Sunday, August 21, 2016


Village Stability Operations (VSO) in Afghanistan


A Coalition member greets village elder during an ALP graduation
in  Ghazni province in September 2013. Photo by CJSOTF-A.
Read about the Village Stability Operations (VSO) and Afghan Local Police (ALP) programs that the United States Special Operations Forces (SOF) established in Afghanistan. The VSO program was implemented to improve security, development, and governance at the local village, community, and district level in Afghanistan.

SOF News
www.sof.news/afghanistan/village-stability-operations-vso/

SOF News Update - Aug 21,2016

Read an online update for special operations news (SOF) from the past week. Topics include US SOF raid in Somalia, interesting facts about the WWII British SOE, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) in the "Gray Zone", the SOE operative who refused to give up, and stories on Navy SEALs and Air Force Pararescuemen, and SOF in the ground war against ISIS in Northern Iraq.

View online at SOF News
www.sof.news/update/20160821/

Thursday, August 4, 2016

UW Pocket Guide (USASOC)

The United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) has published the "Unconventional Warfare Pocket Guide" - (April 2016). A very detailed overview of unconventional warfare (UW) and numerous references and resources to learn more about UW. Read more about the UW Pocket Guide at the link below.

www.sof.news/uw/uw-pocket-guide/

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

U.S. SOF Return to Yemen

For a number of years United States special operations forces (SOF) were deployed to Yemen to assist government security forces in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations and training. However, in 2015 after the country erupted in a civil war the SOF units were pulled out. Now we have news that U.S. SOF have returned to Yemen. Read more in "U.S. SOF Once again in Middle of Yemen Conflict", by SOF News, August 2, 2016.

www.sof.news/conflicts/yemen/

Monday, August 1, 2016

Afghan MoI Support for the Afghan Local Police (ALP)

The Afghan Local Police (ALP) was established by U.S. special operations forces to provide for local security in key remote districts of Afghanistan. Each of the community defense forces received training and assistance from U.S. SOF for a few years; but that changed with the withdrawal of U.S. forces over time in 2013 through to the present period. Currently, the United States maintains a Special Operations Advisory Group (SOAG) to provide training, advice, and assistance to the ALP Directorate at the Ministry of Interior (MoI). The RAND Corporation recently published a report with findings on the current state of the ALP and recommendations on how to improve the program. Read more in "Afghan Local Police - Assessing Afghan MoI Support for ALP", SOF News, August 1, 2016.

www.sof.news/afghanistan/afghanistan-alp/

Monday, February 9, 2015

New U.S. Defense Strategy

The Obama administration released the new defense strategy for the United States. The 2015 National Security Strategy covers a wide range of issues. You can read the condensed version in a White House fact sheet or the full document.

Fact Sheet: The 2015 National Security Strategy
www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/06/fact-sheet-2015-national-security-strategy

National Security Strategy, February 2015
www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2015_national_security_strategy_2.pdf
(Adobe Acrobat file, 32 pages, 391 KBs)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Degrade and Defeat ISIL by John Allen

General John Allen (Ret), appointed by President Obama to be the special envoy to the international coalition to defeat ISIL, has penned a piece entitled "Degrading and Defeating ISIL" posted on DIPNOTE - U.S. Department of State Official Blog (December 29, 2014). The article spells out the objectives of the international coalition and the gains made thus far on the political and military front.
https://blogs.state.gov/stories/2014/12/29/degrading-and-defeating-isil

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Operation Inherent Resolve

It appears that the Pentagon has finally named the campaign against the fighters of the Islamic State. The campaign against the Islamic State taking place in Iraq and Syria is now known as Operation Inherent Resolve.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Iraq War News

The war in Iraq (and Syria) is heating up. Advisors, intelligence types, SOF operators, JTACs, divisional headquarters, drones, Ospreys, the occasional CIA agent, contractors, and other types of personnel and equipment are flowing into Iraq or nearby countries to support the personnel conducting the air war and those who are wearing "sneakers on the ground". It can get confusing to try and figure it all out if you are not reading the daily classified SITREPs and sitting in on VTCs and staff meetings at the classified level. Fortunately there are a couple of websites out there that try to explain it all and put the information into context. One of these websites on the Iraq conflict is www.iraqwarnews.info. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ISIS and Air Power: Attrition Through Bombing?

The air power advocates are embracing the current bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Air power in many conflicts works great (Kosovo, invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, invasion of Iraq 2003) but the effectiveness falls off once the initial target sets are destroyed and the enemy adapts. Air power in a hybrid or asymmetric war can only go so far. The type of warfare utilized by ISIS will morph based on how we fight them. Groups like ISIS are composed of three things that make them work: stuff, people and ideas (according to Matthew Cavanaugh of The War Council). Stuff, if it is large enough, can be found, and if valuable enough can be bombed and destroyed. People can be bombed if they mass in a big enough formation and if they can be found. Insurgents typically don't mass and try to blend in with the population. Where ISIS is trying to hold territory they certainly will be at risk. Where they are mounting offensives to gain more territory they are at risk. Ideas are hard to destroy by bombing; especially if a group like ISIS is better at tweeting than you are. So defeating or destroying ISIS through attrition (by bombing) is unlikely; degrading through attrition (bombing) is surely possible. Air power, when combined with SOF operators and JTACs on the ground to identify targets can be effective. When air power, SOF/JTACs, and ground troops (Free Syrian Army, Kurds, Iraqi Army, and other Arab forces) can be extremely effective and could possibly lead to defeat within Iraq. Syria? Probably not. Read an interesting article on this topic in "Destroying Value: ISIS, The Anaconda, and War on the Cheap", The War Council, October 1, 2014.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Paper - SOF and Private Security Companies

A paper has recently been published in Parameters and posted on the Strategic Studies Institute portal of the U.S. Army that looks at the relationship between special operations forces and private security companies (or private military companies). The paper abstract is below:
"This article examines the potential role of private security companies as part of a global special forces network. It reveals three factors that may influence the utility of such companies: (1) the industry's largely defensive forces; (2) the implications of serving a humanitarian and development clientele; and (3) the challenges of retired special forces personnel moving to the private sector".
The paper - "Special Operations Forces & Private Security Companies" - by Christopher Spearin, was published in Parameters, 44(2) Summer 2014, pages 61-73. Dr. Spearin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Defence Studies of the Royal Military College of Canada located at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, Ontario.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Independent Kurdistan?

Kurdistan has been in the news a lot over the past few months as we learn more and more about the struggle in Iraq and Syria. Prior to 2014 few people could accurately place Kurdistan on the map - a geographic area containing Kurds in northwestern Syria, southwestern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Iraq. This area of the world almost gained its independence shortly after World War I but soon found out it was sold down the river by the European powers. Since then, it has suffered as a minority population in those four countries.

A huge change has taken place for Kurdistan as a result of the current conflict in Iraq. In 2014 the Kurds of Iraq have emerged as the force that will make the difference between the Islamic State being contained or becoming a true nation spanning the greater part of Iraq and Syria.

Up until mid-2014 the Obama administration was reluctant to provide arms, money, equipment, air support, and advisors to the Kurds. Its stance was that any aid to the Kurds should flow through the corrupt and inept central government run by the Shia regime.

During the height of the Iraq War (2006-2007) Vice President Biden was one of the few politicians who thought that Iraq would survive and thrive as a three-state entity - the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds each having an autonomous region. There was little support for that notion; especially from the political right. Some neo-cons have had a change of heart - see a piece entitled "Hello Kurdistan" by Daniel Pipes (September 10, 2014).

Then the rapid advance of the Islamic State and the embarrassing losses of the Iraqi Army turned the tables. The Obama administration was hit in the face with reality; coming to the realization that if the Islamic State was to be stopped it would be largely because the Peshmerga came to the rescue. Soon air support and aid flowed to the Kurds. This aid should continue and efforts should support the independence of an Iraq Kurdistan. This new entity should be welcomed into the world. The United States would finally have a "friend" in the Middle East that we could depend on. The question is - can the Kurds depend on the United States?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

SAMA Contract for Advisors and Trainers in Iraq

With the newly declared commitment on the part of President Obama to form a coalition to fight the Islamic State there is widespread speculation among the civilian firms providing services and support to the Department of Defense on the possibility of lucrative contracts in Iraq and the Middle East in general. The fight against the Islamic State (also referred to as ISIL and ISIS) will likely last for a number of years. The President has said (in a September 2014 nationwide speech) that the U.S. (and the coalition) will degrade, defeat and destroy the Islamic State. Hmmmm. Degrade maybe. Defeat a slight maybe. Destroy? Very unlikely. At any rate, the fight may go on for years and defense contracts in support of the effort are likely to be forthcoming.

One of the first contracts may be to provide advisory and training services to the Iraq ministries of defense and interior. The use of experienced civilian advisors would lessen the need for military advisors to operate in Baghdad - decreasing the overall number of U.S. military in Iraq.

In fact, the defense department has already sent out a "solicitation" for " . . . interested vendors with the capability of performing Security Assistance Mentors and Advisors (SAMA) services in Iraq."

The contracted firm would provide personnel to support the Government of Iraq (GoI) in ". . . administration, force development, procurement and acquisition, contracting, training management, public affairs, logistics, personnel management, professional development, communications, planning and operations, infrastructure management, intelligence and executive development". The advisors would be working at the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).

U.S. special operations forces (SOF) previously provided advisors and trainers to the CTS and its subordinate units in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq but these were significantly reduced towards the end of 2011. In early 2013 the President directed the CIA to provide assistance to the CTS in an effort to fight al-Qaida affiliates backing Islamic militant groups in Syria.

The advising mission will likely be similar to the Security Forces Assistance advisory effort that will be in place during the Resolute Support mission that will start in January 2015 in Afghanistan. The SAMA solicitation (W560MY-14-R-0004) was posted on August 11, 2014 on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website. You can read the solicitation online at this link.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Army Closes Army Irregular Warfare Center (AIWC)

The Demise of the Army Irregular Warfare Center




It appears that the U.S. Army is once again burying the hard-earned lessons learned of counterinsurgency. The same thing happened at the end of the Vietnam War. Forgetting the counterinsurgency lessons of Vietnam (the conventional army wanted to get ready for the Soviet troops that would invade western Europe) would cost us dearly in the early days of Afghanistan and Iraq. Once the army recognized that it was fighting insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Iraq it had to quickly re-learn the doctrine, strategy and tactics of counterinsurgency. The early beginnings of the Counterinsurgency Center (now called the AIWC) had its origins in the need to gather up past COIN lessons learned and disseminate them in a field manual entitled Counterinsurgency (FM 3-24).

The Army is getting rid of the organization that would capture the lessons and educate the force on the past decade of fighting insurgents. On October 1, 2014 the Army Irregular Warfare Center (AIWC) will close its doors.  The AIWC mission is described below (taken from the AIWC portal):

"The AIWC integrates and collaborates information exchange and analysis for irregular warfare (IW) activities in order to advocate DOTMLPF-P solutions addressing IW capabilities and threats. AIWC synchronizes and assists in the development of IW and Countering Irregular Threats (CIT) enterprise to support a coherent Army strategy that accounts for building partner capacity, stability operations and other pre-crisis activities".

The IW center's focus was on integration, security cooperation, security force assistance, stability operations, and counterinsurgency. As defined by Joint Publication 1-02 (January 2011), "Irregular Warfare is a violent struggle between state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations. IW favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities, in order to erode an adversary's power, influence and will". The five primary activities of IW include Foreign Internal Defense, Counterinsurgency (COIN), Counterterrorism, Stability Operations, and Unconventional Warfare.

The center, at one time it was called the "Counterinsurgency Center" (formed in 2006), is responsible for the development of irregular warfare doctrine (to include counterinsurgency). It had as its leader and staff members of the military community that were knowledgeable on irregular warfare in all its variations. It was recently responsible for the publishing of the recently issued FM 3-24, Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies, May 2014.

It is truly amazing that the Army would close AIWC. Irregular Warfare is the most common type of conflict in the world today. One only has to look around the globe for examples such as Russia's use of hybrid warfare in the Ukraine, the mix of conventional and IW by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the current insurgency in Afghanistan where the Security Force Assistance mission is still ongoing.

It is unknown who will pick up the task of keeping the Army current on irregular warfare and counterinsurgency (perhaps they will leave that to the Navy or Air Force). A more appropriate organization would be the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center and School. At one time the U.S. Army Special Forces were considered the experts on counterinsurgency. One would have thought that the Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) would have been in charge of writing the 2006 version of FM 3-24. Perhaps the next update will come from SWCS in a few years?

See "Irregular Warfare Center to close Oct. 1", Army Times, September 1, 2014.
Learn more about the Army Irregular Warfare Center (AIWC).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Is Unconventional Warfare A Better Option for U.S. Goals

A recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine by Whitney Kassel raises some interesting points on the use of unconventional warfare (UW) to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives. The author provides us examples of how training, advising, assisting, and equipping foreign military forces have yielded less than optimal results for the goals of the United States. The Pentagon calls this providing Security Force Assistance (SFA) to a Foreign Security Force (FSF) . See Security Force Assistance in Afghanistan for an example of SFA at work.

Kassel argues that the White House et al should consider the use of unconventional warfare by Special Operations Forces (SOF). A more accurate consideration would be UW by U.S. Army Special Forces; this military organization is specially trained for UW (see Special Forces training). The example provided in the article is the use of Peshmerga forces in the current Iraq conflict. The Peshmerga, Kurdish security forces, are organized loosely as either part of  the regional security force of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) or one of the militias of various Kurdish political parties in Kurdistan. Read the full article at the link below:

"Send in the Guerrillas", Foreign Policy Magazine, September 8, 2014.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

DoD Report - North Korea's Military

The Department of Defense has released an annual report to Congress on the military and security situation in North Korea. The report, entitled Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea 2013, was published on February 4, 2014. The report provides an assessment of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, factors shaping the North Korean security and military strategy, trends in North Korean security, doctrine, capabilities, and other military security developments. The report is an Adobe Acrobat PDF, is 22 pages
long, and less than 1 MB big. It can be read online or downloaded from a DoD website at the link below.

www.defense.gov/pubs/North_Korea_Military_Power_Report_2013-2014.pdf

Special Forces to Train Iraqi Army in Jordan

Recent news reports indicate that United States Special Forces teams have been sent to Jordan to take part in training events with Jordanian and Iraqi Special Forces units. This is a quiet and small way of helping out the Iraqi government in its attempt to quell the rising power of the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Of course, the resurgence of the terrorists and guerrillas in Iraq is a result of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki not sharing power with the Sunni's. The training event will bolster the ability of the Iraqi special units to conduct special operations. Read more in "U.S. Special Forces Sent to Train Iraqi Special Forces in Jordan", The New York Times, March 7, 2014.

U.S. Military Increases Footprint in Africa - But it is a Small Footprint

While the United States military continues its withdrawal from Afghanistan it is increasing its presence in many parts of Africa. The role of the U.S. military in Africa is that of training and advising host nation military forces. The Marines, Army and Special Forces are sending small teams to various locations to conduct small-scale operations.The command that has responsibility for Africa is Africa Command or AFRICOM located in Stuttgart, Germany. It is headed by a four-star general (currently General David M. Rodriguez). AFRICOM is one of six unified geographic combatant commands within the Department of Defense unified command structure. The mission of AFRICOM is to deter and defeat transnational threats, prevent future conflicts, support humanitarian and disaster relief, and protect U.S. security interests on the African continent. Read a recent news story on military deployments to Africa in "U.S. military presence in Africa growing in small ways", Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2014.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Retirement Perks for Generals and Admirals Questioned in Light of COLA Decrease for Military Retirees

One of the provisions of the Ryan-Murray budget deal was to slash a percentage point off the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) provided to veterans at the end of each year. So if the cost of living is 3% in a given year the veterans COLA is only increased to 2%. Over the course of time this adds up to a lot of lost money. Hopefully members of Congress will change this over the next few weeks. Congress saw the veterans as an easy target. Less than 1 per cent of the population ever serves in the military; so recognizing a weak voting block they saw an opportunity to save $6 billion. Of note, is the silence of our senior general officers on this matter. It would appear that they care more about weapons systems (airplanes, ships, and tanks) than about the people that operate them. Of special note is a perk that generals and admirals receive if they retire with more than 40 years service. These individuals receive more than the base pay they would have received while on active duty. Read more on this in "Senator Questions Retirement Perks for Generals and Admirals", POGO.org, February 5, 2014.

Iraqi Suicide Bomber Recruiter Suffers Work Accident; Kills 21 Of His Would-be Suicide Bombers


Iraqi Bomb Maker Detonates Bomb In Class - Just a Bit Early!

In a case of "you can't make this up" we learn that an Iraqi recruiter and trainer of suicide bombers has accidentally killed himself and 21 of his students. The students would presumably be suicide bombers who would enter Shia neighborhoods in Iraq or target members of the Iraq security forces and self-detonate. Read more in "Suicide Bomb Instructor Accidentally Kills Iraqi Pupils", The New York Times, February 10, 2014.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

More Tanks Make Us Less Safe

Pennsylvania is home to a major plant producing armored vehicles for the Army. Funding for armored vehicles will likely go away if the Army gets its way. It has too many tanks and armored vehicles now. With the budget for the military shrinking the Army is faced with cutting its combat brigades and carefully choosing which weapons systems it needs. However, Congress allocates the funds. Congress will attempt to keep funding for armored vehicles at a higher rate than needed protecting the profits of firms in their congressional districts and protecting jobs. If Congress gets its way the nation suffers. We will buy equipment that we don't need and will not have enough money for the equipment that we do need. Warfare changes and so does the equipment needed to fight the wars; we need to be adaptable and think about more than a firms bottom line and a few hundred jobs at a defense firm. Read more in "The end of the tank? The Army says it doesn't need it, but industry wants to keep building it", The Washington Post, January 31, 2014.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Piracy and the Law

Read a review of an article entitled "Using Force on Land to Suppress Piracy at Sea" by Steven R. Obert. The article is an addition to the legal literature on piracy. Read more in on the article on the Lawfare Blog.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Failing to Learn COIN Lessons (Again)

A retired military officer and scholar writes on how we will soon make the same mistake at the conclusion of the Afghan War that we made at the conclusion of the Vietnam War - not learning from lessons learned. A most excellent article. He cites some reasons for the neglecting of COIN lessons learned after Vietnam: the war was over, NATO had to be able to take on the Soviet Bloc in Europe, and the 1973 Arab-Israeli Conflict had shown the value of high-tech weaponry to defeat an enemy. The U.S. moved into the AirLand Battle doctrine which was Europe centric. The Army was convinced that the general purpose forces, if well-trained for conventional combat, could easily prevail in other cases or types of warfare. Read more in "Failure to Learn: Reflections on a Career in the Post-Vietnam Army", War on the Rocks, January 24, 2014.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How the Army Loses Its Leaders

The United States military sinks a lot of time, money, and effort to educate, train, and develop its leaders. The professional education programs are unmatched by the civilian world. However, the military fails when it comes to officer assignments. One of the results of poor officer management is that the military services bleed talent -officers leave prior to their finishing up their 20, 25, or 30 year careers. In addition, many officers who do stay are unable to contribute nearly as much as they could if assignment policies and "career paths" were less restrictive. Learn more in "How to lose great leaders? Ask the Army", The Washington Post, February 5, 2013.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

33,000 Jobs for Women to Open in Army

MAJ Melissa Bembenek
(2011 photo by SPC White)
The Army will open up a lot more positions for women in 2014 - about 33,000 jobs total. The new positions are available as part of the elimination by the Department of Defense of the direct ground combat exclusion policy (put in place in 1994). The policy barred women, regardless of their military occupational specialty (MOS), from being assigned to any combat units below the brigade level. Read more in "Army opening 33,000 jobs to women", Army Times, January 23, 2014.