Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Direct Action

Article on "Direct Action" as analysed in General Frank Kitson's 1971 counter-insurgency manual Low Intensity Operations:

It is rare to find large numbers of people who are so interested in a political cause that they are prepared to abandon their work and sacrifice their recreational time merely to stand around in a group being troublesome to the government on the off chance that it will make concessions in some direction which will probably bring them little personal benefit or satisfaction. In fact only the hard core organizers are likely to be sufficiently dedicated to behave in this way, and such people are normally viewed with suspicion by the normal working man or housewife and even by the majority of the student population.

Kitson argued that to overcome this problem, the hard core organizers need to mobilise an intermediate group of 'politically conscious idealists' in sufficient numbers to goad the authorities into discrediting themselves by some violent action.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Reconceptualising War

By Mary Kaldor. 3 great points: I had to include them all. The first 'point' is rather complex and frankly incoherent - at least to me. Nevertheless it is thought-stimulating.

It is now fashionable to argue that instead of imposing international norms, the international community should help to strengthen local structures. I agree with Shahrbanou on this issue. Very often what the international community regards as traditional structures are new institutions established by the warring parties. Both Kosovo and Afghanistan have been transformed by war and conflict and what was tradition has often been totally uprooted and reinvented in ways that may often be even more oppressive and violent especially to women and minorities than in the past. Kosovars, for example, ended blood feuds during the period of non-violent resistance; now blood feuds have been reinvented. Of course, there do have to be hybrid structures - people have to design their own institutions - but, in my experience, many ordinary people in conflict zones do not necessarily want to return to the past and welcome international support if it is about meeting needs and respecting human dignity and if it enables people to deliberate without fear.

This analysis also has implications for dealing with the greed element of contemporary conflict. Establishing a legitimate economy is often the key to ending violence. The Kimberly process for diamond certification was a hugely important factor in ending the wars in West Africa. What about the legalisation of drugs as a way to undercut the war in Afghanistan?

Actually violence is the opposite of conflict, as the French sociologist Michel Wievorka argues, “Violence shuts down conflict and makes it more difficult to address genuine grievances and ‘root causes’”.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Reconceptualising war

Reconceptualising war
Mary Kaldor, 24 February 2010

What if defeating the enemy was the justification for war, but not its real goal? What if its goal was a certain kind of power-brokerage?

Because the so-called international community tend to think of war as a contest of wills they focus on reconciling the extremists rather than bringing together ordinary people. Indeed they hardly ever talk to ordinary people, partly because of their colonial mentality so vividly described by Oliver Richmond, and partly because they think that the extremists are the power brokers, which, in turn, reinforces their preset view of the war as a contest of wills. The paradox is that by so doing they legitimise the people with guns and disenfranchise everyone else. If we think of war as a mutual enterprise, then a different strategy is required aimed at marginalising the extremists.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Gentile: How I would revise the COIN manual

Gentile: How I would revise the counterinsurgency manual

I would ... rewrite the doctrine from the ground up with three general parts: 1) would be a counterinsurgency approach centered on post-conflict reconstruction; 2) would be a counterinsurgency approach centered around military action to attack insurgent sources of military power (sometimes referred to as counter-terror or CT), but not linked to an endstate of a rebuilt or newly built nation state; 3) would be a counterinsurgency approach -- perhaps call it COIN light -- that would focus largely on Special Forces with some limited conventional army support conducting Foreign Internal Defense (FID).

Friday, 12 November 2010

Petraeus Memo

Read Gen Petraeus's Counterinsurgency Guidance memo.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Don't forget the other surge -- of Afghans

The calculations of COIN: Don't forget the other surge -- of Afghans
Posted By Thomas E. Ricks Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 10:25 AM
By Paula Broadwell
Best Defense guest columnist

...three significant challenges could impede the professionalization of the Afghan security forces: leader development, low literacy, and losses through attrition. Here are a few things Caldwell's team has initiated to address those issues.

Professionalization of the force requires development of institutions, systems, and enablers to support the infantry and police security forces. "Enablers," for example, are critical to the system's maturation, yet in 2009, there were no branch schools. Today there are nine: Engineer; Legal; MP; Logistics; Religious and Cultural Affairs; Intelligence, Finance, Infantry, and Artillery. Human Resources and Signals schools will open later in 2010, and Armor school in 2011. There were no logistic bases last fall. Today there are four operational regional centers with a national center to be established by the end of 2010.

Education of this force is also critical to professionalization, but it takes time as we can see in western professional development pipelines for NCOs and officers. NTM-A has developed a "backbone" of NCOs, from 1,950 to 9,300, an increase of 7,350 (376 percent). The National Military Academy of Afghanistan had 300 applicants in 2005 for 120 spaces, and 3600 applicants this year for 600 spaces.

These are great programs for Afghans who are already literate, but illiteracy (70 percent of Afghans) remains one of the greatest challenges for the Afghan general purposes forces. Literacy for them is a matter of life and death. If soldiers cannot read a map to call in air support and MEDEVAC helicopters, the minutes lost by using geographic features to talk the aircraft into location translates to lives lost. NTM-A instituted mandatory literacy training for all ANSF a year ago and has since enrolled 27,105 Afghans. After 64 hours of mandatory training, nearly 100 percent of ANSF troopers list "literacy training" as their favorite endeavor. They proudly wear a symbolic pen in their shirts as a sign of literacy.

In the last but not least of the challenges, arresting ANSF attrition is also a serious constraint, averaging 5.39 percent per month over the past 12 months. The issue is not systemic, but specific to those units where fighting is hardest and furthest from home. Increased pay, assisted leave, and a new system of role modeling may help. Time will tell.

Waging War, Building States

October 1, 2010
policy review » no. 163 » features
Waging War, Building States
by Nikolas Gvosdev and Derek S. Reveron
Seeking an elusive blend of hard and soft power

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Counterinsurgency Concepts: What We Learned in Iraq

Counterinsurgency Concepts: What We Learned in Iraq
General David Petraeus, Global Policy (2010) 1:1

1. Focus on the people
2. Work across boundaries
3. Exercise initiative
4. Live our values.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Friday, 22 October 2010

Petraeus is changing the Afghan war's intensity, not its overall strategy

Big Ideas from Small Countries

Monday, 11 October 2010

Slow and bloody nation-building in Kandahar province

LAME, toothless and 80 years old, Haji Beardad is not exactly imposing. Yet the American soldiers in the northern Arghandab valley in Kandahar province court him assiduously, promising a school and a mosque for his village of Kuhak. For Haji Beardad, frail as he looks, is an important ally. Since he told the Americans that his people would co-operate with Afghan security forces and keep watch for outsiders, attacks in Kuhak have dropped sharply. “I’ve told everybody in the village to report if someone comes to visit or we’ll have him arrested,” he says.

Nagahan, a village west of Kuhak, even has a local militia to keep the Taliban out, in exchange for American promises of development—and sometimes plain cash. “We’re paying them off,” says Captain David Ahern of Alpha company, 1st battalion, 66th armoured regiment. Violence in Nagahan has also dropped sharply.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


However, while the liberal–technical perspectives of international
institutions like the World Bank are often good at listing individual
inefficiencies (itemising how resources could be better exploited and
produced, and how infrastructure networks, institutions, tariff levels, etc
could be improved), they are generally blind to the fact that such discrete
individual inefficiencies always emerge and need to be understood within the
context of relatively durable social and political-economic structures.

Selby, Jan 2005 The Geopolitics of Water in the Middle East: Fantasies and realities, Third World Quarterly, 26(2), 329-349.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The answers for Afghanistan are pretty damn simple -- and here they are, guys

Here they are.

Why COIN is hard (part CXVIII)

Here is a great exchange between an American officer and an Afghan elder recorded by the estimable David Wood:


Environment key to U.S. security-Congress briefing

"Whether it is climate change, whether it is disruption of the environment in other ways ... we're going to see more failed and incapable states."

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Reviewing ten years of war against poverty

Kate Higgins is a Research Fellow with the Growth and Equity Programme at the Overseas Development Institute. She is based in Sydney.

Read it here.

Afghanistan: Lost in translation

Monday, 30 August 2010

Stanley McChrystal to Yale

McChrystal will teach grad students a course in leadership at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs in New Haven, which is opening this fall. He’ll be in good company: McChrystal will join John Negroponte, the former U.S. ambassador and former deputy secretary of state, as well as former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo at the institute.

Read more:

Sunday, 29 August 2010

How to beat the Tamil Tigers

Surprise, surprise!

Rajapaksa made military victory over the Tigers a cornerstone of his administration and signaled to the military that it could get whatever resources it wanted simply by asking.

"They did everything a general dreams of," said retired Indian Maj. Gen. Ashok Mehta, a commander of the Indian peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. "Unfettered resources and no political interference."

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Development Aid in Five Easy Steps

Actually, more like 5 different sources for the necessary money for primary healthcare:

Using immunizations, modern medicines, state-of-the-art diagnostics, mobile phones, and other new technologies, universal primary health care is now highly effective and very inexpensive, costing around $54 per person per year in the poorest countries.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Trouble with the Congo

A brilliant new book by Barnard Professor Séverine Autesserre, The Trouble with the Congo (Cambridge, 2010), can help us think this through. ... Autesserre blames the failure of peace-building in Congo on the national-level "election fetish" of international aid culture. Instead, she says, security problems are mainly local and need to be solved by corralling spoilers, strengthening local capacity, and setting up working legal institutions at the grass roots level. These moves aren't a substitute for the strong national institutions that will eventually be needed to make democracy work, she says, but the bottom-up spadework needs to be done first.


Saturday, 7 August 2010

A counterinsurgency conundrum in Salaam Bazaar

A counterinsurgency conundrum in Salaam Bazaar

Very interesting tale of two cities in The Long War Journal, with especial emphasis on the opium economy and its currency - opium paste.

A typical farm in the area uses a 100-meter well that extracts water from the ground with an electric submersible pump powered by a diesel generator. This system – limited by the cost of the fuel to run the generator – is suited for modest subsistence farming and ranching, but not the more extensive flood irrigation required for most business agriculture. An exception to this rule is poppy, which requires less water per acre while providing a greater profit margin than alternatives like wheat and corn. The illegal crop has additional advantages: bricks of opium paste can be stored for up to five years; the Taliban and other drug lords will pick up poppy from farmers, removing the hurdle of prohibitively expensive distribution; and the bricks can be used as cash to buy goods and services.

“Any bazaar will accept poppy as cash at a daily spot market rate in payment for anything from kids’ shoes, to land rent, to medical care. It’s the currency of the realm,” explained one American expert who declined to be named. “And water is so expensive, once it’s lifted to the surface, poppy is the only crop that is profitable enough to justify the expense, and there is enough profit left to grow a subsistence amount of wheat to feed the family and maybe sell a little bit on the side.”

The Iraq War and Its Strategic Lessons for Counterinsurgency

The Iraq War and Its Strategic Lessons for Counterinsurgency

by Anthony H. Cordesman

Friday, 6 August 2010

Two Winnable Wars

Two Winnable Wars
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Sunday, February 24, 2008

No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Art of Afghan Alliance Building

The Art of Afghan Alliance Building
Winning Hearts and Minds, Eight Years On
By Kathy Gannon
October 13, 2009

Summary: As the United States and its NATO allies slog on in Afghanistan, it is Washington's mismanagement of local alliances that has proved to be the undoing of its strategy in the country.

KATHY GANNON is an Associated Press correspondent based in Pakistan. She has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Associated Press since 1988 and was the 2003–4 Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations.

The Soviet Victory That Never Was

The Soviet Victory That Never Was
What the United States Can Learn From the Soviet War in Afghanistan
Nikolas K. Gvosdev
December 10, 2009

Summary: The Soviet Union came closer than many think to achieving its objectives in Afghanistan. How it almost managed to win -- and why it ultimately did not -- should serve as a lesson for U.S. policymakers today.

NIKOLAS K. GVOSDEV is Professor of National Security Studies at the Naval War College. The views expressed herein are entirely his own.

Land Tenure Reform Crucial Component of Future Peace in Africa

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Tajik Solution

I have always maintained that first comes order before you can have development. Recent thinking however is the very persuasive argument that development contributes to order.

Nevertheless, it is good to see an article getting back to the basics.

Summary: By lowering its sights and concentrating on order, the international community has helped to stabilize Tajikistan. The same cheap, simple approach could work in Afghanistan, too.

GEORGE GAVRILIS is Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin and an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

What to Read on State Building

Summary: An annotated Foreign Affairs syllabus on state building.

HILLEL SOIFER is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Temple University.

The Great African War

The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006

"Reyntjens has written a perceptive account of a war whose origins lie in the advanced decay of the Congolese state at the end of Mobutu's 32-year reign and in the ethnic conflict in neighboring Burundi and Rwanda."

Foreign Affairs review here.

What to Read on Fighting Insurgencies

Summary: An annotated Foreign Affairs syllabus on fighting insurgencies.

ELIOT A. COHEN is Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

Afghans Can Win This War

Nothing truly new, but it's good to hear it again, and it's a useful basic overview-cum-reminder of the elements of COIN.

The author, Yahya Massoud, is the brother of Ahmad Shah Massood.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Why Afghans fear village defence forces

Village defence forces are one of my key planks, so this is interesting in a disappointing way.

It is however necessary to note that this fellow is Karzai's cousin, and may well have an agenda.

Crisis management 101: getting the journalists interested

"...the media cannot report on every humanitarian story, nor does it exist to work exclusively for agencies like Save the Children. There are thousands of stories to cover every day and it is simply impossible for the stories that matter most to us humanitarians to make the headlines all the time."

So how how do you get the media to run with your story? According to this post, the key is to find a way to provide a local angle.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Does a warming world really mean that more conflict is inevitable?

The hardest evidence for a link so far comes from a team led by Marshall Burke of the University of California, which studied African wars from 1980 to 2002 and found that rising temperatures are indeed associated with crop failure, economic decline and a sharp rise in the likelihood of war. It predicted a “50% increase” in the chance of civil war in Africa by 2030.

Independent Diplomat

Interview on ABC.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Information Collection, Visualization, & Interactive Mapping
Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Growth in Developing Countries

The ever-brilliant Chris Blattman whose blog I follow has these "musings".

Thanks to him also for this find: International Growth Centre

1. You’re mayor of a large and growing industrial town. You have investors who want to build plants or commercial farms. You have national funds to build an airport. All will benefit generations of your citizens. But where do you put the firms and airport? You have to buy out or push out farmers, who don’t know another way of life. Land elsewhere is scarce. You can pay them generously, but five years from now a good number will have lost the cash, and then you have a political problem. You could give the farmers bonds, but you’d better inflation-protect them. Now you need a liquid financial market. You think to yourself: man, enclosing the commons is a bitch in the era of human rights.

2. If people aren’t used to drinking juice, and you happen to open a juice factory, it turns out it is very, very hard to get them to drink juice. You lie in wait, half hoping Coke will decide to blast open the market with a marketing barrage. You feel vaguely guilty.

3. Large manufacturers grow from being medium or small manufacturers, right? Not necessarily. In Ethiopia, half the large firms were started by traders: import-export firms. Why? Managerial know-how. Access to finance. An understanding of foreign markets. And international sales channels. Precisely three Ethiopian manufacturers have gone from small to large.

4. You know how to run a business, and have a pile of cash. The firm down the street is mismanaged and cash poor. Why not buy an ownership stake, get it profitable, and sell the now valuable shares to other local investors?Then use the cash to do the same thing four more times? Sounds great. Now I just need accountants to do the audits, I-bankers to do the due diligence, lawyers to write up the contracts. A whole class of financial professionals who… basically don’t exist. Crud.

5. Ethiopia is fertile and well-farmed. Food processing and agribusiness ought to be a growth sector, right? So strives the national economic strategy. Unfortunately the coast is far away and transport costs alone exceed the international price of most food products. Plus the coasts are controlled by your enemy, a failed state, and a greedy mini-state eager to charge you through the nose. Time to focus on high value-add products?

6. In a year, the average small firm is more likely to shrink than grow. Productivity and value added tend to double every time you jump up the scale from micro to small, small to medium, medium to large. Maybe small is no longer beautiful?

7. Too many economists dismiss industrial policy as ‘picking winners’. This strikes me as either intellectually lazy or ideological (or both). If we think of government policy like a technology, shouldn’t we be thinking of experimentation, innovation, and advancement?


Monday, 7 June 2010

US Army CGSC Youtube Channel

Easterly v Singer

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Andrew Exum's Reading List

Uncomfortable Questions

Some of his tough questions:

Why are we actually in Afghanistan?

Is the availability of "sanctuary" (in a world of myriad sanctuaries) really important?

Do the benefits of denying sanctuary in Afghanistan fit into any cost-benefit logic for the U.S.? (vs. benefits of Afghan sanctuary to the terrorists)

Are we confusing sunk costs with future investment decisions?

Do we truly understand that successful COIN is a means toward an end -- rather than an end in and of itself?

And most importantly: Are our actions in Afghanistan and the region reducing the terrorist threat to the U.S.?


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Constructive COIN: How Development Can Fight Radicals

Summary: The United States' current approach to counterinsurgency centers on protecting the population, with a special emphasis on political and economic development. But does that development-based strategy work? In a study we conducted using data on reconstruction spending and violence in Iraq, we found that the provision of certain government services does lead to a reduction in violence.


Our data suggest that reconstruction money works when projects are small, troops have a good working relationship with noncombatants, projects are chosen in consultation with local officials, programs are administered by local contractors, and a provincial reconstruction team is nearby to provide guidance.


Another study we recently completed casts doubt on short-term job creation as a counterinsurgency tactic. During periods of insurgency in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the southern Philippines, the correlation between employment rates and violence is weakly positive, and certainly not negative. In other words, the more jobs there are, the greater the violence -- a puzzling result.


When it comes to counterterrorism, however, the suggestion is more specialized. By providing the same services as a terrorist group’s parent organization, a government can effectively undermine the organizational capacity of the local terrorist threat.


Eli Berman

Get Medeeval!

"The weakness of President Hamid Karzai that has led many journalists to dub him the 'Mayor of Kabul' is little different structurally from those medieval European kings, who also held their capitals but did not rule their people. Similarly, Karzai's adoption of a patrimonial model of the state, in which offices and resources are redistributed on a personal basis to buy the support of existing power-holders or play them off against one another has more in common with the Holy Roman Empire than the European Union. In some ways, therefore, a thorough understanding of medieval power politics and how rulers came to centralize state authority would be of greater value to the international advisors sent to the Karzai government than a background in constitutional law or regulatory reform. At least in medieval Europe, the centralized state emerged victorious.",2

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Friday, 5 March 2010

'Worlds Most Usefull Tree' Provides Low-Cost Water Purification Method

A low-cost water purification technique published in Current Protocols in Microbiology could help drastically reduce the incidence of waterborne disease in the developing world. The procedure, which uses seeds from the Moringa oleifera tree, can produce a 90.00% to 99.99% bacterial reduction in previously untreated water, and has been made free to download as part of access programs under John Wiley & Sons' Corporate Citizenship Initiative.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Netwar: The New Rules of War

1. "Many and small" beats "few and large".
2. Finding matters more than flanking.
3. Swarming is the new surging.,0

Friday, 29 January 2010

Security Sector Reform in Challenging Environments

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Standardized rifle marksmanship program could go Armywide

"It was implemented in response to lessons learned in theater," Reed said. "It's intended to give a realistic experience for a Soldier deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan ... (Soldiers) learn the fundamentals and apply them. They are thinking about their next firing position, how many rounds they have to fire and time management under the stress factor of a full-combat load. Plus, the training factors in the weapon malfunction."

Within the program, Soldiers fire from behind barriers at pop-up targets 50 to 300 meters away, Reed said. They have 30 rounds, and a dummy round is inserted into each of the three magazines to simulate a malfunction. Shooters must hit 16 of 26 targets.