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September 23, 2009
Unkind of WarBy Greyhawk
Another timely report from David Wood, who's been writing great stuff from Afghanistan for some time.
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Soaring across the velvet black sky on a night mission over Afghanistan, F-15E fighter pilot Steve Kwast peered through his high-resolution, infrared targeting pod. He had spotted insurgents running across open ground toward a line of trees. As he swooped down for a closer look, Kwast watched one of the men slip behind a tree - and as his fighter roared past, he could see the man's hands on the tree as he inched around to stay behind it. "All I could see were his fingertips - I could see him moving around the tree as I flew by,'' Kwast, a brigadier general and wing commander here, told me later.I've linked it previously, but if you missed his last report it's something of a prelude:
I'm not sure if I agree completely with Livio Caputo's commentary following the deaths of six Italian soldiers in Afghanistan: "Those who, succumbing to shock, have been calling for an exit strategy do not realize that even simply talking about one is tantamount to admitting that we cannot win" - but I'm certain that such talk doesn't strike fear into enemy hearts, nor enable them to see how very reasonable we are.
That was the lesson some learned from a horribly bloody conflict half a century ago. "[Y]ou may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life,'' T.R. Fehrenbach wrote in his classic history of the Korean War - "but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.''
Update: I suppose I should bring these comments back here, since they're mine, and I hate to run around the 'net trying to find something long after the fact...
Specifics of ROE are indeed classified. Here's the publicly released version of McChrystal's tactical directive - a quick read should satisfy any questions about what is classified and why. (And with a bit more thought why that can lead to accusations of unnecessarily putting troops at risk - can't respond to the charge beyond generic terms without breaking that classification, advantage goes to the accuser.)
Or as someone once cautioned in this fine comment section, the idea that COIN (pop-centric or otherwise) is some sort of bloodless, fluffy bunny warfare is one that should be squashed. (This is different than never claiming it in the first place.)
But I'm not convinced pop-centric COIN adds risk to soldiers to any degree greater than any other boots-on-ground approach. It does present opportunities to its opponents to make claims that it's so - besides the ROE point there's the "not using enemy body count as metric" concept that leads to one-sided body counts in domestic reports, once again usable by opponents of the tactics, strategy, or the commander (at any level, up to CinC).
All this is true to varying degrees of any sort of war, by its very nature. Frankly, al Qaeda (and similar) is/are well aware of this - to them it represents a strategic advantage. This is nothing new.
Don't like boots on ground approaches? Consider that a decade of standoff warfare created al Qaeda (but failed utterly to effect regime change in Iraq - the stated goal.) Osama bin Laden's various fatwas and public statements from the 90s are well worth a read.
Don't like war? I don't either. Unfortunately both sides have to quit. Generally the defeated party does it first, but its a mistake to believe the other will follow suit. I know no one's talking "quit" here, but we are pondering changing our approach (wherein people get killed) to another (wherein people get killed) - and it is worth noting that we don't get to decide when people will stop being killed.
Posted by Greyhawk / September 23, 2009 3:14 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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