Conflicting Reports from Kirkuk

I’ve been covering the potential for an Iraqi Civil War between Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds for Kirkuk and its surrounding areas since before the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum in September. Tonight we’re getting conflicting reports out of Kirkuk about what is actually going on.

From the Government of Iraq:

There have been reports of US led coalition aircraft over Kirkuk:

And that attacks have begun despite PM Ibadi’s orders:

From al Jazeera (emphasis mine):

Iraqi security forces have launched a “major operation” in the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of a strategic military base and oil fields, according to Kurdish and Iraqi officials.

The aim of the advance early on Monday was taking control of the Kurdish-controlled K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani, of the Iraqi army’s 9th armoured division, told Reuters news agency.

Hemin Hawrami, senior assistant to Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) PresidentMasoud Barzani, also said on Twitter that Peshmerga forces had been ordered “not to initiate any war, but if any advancing militia starts shooting”, then they had the “green light to use every power” to respond.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Erbil, said Kurdish forces in and around Kirkuk “have vowed to defend it to the last man”. He added that the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk has reportedly called residents to arms, “saying anybody with a weapon should take it up and defend the city”.

It seems as if all diplomatic efforts have failed,” said Stratford, calling the push a “very worrying” development.

At this point it is unclear what exactly is going on. While the reports of actual fighting are scattered and only partially confirmed, there are two armed forces moving into close proximity of each other. And those two forces have very different objectives. Cooler heads may yet prevail, but it won’t take much for this to get really ugly really quickly.

Here’s a live stream from Kirkuk:



What Exactly is the Military’s Role in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands?

We’ve had a lot of discussion in the comments over the past couple of weeks about not just what is going on with the disaster response, emergency management, and/or humanitarian assistance missions in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, but also what exactly the US military’s role is. The US military is currently involved in assisting with all three components of the response: disaster response, emergency management, and humanitarian assistance. They are specifically doing so through what is called Defense Support of Civil Authorities, which is abbreviated as DSCA and pronounced as disca.

Defense Support of Civil Authorities is defined in Joint Publication 3-28/Defense Support of Civil Authorities:

Defense support of civil authorities (DSCA) is support provided by federal military forces, Department of Defense (DOD) civilians, DOD contract personnel, DOD component assets, and National Guard (NG) forces (when the Secretary of Defense [SecDef], in coordination with the governors of the affected states, elects and requests to use those forces in Title 32, United States Code, status or when federalized) in response to requests for assistance from civil authorities for domestic emergencies, law enforcement support, and other domestic activities, or from qualifying entities for special events.

DSCA in the US presents a unique challenge based on the history of the country and the interaction of the federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments and private and nonprofit organizations. These relationships establish the multiple layers and mutually reinforcing structures throughout the state and territorial governments for interaction based on the US Constitution, as well as on common law and traditional relationships.

US Army North has been mobilized as the Joint Land Force Component Command (JFLCC) to coordinate the US military response. This includes Task Force 51*, which is contingency command post. Specifically:

TF-51 is Army North’s contingency command post and conducts Defense Support of Civil Authority (DSCA), homeland defense and theater security cooperation in order to promote the defense and security of the United States​

There are also US Army Corps of Engineers, US Army Civil Affairs, and US Army National Guard – primarily from the Puerto Rico National Guard, as well as US Marine Corps personnel from the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group/26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (USS Kearsarge, USS Arlington, and USS Oak Hill) plussed up with USS Wasp, US Coast Guard Sailors, and the USNS Comfort on site assisting. There are also civilian personnel from a variety of US government civilian agencies.

The Commanding General of US Army North is not actually in charge of the response. Rather a FEMA executive on site is responsible. Unfortunately everyone defaults to “the US military is there, there’s a 3 star commander on site, the US military is in charge”. This is not actually the case. Because of how the news media has covered things since 9-11 everyone expects the military not only to perform, but to work miracles. This is largely a result of the US military being the only US governmental institution that is viewed positively by a majority of Americans. Whether the result of good public relations, the concerted effort not to treat uniformed personnel returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom the popular perception about the way returning Vietnam veterans were treated**, or a combination of the two, there is a pervasive belief among elected and appointed officials, as well as the US citizenry that the US military can do anything and everything. This combined with the significant divide that has grown between the All Volunteer Force and the rest of Americans, as well as a general lack of knowledge and understanding about what the US military does and does not do, can and cannot do, all contributes to the default belief that if the US military has responded, then it is in charge. So if things aren’t going well, then someone in uniform must be screwing up.

It is important to remember that LTG Buchanan, the Commanding General of US Army North, is not the military governor of PR and that martial law hasn’t been declared. In this mission he and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines under his command actually work for Michael Byrne, who is the Federal Coordinating Officer for Puerto Rico. While it is absolutely correct to question exactly what is going on with the response to the crises in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, it is important to remember who is running the show – FEMA – and who isn’t – the US military. Moreover, we don’t know what the Memorandum of Agreement is between FEMA/DHS and US Army North/Department of the Army that delineates who is doing what in regard to the Federal response to the crises in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as it is not posted anywhere public facing. Here’s an example of a Memorandum of Agreement between FEMA and the US Army Corps of Engineers from 2008 to give you an idea of what they look like. Here’s the manual for US military support to FEMA in these types of situations to give you some idea of how things should go.

That doesn’t make what we’re seeing in news reports and eye witness reports on social media about the inadequacy of the response okay. It just means that other than knowing that things aren’t going well, despite official pronouncements from various parties in DC, we don’t really know why they’re not going well. As in the root causes. Is the Memorandum of Agreement too limiting? Has too little resources, specifically actual food, water, clothing, medical supplies been queued up? Or delivered on site? Are there too few personnel on site when accounting for US civilian and military personnel? All of these are legitimate questions. But just because the US military on site gets all the press, and just because we’ve become conditioned to assume that they are both hyper-competent and always in charge wherever they are deployed, this is not always the case. And it is certainly not the case in the US response to the hurricane created crises in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

* Full disclosure: the Chief of Staff for Task Force 51 is my former student from my last year (academic year 2014) assigned at USAWC. I have not been commissioned by him, anyone else at the Joint Force Land Component Command in Puerto Rico, or anyone else in the US military to write this post.

** There is a popular perception in the US that returning vets from Vietnam were treated poorly by the American public. In terms of actual history this isn’t exactly what happened, and there are a lot of nuances, but this is the popular perception.



The President’s Speech on Iran and the JCPOA: Live Stream

Regardless of what the President says, Iran is in formal or technical compliance with the agreement. The result of today’s remarks will be to further muddle US strategic communication, to further irk and annoy US allies who are parties to this agreements, to irritate Iran, and to punt the whole thing to Congress. It will be up to Congress to decide if they impose new sanctions that force Iran out of the deal. Or if they just change the law so the President doesn’t get upset that he has to recertify that Iran is in compliance every 90 days. This last one is the real issue. The President just doesn’t want to do it. And it makes him upset and angry when he has to do so. Whether Congress would do so or is even able to do so give the dysfunction within the GOP majorities in both chambers is another matter entirely.

Open thread!



What the Deaths of Four Green Berets in Niger Really Tells Us About the US Military’s Strategic Posture

Eight days ago a US Army Special Forces* Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA, A Team, small team) partnered with a Nigerien Special Forces team were ambushed along the Niger-Mali border.  The Green Berets, from 3rd Special Forces Group, were conducting a Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission. Foreign Internal Defense is defined in Joint Publication 3-22/Foreign Internal Defense as:

Foreign internal defense (FID) is the participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization, to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to their security. The focus of US FID efforts is to support the host nation’s (HN’s) internal defense and development (IDAD), which can be described as the full range of measures taken by a nation to promote its growth and protect itself from the security threats described above.

Derek Gannon has provided excellent coverage over at SOFREP. Including a powerful op-ed. But it was this point that he made that I found the most thought provoking:

Gannon’s reporting brings us back to one of the points I made in May when discussing plans to send an additional 4,000 or so troops to Afghanistan:

… the conventional Army can’t do much more than what it is actually doing. And neither can the Air Force or the Navy or Special Forces. Eventually something will have to give. Either the US will have to adjust its national security strategy expectations down so they are in line with the ways and means available/likely to be available or it will have to adjust the ways and means available up so they are in line with our national security strategy expectations and obligations. Given that the US is the only country to ever cut taxes, twice, while waging two wars, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to increase our means in any significant manner. To do so would require actually increasing Federal revenue, which is anathema to the GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate, as well as movement conservative and Republican party orthodoxy.

What Gannon reported in regard to US Army Africa and US Africa Command’s inability to provide close air support (CAS) and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) by air isn’t just confined to US Special Forces operating in Niger. US Army Africa has one, let me repeat that, ONE brigade combat team allocated to it. Currently it is the 1st Brigade Combat Team/101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), also known as the 327th Infantry Regiment or “Bastogne”. That brigade, approximately 4,500 to 5,000 Soldiers (if it is at full readiness) garrisoned at Ft. Campbell, KY is usually broken up to conduct a number of advise, assist, train, and support missions as tasked by US Army Africa. It is supplemented by small teams of Soldiers from a variety of state National Guard elements as every state National Guard has foreign country partners. This is not a new development, rather it is how US Army Africa has been organized since its inception. The only other brigade combat team that the US Army Africa commander has at his command is the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which is allocated to the Southern European Task Force, which is the other command that the US Army Africa commander is dual hatted to run**. They are the rapid reaction force for US Army Europe and the Southern European Task Force, as well as for US Army Africa. However, they are garrisoned in Vicenza, Italy, which is also the home station for US Army Africa and the Southern European Task Force.

It has recently been reported, however, that the 173rd is struggling to meet and maintain readiness as a result of technological changes and as a result may not be able to successfully fulfill its mission set:

But the assessment details a series of “capability gaps” the unit has identified during recent training with Ukrainian troops with experience battling Russian-backed separatists, who have used cheap drones and electronic warfare tools to pinpoint targets for artillery barrages and devastated government armored vehicles with state-of-the-art Russian antitank missiles.

Some of the shortfalls, like the brigade’s lack of air defense and electronic warfare units and over-reliance on satellite communications and GPS navigation systems, are the direct results of the Army’s years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy has no air power or other high-end equipment and technology.

“The lessons we learned from our Ukrainian partners were substantial. It was a real eye-opener on the absolute need to look at ourselves critically,” Col. Gregory Anderson, who commissioned the report earlier this year during his stint as the brigade’s commander, told POLITICO after it had obtained a copy of the report. “We felt compelled to write about our experiences and pass on what we saw and learned.”

The reason that this is important and the reason it has to do with the four dead Green Berets last week is one more indicator that the ends, ways, and means of the US military are way out of balance. The US military is currently designed to be expeditionary. To be forward based and forward deployed to help positively shape the 21st Century operating environment and various areas of responsibility through a variety of missions. A lot of these missions are military to military partnering. Foreign Internal Defense, advise and assist, train, equip, as well as military to civilian development (National Guard engineering teams partnering with host country elements to build or refit infrastructure ), humanitarian assistance (Civil Affairs and other units conducting medical and veterinary operations, etc) and military to military and military to civilian diplomacy. These four Soldiers killed in action continues to hammer home that despite what we’re spending on the US military we’re still unable to properly sustain operations. The inability to provide close air support or casualty evacuation by air when troops are in contact with hostile forces is inexcusable. This isn’t the US Army Africa or the Special Operations Command Africa Commanders faults per se. They have been given missions to carry out. They also have not been provided with the appropriate resources to support those missions. Eventually these two things are going to be in conflict. Unfortunately it happened eight days ago and involved four dead Green Berets, as well as a number of our Nigerien partners.

This is an ends, ways, means out of alignment problem. It has contributed to three collisions and one grounding over the past year in the 7th Fleet, which is the Navy’s most active command. Tired, overworked Sailors are going to make mistakes. And they have.

This isn’t an argument for more defense spending, rather it is an acknowledgement that given what we’re spending we’re not getting optimum outcomes. Some of this is that US Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps aviators have been at war continuously since 1991. Some of it is that the tooth (combat elements) to tail (support elements) needs to be reapportioned. I’m not nocking all the hard working uniformed and civilian personnel doing acquisitions, logistics, combat arms support, sustainment, garrison/home station operations and installation management, medical, dental, and veterinary services, etc. If they go away then the combat elements are going to be in even worse shape. But right now we appear to have too little operational capability and capacity to do what is necessary. Eventually something will have to give. Either the US force posture, the idea of being expeditionary and using the US military to proactively shape the global operating environment will have to be reconsidered and reconceptualized or the ways and means provided will have to be adjusted accordingly. If we can’t provide close air support and casualty evacuation to a 12 man ODA and their host country partners in contact with hostile forces in Niger, then we have a problem. And that problem is only going to get bigger and worse as long as the discussion of what the US military is for, how it should be structured to achieve the objectives set for it, and how we pay to do that gets punted from one continuing resolution to another and from one waiver of the Budget Control Act to the next. Regardless of how one feels about what the US military is doing or should be doing, the ambush in Niger is a major signal that we have a problem. And this problem is bigger than just what the US military is tasked to do and how it is resourced to do it.

* Special Forces (SF) specifically refers to the US Army’s Green Berets. All other US special operations elements are referred to as Special Operations Forces (SOF).

** US Army Africa is technically a build out and restructuring of the Southern European Task Force. Hence the US Army African commander being dual hatted as the Southern European Task Force commander.



Always Do Your Homework: Floriduh Man Edition

Proper planning (is supposed to) prevents piss poor performance.

A Florida man who googled “how to rob a bank” was arrested after authorities say he did just that.

William Joe Johnson, 26, was arrested Monday in the Oct. 5 robbery of an Achieva Credit Union in Largo, near Tampa, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office officials said.

Authorities say Johnson approached a bank teller, implied he had a gun and demanded cash. The teller gave him money and he fled the bank, officials said.

Detectives were able to identify Johnson as the suspect, and found him at an Express Inn, where he was taken into custody, officials said.

Johnson told detectives he needed money so he googled “how to rob a bank,” authorities said. He said he planned to rob a different bank but changed his mind when he discovered the teller was a large male, authorities said.

Johnson said he used the money he stole to pay his rent, utilities, and go on a drug binge, authorities said. The money ran out and he had planned to rob another bank but was arrested before he could, authorities said.

Authorities charged Johnson with one count of robbery. Attorney information wasn’t available.

Open thread!

Also, Largo is between St. Petersberg and Clearwater. It’s across the bay from Tampa. I realize this was a Miami station doing the report, but that’s like saying Pembroke Pines is near Miami Beach.



Everyone Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep: All is Well. Sort of. Maybe…

As they say in the Ranger Regiment: “That’s a technique!”

Edited for Clarification:

It is important to remember that Sherman is relating what he has been told by a senior Republican in DC about what that individual believes to knows the discussions have been. But that people are speculating that this might happen is an important indicator of just how bad the problem is.

I got nothing!



Cyber Warfare, Asymmetric Advantage, and Limiting Factors

According to The BBC the DPRK successfully hacked the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Defense. This includes contingency plans developed with the US.

Hackers from North Korea are reported to have stolen a large cache of military documents from South Korea, including a plan to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Rhee Cheol-hee, a South Korean lawmaker, said the information was from his country’s defence ministry.

The compromised documents include wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.

They also include reports to the allies’ senior commanders.

The South Korean defence ministry has so far refused to comment about the allegation.

Plans for the South’s special forces were reportedly accessed, along with information on significant power plants and military facilities in the South.

This type of cyber warfare, specifically an act of espionage in the cyber domain, provides the DPRK with an asymmetric informational advantage. This advantage creates a limiting factor for the ROK, the US, and their allies in attempting to deter the DPRK’s actions and activities. A limiting factor is defined in Joint Publication 1-2/Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms as:

A factor or condition that, either temporarily or permanently, impedes mission accomplishment. (from Joint Publication 5-0/Joint Operational Planning)

If the reports about this hack are correct, the US’s military options, which were already constrained by the physical and human geography of the Korean peninsula, have now been further narrowed by enemy action. While US military planning is continuously updated with plans and sequels being adjusted as needed, they are usually based on a consensus understanding of the potential operating environment. This includes an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise from everything from the political to infrastructure to the geography of where the US may have to deploy military forces. What the DOD planners will have to do now is go back and review the consensus that the contingency plans were based on to determine if they have the operational space to develop new plans for the same potential operating environment that both achieve the same strategic effects and are significantly different enough to neutralize the asymmetric information advantage that the DPRK now has.