I vividly remember the events of September 11th. I was at my high school’s library, on one of the computers when I came across the news on a news site, and over the course of the afternoon, we learned that it was no accident, but a deliberate attack against the country. I remember being concerned that we didn’t know who did it, until the news began to shift over the next couple of days to the Middle East. In my 10th grade history class, we listened to the radio. The road was dead silent as the commentators spoke about the event. That day has defined the existence of my generation, in every single facet of life, as we’ve watched the towers tumble into two wars across the world, while our domestic society has undergone major shifts and changes that we’ve gone along with in the name of security and safety. One man changed the world, and he’s now dead.

I’m not sure what I felt while listening to NPR late at night, when the rumors that Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces in Pakistan. There’s a certain amount of relief, given the significance of the actions, but quite a bit of emptiness at the news. Bin Laden is now gone, and as the head of a terrorist group that’s killed thousands of people, I’m happy to see that he won’t be able to contribute to the overall direction and leadership, which will undoubtedly save lives in the future. At the same time, his death won’t bring back all those who’ve been killed across the world, and it won’t stop the momentum on the movement that he started.

Major political events have a certain momentum that keeps them going, and the death of Bin Laden ultimately won’t stop because their leader has been killed. It’s a setback, to be sure, just as when any organization loses their leader, they lose their particular guidance and leadership. Undoubtedly, there is some form of contingency plan on the part of Al Qaida to shift power around, and hopefully, it’s not well thought out or planned to any good degree, so that the transfer of power will be inefficient and slow down whatever plans they have coming up. That being said, Al Qaida certainly does have a population of people who support their goals and the means that they use to bring about their intended ends, and for that reason, it’s clear that the fight against terrorist activities will continue.

Hopefully, though, his death will help to further delegitimize Al Qaida as a credible entity in the eyes of those who are sympathetic to their ends. The uprisings across the Middle East have demonstrated – in part – that peaceful protest can help to gain what the people want, that violence doesn’t always have to happen. There’s no direct comparison between the efforts used to attack the US and to overthrow some of the Northern African – Arabic leaders, but there’s certainly the demonstration of alternatives. That being said, some of his supporters have already vowed violence in revenge: we’re not out of the woods yet.

Undoubtedly, we’ll see a couple of dramatic narratives on the events of the 1st, covering the planning that went into the raid that took Bin Laden’s life: I’ll be interested in seeing everything that happened leading up to it. I’ve already read a number of fascinating accounts between the White House and the military, in a real intelligence story that involved a lot of moving parts and elements. I’m rather surprised to see some of the news point to Guantanamo Bay as a source for some of the information that helped lead to the raid. It’ll be interesting to see the aftermath in the years, and that despite the stigma that the place represented to the outside world, some parts of it proved to be useful to the security of the country. It’s hard to remember at times that there are elements that we don’t see, and it’ll be interesting to see the final cost vs. the benefit that we attained from it.

The wars in Afghanistan will continue on as well, although with the death of Bin Laden, I’m guessing that there will be a bit less support for the conflict, and its impact on global affairs will be interesting to see. The people who supported Bin Laden’s world view of a strict non-secular state ruled by his strict (and flawed) interpretation of Islam are still around and seeking to implement their views in various points around the world. Afghanistan is one place, where the country’s government allowed an attack on the United States from Bin Laden. However, the US presence in Afghanistan, and the United States’ role in world affairs should be reexamined to determine where force should be used. The core mission in Afghanistan was to depress the abilities of Al Qaida to the point where it is no longer a threat to the United States: that would seem to be further along today, but it’s far from over. Our efforts against the insurgency in Afghanistan should be evaluated, to determine whether they are a threat to the country, or to consider whether we’re changing the core mission to something far more different, which has grave consequences and implications for our stance in the world.

This feels less like a victory, and more like a stepping stone in what has turned into a long and terrible struggle. At points, it feels like we’ve lost our way, our focus and sight of what we’re out to do, but hopefully, this incident will remind us of the reasons why this happened in the first place. I for one, don’t want to think of the last ten years that helped to define the world as something of a wasted opportunity to learn and improve upon our future. If anything, hopefully the death of one evil individual will help to bring about a brighter tomorrow.

Karl Marlantes on 'Matterhorn'

Each year, the Colby Symposium awards the Colby Award to a first notable book from an author that deals fundamentally with the nature of warfare and contributes substantially to the field. During the awards dinner this year, executive director and Norwich University Alum, Carlo D'Este said that it was rare that the entire committee universally agrees on a single book, but that this was the case for the 2011 prize, going to Karl Marlantes, with his first acclaimed novel, Matterhorn.

Karl Marlantes is a Marine Corps veteran, a Rhodes Scholar, and a graduate from Yale University. In the course of his military service during the Vietnam War, he earned the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, two Navy Commendation Medals for Valor, ten air medals and the Navy Cross, amongst numerous others. He first attempted to publish his novel in 1967 and was unsuccessful until 2009, when his book was published by El Leon Literary Arts, and later by the Atlantic Monthly Press in 2010.

Matterhorn is a work of fiction, but is closely tied to Marlantes's own experiences in Vietnam. Early in his presentation, he told the group that he wanted to tell the common experience of Vietnam, rather than simply his own: in literature, readers relate to the characters in the novel, whereas in a memoir, the reader's experience is somewhat different. He believed that fiction was the better route in this case, also because he wanted to get into the heads of a number of different characters, rather than just one person.

Like Stanton, he noted that part of a soldier's training is that people make mistakes: the key is to make sure that the mistake isn't repeated. In the instance of military operations, mistakes can be fatal, and officers are responsible for the people under their command. He noted that the military is run by human beings, and that he didn't believe that there were villains, just people with flaws.

Vietnam, he said, is akin to the alcoholic father, the elephant in the room: it's influential, but nobody wants to talk about it. Like we're seeing now in Afghanistan, we didn't understand the culture, we were restrained by very strict rules of engagement and we worked with a very corrupt and illegitimate native government. One key difference is that there is the absence of major civil unrest in the United States right now, unlike in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1969, there were over 200 fragging instances, where someone would take a fragmentation grenade and roll it into someone's tent. These incidents of fratricide were usually racially motivated. He said that when you take a bunch of 19 year olds and give them weapons, you have the very definition of racial tensions.

Another major difference was the institution of the draft. While the draft was incredibly unfair - people could be exempted from being called into service (if they were attending college, for example), but we have a burdened all volunteer military now. Marlantes asserted that changes needed to be made and that the volunteer military needs to be rethought, as extended periods of warfare put an incredible strain on our armed forces and on the country as a whole. He cited an indifference to the military right now, and that that wasn't good for anyone.

One of the major problems that helped to define Vietnam (and according to Jack Segal, Afghanistan as well): the lack of definable progress with the war. World War II was a clear cut battle: there were objectives that were captured, defined and tangible enemies that were pushed back, islands captured, and so forth. With Vietnam, the only progress was a body count (which he also noted was heavily distorted by soldiers on the ground). Using a body count as a measure of war is immoral. The purpose of the military is not to kill (although it carries that out in the course of its duties) but to stop their enemy from continuing the fight. As soon as one military gets the other to stop, they've won. The killing should never be the objective of the war. In a way, Vietnam became a game. In all things, whether it's warfare or a business, the objectives and the metrics used need to be clear-cut, careful and solid.

Marlantes also cited that there shouldn't be a separation between the people on the ground and the strategy for the war as a whole. Micromanagement of soldiers is problematic, and its essentially a double-edged sword, something that began in Vietnam, and is something that we continue with today. The people on the ground need to understand what the objectives are, and the people setting the objectives need to understand the capabilities and resources available to them in the people on the ground.

At every reading, Marlantes was asked where Matterhorn was. He fought at Hill 484, where they fought very hard to take and hold the position: at one point, they were down to seven bullets per man, before resupply. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was very well organized, and formidable enemies. 484, and another hill, 3107, heavily influenced the novel. He noted that a lot of people pulled him aside and recounted their own experiences, and how similar the book's lined up with their own, an indication that the war saw numerous similar experiences for a number of different people.

One major problem with Vietnam, he noted, was the way in which the war was approached and fought. Just a couple of decades after the Second World War, the Navy and Marines were geared towards certain ways of fighting: the marines were geared towards amphibious warfare, while their helicopters were geared towards tactical missions, rather than resupply. During WWII, the Marines worked to take islands, dropped off by the Navy, who would then retreat out of range. Rather than simply bombing, the Marines sought to exchange casualties for speed. However, capital ships weren't in regular danger, and that this caused problems in the execution of the war's strategy.

Personal problems also flared up: drug usage was heavy amongst soldiers, which shouldn't come as a surprise, but soldiers of Vietnam exchanged alcohol for pills, or weed. This is something that's continued forward with the current wars in Afghanistan, although now, it's through legal means, and is something that Marlantes believes will be causing a number of psychological problems for soldiers after the war is over.

Matterhorn is a novel that he hopes will demonstrate the character of the Vietnam War, and through the course of the talk, it's clear that there's a number of parallels between the conflicts in Vietnam and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East: the changes in strategy, the metrics of warfare, the organization and command of the soldiers and the uncertain battleground and objectives. Matterhorn is on my personal to-read list, and at some point in the future, I'll have a review for it here. There are lessons in the past that should not be overlooked, or forgotten.

Doug Stanton on US Special Forces in Afghanistan

Cover Image The third talk of the Colby Symposium featured author Doug Stanton, author of the widely acclaimed New York Times bestseller In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors (Published in 2002), and Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan (published in 2009). Stanton has written for a number of publications, ranging from Esquire to Sports Afield to Outside, and is a contributing editor at Men's Journal. His talk centered on the Special Forces who were first deployed to Afghanistan in 2001. He opened by noting that on September 11th, he wondered what, as a writer, he was supposed to do, and realized that he could explain the situation and tell the story of the people who would be fighting.

Shortly after he released In Harm's Way, he toured the country, signing his book at bookstores across the country. At every stop along the way, he found that people everywhere had some way in which they could relate to the disaster of the U.S.S. Indianapolis: they were veterans, they had served on the ship, or were related to someone who had a meaningful relationship with the ship before it sank during the Second World War.

The sailors who had survived the sinking went through a hellish experience: hundreds of survivors in the water, without provisions and hunted by sharks (the disaster helped inspire elements of the film Jaws), numerous sailors simply gave up and perished. The descriptions were horrific: a sailor would let go from the life raft and would be set upon by sharks, after several days without water, with swollen digits and eyes, burned by the sun and hearing the screams of men around them. However, he said that many people told him that they had thought about giving up and going under, but were stopped by the memory of someone talking to them: a grandfather, parent, teacher, who encouraged them to continue onwards just a little longer. Three and a half days later, the remaining 321 survivors (out of the 880 who survived initially) were located and rescued. Stanton said that that made him wonder what he had said, what his parents and teachers had told others that would allow them to continue onwards in a hard situation. This was particularly relevant to the cadets in the room.

Stanton said that he was fortunate to be able to point attention to the veterans of the wars: their stories were at risk of being forgotten or under realized, and that writing was a particularly important way to preserve the past. People need to recognize and understand the contributions of the veterans.

When it came to researching the story behind Horse Soldiers, Stanton said that he ran into trouble because he was used to calling people up and asking them questions: the people involved in the US Special Forces weren't used to that, and he recounted several experiences where the soldiers weren't very forthcoming, because of the nature of their positions in the military, and that it took a little while before they realized what he was doing, and opened up to him. On September 10th, he told the group, you likely wouldn't have found Afghanistan on the plans for any military operation: it was a remote country that caught people by surprise, and there was a scramble to figure out just what to do. The first plans involved the deployment of conventional soldiers into the country, but there were no plans in place, nor any training to support such a mission. Plan B involved 12 Americans in a helicopter that landed in Uzbekistan, where they linked up with a couple of CIA operatives and twenty thousand Anti-Taliban fighters. Special Forces had never been used as the first people into an engagement such as this. The first operations were fast, cheap (70 million dollars), and involved around 300 soldiers, and were shortly followed up with conventional troops. On September 11th, the anti-Taliban forces had heard of the attacks on New York City and Washington DC, and realized that they would soon get help to their cause.

Special Forces, Stanton noted, were unique because they operated very differently from the conventional military: they weren't taken as seriously, because they were forced to understand how to affect changes from the inside of a command structure, rather than from an external means. As Jack Segal noted earlier, the people in Afghanistan have a very different outlook and mindset on their existence, something that has been difficult for the US to understand and either work with (or against). Building a common cause was essential, and the training that the soldiers had was essential.

Stanton talked about a training operation that special forces soldiers went through, called Pineland. USA Today has a good explanation of some of the background on the exercise here, but in short, it's a training operation that forces soldiers to work within relationships of another country: something that is highly relevant in today's battlefield in the Middle East. He noted that their training has a lot to do with failure: the key is to learn from one's mistakes, but also that it's not the decisions that they make when you have a problem: it's the decisions that you made 7 or 8 turns ago that are important.

Improvisation and decentralized decision making are important for this style of warfare as well: soldiers need to learn to improvise and to understand the context of what they are doing, but also to learn on the go as events change quickly. When the first soldiers arrived in Afghanistan, they were asked if they'd ever ridden a horse. Only two raised their hands, and that had only been as children. Stanton went on to characterize the war as a western, only with lasers. It's a situation that changes fluidly, and that the best way to understand, and to fight in a situation like that, is to understand the choices and decisions that were made earlier, and how they influence the present.

Afghanistan: America's Second Vietnam or its First Victory over Al Quida?

The second presentation in the Colby Symposium at Norwich University was titled 'Afghanistan: America's Second Vietnam or its First Victory over Al Qaida?', by Jack Segal. Segal is the Chief Political Advisor to the NATO Joint Force Command Commander, General Wolf Langheld. He is a distinguished figure, having served two tours in Vietnam with the 4th Infantry Division during the Tet Offensive and again with the 25th Infantry Division, where he earned the Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal. Since the war and subsequent education, he's held numerous posts in the US Diplomatic service, playing key roles in the negotiations with the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks between the US and the USSR, and was named the first US Consul General in central Russia in 1994 and became the Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Lynn Davis in 1995. Following that, he worked with the National Security Council at the White House as the director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and worked with the White House's Kosovo group. in 1999, he became the NSA Director for Non-Proliferation, and joined NATO in 2000. He is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the US National Defense University. To say that he's had a distinguished and important role in foreign affairs is a bit of an understatement.

His talk looked to the history of Afghanistan, and the roots of the conflict that we are currently in. He opened with a couple of comments about the present affairs: he noted that he always asks soldiers that he meets a question that his father asked him while he served in Vietnam: "Are you making any headway?".  When his father asked him in the 1960s, he said that he had sat on the question for a month while he tried to figure out the answer. He said that he's gotten a variety of responses from soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan. The war is complicated, he noted, politically, and geographically. One question he's fielded from politicians is that the Afghanistan border needs to be secured, to which he's replied that it's the equivalent of attempting to seal the US Border from Maine to Key West: it's a lot easier said than done.

Segal then turned to history, starting with the Buddha statues that had recently been destroyed by the Taliban, speaking to a long, troubled history with religious connotations. The statues were destroyed because they went against some of the tenents of Islam: deities aren't permitted to be represented in human form. It was an interesting example as to the lengths to which they will go to protect their faith.

Afghanistan was once part of the 'Great Game', between Persia, Russia and the United Kingdom, who went and divided up the country amongst themselves. The UK had extensive colonial interests in India, and were worried about the Russian ambitions in the region. In 1839, the first Anglo-Afghan war began at Ghazni, and while it had begun in favor of the British, by 1842, the entire British army, save for a single person, was massacred at the Khyber Pass. The UK attempted to invade twice more, with similar results, before the region was divided up politically by the major powers in the region, resulting in instability in the future. [As an aside, a good book on the British experiences in India and Afghanistan is Saul David's 'Victoria's Wars'.] The British relinquished control on August 19th, 1919. For part of the 20th century, the country went through several rulers, who made great changes in the nation, working to bring it out of isolation. The monarchy was abolished in 1973, and Afghanistan was declared a Republic.

Segal talked extensively about the Soviet invasion of 1979. On December 24th, the Soviet military deployed a large ground, air and special forces mission in the country, and installed their own Soviet-friendly leader. Thousands of people were killed under this regime. Over the next ten years, a million Afghans were killed, another 1 million internally displaced, and a further 3 million refugees. It was a major disruption to the country. The Soviet Union played out their interactions as a protection from the Mujahedeen, and sought to remove Islamist ties with the country, preferring their own atheistic model - an easy sell to the USSR. This created opportunity for enemies of the USSR: A good example is the events of Charlie Wilson's War, as the US began to funnel money and weapons into the country. At the start of the invasion, the US handed over around $1 million. By the end of the occupation 10 years later, that money ballooned to over a billion dollars.

During this time, Osama Bin Laden enters the picture in Afghanistan to help oppose the Soviet occupation and agenda: he attempted to create a holy war to kick them out. At the same time, Stinger missiles were introduced to help counter the tactical advantages that the Soviets had with their helicopters. They were wiped out, and soon, weren't able to fly. By 1989, over 16,000 Soviet soldiers were killed, a lot more wounded, and following the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan's Soviet placed leader, Najibullah, remained for three years before the country dissolved into Civil War, which lasted until 1996, when the Taliban game into power.

 Segal pointed out that Taliban is a plural term: the singular is Talib, which essentially means 'Student of Islam'. He noted that when we say that we're fighting 'The Taliban', it comes across that we're fighting the students of Islam, a mistake that has further molded their expectations of what we intend to do in the country. Around this same time, Osama Bin Laden has returned to the country with Al Qaida, after his citizenship was revoked by Saudi Arabia and he was kicked out of Sudan. He was welcomed by the Taliban government, and he began to set up training camps, training about a thousand people a month.

 In 2001, he helped to orchestrate the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and US response was swift, with an invasion of Afghanistan by US Special Forces. (A note, Doug Stanton, who also presented at this Symposium, talked extensively about this) By 2004, the warlords were back in control of the country, but Taliban rule has resisted between 2002 and 2006. As of 2009, a number of new players have entered the field: businesses, criminal groups, religious groups, and so forth, resulting in a splintered country. Now retired General Stanley McCrystal issued a report in 2009, stating that the situation in Afghanistan was serious, under resourced and deteriorating. A major change in strategy would be needed to turn the war around. He proposed a population centric, regional strategy, although he and Karl Eikenberry were split on what to do. As of right now, 132,000 soldiers are in Afghanistan, while there's only around 100 Al Qaida in the country.

Segal noted that there are significant problems, and a disconnect in the nation's strategy towards the country. The original mission was to disrupt the operations of Al Qaida, not the Taliban, and that two concurrent strategies, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency don't necessarily work as well together at points.

He also told the group that the situation on the ground is incredibly complex, with a network of tribes, sub tribes and conflict between other groups throughout the country. There were situations where interpreters working on behalf of the US were from an enemy tribe during sensitive interactions, causing problems. Networking, Segal said, is important, and understanding the networks and the people is vital to the success of the Afghanistan mission. He noted that we're doing good things right now: building roads, and bridges, as well as a police and military force. However, money is becoming a problem, with the costs up to around $600 million a day.

A key element to understand in the country is that Islam plays a key role in how people live their lives. In 33 out of the 34 provinces in the country, the Taliban maintain a shadow government, and are able to provide what the people want: security, and adjudication of civil disputes: they are legitimate in the eyes of a lot of people, because it is so closely linked to their beliefs. Segal said early in the talk that the thing that he learned the most was how people in the 14th century lived: the mindset it similar, because of the extreme isolation of the country. At points, US troops were asked if they were Russian, because villagers simply didn't realize that the USSR had left.

This, coupled with a lack of clarity as to what the US is working to achieve, cause problems when working to conduct a war and to justify the costs and sacrifices in the country. When asked what the conditions of victory were, he simply stated that there was no victory: just success, a self-sufficient government that could stand on its own. This brings up some issues, especially when it's realized that neither side is willing to budge or compromise on their values: the subject of women’s rights is a particularly tough one, given how ingrained some of the beliefs are in the country: the people who believe what we believe exist, but aren't in the majority.

At the end of the day, Afghanistan is a country that has proved formidable throughout its history: both the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were driven out after long, grueling wars with high numbers of casualties. While the US doesn't have to follow this same path, there's a number of things that need to be understood about the country's history, to avoid some of the things that caused problems before.

The first is to understand the complexity of the situation on the ground, and the extensive networks and social structure in Afghanistan. Uniting the country is difficult at best, with a plethora of rivalries and grudges from group to group. Along the same lines, it's important to understand and to not underestimate the importance of Islam in the culture. The Taliban are seen as legitimate because it is very similar to what the people believe, and that the Taliban is able to provide what they want in a government: security and social adjudication. These elements need to be included, because both sides seem to be unable and unwilling to change or compromise their beliefs.

The second element to understand is the mission itself: originally, it was to disrupt Al Qaida, and to prevent them from carrying out threats against the United States: however, with a ratio of over a thousand to one, this mission seems to require rethinking. When Segal asks soldiers what headway they've made, the answer is unclear, because people involved are unclear as to the mission and the overall objectives in the country: if it's to root out Al Qaida, that's one thing, but complete and utter nation building is another mission altogether, especially when one considers the complications involved with the current conflict in Libya, and the one winding down in Iraq.

The future is unclear for Afghanistan, and it will depend greatly upon the the changes in stance, strategy and attitude towards the ongoing operations in the country.

Defending Korea & Continual Conflict

Korea has been at the forefront of the news over the past couple of weeks as violence has begun to escalate between the North and the South following a North Korean shelling of the South Korean island Yeonpyeong in response to a series of planned military exercises. The escalation of violence seems to have been rising, when an attack on a South Korean warship left almost fifty sailors dead. Indeed, the two countries seem to be a rapidly drying powder keg with a new South Korean leader, and with the expected promotion of Kim-Jong Il's son, Kim Jong-un at some point in the near future. With almost 30,000 American soldiers just to the south of the 38th parallel, an outbreak of war in the country is something that will heavily impact the United States. With two major conflicts on their way out the door, the prospect of another confrontation abroad is a sobering one.

In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower became the 34rd President of the United States, where he had campaigned on countering Communism, Korea and Corruption. Despite leading the Allied military against Adolph Hitler and his allies in Europe, Eisenhower sought to bring down the national budget on a platform of fiscal conservatism, bringing about deep cuts in the military budget and recognizing a new philosophy and approach to the United State's presence in the world.

After visiting Korea, Eisenhower sought to bring the United States and its efforts to an end, and with a cease-fire (although no resolution) to the conflict, was able to fill a major campaign goal that aligned with his beliefs: the United States did not, and could not fight in every battle across the world with a massive standing army, able to engage in more conflicts such as the one just waged in Korea. Under his 'New Look' plan, approved in 1953, which allowed the U.S. to utilize technology and America's atomic stockpile as a means to deter open aggression from the Soviet Union from directly attacking the U.S.. The policy was designed to rein in defense budget spending on a massive conventional force, while spending less on a more technologically oriented one that wasn't necessarily required to do anything but exist.

The recent troubles in Korea bring to mind some of the issues that have been ongoing in the political and military scenes recently. As the country begins to move in the direction of less spending (at least the attitude is there, somewhat), reducing the fiscal situation of the United States will require something along the lines of what Eisenhower had envisioned for the country half a century ago: reductions on all fronts, including military spending. The policies that were put into place were engineered with the fear that the country's financial footing had a corresponding impact on the nation's national security standing in the world. America, with a growing economy, population and budget, could face major problems as it was, and potentially, with the added need of continual fighting abroad in conflicts that were similar to Korea, the country’s stability could be at risk.

In a large way, the series of conflicts that followed September 11th fall right into what Eisenhower feared for the country: exceedingly high defense budgets for an expensive war where the United States has gotten its hands dirty in areas perceived to threaten the country’s security. Eisenhower had pushed against full American engagement in Vietnam, and it wasn’t until after his term in office that the conflict escalated for several Administrations, from which point the U.S. was able to stay out of major engagements until 1991, for Operations Desert Shield and Storm. Here, the theory of technological warfare as a superior form of conventional warfare was validated: for the 372 coalition soldiers killed as a result of the conflict, around 30,000 enemy soldiers were killed.

The fight in Afghanistan and Iraq are different: the U.S. has been slow to adapt to the new environment of warfare, plunging in with certain assumptions and coming out with an entirely different experience than was expected. Continual fighting in small conflicts will cause further problems for the country, especially if such conflicts are not properly understood and the ways in which to fight them are imperfectly realized.

The Eisenhower administration’s plans to deter fighting against the country worked, in part. The threat of massive retaliation faced its biggest test in October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and demonstrated that the threat of assured destruction of both countries (not to mention everyone else caught in the crossfire and were downwind) was enough to force both players back down. At the same time, it hasn’t been able to prevent warfare outright: Vietnam was a war in which the nuclear issue was largely side-stepped, and would cause problems years down the road, while American involvement in areas such as Haiti, Panama, Somalia and other smaller countries and conflicts have not been decreased, although their significance doesn’t approach the scale of something like the current fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are both abnormal conflicts, and two fights that signal some frightening precedents for the future. Already into its 9th year, the combined conflicts have cost an estimated $1.1 trillion, for a conflict that seems to run counter to the vision that Eisenhower had hoped for and seems to have done precisely what Eisenhower feared such battles would do to the country’s financial status. In the future, what conflicts does the United States have in store, if it can enter into a war-like state whenever it sees reason to do so?

The prospect of renewed war in Korea only adds to the fears of a continued lack of restraint when it comes to spending. Political elements in the United States have called for fiscal restraint, but the exception seems to be the money that pours in for the military. While the front-line soldiers need the financial support in order to accomplish the mission in front of them, the country needs to adopt a mindset of reducing the need for the soldiers to be requiring that money in the first place: avoiding costly confrontation across the world by recognizing which conflicts should be fought. The practice of deterrence will likely not work in this new environment of war: multinational political groups are harder to deter. Deterrence in Eisenhower’s day was the best means to contain spending and effectively protect the country from those who wished harm against the country. In the present day, we need to do much the same: figure out the best way to defend the country without oversight and restraint.

Should the tensions between North and South Korea break, the United States will likely have some hand in the issue, and we could find outselves in a third major conflict at a time when we can't afford to become entangled.

Conventional Counterinsurgency

It is interesting at how much an education can change your viewpoints on something. When I was in late high school, I picked up a book called Black Hawk Down, by Mark Bowden, which recounted the Battle of Mogadishu, waged by U.S. Special Forces and local militia forces as the U.S. military attempted to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. In the seventeen years since that initial battle, the firefight that occurred during that day which essentially provides a preview of what is to come.

Interestingly, the film adaptation of the book (and real life events) was released in December of 2001, just a couple of months after the attacks on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Shortly after said attacks, U.S. Special Forces entered Afghanistan, and began was has been known as the Global War on Terror. Hindsight is a dangerous thing to use, especially when connecting major events, but looking back to the 1993 firefight in Somalia, it's clear that the U.S. simply wasn't geared towards fighting the type of warfare that presented itself in the Middle East and nearby hotspots. Throughout much of the recent history, the military had been positioned towards combating a major enemy, the Soviet Union, and subsequent international actions, such as the Gulf War of 1991, just a couple of years prior to the Somalia fight, seemed to affirm that warfare would remain as a style of centralized, organized warfare, against a static enemy who followed all of the rules. Somalia, a small action, seemed to be an abnormality, something that would be unlikely to happen again.

In his book, The Sling and the Stone, retired Colonel Thomas Hammes, of the United States Marine Corps, notes that this change in warfare was nothing new. The conventional nature of what is generally termed 3rd Generation Warfare, is a style of fighting that the United States had worked and became very good at, but historical evidence points to the emergence of a 4th Generation of warfare, which Hammes describes as a style of warfare that "uses all available networks - political, economic, social, and military- to convince the enemy's political decision makers that their that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit." (Hammes, The Sling and the Stone. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2006, 2). While he goes on to note that this style of warfare is an evolved method of insurgency, I believe that it is in fact the other way around - insurgency is a natural progression of warfare in this instance, and in a large way, 4th Generation warfare falls well within the general constraints of warfare as described by Carl Von Clausewitz in his book, On War:  "War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale....War is therefore an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will." (Clausewitz, On War, New York: Penguin Putnam, 1968, 101). Insurgencies, in this instance, seem to be made up of a new understanding of networks, combined with technology in unexpected methods to achieve a formidable resistance to an organized force.

The events that occurred in Black Hawk Down prove to be a good example of this style of warfare in action, but also the root causes that provide a valuable context for the conflicts that are ongoing. In the film adaptation of the book, a boy is seen to have alerted militia forces by holding up a cellular telephone to the sky as the Task Force Ranger helicopters flew overhead. Whether this happened or not, I'm not sure (paging through the book, I wasn't able to find mention of it), but the scene made me recall the November 2008 coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India, when several teams of insurgents, armed with guns and explosives, used mobile phones to help kill 173 and wound 308. The use of technology has become integrated with insurgency warfare, allowing for a low-key method for coordinating attacks and personnel without having the benefit of a major organized military. The fighting against Islamic fundamentalist forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan are generally not at the hands of an organized military force acting on the behalf of a recognized government, but are representative of smaller political factions and warlords within established boundaries.

Despite this early evidence that there were changes in the ways that wars had been fought (Hammes cites Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia as examples of where this style of warfare had been seen), this ran counter to the then-nature of how the military conducted itself. "The essence of the American army, in the eyes of its career officers, is ground combat by organized, regular divisional nuts. Although the American army tolerates the existence of subcultures that do not directly contribute to the essence of the organization, these peripheral organizations do not receive the support accorder to the army core constituencies of armor, infantry, and artillery." (Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, 6) The current War on Terror and ongoing conflicts is a demonstration of this, as the U.S. entered into major hostilities with Iraq and Afghanistan with one style and mindset of conducting the war, and discovering that entirely new methods were necessary when it came to countering insurgency forces.

Looking over the events of Black Hawk Down, there are elements of current counter-insurgency doctrine, or at least several best practices that highlight the differences between counterinsurgency warfare and organized maneuver warfare. Hammes notes that prior to the United Nations taking over the peacekeeping operations, U.S. Marines aggressively patrolled the streets of Mogadishu, talking with the local inhabitants, and recognizing when someone from outside that neighborhood entered. As the war in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed, this has become a focus of the new Counterinsurgency doctrine, with soldiers encouraged to work closely with local inhabitants of neighborhoods and streets in an effort to remove insurgency forces from the local population, depriving them of population support. While watching and reading Black Hawk Down, I see a battle that was the result of a failure in vision and peacekeeping leadership. As Hammes notes, the decision to draw back into major bases, while leaving the population in the hands of militia forces was a drastic one that spelled out dire consequences for U.S. forces. At the same time, the leaders tasked with peacekeeping were unable to prevent insurgent and militia forces from operating and controlling the areas that they needed to protect. Similar actions would later occur in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the United States pulled out of the cities of Iraq in favor of major bases, only to find that violence levels dropped with the implementation of smaller bases amongst the populations. The so-called surge in Iraq was not simply more soldiers deployed to the country, but it was the change in tactics, with the manpower to carry out these changes.

In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, "The New Rules of War" March/April 2010), John Arquilla notes that the differences between conventional and unconventional warfare require entirely new methods of approaching warfare. Insurgency warfare (commonly referred to as 4G), allows for a far more decentralized style of fighting: Where prior approaches to countering insurgent forces had been to apply more force, "Nothing could be further from the truth, as the results in Iraq and Afghanistan so painfully demonstrate...the evidence of the last 10 years shows clearly that massive application of force have done little more than kill the innocent and enrage their survivors. Networked organizations like al Qaeda have proven how easy it is to dodge such heavy punches and persist to land sharp counterblows." (Arquilla, "The New Rules of War", Foreign Policy Magazine, March/April 2010)

The end result is that fighting a war the wrong way causes more problems, and ultimately fulfills the mantra of decentralized, networked insurgency groups: cause an invading power more problems than is worth it in order to convince their parent governments, and by extension, the population that supports it, that the efforts overseas are simply not worth it. The U.S. experience in Vietnam demonstrated that a massive conventional force had a lot of trouble fighting in ways that it was not prepared for. As a result, the U.S. military eliminated counterinsurgency planning and training in the aftermath, vowing to never again fight in a style of war that it was not prepared to fight. While a noble goal, it seems to have been a short sighted decision, even in light of continued successes of conventional military victories since then, such as with the British military against the Argentineans in the 1980s, and with United States forces against Iraqi forces in 1991's Gulf War. However, militaries do not get to pick how their opponents fight, and must be aware to all types of influences on warfare in areas that they are fighting: the methods of terrorist and militia style forces had existed for years, and examples such as Somalia demonstrated that these styles of fighting existed, and that adequate planning for such fighting had not been implemented. The result in Somalia was the death of 18 soldiers.

The results coming from Iraq and Afghanistan are much more dire, and I can't help but wonder what changes might have been made had the full context and lessons from Somalia had truly been learned by policy-makers and military thinkers at the time. As hindsight is much cleared now, it's easy to make such declarations, and even at this point, the future of warfare is still something that is very unclear. As such, the real lesson that the United States should learn is from the aftermath of Vietnam with the destruction of the planning and training for counterinsurgency fighting: planning and realization of conflicts is a key element in the military, as well as the ability to adapt far more quickly to actions and differences in fighting styles based on the long history that the United States has had with combat.

Droning On

One of the significant elements of the ongoing 'War on Terror' in Afghanistan and Iraq is the continual use of Predator Drones, and other unmanned systems that allow for the remote control of weapons to minimize casualties amongst American forces overseas, while still achieving their objectives. Interestingly, the soldiers who pilot them have been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) , essentially experiencing warfare in similar ways, despite operating in vastly different conditions.

According to "But that whiplash transition is taking a toll on some of them mentally, and so is the way the unmanned aircraft's cameras enable them to see people getting killed in high-resolution detail, some officers say." (Source) This is further explained at the relatively up close and personal view that soldiers piloting the Drones get of the action, as opposed to that of a fighter pilot, far above the action, who might not see the impact that their actions have.

The situation that these pilots find themselves in bears much resemblance to some of the actions in Orson Scott Card's classic Science Fiction novel, Ender's Game. In this book, Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin, is training aboard an orbital facility, designed to bring out the best tactical leaders in a fight against an alien race. At the last act of the book, Ender has graduated from school, and tasked with what he believes are further training simulations against the aliens, when in reality, he is directing military assets, time and time again against the alien's defenses, destroying them at the end. Upon realizing what he's done, he has a sort of nervous breakdown, and while hailed as a hero, moves to live a secluded life off planet.

Now, in 2010, we are living in what a lot of people would consider a fantastical, science fiction-styled world, where computers fit in the palm of one's hand, and where militaries have the ability to strike against militants and foreign militaries with fairly automated devices. A 2009 book, Wired for War, by P.W. Singer, of the Brookings Institute, looks closely to the developments of military hardware in warfare, and looks to the very nature of automated weapons and the extent to where people will be in control of said weapons. The machines that go to war now are not the machines of science fiction literature and films: they're more like remote controls, with a person 'in the loop' at the end of the communications console, who directs the craft against targets and basic functions. The move to a more robotic system will occur as the human controllers are released from more controls, with a computer that's able to take over more functions. Some robotic systems, such as the ones that are designed to shoot mortars out of the sky, can react much faster than a human operator, and in order to effectively operate, they are more automated. Some drones can largely act on their own, with their mission programmed into them, with a human looking to push the button to start it up.

However, like in Ender's Game, operators are still on the front lines, abit virtually, carrying out their commander's intent and subsequent orders in a way that helps to deliver their mission, much like soldiers on the ground, operating in ways that might not be as appropriate for drones. At the end of the day, however, there is a central mission that needs to be carried out, issued by a commanding officer, whereupon, the details of the mission should be carried out in the most appropriate manner. This often depends upon the quality of the leader at the top, the resources that are available at their disposal, and the abilities of the people underneath them to carry them out. In this way, the story of Ender's Game and that of a Drone Pilot could easily be reconciled with one another. The same can often be said for any other military science fiction book out there, and the quality of the novel or film will not depend upon the technology that is present, but the world surrounding military events.

This is why, when reading about Predator Drones, I'm reminded of the events that take place in Ender's Game. The specific technology, governments and people don't necessarily matter in these contexts, but the framework laid out and put together in a largely rational and logical fashion endures, lasting far longer than technological predictions that will likely date the book. As such, Ender's Game is an interesting read in the science fiction universe, and has applications during the present day. Indeed, a number of these lessons can be applied, no matter the time period and technology present: ancient Roman militaries would act in the same general way that a modern commander would: locate the problem, determine a mission, find the right way to overcome said problem and execute a plan to achieve one's goals.

However, what does change, is the methods in which soldiers interact with the battlefield. In the instance of Drone pilots and Andrew Wiggin, both deal with the realities of war remotely and virtually. Indeed, one of the biggest issues that one might face with operating said machinery would be the emotional impact and power associated with the ability to strike without reprisal. As the battlefield becomes more automated, warfare becomes fare more effective, cleaner, and potentially quicker, at least on the tactical level. Yet, soldiers are still at war.

In the end, Drone warfare is essentially another tool available for military commanders, and as such, the soldiers who operate them will come under the same stresses, conflicts and moral issues as any other soldier assigned to a mission. This circumstances change as soldiers are further removed from the battlefield, but it should be remembered that despite the distance from the actual conflict, there will still be repercussions, as these soldiers fall within far larger strategy and operational plans, and are thus still at war, as has been carried out for thousands of years.

Counter Insurgency and the Iraq War

Two presentations on the last day of the Colby Military Writers Symposium at Norwich University examined the ongoing counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Dr. Conrad Crane, of the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, PA, and Col. (Retired) Peter Mansoor of Ohio State University, and former Executive Officer to General David Petraeus, leading the presentations. Dr. Crane largely looked at the history of counterinsurgency warfare, and what lessons were learned with the introduction of the COIN Doctrine and manual on the part of the U.S. Military, while Col. Mansoor largely looked at the issues with the Iraq War, and the lessons that were learned during the fighting.

The United States has a long history with counterinsurgency operations. The War for Independence, the Civil War, and some of the surrounding conflicts, the Indian Wars, the Philippines, the Second World War, and Vietnam all had elements of asymmetrical warfare, but after the Vietnam War, records and documents about how to fight a counterinsurgency force were destroyed, because it was determined at the time that the United States wouldn't fight a war like that again. At the time of the Iraq War, the only counterinsurgency manual was one from Guadalcanal, for a small 50 man force that had been deployed there as advisors. From the 1980s onwards, a rise on counterinsurgency-based conflicts arose. As the United States entered Iraq, it found that the approaches to how the war would be fought would have to be rethought-out, and as a result, theorists with the Army and Marines began to work on a new Counter Insurgency manual, known as COIN.

According to Peter Mansoor, a number of assumptions were made on the part of the United States as to how the war would be fought, with certain reactions to the U.S. forces. Counterinsurgency was not planned for by U.S. planners, and as a result, the invading force was not prepared for that style of warfare. Furthermore, he charged, once U.S. forces had entered the country, and begun reconstruction work, the political groundwork for an insurgency campaign against U.S. forces was aided by the mistakes that were made from U.S. administrators, particularly Paul Bremer.

Amongst some of the elements that helped was the debathification of the country that occurred, removing the dominant party under Saddam Hussein from power. While this was an essential task, the removal of numerous civil servants extended too far, removing people who had only joined the party to advance, but also hampered recovery plans that were contingent upon people remaining at their posts after the U.S. entered the country. To keep the government functioning, roles were filled with people who were not qualified, and corrupt, which allowed for widespread disillusionment with the recovery efforts and left thousands out of work. They turned their frustrations into violence, turning the war in a different direction. Additional issues cropped up, as the changes in the war did not meet with the Bush Administration's plans, and as a result, this led to a lack of critical thinking and planning on the part of war planners. Rising levels of violence between 2004 and 2006 indicated that there was a need for a new approach to the war. At the height of the violence, President Bush allowed for a change in the war with the lauded troop surge.

The surge was not just an increase in the number of soldiers sent to Iraq; it coincided with the introduction of the new Counterinsurgency Manual that had been put together. The manual, authored by General Petraeus and a number of military and historical experts. The surge itself did not improve security: it worked as a catalyst to allow for improvements. The manual focused on a set number of objectives that redefined the war: It was population oriented, noted that a specific force was needed, rather than overwhelming force, military forces were not the only elements of the battlefield, required that the host nation would need to step up its own efforts to regulate its internal security, utilized new methods and sources of intelligence. Furthermore, the doctrine saw the need to change how the military perceived problems prior to engaging in combat, separate out insurgents from the rest of the population, manage information on the battlefield and utilizing perceptions, and utilized a clear/hold/rebuild approach to the battlefield.

Crane noted that there are a number of discrete styles of insurgency: conspiratorial, military, urban, popular, identity and subversive, and that these motivations for violence had both different background and contributing factors, but that these factors were not static: they could manifest at the same time, or the styles could change. In general, each style also requires a different response. The result is that counterinsurgency forces must be prepared and ready to meet a number of different threats at any given time, but also must anticipate and if possible, try to head off problems before they happen. One example cited was the efforts of a unit in a community that worked to pick up trash along the streets. In addition to denying a ready hiding place for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), it demonstrated to the community that there was an effort on the part of the Unit to help improve the community, and won over support of local leaders.

The COIN doctrine was started in Iraq, but was created with the intent that it would be continued to use in the future, for potential conflicts after the U.S. leaves Iraq and Afghanistan. The thinking behind the doctrine and manual is to emphasize good leadership from the top, while also preserving the message and intent of the orders with the greater picture down to the front lines. Modern, flexible leaders will be required along with better schooling and training of soldiers, as well as learning from the lessons of the current wars, with better preparation and implementation of the new doctrine where needed.

The U.S. had problems with Iraq because a number of the lessons that were learned from Vietnam were not remembered. War planners tried to fight a war that the country was very good at, and had experience with: a high tech, conventional war. In the end, the conflict in Iraq turned out to be a very different sort of war, one where technology and sensors were not strategy. The successes of Gulf Storm certainly led to misconceptions about how this war would be fought. Counterinsurgency warfare represents a very large departure from conventional thinking and combat: it is fluid, requires very different roles for the soldiers on the ground and a different attitude in leadership from all levels.

The Afghanistan Push

This afternoon, on the way home from work, I listened to a report from Afghanistan, and the current ongoing push on the part of coalition forces to begin removing the Taliban and other militant forces from power. As I've studied military history, I've read much when it comes to the analysis, and firsthand accounts from other wars: other Afghanistan wars, The Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, the Falklands, and others, but I don't know if anything that I've read struck me as much as what the reporter on National Public Radio revealed earlier today. Nothing from our first entry into the country, and the entire invasion of Iraq seemed to go over so smoothly, it barely registered as war for me. It wasn't until after that the situation began to sink in. This report struck me, hard, as to the nature of the fighting over there, on all aspects. The war has always been extremely real throughout my recollection of it, but for the first time, I realized just how those long lost wittnesses to events since past felt as they watched.

It's a startling revelation, and I have to wonder if the continual coverage of the fighting, from the news on the Internet to the television to the newspaper is really such a good thing. I feel jaded, cynical to world events, where I was far more optimistic.