we have yet to implement a civilian-military process for strategy development as mentioned by the author.