Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. Special Operations Command

Caution Urged About Excessive Reliance on SOCOM

President Obama’s infatuation with Special Operations Forces–he is more enamored of them than any president since John F. Kennedy– continues this week with the release of the new Pentagon budget. While the military as a whole is sustaining punishing cuts of nearly $500 billion, and the ground forces in particular are losing more than 100,000 soldiers and Marines, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is slated to get more money and personnel. Not only that, but SOCOM’s commander, Admiral William McRaven, a hard-charging SEAL who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, is pushing for SOCOM to be granted additional authority to move its forces around the world without going through normal Pentagon channels.

No doubt the level of infatuation with the Special Operators will only increase after the Feb. 24 release of “Act of Valor,” a movie showing actual Navy SEALs in fictional scenarios.

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President Obama’s infatuation with Special Operations Forces–he is more enamored of them than any president since John F. Kennedy– continues this week with the release of the new Pentagon budget. While the military as a whole is sustaining punishing cuts of nearly $500 billion, and the ground forces in particular are losing more than 100,000 soldiers and Marines, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is slated to get more money and personnel. Not only that, but SOCOM’s commander, Admiral William McRaven, a hard-charging SEAL who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, is pushing for SOCOM to be granted additional authority to move its forces around the world without going through normal Pentagon channels.

No doubt the level of infatuation with the Special Operators will only increase after the Feb. 24 release of “Act of Valor,” a movie showing actual Navy SEALs in fictional scenarios.

I join President Obama, and indeed all Americans, in expressing admiration and gratitude for the skills, dedication and heroism of our Special Operators–especially those on the pointy end of the spear. (In SOCOM, as in the rest of the military, most personnel are in support functions and are not actual trigger-pullers.) But I would also urge caution about relying too much on these warriors and granting them too much authority to run their own operations free of oversight.

In the first place, as retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno and Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security, point out, two of the essential “SOF truths” are “quality is better than quantity” and the special operations forces “cannot be mass-produced.” Already SOCOM has experienced explosive growth since 2001. As Barno and Sharp note, “Its manpower has nearly doubled, its budget has nearly tripled, and its overseas deployments have quadrupled.” How much larger can SOCOM possibly get without compromising its high quality? In fact, the past decade’s expansion has already raised painful questions about whether incoming troopers are up to the standards of their predecessors, especially when it comes to the non-kinetic skills, such as knowledge of languages and cultures. These are a hallmark of the Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, who comprise the single biggest group of “operators” within the Special Operations community even if their work is not as glamorous as that of the SEALS or Delta Force, which are sent after the highest value targets.

Moreover, for all of SOCOM’s impressive achievement in hunting down terrorists, there is another essential truth to be kept in mind regarding any counterinsurgency campaign: We cannot kill our way to victory. If they are left alone in ungoverned territory, terrorist groups are likely to regenerate themselves no matter how many top leaders they lose. To succeed in the Global War on Terror–that now-forbidden term–we must engage not only in manhunting but in nation-building–another verboten term. Otherwise, we will not be able to change the conditions that allow terrorist groups to flourish.

Unfortunately, Special Operations Forces, while very good at manhunting, are less useful for nation-building. That is especially true of the top-tierdoor-kickers, such as the SEALs, who get so much publicity. Bolstering weak states may be a job for Green Berets, but it is also a job for conventional military forces, albeit in small numbers, for example, on training teams. It is, in addition, a job for diplomats, intelligence operatives, information warriors, and development officials. Alas, we are much weaker in all those skill sets than we are at kinetic Special Operations, and indeed it is possible in some instances SOCOM’s propensity to target individuals may actually further destabilize a country and prove counterproductive in the end.

The use of force needs to be managed carefully and should not be freed from the normal oversight mechanisms of the Pentagon. Nor should we be growing SOCOM while eviscerating the conventional forces and failing to bolster our ability to project soft power. We need a more balanced approach to the security challenges of the 21st century; one that does not place excessive or exclusive reliance on an already-overstretched Special Operations community.

 

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Al Qaeda Weakening . . .

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

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Bring Back the OSS?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

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War Profiteers?

Amid the frenzy of Blackwater-bashing in recent days, this story hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It describes how, after Poland’s ambassador was ambushed in Baghdad, he was airlifted for medical treatment by a Blackwater helicopter. I’m told that this kind of thing happens pretty regularly, with Blackwater coming to the assistance of embattled coalition forces, sometimes by providing fire support, but more often by helping to evacuate the wounded. Blackwater operates Little Bird helicopters; these are smaller and more maneuverable than the Black Hawks favored by regular U.S. Army forces. (The U.S. Special Operations Command also uses Little Birds.) They can land in the narrow streets of Baghdad or other Iraqi cities much more readily than can a Black Hawk.

Blackwater gives its personnel, most of them military veterans, full freedom to carry out these types of missions (which they are not obligated to do under their State Department contract). Sometimes they are able to arrive more quickly than military aviators; there have even been occasions when a landing zone was judged too “hot” for a military flight—but Blackwater went ahead and landed anyway.

Is this how out-of-control war profiteers act?

Amid the frenzy of Blackwater-bashing in recent days, this story hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It describes how, after Poland’s ambassador was ambushed in Baghdad, he was airlifted for medical treatment by a Blackwater helicopter. I’m told that this kind of thing happens pretty regularly, with Blackwater coming to the assistance of embattled coalition forces, sometimes by providing fire support, but more often by helping to evacuate the wounded. Blackwater operates Little Bird helicopters; these are smaller and more maneuverable than the Black Hawks favored by regular U.S. Army forces. (The U.S. Special Operations Command also uses Little Birds.) They can land in the narrow streets of Baghdad or other Iraqi cities much more readily than can a Black Hawk.

Blackwater gives its personnel, most of them military veterans, full freedom to carry out these types of missions (which they are not obligated to do under their State Department contract). Sometimes they are able to arrive more quickly than military aviators; there have even been occasions when a landing zone was judged too “hot” for a military flight—but Blackwater went ahead and landed anyway.

Is this how out-of-control war profiteers act?

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Going Backward in Baqubah

One of the most common arguments employed by those who argue for a rapid drawdown of U.S. force in Iraq is that we don’t need to have a lot of troops trying to police a “civil war” between Shiites and Sunnis. A far smaller number of soldiers, primarily from the U.S. Special Operations Command, supposedly could achieve our core mission of disrupting al-Qaeda operations.

Never mind that we haven’t enjoyed much success in using commando forces to go after terrorists in unfriendly terrain. How often, after all, do we strike against terrorists in Syria and Iran? Or even in Pakistan? The reality is that without a permissive political climate and plenty of on-the-ground support our special operators, skilled as they are, have a very limited ability to prevent terrorist groups from making major gains.

Recent events in Iraq reinforce the point. As Rowan Scarborough notes in the Washington Examiner, the city of Baqubah served as a template for the previous U.S. strategy (which looks a lot like the future strategy advocated by most Democrats and Republicans, such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel) of rapidly turning over “battle space” to the Iraqi Security Forces and drawing down our own forces.

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One of the most common arguments employed by those who argue for a rapid drawdown of U.S. force in Iraq is that we don’t need to have a lot of troops trying to police a “civil war” between Shiites and Sunnis. A far smaller number of soldiers, primarily from the U.S. Special Operations Command, supposedly could achieve our core mission of disrupting al-Qaeda operations.

Never mind that we haven’t enjoyed much success in using commando forces to go after terrorists in unfriendly terrain. How often, after all, do we strike against terrorists in Syria and Iran? Or even in Pakistan? The reality is that without a permissive political climate and plenty of on-the-ground support our special operators, skilled as they are, have a very limited ability to prevent terrorist groups from making major gains.

Recent events in Iraq reinforce the point. As Rowan Scarborough notes in the Washington Examiner, the city of Baqubah served as a template for the previous U.S. strategy (which looks a lot like the future strategy advocated by most Democrats and Republicans, such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel) of rapidly turning over “battle space” to the Iraqi Security Forces and drawing down our own forces.

By last year, the entire province of Diyala, of which Baqubah is the capital—an area with over a million people—was being held by just one U.S. brigade, no more than 5,000 American soldiers in all. Notwithstanding the presence of these combat forces—and the skilled commandos of the Joint Special Operations Command who could always swoop into the area, as they did when they killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a year ago—Diyala became a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Alexandra Zavis summarizes what American troops have found in recent weeks as they have moved en masse back into Baqubah as part of the “surge of operations”:

For more than a year, hundreds of masked gunmen loyal to al Qaeda cruised this capital of their self-declared state, hauling Shiite Muslims from their homes and leaving bodies in the dusty, trash-strewn streets.

They set up a religious court and prisons, aid stations, and food stores. And they imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam on a population that was mostly too poor to flee and too terrified to resist. . . .

Evidence of the group’s reign included an interrogation center with knives and saws, its walls peppered with bullet holes and smeared with blood. Nearby, a house had been converted into a prison, with six numbered cells with metal doors and bars across the windows.

Residents said they were terrified of being stuffed into the trunk of a car and carted off to one of these places for such minor infractions as smoking in public. . . .

Residents said the militants gradually began taking over last year, parading through the streets in trucks, brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles and using bullhorns to inform residents that they were now part of the Islamic State of Iraq.

They banned smoking, closed down barbershops and coffeehouses, and required women to cover themselves in black robes with only a slit for their eyes. Iraqis working for the Baghdad government or for U.S. forces were hunted down and killed, residents said. Even a trip to Baghdad was grounds for suspicion.

If al Qaeda could set up a miniature Talibanistan almost under the noses of (undermanned) American bases, just imagine what they would be able to do in Iraq if most American forces withdrew altogether. If our commandos couldn’t stop the radicalization of Baqubah when they were located only a few miles away at Balad, how much luck would they have if they relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles away to someplace like Kuwait or Iraqi Kurdistan, as suggested by Jack Murtha and other advocates of “redeployment”?

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Command Performance

The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

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The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

Suspicious souls within the Army are starting to wonder if there is a conspiracy against the men and women in green, perhaps a holdover from the tenure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was intensely suspicious of the Army for not being in synch with his high-tech (and highly misguided) plans to “transform” the armed forces. Or perhaps, some self-flagellating Army officers speculate, this is a sign that their service isn’t doing a good job of producing competent senior leaders.

Both explanations are plausible. But it’s also possible that there may be less here than meets the eye.

Consider that the Army at the moment holds the two most important combat commands in the entire U.S. armed forces. General David Petraeus is the senior commander in Iraq, while General Dan McNeill is the senior commander in Afghanistan. Neither position is as publicly prestigious as that of combatant commander. But those jobs are of much greater actual significance at the moment than running, say, Southern Command (with responsibility for Latin America). They are probably even more significant than running Central Command—which may be why Defense Secretary Robert Gates felt free to appoint an admiral to that position, knowing that our land wars would still be run by army four-stars.

These trends also tend to go in cycles. Not long ago the Army was grousing not about Navy admirals but about Marine Corps generals, said to be “overrepresented” in senior Army ranks. Marines, for their part, were upset that two Army generals—Tommy Franks and John Abizaid—had taken successive charge of Centcom. Many wondered why a leatherneck (such as the eminently qualified Lieutenant General Jim Mattis) wasn’t picked.

My sense—and it’s only a sense, since I have no inside information—is that the top jobs are filled nowadays based more on personal qualifications than on service politics. It’s who you know and what your reputation is that count, rather than which uniform you wear. And since the top jobs are so political, it’s often the most astute political infighter, rather than the most brilliant and inspired leader, who gets the appointment.

But the recent appointments do seem to reflect a decline in intra-service parochialism—precisely what the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act was supposed to accomplish. So the latest appointments should not occasion too much grinding of teeth, even in the Army. After all, before long the other services may well be complaining about too many green-suiters at the top.

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The Lessons of Grenada

Like so many “small wars,” the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada has been all but forgotten. But the death of Joseph Metcalf III, the vice admiral who commanded the U.S. invasion force, provides an opportunity to recall the impact of this operation.

The Reagan administration was concerned about Grenada because of the presence of Cuban engineers who were building a large airfield that, it was feared, could become a platform for Soviet combat aircraft. The immediate trigger for the invasion was a coup by hardline Marxists in the army who overthrew Maurice Bishop’s government, which was already radical enough. There were fears that the resulting chaos could endanger 1,000 American medical students on the Caribbean island.

An initial landing of 1,500 American troops who went ashore on October 25 met stiffer-than-expected resistance from the Grenadian army and its Cuban allies. The island was not declared secure until November 2. By then some 8,000 American troops had been committed to fight an estimated 1,200 Grenadian soldiers and 780 Cubans. Nineteen U.S. service personnel died. Cuban and Grenadian forces lost 70 men.

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Like so many “small wars,” the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada has been all but forgotten. But the death of Joseph Metcalf III, the vice admiral who commanded the U.S. invasion force, provides an opportunity to recall the impact of this operation.

The Reagan administration was concerned about Grenada because of the presence of Cuban engineers who were building a large airfield that, it was feared, could become a platform for Soviet combat aircraft. The immediate trigger for the invasion was a coup by hardline Marxists in the army who overthrew Maurice Bishop’s government, which was already radical enough. There were fears that the resulting chaos could endanger 1,000 American medical students on the Caribbean island.

An initial landing of 1,500 American troops who went ashore on October 25 met stiffer-than-expected resistance from the Grenadian army and its Cuban allies. The island was not declared secure until November 2. By then some 8,000 American troops had been committed to fight an estimated 1,200 Grenadian soldiers and 780 Cubans. Nineteen U.S. service personnel died. Cuban and Grenadian forces lost 70 men.

Operation Urgent Fury was a success—just what America needed at the time. It was the first successful American military operation since Vietnam, and came just two days after the devastating bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut. However small, the victory in Grenada helped to revive American morale, solidify support for Ronald Reagan, and increase confidence in the armed forces.

But from a military viewpoint, Grenada was full of frustrations—as made clear in this study by the historian Ronald H. Cole for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The whole operation was put together at the last minute, with inadequate intelligence and confusing lines of command. Admiral Metcalf, commander of the U.S. Second Fleet, was placed in charge, but he and his staff had no experience of ground operations. A major general named H. Norman Schwarzkopf was abruptly dispatched to offer advice—but not given the authority to command ground forces.

The plan called for a simultaneous assault by Army Rangers on one part of the island and Marines on the other. But the Rangers were landed late and in the wrong order, costing them the element of surprise. A SEAL team was trapped and outgunned at the residence of the British governor general, and had to be rescued by the Marines. Navy A-7 Corsairs attacked a brigade headquarters of the 82nd Airborne, wounding seventeen soldiers.

Some snafus are to be expected in combat, of course, but what made Operation Urgent Fury so frustrating was that the Army, Marines, and Navy literally couldn’t talk to one another. “Because of incompatible radios,” Cole writes, “Navy ships within sight of Rangers and airborne troops could not initially receive or respond to their requests for fire support.” Nor could Marines and Army soldiers talk to one another. This led to an incident in which one soldier (not, as in the Clint Eastwood movie Heartbreak Ridge, a marine) was said to have placed a long-distance commercial telephone call to Ft. Bragg, N.C., to get fire support for his unit.

The lessons of Grenada helped lead to the passage of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which established a more unified command structure for the armed forces, and the 1987 Nunn-Cohen Amendment, which established the U.S. Special Operations Command. Not incidentally, it also helped Schwarzkopf go on to greater glory as a unified combatant commander—a job that didn’t exist in 1983.

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