Monday, December 22, 2008


If you followed my postings from last month and back in October regarding the Afghan opium trade and NATO's reluctance to take an aggressive stance, here's the latest:

December 23, 2008
Objections Hinder Antidrug Effort in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A drive by the NATO alliance to disrupt Afghanistan’s drug trade has been hobbled by new objections from member nations that say their laws do not permit soldiers to carry out such operations, according to senior commanders here.

The objections are being raised despite an agreement two months ago that the alliance’s campaign in Afghanistan would be broadened to include attacks on narcotics facilities, traffickers, middlemen and drug lords whose profits help to finance insurgent groups.

During a recent visit here, Gen. John Craddock, NATO’s supreme allied commander, expressed surprise upon learning of what he described as a gap between the decision by alliance defense ministers to authorize aggressive counternarcotics missions and the lack of follow-through because of objections from several of the countries that make up the NATO force in Afghanistan.

As the United States and its allies strive to devise a better strategy to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, American policy makers and military officers say it is critical to choke off the drug money that sustains the insurgency, much as they are working with Pakistan to halt the use of its tribal areas as a haven by the Taliban and other antigovernment forces just across the border from Afghanistan.

Seven years after the rout of Al Qaeda and the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, disagreements over how aggressively NATO forces should go after the insurgency’s chief source of revenue are only the latest hurdle in a campaign that has been troubled by disputes between the United States and some of its allies about what role NATO soldiers should play in a mission cast as “security assistance.”

The disagreements also present a major challenge for President-elect Barack Obama as he tries to fulfill a campaign pledge to shift the focus of the American military toward Afghanistan, where the United States remains much more dependent on foreign nations than it does in the Iraq war, which is largely an American conflict.

The counternarcotics debate is a reminder of how unwieldy the alliance’s military operations can be. United Nations figures show that Afghan insurgents reap at least $100 million a year from the drug trade, although some estimates put the figure at five times as much.

In an interview, General Craddock said profit from the narcotics trade “buys the bomb makers and the bombs, the bullets and the trigger-pullers that are killing our soldiers and marines and airmen, and we have to stop them.”

NATO officials in Brussels declined to list the nations that have opposed widening the alliance mandate to include attacks on drug networks, and no nation has volunteered that it has legal objections.

But a number of NATO members have in broad terms described their reluctance publicly, including Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. Their leaders have cited domestic policies that make counternarcotics a law enforcement matter — not a job for their militaries — and expressed concern that domestic lawsuits could be filed if their soldiers carried out attacks to kill noncombatants, even if the victims were involved in the drug industry in Afghanistan.

As has been the case in a whole range of combat operations mounted by NATO forces in Afghanistan, each country is allowed to state its reservations and opt out of missions that are viewed as too risky, either politically or militarily. Those “caveats” have been a source of enormous frustration to American commanders.

That system of caveats was never intended to halt NATO operations; missions objectionable to one nation can be taken over by another nation’s forces. But commanders say that legal objections to counternarcotics operations have prevented the international mix of troops across poppy-rich regions of southern Afghanistan from carrying out the new responsibilities.

The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has more than 51,000 troops, including 14,000 Americans. In a parallel mission, the United States has deployed 17,000 additional troops for a separate combat, counterterrorism and training operation.

During a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Budapest in October, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and General Craddock successfully lobbied the alliance to give troops operating in Afghanistan official permission to mount attacks on narcotics “facilities and facilitators supporting the insurgency.”

Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, acknowledged that “some of the precise language still needs to be worked out” with allies that objected to taking on counternarcotics missions.

In an interview, General McKiernan stressed that the goal remained to approve rules of engagement that “give us greater freedom of action to treat narco-figures and facilities as military objectives.”

Halting the flow of drug money to the insurgency is just one of the challenges facing the Obama administration. Others include the 30 percent increase in insurgent violence over the past year, and the painfully slow growth and continued incompetence of the Afghan police.

But General Craddock cited bright spots in the mission of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, including a growing number of people from other United States government agencies who are stepping in to help with economic and political development. He also noted the increasing size and professionalism of the Afghan National Army, which Afghans trust more than they do the office of the presidency.

General McKiernan was put in charge of both the NATO and American operations this year, in an effort to provide more unity of command over the two missions. During a visit to Afghanistan last weekend, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon expected to provide 20,000 to 30,000 more troops to General McKiernan, with a significant portion of that increase arriving by next summer.

Including the debate on how to battle the drug trade, much of the discussion about the way ahead in Afghanistan is similar to policy debates over the past seven years: the need to generate economic growth and build democratic institutions to inspire confidence among Afghans in their government.

Although combat power alone will not defeat the insurgency and its allies in the drug trade in Afghanistan, military analysts say, a problem for years has been that Afghanistan has had too few resources because of the war in Iraq.

“What we need are more troops in Afghanistan because we need security, and eventually we will get a strategy,” said Roger D. Carstens, a former Army Special Forces officer who now is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, which has provided a number of its analysts to the Obama transition team at the Pentagon.

“If the military cannot secure the population, then political development, economic growth and good government will not take place,” Mr. Carstens added.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

This could get real sticky (no pun intended) for US ground troops especially as we ramp up operations there. Sounds like there's still some dirty cooks in the kitchen...


Here's an enlightening article from the NY Times dated 21 Dec 2008 below about the cost of maintaining a 21st century military. There's alot on the list I agree with. We're no longer fighting across huge expanses of territory like in the good ol' Cold War days. Even Russia's invasion of Georgia/Odessa was a low intensity conflict. But the fact remains, we are still lagging in getting up to speed in creating a streamlined, fluid fighting force that reflects today's warfare. Continued guerrilla warfare and information warfare are my predictions of what's ahead. Here's a few things to add on this list:

1. 3G or better internet networks for all Army Public Affairs Offices and Detachments along with better computers(wish it could be a Mac world).
2. Blackberries or Google Android Phones to keep up to date on late breaking command information.
3. A change from the M-4 to the HK416 weapon.
4. Basic combat training that emphasizes more modern conflict scenarios instead of outdated cold war training doctrine.
5. Better fitting Army ACU's like the Marine Corps. Let's hire their tailor.
6. Better chow hall food presentation. As Napoleon once said, "An army marches on it's stomach."

December 21, 2008
NY TIMES Editorial

How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military

In recent weeks, this page has called for major changes in America’s armed forces: more ground forces, less reliance on the Reserves, new equipment and training to replace cold-war weapons systems and doctrines.

Money will have to be found to pay for all of this, and the Pentagon can no longer be handed a blank check, as happened throughout the Bush years.

Since 2001, basic defense spending has risen by 40 percent in real post-inflation dollars. That is not counting the huge supplemental budgets passed — with little serious review or debate — each year to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such unquestioned largess has shielded the Pentagon from any real pressure to cut unneeded weapons systems and other wasteful expenses.

As a result, there is plenty of fat in the defense budget. Here is what we think can be cut back or canceled in order to pay for new equipment and other reforms that are truly essential to keep this country safe:

End production of the Air Force’s F-22. The F-22 was designed to ensure victory in air-to-air dogfights with the kind of futuristic fighters that the Soviet Union did not last long enough to build. The Air Force should instead rely on its version of the new high-performance F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which comes into production in 2012 and like the F-22 uses stealth technology to elude enemy radar.

Until then, it can use upgraded versions of the F-16, which can outperform anything now flown by any potential foe. The F-35 will provide a still larger margin of superiority. The net annual savings: about $3 billion.

Cancel the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer. This is a stealthy blue water combat ship designed to fight the kind of midocean battles no other nation is preparing to wage. The Navy can rely on the existing DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyer, a powerful, well-armed ship that incorporates the advanced Aegis combat system for tracking and destroying multiple air, ship and submarine targets. The Navy has sharply cut back the number of Zumwalts on order from 32 to two.

Cutting the last two could save more than $3 billion a year that should be used to buy more of the littoral combat ships that are really needed. Those ships can move quickly in shallow offshore waters and provide helicopter and other close-in support for far more likely ground combat operations.

Halt production of the Virginia class sub. Ten of these unneeded attack submarines — modeled on the cold-war-era Seawolf, whose mission was to counter Soviet attack and nuclear launch submarines — have already been built. The program is little more than a public works project to keep the Newport News, Va., and Groton, Conn., naval shipyards in business.

The Navy can extend the operating lives of the existing fleet of Los Angeles class fast-attack nuclear submarines, which can capably perform all needed post-cold-war missions — from launching cruise missiles to countering China’s expanding but technologically inferior submarine fleet. Net savings: $2.5 billion.

Pull the plug on the Marine Corps’s V-22 Osprey. After 25 years of trying, this futuristic and unnecessary vertical takeoff and landing aircraft has yet to prove reliable or safe. The 80 already built are more than enough. Instead of adding 400 more, the Marine Corps should buy more of the proven H-92 and CH-53 helicopters. Net savings: $2 billion to 2.5 billion.

Halt premature deployment of missile defense. The Pentagon wants to spend roughly $9 billion on ballistic missile defense next year. That includes money to deploy additional interceptors in Alaska and build new installations in central Europe. After spending some $150 billion over the past 25 years, the Pentagon has yet to come up with a national missile defense system reliable enough to provide real security. The existing technology can be easily fooled by launching cheap metal decoys along with an incoming warhead.

We do not minimize the danger from ballistic missiles. We agree there should be continued testing and research on more feasible approaches. Since the most likely threat would come from Iran or North Korea, there should be serious discussions with the Russians about a possible joint missile defense program. (We know the system poses no threat to Russia, but it is time to take away the excuse.) A research program would cost about $5 billion annually, for a net savings of nearly $5 billion.

Negotiate deep cuts in nuclear weapons. Under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, the United States and Russia committed to reduce their strategic nuclear weapons to between 1,700 and 2,200 each by 2012. There has been no discussion of any further cuts. A successor treaty should have significantly lower limits — between 1,000 and 1,400, with a commitment to go lower.

President-elect Barack Obama should also take all ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert and commit to reducing the nation’s absurdly large stock of backup warheads. These steps will make the world safer. It will give Mr. Obama a lot more credibility to press others to rein in their nuclear ambitions.

It is hard to say just how much money would be saved with these reductions, but in the long term, the amount would certainly be considerable.

Trim the active-duty Navy and Air Force. The United States enjoys total dominance of the world’s seas and skies and will for many years to come. The Army and the Marines have proved too small for the demands of simultaneous ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are the forces most likely to be called on in future interventions against terrorist groups or to rescue failing states. Reducing the Navy by one carrier group and the Air Force by two air wings would save about $5 billion a year.

Making these cuts will not be politically easy. The services are already talking up remote future threats (most involving a hostile China armed to the teeth with submarines and space-age weapons). Military contractors invoke a different kind of threat: hundreds of thousands of layoffs in a recession-weakened economy. We are all for saving and creating jobs, but not at the cost of diverting finite defense dollars from real and pressing needs — or new programs that will create new jobs.

The cuts above could save $20 billion to $25 billion a year, which could be better used as follows:

Increase the size of the ground force. The current buildup of the Army and the Marine Corps will cost more than $100 billion over the next six years. Trimming the size of the Navy and Air Force, deferring the deployment of unready missile defenses and canceling the Osprey will pay for much of that.

Pay for the Navy’s needed littoral combat ships. These ships, which operate in shallow waters to support ground combat, cost about $600 million each. Canceling the DDG-1000 destroyer (more than $3 billion per ship) and the Virginia class submarine (more than $2 billion each) will help provide that needed money.

Resupply the National Guard and the Reserves. At the present rate for replacing weapons left behind or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Guard will still be more than 20 percent short of what it needs in 2013. Canceling the F-22 will provide enough money to do better than that years sooner.

Some of these changes would have been made already if the Pentagon procurement system were more responsive to present needs and less captive to service and industry lobbyists. Defense Secretary Robert Gates complains about what he calls “next war-itis,” the system’s built-in preference for what might be needed in potential future wars over what is clearly needed now. Privately, most of the service chiefs concede that their budgets, which have seen little discipline since 9/11, have some margin for cuts.

Congress will need to develop a lot more realism and restraint. Lobbyists pushing costly and unneeded weapons systems find ready allies in lawmakers looking to create or protect federally financed jobs in their districts. Big contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics have become masters at spreading those jobs around to assemble broad Congressional voting blocs. Work on the F-22 has been parceled out to subcontractors in 44 states.

Mr. Gates, who will stay on, must make reforming the procurement system a priority. The era of unlimited budgets is over, and Mr. Gates needs to make tough calls and stick to them. Congress must give more weight to the nation’s overall needs and less to parochial interests.

Fixing the Pentagon’s procurement process will require the full backing of Mr. Obama. We believe American taxpayers are eager to support changes that would make the country more secure while making more effective use of their money.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


The War(s)go on. The economy sucks and the recession is "officially" in effect. For those in the know and on the street, the recession's been with us since 2007.  A steady paycheck, health benefits and a roof over your head is one of the upsides of being in the military during a time like this but there's a price.  Freedom ain't free...LOL.  Since being in this military world for little over a year-I've run across a spectrum of people each with their own reasons for joining. They are as my friend Dylan Black says,  the "soul of the machine."   F >N  is a reflection and commentary on some of those people I have gone through training with and a reality check of what we face while we serve for various reasons.  

Whether you agree or not with one's decision to serve, we are still somebody to someone out there...a face to a number.