Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Beaten, but not defeated?

Some of my colleagues and I have been engaging in idle speculation about the impact that psychological defeat has on the growth of an insurgency in the aftermath of a conventional military defeat. Note that the flavor of insurgency we're talking about here is one that emerges in the aftermath of defeat and occupation by a foreign power - not insurgencies that grow to resist foreign occupation over generations (e.g. Tibet) or insurgencies that seek to impose regime change on a local government (e.g. the FARC.)

What role does the psychological impression of losing the war that a population experiences play in their later willingness to restart or continue hostilities - through participating in or supporting an insurgency, for example? That is, does a population that doesn't experience defeat "up close and personal" somehow retain more of a will to resist than one that does? For example, neither WWII nor the American Civil War saw the emergence of a significant insurgency (yes, I know about the Ku Klux Klan and I know that the US Army was dealing with isolated acts of resistance into the early 1950s, but neither period saw resistance coalesce into something that could have changed the outcome of the war.) Both of those wars ended with the population on the losing side experiencing total defeat and social collapse. The Iraq war ended with the decapitation and replacement of the existing regime, but without the population experiencing national defeat. Is that a factor in the current insurgency? If so, what does that say about current warfighting techniques - do they render the defeat of a nation's government too bloodless to pacify a population? Or would an Iraq insurgency have risen regardless, given early US mistakes in the aftermath of Saddam's defeat?

Friday, April 13, 2007


The post below is a work of fiction, pretty much - I'll probably start doing more of that, since it's my blog and I can, but I'll always identify it as such. If for some reason, I ever go so far as to post poetry, I promise to post a prominent warning in plenty of time to click next. If you're not interested, just skip over it.

A short story, not translated into English

(A note on pronunciation: Terms that are in all caps, should be pronounced as individual letters, eg RPG is pronounced are pee gee. Lower case has been used to indicate that the term is pronounced as written, even when common military usage is to put the term in all caps. For example, TIC is rendered tic and pronounced as "tick.")

Viper Six Zero, Viper Six Zero, this is Cobra Four Seven Dismount. Troops in contact. I say again, troops in contact. Taking heavy machine gun, small arms and RPG fire from the northeast. Grid to follow. Break...

Viper Six Zero this is Cobra Four Seven Dismount. Grid is Two Six November Mike Delta Three Seven Five Four Two Six. I say again Two Six November Mike Delta Three Seven Five Four Two Six. How copy, over.

Viper Six Zero copies Two Six November Mike Delta Three Seven Five Four Two Six.

Roger, good copy. We are taking fire from a ridgeline approximately three hundred meters to our northeast. Enemy is maneuvering at least two squad size elements towards our position. They are continuing to engage our position with machine gun and RPG fire from the ridgeline, over.

Roger, Cobra Four Seven, we are working cas now. Break... Death Magic Seven Six, this is Viper Six Zero,over.

Death Magic copies all. Diverting Banshee to tic, approximately three zero mikes out from Cobra Four Seven's position, over.

Death Magic Seven Six, this is Cobra Four Seven. Good copy and thanks, over.

Cobra Four Seven this is Viper Six Zero, what is your situation, over.

We're a little busy here for sitreps, Viper Six Zero. We are returning fire. We have the elements that were maneuvering in our direction pinned down for now. All fire so far is from the northeast. Enemy does not appear to have NVG capability. No casualties at this time, over.

Roger, Cobra Four Seven, we'll have Predator on station in five mikes. Viper Six Zero standing by.

Four Seven Dismount, this is Four Seven Mobile on Fox Mike. We are moving blacked out, east on Route Green towards your position. We will attempt to take up a flanking position, over.

Mobile, this is Dismount, Fox Mike. Call when due south of our location, and we'll try to vector you in on the bad guys, over.

Dismount, Mobile, wilco, out.

Cobra Four Seven Dismount, this is Viper Six Zero. We have Predator on station now, break... ISR reports approximately twelve pax on the ridgeline at Mike Delta Three Two Four Six, break . . . There are two groups of approximately four pax each in the rocks to the southwest of the ridgeline, approximately one hundred and fifty meters from the main body, how copy, over.

Roger, Viper Six Zero, we have visual on all three groups. The map shows an east-west road running two hundred meters to the north of the ridgeline - can the Pred tell if we can get our mobile element up in there?

Wait one, Cobra Four Seven . . . Cobra Four Seven, this is Viper Six Zero, roger, there's a turnoff approximately two klicks east of your location. If the mobile element turns left there, it will take them about seventy five meters behind the ridgeline to the north. Be advised, ISR reports two bongo trucks parked on the road near the main body of the enemy. It looks like there may be six or seven pax with the vehicles, over.

Roger, Viper Six Zero. Dismount, this is Mobile, Fox Mike. We copied last from Viper, and will bypass your location and make for the road north, over.

Mobile, Dismount, roger. Call when making the turnoff, over.

Dismount, Mobile, wilco, out.

Cobra Four Seven, this is Death Magic Seven Six. Banshee reports three mikes out. Will push to your fox mike, over.

Good copy, Death Magic.

Dismount, this is Mobile, Fox Mike. We are making the turnoff now, over.

Roger Mobile, We are taking sporadic fire. The bad guys still haven't moved closer to us. ISR sees two vehicles and several pax on the road to your front, over.

Roger, Dismount, approaching the vehicles now.

Viper Six Zero, this is Cobra Four Seven Mobile. Troops in contact. We are driving up the road to the north of the woodline and taking fire from the bongo trucks to our front, break . . . Appears to be AK and PKM fire. We are engaging, over.

Cobra Four Seven Mobile this is Viper Six Zero, roger, over.

Cobra Four Seven this is Viper Six Zero, Predator reports that the two elements closest to you are withdrawing to the ridgeline, over.

Roger, Viper, we are engaging them at this time, over.

Cobra Four Seven, this is Banshee, Fox Mike. We are over your location now. What is your situation, over?

Roger, Banshee, we are still taking sporadic fire from the ridge line to our northeast. Our mobile element is engaging two vehicles on the east-west road to the north of the woodline, over.

Roger, Cobra, we have the enemy pax on the ridgeline, over.

Roger, Banshee, this is Cobra Four Seven Actual, fire mission, over.

Send it, over.

Banshee this is Cobra, from my position Two Six November Mike Delta Three Seven Five Four Two Six marked by IR strobe, six five degrees at five hundred meters, marked by tracer and lasso, you are cleared hot, over.

Roger, firing one oh five.

Good hit, Banshee.

Cobra, Banshee. Remaining pax are fleeing north off of the ridgeline.

Banshee, this is Cobra Four Seven Actual. You are cleared hot as long as PID is maintained.

Roger, Cobra, engaging forty mike mike. Pax are fleeing north towards the vehicles.

This is Cobra Four Seven Mobile. We have movement off of the ridgeline towards the vehicles and are engaging.

Cobra, this is Banshee. One of the bongo trucks is moving west with approximately one zero pax. The other truck appears to be disabled and burning, over.

Roger, Banshee, you are cleared hot for the moving truck.

Roger, firing one oh five, break . . . truck is stopped. No movement.

Mobile, Dismount, Fox Mike. We are going to sweep north up the ridgeline at this time, over.

Dismount, Mobile, good copy. We will hold our position on the road, over.

Mobile, Dismount, roger, break . . . Banshee, this is Cobra Four Seven Dismount. We are moving north on foot to the ridgeline at this time, over.

Cobra Four Seven, this is Banshee, roger, how are you marked, over.

Banshee, this is Cobra Four Seven Dismount, a single group marked by IR strobe, over.

Good copy, Cobra.

Mobile, this is Dismount, Fox Mike, we are cresting the ridgeline now, over.

Dismount, this is Mobile, we have your strobe, over.

Mobile, Dismount, roger, we are going to look around here and then move to your location, over.

Dismount, Mobile, roger.

Banshee, this is Cobra Four Seven, Fox Mike. We have consolidated at the humvees and are preparing to withdraw. Thanks for the assist, over.

Cobra Four Seven, this is Banshee, roger, we will maintain cover until you withdraw, over.

Banshee, this is Cobra, roger and thanks, out.

Viper Six Zero, this is Cobra Four Seven Mobile. We have consolidated with the Cobra Four Seven Dismount element and are RTB at this time. We estimate approximately fifteen to twenty EKIA, two crew served weapons and two bongo trucks destroyed. All men, weapons and equipment accounted for. Thanks for all your help, over.

Cobra Four Seven, this is Viper Six Zero, roger, good copy on the sitrep. Glad everything is OK out there. Viper Six Zero, out.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

And just who does this Publius guy think he is, anyway

I noticed a couple of new comments on the blog today, which is what drove me out of virtual hibernation in the first place. Normally, I don't delete comments - except for the hideous comment spam that infested the blog before I turned on verification. But if a real live human takes the time to write, I'll leave it up, even if they disagree with something I've said, and even if they use bad language to express their idea.

Today, though, for the first time, I deleted real comments - two of them. Both of them were in reference to militarytracy, and gave her real name and her husband's place of assignment. There are a couple of reasons I felt like I had to get rid of them.

In the first place, there's some risk, albeit small, that someone might use the information against her or her husband. (Not a large one, mind you, even though I was on Ft. Rucker once and got to listen in on an over the top, almost hysterical lecture on the seriousness of the Islamic terrorist threat in Lower Alabama.)

The biggest reason is that I believe strongly, as long as someone doesn't misrepresent their situation, the decision to interact on the web pseudonomously should be respected. I think that we need to respect the marketplace of ideas, and part of that is letting people who want to discuss their ideas without attribution do so. Sometimes, people are at risk of retribution or intimidation for their ideas, and other times they might feel that their ideas are better presented without association with a specific gender, race, class, or background, and I think that's appropriate. Ideas should stand or fall on their own merit, and there should be a mechanism that allows people to express their ideas without fear of reprisal. So, I'm strongly opposed to "outing" people who choose to post behind a pseudonym. And please spare me the post-modern deconstructionist take that you can't understand the idea without exploring the "ideological biases" of the person behind it. That's just an excuse for turning opposition to a particular idea or point of view into an ad hominem argument instead of thinking it through.

Now, that changes if someone publishes pseudonomously and claims to be something they're not in order to give themselves greater stature in a debate. If someone starts a post "as a wounded soldier, I believe . . .", and it turns out they've never been in the Army, then, yes, they should be exposed - and ridiculed. And, of course, I'd make an exception if someone announced that they were doing something illegal in a post somewhere. Other than that, if someone chooses not to identify themselves, I'm OK with that, which is why I felt in necessary to delete those comments.

You're right

I haven't been posting much lately.

I haven't been blogging while I've been out of town, largely because I have almost no time, and because I'm concerned that I won't be paying attention to what I say and something might go terribly wrong. For example:

10:38pm I've finally got my satellite modem working, and I thought I would try my hand at live-blogging while on patrol. We're setting up a recon site now. Bob and I got dropped off and then walked in from the checkpoint right where the southern canal crosses the station road. Man, it was a long walk - eight and a half klicks due south from the paved road by the checkpoint.

11:56pm We finally got the hidesite set up. We have a really good position. We're pulling surveillance on the Muhbas family complex, and we set up on the hill just to their north - right under this ring of ten date trees - one interesting tid-bit: the locals actually call the road next to us "Ten Trees Road" because of the trees right here where we are.

12:30am Wow, there sure are a lot of Iraqis out tonight. There seems to be a gathering at the farmhouse below us. A lot of Iraqis with RPGs and AK-47s down there.

12:40am Some old guy just came out of the farmhouse carrying a laptop computer. He seems upset about something. He's yelling at the other guys and pointing. Funny how you see modern technology even among the dirt farmers here.

12:42am All the Iraqis just left the farmhouse. They seem to be coming this way. Strange . . .

12:51am I have never in my life seen this many Iraqis this close.

and so on.

But I'm still around - so far - in case anyone's wondering.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Tao of warrant officers

(Warning: This post contains material regarding blatant disregard for uniform regulations and is not appropriate for individuals holding, or aspiring to, the rank of sergeant major. Command sergeants-major, sergeants-major, first sergeants, and exceptionally hard-assed platoon sergeants should go here.)

One base I was passing through recently is large enough that, except for the occasional mortar attack that's more irritant than threat, the war is "out there" on the other side of the perimeter. While on base, its like an exceptionally strict stateside base that you can never leave. People are constantly on duty, and for some people, that includes enforcing petty regulations and uniform requirements.

One of the most sacrosanct and silly army uniform requirements revolves around "headgear." One always wears a hat out of doors and one always removes a hat when going under cover - except that one always wears a hat while "under arms," which is, of course, thanks to army regulations and tradition, not simply the same thing as being armed. And, if you ever want to spend an instructive half-hour of hair splitting interpretation that would be admired for its sophistry by the most exacting of Talmudic scholars, ask a senior NCO to define "under cover", with particular reference to outdoor pavillions, awnings, and the separate roof thingies over some gas station's pump islands.

Also, for the following to make sense, you have to understand that one of the tenets of the army is that anyone can issue an on the spot correction for uniform dicrepancies, even to an individual of higher rank. Some NCOs live for catching officers "out of uniform" and issuing the on the spot correction. By tradition, such corrections are always graciously acknowledged and usually even acted upon - usually.

I was trying to catch up with one of my friends, a chief warrant officer, coming out of the main DFAC (pronounced "dee-fack", by the way), the chow hall for a huge number of conventional troops and the occasional SF guy stuck on the wrong side of the base for lunch. He, as is often the case with SF guys, and even more often the case with SF chief warrant officers, didn't bother to put his hat on for the 50' walk from the chow hall entrance to the parking area where we had left our Defender.

Of course, he didn't make it 10' before he was called on it: "Hey sir," a fearless buck sergeant with an "I caught you" smirk on his face said, "you need to get yourself a hat." Unfazed, our hero patted his leg pocket and felt for his hat as he passed the sergeant: "No," he replied, "I've got one right here in my pocket, but thanks, I appreciate it." He smiled cordially at the sergeant and continued his hatless walk to the truck.*

*This sort of thing is, by the way, one of the truly wrong reasons that people want to be SF warrant officers.

Notes on this post:
1) Please don't think that I'm making light of the threat that all of us - no matter what our job - live under here: yes, people can get hurt or killed, and I have the greatest respect for the bravery that our people show in coming here, especially the mechanics and cooks and clerks and technicians and logisticians who didn't sign up to close with and destroy the enemy, but who do their job and keep things running every day under the threat of IEDs, ambushes and mortar fire. God bless and keep all of them.

2) Someone remind me: in a later post, I'll explore why the army has all these stupid rules and why they're actually a good thing for Big Army to have - and not just because they drive everyone who can think "outside the box" into SOF.

3) Yes, to my everlasting discredit, I already had my hat on when this happened.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I finally got here

I made it in late last night after a 48 hour wait and a 7 hour flight on a C-5, and I have to admit, this arrival was much better than getting to Afghanistan. I suppose it's because I've already done this, but I didn't have the sense of disorientation that I had the first time. In fact, everything had an almost eerie "been there, done that" feeling to it.

Also, of course, what a difference a few years and big Army makes. When I got to Afghanistan, we arrived at 3am local and, for my first night, I got assigned to a tent across from the airfield at Bagram. The tent was a GP medium, and I was in it with five other guys with nothing but our gear and some army cots. I assumed that the people who had set the tent up had neglected to put in the floor, but in the morning I discovered that the floor was simply covered with 4" of sand. Sand was everywhere, and blew through the tent on a hot wind all night, and, because we were close to the airfield, I got to wake up to the sound of C-130's taxiing every half hour or so. For our comfort, there was a row of porta-potties with accompanying smell immediately behind the tent. It was a pretty miserable way to start a war.

But then, I don't suppose there's really a good way to start out a combat tour. This time came much closer though. I got through with the inevitable in-processing and drew quarters for the next few days until I get to something permanent. I'm sharing a room (OK, it's in a plywood hut, but it's sealed) with one other guy - there are two single beds (with mattresses!) and a wall locker in the room, and (if you can believe it) an actual air conditioning unit in the wall. A bit down the way is a latrine and shower - a much nicer way to start out my time.

Of course, I also know enough about the army to know that it can't last. But I'll enjoy it while I can.

Monday, October 09, 2006

On the road again

For anyone who's interested, I'm in Europe right now, waiting for a ride to Iraq (Amazingly, the aircraft I was on broke down in a cool European area, and not in the Middle East - funny how that sort of thing always happens to the Air Force.) Hopefully, more to come soon (This means that I'll have to get on the ball and finish my Afghanistan stories so that I can start on some new ones.)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Frater, ave atque vale

It's been a long five years - please remember the victims of 9/11, and the fallen heroes of 9/11 - the firefighters and police officers who gave their lives doing their duty. And, too, remember the unsung heroes among the victims - the ones who could have gotten out, but didn't, because they were helping others.

It's appropriate and fitting to mourn today, but September 11th shouldn't be a day of sadness - it should be a day of wrath, until the threat of radical Islam has been wiped from the face of the earth. Only then is it appropriate to reflect on the anniversary with gentle remembrance - I'm afraid we too easily forget that. Until then, today should be a day of righteous anger, secure in the knowledge that, whatever our misteps and mistakes in "the long war", that this is a struggle of good and evil, and that our God is with us.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.