Book Review: Children at War

Children at War Eddie at Hidden Unities has a thoughtful series (Part I, Part II, and Part III) on P.W. Singer’s Children at War which I urge you to read.

From Part I:

“We have young boys that are more familiar with a gun than with school.” — Afghan warlord

A copious, systematic look at the alarming combination that rips societies, nations and even regions apart, P.W. Singer’s “Children At War” makes a serious contribution to the layman’s understanding of the emergent child soldier doctrine. Not only is it “probably the worst unrecognized form of child abuse” but the utilization of child soldiers endangers international stability like few other developments in warfare. Singer lays out the facts of child soldiers in serious detail (its global in scope (across the developing world) and massive in number (somewhere between 3-4 million children serve with militias, insurgents and government security forces), skillfully probes the roots and results of the doctrine’s development and then offers a round of thoughtful suggestions, ideas and observations for how to respond to its terrible consequences (the focus of the second post about this book).

From Part II:

P.W. Singer offers a range of options for addressing the ominous spread of the child soldier doctrine…

  • advocates for child soldier rehabilitation should link their calls to action to the broader security concerns yielded by child soldiers
  • Local NGO’s and religious and community leaders, who can make appeals against the practice on the basis of local values and customs must be supported if lasting change is going to take effect on the ground.
  • Foster “smart & judicial” efforts that focus on the worst abuses…Shrewd use of the limited political capital and media attention
  • Criminalizing the doctrine…Focus on the doctrine itself rather than the abuses that result, lowering the bar for prosecution.
  • Activists could focus their efforts upon the weak link in the enabling of the child soldier doctrine, the child soldier group leaders’ trading partners
  • an additive of deterrence is required as the cost/benefit calculation by groups must change

Part III of Eddie’s review and analysis will be on Western vulnerability to the child soldier doctrine. I can’t wait. Eddie’s analysis motivated me to buy the book.

By the way, Pete Singer, for those thinking his name is familiar made his mark with the de facto read on private military companies (Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry) and is now working on robotics and 21st Century conflict.


Returning to the issue of renaming the Global War on Terror to the Long War or something else, I thought I’d pull out my suggestion for a replacement name buried at the end of an earlier post.

How about “War Against Child Killers And Militants Organized as Loose Entities“? It pulls on the emotions and includes the idea of a networked enemy of various types. Seems like a good fit to me. In addition to being descriptive of the enemy, it makes for a nice acronym that also jives with our tactics: WACK-A-MOLE.

What’s in a name? Plenty.

What’s in a name? Plenty, especially if you’re rallying the democracy around your cause. Declaring a war on something is an American political tradition in that vein. I won’t even get into how many Wars we have inside the US (on Drugs, on Poverty, on Homelessness, on High Prices…), can we have a war on “terror”? No, not really but that hasn’t stopped the its mainstream use.

Finally, there seems to be traction to correct the misleading notion that we can have a Global War on Terror. Zbigniew Brzezinksi says why far better than I, he emphasizes the exercise of fear on the population.   

While truth may actually require protection through a blanket of lies (the classic example being the deception around Operation Overlord), employing “war” when it’s not appropriate isn’t the same and will only lead to bad things, as Brzezinkski notes.

As CSIS’s PCR blog notes, WaPo’s Peter Beinart continues the discussion on “terror” and “war”. However, Beinart falls short when he considers alternatives to “terror”:

Other alternatives have their own problems. Replacing “terror” with “jihadism” would offend many Muslims, since jihad has positive, nonviolent connotations. “Jihadi-salafi,” a term used by some scholars, is less offensive and more accurate but unlikely to play in Peoria. “Al-Qaeda” is logical, but experts now consider it more an inspiration than a mass organization. And al-Qaeda-ism doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Al-Qaeda isn’t the only enemy and Salafism isn’t the only ideology in opposition to the US. How about “War Against Child Killers And Militants Organized as Loose Entities”? It gives a nice acronym: WACK-A-MOLE.

More on the Civilian Response Corps

CSIS’s PCR blog has an update on the Civilian Response Corps (see my previous on CRC here). More notable is a comment posted to their post today:

Among other factors, the creation of a bona fide US civilian response corps requires addressing two institutional impediments within the State Department. One of these is the lack of promotional incentives provided to foreign service officers (FSOs) who venture into harm’s way to engage in stabilization and reconstruction activities. Career FSOs usually move through the ranks by fostering key foreign contacts at embassies–not by taking the risks involved in embedding in remote areas of war torn countries to administer US reconstruction programs. As such, exactly the sort of FSOs and other civilians the US needs to create a viable civilian response corps are not being offered the proper incentives for their actions.

The newly introduced legislation (S. 613) seems to address this institutional problem in Section 9 on “Service Related to Stabilization and Reconstruction.” Part (a) states that “Service in stabilization and reconstruction operations overseas, membership in the Response Readiness Corps…and education and training in the stabilization and reconstruction curriculum…should be considered among the favorable factors for the promotion of employees of Executive agencies.” Parts (b) and (c) provide further incentives for FSOs and USAID personnel to participate in a civilian response corps.

However, the new legislation does not address a more fundamental problem that directly impacts the first. Members of a civilian response corps cannot take the requisite risks to do their jobs if US security officers, with the support of ambassadors, severely restrict their movements. Security officers and ambassadors stand to lose their positions and professional standing when, on their watches, US personnel are injured or killed while doing their jobs. As such, security concerns tend to trump all else, and US political objectives suffer as a result. It is for this reason that US embassies and consulates around the world have become veritable fortresses that are disconnected from the popular mood of their respective countries. In Iraq, for example, US officials have gone out of their way to cordon off US personnel from all that is Iraqi.

Thus while S. 613 is moving in the right direction to provide for future US nation building efforts, it does not address a more fundamental policy problem in the State Department. The whole point of creating a civilian response corps is to recruit civilians who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to further US policy objectives. At some point, the potential for civilian casualties associated with engaging native populations must be factored into the cost of doing business.

Civil Reserve Corps, SysAdmin, and reality

NPR ran a story this morning on the challenges of deploying of the real citizen soldiers:

Challenges put on National Guard and Reserve forces by extended call-ups would seem to be a severe limitation on the quality and effectiveness of the proposed Civil Reserve Corps. NPR’s story

Extended deployments for National Guard and Reserve units mean trouble for the 6-percent of Guard members who own their own businesses. Managing a business while at war is nearly impossible.

What does this portend for the proposed Civil Reserve Corps or Barnett’s SysAdmin force? How likely is it the most qualified and best human assets will get engaged in SysAdmin-like work on behalf of the United States in the future without adequately supporting these people? Remember State has had problems moving its professionals around, US military recruiting costs have jumped, with an arguable drop in quality. This is a detail we need to work out.

Paying for war

The Defense Contract Audit Agency reported to Waxman’s Oversight Committee this week that nearly 18% of the $57 billion audited so far was wasted. This figure, nearly $10 billion now, is likely to increase before it’s all over.

The three top auditors overseeing work in Iraq told a House committee their review of $57 billion in Iraq contracts found that Defense and State department officials condoned or allowed repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for shoddy work or work never done.

More than one in six dollars charged by U.S. contractors were questionable or unsupported, nearly triple the amount of waste the Government Accountability Office estimated last fall.

”There is no accountability,” said David M. Walker, who heads the auditing arm of Congress. ”Organizations charged with overseeing contracts are not held accountable. Contractors are not held accountable. The individuals responsible are not held accountable.”

Imagine how many more soldiers could have been hired? Well, at 2001 figures, 14,285,000 soldiers. That’s simply silly because between 2001 and 2006, the cost to recruit 10,000 soldiers went up $500,000, so as of last year this money could only have brought in 8,333,000.

What about taking just the current waste and applying it to soldiers’ pay, improving (or funding) the VA?

Or how about just providing our guys with essential equipment?

The Army and Marine Corps are $5 billion short of what they require in fiscal year 2008 to acquire a fleet of armored vehicles designed to provide better protection against roadside bombs — the scourge of U.S. forces in Iraq — than the current fleet of humvees.

The two services have spelled out this “unfunded requirement” to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, who asked all of the service chiefs to inform Congress of where more money is required.

The Army and Marine Corps — which are shouldering the lion’s share of the work in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffering the largest proportion of casualties from roadside bombs — indicated in separate responses to Hunter that their No. 1 unfunded procurement need is for substantial sums to acquire thousands of Mine Resistant Ambush Protection Vehicles.

Specifically, the Army says it needs $2.25 billion and the Marine Corps says it needs $2.8 billion. Put together, the two sums would pay for a fleet of approximately 5,000 vehicles optimized to protect passengers from the devastating effects of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

What do you think would be different if the work not done or done exceptionally poorly years ago (it’s almost pathetic to “years ago”) was properly and efficiently completed?

“No End in Sight”, a movie looking at the making of the Iraq we know now

At Sundance there’s a new movie from a political science professor / web software developer who sold his company to Microsoft for millions, that looks to be the big screen cross between Rajiv Chandraskaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone (see my review here) and Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.

Continue reading ““No End in Sight”, a movie looking at the making of the Iraq we know now

Observations on AFRICOM & new CENTCOM

From Eddie, of FDNF & now Hidden Unities, is Doing Wrong by Doing Right on the creation of a new Africa Command.

From Huck-Eye View is the selection of Admiral Fallon to lead CENTCOM. HEV comments on some of the thinking on milblogs. Not in the commentary is that he would accept the job, which a previous candidate would not due to Rumsfeld’s insistence on a direct report of the Iraq Theater commander. Perhaps Gates isn’t going to be as insistent?

Incidentally, Michael Weiss, writing on Slate, casts MountainRunner as a Milblog… I never really thought of MR as a Milblog.

Kilcullen, Griffith and a brief comment on COIN

George Packer’s Knowing the Enemy article in The New Yorker has generated a significant amount of necessary discussion on the global information war we’re in. There are many fine commentaries on Packer’s article to read, including Wiggins’ insightful series, so I’ll try to not to be repetitive here. In fact, I’m going to generally avoid getting into those facts and instead offer two other thoughts largely, if not entirely absent, from discussions over Kilcullen provocative and “Occam-like” ideas.

Continue reading “Kilcullen, Griffith and a brief comment on COIN

Update on the Iraqi jail break by “security contractors”

Robert Young Pelton, on his new site, has an in depth report on Alsammarae’s breakout of an Iraqi jail this week. The Los Angeles Times broke the story early this week about Ayham Alsammarae, an Iraqi-American, who was aided by some contractors to get out of jail. (Also see the Chicago Tribune for more.)

Pelton gets into the history of al-Sammarae and notes this wasn’t the first time contractors helped him:

Continue reading “Update on the Iraqi jail break by “security contractors”

How not to win the Long War

Hat tip to the Duck of Minerva for highlighting the David Brooks op-ed reminding readers of two important articles on how to fight modern conflict. Both are by George Packer of The New Yorker. The first, The Lesson of Tal Afar, contains some lessons from one of America’s current premier counter-insurgency minds, Col. H. R. McMaster (who also wrote the outstanding book Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam). The second article, Knowing the Enemy, is “about freethinkers in the Pentagon and elsewhere who were studying how Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents create narratives that demoralize their enemies, energize believers and create a sense of historical momentum.” (See my post on the election of Hamas for related comments.)

Continue reading “How not to win the Long War

Army’s Cash Crunch shows COIN isn’t a priority

With Rumsfeld leaving, the Army submitted a revised budget cutting Rummy’s cool toys projects. Yesterday, Greg Jaffe of the Wall Street Journal wrote about the Army’s budget woes (see Defense Tech’s post here). Most telling is not the request for more bomb resistant vehicles, but the ignorance of preparing soldiers for the theater. This is the problem Greg led his article but Defense Tech’s post ignored:

With just six weeks before they leave for Iraq, the 3,500 soldiers from the Third Infantry Division’s First Brigade should be learning about Ramadi, the insurgent stronghold where they will spend a year.

Many of the troops don’t even know the basic ethnic makeup of the largely Sunni city. “We haven’t spent as much time as I would like on learning the local culture, language, and politics — all the stuff that takes a while to really get good at.”

We can talk about COIN, we can talk about the new Countering Irregular Threats manual jointly produced by the Army and Marines, we can even talk about the COIN centers of excellence at Fort Leavenworth and West Point, but at what point does this actually make it into the field? Dr Ahmed Hashim said on NPR and wrote in Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq that he was “surprised by how little the US military understands about the culture, or ‘human terrain’, of Iraq. That includes ‘societal networks, relations between tribes and within tribes, kinship ties…”

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.

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.