Jun 03

While many pundits, critics and reporters have covered Blackwater’s (recently renamed Xe) many controversies, including Blackwater’s disregard of the military’s rules of engagement (ROE) and their nebulous legal status, I can’t help but think of the question they are failing to ask: how can the State Department find it cheaper to farm out its security to contracting firms than US soldiers?

Military contractors make upwards of 350 to 1,500 dollars a day working in Iraq. A soldier on the ground can make as low as 80 dollars a day. When the State Department can pay contractors ten times as much as the Department of Defense pays soldiers, and those contractors still run a profit, then the DoD has a problem. Having lived and worked in the military for a few years, I understand why contractors are so affordable; the military is a massively inefficient bureaucracy. When looking at the situation, politicians can conclude only one thing, if they bring in contractors they will save money.


The Army is quite literally huge. With nearly 550,000 service men and women, the Army is by far one of the largest organizations in the country, and indeed the world. Few other government agencies or private businesses even come close to this size. Each of these employees multiplies the Army’s costs. The DoD is even larger with over a million employees.

Second, the U.S. Army does not fire anyone or remove positions unless congress mandates the change. The U.S. Army still speaks the name Bill Clinton with disgust for his “military drawdown” during the nineties. (This ignores the fact that Republicans controlled the Congress and Congress controls the budget.) Clinton’s critics in the military should also look at themselves. Congress restricted funds and forced the military to draw down troop levels. The Army could have chosen to keep up its number of maneuver brigades and slashed jobs at the Pentagon and other service-support jobs. Instead, the Army kept the Pentagon jobs and lowered its fighting capabilities.

Third, the Army’s large bureaucracy costs money in wasted time, paper and efficiency. Almost every officer at the Pentagon is an officer not leading soldiers. He supervises the Army. This costs money. With thousands of officers managing desks, but not troops, needless requirements and bureaucracy filter down to soldiers. This hurts the Army’s most valuable resource: time.

The result is Blackwater. Only employing a few thousand soldiers, every dollar brought in goes directly to the organization. The more they save the more the owners of the company can keep. By keeping an organization small, they keep it efficient and they can charge the State Department ridiculous sums of money, and still underbid the military.

The solution for the U.S. Army, and the Department of Defense as a whole, is to slash the highest costing jobs and cut down on the bureaucracy. Only by trimming itself to the bones can the DoD hope to survive against lean organizations like Blackwater. Our country needs a military, but it needs an effective and efficient one.

Jun 01

When we invaded Iraq, America and the Army did not understand counter-insurgency. Our soldiers -- lacking proper guidance -- developed tactics, techniques and procedures that don’t work. The upper levels of command do not condone or talk openly about these tactics yet they exist. 

We fail to deal with these tactics because admitting that soldiers use them means soldiers have committed immoral acts. Indeed, the majority of soldiers have never used the tactics described below, and the use of these tactics occurred much more in the initial invasion and first few years of the Iraqi occupation. But they have been used and we need to discuss that reality. These acts are tactically ineffective and more importantly, morally wrong. We need to do more than eliminate them; soldiers and the Army need to know, and understand why, they are ineffective.

Drop weapons: A drop weapon is a spare AK-47, RPG or other stock weapon of the insurgency, confiscated on the battle field that U.S. soldiers or Marines keep in their vehicles. After making contact with a suspected enemy who turns out to be innocent or unarmed, the soldiers place the weapons on the victim. The weapon becomes the stated “hostile intent” of the dead civilian. While no manual dictates this policy and U.S. regulations expressly prohibit it, many Sergeants in the Army will admit they use drop weapons. Many Lieutenants and Captains in our Army know of the policy, have used it, and support it. Again, this practice occurred more frequently during the beginning of the invasion into Iraq.

Baiting: Another variant on this theme is the process of baiting victims. A common practice reported in The Army Times and The Washington Post, snipers place illegal weapons, explosives or other material in a controlled location and observe them. When someone goes to pick them up, labeling himself as an “insurgent”, a sniper kills him.

Military Age Males: The U.S. Army uses the phrase "military age male" to determine who it searches during operations. The use of this term expanded to the point that during operations if a unit came under fire and could not locate the source but then found "military age males," they would engage as legitimate targets. The soldiers discount the fact that they are unarmed under the belief that they abandoned their weapons.

Positive Identification at a Distance: The key to most encounters with the enemy is gaining Positive Identification--in Army lingo PID--where a soldier identifies a hostile target. Once identified as hostile, soldiers may engage. Soldiers often abuse PID, declaring persons to be combatants at distances where accurate positive identification is impossible. This occurs frequently in Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain.

In 4th Generation Warfare (4GW), the positive support of the population determines victory. Drop weapons, the "baiting tactic" and the use of terms like "military age male" ensure the military will kill innocent civilians. When a civilian dies, the population knows and reacts, a reaction rarely favoring foreign forces. It is much easier to blame an invading, high-tech military for the death of your brother than your fellow countrymen.

U.S. soldiers and Marines believe that they protect themselves by using these methods. They do lower the risks to U.S. soldiers in the short term, but raise them for innocent Iraqis in the long term. They provide soldiers more opportunities to fire their weapons and, by extension, kill more of the "enemy." The U.S. Army values American lives more then Iraqi lives. Agree or disagree with that point on its moral terms, but in 4GW it will keep us from winning.

May 20

During my training to become an Infantry Officer, my instructors taught me the doctrine of overwhelming firepower; Under the shield of fire, we would maneuver around and assault through the enemy. Our firepower at hand included heavy artillery, mortars and the M240B machine gun. These weapons rule the battlefield in high-intensity, conventional warfare. But in counter-insurgency, instead of overwhelming the insurgents we overwhelm the population.

The weapons of the military are area weapons with large kill zones. Even the machine gun is an area weapon capable of spraying huge areas with lead. To prevent casualties during training, we may not fire the M240B machine gun within a forty-degree angle of fellow soldiers. The distance between field artillery practice and actual soldiers is so large it’s measured in kilometers not meters.

Where does this leave us? Assume a soldier in Iraq receives fire from a building. His squad will return fire in the general direction of the enemy. The platoon moves into a line next to the squad and provides further combat power with the M240B machine gun I mentioned earlier. A M240B has the minimum of a 30-degree cone of fire. This means that a single insurgent, armed with only an assault rifle, occupying one room in one building can bring return fire on the entire building he occupies. Every round can wound, maim or kill any other occupants in that building.

It is easy to see how innocent civilians die in extended fire fights. Before the surge, and its consequent change in strategy, hundreds died every month in Iraq, The numbers are hard to determine. (Online sources ranging from around nearly 100,000 Iraqis dead to over a million.) Just how many are the direct result of US soldiers protecting themselves from insurgents, we will never know.

Technology will never solve every problem confronting the U.S. Army. In this case, though, continually stressing the use of accurate targeting is a key to winning counter-insurgency warfare. Our Army has changed, let’s hope it continues to learn the lessons of warfare.

May 18

Imagine sitting in your home. Imagine the street and the city around you. Imagine the look of the cars, some are beat up, some are brand new. Think of the street signs, the look of the street lamps, the plants and the vegetation.

Now imagine you are in a major city in Iraq or Afghanistan. If you think everything is radically different, you are wrong. The street signs look different and the people wear different clothes, but a side from a few inconsequential details, the cities are indistinguishable. Lots of people, lots of cars and lots of buildings.

And Iraq, Afghanistan and America all have insurgencies.

In America, the insurgents blend into society. Some parts of the society house them, aid them and give them money. You and your fellow citizens want your town to be free from the “insurgents.” The government passes legislation against the insurgents and harsh fines for aiding them. In America, insurgents do not actively try to overthrow the government, but they skirt its laws. Of course, I am not referring to terrorist extremists but to criminals, mainly drug dealers.

The drug dealer analogy is eerily accurate. They blend into society. They corrupt police agencies at the local level. The legal system is against them, but many civilians in the population support them. The War on Drugs started well before the Global War on Terror. You could argue that drug dealers and gangs in America are less openly violent than the Iraqi insurgents, but in Mexico they are more violent.

This analogy illustrates that insurgency is a completely different style of warfare, one without uniforms or territory to take and hold. Killing your enemy is the easy part; finding the insurgent is difficult, convincing the population not to support him is near impossible. Some have argued against treating terrorists like criminals, but on the insurgency battlefield this is the perfect analogy.