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September 2007

Brookings: On Private Military Companies and Contractors

Peter Singer of the Brookings' Foreign Policy institute wrote to ask us at BlackFive for a review of his new paper, "Can't Win With 'Em, Can't Go To War Without 'Em:  Private Military Contractors."  We're happy to oblige.

Singer has collected an impressive number of citations of Iraqi opinions on PMCs, and especially Blackwater.  The general impression of the Iraqis cited is deeply negative; Singer himself feels that the effect of Blackwater and company on COIN operations is so negative that the entire COIN strategy is broken by it.  In addition, he thinks that the use of PMCs allows the US government to enter into wars without sufficient popular support, as would be required were they (say) to have to call up some majority of the National Guard.  This violates a key understanding of the volunteer military, the Abrams' Doctrine.  Singer describes it using a drug-addiction metaphor (sections are titled "the enablers," "the pushers").

I have a few minor complaints with it, but they fade away beside the overarching one.  Every single complaint directed at Blackwater and company takes this form:

1)  Blackwater offers the government a power that can be misused;

2)  The government has misused it;

3)  Therefore, Blackwater should be banned.

To use Singers' own preferred drug-addiction metaphor, this places the blame for drunk driving squarely on the existence of beer.  The blame really belongs to the man who chose to drive drunk.

The government of the United States of America is entrusted with far greater powers than Blackwater -- nuclear weapons, for example.  The responsibility is on them to use those powers properly, to insist on proper safeguards, and to be the authority that ensures that all aspects of American power are brought to bear in a coherent fashion.  Blackwater was not hired to win the COIN.  Blackwater was hired to guard convoys.  They've done so with remarkable success.  Most of their members are US military veterans, who are both capable of understanding the UCMJ and American ROE, and willing to participate in an overarching American strategy.  The fact that they haven't been so engaged is in no way the fault of Blackwater as corporation.  It is wholly the fault of the American government.

It is, for example, the fault of those parts of the American government who want to maintain a force protection capacity without being reliant on DOD.  That's understandable, to a degree, although in my opinion the failure of Interagency to be willing to cooperate is right behind a clean majority of the problems we have had in Iraq.  Nevertheless, the US government had the capability of braiding Blackwater into DOD's ROE and overall strategy.  It chose to prefer to allow turf battles, whereby State and others can maintain autonomy from DOD's leadership -- at the cost of their actions not being part of the COIN strategy, and possibly working against it.

None of that is Blackwater's fault.  It was hired to do a job, by lawful agencies in a proper fashion.  They have fulfilled the points of their contracts with efficiency -- ruthless efficiency, by some reports, but that's what they were hired to do.  If you want more ruth, put it in the contract.  Specify that they have to abide by military commanders assessment of appropriate ROE.  Blackwater can adjust their rates accordingly.

If the American government won't or can't use these powers properly, the right solution is not to punish Blackwater, any more than it is to dismantle our nukes or ban beer.  The right response is at the ballot box.  The right response is in electing a President who will force Interagency to work together, and fire whoever necessary to make them do so.  The right response is to write your Congressmen, and vote them out if they don't listen.

The problem isn't Blackwater.  Blackwater is just a collection of talent, which the government can use however it likes.  The problem is the Federal government.  Here as elsewhere, they have failed to live up to their duties.  They have failed to use the powers they enjoy with the responsibility that those powers demand.

I Think I have Fallen Down the Rabbit Hole....

I am in complete agreement with The Wolf and Col. Hunt in his article.  LTG Kearney needs to taken to the woodshed and paddled for this.  When we get to point in a shooting war that Generals are micromanaging individual operations at the tactical UNIT level, then we need to start firing Generals. 


When I was in the ATO, I operated my own firebase for the last 5 months I was there.  I had a 9 man squad of infantry soldiers assigned to me and the Captain I was with for our personal security and we 11 Americans (that’s right 11 Americans on a firebase in the middle of the Taliban) lived on this firebase with a company of Afghan Infantry soldiers that the Captain and I mentored, taught and fought the Taliban with in our AO. 


As the Senior NCOIC on the firebase, I was the S-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.  I was responsible for an OPFUND that I administered with the Captain.  I ensured that we had all the things necessary to fight and win.  The Captain was in charge of the officer side of all those departments, as well as teaching the Afghan Officers how to plan and execute combat operations. I spent my time, the time I was not doing the above duties, maintaining the indirect fire support assets of our base (the 120 mm Mortar that I borrowed from an SF ODA) and showing the Afghan NCOs how to teach, mentor, and lead their junior soldiers.


I managed to do all this, and along with my Afghan compatriots, also managed to kick in a few doors with SF, the 82nd Airborne (who had just got into town) and we chased down and captured/killed a fair share of the Taliban, to include some HVTs that we had been looking for in our area for quite awhile.


I am not just tooting my own horn here for the sake of a war story.  I point this out because I managed to do all this without any direct and close supervision by anyone holding a field grade command or holding the rank of general officer.  Yup, did it all by myself.


And that really is the whole point.  We won World War II with fewer generals controlling more troops and more resources in more places involving more battles without internet, satellite phones, Keyhole Spy satellites watching the objectives, unmanned drones feeding real-time intelligence to an air-conditioned OP Center where all the action looks like a HALO tournament.  We don't train SF Soldiers to the level we do so that we can assign them their own personal general officer to oversee the tactical level decisions they make in battle.


All the generals we have now want to talk about how to win the “3 Block War” as we are now calling it, In order to make this possible, the generals have to “walk the walk.”  “Walking the Walk” means, for general officers, that they need to give their guidance, issue their orders through their staff and then they need to STFU and let the soldiers that are walking the mean streets of bad places that we may or may not see on the news at night do their jobs according to that guidance and those orders.


Here are the messages that this action by LTG Kearney sends to men and women serving downrange:


“If you shoot someone that I don’t want shot, I will personally charge you with murder”


“You should not join the Special Forces, because you could be charged with murder for doing your job”


“If you don’t call me and check with me before you take any kind of action against an alleged bad guy, I will charge you with murder.”


This is a travesty of justice.  We do not prosecute soldiers for doing their job according to the Rules of Engagement.


Terrorists all over with world are laughing in delight at us right now...



Iraqi's/U.S. Army 3, Terrorists 0


Some days, life is good.  When you have a majority of days when life is good, you know that you have it good and that things may even be getting even better.

Where I am currently, life is good and there are many signs that it is getting better for everyone here.  The larger reasons are for later, but for now I wanted to share one reason life is good for Echo Company ("Team Easy").  It's good because life is getting better for the local Iraqi's.

"You don't have the people, you don't have it," states Timothy Wilcoxen, Team Easy's First Sergeant.  Here, they are indeed starting to have it.  Iraqi Police Volunteers are staffing checkpoints to protect their homes and communities.  The citizens of the area are stepping forward in other ways as well, by turning in terrorists and report suspicious activities.

My first night here, one such tip came in.  Information was gathered, stories checked, and plans quickly and efficiently made.  Last night, a raid was conducted of the site given, resulting in two terrorists captured, along with a cache IEDs and supplies for making more.  That cache, along with the abandoned building being used as a headquarters and IED factory, were destroyed.  It's not just Easy's area that safer, it's Baghdad as well since the materials may well have been headed there.

Anbar has awakened; but, West Rashid is tipping and the ripples from that are already having an impact -- on several levels -- in Baghdad.

The implications are profound, for the U.S. and the future of Iraq. Yet, on a more fundamental level, the affairs of princes mean little here considered against the basic and most important thing:  we are all safer today because the citizens in this region are stepping forward.

West Rashid is tipping, and if it lands on its feet, the ripples should become waves of change.

More to come,

LW (in Iraq)

COL Hunt Says It Best...

From his column:

Top Military Officials are a Disgrace to Those They Lead

These poor excuse for officers do not deserve the soldiers they dare claim they lead. We as a nation had better go out and find us another Marshall, who at the beginning of World War II fired hundreds of senior officers because they were not cutting it. We need him today, as many of our senior officers are way overdue for a one-way trip to the woodshed.

Amen, sir.  Amen.

As many of you regular readers may know, I've had it up to here with some of the leadership that is fouling up my Army.  Bad.  Thieving oxygen.  Stealing  pay.  While others go out of their way to do the right thing, no matter what the situation.  They adapt- they conquer.

What started this was what a commenter put in under Uncle Jimbo's bit about the snipers, below.  I looked up the Colonel's column, and he's saying what I'm thinking.  It relates to the the treatment of the snipers...

Continue reading "COL Hunt Says It Best..." »

SF Murder Charges Travesty at Ft Bragg

I had mentioned in a previous piece that I thought I knew MSG Troy Anderson who along with CPT Dave Staffel, now awaits an answer as to whether he will face a Court Martial for the shooting of a known terrorist in Afghanistan. It turns out I do know him and I spoke with him on the phone today. Thanks to his attorney MAJ Lance Daniels and the folks at Ft. Bragg Trial Defense Services for their help in arranging this. In my previous piece I noted that even though two investigations commissioned by then MG Kearney cleared them, he had murder charges preferred anyhow.

I believe that the charges will be not simply dropped, but dropped like poison. It is awful that two professionals scrupulously following the rules would be subject to this kind of selective, command-influenced, hindsight. It is worse when you think about the chilling effect this will have on anyone out in the field wondering whether to pull the trigger or not. That is the true poison now in play. Can any SOCOM operator believe that when he makes a call based on the training and information given by his command he will be covered? MSG Anderson and CPT Staffel believed and they found out the truth is a flexible thing.

This issue is of vital importance to anyone whose mission involves pointing a weapon at our enemies. I am going to do my level best to force SOCOM and DOD as well to deal with this issue of basic trust. It is beyond unfair to ask someone to risk all based on a set of rules and then judge them later on another standard. So here we go, the horn is sounded and I want all y'all to help if you can. If you know anyone who served in Afghanistan in the last couple of years ask them what they think. If you know any of those involved let me know what you think. I can do any level and type of confidentiality necessary so approach as obliquely as is wise. I'm angry about this, but it's too important to treat that way. This requires solid professionalism to ensure that no others are treated this way.

All right deep breath, here is the tale of how I met Troy. I was in Korea with my partner in crime Sam Thistle doing coordinations for some training we were going to do there. We were at Camp Casey and out on the town in Tong du Chon where we were partying like, well you know. But all good things must end and as we meandered back toward Casey eating the occasional dog-on-a-stick fresh off a hibachi, I kept noticing dumbass Thistle had his ID half out of his pocket. I told him twice and then snatched it from him before he lost it. The MPs there were much less than friendly and no ID, sleep in street, so I was helping him out.  Well somewhere along the way he disappeared, I assumed a siren song, but regardless he was missing. Now the gate was gonna close soon for the night and while he was my brother, I carried him as well as I could. So I went in and gave the MPs my name and where I was staying and said if numbnutz shows up come get me.

I caught my few hours of rack time and headed to the chow hall the next morning and as I walked in I heard a bellow:

"Jimmy, you are never gonna f***ing believe this. This is Troy Anderson my Ranger buddy from Ranger School. Seriously man, I haven't seen him since then and he found me last night man. Yeah he found me curled up under a bush on base totally passed out, and then he took me back to his barracks man."

So the maroon had somehow gotten back on base without his ID. He climbed a fence somewhere as his clothes were razor wire shredded, but he had no earthly clue how he got to his resting spot. Now the odds of his being discovered by perhaps the one person on that base who knew him are astronomical, but it happened.

I added the personal note because it is a hilarious and representative story of a lot of the fun I remember. But also because from Sammy before and quite a few others recently I have heard a simple and unmistakable thing, Troy Anderson is  good MF. That means we all should have his back. Much more to come.

Winning in Afghanistan; Part 312,342

I was surfing around YouTube today looking for that series on the Royal Marine Commandos that Mrs. GreyHawk had the write up on and I ran into this absolute piece of tripe that was filmed in 2006 by a reporter from the BBC.  I was in Afghanistan when this was filmed.  I really could not believe what this guy was saying. 

Needless to say, the Liberal Bias was so overwhelming, I had to turn it off.  There was no sneaking it in or leading into something and then springing it on you; the reporter Alastair Leithead started off in the first 3 minutes of the piece with this gem:

The high-tech British Military machine is being drug into a war we were supposed to win 4 years ago against a rag-tag guerrilla army it seems almost impossible to beat

I am certain that we did not hold a gun to the head of Britain and make them come and fight in Afghanistan with us.  I think they saw the threat for what it was and sent their best.  The Royal Marines are some of the best war fighters in the world and I think Alastair is doing them a horrible disservice in his piece by showing them to be under siege, cornered, and unprepared for the fight they were in.  I am not going to link to his piece on YouTube, but of you want to find it do a search of "Royal Marines" and it will come up as "Fighting the Taleban, Part 1 of 4."   

Admittedly, the Taliban did fight hard in the Southern Provinces, because it is the traditional center of gravity for the Taliban and they know that if they lose down south, they lose their money source (drugs) and they lose their base of operations.  Now, I know some of the Americans who fought in the south from the 10th Mountain Division, and even though the Taliban fought hard, when all the dust settled, the Taliban all got to meet a greet their 72 she-male virgins with very little harm caused to American forces.

I spent my time fighting in the eastern section of the country, and we fought along the border to stop the incursion of insurgents from crossing the border from Pakistan and what has that netted us Mr. BBC reporter?  Well it nets us this article by Stephen Brown entitled "Winning in Afghanistan."

The Link is here:  http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=E9107829-DBC4-4DC8-987B-4D516BF6A97A

I am not certain what Alastair was trying to accomplish, but I think his little piece is more propaganda for the Taliban to keep hanging on.  I am glad to hear more and more about how the work we are doing there is bearing fruit and how the people are getting how it is that they can be free.

They are not impossible to beat.  They are not well organized any more and they are desperate for a breather, because they are on the ropes and they have no hope of winning.

Just so you know....

North Korean Insult Generator

I can only hope that the Dear Reader is getting his cut of this sweet site. (h/t David Freddoso)

NK Insult Generator

All insult component words direct from NK press.

Man those NK censors must have us in the crosshairs, this was quick. 감​사​합​니다 to Jihad Gene for channeling

Meanwhile somewhere north of the 38th Parallel, in "The Land of the Morning Missile Launch",  Great Reader KIM JONG IL's 
buns-of-"steal"(yeah, s-t-e-a-l), are firmly ensconced in his booster-seat adapted LayGee Boy diesel- powered recliner and wiff Great Reader's "Lazer Eyes" WOK'd on da cumpooter screen...


GENERAL WANG- Someting wrong, Great Reader?

KIM- Yoo tawkin to me? Yoo tawkin to me?! ARE YOO TAWKIN TO ME, GENERAL WANG???!!!

WANG- Yes, Most-High Leader of Dear. Now preeze, calm down. What's da matta with you, BlossMan? You run out of "Hemaron" (with Japanese Pagoda Tree Extract!)... or mayblee your inflatable doughnut for hemorrhoids get stuck in booster-seat throne, for da ump-teenth time again?

KIM- I'm ownree wish it was dat. Rook at BRACK 5 on Chi-Mart cumpooter screen...yoo see....

WANG- Da evil Uncle JimBlow at it again, huh?...hmmm...."Random Insult Generator"...my suspicion-ous mind tell me this no product of DPRK, Great Reader.

KIM- I'm conclurr! Da odds of it beeing made here are like those of finding a Gay Bar in Iran!
Now, Me checkie new webslite
(I'm jus made up)...called [email protected]
...hmmm...Just as I'm sluspected!

WANG & KIM- Made in CHINA!!!

KIM- General Wang, reset disgronificators on all 1GB wockets to eight digit Glid Coordinates U812/PRC

WANG- Very glood! Anyting else Great Reader?

KIM- Yeah, see if "Hemaron" makes a Chap-stick!

Nikita and Mahmoud

What's the difference between character and statecraft?  This is a question that apparently never crossed the mind of historian Rick Perlstein, who wrote an interesting but badly mistaken piece comparing Nikita Krushchev's visit in 1959 to this week's visit by the president of Iran.

Let me put before you an illustrative example: one week in September of 1959, when, much like one week in September of 2007, American soil supported a visit by what many, if not most Americans agreed was the most evil and dangerous man on the planet.

Perlstein suggests that the respectful welcome granted to Krushchev pointed to a confident, mature American character; whereas the rude reception given Ahmadinajad  at Columbia was the mark of immaturity.  To be specific, he thinks the immaturity comes from the fact that American character has been damaged by years of "conservative rule," which he says is "rewiring our hearts and minds" in bad ways.

Given that hypothesis, I would have liked to have seen some evidence that conservatives exercise some sort of rule at Columbia.  It's beside the point, however, since the analogy is even more deeply flawed than that:  the reception of Kruschev was an act of the United States government, whereas the business at Columbia was an act of a private entity.  The actual US government reception was to ignore the visit as much as possible, so much so that Bush played down the Iranian issue in his own speech at the United Nations.

How to explain the difference in Krushchev's reception and the current one?  It isn't a question of character, but statecraft.  In 1959, the United States was aware that the Soviet Union was increasingly powerful, and not going anywhere.  There was no choice but engagement.  Krushchev got the full reception because the whole point of his visit was to engage him.  We wanted to talk to him, and we wanted to do so with all the diplomatic formalities that smooth the process.

In the current case, the strategy is to avoid doing anything that might legitimize the Iranian president, or increase his base of support within his own country.  His government is not popular with its citizens, and it is in our national interest not to do anything to make them seem more powerful or legitimate.  It's noteworthy that Bush's speech at the UN went on about Zimbabwe and Myanmar, but had fairly little to say about Iran -- at least, directly.

The visit to Columbia, far from being part of the plan, was not welcome because it gave him more attention on the world stage.  I'd say it went about as well as it might have, and in any event, America is a free country whose citizens are not bound by the desires of their government.  That said, the Columbia visit wasn't part of the State Department's vision.

It ought to be fairly obvious that diplomacy is driven by the statecraft aims of a given administration, rather than by our "national character" at large; for that matter, it ought to be relatively clear that whatever "rule" conservatives may exercise in America, they exercise little at Columbia.  Perlstein accuses his country of "bed wetting" at the spectre of having a bad man visit; but really, America was content to ignore him.  It was Columbia that wanted to give him a platform, and it was their administration that chose to be rude to him.  Neither the American character in general, nor conservatives in particular, had much to do with it.

Update on Special Forces murder case

I spoke with the Attorney for MSG Troy Anderson today, Maj. Lance Daniels (background here). I asked him about the charging document which was signed by an E-7 paralegal whose only familiarity with the case was having read a summary and was unaware that two investigations had cleared them. He agreed that it was a point of contention and said he had requested the Convening Authority to have the case dismissed based on a lack of valid charges and made the same request during the Art. 32 hearing. He said we could expect an answer on the charges in a couple of weeks as they would likely wait until they had a full transcript.