About Adam Elkus

Adam Elkus is a PhD student at George Mason University in Computational Social Science. He blogs on strategy, technology, defense and national security, and research methodology.

Talkin’ Bout My Generation

I have some personal thoughts about my generation and the OBL killing for later, but I think Courtney articulates this pretty well.


“It’s because for half of our entire lives we have lived with scary and creepy stuff like Taliban, al Qaeda, jihad, and the threat of terrorism on a mass attack scale from the indescribable horrors we saw live on TV that day — with almost daily threats from various branches of aQ that they would gladly kill more Americans anyway and anytime they could”

The OBL Raid: How It Could Have Gone FUBAR

Phillip Padilla is a good friend and fellow lover of lolcats and science fiction. He’s got a great new piece at Slate co-authored with Daniel Byman on the risks and rewards of authorizing special ops raids.

A preview of his red-team analysis:

Like clockwork, the SEALs “stacked” at the main house’s doors prepared to enter the building to find their ultimate target. But they had miscalculated the strength of the building’s reinforced doors, costing them precious time, presenting the enemy hiding inside with an opportunity. Grenades flew through the house’s windows, peppering much of the strike team with shrapnel. …After seconds that seemed like hours, the door-breachers broke through. The lead team members burst into the building but quickly realized that the house had been rigged with explosives. Tell-tale signs of a house-borne IED were everywhere: copper wires hugged the walls, leading to several plastic jugs filled with explosives. Before the strike team could pull out, the home exploded, burying several people under its rubble.

Memetics and Individualism

Marked for some future blogs:

David Brooks at NYT:

“I repeat these personal facts because we have a tendency to see history as driven by deep historical forces. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it is driven by completely inexplicable individuals, who combine qualities you would think could never go together, who lead in ways that violate every rule of leadership, who are able to perpetrate enormous evils even though they themselves seem completely pathetic. Analysts spend their lives trying to anticipate future threats and understand underlying forces. But nobody could have possibly anticipated Bin Laden’s life and the giant effect it would have. The whole episode makes you despair about making predictions.”

I would also recommend that you read Daniel Byman’s article on a great-man centric theory of political science in concert with this.

Lucien Gauthier’s response to my post:

Except for on the fact that emotions are not “policies, strategies, or tactics” is why taking up arms can exist as a profession, and why there is a difference between a mob and professionals-at-arms. As Adam mentions, conflict does not exist out of a primordial hate. Nor does it end because of a sudden emotional realization that there is some ‘better way’. There is a spectrum to conflict, the same hatred that can be felt for a mortal enemy is the same hate felt for the Shipmate who cut you off on 264 going into NOB. Both forms of hatred are dismissed through the same cognitive process as well — though the means through that process differ significantly. At one extreme only the acknowledgment of the emotion is necessary for it to quickly dissipate. On the other, is the application of violence by professionals. This is to say that despite the irrationality of emotion, there is a rational and deliberative process that ends conflict. That objectivity defines modern conflict resolution (note: There was VERY little that I interpreted happening to me objectively while I was downrange. Afterwards, in getting home, my objectivity returned to me). By looking at conflict objectively we have come to better understand the causes of conflict and have attempted to address our understanding of the causes through organizational constructs (NATO, UN, IMF, WTO — deliberative bodies) as well as methodical approaches (COIN, CT — tactics). But, in assuming the causes of conflict only as a function of emotion we remove any hope of conflict prevention. It is ironic that the sentiment expressed in the fake quote are actually an affirmation that violence and conflict are unavoidable and that humans are incapable of being disciplined enough to rise above their emotions.

I’ve bolded the parts of this that I think point to a better way forward.

Australian Policy in Afghanistan

The Allied dimension of Afghanistan policy often goes ignored, but no longer thanks to a stand-out post on Security Scholar blog:

“If the current state of relations between the US and Pakistan—the determinant of the broader relationship between the Coalition and Pakistan—continues, what does this mean for Australian operations overseas? As our Prime Minister and others have observed, this episode will likely leave our Mentoring Task Force mission of training the Afghan National Army relatively undisturbed until the withdrawal of 2014. On the other hand, if continued Pakistani intransigence leads to the US adopting a more counterterrorism-centric approach (along the line of Joe Biden’s light footprint plan), there is a good chance Australia’s Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) mission will be affected. At present, the main focus of the SOTG is disrupting insurgent networks in and around the province of Uruzgan. To date, they have also conducted operations in Kandahar involving the targeting and capture/killing of insurgent leaders. Being under US command, should the US mission increase targeting of al-Qaeda elements in the AfPak region, it is not too difficult to envisage that the SOTG would follow suit. With increased operational tempo (in April alone, the latest rotation of SOTG has produced results here, here and here), there has been speculation that we have physically and mentally exhausted our SAS personnel.”