Archive for August, 2009

Women at War

August 20, 2009

Women in combat are nothing new, though war has historically been a male-dominated venue. Next week the United States Army recognizes the contributions of women in fighting our Nation’s wars in a series of luncheons were distinguished women warriors will share their experiences with audiences at garrisons around the globe. “Women at Arms” is the title of a New York Times series on the topic. (See link “Women at Arms” at right.) The Times series is pretty much full spectrum, with a lot of focus on the “manly stuff of combat.” ABC news ran a story recently on the efforts of our Marines to use female Marines to collect human intelligence from Afghan women and to further encourage these women to keep their men from supporting the Taliban. (See link “Marines Try a Woman’s Touch” at right.) The Marines are demonstrating cultural sensitivity and out of the box thinking in their efforts to support counter-insurgency operations through the use of their “Lioness” unit.

Out NATO allies and their Civil-Military Co-Operation Centre of Excellence (CCOE), at have devoted much time and effort to studying women in combat and have produced some worthwhile studies of not just women, but the at times confusing topics of sexuality and gender and how a clearer understanding of these topics enhances combat effectiveness, especially in stability operations. As one CCOE publication, GENDER MAKES SENSE (link “CCOE GENDER MAKES SENSE” at right), states:

Why should Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC), as a force capability
within NATO, incorporate gender awareness (GA) into NATO missions?
Simply because from previous peace operations we have learned that it
contributes greatly to the success of the mission. In addition, it
improves the safety of the military organisation. Thus, gender
awareness is not just an obligation, it is an absolute necessity.

GENDER MAKES SENSE provides useful information on how NATO military should interact with women during the conduct of peacekeeping and stability operations and includes suggestions for facilitating the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of female combatants. This publication is not focused only on the gentler sex, but also takes up the not insignificant issues of the relationship between beards, rifles and manliness in certain cultures. (Hint, they are not all Taliban, just a bit insecure, so don’t immediately shoot them on site.)

To take this a step further, into stability operations and hopefully conflict transformation, I would like to point out the work of certain NGOs such as “Pennies for Peace.” Pennies for Peace receives no funding the United States Government and is by no means a partner of US or NATO military, nor does it serve as a force multiplier, but it is part of the environment in Afghanistan. It does not support anyone fighting in Afghanistan. What it does support is the education of young Afghan girls by building and equipping schools for that purpose. Many believe that educated women are less likely to let their babies grow up to be Taliban. (See link to “Teach a Girl, Change the World” at right for more information about this NGO and its programs.)

A good friend once told me that electrification and female education programs showed the greatest payoff in economic development and stabilization. With that in mind, as we consider “people’s war” and attempt to fight counterinsurgencies that are “80% political and 20% military” and dissuade disgruntled “non-compliant actors” from becoming “irregular adversaries” and insurgents, we should enlist as many women overseas to join us. This can be controversial. When you teach women to read and write and show them there is more to being a woman than having seven to ten children (and preferably boys), you upset certain mullahs and mujahedeen. But there are certain men, even in Afghanistan, who appreciate intelligent women, women who can persuade them not to fight.


Is Nation-Building Stillborn?

August 17, 2009

Recent news and punditry out of Afghanistan raises the question: Is nation-building stillborn? After last year’s roll out of FM3-07, Stability Operations, stability operations has been overshadowed by irregular warfare throughout much of the U.S. military, and some have noted the presence of a “warfighter insurgency” within DoD, not unlike a previous intellectual movement within our Army that convinced President Bush that our military would conduct no more nation-building. To add insult to injury, various allied statesmen and generals tell us it will take forty years to make a lasting difference in Afghanistan or that we never will, pointing towards the futility of nation-building. (See links at right: “Expert: Afghanistan Policy Bound To Fail” and “General Sir David Richards: Afghanistan will take 40 years.”)

Forty years is too long for most of us, but is it too long for the nation? After our own Civil War, battle fatigue set in after twelve years of reconstruction and the United States Army (and Congress) declared victory and brought the troops home, arguably leaving it to the second Johnson Administration and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to finish the true political rehabilitation of the South. (A colleague of mine pointed out that if you read congressional testimony rendered by Army leadership during our own reconstruction, it reads very, very much like testimony about Iraq.) From a historical perspective, it can be argued that the United States government was penny-wise and pound foolish when it came to nation building after our own civil war.

The United States Government has not shied from investing forty years conducting nation in other countries. Japan and the Republic of Korea come to mind in this regard.

By the end of World War II, Japan had suffered extensive damage and death and was a shadow of its former self. The U.S. Army under General Douglas MacArthur contributed to some serious constitution-writing, economic development and other forms of nation-building during their tenure in Japan.

Our involvement in nation-building in the ROK goes back to 1945, when our Embassy and what would later become Joint-US Military Assistance Group Korea (JUSMAG-K) helped take control of the southern half of the Korean peninsula once the Japanese Army left. The Embassy and JUSMAG-K helped stand up the ROK security forces. During the fighting in Korea from 1950 through 1953 we would lose over 35,000 U.S. servicemen killed in action and many more wounded, but nation-building resumed quickly after the signing of the Armistice between the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea.

For twenty years after the Armistice was signed in 1953 we kept two Infantry divisions in the ROK. Our United States Agency for International Development (USAID) contributed to nation-building in the ROK through its many development programs and the USG funded a major portion of ROKG operations for many years. (Into the early 1970s, the per capita GDP in North Korea was higher than that of the ROK.) The U.S. military expenditure on behalf of the ROK was not unrequited. Over an eight year period, the ROK sent over 320,000 Soldiers and Marines to fight along U.S. troops in Vietnam as part of our containment strategy. The ROK armed forces would suffer over 4,000 killed in Vietnam, almost as many ROK deaths suffered by ROK military, police and civilian during attacks by North Korean commandos during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

We pulled our 7th Infantry Division out the ROK in the 1970s, but we still keep the 2nd Division headquarters, a heavy brigade combat team, a fires brigade and an air defense brigade in the ROK, not to mention numerous fighter squadrons.

Our stay in the ROK was not without controversy. Presidents Nixon and Carter both attempted to pull U.S. military out of the ROK in order to save money and conserve military power, and President Regan had to intervene to save the life of then ROK dissident, later ROK President Kim, De-Jung. Many of US were not satisfied with the ROK’s march towards democracy, feeling President Park, Chung Hee was too heavy handed. (To Park’s credit, once he came to power in a coup, he took off his uniform and never wore it again. He stood for reelection six times before he was assassinated.) Park’s immediate successors were suspect with many human rights critics, and it was not until the 1988 Olympics in Seoul that many of US gave the ROK democracy our stamp of approval. Good governance aside, the ROK outdid itself in economic development, growing, with a dearth of any resources except its people from a third world agrarian economy to a first world information and manufacturing economy. More importantly, in the ROK, the wealth generated during its transformation has trickled down, and the average ROK youth is much better fed and educated than his cousin in North Korea. Much of the success of the ROK in its own nation-building can be attributed to the patience of support of the USG defense, diplomatic and development communities.

We must give credit where credit is due. For all of MacArthur’s brilliance as Emperor of Japan (and many in the ROK admire him still to this day), and for all of the humanitarian assistance and financial aid we gave Japan and the ROK early on, these two great nations did most of their own nation building. Still, it did take a good deal of commitment from our government and discipline and knowledge from our troops to help them along. Questions remain: Do the people of Afghanistan have the same cultural wherewithal to rebuild their society as did the people of the ROK and Japan? With our current emphasis on irregular warfare at the expense of stability operations, are U.S. forces properly trained and equipped to assist in the rebuilding of Afghan society?

Civilian Casualties and Injuries in Afghanistan up 24% in the past six months.

August 2, 2009

An alert reader sent me a UN press release and photos and interviews of injured Afghan civilians today. The links are at the right hand side of this page. Portion of the press release reads:
“The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) has called for a dramatic new response to civilian casualties and injuries in Afghanistan today after the United Nations (UN) reported a 24% increase in civilian casualties in the past six months. The causalities were caused by both Taliban insurgency and NATO-ISAF actions.
ICOS is calling on the International Community and NATO-ISAF, to immediately respond to the release of the UN report with a new three part policy response that aims to “Avoid, Aid and Compensate” civilian casualties and injuries.”

The detailed report goes on to say of the period 1 January 2009 through 30 June 2009 that “the armed conflict intensified significantlythroughout Afghanistan in 2008 and in the first six months of 2009, with a corresponding rise in civilian casualties and a significant
erosion of humanitarian space. UNAMA Human Rights recorded 1013 civilian casualties for the period 1 January to 30 June 2009. This represents a 24% increase in casualties from the same period in 2008 when 818 civilians died. Most of the deaths continued to occur in the
South, South East, East, West and Central regions of the country. According to UNAMA’s figures 595 (59%) of these deaths were caused by AGEs (Afghan guerrilla elements) and 310 (30.5%) by international and national Afghan forces (PGF). The remaining 108 (10.5%) could not be attributed to any ofthe parties to the conflict.”

I do have to question why ICOS didn’t call on the Taliban to respond to the release of the report with a three part policy as well. After all, the UN report did say that most of the casualties were caused by AGE actions, and the Taliban is the principle AGE.

My own experience in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 tells me that US forces make serious efforts to avoid causing civilian casualties and when we do, we are generally quick to offer medical aid and compensation. I am pretty sure that NATO and ISAF are taking similar precautions and measures as well. Still, if it’s your family member who is killed injured, our good intentions are likely small consolation.

Many experts believe that we will lose popular support for our efforts in Afghanistan amongst the locals, and thereby the war, because of civilians casualties and should be more careful, use less firepower, less air power. Still, this is a little like the “cap and trade” debate. Just as it matters little if the US caps green house gasses if the developing world doesn’t, it matters little if the Taliban, without air power and relatively little firepower, still continue to kill more of their own people (or at least other Aghans) than NATO and ISAF do.

Of course history tells us that local support, though nice, is not essential. There was precious little support for the Union Army in Georgia in 1864, but the United States won that war decisively, corralling Confederate states back into the Union and abolishing slavery. Likewise, after killing 800,000 German civilians with air power in World War II, Allied occupying forces were not greeted with flowers by the surviving German population, but they occupied with little if any violent resistance and saw that Germany was reborn as a flourishing democracy and a solid ally.

Still, like Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, I have a Christian soul that tells me the right thing to do is be careful with the lives of non-combatants. And as Luttrell’s own experience in Afghanistan shows, most Afghan people, like people everywhere, return kindness with kindness, even kindness towards Navy SEALs. (See link at right.)