Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Imperial Grunts

I have linked to some of Robert Kaplan's work in the Atlantic before, and Kaplan has now combined some of those articles into Imperial Grunts released earlier this month. If you want to know how SF operates, and if you want to know where we are making mistakes in the GWOT, this will be a good read. I read it in a day, and here are my takeaways:

1. We need to deploy fewer soldiers, not more (as the ignorant Bush critics suggest) to win: Small light and lethal units of soldiers and marines, skilled in guerrilla warfare and attuned to the local environment in the way of the nineteenth-century Apaches, could accomplish more than dinosauric, industrial age infantry divisions.

2. When we send our SF guys in to train the locals, we need to also let them go on patrols and fight. Not only do we have a bigger impact and gather more intelligence, but it also improves the reputation of SF in the minds of those we are training. Kaplan quotes an SF NCO in Columbia: A half dozen SF guys, fluent in Spanish, traveling load-lite, living off the land, with good comms and helicopter locations for infil and exfil, and we'd find out a lot more in a few days than a whole battalion clunking around.

3. Our "tip of the spear" SF and Marines understand and despise those in the US who are more concerned for their own political careers or their pet lefty cause than for accomplishment of the mission or the well-being of our warriors. Kaplan quotes one: You can bet that people back home will get more upset about despoiling the environment (there had been an oil spill earlier) than about Columbians being shot and tortured (by the FARC).

4. We need decentralized command and real decision-making at the junior officer and mid-level NCO level. The more headquarters we have, the longer is the approval process for missions and the more morale goes down amongst those really doing the fighting. SF accomplished wondrous things in Afghanistan before several layers of HQ were established. Now we have 20,000 troops there, which is at least 10,000 too many. (ed. - I have been a REMF several times since being called back on duty after Sept. 11th, and I agree wholeheartedly with Kaplan that I was probably not needed in the various HQ jobs I was assigned)

5. The media does not understand, and looks down upon, the military because members of the media consider themselves global cosmopolitans and are concentrated in the Northeast, whereas the military is composed of lower and lower-middle class soldiers largely from the South and the heartland. Kaplan finds that the real global cosmopolitans are the fighting men he meets who have been to several continents and war zones and have not spent their time in the nicest hotels in the capital cities like the reporters do.

6. Our warriors like and respect President Bush because he speaks like they do. He uses simple, direct phrases, he is forthright with servicemen about the difficulty of the mission and the risks they must take, and he is sincerely hurt by each combat loss but unwilling to let that sadness impact his duty to defend our national security.