In an interview Sunday on ABC’s This Week, LTG Ken Keen, deputy SOUTHCOM chief and commander of the newly-formed Joint Task Force-Haiti, explained that “our principal mission [is] humanitarian assistance, but the security component is going to be an increasing part of that….And we’re going to have to address that along with the United Nations (UN), and we are going to have to do it quickly.” He went on to note that “we have had incidents of violence that impede our ability to support the government of Haiti and answer the challenges that this country faces.”
In a conference call with reporters later in the day, USAID officials indicated that while some reports of looting at warehouses in past days had proven false, security has become “an issue on which we are very much focused.” Peacekeeping forces from the UN’s MINUSTAH mission are currently in the lead on security efforts, the officials explained, and were receiving support from the Haitian National Police.
There’s little doubt that the pace of aid distribution is fueling the desperation among Port-au-Prince’s residents. With that in mind-and following a high-profile complaint from Doctors Without Borders after a flight of theirs was diverted-a number of news outlets have begun calling attention to the apparent bottleneck at the Port-au-Prince airfield, which airmen from the 1st Special Operations Wing secured late last Wednesday and where they have since labored to maximize throughput capacity.
But in fact, their accomplishments thus far have been remarkable. In a briefing on Sunday afternoon, COL Buck Elton, commander of the Air Force task force at the airfield, described how his forces had initially established control of the airport — which was without electricity and whose control tower had been destroyed — and has since then overseen roughly 600 take-offs and landings. He explained that each departing aircraft was being replaced almost immediately by an incoming one, while noting the airfield’s limited capacity: it can accommodate 1 wide-body aircraft, 5-narrow body, and a handful of smaller aircraft (which can be taxied onto the grass), at a time. He outlined the timetable under which planes are to be unloaded and refueled — the large aircraft are allotted 2 hours on the ground while the smaller planes get 1 hour — but acknowledged that the timetable was vulnerable to delays, as most of the indigenous cargo-lift and transport equipment at the airfield had been destroyed. The crews of military aircraft have taken to unloading their own cargo.
Prioritization for landing slots, Elton explained, is being determined in conjunction with officials from the U.S. Embassy and the Haitian government, who are running a joint flight operations coordination center. Since Wednesday, 50 flights have been diverted, though operations at the airport appear to be growing more efficient: on Saturday, only 3 of the incoming 67 flights were diverted.
In short, the Air Force has very quickly turned an incapacitated facility — which at its peak prior to earthquake sustained only small fraction of the flights it’s receiving today — into a functioning hub for incoming personnel and humanitarian supplies. The disconcerting news is that those supplies are reportedly piling up at the airfield. The greatest transport challenge in Haiti may be on the ground.
In the weeks ahead, the Center for Defense Studies will be producing a series of backgrounders on the U.S. military’s relief mission in Haiti. To view the first of these “Issue Alerts,” which outlines the U.S. forces deployed the Haiti and the unexpected challenges they may face there, click HERE.
Two days ago newspapers around the world reported that the Yemeni military had killed a top al Qeada leader. This should have been welcome news for Americans, who learned how dangerous the al Qaeda franchise located in Yemen — al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — is when one of its operatives nearly killed 300 people in the skies over Michigan. The United States certainly should be very grateful for the efforts of the Yemeni government to kill or capture AQAP operatives or leaders or disrupt any al Qaeda plots. Americans — and especially American policy makers — must, however take news from the Yemeni government regarding al Qaeda with a degree of caution.
We should expect to hear many claims from the Yemeni government in the coming weeks of arrests and killings of al Qaeda leaders. President Saleh has every reason to show that he alone can eliminate the al Qaeda threat in his country. He knows that if he fails to make visible progress against al Qaeda the possibility exists that the U.S. might take matters into its own hands. The last thing Saleh wants is for the U.S. to send troops into his country, which would certainly galvanize much of the Yemeni population, who already views the government as a puppet of the U.S. Additionally, Saleh wants to continue directing his security resources to defeating the al Houthi insurgency in the north of the country — which poses a real threat to his authority — without the added distraction of tracking down a few hundred al Qaeda operatives scattered in his country’s mountains. The sooner he turns up al Qaeda leaders, the sooner — he may think — the U.S. will stop pressuring him. Finally the last thing he wants (and understandably so) is for the U.S aid money to be tied to him only going after al Qaeda militants.
Unfortunately, however, these considerations, give Saleh the incentive to generate exaggerated claims. The news yesterday that his government killed a top al Qaeda leader, Abdullah Mihdhar, was one such exaggerated claim. Mihdhar may have led a couple dozen men, but he appears to have been very low in the AQAP pecking order. He had never released any statements on behalf of AQAP, nor had he ever appeared in an AQAP video or been mentioned in any AQAP public statements. He did not appear on the Saudis list of most wanted militants, nor was he one of the twenty-three who escaped from the Sana’a prison in February 2006. A search of his name — in Arabic and English — in the archives of Yemeni newspapers turned up nothing. It is always possible that classified information would paint a different picture of Mihdhar’s real importance, but we have also experienced the phenomenon of dramatic and hyperbolic kills-or-captures of key al Qaeda leaders by Pakistani forces whenever the U.S. appeared to be pressuring Islamabad uncomfortably.
2009 was a big year for cybersecurity-from attention-getting attacks (the July 4th attacks and the Twitter take-down) to the release of the White House’s cyber policy review and the introduction of cybersecurity-related bills in Congress, to several news stories about the insecurity of U.S. networks and infrastructure to the formation of the military’s Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and, finally, the late December appointment of Howard Schmidt as the nation’s cybersecurity coordinator.
Is 2010 going to be a bigger year for cybersecurity than 2009? Not necessarily, but the increased public awareness of cybersecurity will make it seem that way. Furthermore, the increased political consciousness (and development of a cybersecurity coordinator, USCYBERCOM and numerous pieces of legislation) will keep cybersecurity in the news often. I’m hoping that this increased awareness also means increased knowledge, and thus coverage that is less alarmist and more analytical. Instead of un-sourced claims about the U.S. networks being hacked or attacked, I’m looking forward to intelligent, well-researched and solution-oriented reports, like this upcoming report on the vulnerabilities in the nation’s power grid.
The cyber threat to our national security won’t go away, and if anything, as our adversaries improve their skills, it will increase. Like all facets of national security, the public will hear a lot more about the failures and mistakes, but with the increasing resources and talent dedicated to the problem both in government (via USCYBERCOM, the new cybersecurity coordinator and his staff, and expanded hiring at the Department of Homeland Security) and the private sector (the number of contracts related to cybersecurity is steadily growing), the successes will increase in number and importance. Expect 2009’s news stories blaming vulnerabilities or attacks on the lack of a cybersecurity coordinator to turn into 2010’s stories blaming vulnerabilities or attacks on the lack of authority given to the coordinator or the irrelevance of the coordinator position to begin with (and pity Howard Schmidt, who will probably be forced spend valuable time he doesn’t have answering these silly theories). Meanwhile, when not absorbed by the big-ticket items on the President’s agenda, Congress will insist on having it’s say on cybersecurity through the pending bills and a number of topic-related hearings (both of which have, I’d guess, a 50/50 chance of being productive).
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review will be upon us in a couple of weeks. There will be a strong temptation to dismiss it out of hand. Past QDRs have been extraordinarily obtuse and opaque, more akin to the sayings of Buddha than Clausewitz. And this year’s budget and longer-range program documents will yield a clearer picture of the Obama Administration’s priorities.
Nevertheless, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have said, you go to war with the bureaucratic processes you have. This is especially true for those, including Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress, nervous about the gap between American strategic ends and military means. Most of all it is true for the congressionally-appointed members of the independent panel charged with reviewing the QDR.
Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute also thinks conservatives should throw in the towel, persistently pinging this author, Mackenzie Eaglen and former Sen. James Talent of the Heritage Foundation for “naïve” efforts to improve the process and get a better result. (Follow this vicious faculty-lounge fight from here to here to here to here).
There are four elements to Thompson’s critique, and each deserves rebuttal. He asserts that the future is unknowable, or at least that in fact past QDRs have imperfectly predicted the future. “It isn’t feasible to project military needs for the next 20 years,” he says. Alas, we have no choice but to try: investments in major weapons systems and troop formations are usually repaid in terms of battlefield capability over long periods. As Thompson himself often writes, the age of the current U.S. inventory is a testament to both the prescience of past predictions and the need to make new ones. If we don’t know whether the F-35 strike fighter will be useful 20 years from now, then why are we obligating hundreds of billions of dollars to such a program?
Yet more profoundly, it’s actually relatively easy for the United States to foresee its long-term military needs. We are a global power with some kind of security obligations in every region of the world. Our traditional strategy has been to exploit the “commons” — the seas, air, space and now “cyberspace” — while preserving favorable “continental” balances of power in primarily in Europe, the greater Middle East and East Asia. Technological and geopolitical trends are reasonably clear: we’ll be fighting the “Long War” for, well, a long time and the great-power “rise” of China and India will take decades to play out. Finally, the likelihood of gradual nuclear proliferation is too great to ignore. This is, for long-range defense planning purposes, a remarkably clear set of guidelines.
The Times of London reports today that Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, is under growing pressure to abdicate his position at the helm of the armed forces. According to the article, senior British generals believe that Sir Jock is unqualified to lead and oversee Britain’s war effort in Afghanistan. As an air force commander, the accusation goes, he lacks the experience and the judgment to advise the government on a major counterinsurgency ground war. Thus, the view that “a soldier, rather than an airman,” should preside over the armed forces up to 2014 appears to be gaining traction in Whitehall. If the Times is correct, the Air Chief Marshal will be asked to step aside in favor of one of the two most senior Army commanders in the coming months.
This leadership debate comes at a critical point in American and allied Afghan strategy. From the British perspective, the next four years will be a crucial period for its armed forces, particularly the British Army. Due to its lead role in Afghanistan, the Army will consume a large and increasing chunk of British defense spending up to 2014, the year when British troop numbers in Afghanistan are expected to decrease. Resources allocated to the military are widely expected to diminish over the next decade as Britain is forced to plug gaping holes in its national budget. The next Strategic Defence Review (SDR), promised by both the Tories and Labour, will likely usher in a new era in British military strategy and force posture. Faced with rising costs for domestic programs and minimal investments in defense, Britain’s armed forces will likely be a shadow of their former self at the end of this process.
A report by Major General Michael Flynn, the deputy chief of U.S. military intelligence in Afghanistan, on the alleged deficiencies of U.S. military intelligence-gathering efforts in Afghanistan has caused a fair amount of upheaval inside the Beltway in recent days. In the study, Flynn and his coauthors assess the significance of the U.S. intelligence community to American and allied counter-insurgency strategy. In brief, they argue that “[America’s] intelligence apparatus still finds itself unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are trying to protect and persuade” because the U.S. has devoted “the overwhelming majority of collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups.” This problem, Flynn contends, affects the entire U.S. intelligence hierarchy, impeding the unobstructed flow of critical information to the individuals who need it. What is more, this problem is not unique to the U.S., but, in fact, also bedevils the civilian and military intelligence services of America’s allies. Adjusting to the demands of counterinsurgency requires American and allied officials to rethink fundamentally our approach to intelligence as a tool of counterinsurgency strategy, not merely tactics.
From the battalion level on down, Flynn concedes that intelligence officers are very knowledgeable about their respective local Afghan districts. This point has been thoroughly underappreciated in the recent debate. The problem, however, is that these intelligence shops on the ground lack the staff to collect, analyze, and disseminate the amount of information that flows in on a daily basis. On any given day, for example, a battalion S-2 shop for intelligence, security, and information operations evaluates and disseminates classified human intelligence (HUMINT in intelligence jargon), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and significant activity (SIGACT) reports that summarize violent activities across an area of operations. Another, more critical issue, however, is that battalion S-2 shops rarely collect, analyze, and disseminate detailed assessments on various other aspects, such as census data and patrol debriefs; minutes from shuras with farmers and tribal leaders; after-action reports from civil affairs officers; polling data; translations of local radio broadcasts; and many other items. To fix U.S. intelligence collection in Afghanistan and beyond, U.S. and allied military commanders at all levels must take responsibility for intelligence.
It’s a quadrennial question, because the product always seems to fall short of expectations; we keep having to do QDRs over again not just because the law says so but because the reviews in practice never actually follow the formula in the law. The underlying reality was inadvertently revealed in a through-the-press exchange between Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute and Mackenzie Eaglen and former Sen. Jim Talent of the Heritage Foundation.
On Monday, Heritage released a report rightly critiquing the about-to-be-complete 2010 QDR as a “broken,” and excessively budget-driven exercise. To be sure, “broken” is in the eye of the beholder, but it is simply a fact, which the Pentagon itself cheerfully admits, that the scope of the review was largely determined by the Obama administration’s defense budget plans, announced a year ago. Eaglen and Talent also rightly call upon the Congress — which after all has the Constitutional responsibility to “raise and support Armies…provide and maintain Navies” and to “make rules for the Government and Regulation” of those forces — to fully oversee the QDR process. That the upcoming independent review panel is dominated by executive-branch appointees is an unfortunate testimony to the low priority of military affairs in our domestic politics.
Maybe that’s what motivated Thompson — who is an experienced observer of defense politics and normally a man of sagacious judgment — to brand the Heritage recommendations as “naïve.” If so, we could use more naivete rather than less. Thompson claims that Eaglen and Talent are “trying to make the QDR do the impossible — ignore politics and predict the future.” But in fact, this is exactly what the intent of the QDR legislation is: to objectively consider America’s security goals and strategy and to try to understand how many and what kinds of military forces are needed. The whole point was strategy first, budget after. As a congressional staff puke, I helped to draft the original legislation, and the members for whom I worked made sure I was following their orders.
Also, the need to “predict the future” is an obligation that neither the Congress nor the Pentagon can ignore. If that’s too hard to do, then why are we investing in force structures and weapons programs that are intended to last for decades? And predicting the future isn’t really such an impossible task as long as you ground those predictions a clear understanding of U.S. national security interests. If you acknowledge that preserving a favorable balance of power in the greater Middle East and the Asia-Pacific, or working to limit the dangers of nuclear proliferation, are tasks that the U.S. military must continue to do for the indefinite future, then you can begin to intelligently design and build a force.
Call me naïve. Please.
The Times of London reports today on a new report from recently retired British Army Major General Andrew MacKay, which provides a brutal assessment of the UK MOD’s ability to internalize lessons from its recent counterinsurgency campaigns and encourage innovation among soldiers with respect to information and psychological operations. MacKay, who commanded the 52 Infantry Brigade in the late 2007 operation to retake the embattled town of Musa Qala in Helmand province, is credited with being one of the first British commanders of promote a truly population-centric counterinsurgency strategy in his AO. In the new report, published by Defense Academy of the United Kingdom, MacKay and his coauthor, Commander Steve Tatham of the Royal Navy, propose a concept of “behavioral conflict,” which emphasizes the importance of training commanders to monitor, understand, and shape the perceptions of a contested population in an insurgency and respond to citizens’ stated needs — thus exerting influence without an overreliance on kinetic means. Easier said than done, of course, but according the authors, the MOD hasn’t been trying very hard. Read the report here.