Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lt Col Nagl

...was on Book tv tonight. Yes, I was watching C-SPAN2 on a Saturday night. During a football game. Sue me.

Anyway, he was being interviewed by Sean Naylor, of "Not a Good Day to Die" fame. Lt Col Nagl raised several good points; I'll try to summarize some of them now, more grouped in similar areas of discussion instead of the order they appeared.

The first is the general category of why the Army needed a new COIN FM, how and how well it has adapted, and will it continue to adapt, etc.?

Obviously, the reason the Army needed a new COIN FM was the fact that Big Army, prior to 2001, didn't do COIN. It was something the snake eaters did. Lt Col Nagl brought up the Weinberger Doctrine/Powell Corollary when discussing the effort to try and move Big Army away from straight kinetic conventional ops, something I've discussed here. This has been and will continue to be a hard slog, but in the words of Lt Col Nagl it will become a "cascading learning process" throughout the Army; what he meant by this is that at the same time that he and others were sitting down to write FM 3-24 the Army was revamping the NTC out at Fort Irwin and Col. McMaster was training his 3rd ACR for COIN and putting it to great effect in Tal Afar. It's not so much that FM3-24 is the be all end all of the Army's transformation into COIN but rather that it will serve as a catalyst to help accelerate what other efforts were already doing.

Mr. Naylor brought up the point that a review of U.S. operations in the first few years of the war reads like a list of what not to do. Things like "overemphasizing killing and capturing as opposed to engaging people, large scale operations as the norm, holing up in large bases, focusing special operations forces on raiding, low priority on advisors, and building and training indigenous forces in our own image." The response to this was that the Army was learning and is changing the force, something that struck me as a little boilerplate, but I guess more or less true. The question is the degree to which the force is changing.

Along this line of questioning there were some questions raised regarding the effectiveness of Gen Casey vs. Gen Petraeus. Lt Col Nagl brought up a very interesting point which was that Gen Petraeus has forces who understand COIN much better than the forces that Gen Casey was given. Gen Casey didn't have the right instruments to implement his plan. It takes time for the new doctrine to work its way all the way through the system. According to Lt Col Nagl, Gen Casey laid a lot of the groundwork that has allowed Gen Petraeus to be as successful as he has been. A good example of this is the COIN Academy that Gen Casey started in Iraq at Taji.

Finally, there was a question about what percentage of officers in the Army "get it," and how this breaks down between the different grades of officers. Lt Col Nagl was hesitant to put a percentage figure out there but did say that he felt that more officers at the company and field grade "got it" as opposed to officers of flag rank. However, he said that he hoped FM 3-24 would act, again, as a catalyst for change and that he felt that everyone would "get it" within 6 months to a year, a time frame that I felt was rather optimistic.

The next major area of questions involved some details about FM 3-24.

The first was why it was an Army/Marine document only; why not write joint doctrine? This is a question rather relevant to me, as the Air Force pitched a temper tantrum when FM 3-24 came out and has written it's own Irregular War doctrine, AFDD 2-3. As should be obvious by the tantrum pitched by the USAF, getting a joint doctrine put together will take years, something the Army and Marines didn't have time to wait around for. As it was, getting FM 3-24 put together took a considerable amount of wrangling between the Army and Marine Corps teams assigned to write it.

The next regarded OPSEC and the fact that FM 3-24 is unclassified, it is accessible on the internet, and excerpts have been found in al-Q and Taliban training manuals. Lt Col Nagl stated that OPSEC was a concern, but that they had several reasons for making it unclassified. The first was that it was intended to be a document that would be used inter-agency, with State, Justice, etc. and that a lot of those personnel may not have the proper security clearances to view a classified doctrine document. The next was that it was intended to be carried in the rucks of soldiers doing the counter-insurgency; this would be impossible if the document were classified. However, the most important reason for making is unclassified was so the American people would be able to read it. The American people are asking the question of what the military is doing to win this war, and making FM 3-24 unclassified is intended to provide them with the opportunity to answer that question.

This, almost more than anything else in this interview, showed me that he definitely "gets it." The strategic Center of Gravity in this war is the will of the American people and this is just one more way to leverage that. In addition, the more open a document is the more people will read it and the more constructive criticism can be made.

The next area of questioning revolved around the concept of "less being more" firepower wise in COIN.

This is, in Lt Col Nagl's words, the "paradox of COIN. The more force you use the less effective you are." This obviously runs counter to the American way of waging war and the core beliefs of the U.S. Army, something Desert Storm just reinforced. Less force can be more due to collateral damage and, more specifically, the concept of blood feud among many of the tribes in Iraq. While not as gratifying in the short term, the restraint of force yields great dividends in the long run, which is exactly the point. It's a long war, not a short one. Killing 50 insurgents this week does you no good if it creates 100 more 6 months down the road due to the collateral damage incurred in the strike. This line of thinking of course leads down the line of just how relevant airpower is in a COIN conflict, but I don't want to get into that right now.

The follow up question to this regarded the concept among some military officers that over there "Arabs only respect force." That if you do not use a lot of firepower the people will regard you as weak and soft. Lt Col Nagl completely rejected this contention (as do I) and used an example from his time in al Anbar. At the time he was there, U.S. forces possessed the capability to completely annihilate whatever they wanted to. The Iraqis he was working with knew this. However, they respected U.S. forces much more when they used force as stingily as possible and (this is the important part) used it to empower indigenous forces. This is when the use of firepower is most effective. Indigenous forces have several advantages over outside forces: language, knowledge of local terrain (including the cultural terrain), etc. The use of indigenous forces shows respect and confidence in the security forces, the government, and the people as a whole. This is exactly what you should be trying to achieve in COIN. In the words of Lt Col Nagl, foreign forces provide the muscle, the fist in the glove, that "backs up and empowers the host nation forces."

The last major area of questioning I'll call "big picture."

The first was regarding whether any operations in recent history had been successful while using the doctrine espoused in FM 3-24. Predictably, Lt Col Nagl brought up the British example in Malaya. According to him, you need good doctrine, but you also need time. That COIN operation did not start off well and needed 12 years to complete from start to finish.

The obvious follow up is whether or not the country has the patience for that. I'm going to quote Lt Col Nagl in length here because he did a great job of answering this particular question, and it certainly is an important one.
I think that's a fair requirement from the American people. Of course, their representatives speak for them. We as an Army, as a government, have to show the American people that we are making progress. We also have to explain to them what is required to succeed and what our strategy is. We have not, I don't think, been as successful as we could have been, should have been, in all of those things. The American people will support a long campaign but they have to be shown that the fighting is for a good cause and that these sacrifices need to be made. 9/11 showed us that we can't ignore failed states. It is in our interest to prevent states from failing...This is hard to understand; it can be very frustrating, it can take a long time. We have to do a good job of explaining to the American people the need to succeed and the cost of failure.
Following the U.S. experience in Vietnam, the Army shunned COIN (see Weinberger Doctrine/Powell Corollary above). Will a "loss" in Iraq lead to the same effect? While Lt Col Nagl didn't directly answer this question, he did state why we can't afford to let this happen again. Enemies attack us in our weak points and due to the Vietnam effect fighting an insurgency is one of our weak points. "This is the kind of war our enemies are going to use to oppose our interests, to impose their will, for the remainder of this century." A pretty bold statement, but one that I agree with. It's called a long war for a reason. Lt Col Nagl also made the point that due to its length and its nature, this war isn't just an Army problem or a Marine problem or even a DoD problem. It's a national problem, one that requires a national effort from all areas of government, which leads into the next question.

A criticism heard from soldiers on the front lines is that they're the only ones out there; State, Justice, USAID, in some cases the CIA, are nowhere to be seen. Where are they? Is that a fair criticism?

Lt Col Nagl said that he's made the same criticism himself. However, when he returned from al Anbar he did a tour at the Pentagon giving him a chance to interact with several personnel from the other agencies and learned an interesting fact: there are more personnel in military bands than there are working in the Foreign Service Officer position in State. Inter-agency cooperation in order to win this war is crucial, and we need to increase the number of personnel serving in those types of jobs in all the necessary agencies.

The last question was definitely a big picture one. A common assumption of COIN is that when insurgents are seen as criminals, they lose support. The U.S. govt has, since 9/11, been militarizing the struggle, referring to it as a war, preferring to label captured insurgents combatants, etc. Is this wrong?

Lt Col Nagl's answer revolved around information operations. Former SecDef Rumsfeld gave the U.S. govt a D- in the IO arena, and according to Lt Col Nagl that was being charitable. "We have not done a good job of painting a picture of our enemies and what they do and the horrific atrocities they commit on a daily basis. We have not done a good job of showing and explaining those realities to the American people, the Iraqi people, the Afghanistan people, the people of the world."
During the Cold War, the US Information Agency (USIA) did a great job of spreading our message out to the world, especially to those in the Communist bloc. If he had one recommendation for the long war, it would be to bring the USIA back. Again, this shows to me that he really "gets it." Information and shaping perceptions is key.

Sorry for the length of the piece, but hopefully you found it somewhat informative. I know I certainly did.