US Army Woefully Unprepared

The Daily Escape:

Double Arch, Arches NP, Utah – photo by Bryol. The size of the people in the foreground give an indication of the mass of these formations.

Are you aware that the US Army is transitioning away from the counter-insurgency mindset that we have used for nearly 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or that we are now focusing on fighting large-scale, conventional battles against foes of equal strength?

Who are we talking about when we say “foes of equal strength”? It means countries with large land-based traditional armies. One new objective is to train Army personnel to fight underground. That doesn’t mean in the claustrophobic Vietnamese tunnels our GIs fought in during the 1970s, it means urban warfare in subways, large tunnel structures, and sewers. These days, most big cities all have utilities, water, electricity, sewer, and communications underground.

It also means fighting in subterranean facilities. Military.com estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities.

Some of these targets are in North Korea, where vast infiltration tunnel networks can move 30,000 NK soldiers an hour directly to the border with South Korea. China and Russia also have vast underground networks, so presumably, they might be targets as well.

In a way, this is old news. In addition to Vietnam, history reminds us that during the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russians used their sewer systems to spring surprise attacks behind the German lines. In Iraq, US troops conducted search missions in tunnels.

In late 2017, the Army launched an effort costing more than $500 million to train and equip most of its 31 active Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) to fight in subterranean structures that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.

There are big problems, though. The US Army hopes to meet its goals for urban warfare by 2022, but Military.com says most young sergeants don’t know how to maneuver their squads:

“For example, sergeants in the majority of the Army’s active brigade combat teams (BCTs) don’t know the importance of gaining a foothold when leading squads on room-clearing operations, according to a series of report cards from the service’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, known as the AWG.”

It gets worse. They can’t do basic land navigation: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Additionally, the Army’s Non-commissioned Officer Academy is seeing sergeants routinely show up for courses unable to pass a basic land navigation course using a map and compass.”

And even worse. sergeants show up with:

“…poor physical fitness and body composition, and….not able to qualify as Marksman using backup iron sights.”

This means that many sergeants can’t shoot straight without either an optic lens, or laser pointer on their weapon!

This is surprising. Sergeants are the backbone of the Army. They are supposed to be the best-trained, best motivated members of their units. The basic unit in the Army is the squad, so when sergeant squad leaders can’t do basic land navigation, or shoot a gun without technology, we have a huge problem.

Remember that for the past 17.5 years in Afghanistan, we have been fighting an untrained enemy wearing flip-flops. Of course, they know how to shoot without optics. Maybe that’s why they won.

Wrongo was in the US Army in the late 1960s. At that time, a Corporal (E-4) or a Sgt. (E-5) had to know squad and fire team maneuvers, hand signals, placement of personnel in attack and defense, and fire direction (how to direct remote artillery or planes to a ground target).  All of that required map reading. So, Wrongo finds this disturbing, as should everyone else.

If using a map, protractor and compass is too difficult for today’s sergeants, then we need more/better training. Infantry soldiers must be proficient in these skills. Even though today’s soldiers rely on modern technology, those technologies sometimes fail, and sometimes tools like GPS aren’t available.

For example, we know that GPS won’t work reliably in a tunnel or sewer, so we need a continued emphasis on knowing how to use those non-technical solutions that worked back in the day. All Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) should be able to meet these basic infantry leadership requirements. All soldiers should be taught land navigation, regardless of whether they wind up in front-line combat units or support units.

We are being deluded by our military brass. We are no more ready to fight an urban war than we were ready to fight a counter-insurgency war in the Middle East. And why urban wars? What scenarios will get us into a fight in the big cities of Asia, or Europe? Or Russia?

Here’s a thought: How about the US doesn’t get involved in a foreign war where we have to “occupy” a city?

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Are We Using The Special Forces Too Much?

The Daily Escape:

Tuscany – photo by satorifoto

From TomDispatch: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

If you want a number, try 194. That’s how many countries there are on planet Earth (give or take one or two). [Here is another]…number that should boggle your mind: at least 137 of those countries, or 70% of them…have something in common…They share the experience of having American Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to their territory.

TomDispatch’s managing editor, Nick Turse, provides additional perspective:

In the waning days of George W. Bush’s administration, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to about 60 nations around the world. By 2011, under President Barack Obama, that number had swelled to 120. During this first half-year of the Trump administration, US commandos have already been sent to 137 countries, with elite troops now enmeshed in conflicts from Africa to Asia. 

Now, SOF units are not deployed in 137 countries continuously. According to General Raymond Thomas, the chief of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), about 8,000 are deployed overseas at a given time. But, our commitment to SOF has grown from a few thousand troops in the 1980s to about 70,000 at present, a force larger than the armies of several nations.

We use these troops as the tip of the spear, so if a conflict is intensifying anywhere, the SOF will be front and center. We also have adopted a convenient blind spot: The American public does not consider the SOF operating in a foreign country to be “troops on the ground”, so politicians pay no price politically for deploying them.

As an example, one year ago in Syria there were about 50 special operators helping anti-ISIS forces. Now, as our proxies move to take the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, that number is 500 (or higher). 

We used the SOF to great effect in Afghanistan right after 9/11. After their initial tactical success, America didn’t declare victory and go home, but stayed and added regular military forces alongside our special operators. And for the past 16 years, we have been raiding homes, calling in air strikes, training local forces, and waging war against a growing list of terror groups in that country. 

For all those efforts, the General in charge in Afghanistan says the war is now a “stalemate.”

Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent and the author of Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State, observes:

Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members, almost all of them based in a single country, today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world.

In fact, he points out, the terror group has become stronger since bin Laden’s death. Our thinking has been that “if we can take out this warlord, or disrupt this one guerrilla mission, the insurgency will crumble”. That’s why we use the SOF, and yet, the insurgencies just continue.

Think about Obama’s drone war taking out terrorist warlord after terrorist warlord. It has achieved little more than offering upward mobility to the careers of ISIS and al Qaeda’s middle management.

Of course, the SOF does many good and heroic things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Near Mosul, a US special operations medical unit and its ICU prop up allied proxy forces that have limited medical capabilities. An Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team recently spent eight weeks treating 750 war-injured patients there. 

The failure to win these localized proxy wars should be blamed on the White House and Congress, who confuse tactics with strategy. That isn’t the fault of the special operations commanders. They live in a tactical world. Washington has consistently failed to even ask hard questions about the strategic utility of America’s Special Operations forces. Turse concludes:

These deployment levels and a lack of meaningful strategic results from them have not, however, led Washington to raise fundamental questions about the ways the US employs its elite forces, much less about SOCOM’s raison d’être.  

General Thomas told members of the House Armed Services Committee last month:

We are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future…

And not one Congressperson asked why, or to what end. 

You need a little music. James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” series is always fun. Here he is with Elton John:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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What’s JOE – 2035?

Haven’t heard of JOE- 35? Not surprising, since it is very difficult to find any mention of it in any major media news outlet. Google JOE- 35, and you get a series of links for a cast stone fire pit that is 35” in diameter.

Wrong. It refers to the “Joint Operating Environment 2035” [pdf] (JOE – 35), issued in July by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It lays out the environment that the military and the nation will be facing 20 years from now. It is written as a guide to how the Defense Department should be spending resources today in order to protect against tomorrow’s threats. They identify six broad geopolitical challenges the US Military will have to deal with in 20 years:

  • Violent Ideological Competition: irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence. That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.
  • Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty: encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens.
  • Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing: increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence. That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States. Think China in the Philippines.
  • Disrupted Global Commons: denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none. Think that the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, or the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.
  • A Contest for Cyberspace: a struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace. That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.
  • Shattered and Reordered Regions: states increasingly unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stress, or deliberate external interference. That means states will continue to be threatened by increasingly harsh pressures on national survival, and the failed states and stateless zones will continue to spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

The report also warns that the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS, described in the report as “privatized violence“, will continue, as will the rapidity by which those groups form and adapt. The spread of 3D-printing technologies and readily available commercial technology such as drones, means those groups can be increasingly effective against a fully equipped and highly technological US military.

The study says:

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and other irregular threats are likely to exploit the rapid spread of advanced technologies to design, resource, and execute complex attacks and combine many complex attacks into larger, more sustained campaigns…

John Michael Greer has a review of JOE-35 that is worth reading in its entirety. His criticism of the report is that:

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

Like so many things in our current politics, the JOE projections are mostly about justifying current procurement/pork barreling by a linear extrapolation of today’s threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established groupthink, and the professional consequences of failure in the military are near-zero.

The JOE list may not be imaginative or fully predictive, but that doesn’t make it wrong. None of the problems they forecast are going away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential fighters and allies is as old as ancient times, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2035?

Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the US is an empire most likely on a downward curve, unless there is great change in our policies, domestic and foreign.

In this sense, the report is quietly critical of our politicians.

The admission in the JOE report that we will be actively required to defend our home ground by 2035 is a mark of just how much our geopolitical environment has changed since 9/11.

It is indeed worth your time to read both the JOE report, and that of John Michael Greer very carefully.

Both will make you smarter than reading about the latest Trump outrage.

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Monday Wake-up Call – May 23, 2016

The subject of the day is the continued saber-rattling by our military. Recently, two retiring US Generals made goodbye speeches indicating that Russia is the biggest threat facing America. As Crooked Timber said:

Russia? Really? I guess there ain’t no money in ISIS and Al Qaeda. You don’t need strategic bombers, huge mechanized armies and aircraft carriers to fight them.

Equally disturbing are the concurrent mind games being played in the military strategy establishment. Take the RAND Corporation. RAND has run numerous war games which pit Russia against NATO in the Balkans. Their conclusion is always the same: If Russian tanks and troops rolled into the Balkans tomorrow, outgunned and outnumbered NATO forces would be overrun in under three days. Scary!

RAND argues that NATO has been caught napping by a resurgent and unpredictable Russia, which has begun to boost defense spending after having seized the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and intervened in support of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. In their report RAND said:

The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members…

Underlying this, is the insanity of the geopolitical outlook that dominates the national security lobby in Washington. The same day as the RAND report was released, Defense Secretary Ash Carter unveiled plans to add more weapons and armored vehicles to pre-positioned stocks in Eastern Europe. The new $3.4 billion plan (that’s the annual cost folks) adds another brigade to the mix, but the soldiers would be based in the US, rotating in to Europe for a few months at a time. So, that’s politically acceptable, assuming the next president can find the money.

But, Carter’s commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of US European Command, released on his blog that there is no:

Substitute for an enduring forward deployed presence that is tangible and real. Virtual presence means actual absence.

Lots of agreement between these boys.

And, in an article in Politico Mark Perry discussed the testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee of a panel of senior Army officers, in which they claimed that the Army is now in danger of being “out-ranged and outgunned” in the next war that the Army is in danger of becoming “too small to secure the nation”. Yikes!

While their testimony made headlines in the major media, Politico reported that a large number of former senior Army officers, rolled their eyes:

That’s news to me…Swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles? Surprisingly lethal tanks? How come this is the first we’ve heard of it?

The unnamed General went on: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time…What a crock.

All of this is political fodder for Obama’s critics in Congress who complain that the President isn’t taking us into the next war fast enough.

So it’s time we all wake up to this maneuvering behind our backs. Maneuvering that is designed to have us spend waaay more money on defense, because, Putin.

To help you wake up, give a listen to a rarely-heard tune by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, “Ye Playboys & Ye Playgirls Ain’t a Gonna Change My World”, recorded live in 1963 at the Newport Folk Festival, when Dlyan was still a folk singer, two years before he would be booed off the main stage at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival:

Put in context of the times: Dylan was being called the “Voice of a Generation”. Seeger adds an endorsement of the fed-up young artist who was already one of the key singers of topical songs in the sixties. For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can listen to the tune here.

Sample Lyrics:

You insane tongues of war talk
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road.
You insane tongues of war talk
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Not now or no other time.

Please remember what Voltaire said:

 Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

THAT has always been the strategy of the military-industrial complex. Arguing over defense budgets, equipment procurement, force strength, is pointless.

Today, the money is just not there to do much more for the military.

The critical debate must be how to fix the economy, which drives the size and strength of our military.

And ultimately, our national security.

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Inside The Rock of Gibraltar

Wrongo and Ms. Right visited Gibraltar yesterday. You are familiar with the Rock that is part of the Prudential logo. Gibraltar is a tax haven. And while it isn’t in the Panama Papers, Gibraltar has a branch of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack & Fonseca, whose leaked documents have focused all of us on tax havens and possible tax evasion.

Gibraltar has 33,000 residents and 1.5% unemployment. About 11,000 Spanish citizens cross the border daily for work, since there is about 40% unemployment in Spain.

It’s hard to imagine when you look at it from the outside, but the Rock of Gibraltar actually has more than 32 miles of tunnels inside. Most were built during WWII. In 1940, Britain, who controlled Gibraltar, was at war with Germany and Italy. The future for Gibraltar was uncertain, since it was surrounded by the enemy. Churchill and the British military believed that an attack on Gibraltar was imminent, so they decided to construct a network of tunnels, building a military fortress inside the Rock.

The tunnels eventually accommodated an underground city. They were built to house 16,000 soldiers along with enough food to last for 16 months. Within the tunnels there was a power generating station, huge fuel storage tanks, 3 hospital units, ammunition magazines, and a vehicle maintenance workshop.

Gibraltar never came under siege, and the need to accommodate thousands of troops never came to pass. But Churchill, Eisenhower, De Gaulle and others toiled inside the Rock at various times during the war. General Eisenhower used the tunnels as his headquarters for the invasion of North Africa. He later wrote:

At Gibraltar our headquarters were established in the most dismal setting we occupied during the war…. Damp, cold air in block-long passages was heavy with a stagnation that did not noticeably respond to the clattering efforts of electric fans. Through the arched ceilings came a constant drip, drip, drip of surface water that faithfully but drearily ticked off the seconds of the interminable, almost unendurable, wait which occurs between completion of a military plan and the moment action begins.

Here is an old photo of the tunnels:

Gibraltar Tunnels

The humidity is high, in excess of 90%. The walls and ceiling are Jurassic limestone. These tunnels make you reflect on how often the military plans for something that never comes to pass.

Beyond the planning is execution, at a huge cost in human capital and materiel, often accompanied by heroic effort, and loss of lives.

We saw the same in Iraq and Afghanistan. NPR reported that the US Army abandoned more than $7 billion of equipment, about 20% of what the Army brought into Afghanistan. At the time of our wind-down, we realized that we had no way to move our equipment out via land, so it would have to be flown out, at ruinous expense.

Apparently, we failed to plan for some obvious outcomes.

We did the same thing in Iraq, bequeathing to the Iraqi government more than $580 million of equipment that supposedly saved us more than $1 billion in shipping costs. We want and need our military to plan for exigencies, even some which may seem remote. Otherwise, we can get caught with our pants down.

But how many times have we heard that “No one could have foreseen” some event or problem that causes us to lose money, people or prestige on the global stage? We leave $8 billion of equipment in the Middle East because we didn’t plan effectively? We can’t connect the dots between Saudi immigrants taking jet pilot lessons and Osama bin Laden’s rumored plans to attack the US?

How come it’s not too expensive to take our military equipment into a country, but it’s too expensive to take it back out?

The threat to Gibraltar was genuine. With 70+ years of hindsight, it is easy to second-guess the British tunnel building as excessive. But, at the time, there were enemy bombing raids that led to the evacuation of most civilians.

Those tunnels are an artifact of the military history of a piece of strategic ground. It was the Allies’ gateway to what was at the time, a hostile Mediterranean. Controlling Gibraltar allowed the Allies to mount the campaign in North Africa, and later, in Italy.

Maybe we plan properly in our wars of necessity, but plan poorly in our wars of choice.

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