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”


Raiding and Strategy

I have a short piece in The Atlantic on some of the strategic elements behind the raid. If you’re interested in a more in-depth treatment of the issues involved, check out my piece from last year on strategic raiding operations in Defense Concepts.

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.

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.”

Action and Power

If there’s one takeaway from my sleep-deprivation-written post on the fake quote, I’d like to repeat, it’s this:

War doesn’t happen because of some kind of pure and abstract hatred. This quote conjures up the stereotypical image, spread by Balkan Ghosts and other books, of two tribes with “ancient hatreds” that control their minds. While primal violence and enmity is important, but to see conflict through the prism of “hate”–sustained by hate and somehow eroded by an equally vague “love” is simply bizarre. War is fundamentally about politics. Conflicts are fought for political objectives, even if those objectives might seem irrational to anyone except the one who sets them. …[w]hether or not you meet hatred with hatred or hatred with love really matters little because such terms are really too general to meaningfully describe the political reasons why people conflict. Sometimes those political visions are flexible and can be modified to fit reality if actors judge that the price of continued violence is too high, or actors can realize that their goals are best met through cooperation rather than conflict. …In short, you use the method most appropriate for your policy and most acceptable to your own system of morality.

Several Other Follow-Ons

While I enjoyed writing my my own collaboration with Hakim Hazim, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent Milpub post by Internet Clausewitz superhero Seydlitz89, which came out while we were editing our piece. Sedlitz89 has a beautiful analysis of King Jr. that is more in fitting with Clausewitizian thought than mine.

Also, I think the events of yesterday are a good opportunity to re-introduce A.E. Stahl and William F. Owen’s great piece on strategy and targeted actions.

OBL as Military Commander

A quote from a thoughtful KoW post:

“I also agree with something Bruce Berkowitz wrote about Bin Laden years ago in his book The New Face of War: ‘History will not portray Osama bin Laden as a mere terrorist, rather instructors at West Point and Annapolis will cite him as one of the first military commanders to use a new kind of combat organization in a successful operation.’ There’s no contradiction here; Bin Laden joins a long list of military innovators who fought in lost causes. The advantage of being first is often fleeting and I think, hope earnestly, that that is what is happening here.”

Although I certainly agree about novelty, it does make more sense to see OBL’s organization and leadership in evolutionary rather than revolutionary terms, much like Mao himself evolved as one species higher than Leninist urban revolution. I do, however, think that the term “military” fits even if Bin Laden was never a “soldier” in the Western sense and more of a murderous and rapacious bandit.

Al-Qaeda, in its original incarnation on the eve of its 2001-2002 rout from Afghanistan was explicitly organized along military lines, with a set of operational commanders and a system of discipline and an emerging, if embryonic idea of “military science.” It was never as formalized, say, as Hezbollah or the IRA and PIRA, but such a system existed. Al-Qaeda’s transformation into a looser, more decentralized group is the subject of much debate and I look forward to reading Leah Farrell‘s thesis on the subject.