Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sunshine Preparation: What Do Military Exercises Mean?

Chapter 5 of Army Field Manual 3-0 Operations discusses the U.S. Panamanian invasion entitled Operation Just Cause. The manual details what occurred on December 19, 1989 and December 20, 1989. It does not discuss how President Bush and the U.S. Army began preparations in May, 1989.

The 193rd Infantry Brigade was the main combat unit stationed near Panama City, Panama. This brigade conducted training exercises code-named Aca,!A"Sand FleaAca,!A?. This included military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) training and live-fire exercises. Makeshift buildings were constructed for the MOUT training. These training exercises were frequently conducted. Therefore, Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) became desensitized to U.S. troop’s movements. This assured Operation Just Cause would remain a surprise.

What types of training exercises is the U.S. conducting today? More importantly, why is the U.S. conducting certain exercises? The U.S. participated in Eager Lion, which was a joint Middle East exercise with 28 nations in 2019. Participants primarily included NATO and Middle East Allies. It consisted of theater movements on land, sea, air, and simulated electronic and cyber threats. This exercise in Jordan was the largest Middle East military exercise to date and consisted of nearly 8,000 individuals. Notable U.S. groups included the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Marines with India Company, and a landing from the U.S. Navy USS Boxer. Additionally, U.S. Special Operations Forces participated in Eager Lion in August and September.

Escalating U.S. and Iranian tensions has made many wonder if additional hostilities will arise. China, Russia, and Iran recently held joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman. Only time will tell if these joint exercises are part of a larger strategic operation.


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

An Intractable Failure: US Forces in Afghanistan

The War in Afghanistan infamously entered its eighteenth year this past September. The reality of the situation on the ground, however, is remarkably similar to that of 2001. Yes, the Taliban regime “fell”  - and yet, insurgent terrorism is a persistent threat. The Afghan government remains incredibly unstable and the quality of life for average Afghan citizens has risen only marginally. Remarkably, the Taliban is also legitimate to the extent that Trump’s administration engaged in (failed) diplomatic negotiations with their representatives for months in 2019.

How did eighteen years of active American military force in Afghanistan result in such a stubborn predicament? A clear answer has yet to be defined, but the ineffectual employment of US forces certainly contributed to current problems. According to papers released by the Washington Post in late 2019, US forces distorted the truth for years about a war that had become unwinnable due to the fundamental dysfunction of US forces in the conflict.

Unintentional testament by officials quoted in the “Afghanistan Papers” depicts a military at once wholly aware of their shortcomings and entirely unable to rectify them. Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general, stated in 2015 that “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing. Three presidents presiding over the conflict – George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump – have been unable to deliver on promises to eradicate terrorism and establish a stable democracy. U.S. officials acknowledged their warfighting strategies to be fatally flawed. They further stated that “Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.”

The question facing government officials and the public now poses an intractable dilemma: withdrawal could enable further organized terrorist activity, but the possibility of remaining in the region indefinitely incurs increasing public ire. In both cases, Americans face a degree of failure atypical for US forces, directly resulting from an incoherent policy and failure of US forces to effectively eradiate the Taliban and other insurgent influences.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Is the US Army Bad at Shooting Guns?

Proficiency with small arms is a fundamental requirement for any land-based fighting force. Soldiers need to be able to shoot guns, and they need to be able to shoot them well enough to accomplish their mission.

But when examined together, a handful of recent decisions by the US Army may show that its marksmanship misses the target (pardon the pun). The Army has been seeking to replace the M-16 and M-4 rifles, examining possibilities with a 6-7mm round, which could promise improved accuracy. A new qualifications course for marksmanship debuted in Fall 2019. The standards for "marksman" and "sharpshooter" badges were also increased. "Marksman" requires 28 hits rather than 23, while "sharpshooter" requires 32 hits rather than 30. As early as 2016, you can find headlines that point to the idea that the Army's shooting may not be up to snuff.

It should also be noted that improving "Soldier Lethality" is also one of the Army's six current modernization priorities. That includes a focus on training and technology, but shooting skill could broadly be considered under that umbrella.

The Army is unlikely to state plainly that its soldiers have forgotten how to shoot. But these are the kind of steps you'd take if you felt your soldiers weren't effective shots.

It may be the case that the Army has spent years focused on deployments and less on training. Soldiers serving overseas have to know how to shoot, but may have less time to practice on the fundamentals. Similarly, athletes can improve by playing in games, but may improve more through structured training and practice.

Regardless, the Army didn't forget how to shoot overnight. It was likely a slow decay as knowledge and teaching ability left the force and attention was directed elsewhere. To start shooting straight again, it will take time and focused effort. 

US's lack of leadership creates opportunity for Russia & China

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As we head into this new year, the world must brace itself as it is becoming more obvious that the rules of the game are changing. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has led the international order with mostly no challengers; the rise of China, re-emergence of Russia, North Korea’s nuclear program, and Iran’s desire to obtain its nuclear arms are changing the landscape of international affairs.

Despite a few mistakes, the United States has led a mostly peaceful world order. It argued and fought for democracy around the world and has provided economic assistance to most impoverished nations. But things are changing. The rise of populism is present and alive, and the US is the prime example. The America first policies is headed towards isolation and creates a power vacuum in which the US’s rival, China & Russia can come in and exert influence. Donald Trump’s instability makes it hard for allies to rely on US coming to their aid, if they were attacked. For example, shortly before the G-20 summit last year, Trump expressed concern over the mutual defense treaty with Japan that was signed in 1951. He did not see any values to it and thought that it was mainly beneficial to Japan. Moreover, in his move to reach a nuclear agreement with North Korea, the Trump administration scaled back joint military exercises with South Korea.

What we’ve seen in the past year is our allies’ willingness to engage with our foe Russia. For instance, India decided to purchase the known Russian missile system, S-400 which is direct violation of American sanctions. On the same line, Turkey’s Erdogan and Saudi Arabia have also bought arms from the Russians. The US is no longer a player and the referee in the international order. They are a player just like Russia, China, Germany…perhaps a case could be made that the US is the most aggressive of them all. That said, we should work in concert with our allies and build a bigger coalition in order to maintain the world peace, expand democracy and economic opportunities for people around the world.