Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where the money goes?

As most Americans watch the broadly reported on dealing with the "fiscal cliff" and debt ceiling issues a less widely reported event occurred. The Department of Defense quietly notified Congress this month that it had "reimbursed" Pakistan nearly $700 million in an effort to "normalize" support for the Pakistani military. This payment is in addition to approximately $2 billion given to Pakistan annually for security assistance.

You may recall that there was a diplomatic breakthrough in July which reportedly caused the Pakistan government to reopen suppy lines into Afganistan after they closed these routes in November 2011 in response to a US air attack which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The US was then forced to use much longer and more expensive supply routes to support Afgan operations. In fact, since July, the Pakistani supply routes have been restricted by the Pakistanis to only about 25% of their pre November 2011 through put rates thus creating significant ongoing expense to the US despite the "diplomatic breakthrough". Rerouting supplies has cost the US an estimated $70-100 million per month because our "ally", Pakistan, has closed the routes through their country. Even when we do use the route through Pakistan we pay a toll of $250 per truck to the Pakistan government. Sustaining Afgan operations requires about 100 trucks per day.....$25,000 per day,,,,$9 million per year.

Perhaps President Obama and Speaker Boehner should look to the Afgan/Pakistan border to find about $3 billion in help to deal with the "fiscal cliff".

Thursday, December 13, 2012


This week theObama administration delivered to Congress its "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afganistan" as required twice per year. The report covers the period 1 April through 30 September. It documents a stunning lack of progress. Only one of the Afgan army's 23 brigades is capable of operating independently wthout air or other military support from the United States or other NATO partners. Violence in Afganistan is higher than it was before the 2010 surge of American forces, the Taliban remains resiliant, and Afgan security forces' attacks on their US "partners" (green on blue attacks) remain a problem (there have been 37 in 2012 compared to 2 in 2007).

The Afgan government, the report states, suffers from "widespread corruption, limited human capacity, lack of access to rural areasdue to a lack of security, a lack of coordination between the central government and the Afgan provinces and districts, and an uneven distribution of power among the judicial, legislative, and executive branches." Afgan president Karzi recently blamed the United States for much of the corruption.

General John R. Allen, the senior US commander in Afganistan, is expected to recommend soon that US troop levels in Afganistan remain at 68,000 through the "fighting season" next fall to allow Afgan forces to strengthen before the US withdrawl currently scheduled for the end of 2014. After eleven years of US commitment, 2,146 US servicemembers lives, and almost three quarters of a trillion US taxpayer dollars, a reasonable question might be "What will be gained between now and the end of 2014, and at what cost?" Is tomorrow too late to leave?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Underreported, Troubling, and Grim

This week combat deaths suffered by American servicemembers in Afganistan passed the 2,000 mark.  In my opinion this is an underreported event that reflects the estrangement of 99% of Americans who have no involvement in American military affairs or national security.  Over the past few weeks I have conducted an informal poll asking people randomly how many deaths the US military has suffered in Afganistan....fewer than 10% of the respondents could get a correct answer within plus or minus 10%....troubling, I think so.
     The story is made grim by the fact that many of the dead US servicemembers were killed in cold blood by the very Afgan soldiers and police they are supporting and training.  NATO even has a name for these killings...."green on blue" killings.  Last year there were 21 such attacks in which 35 were killed.  Already this year 24 such attacks have occured with 28 killed.  NATO has not reported the number wounded in such attacks.
     Perhaps more widely reporting these troubling and grim statistics and recognizing that there are loved ones left behind would cause more Americans to ask why we are still in Afganistan, who will be the last US soldier to die there, and why he or she died there.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

At War?

Last week the New York Times reported and current and former U.S. officials confirmed that the U.S., in cooperation with Israel, initiated successful cyber attacks against Iranian targets. The targets were centrifuges employed in the Iranian nuclear program. The U.S. used a computer worm, or virus, called Stuxnet which destroyed nearly 1000 of Iran’s 6000 centrifuges.

The attack itself and the subsequent confirmation raise a host of questions. One that most intrigues me is how we will respond if and when Iran retaliates with its own cyber attack against U.S. targets. Given our dependence on computer systems for everything from credit card transactions to air traffic control do we believe that our systems are not vulnerable? Will we escalate the attacks and, if so, how? Will we try to convince ourselves and the world that our attacks are justified and noble and theirs are unjustified? Just how slippery might this slope be?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Drums of War

The following op/ed by MG Laich appeared in the electronic version of the Columbus Dispatch

Let there be no mistake, we are considering going to war with Iran. The use of terms such as “surgical strikes” and “military option” are convenient euphemisms for acts of war. Since this would be a war of choice, another preventive war, serious questions arise as to whether it meets the Just War standard which has informed international actions for centuries. We should recall our recent history when we were told that Iraq had WMD, the war would be short, we would be welcomed as liberators, and Iraqi oil would pay for the war. “Shock and awe” morphed in “Aw shucks” as 4,500 Americans lost their lives, 30000 were seriously wounded, and it cost the US $2 trillion borrowed dollars in ten year long war that few suggest we won. In fact, the official 2012 U.S. Army Posture Statement states that “the mission in Iraqi has ended responsibility”….hardly a chest thumping assertion of success or claim to have won.

Those who assert that Iran is unable or unwilling to retaliate if we attack are engaging in magical thinking. Iran is the 18th largest land mass of all the nations in the world with 79 million citizens (larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined). It has 545,000 active and 350,000 reserve troops and can mobilize 11 million more. In addition, they have a domestic military industrial base and a sizable navy. They have the capability to target and close the Strait of Hormuz which would drive up oil prices thus disrupting the world economy and a U.S. economic recovery as gasoline rises to $5-$8 per gallon. They can also target U.S .troops and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. interests worldwide, to include the U.S. homeland through terrorist support groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Finally, all out war in the Middle East would be distinct possibility with Russia, China, and India being unknown wild cards.

Iran has its own perspective regarding its security and national interests. Most American don’t know or conveniently forget that the American CIA overthrew the democratic government of Iran in 1953 and installed and supported the Shah of Iran in its war with Iraq in which Iran suffered between 500,000 and one million casualties. Iran is situated between two countries on its east and west that have been attacked and occupied by the U.S. Finally, Iran’s assessment of its own security is informed by Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal and the fact that the U.S. is the only nation to ever employ nuclear weapons…twice. Why would Iran not trust us?

If the US chooses to exercise its “military option” regarding Iran I would suggest three steps be taken. One, the President should request a Declaration of War from Congress. This would be the first such declaration since 1941. Require each member of Congress to take a share of responsibility in accordance with the Constitution. Second, impose a war tax on every American citizen to cover the cost of war thus not adding to the national debt rather than having China loan us the money. Third, implement a military draft with no deferments so the sons and daughters of all American can join the poor kids and patriots who have served these past ten years. This game affects the risk/reward analysis and final decisions.

We should be very careful going forward based on the wisdom of Winston Churchill who said “Once the dogs of war are unleashed, there is no controlling events.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Answer

On February 16 I posted a blog titled “Did we Win?” in Iraq. I am pleased to report that we have an official Department of the Army document that answers the question…sort of. The 2012 Army Posture Statement authored by the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff states in the second sentence of page one of a thirty five page document that “The mission in Iraq has ended responsibly”…really? This appears to be as close as we get to an answer from Army “leaders” to the question, notwithstanding the fact that the theme of the Posture Statement is Prevent, Shape, Win.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Did We Win? - Part II

In my last blog posting I asked the question “Did we win?” in Iraq. The relevance of the question is that it informs our ongoing involvement in Afghanistan. The “Part II” question is “Did we win in Libya?” The stated mission was to protect civilian lives and remove Kaddafi. Both were accomplished at virtually no cost to the U.S. treasury, no U.S. service member’s lives lost and no cry from the international community to spend a trillion dollars to rebuild Libya. President Obama was criticized for leading from behind and allowing NATO to do the heavy lifting. Leading from behind looks pretty smart.
The relevance of asking this question regarding Libya is that today some are calling for the U.S. to intervene in Syria to protect civilians and oust an autocrat…sound familiar? I would suggest that what we learned about winning through our experiences in Iraq and Libya should be used to inform our decision regarding Syria.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Did We Win?

We Americans are a fundamentally competitive people. Part of that competitive culture is the concept of winning and losing. We ask, “Who won?” regarding everything from Little League games to legal battles and Super Bowls to presidential primaries. This national competitive spirit has served us well and produced great achievements in commerce, diplomacy, national security, and athletics and contributed to the belief in American exceptionalism.
Given this strong belief in competition and its byproduct of winning and losing and our recent withdrawal from Iraq after nine years of war at a cost of more than 4500 American lives and $2 trillion, I find it interesting that no one is asking whether or stating that we won…or lost. No officials in the Obama administration, no Republican presidential candidate, no talking head on television and no newspaper editorial writer has broached the question or offered and answer. If we did win, what did we win and was it worth the cost? I will not bias your answer to this question. “Did we win?” by offering mine, but I will state that I feel strongly that there were four clear winners in Iraq: China, Iran, the Iraqi Shehites, and Halliburton/Blackwater.
One might ask why it is important to engage the question of winning and losing in Iraq. The war is over for the US and our troops have left the country. The importance lays in the fact that we are still choosing to engage in a war in Afghanistan that is costing us $2 billion per week and generating American causalities every month as a result of commitment that is to last through 2014. Between now and 2014 we expect to lose hundreds of American lives and spend a quarter of a trillion dollars (borrowed from the Chinese and others) in Afghanistan. Many of the same questions regarding ends, ways and means that would frame the question of winning and losing in Iraq apply to Afghanistan. The difference is that Iraq is over and Afghanistan rages on. By declining to engage the question of winning or losing in Iraq, we forego the learning it might provide regarding Afghanistan. Perhaps that’s what we want since it’s a tough, potentially embarrassing question. We take this easy road though at the cost of US lives and treasure and create a new set of winners: Pakistan, the Taliban, a corrupt Afghan government supported by the U.S. and of course, Halliburton. If we ask today what a war in 2014 in Afghanistan would look like we should ask if its worth hundreds of American lives and a quarter of a trillion dollars today…in 2014 it’s too late.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Credibility Suffers in Face of DADT Warnings

The following Op Ed by Major General Laich appeared in the January 23 issue of Army Times.

It has now been almost four months since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was formally repealed on September 20. Four months does not make a history, but none of the catastrophic consequences of repeal predicted by its opponents has come to pass. There have been no mass resignations from the military, no barracks or shipboard riots, no mass gay rights demonstrations on military installations, no massive declines in enlistment or re-enlistment rates, and no declines in morale, discipline and cohesion. Repeal has been the nonevent its advocates predicted that it would be.
Some of the most vocal among repeal’s opponents were many of the military’s “senior leaders” charged with providing the commander in chief, Congress and the American people with their best military advice. The fact is these “senior leaders” were wrong. Whether they were wrong due to their personal biases, pandering to a conservative/evangelical base, or simply out of touch with the service members they are privileged to serve, they were wrong.
The young troops have proved themselves to be more mature, pragmatic and professional than their “senior leaders” projected them to be and, more alarmingly, than the “senior leaders” themselves (with the exception of Admirals (Mike) Mullen and (Robert) Papp). This is an alarming failure that should bring into question the judgment and perhaps the integrity of those “senior leaders” who advocated against repeal.
Many of these same “senior leaders” were perfectly willing, in response to recruiting shortfall in the 2004-2008 time frame, to lower enlistment standards while discharging trained service members under DADT. During that time frame, the Army raised the maximum age for enlistment, lowered the education and physical standards, and granted an all-time high number of moral waivers.
The net effect of these policy positions is that these “senior leaders” would rather man the force with middle-aged, unfit, undereducated felons than with young, fit, educated soldiers with clean police records, simply because of the latter group’s sexual orientation. The policy cost the military the contributions of more than 14,000 fully trained, qualified and, in many cases, combat-experience service members: a cost measured in tax-payer dollars, combat capability and military credibility.
Given the fact that these “senior leaders” appear to have been so wrong and the cost so high, a congressional inquiry, or at least a rigorous after-action review (with the results made public) would be appropriate. If neither is done, one might ask why we should accept the best military advice of these “senior leaders” on future tough issues. Credibility is earned by performance, not conferred by position.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

U.S Would Regret Conflict with Iran

The letter to the editor by Major General Laich that follows was published in the January 3, 2012 edition of the Columbus Dispatch.
I was alarmed by last Tuesday’s letter “U.S. need not fear Iranian threat to Israel” from Austin Reid. It reminded me of the assurances given to the American people prior to the U.S. Invasion of Iraq that the war would be brief, we would be greeted as liberators and Iraqi oil would pay for the war. $2 trillion and 4,400 American lives later we know that this was magical thinking and that the enemy has a vote.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a realist not enrolled in the magical-thinking school, said earlier this month that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could “consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.”
Reid wrote that “in the aftermath of an Israeli attack, Iran more than likely would respond as did Iraq and Syria and not retaliate” if Israel attacked its nuclear sites. Panetta, a host of national security experts and I disagree.
The conflict that would result would draw in the United States, based on its treaties with Israel; raise oil prices, leading to a double-dip U.S. recession; and unleash terrorist attacks by Iran’s proxies against U.S. targets worldwide, to include the U.S. homeland.
Unlike the Iraqi and Syrian targets Reid refers to having been successfully engaged by Israel in the past, the Iranian nuclear sites are dispersed, dug in and protected by anti-aircraft defenses, thus making an equally successful attack far less likely. Additionally, Israel would have to secure the permission of the Iraqi government to overfly its airspace or violate the airspace and Iraq’s sovereignty, which the United States is committed to protect.
Reid has his history correct, but the military and national security references he draws from it reflect magical thinking.