DHS and Sigma

I’m in Hawaii this week on a family vacation, so obviously it’s very light on the posting (and thinking). I didn’t complete my post on the DHS conference to my satisfaction before leaving the mainland, so I never posted my comments on that and related subjects.

In the gap of my post on the DHS conference, some brief comments on my two panels (Science as Diplomacy and Blogging on Technology), and my two+ hours w/ the guys (and gal) from Sigma, read Jason, Paul, and Michael’s posts on Sigma until I return next week.

I’ll have that Mai Tai now…

Highlighting mission failure: the Opium Metric

Three stories on opium in Afghanistan and Iraq.

First up is a post from Henry Bowles @ Foreign Policy.com on kids toking up, and getting toked, in Afghanistan.

Even more disturbing is the fact that, according to the United Nations, some 600,000 of those addicts are under 15. In some areas of the country, giving opium to children is a common method of treating insomnia, bad behavior, and “ADD”-like symptoms.

From an Al-Jazeera report: “Zarbibi routinely blows opium into [her three year old son’s] face to keep him quiet. It is the only way she knows how to free herself so that she can work.”

Second is Nykrindc who notes Iraqi farmers are turning to the cash crop. The likely beneficiary: Shi’a militants.

Third is Peter Marton, of the State Failure Blog, who suggests forced poppy eradication may not be as helpful as we think. Instead, infrastructure and opportunities should be created to provide alternatives to switch to instead of the blinding halt without replacement income options.

Shortsighted strategy comes back to haunt

Counterinsurgency requires a holistic approach. The insurgent operates holistically, we must counter them holistically and yet we don’t, instead too often focusing on the traditional war fighting: if we kill enough of them they’ll go away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

In addition to our failure to understand the information war implicitly and explicitly played by insurgents (and terrorists or any smart belligerent for that matter), the James Risen’s article in the New York Times today highlights strategic failures that undermined our efforts to stabilize the region.

Poppy growing is endemic in the countryside, and Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world’s opium. But until recently, American officials acknowledge, fighting drugs was considered a distraction from fighting terrorists.

By ignoring the drug problem, we ignored a fundamental sector in the Afghani economy that not only bankrolls the enemy, it supports belligerent warlords resisting full participation in rebuilding the entire state, it also prevents rebuilding the socio-political structures necessary to rebuild the state.

Administration officials say they had believed they could eliminate the insurgency first, then tackle the drug trade. “Now people recognize that it’s all related, and it’s one issue,” said Thomas Schweich, the State Department’s coordinator for counternarcotics in Afghanistan. “It’s no longer just a drug problem. It is an economic problem, a political problem and a security problem.”

Our efforts to curb the problem, largely ignored until early 2007 (!!), still apparently focuses on law enforcement. LE is important, but as in Iraq, if people have little options in the way of money, what are they to do? If “public” officials such as the local police lack the ability or desire to remove power from the warlords and drug dealers, what are they to do?

The Pentagon also argued that countering drugs had always been a law enforcement mission, not a military one.

The distinction between civil and military operations in both state-building and modern conflict is a line simply rubbed away. It doesn’t exist.

“The commanders said we don’t do drugs, we’re just killing terrorists,” Mr. Hollis recalled. “That showed a lack of understanding of the threat. I cared about going after the drug routes. If you could smuggle drugs, you could smuggle weapons and terrorists. It concerned me that if we didn’t go after the drug trade then, we would lose a golden opportunity.”

The focus on eradication has second order effects while ignoring the importance of the central players, ostensibly our local “allies”.

“To Afghans, our counternarcotics policy looks like a policy of rewarding rich traffickers and punishing poor farmers,” Barnett R. Rubin, a New York University professor and an expert on Afghanistan, told a Senate panel in March.

Many Afghans are hostile to opium eradication, saying it deprives farmers of their livelihoods. Mr. Rubin and others say that destroying crops drives villagers into the arms of the Taliban. But the United States has not embraced large-scale aid and employment programs that might deter farmers from planting poppies. Instead, the antidrug teams venture out into the countryside, where some have been killed by suicide bombers and Taliban forces allied with drug lords.

So why did we permit the resurgence in a drug crop the Taliban themselves had largely eradicated? Because, like decisions to support corrupt regimes and provide arms to questionable groups during the Cold War, it seemed like a good idea in the sliver of time the decision maker considered the options. Failure to understand the ripple effects of such decisions, in this case the socio-political-economic impact of the resumption of opium farming has meant the deaths of our soldiers in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 in Afghanistan were for naught. We have simply been feeding the enemy, allowing them to build their base, rearm, and resupply.

We have certainly not done our best to make the Taliban irrelevant, nor are we doing our best to make any insurgent irrelevant.

Contractors: Issue du Jour

While the mainstream media and the blogosphere return to the topic of contractors, undoubtedly we’ll hear more about their accountability, or the apparent lack of it. I have talked about accountability of private military companies before, including a recent comparison with UN Peacekeepers, but neither of those posts really mentioned the other aspect of deniable accountability: what happens when the contractors are captured?

In Iraq, we have the famous example of the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in 2004 that brought on the terrific response — against the local military commanders’ recommendations — that contributed to changing the nature of the conflict. In Colombia, we have the other extreme: contractors held hostage for years with little to no action by the US Government.

Robert Young Pelton has heard from a little bird that when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe releases FARC prisoners in the next two weeks, Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves, and Keith Stansell will be released as well. These contractors, left by the US after their plane was shot down, are apparently still alive, according to a Colombian hostage that recently escaped.

This is a true example of deniable accountability: deny you have any responsibility for them.

New Custom Search Engine on the home page

There’s a new feature on MountainRunner (h/t CARL, see below): a custom search engine (CSE). The MountainRunner CSE, available at the top right of the home page searches the entire Blogroll and all the Recommended Sites listed on the lower left of the home page.

There is even a gadget to add the MR Custom Search Engine to your iGoogle home page:
Add to Google

Suggestions for additional blogs and sites are welcome.

On CARL, the blog of the Combined Arms Research Library, US Army Command and General Staff College, or the CARL Book Blog for short, got creative with its Google searching:

We’ve created this custom search engine that targets 14 selected blogs relating to military and defense matters including: http://smallwarsjournal.com/, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/, http://www.captainsjournal.com/, http://counterterrorismblog.org/, http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/. Do you have a suggested site we should add to this custom search engine?

By the way, the CARL search engine includes MountainRunner. Thanks, CARL.

Baghdad Embassy: Photo Update

The Baghdad Embassy, our newest Crusader Castle, is nearing completion. An incredible farce of diplomacy, public or traditional, this monstrosity is probably something the Administration just couldn’t scale down or halt because of the message that would send. Heck, we can’t even manage the “narrative” when creating little the gated communities, why should we think they’d be able to manage the domestic (Iraq) and international fallout of halting our magnificent base in the heart of Mesopotamia?

See my previous posts (and here) but enjoy this updated photo courtesy the Strategist:

Gold for Arms: More On Peacekeeper Immunity

Here we go again. United Nations peacekeepers act criminally and there is nothing the UN can do but the rhetoric implies there is. This most recent example isn’t about rape or sex slaves, it’s about trading weapons for gold. Maybe the Paks were thinking job security when they conducted their Gold-for-Arms program with DRC militias they were supposed to be disarming. Well, in all honesty, they were disarming them and then selling the weapons back for gold. Seems like a profitable enterprise to me. Perhaps the $1100 / man / month the UN pays Pakistan for their contribution isn’t enough.

Of course, the UN comes out with lofty statements denouncing the act, including this from the Secretary General:

“The Secretary-General looks forward to the early completion of the investigation. He will act upon its findings expeditiously and transparently. If wrong doing is found to have occurred, he will hold those responsible accountable.”

From he peacekeeping operation, MONUC, itself: 

MONUC stressed that it “has an absolute zero-tolerance policy on misconduct and will remain vigilant in preventing egregious and unacceptable behavior.”

All well and good, but a farce. Unlike administrators working with the UN, there’s nothing the UN can do to discipline peacekeepers themselves. The reality is simply this: peacekeepers are above the law, there is nothing that can be done about them in the current regime.

You can’t use market tools like you can with private military companies. If the country or organization is not pleased with the performance of a private contractor, it can fire it and go with another firm. In the world of peacekeeping, not possible. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India are 40% of the total peacekeeping manpower (including all three sectors: police, military observers, and troops). The UN can’t fire them. For example, Nepal simply promises not to send any of its military forces used for domestic human rights violations overseas on peacekeeping operations.

And what happens when the UN finds the Paks truly did get a little too entrepreneurial in DRC? The UN will simply ask Pakistan to rotate out the bad apples. The results of the 319 UN investigations into abuse by peacekeepers from Jan 2004 to Nov 2006?

Two-thirds of the allegations involved sexual exploitation and abuse. Following the investigations, 18 civilian personnel were summarily dismissed and 17 police and 144 military personnel were repatriated.

Were there instances where investigations didn’t take place? You betcha.

Just add more perspective, in the field of private contracting, it is entirely possible to use existing laws to regulate and provide oversight over contractors. In the case of the UN, where they have explicitly stated they are not party to international human rights regimes such as the Geneva Convention (the UN isn’t a state so never signed, and won’t because then it would be a “party” to the conflict), Blue Helmets are truly above and outside the law.

This Gold for Arms will blow over and nothing substantial will come of it. Next topic.

Unintended Consequences: Blue Helmet Edition

One of the unintended consequences of paying developing countries to provide peacekeeping is not likely corruption or illegal trade in sex, arms, or drugs. No, we anticipate that threat to the UN’s legitimacy and effectiveness of the peacekeeping mission itself. There’s something else:

Another unintended consequence of peace operations has been the spread of HIV/AIDS…

Soldiers tend to be mainly men of a sexually active age, with money in their pockets well in excess of prevailing per capita income levels, deployed away from home for months at a time, and, by temperament and training, prone to risk-taking behaviour. Often they come into contact with young boys and girls who are poor, unemployed, and with a higher than normal rate of having been sexually exploited as casualties of armed conflict. The Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS referred to a study that showed some 45 per cent of Dutch military personnel serving with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cambodia in the early 1990s had had sexual contact with prostitutes or other local women during a five-month tour of duty.

According to an International Crisis Group study, troops from countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates account for one-third of U.N. peacekeepers. Some African military forces have infection rates as much as five times that of the civilian population. Some countries, for example Ghana, conduct compulsory testing before selecting soldiers for mission deployment. Others resist for reasons of social and cultural sensitivity; some simply lack testing facilities.

The War over Image

This was going to be the Monday Mash-Up… but it suddenly evolved into a thematic post

On war as information, read Jonathan Winer’s post at Counter Terrorism Blog titled “Battle of the Brands“.

Still thinking about perceptions? Considering a few posts on the reactions to torture policy. Read the Armchair Generalist who quotes from an article on retired Generals Charles “Not like Yesterday” Krulak and Joseph Hoar. And read Abu Muquwama’s post on the same.

Last bit on perceptions, a little something called “wave tactics” from Lt. Gen. Mattis.

As he met recently with U.S. Marines at several locations across the sprawling Al Anbar province, Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis explained what he termed “wave tactics” to combat the Sunni Arab insurgency in its longtime stronghold. Mattis…is urging his troops to show respect to ordinary Iraqis and exercise restraint in the use of deadly force to prevent civilian deaths and injury…”Mad Dog” ordered his troops to be aggressive in fighting Iraqi forces but to show “soldierly compassion” toward civilians and prisoners. And last week, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, sent a message to troops not to let their frustration or anger override their training and judgment. His message followed a Pentagon survey that showed only 55% of soldiers and 40% of Marines would report a colleague for abusing civilians.

Abuse by our soldiers is counterproductive and simply unacceptable. Consider Sun Tzu and Mao’s admonition against it (and their statements for the opposite behavior) and even the the basis of our Third Amendment (among others).

On a related note, Michael Tanji notes the US Army is training gangsters. From the article he quotes:

The gang’s initials and main symbol, the six-pointed star, have been tagged on concrete blast barriers, armored vehicles, and even remote firebase guard shacks. In an astonishing study of just three Army bases over the past four years, a Department of Defense detective identified more than 300 active gang members. Some experts estimate that up to 2 percent of the soldiers on active duty–perhaps as many as 20,000–have sworn allegiance to one gang or another.

Unfortunately, the gang issue isn’t new and largely, if not entirely, the result of lowered standards for entry. Are these the guys we want fighting our information war?

Fantasy Combat System

David Axe (one of the presenters on my DHS Blogging on Science panel this Wednesday) relays a good article from GovExec on the Army’s Fantasy, er, Future Combat System:

Super-reporter Greg Grant has a kickass piece in GovExec about the Army’s ambitious but fundamentally flawed Future Combat Systems, a $200-billion networked combination of sensors, robots and new lightly armored ground vehicles that Winslow Wheeler from the Center for Defense Information calls a “money-guzzling fantasy of the wizards of the so-called ‘revolution in military affairs.’” Grant argues that FCS grew not out of genuine need for new equipment, but out of “a political battle for taxpayer dollars with the Air Force and Navy in the late 1990s, when the military embraced a questionable vision of warfare fought from a distance with sensors and precision munitions” mounted on thin-skinned, more mobile vehicles.

Of course, we already know that knowing where the tanks aren’t don’t help when a kid is popping around a corner or rooftop and firing off an RPG… nor does it help when the war is more about information and “propaganda” victories and less about taking out often non-existent command and control.

UCLA Forum: Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Between Truth and Reality

On Monday, May 21, 2007, at 10:30a – Noon, UCLA School of Public Policy will be hosting three distinguished panelists for to talk terrorism:

If I wasn’t going to be on a plane to DC I’d be there. From the announcement:

UCLA Campus
Anderson School of Management, Room A201
Los Angeles, CA 90095

This is event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are welcome, but not required. To RSVP, please e-mail rsvp@spa.ucla.edu. Parking permits are available for $8 at the information kiosk located in parking lot 4 off Sunset Blvd at Westwood.