“Left of boom” example

From Blackfive:

Afghan Citizens Attack Taliban While Planting IED

Ghazni Province: Coalition Forces discovered a Taliban weapon cache yesterday in Ghazni. While Coalition Forces were investigating the cache, a group of Afghans nearby saw Taliban insurgents digging in the road leading to the cache and promptly attacked the Taliban.


The Taliban fled leaving behind a half buried anti-tank mine in the road.

DOD official orders head count of private security guards

From Federal Computer Week, the guy in charge of paying for things wants to know what he’s paying for.

John Young, acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has launched a comprehensive head count of private security contractors working for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a Sept. 28 memo, Young gave Defense Department officials until Nov. 1 to record personal, contract and detailed deployment information on all private security contractors and translators working in those two countries.

The sad thing is, many of us have been saying this is required for years. Think they’ll start putting contractors through CRC (CONUS Replacement Center) again? Doubt it, this is the chief bean counter. But depending on the distribution of his findings, maybe ground commanders will know who the heck is near them. More hopeful is that Mr. Young might connect ground commanders with the contract weenies so when there’s friction with a contractor a screw can be turned (which of course relies on real pain being felt and not offset by a larger contract elsewhere which as been the norm)?

Understanding culture

Found in Ethan Zuckerman’s post on a "Dialog With/In Islam":

[Sarah Joseph, editor of Emel Magazine, an alternative British Muslim magazine] shows us a campaign for washing powder that was hugely successful in the UK, but went over like a lead balloon with Muslims. It’s a series of three images – a green sock, a washing machine and a white sock. “It didn’t work well in the Arab world, because Arabs lead right to left!” she tells us.

Ya think? What about those versatile enough to read left to right? You don’t think there’s any symbolism of the green (the color of Islam) disappearing? (Or perhaps it’s just a foot issue.)

Unintended Consequences of Armed Robots in Modern Conflict

There is more on the robot killing in South Africa.

A South African robotic cannon went out of control, killing nine, “immediately after technicians had finished repairing the weapon,” the Mail & Guardian reports.

In light of this event, as well as Ron Arkin’s “ethical controls” on robots, and that I’m returning to the subject to finish a report, I re-opened a survey on unmanned systems in conflict, primarily ground vehicles. The survey is expanded with the addition of a few questions left out of the earlier iteration. If you filled out the survey before, you might be able to edit your previous answers.

Click here for an informal survey on unmanned warfare, your participation is appreciated. If you have already taken the survey, provided your haven’t cleared the cookie, you should be able to pick up the survey from where you left off. No, this isn’t the proper way to do a survey, but this is an informal query. The results will be included in a report I am completing on the subject (an early and rough draft presented earlier).

The draft findings so far, many of which you’ll find are in direct opposition to Ron Arkin “ethical controls” report above, are:

1. Robots reduce the perceived cost of war and may result in increased kinetic action to defend the national interest. Robots may be used like President Clinton’s lobbed cruise missiles against Afghanistan and Sudan. They also be used to facilitate a more expeditionary foreign policy with less public and Congressional oversight. To some, the value of private security contractors will pale in comparison to that of robots.

2. Robots may reduce local perceptions of US commitment and valuation of the mission. If the US isn’t willing to risk our own soldiers, do we value our people more than local lives? Is the mission not important enough to sacrifice our lives?

3. Robots reduce or remove the human from the last three feet of engagement and with it opportunities to build trust and understanding, as well as gain local intel and get a “feel” for the street (mapping the human terrain). There’s a reason why urban US police departments put cops on foot patrol and bikes. There is an analogy here with the difference of armored Humvees / MRAPs and Jeeps: the latter forces a connection / dialogue with locals. FM3-24 highlights the problem of too much defensive posturing. In American run detention centers in Iraq, General Stone noted the importance of skilled human contact with prisoners and not a sterilized warehouse run by robots replacing untrained personnel. Noteworthy is this anecdotal measurement of engaging “hearts and minds.”

4. Robots continue the trend of increasing the physical distance between killer and killed. Even if the robot is teleoperated, the operator will not have the nuances in the environment. The robot may not know when not to engage or when to disengage. The psychological cost of killing will decrease and targets will continue to be dehumanized.

5. Technological failures, or induced failures (i.e. hacking), would result in more negative press as the US continues to “hide behind” technology. Errors or accidents would likely be described by USG communications in a way that satisfies the US domestic audience. Before the South African robot-cannon, other examples high profile accidental killing of civilians, ostensibly by technology, including the KAL 007 and Iran Air 655 (USS Vincennes), both of which are notable for the different public diplomacy/communications strategies employed to address the particular incident.

6. Robot rules of engagement are being designed around Western / Machiavellian Laws of War (see Arkin’s report on ethical controls). This lawyer-on-lawyer based on facts and is ignorant of perceptions generated from actions. This perfect world model may become more a liability than asset in 21st Century Warfare. This is not to say that a more permissive environment should be created, but that the Machiavellian model of the end justifies the means creates too permissive of an environment to the detriment of the mission. The “new” U.S. Counterinsurgency manual notes the same when it says too much force as well as too much defensive posturing may be counterproductive. 

Others discuss the future of MRAPs

Briefly, with very little comment for lack of time, a few months ago, a Jon Grinspan wrote this in American Heritage magazine:

Yet the Humvee’s biggest drawback may actually be the false sense of security it imparts. American troops, many military theorists now argue, are too removed in their vehicles, fighting for Iraqi hearts and minds with a drive-through mentality. The open-air jeep meant that soldiers could, and had to, interact with the people of occupied nations; the closed, air-conditioned Humvee has only isolated American forces from Iraqis. This is even more of a problem with the MRAP, which offers only small, armored windows to peek out of. Though the tactics of the current surge seek to get troops out of their vehicles more often, many politicians involved in the debate over Humvees assume—perhaps erroneously—that more armor means more safety and success.

Today, Noah Shachtman at Danger Room quoted from a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report (pdf):

Counterintuitively, it may also be that a better way to reduce overall US casualties is to have personnel operate outside their vehicles. Successful counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, in particular, require close contact with the local population to provide them with security and to develop a working knowledge of the local environment that, together, produces the intelligence necessary to defeat an insurgent enemy force. This approach is similar to law enforcement techniques that emphasize policemen “walking the beat” in a neighborhood as opposed to merely driving through it in a squad car. Simply put, commanders may have to risk some casualties in the near term, by having their troops dismount, in order to develop the secure environment that yields the intelligence that will reduce the insurgent threat—and US casualties—over the longer term. Given this approach, which is consistent with the military’s new COIN doctrine, the MRAP—at least in this situation—may send the wrong message to troops in the field…

It is very likely we will see similar post facto discussions with unmanned ground systems.

See also:

Implementation of ethical controls on robots

Dr. Ron Arkin, who runs the Mobile Robot Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, released his report “Governing the Lethal Behavior“.

This article provides the basis, motivation, theory, and design recommendations for the implementation of an ethical control and reasoning system potentially suitable for constraining lethal actions in an autonomous robotic system so that they fall within the bounds prescribed by the Laws of War and Rules of Engagement. It is based upon extensions to existing deliberative/reactive autonomous robotic architectures, and includes recommendations for (1) post facto suppression of unethical behavior, (2) behavioral design that incorporates ethical constraints from the onset, (3) the use of affective functions as an adaptive component in the event of unethical action, and (4) a mechanism in support of identifying and advising operators regarding the ultimate responsibility for the deployment of such a system.

Ron and I have discussed his report and have agreed to disagree. I encourage you to the report if you’re at all interested in this stuff.

Our disagreement mostly hinges on his mid-19th – mid-20th Century view of war, i.e. Lawfare or industrial age warfare based on rules of war. To Ron, justifications matter and have time to be discussed. To me, perceptions matter more than fact and an engagement model based on the Laws of War might actually create too permissive of an environment. The era of Lawfare is passed.

To me, the fungibility of force decreases as the asymmetry of perception management increases (some might call that “controlling the narrative”).

For more on our points of disagreement, see this post.

If you participated in my survey on the subject, which I will be expanding, you’ll see I have a very different approach based on 21st Century Struggles for Minds and Wills where the facts matter little, if at all, and perceptions can turn the tide.

Interesting metric on (not) engaging hearts and minds

Newsweek has an interesting story on that gives anecdotal evidence on the gap between the occupied and occupiers. From the outset, the US built self-contained bases (unlike the British) and limited contact with the population (as is the case with delayed US Embassy in Baghdad). The result was links to the population were denied, except in very few cases.

This is not just a different kind of war, it’s also a different kind of American military than existed 40 or 50 years ago—one that may talk about engaging hearts and minds, but spends many of its resources trying to keep them at a distance. The insistent demands of “force protection” and the insidious efficiency of the insurgents’ bombs and booby traps have isolated the American soldier from the population he or she was once tasked to liberate. We may not lament the lack of bars, dance halls and whorehouses for today’s troops. But in Iraq there’s hardly any human contact at all that isn’t at the point of a gun.

Robot kills 9, injuries 14

The South African National Defence force is asking whether a software glitch in an automated anti-aircraft cannon killed 9 and injured 14.

Mangope told The Star that it “is assumed that there was a mechanical problem, which led to the accident. The gun, which was fully loaded, did not fire as it normally should have,” he said. “It appears as though the gun, which is computerised, jammed before there was some sort of explosion, and then it opened fire uncontrollably, killing and injuring the soldiers.”

…in the 1990s the defence force’s acquisitions agency, Armscor, allocated project money on a year-by-year basis, meaning programmes were often rushed. “It would not surprise me if major shortcuts were taken in the qualification of the upgrades. A system like that should never fail to the dangerous mode [rather to the safe mode], except if it was a shoddy design or a shoddy modification.

The real Diplomacy of Deeds

Actions speak louder than words. Not only do you learn that growing up, but it’s reinforced in your daily life. You trust particular stores not because of their ads, but because of their product and their treatment of you (ok, maybe just one or the other). You trust friends, colleagues and bosses not because they say they have your back or your best interest in mind, but because they show it.

Continue reading “The real Diplomacy of Deeds

People’s diplomacy

From the New York Times, a story about a grassroots propagandist:

Unlike Mr. bin Laden, the blogger was not operating from a remote location. It turns out he is a 21-year-old American named Samir Khan who produces his blog from his parents’ home in North Carolina, where he serves as a kind of Western relay station for the multimedia productions of violent Islamic groups.

Filed under public diplomacy… foreign thought brought in from the "outside" and broadcast internally, if coordinated or not.

Question: is this kid like late-1940’s U.S. communist "sympathizers" standing on their soap box?

See also

FPRI CivMil conference… watch it if you can

Due to circumstances, I haven’t been able to watch much of the FPRI webcast, but what I did catch was great. It has just resumed after the lunch break, but I’ll unfortunately be on the road/in & out of meetings, but I’ll watch what I can. Again, if you think on or discuss how the current wars are being fought and staffed, you are interested in civil-military relations whether you realize it or not. You are therefore someone who should watch this webcast and the upcoming keynote from Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO).

Prince Llewelyn and his dog Gelert

No time to even ponder a meaty post for your Monday morning reading, I’ll offer the story below and let you consider if I’m suggesting anything by it or not.

Before the story, I recommend you get on the CivMil conference webcast. I’ll watching when I can with a few questions ready for the panel. And now for something different

In the short time I lived in Wales two years ago, I read about the famous legend of Prince Llewelyn and his dog Gelert which stayed with me.

Llewelyn was very fond of hunting and in the summer he lived in a hunting lodge at the foot of Snowdon. Although he had many dogs, his favourite was Gelert, not only because he was fearless in the hunt but he was also a loyal friend and companion at home.

One day Llewelyn and his wife went hunting and left their baby son with a nurse and a servant to look after him. The nurse and the servant go for a walk in the mountains leaving the baby alone and unprotected.

Llewelyn is absorbed in his hunting, but after a while he notices that Gelert isn’t with the pack. The Prince knows something is wrong as Gelert is always at the front of the pack. He reasons that the only place Gelert would go is back to the lodge, so he calls off the hunt and heads back home.

As the party is dismounting, Gelert comes running out of the lodge towards his master, covered in blood and wagging his tail. The Princess, calling her child’s name, faints. Llewelyn rushes into the baby’s room to find the cradle overturned, the bloodstained bedclothes thrown all over the floor – and no sign of his son.

Filled with anger and grief he draws his sword and runs Gelert through. As the dog dies, he whimpers and his cries are answered by the sound of a baby crying from behind the overturned cradle. When Llewelyn pulls aside the cradle he finds his son unharmed and the bloody body of a huge wolf next to him. Gelert had in fact killed the wolf as it tried to attack Llewelyn’s son.

Filled with remorse, Llewelyn buries Gelert in a meadow nearby and marks his grave with a cairn of stones. The village of Beddgelert ("Gelert’s grave") owes its name to the dog.

America Should Hire al-Qaeda’s PR Agent

While we can easily retake the high ground and can easily own the media through active engagement and managed discourse, we don’t. GOOD Magazine published a short article of mine comparing the public diplomacy of Al Qaeda to that of the U.S. State Department.

Iraq has become a stage on which terrorists, insurgents, and Coalition forces compete for a global audience. YouTube, blogs, and all other forms of citizen media ensure that every GI Joe and Jihadi has at least a bit part in the theater of public opinion. The result is a new public diplomacy that insurgents understand, and the U.S. State Department doesn’t.

…As the enemy shapes itself into a more and more fearsome force, America’s failure to understand or to participate in the war over public perception is not a noble act, but one of implicit suicide. Insurgents can now measure their success in terms of money, supplies, safe houses, and recruits—all of which come at the expense of trust in the United States and its influence on the people. The Administration must stop thinking of foreign audiences as sympathetic and become smarter about how to wage information campaigns. That means realizing that military action is diplomacy, and that embassies are advertisements.

Read the whole thing at GOOD.

Two images that didn’t make the cut are below. The one on the left is insurgent propaganda available easily available on YouTube. It was almost hard to pick the best picture, and painful to go through the footage. It was an exercise in why we must do better in this conflict. The picture on the right is a recent AP photo of the embassy compound. "It’s like Fort Apache in the middle of Indian country, except this time the Indians have mortars."

video still- IED in Iraq us_embassy_baghdad_460- AP Photo

Also see

Congress Votes, Turkey Listens

Guest poster (and blogless friend of MountainRunner) LeftEnd comments on HFAC’s recent decision.

Yesterday’s move by the House Foreign Affairs Committee to recognize the Armenian Genocide is chock full of consequences. Today, Turkey recalled its ambassador for consultations back in Ankara. The Turks are careful to point out that this is not a permanent recall of any kind, but instead is par for the course after a “development” such as this one.

Regardless, this could pose a huge problem for U.S. foreign policy. Turkey – perhaps more than any other country in the region – has the ability to soft balance against the United States. Because of the unpopularity of the planned invasion of Iraq, they – along with the Saudis – refused the U.S. request to use their territory for American ground troops. As Robert Pape describes, while it didn’t affect the outcome of the invasion, it did force the Pentagon to alter strategy.

Now the United States needs another favor from the Turks, and yesterday’s vote ain’t gonna help.

Continue reading “Congress Votes, Turkey Listens

Mind the Gap: Post-Iraq Civil-Military Relations in America

Too many people I speak with, from academics to laypeople and in between, do not understand American civil-military relations and their role U.S. foreign policy. Next week, the Foreign Policy Research Institute will webcast a conference on Post-Iraq Civil-Military Relations in America, cosponsored by the Reserve Officers Association. It’s free and open to the public and apparently online audience members will be able to pose questions electronically.

Personally I won’t be able to see all of it due to standing Monday afternoon commitments, but Panels 1-3 are the lead issues for me right now (not to dismiss 4), so maybe I’ll catch most of it. I suggest you watch as well.

To register, click here.

The agenda for the webcast is below.

Continue reading “Mind the Gap: Post-Iraq Civil-Military Relations in America