Rebecca’s war dog of the week: a spoiled stray in Zerok

Tom Ricks is running a war dog series. Here is the latest:

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

This week’s photo features Sgt. Rick Atkinson tousling with a puppy taken in by the soldiers of Forward Operating Base Zerok in Afghanistan taken last October.


Do you have a story about a dog you knew in a combat zone? Please send it in, along with a photo if you have one.

Please continue reading…

Insurgent war: a power-law phenomenon?

This research looks promising, excerpt:

“Because it is a power-law distribution we know that conflicts are dominated by small attacks usually killing one or two people, but unlike what would be expected from a normal distribution, attacks that kill 100+ people will occur with a relatively high frequency,” added Dr Gourley.

“We can use the power-law distribution to accurately predict the likelihood of different sized attacks occurring on any given day. This is useful for military planning and allocating resources to hospitals.

“However the strength of the approach goes beyond simple statistics. By using the power-law distribution we can understand how insurgent cells form and break apart and how the insurgency as a whole is structured.

“Then by tracking the slope of the power-law, we can see in real-time how the structure of the insurgency changes in response to external actions such as the surge in Iraq.”

In particular, it suggests that the dynamics of insurgent group formation are the same across all arenas-from the jungles of Colombia through to the deserts of Iraq, and including the entire world stage of global terrorism.

In short, the way in which modern wars and terrorism are being waged has less to do with geography or ideology, and more to do with the day-to-day mechanics of human insurgency- it is simply the way in which insurgent groups of human beings fight when faced with a much stronger, but more rigid, opponent.

Fellow Kiwi Sean Gourley has a recent TED talk that hits the high points of this research. And here is a Fast Company quick-take :

Physicist Sean Gourley thinks he may be able to model and predict violence in Iraq.

And it’s not just Iraq; Gourley, who works for the San Fransisco-based startup YouNoodle, has used his military side project to map the distribution of attacks in wars in Afghanistan, Colombia and Senegal as well. His finding: the casualties in all four of those conflicts, despite the chaos, fall into a precise mathematical distribution.

Using data from 130 publicly-available sources like newspapers, cable news, and NGO reports, Gourley and his team think they may have found the nature of war. By plotting the deaths in each conflict by time, place and frequency, Gourley discovered that the casualties fell along a well-clustered line of best fit, with a common slope of 2.5. That, he believes, means that his model could be used to predict the probability of attack in a given place.

The secret lies in the group dynamics of the enemy. At a certain point in a war, Gouley argues, insurgent forces must adapt one of two specific models, or they collapse; they either become weaker and more numerous, or stronger and more consolidated. The degree to which they achieve one extreme or another corresponds to the slope of the line Gouley has graphed. To find out what his data says about the success of the recent surge in Iraq, watch the TED talk below.

For the details, check out this paper Modelling the Iraq conflict: A market for insurgency.

Why have Afghanistan and Iraq been so difficult?

Military historians will likely say things like “the enemy always gets a vote”, and “wars almost always are punctuated by mistakes”. Both very true, but I have concluded that all of the NATO militaries need new missions and thus new structures. I believe that Tom Barnett got it about right in The Pentagon’s New Map — that to help the remaining “Gap” countries to join the globalized “Core” we need a structure that would substitute the “SysAdmin” force for very roughly half of traditional military spending.

For example, when the next generation of historians write objective histories of Afghanistan and Iraq, I speculate that they will argue that much of the the Bush Administration’s supposed ineptness is due to a nearly complete absence of SysAdmin-type nation-building forces. In the existing, traditional structure the SysAdmin function is supposed to be performed by the Department of State. Anyone following closely the post 9/11 efforts will have noted that “State” failed to show up for duty. Fortunately the U.S. military has learned and adapted to pick up some of State’s responsibility — else both Afghanistan and Iraq would have no chance of long-term success. But funding, training and promotion-incentives have all worked against that transition — so even after five years of learning the actual SysAdmin capability is much weaker than required.

For more, see this 2006 post, and these posts and articles on the SysAdmin function. For a short summary of the critical importance of this “Unified Action” concept, see this post on Austin Bay’s interview with Rumsfeld — excerpt:

…Undeterred, I decided to ask a question that goes to the heart of America’s ability (or inability) to win long-term, multidimensional 21st century wars.

My question: “Mr. Secretary, based on our experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the limited interagency and non-governmental organization (NGO) participation in that operation, how do you see ‘Unified Action’ evolving for future conflicts?”

Forgive the military jargon — at one time I was Col. Bay — but the question is essential. It also altered the luncheon ambiance. As I asked it, I saw our very steady chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. Peter Pace, pass Rumsfeld a careful stare.

“I’ll tell you we’re better at it now than we were five years ago,” Rumsfeld replied. He acknowledged that “challenges remain” in achieving Unified Action and that effective Unified Action is critical to winning 21st century wars.

He’s right — we are better at it than we were. However, I know we aren’t as good at it as we need to be.

The politically deft SecDef finessed the question — and it was finesse, not dodge. The military jargon masked a heavy political hand grenade I was rolling toward the Beltway. You think Harry Reid’s land deal or Mark Foley’s messages are big stories? How about a stinging pre-election turf battle between Defense and the departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Commerce and Agriculture, complete with zinger accusations of who is or isn’t contributing to the war effort?

I know, that’s quite a claim, which is why I need to translate the mil-speak: Unified Action means coordinating and synchronizing every “tool of power” America possesses to achieve a political end — like winning a global war for national survival against terrorists who hijack economically and politically fragile nations and provinces.

People understand the role of soldiers and cops in a war, but in 21st century wars where economic and political development are determinative, an arborist at the Department of Agriculture and a Commerce Department trade consultant can be powerful contributors to “Unified Action.”

Charts: Ten Myths About the Defense Budget

Defense vs. entitlement spendingU.S. defense spending is currently around 4% of GDP, having increased since 1998 back to the levels of 1993-94. But that’s not what many people believe — at least based on a 2007 Gallup poll. The chart at left shows that most of the growth in U.S. federal expenditure has been in entitlements [Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, …]. And this post shows the true history of defense spending since 1945. The Heritage Foundation published an issues paper in March 2007 which examines actual spending — attempting to debunk the “ten myths”. Excerpt:

The perception that the nation’s defense expenditures are larger than they really are is the result of a widespread acceptance of 10 myths about the defense budget. These myths range from the assertion that defense expenditures impose a large burden on the U.S. economy to the assumption that the defense budget is skewed in favor of the defense contractors that manufacture weapons and equipment for the Department of Defense.

The Heritage paper does not address a central question: “what national security expenditures are justified” — in both absolute and GPD-relative terms? For a few thoughts on that question, please see the next post Why have Afghanistan and Iraq been so difficult?

Farewell, Fox Fallon

…Democrats will try to make a scandal out of Fallon’s departure. But in fact it shows the system of civilian control of our armed forces working as intended. That is something any future President, Democrat or Republican, should be grateful for.

CFR senior fellow Max Boot considers Adm. Fallon’s resignation…

Today’s Los Angeles Times carries an article by me on the resignation of Admiral Fox Fallon from Central Command. In it I applaud his departure. Fallon was on the wrong side of so many issues–from opposing the surge in Iraq to making public statements that made it more difficult to maintain pressure on Iran. But his departure also raises a broader issue that I didn’t have room to address in the article: When is it appropriate for military commanders to break ranks with their civilian overseers?

One personal comment on Max’s article — I think he would agree though the article wasn’t crystalline on this point: I believe that retired military are free to exercise their rights as civilians — to comment on any aspect of foreign or military policy. In particular they are fully entitled to oppose the president’s policies. While they are serving their public comments should be confined to their “pay grade” — i.e., what they are responsible for. Within the “chain of command” we should hope that their opinions and judgements are offered regardless of whether those views are contrary to “administration policy”. I put that in scare quotes because we must remember that almost never know what “administration policy” actually is — e.g., when there are “leaks” that the administration is considering war against Iran. The threat of force is one of the most essential ingredients of diplomacy.

A further distinction should be made. Military officers are experts in how to wage war, not when to wage it. Their advice is most needed when it comes to tactics and operations, not for building grand strategy. Bush and Rumsfeld would have been well advised to pay closer attention in 2003 to the misgivings of generals such as Eric Shinseki, who warned that a larger force would be required in Iraq. And today the administration should certainly listen to Fallon or other officers about which military options, if any, are viable in the event of war with Iran.

Missile defense: Tough Calls, Good Calls

Messrs. Crouch and Joseph are senior scholars at the National Institute for Public Policy. Mr. Crouch was formerly deputy national security adviser and Mr. Joseph was formerly undersecretary of State in the George W. Bush administration.

The writers aren’t totally unbiased, but I think their review of the missile defense policy is well worth a read and reflection:

One of the most difficult and consequential decisions of the Bush presidency took place in January of last year: the decision to fundamentally change our strategy by “surging” more U.S. forces to Iraq.

This decision was taken against the backdrop of escalating violence in Iraq, calls for immediate or “phased” withdrawal, prognostications of imminent defeat, and an abundance of political blame directed at the White House. The president’s move was met with skepticism and outright vilification, except for a few principled politicians like John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Today, people are getting in line to claim credit for the “surge.”

Mr. Bush’s decision was guided by a clear strategic principle. The president wanted the U.S. to win, and refashioning our strategy was the best opportunity to succeed in this goal, as well as to leave Iraq policy on a sounder basis for his successor. Whoever wins the presidency in 2008 will be pleased that he did. What a difference a year makes.

The surge may turn out to be Mr. Bush’s most important decision. But he has made other such decisions since 9/11, including to commit ground forces to Afghanistan, to eradicate the regime of Saddam Hussein, to use the CIA to conduct strategic interrogation of high-level terrorists, and to conduct strategic surveillance of terrorists communications.

Mr. Bush has faced so many tough choices over the last seven years that his decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has been at least partially forgotten. Yet this decision, announced in December 2001, was no less consequential. It also defied the critics who argued that it would lead to a new arms race, increase nuclear proliferation and ruin cooperation with Russia on nuclear arms control and terrorism.

None of these things have happened as a result of the ABM Treaty withdrawal. But the decision will enable us to counter a still-growing 21st century threat.


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Piracy blog

I really liked the “about me” description:

Attorney. Retired Navy Reserve Captain (Surface Warfare). Opinions expressed herein are my own. Sometimes I have the experience to back them up. Your opinions may vary. Don’t panic. Nothing contained herein should be confused as me giving legal advice to anyone. If you are confused, welcome to the club. Spelling errors and typos are the result of gremlins in my keyboard.

offered by the author of the Eaglespeak blog, which focuses on piracy at sea. As an example of the useful resources, see World Oil Transit Chokepoints — with maps and descriptions of each of the piracy hotspots.

Also included are reports on the awl bidness.

Chinese submarine suprises U.S.S. Kitty Hawk supercarrier

UPDATE: reader Charles points out this report is a replay, not original reporting:

Apparently the story is a mistaken rerun of a 2006 incident… here the scoop

I’m not sure why this penetration was surprising. The Song class diesel-electric subs are extremely quiet. As are the Australian Collins class subs. That is why the U.S. Navy exercises regularly with the Aussies [and why the U.S. supplies top of the line U.S. electronics to Australia – the only such nation to have access to the U.S. technology].

At least one Australian submarine has already successfully demonstrated just such a penetration capability during joint exercises. Excerpt:

American military chiefs have been left dumbstruck by an undetected Chinese submarine popping up at the heart of a recent Pacific exercise and close to the vast U.S.S. Kitty Hawk – a 1,000ft supercarrier with 4,500 personnel on board.

By the time it surfaced the 160ft Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine is understood to have sailed within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier.

According to senior Nato officials the incident caused consternation in the U.S. Navy.

The Americans had no idea China’s fast-growing submarine fleet had reached such a level of sophistication, or that it posed such a threat.

One Nato figure said the effect was “as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik” – a reference to the Soviet Union’s first orbiting satellite in 1957 which marked the start of the space age.

The incident, which took place in the ocean between southern Japan and Taiwan, is a major embarrassment for the Pentagon…

Private military contractors

Robert Kaplan explains the real story in the latest Atlantic Monthly:

…Mention private military contractors to many civilians, especially to liberals, and they’ll think of red-state good old boys working for a firm like Halliburton—the Texas-based corporation formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney—who appear to constitute a rogue, mercenary element favored by a Republican administration.

In fact, the former Halliburton subsidiary of Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) consummated its veritable marriage with the U.S. military during the Clinton administration, when the firm’s logistical capabilities were indispensable to the Balkan interventions that many liberals supported. The KBR-designed military bases in Bosnia and Kosovo became templates for those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rather than mercenaries who will fight for the highest bidder, private contractors like KBR and Blackwater are composed mainly of retired American noncommissioned officers (NCOs), working alongside the same military to which they used to belong. Just as other professions tap the wisdom and expertise of retirees, so does the American military. Indeed, some contractors, like Triple Canopy, are known to hire veterans of the most elite Special Operations units in the U.S. military. “I’m hiring the elder statesmen of the combat arms community,” one Army colonel told me, referring to some private contractors he was taking on to supplant his uniformed troops in a noncombat capacity. “They won’t have to go through any sniff test when they arrive in the field as consultants. They’ll be instantly looked up to.”