New blog on Iraq

Robert Young Pelton, of Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, has just launched a very interesting website: IraqSlogger: Insights, Scoops & Blunders. Pelton, who has delved deeply in the private security business to investigate and report, has clearly moved into the private intelligence arena based on the information on the site. The line between investigative journalism and intelligence can be fuzzy. If you have the trust that Pelton and his IC’s (independent contractors… knowing Pelton, I doubt they are on a payroll…) have, HUMINT is a natural by-product (It’ll be interesting what the RFI on this story turns up).

Good information across the spectrum with sensible topic headings, the format is too busy and the colors seem a little National Inquirer-ish. The combination of mainstream media and first-person reporting makes this a required portal for anybody wanting perspective on what’s going on inside Iraq. Getting information is through visiting the site or updates via email, but where’s the RSS, Robert?

Check it out: IraqSlogger: Insights, Scoops & Blunders.

Commercial Product: Nigeria Election Watch

Briefly, the importance of Nigeria to American and worldwide businesses is quietly and quickly escalating. An offering by Control Risks Group is an example of the requirements of present and future globalization:

Nigeria Election Watch

Nigeria’s general elections on 14 and 21 April 2007 promise to be a watershed in the country’s history. However, concerns about stability are growing as voting approaches, in the wake of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s efforts to extend his tenure, and with rising insecurity in the Niger delta region.

To help businesses to understand the possible risks associated with the electoral cycle, Control Risks has introduced a comprehensive package of timely and relevant analysis, comprising a detailed background and scenarios report and regular Nigeria Election Watch updates.

The report outlines the political background to the elections, giving an overview of the current situations, key players and drivers of change. Our unique Nigeria Election Watch service provides a dynamic guide to the elections, highlighting key dates and developments. It features:

  • Conference calls
  • Update reports
  • Forecasting
  • Emerging election issues
  • Election timeline updates
  • Direct access to the team

Weapon of Mass Impoverishment

Artist: annaberthold at yahoo dot comA short time ago, a colleague made the poster at the left for a mock public diplomacy campaign my team created. The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness how small arms, notably the AK-47, contributes to poverty. We all felt the poster was outstanding, so here it is for sharing. This wasn’t the only poster she made, so contact me if you’re interested in this or the other posters.

By the way, a book on the AK-47 was recently released: AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War. I have not read it, but the video promoting it looks fascinating.

China, UN Peacekeeping, and Public Diplomacy

The Chinese, following their stated plan to do so, continue on their path of engaging the world through peacekeeping. Through participation in UN peacekeeping operations, the Chinese expose their military to different parts of the world, allow others to meet them, and invariably share some culture through engagement with civilians and military alike. It would be a clever move it wasn’t such a well-known option.

From the International Herald Tribune back in September 06:

BEIJING Prime Minister Wen Jiabao confirmed on Monday that his country would increase its UN peacekeeping presence in Lebanon to 1,000 troops, raising China’s profile in the Middle East and bolstering ties with Europe.

Wen recently discussed China’s contribution to United Nations forces in Lebanon with European leaders gathered in Helsinki, but until now China had not publicly specified numbers.

“China has decided to increase its peacekeeping force in Lebanon to 1,000,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing with Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy.

“China is very concerned about the situation in Lebanon and hopes it can be fundamentally resolved,” Wen said.

China had contributed 187 troops to the previous, 1,990-strong peacekeeping force in Lebanon, according to the United Nations

[This post has lingered in the draft folder for the last three months…. it’s about time it was published.]

Counting the Contractors in Iraq

From the Washington Post comes news that will, or should, dominate the discourse over Iraq for a few days: a CENTCOM census counted “about 100,000” contractors in Iraq. This is up from an estimated 87,000 a few months ago, but this be partially explained by better surveying.

In comparison, there are around 140,000 US troops, and of course very few Coalition troops, save 6,000 +/- UK troops, in Iraq now. Here’s the contractor breakdown WaPo gives:

  • DynCorp International: 1,500 (700 training police)
  • Blackwater USA: 1,000+ (most as security contractors)
  • KBR: 50,000 across Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, although there may be some doublecounting as they won’t give breakdowns.
  • MPRI (part of L-3 Communications, NYSE: LLL) , has about 500 employees
  • Titan, another L-3 division, has 6,500 linguists in the country.

There are four aspects to this story, two of which are briefly mentioned.

The first is this quote from William Nash of the CFR:

“It takes a great deal of vigilance on the part of the military commander to ensure contractor compliance. If you’re trying to win hearts and minds and the contractor is driving 90 miles per hour through the streets and running over kids, that’s not helping the image of the American army. The Iraqis aren’t going to distinguish between a contractor and a soldier.”

The impact of driving techniques was “addressed” months ago in Afghanistan. More importantly, while we consider the contractors to be less than agents of the US (they are contractors, not American military personnel), locals don’t, as Nash states, see a difference, regardless of nationality of the contractor.

The lack of a strategic vision in Iraq is emphasized by this report. Our frequently ad hoc assemblage of “gap” solutions has resulted in a force not just a few times larger than our nearest Coalition partner, but nearly twenty times.

Interviewing Robert Young Pelton, one here’s numbers upward of 140,000 contractors in Iraq: around 70,000 known plus one unknown for each known.

The second point is the next, and last, paragraph in the article:

The census gives military commanders insight into the contractors operating in their region and the type of work they are doing, [Lt. Col. Julie Wittkoff, chief of the contracting branch at Central Command]said. “It helps the combatant commanders have a better idea of . . . food and medical requirements they may need to provide to support the contractors,” she said.

This is a minor point, but points out the reader the 100,000 +/- contractors are far from an absolute number. There are support services provided by the military (at a cost to the military… i.e. the contractors are not self-contained), there are support personnel the contractors bring to the country that are not yet counted, and there little other “insight into the contractors operating” in the military’s operating areas.

There are multiple levels of control and accountability, not just criminal, that this article only hints at and I’m sure other Post and NYT authors will start to catch on to.

The third aspect of this story, completely absent, is who pays for the contractors. With most of the security contractors under subcontract, awareness and control become increasingly unclear. The impact contractors have on our mission ranges from the daily drives to the guys taken down in Fallujah in 2004 that, as Thomas Ricks points out, weren’t aware of changing conditions and tactics.

But who pays for the contractors? Department of State? Department of Defense? Department of the Interior? All of it from budgets controlled by the executive branch, but funded by Congress? The Custer Battles trial showed that some monies were effectively “hidden” through the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, to what affect?

One of the arguments in favor of contractors is the bang for the buck. How many bucks for what kind of bang is impossible to measure without transparency.

The fourth issue is the most important and completely ignored in the article: the complete absence of these numbers being represented in either General Pace’s or Jim Baker’s study groups. Besides the expected virtual acknowledgement that we can’t go to our allies for help, our paid friends in the country are ignored.

More importantly, we apparently have 100,000 additional forces (not all are shooters) supplementing our mission in Iraq, but coordination is poor and the fact we are just getting a handle on them indicates an incredible lack of strategic vision. But that’s no surprise. These contractors could be helping us, if it weren’t for reconstruction failures and their held to a larger strategic task beyond getting from Point A to B and protecting each of those points.

Last point to reiterate the control and accountability issue. American democracy relies, in part, on a democratic control of force. The Founding Fathers were intimately aware of the power of the military and gave us a Constitution that created a shared control of the armed forces between two masters, the legislative and the executive branches of government. Congress was empowered to “raise and support” the armed forces of the new nation and given the power “To declare War,” and the President was given the power to conduct the war. Further, of the 18 Congressional powers enumerated in the US Constitution 11 relate to security. (for more on this part, see Charlie Stevenson’s book) The contractors in Iraq are generally, if not completely, outside the control and oversight of Congress. This “private army” of the executive branch isn’t held to the same two-master standard as the military. Hence recent GAO and CRS reports on contractors.

There’s more to this issue than the numbers, although they indicate a problem more significant and severe than most are aware.

Book Review: The Abolition of Privateering and the Declaration of Paris

Written in 1897, The Abolition of Privateering and the Declaration of Paris is a superb resource when looking at the use of non-state forces by the state. Put simply, this provides period knowledge and perspective that is not available in later works.

More important is the information on the broad use, impact, and deep understanding of privatization by the nascent American government during the Revolution and the War of 1812, for example. During the Revolution, many towns came to depend on income from their privateers, such as Salem, Massachusetts. Their roving tactics that took them along the European and British coasts produced public diplomacy backlashes as they “came to be liked as little as their brethren of England.”

In 1812, when both political and financial capital were in short supply and with a navy outnumbered by almost 10 to 1, Congress granted the President the authority to “issue to private armed vessels of the United States commissions or letters of marquee and general reprisal, in such form as he shall think proper, and under the seal of the United States.” Congress, in granting the President this authority, gave specific instructions on compensation and, more importantly, monitoring the privateers as they were keenly aware of the impact on public diplomacy and foreign policy these raiders have.

In both cases, Congress made it clear that it would not and did not cede responsibility for war when they authorized the President to hire private vessels, and compensate them as privateers, but placed clear parameters on pay and, more importantly, monitoring.

This book is a hidden gem and is a font information on how privatization then is different than now. Further, it contributes to an understanding of why privatization went by the wayside.

This is on Mountainrunner’s recommended reading list for privatizing war and a worthwhile purchase.

The big assumption: numbers equal effect

As the White House struggles with what to do next, the military maneuvers to cover its ass, and Congress debates on how to proceed, the central element throughout all these discussions is the number of troops in theater. Do we go “big” and throw more troops or do we cut and run? What course we choose is dependent on the number of troops we commit.

There are two fallacies embedded in framing the discussion as a numbers game. The first is assuming quantity is more important than quality. The second is the absence of our supplemental forces already operating in the theater who, if counted as a single entity, would be our largest “partner” in the Coalition. Soon after President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and declared “Mission Accomplished”, the number of private security contractors in Iraq was pushing 20,000. Two years later, this number would balloon to over 50,000 (this may actually be half of the actual figure) with American and British contractors dropping to less than 10,000 in favor of cheaper “third country nationals” (predominately Latin American and African contractors) and “host country nationals” (Iraqis). When the President’s Coalition of the Willing was at its strongest, there were more than twice as many private security contractors operating in Iraq as the second largest member of the Coalition, leading some to suggest it was really a Coalition of the Billing.

So why don’t we consider the additional tens of thousands contractors that could be brought back over to provide site, transport, and sector security? Because it makes for a messy world of friction, oversight, integration, and accountability. We need to remember the latest incarnation of the Marine Corps’ Countering Irregular Threats intentionally ignored the role of “guns with legs” because it was too complex an issue to deal with.

Going back to the first point, quantity versus quality, includes the contractor question and more. Movies like Gunner Palace, books like Fiasco, Countering Insurgency in Iraq all document a wildly varied appreciation of counter-insurgency and even the need to practice it at all. This blog has raised the negative impacts of Haditha (done by the military) reconstruction failures (done by contractors), all of which are completely ignored in practice. When CENTCOM looks at Thomas Friedman as their COIN expert, we’re in trouble.

John Nagl, David Galula, Mao, Thucydides, and others should be required reading to appreciate the value of SWET. Instead of debating numbers, we should be discussing how the tactics have failed and how this will prevent the Iraq government from fulfilling the mandate we’ve given it.

We can’t win unless the population believes we will deliver a solution. Military forces and contractors, armed and not, must be under a strategic direction to start conducting real counter-insurgency operations and public diplomacy operations to rebuild trust with the populations. It may be too late, afterall we spent the last three plus years creating the environment that’s over there now.