The D Brief: Support for the Afghan war is up; The Air Force’s drone problem; How military families grieve; Is the M4 flawed or what?; And a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
A suicide bomber attacked the European police training headquarters in Kabul today, killing one Afghan and wounding five others. Reuters this hour, here.
Man bites dog: American support for the war in Afghanistan is suddenly increasing. The WaPo’s Scott Clement: “After falling to record lows, support for the Afghanistan war has risen since 2013, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that also finds majority support for a plan to keep thousands of troops in the country in the coming year. Overall, Americans remain downbeat over the war at the end of NATO’s 13-year combat mission. A 56 percent majority says it has not been worth fighting, continuing a negative streak that dates to 2010 in Post-ABC polls. But 38 percent in the new survey say the war was worth the costs, up eight points from December 2013 and 10 points from a record low that July (28 percent).” More here.
The “end of combat” in Afghanistan will not be like Iraq. Why? Perhaps more than anything else, the Afghans want the U.S. to stay, Gen. J.C. Campbell told CBS’ 60 Minutes last night: “I think with the military they have here, with the conditions that are set—this—again, this is not Iraq. I don't see ISIS, ISIL, coming into Afghanistan like they did into Iraq. The Afghan Security Forces would not allow that…But I think we're gonna have to keep continued pressure on that. Once you take that pressure off, it's only a matter of time before they continue to build that back up.”
Meantime: “Deadlines should not be dogmas.” Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani told CBS’ Lara Logan the U.S. should consider pumping the brakes on its Afghan pullout this year. Ghani: “If both parties, or, in this case, multiple partners, have done their best to achieve the objectives and progress is very real, then there should be willingness to reexamine a deadline… “Skepticism is part of your job. The job of an elected president is to overcome the past and change the playing field. My people are bleeding. It is precisely because of that that I need to make sure that peace comes.” Full transcript and video, here.
Pakistani airstrikes, accompanied by U.S. drones, killed nearly 40 militants along the Afghanistan border, officials said Sunday. AP’s Riaz Khan, here.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq pose enormous challenges for Obama, especially if he is to shrug off his lame-duck status in the next two years. And for Democrats and Republicans, foreign policy could well become the central issue for 2016. The Obama White House, which can see the U.S. military’s capabilities in sometimes overly simplistic terms, needs a more expansive view of what the military can and cannot do. On NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd yesterday, experts weighed in:
Retired Lt. Gen. Dan Bolger, author of the controversial book “Why We Lost,” on MTP yesterday: “…the reality is the U.S. military is all about winning battles but wars are an act of the entire country. One of the challenges that we have, one of the reasons an accounting of these wars as the President said we fought for more than 13 years is in order, we have to determine what we're doing wrong that's preventing us from winning… the military can give you a quick victory over a conventional army. It cannot deliver a rebuilt country in the place you go. That takes an effort in the entire U.S. population and government and moreover it takes the commitment of the American people for the long-term.”
Carnegie Endowment’s Sarah Chayes on the same show: “… I think what's really interesting about this policy is the President repeatedly explains that there is no military solution to these wars. And yet, you still see all of the focus, all of the energy, even at this somewhat reduced level on the military approaches to the war. So in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus on the quality of governance on the ability of populations to feel they have a stake in the way their country is being run has been ignored for a dozen years.”
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, also on MTP: “The Iraqi army came apart, 25 percent of it ran off and left their equipment. But it's hard to imagine a modest training mission being the key to gluing Iraq back together. I think it's come apart and it will now have to settle along new geo-political grounds.”
The convo on MTP kept coming back to James Fallows’ piece in The Atlantic on the tragedy of the American military which is a must-read here on Defense One’s Web site.
A senior Taliban commander has been using LinkedIn to net nearly 70 connections citing "jihad" and "journalism" as his skills. Robert Mendick and Robert Verkaik for The Telegraph: "Ehsanullah Ehsan...openly promotes himself on LinkedIn as spokesman for TTP Jammat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Taliban... Pakistan authorities placed a $1 million (£650,000) bounty on his head after he boasted of the Taliban’s responsibility for the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head in October 2012 for wanting to go to school." More here.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief, Defense One's new, first-read national security newsletter, where we genuinely hope this will be a very good year for you. Make ‘er count.
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2015 could see a wave of autonomic systems coming to the military, and the Pentagon wants a roadmap for how to implement those systems. Defense One’s tech editor Patrick Tucker reports the latest DOD angles on the military’s artificial intelligence hunt: “The robotic takeover of the human decision space is incremental, inevitable and proceeds not at the insistence of the robots but at ours. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the United States military, the institution that effectively created the first random access memory electronic computer and everything that has followed from that, including modern robotics. Faced with rising costs for staffing, a public increasingly averse to casualties but a growing number of commitments and crises to contend with, military research into artificial intelligence—in autonomy—touches everything from flying jets to administering healthcare…”
The new year brings a new partnership for Defense One and New America. Defense One and New America will announce later this morning that they are creating a partnership to explore the challenges and changing nature of war and conflict. Defense One, which publishes The D Brief, and New America will produce editorial coverage and events around New America’s “Future of War” project. From Defense One’s press release going out this morning: “…The partnership will feature content from New America’s brand-new initiative exploring the social, political, economic, and cultural implications of the changing nature of war and conflict… “Future of War” will launch in early February, with articles and commentary published on DefenseOne.com, paving the way for an inaugural conference on February 24 and 25, 2015 in Washington, D.C., [which will] draw together leading experts and policy makers to discuss developments in the fields of international and national security law and policy, defense and counterterrorism operations and policy.”
Defense One’s Kevin Baron on New America: “At Defense One, our theme is ‘the future of defense’ and the evolving global security landscape… New America’s ‘Future of War’ project is a perfect fit, and we are excited to host analysis and commentary from New America’s leading national security thinkers in order to facilitate these important conversations.”
New America’s Peter Bergen, co-director of the project: “We are thrilled to be partnering with Defense One. Defense One’s thorough, well reported and deeply analyzed coverage of the military makes them a natural partner for the ‘Future of War’ project.”
Here’s who’s on the “Future of War” team: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Peter Singer, Doug Ollivant, Sharon Burke, Alan Davidson, David Kilcullen, Tim Maurer, Sascha Meinrath and Daniel Rothenberg.
Meantime, here's what you should expect in national security in 2015, from Defense One.
The Air Force says it’s drone force is at the breaking point. The Daily Beast’s Dave Majumdar has this exclusive this morning: “Too many missions and too few pilots are threatening the ‘readiness and combat capability’ of America’s unmanned Air Force, according to an internal memo… acquired by The Daily Beast. And it’s happening right when the unmanned aircraft are most needed to fight ISIS.”
“The Air Force has enough MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. It’s just doesn’t have the manpower to operate those machines. The Air Force’s situation is so dire that Air Combat Command (ACC), which trains and equips the service’s combat forces, is balking at filling the Pentagon’s ever increasing demands for more drone flights.
The Air Force’s Air Combat Command’s Gen. Hawk Carlisle to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh: “ACC believes we are about to see a perfect storm of increased COCOM [Combatant Commander] demand, accession reductions and outflow increases that will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 enterprise for years to come… I am extremely concerned.”
Carlisle continues: “ACC will continue to non-concur to increased tasking beyond our FY15 [fiscal year 2015] force offering and respectfully requests your support in ensuring the combat viability of the MQ-1/9 platform.”
A senior service official to the Daily Beast on the drone force being stretched to its limits: “It’s at the breaking point, and has been for a long time… What’s different now is that the Band-Aid fixes are no longer working.” Read the rest here.
The Air Force has a spy ship in the waters of the Persian Gulf. David Axe for War is Boring: “Technically speaking, USNS Invincible—a 224-foot vessel displacing a mere 2,800 tons—belongs to Military Sealift Command, the quasi-civilian branch of the Navy that operates America’s military logistics ship and other specialist vessels.
“But Invincible is just a hull—unremarkable, painted white and maintained by 18 civilian contractors. It’s what’s inside and atop the hull that really matters. A sophisticated, dual X- and S-band radar called Gray Star that belongs to the Air Force.” More here.
Two Saudi border guards were killed by a suspected ISIS suicide bomber near Iraq’s southwestern Arar region. Reuters’ Andus McDowall from Riyadh, here.
ISIS boasts a $2 billion budget for 2015 and says it has a $250 million surplus to wage war against the West. UPI's Andrew V. Pestano with more, here.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a bombing aimed at Shiite Huthi militiamen in Yemen Sunday, killing a journalist and three members of the local police force while wounding 25 others. AFP, here.
At least 7,000 Yemenis died in fighting last year, a three-fold increase from 2011, Yemeni think tank the Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies says. Al-Jazeera with more, here.
Afghanistan and Yemen ranked #s 7 and 8 on Foreign Policy’s 10 Wars to Watch in 2015, by Jean-Marie Guéhenno. And unrest in Venezuela puts that nation at the bottom of the list of usual suspects like ISIS, Ukraine and Nigeria. That roundup, here.
Boko Haram fighters seized a multi-national military base in northeastern Nigeria yesterday. AFP’s Aminu Abubakar: “The base outside the town of Baga is used by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), which was established in 1998 to battle cross-border crime but whose mandate was expanded to fighting the deadly Boko Haram insurgency. The gunmen seized the base near Lake Chad after engaging troops in a fierce battle that lasted several hours, witnesses said.” More here.
Prospects are dimming for the budget relief deal known as “Ryan-Murray II.” Defense News’ John Bennett reports here.
The largest ever study of how military families grieve is under way, with final results expected in 2017. AP’s David Crary: “The federally funded project is being conducted by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Maryland-based Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. The study is open to families of the more than 19,000 service members from all branches of the military who have died on active duty since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, regardless of whether the death resulted from combat, accident, illness, suicide or other causes.” More here.
ICYMI: While thousands of troops will stream back to the states from Afghanistan this year, retired three-star general and former ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry says America’s 1973 shift to an all-volunteer force eroded the bond between America's citizens and its soldiers. National Journal’s James Kitfield with more, here.
The Navy wants to add to its submarine defenses—floating, acoustic surveillance devices called sonobuoys—along the Pacific coast. AP, here.
Drawdown looming: The Army plans to lose more than 18,000 soldiers this year through attrition and force-outs. Military Times has the dates for enlistment retention boards in 2015, here.
And Doctrine Man shared this listicle advice column for how junior staff officers can survive the “nettled branch,” including this pitch for a staff officer action figure: “Clad in a presentable uniform, the staff officer comes with a permanent sardonic smile, which comes from watching the S-3 and XO discuss MDMP and knowing they have no idea what they are talking about. The staff officer also comes with a coffee mug, a never-used M-4 carbine, a laptop, several lego figurines that are used as a stress relief…This figurine would never sell, but it sure would be accurate. My point? Keep a sense of humor about yourself. I’ve seen way too many staff officers take themselves too seriously. And no one likes those people.” More here.
The M4 carbine is “badly flawed” and needs to be replaced, citing the 2009 Battle of Wanat when multiple jams and malfunctions hamstrung the U.S. response to a Taliban assault. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales in The Atlantic: “The military must change the caliber and cartridge of the guns it gives infantry soldiers. Stoner’s little 5.56-mm cartridge was ideal for softening the recoil of World War II infantry calibers in order to allow fully automatic fire. But today’s cartridge is simply too small for modern combat. Its lack of mass limits its range to less than 400 meters…” That here.
Not so fast, says Christian Beekman for Task and Purpose in a rebuttal to Scales’ take: “Many of the problems experienced by service members with the M4 can be attributed to improper maintenance. Most rifles are well-maintained at the individual level, but some of the military’s guidelines and training regarding M4 maintenance are outdated. Multiple former special operators who now work in the firearms training industry cite the current issues with the M4 as stemming from improper lubrication, a lack of preventative maintenance, and less than ideal parts.” That over here.
The Army has a snazzy new (and cheaper) candidate in the running for the M9’s replacement. Military Times’ Rob Curtis: “The updated M9A3 configuration features a long list of improvements that address many gripes soldiers have voiced over the M9s nearly thirty years fielded as the Army’s service pistol.
“The list of new features and improvements include a 1/2"-28 TPI threaded barrel, Tritium night sights and a removable, dovetail front sight, a three-lug Picatinny accessory rail, a recontoured safety selector that is angled 10 degrees upward to avoid accidental engagement during slide racking, a smaller, a slimmer grip with aggressive front and backstrap checkering, an included wraparound grip cover that increases the grip size to that of the original M9, an oversized, reversible magazine release, a beveled magazine well, a sand-resistant 17-round magazine and an earth tone Cerakote finish.” More, including pictures of the upgraded sidearm, here.
Also from Task and Purpose: Meet the eight Presidents who have “the most badass” military records, here.