A Marine Captain explains our failure in the Long War, & how to win

Summary: Our long war, with its failure to achieve its objectives despite the expenditure of so much money and blood, has been marked by serving officers protesting the madness of our tactics — as we copy tactics of other foreign armies defeated by local insurgents using fourth generation war. Here is another, by Captain Waddell (USMC) — speaking from his hard-won experience. Since Trump seems determined to continue the long war, doubling down on failure, we should listen to list to the Captain’s advice.

“There is a powerful article in the February issue of the Marine Corps Gazette by Capt. Joshua Waddell, a company commander in the 1st Marine Division. It is so heartfelt that it kind of jumps off the page.”
— Thomas Ricks in “A powerful attack on the Marine Corps leadership — by a serving Marine captain“, 7 February 2017.

Joshua Waddell
Capt. Waddell tests communications gear at the Naval Postgraduate School. By Petty Officer Shawn Stewart.

Innovation, And other things that brief well

By Joshua Waddell (Captain, USMC) in the Marine Corps Gazette, February 2017.
Reposted with their generous permission.

“It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objective analysis of the U.S. military’s effectiveness in these wars can only conclude that we were unable to translate tactical victory into operational and strategic success.”

I now thoroughly convinced there is something deeply wrong with the part of the Marine Corps occupying the I-95 corridor leading to the Pentagon. What has become painfully apparent to me is the drastic difference between the mindset of the Operating Forces and the Supporting Establishment. While I grant that, in the case of the former, the prospects of being shot, blown up, or otherwise extinguished tend to be wonderful motivators to constantly improve and perform, the Marine Corps Supporting Establishment is filled with senior officers whose backgrounds include extensive experience in combat within the Operating Forces. Why then is there such a divide between the organizational energy and innovative agility of our Marines and the depressive stagnation found within the Supporting Establishment?

I believe I know a big part of the answer: self-delusion. Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars. It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objective analysis of the U.S. military’s effectiveness in these wars can only conclude that we were unable to translate tactical victory into operational and strategic success (“‘We Fail Better’ Should Not Be the Motto of the U.S. Military“, FP, Oct 2015).

As military professionals, it is not sufficient to offload the responsibility for these failures, at least in their entirety, to decision makers in Washington or in perceived lack of support from other governmental agencies. We must divorce ourselves from the notion that criticism of our performance is an indictment or devaluation of the sacrifices our Marines made on the battlefield. Like many of you, I lost Marines in the “Long War” as well. It has taken several years of personal struggle to arrive at the conclusions I am writing now. What makes this necessary, however, is that if you accept the objective, yet repulsive, fact that our Marines died on the losing side of our most recent wars, you cannot then accept that the status quo of the Marine Corps, and the larger defense establishment, is in an acceptable state of affairs.

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America needs a smaller and more lethal Army for the 21st century

Summary: The failures of our military in Vietnam and our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked discussion about how the US Army can best meet the wide range of threats facing us in the 21st century. Here Robert Prescott reviews the Army’s planning for this new century of war. There are no easy answers. All we see for certain is the need for change.

Military spending

We see the massive power of the US military at work in our media, as not a week has gone by since WWII by without slickly produced articles clamoring for more money for DoD. Such as “America Needs a Larger, More Modern, More Lethal Army” by Daniel Goure at the National Interest, 4 May 2016. Goure (bio here) is one of the military-industrial-complex’s apparatchiks, rotating between positions in DoD and its supporting civilian ngos — now at the Lexington Institute, a right-wing “think-tank” apty described as the “defense industry’s pay-to-play ad agency“. But amidst the propaganda there are more sensible voices, such as this …

Should America Build a Smaller, More Lethal U.S. Army?

By Robert Prescott
From The National Interest, 22 April 2016
Reposted with the author’s generous permission

In the Old Testament book of Judges, the Almighty tasks Gideon with leading the Israelites against their oppressor, the Midianites. In assembling an Israelite army, the Almighty commands Gideon to reduce his numbers. Gideon obeys and ultimately triumphs with the remaining force of three hundred men employing an elaborate ruse. Reducing the size of an armed force seems counterintuitive, but, as the story illustrates, organizational design, and not end strength, is critical to military effectiveness.

In the present day, headlines are replete with American Army leadership warning of risks arising from the reduction in the service’s end strength. Unfortunately, Army leadership indicated the risks could only be addressed by providing the service with more resources, namely appropriation dollars to afford additional personnel and new equipment.

Given the Department of the Army’s record in managing prior manpower increases and modernization programs, Congress is right to be skeptical as to whether simply providing more of both would best minimize the risks raised by the service’s leadership.

The Commission on the Future of the Army, tasked by Congress with an examination of these matters, concluded “in general terms, the Army is appropriately sized, shaped, and ready to meet the strategic guidance it has been given… but only just so.” [Emphasis added].

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William Lind: a voice from the past explains our broken army

Summary: We applaud the heroism and sacrifices of our troops, but remain blind to the incapacity of our army. Here William Lind explains our military’s core problem and how to fix it. Only our intervention will make this possible (excerpt through crushing defeat, as happened to Prussia).

“The spirit of the army is the spirit of its officers.”
— Attributed to Prussian General Ernst von Rüchel (1754-1823).

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666).
Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666). The National Gallery.

 

A Voice From the Past

By William S. Lind

From traditionalRIGHT
25 August 2015

Here with their generous permission

 

Last year, friends gave me a splendid Christmas present in the form of all ten volumes of The Diary of Samuel Pepys covering the years 1660-1670. (As if that were insufficient, they accompanied it with a richly decorated chamber pot for the Imperial Library). Pepys, a civilian, was primarily responsible for developing the first modern naval administration, which turned a collection of ships into the Royal Navy.

The diary’s entry for July 4, 1663, touches on a broader matter. After visiting a general muster of the King’s Guards, Pepys wrote,

Where a goodly sight to see so many fine horse and officers, and the King, Duke (of York) and others come by a-horseback . . . (I) did stand to see the horse and foot march by and discharge their guns, to show a French Marquesse (for whom this muster was caused) the goodness of our firemen; which endeed was very good . . . yet methought all these gay men are not soldiers that must do the King’s business, it being such as these that lost the old King (Charles I) all he had and were beat by the most ordinary fellows that could be.

Pepys’ theme, the defeat of parade-ground armies by “most ordinary fellows”, is an old one. It appears to be unknown to our own military, or, more likely, they know it but cannot conceive it applies to them.

But it does. With all their vastly expensive equipment, they can put on a wonderful show, shows such as Gulf War I and the initial phase of Gulf War II. But once they no longer face another king’s Royal Guards and come up against those ordinary fellows, they lose. The U.S. Marines, who put on a show all the time, and a very convincing one, are now 0-4 against guys in bathrobes and flip-flops armed with rusty AKs. Pepys’ age-old theme repeats itself.

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We don’t need a new army to fight modern wars, we need a smart one

Summary;  Our long war goes badly, as the flames of Islamic revolution spread following our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. Some ask if the US military can cope with the challenges of fourth generation war. Here Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired) gives an answer.

USMC logo

 

We Don’t Need a New Army to Deal with Fourth Generation Foes;
we need a Smart One

By Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired)

One of the primary fallacies regarding Fourth Generational Warfare (4GW) is that the United States must totally retool its force structure to deal with this emerging evolution in warfare; this is not the case. 4GW means that foreign and domestic non-state actors are challenging the monopoly that nation-states have enjoyed on the application of force since the end of the Thirty Years War. That does not mean that war between nation-states has become obsolete.

The fact that the United States enjoys a temporary overmatch against most plausible conventional foes has not made traditional warfighting a thing of the past. Some potential American foes intend to combine a combination of conventional and unconventional warfare in any conflict with the United States in a concept known as hybrid warfare. However, any hybrid war will probably begin with a conventional stage, and only go hybrid if America’s enemy perceives that it is losing.

The United States would be ill-advised to sacrifice its technological edge to prepare to fight low-end 4GW opponents for two reasons. First, success in 4GW is primarily a matter of operational art, particularly in the application of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism principles. There is no special technological or force structure formula for 4GW warfare. Each situation will be unique and the studied application of task organization to meet the terrain and situation will be a key to success.

The primary difference between 4GW and traditional insurgencies is that insurgencies generally have the objective of replacing one form of government with another in a specific country. Many 4GW actors are transnational and look to control a region regardless of existing borders. In that; ISIL, Boko Harem, and to a lesser extent Islamic Courts (al Shabab) do not recognize traditional largely colonial drawn international borders. However, the tactics that they initially use more resemble the classic first two stages of insurgencies with terrorism being used as an early tool.

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When will our military learn modern warfare, & overcome the attritionist tendency?

Summary: Captain Grazier (USMC) writes another chapter in our series explaining why we lose at modern warfare despite the training, size, and fantastic tech of our forces. Another post by a Marine officer explaining our military’s internal struggle to overcome its attritionist tendency (i.e., fighting 21st wars with WWI methods). He explains the complexities of our wars (debunking the “kill until we win” mindlessness that often dominates discussions of our wars). These insights come from someone who has fought our wars. We should listen when he says that learning is the key to future success.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Verdun: 2GW
Attritionists finest hour.

Contents

  1. Overcoming the attritionist tendency
  2. About the author
  3. What is attrition warfare?
  4. The Generations of War
  5. For More Infomration

 

A Manœuvre Renaissance: Overcoming the attritionist tendency

By Daniel R. Grazier (Captain, USMC)
Marine Corps Gazette, June 2015
Posted with their generous permission.

An eccentric retired Air Force colonel accepted an invitation to speak to the students of Amphibious Warfare School class of 1979 only after the staff grudgingly agreed to his demand for a five-hour block of time.1 From this slightly awkward beginning, the Marine Corps’ doctrine of manœuvre warfare sprouted and grew. The shift from attrition to manœuvre hardly occurred overnight. It took the efforts of many intelligent and dedicated officers and civilians years to create a critical mass of manœuvreists within the officer corps to bring about this momentous shift.

Now more than three decades later, almost everyone in the Marine Corps can identify that Air Force colonel as John Boyd and say he “invented” the OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop. But few people appear to understand the real significance of Col Boyd’s work anymore. This becomes readily apparent any time a staff creates a synchronization matrix or a battalion attacks straight into an enemy defense during an integrated training exercise. We are doomed to backslide completely into old attritionist habits without a reexamination of our way of doing business. To prevent this, a manœuvre renaissance is necessary to move forward as we transition away from the long war and prepare to confront a future fourth generation adversary.2

Several factors are to blame for the current lack of appreciation of John Boyd and manœuvre. First, the bulk of intellectual energy over the past decade plus has been expended studying counterinsurgency theory and practice. This, combined with constant deployment preparation and theater-specific training, hardly fosters the proper study and understanding of manœuvre. Secondly, we are now a generation removed from those early revolutionaries of the post-Vietnam military reform movement. Most people take manœuvre for granted now, not realizing just what an all-encompassing concept it really is.

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Is victory impossible in modern wars? Or just not possible for us?

Summary: Slowly America begins to absorb lessons from our fails in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as with Vietnam we prefer not to see too deeply. Mark Kukis at aeon gives us another incisive analysis of modern war that misses the mark, and so sets us up for the next failed war.  {2nd of 2 wars.}

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa
The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

Recommended reading: “The myth of victory” by Mark Kukis at aeon

“War isn’t like it used to be. Victory is more elusive & a strong military doesn’t count as much.”

Mark Kukis knows this subject well, having covered our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the major media and author of Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009, and covered the Afghan and Iraq wars for Time, The New Republic and Salon. This fall he and Andrew Bacevich will work on an open online course, “War for the Greater Middle East”.

I agree in spirit with this brilliant article. But his analysis repeats the mistakes of the previous military reform movement that burned brightly but was proven ineffectual by our wars after 9/11. In that sense it’s similar to the also excellent article by James Fallows in January’s The Atlantic, as I described in this post, and later here. They are complex, academic in nature, unfocused, and obscure the important lessons. They’re guaranteed to have little effect.

Refusal to learn

Kukis begins, as those advocating reform usually do, by stating the problem: America’s refusal to recognize the changed nature of modern war (aka 4th generation war, non-trinitarian war).

How could the Taliban have bested the United States? A more uneven military contest is scarcely imaginable when you consider the state of the two factions on the eve of 9/11. Before the US invasion, the Taliban had an army of roughly 30,000. Taliban forces hardly qualified as a real army, though. They operated more like a decentralised militia scattered around a mountainous country, with few roads and no communications of any kind. They had no officers. A rotating crew of regional commanders oversaw garrisons around the country. Most fighters went unpaid except for the occasional handout from a commander before they went on leave.

In the US, meanwhile, armories bristled with sophisticated weaponry and equipment. {Etc, — we have lots of stuff, more and better stuff than anyone, anywhere, anytime.}

After this strong start he draws a quite fallacious conclusion, based on a strawman assumption.

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Does America have the best military in the world?

Summary: As we begin yet another cycle of wars, we owe it to ourselves and even more to our soldiers to ask why the best soldiers in the world keep losing? Here is one answer, stark and contrarian.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

FM Laws #1: all discussions of 4GW, the wars we actually fight, get derailed into discussions about hardware for theoretical conventional wars. More fun! Less scary!

The Atlantic cover: Jan-Feb 2015

Contents

  1. Fallows describes the problem.
  2. Are we the cause?
  3. Rephrasing the problem.
  4. Another example.
  5. Other post in this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Fallows describes the problem

I consider James Fallows to be one of the most perceptive journalists of our day. So when the Jan/Feb copy of The Atlantic arrived with his article on the cover, I eagerly turned to it. The provocative title, “The Tragedy of the American Military“ predisposed me to like it, as I’ve written much about this during the past decade.  Much of it presented — brilliantly, as usual, the critique developed by the military reform community during the past 20 years (with nil effect on the Pentagon). Here’s the core problem, shown in this excerpt…

Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. … Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion … Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned.

(2)  Are we the cause — the reason why America can’t win these wars?

So what causes this inability to win wars in the 6 decades since Korea? Fallows gives a compelling analysis of the problem (with which I agree) then blames the American public.

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