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.



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.



Sillamäe Again

 

Here’s a light but crabby post for a Saturday. Fits my mood.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Sillamäe, Estonia, and more thinking about it. So when a publication screws up the facts, I feel a need to respond.

This time, it’s Atlas Obscura doing a remarkable job of stuffing errors into a short article. Read more



Russiagate Open Thread: BUT **THEIR** EMAILS…

Look, I’m as dismissive of the DISTRACTION! theories as any other cynic, but it’s been a really bad week for Donald Trump, by Donald Trump’s standards. The optics — the only measure he understands — have ranged from ‘just terrible’ to ‘super-duper sucky, even by this loser’s degraded standards’; formerly dependable kissups like Chris ‘Mad Bitcher’ Cillizza and Erick ‘Voice of the GOP Gated Community’ Erickson have gone so far as to express doubts on Twitter.

And it’s been even worse for the only other humans Donald Trump seems to sometimes care about, his daughter-wife Ivanka and her partner Jared (who Trump undoubtably considers the son he would’ve had, if not for the base treachery & failure of the human broodmare who birthed DJTJr and Whats-His-Name). Since Robert Mueller III is not a man to be hustled into premature disclosures by breaking news reports, we aren’t liable to know for some time just how bad the latest multiple reports on Javanka’s slack email security will be judged, but a less connected couple would certainly have been asked to turn over their passports and warned about the consequences of destroying evidence…

The accounts would have been more secure if they relied on commercial email providers. It is unclear what they did. “If you’re using a commercial email service provider, you’re really reducing the risk,” according to Lewis, because the major tech companies that run platforms like Gmail and Outlook typically have robust security teams. “If you’re doing your own email, it gets to be a lot easier [to hack],” he added.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last week that White House staff had been told to stick to its government email accounts. “All White House personnel have been instructed to use official email to conduct all government-related work,” Sanders said. “They are further instructed that if they receive work-related communication on personal accounts, they should be forwarded to official email accounts.”

[Now, if only the Kushners were ‘WH personnel’, which they keep telling us they’re not…]

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to White House counsel last week requesting more information about the use of private email addresses by White House staff….


Read more



Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Congratulations, Mr. Dale!

U.S. President Donald Trump set a new personal record for most false claims in a week. And it was partly because he couldn’t stop repeating a made-up story about a senator being “in the hospital.”…

It turned out that he was talking about Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who was at home recovering from a urological issue — and very much did not want the president to falsely tell the world that he was in the hospital…

Trump also made multiple inaccurate statements about the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico, about his tax reform plan, and about the National Football League. All together, he has now made 653 false claims over 256 days in office — an average of 2.6 false claims per day.

Trump has proven uniquely willing to lie, exaggerate and mislead. By all expert accounts, he is more frequently inaccurate than any of his predecessors…

[Bolding per source]

Correct me if I am wrong, but blocking Dale on Twitter won’t keep him from seeing Trump’s posts. Dale can go to twitter.com, type in @realdonaldtrump, and the whole timeline will unfold before him. (Heck, I can see them, and I’m not even on Twitter.)

But it means that Trump won’t see Dale’s tweets any more. Like an old dumb dog who doesn’t want to be yelled at for soiling the rug, so he hides his head under a blanket and assumes you won’t see his flabby yellow butt sticking out…

At least Trump hasn’t yet declared war on Canada, either because nobody’s told him Toronto is not part of the United States, or because he can’t find it on his ‘who should I insult next’ map.
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Apart from the increasing disconnection between the Oval Office Occupant and reality — THANKS, REPUBS! — what’s on the agenda for the day?
.

Americans are increasingly confident in the news media and less so in President Donald Trump’s administration after a tumultuous year in U.S. politics that tested the public’s trust in both institutions, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

The poll of more than 14,300 people found that the percentage of adults who said they had a “great deal” or “some” confidence in the press rose to 48 percent in September from 39 percent last November. Earlier this year, Trump branded the entire industry as the “enemy of the American people.”

The percentage of those who said they had “hardly any” confidence in the press dropped to 45 percent from 51 percent over the same period.

Confidence in Trump’s administration moved in the opposite direction…



Russiagate Open Thread: Meanwhile…

To quote Mr. Cohen, staying on message, “Says who?”

Associates of President Trump and his company have turned over documents to federal investigators that reveal two previously unreported contacts from Russia during the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

In one case, Trump’s personal attorney and a business associate exchanged emails weeks before the Republican National Convention about the lawyer possibly traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladi­mir Putin, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

In the other case, the same Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, received a proposal in late 2015 for a Moscow residential project from a company founded by a billionaire who once served in the upper house of the Russian parliament, these people said. The previously unreported inquiry marks the second proposal for a Trump-branded Moscow project that was delivered to the company during the presidential campaign and has since come to light.

Cohen declined the invitation to the economic conference, citing the difficulty of attending so close to the GOP convention, according to people familiar with the matter. And Cohen rejected the Moscow building plan.

Nonetheless, the information about the interactions has been provided to congressional committees as well as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as they investigate whether Trump associates coordinated with Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election, according to people familiar with the inquiries who, like others cited in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the inquiry…

…[T]he new disclosures add to an emerging picture in which Trump’s business and campaign were repeatedly contacted by Russians with interests in business and politics. Trump’s son, his son-in-law, his campaign chairman, low-level foreign policy advisers and, now, Cohen, one of his closest business confidants, all fielded such inquiries in the weeks before or after Trump accepted the nomination.

The documents also underscore the Trump company’s long-standing interest in doing business in Moscow.

In a statement Monday, Cohen stressed that he did not attend the economic forum. “I did not accept this invitation,” he said. “I have never been to Russia.”…

Information, according to the article, provided by Felix Sater. There’s an old training joke about a dog being “extremely loyal”, meaning “too dumb not to comply even with a bad command, also too dumb to get themselves out of the mess they get into by complying”
******

Paul Manafort, on the other hand: Probably not that kind of loyal, because he’s made a rich living working for Very Bad Dudes for quite a long time:

He wasn’t getting paid by the Trump campaign, but he’s not the sort of guy takes on a job “for free”.