Win the close fight/ By Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to ‘clear/hold/build’ even as the ‘hold’ stage stretched for months, and then years

Similar to the way Israel stands against Hamas and Hezbollah, hybrid organizations that combine terrorist, guerrilla and military elements into one entity, the United States is conducting a campaign against Islamic State (ISIS). Although the organization suffered a defeat in the battle for Mosul, it is far from disappearing from the stage.

In an article he wrote in 2014, retired US general Daniel Bolger, who rose through the ranks of the Army infantry units and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, admitted (with uncommon integrity) that the US, himself included, is losing in the war against terrorism. The US, he wrote, “did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to ‘clear/hold/build’ even as the ‘hold’ stage stretched for months, and then years.”

That strategy was wrong and, as he points out, the American people had never signed up for this sort of war. According to Bolger the Surge strategy “in Iraq did not ‘win’ anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves.” In the meantime the enemy, terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida, just let the attrition war take its toll, knowing that in the end the price would be too high and the US would back away. It happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and one can assume that ISIS expects that the US will not commit its forces a third time.

Bolger is not the only critic of the way the US fights its wars. Retired colonel Douglas A. Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran who has spent most of his career in the US Army Armored Branch, and like his comrade in arms Lt.-Gen. “H. R.” McMaster (the new national security adviser) fought in the Battle of 73 Easting during the Gulf War. While he was in uniform, and even more so after his retirement, he published several books about the much needed reform in the US ground forces.

In his book Transformation under Fire (Praeger, 2003), he stated that the way the US military prepares for its present challenges reminds him of “the attitudes prevalent in the post-Civil War army. Instead of adapting tactics, equipment, and organization to cope with the Native American enemy, each Indian campaign was treated as though it were the last because the army wanted to refight the Civil War, not fight Native Americans on the western frontier. Ironically, when the Spanish-American war broke out, the US army was no more ready than it had been to fight the Confederate Army at Bull Run” (Page 14). Much the same thing can also be said about the IDF land forces’ readiness for the Second Lebanon War and operations in the Gaza Strip.

In a recent testimony he gave to the Air-Land Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Macgregor said that in order “to terminate future conflicts on terms that favor the United States and avoid long, destructive wars of attrition, the US armed forces must combine the concentration of massive firepower across service lines with the near-simultaneous attack of ground maneuver forces in time and space to achieve decisive effects against opposing forces.” That statement sounded like it was taken from the IDF strategy published by IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizenkot in 2015.

In a war, Macgregor emphasized, one cannot conduct the fighting from afar, using only air power, artillery and precision-guided munitions. To achieve a decisive outcome, or at least a more clear and concrete achievement, one must maintain presence on the ground. In his book, Macgregor cites former IDF general Doron Almog, who said that if one loses “the close fight… the rest is irrelevant” (Page 227). Almog, who in 1982 led the 35th Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion through heavy fighting against PLO insurgents and the Syrian army in Lebanon, knew what he was talking about.

Macgregor wondered if the strategic impact would have been different if the US had chosen to deploy ground forces on several occasions.

“Would the introduction of a robust strike force of Army Rangers into the target area where [al-Qaida] forces were identified in 1998 have enticed [al-Qaida] into a fight with US forces that they could not have possibly won?” (Page 66). Such an attack was carried out on October 2001, when 200 Rangers of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, the army’s elite light infantry, led by then-colonel Joseph Votel, parachuted toward an airfield south of Kandahar and attacked several Taliban targets. The purpose, according to Votel, was “to go in there and basically conduct an airfield assessment, to destroy the Taliban forces that were operating in that area and to gather information for intelligence use.” During the raid, as Macgregor predicted, the forces hardly encountered any resistance.

Votel is now commander of US Central Command. As such, he is the general who commands US troops in the war against ISIS, under which Ranger and Marine units were recently deployed to Syria to support preparations for the fight for Raqqa. Therefore he must, as Bolger warned, make sure that the enemy’s logic and formations are clear, and form a plan that includes boots on the ground. It should be very similar to what Macgregor suggested, and in accordance with IDF strategy, that states: “A combined, immediate and simultaneous strike, using two basic components: the first – immediate maneuver, to harm the enemy, conquer territory, reduce the use of fire from the conquered area, seize and destroy military infrastructure, and affect the enemy’s regime survivability. The second – extensive strategic-fire campaign, based on aerial freedom of action and high-quality intelligence.” US forces, along with the local Syrian forces, cannot afford to lose the close fight on the ground.

The author is the coordinator of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and the founder and operator of the blog “In the Crosshairs” on military, security vision, strategy and practice.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", March 21, 2017)

US national security adviser faces challenges at home and abroad/ By Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Gen. McMaster will have to familiarize himself with all these challenges quickly, with a much broader perspective than the one he perhaps had in the past

President Donald Trump chose Lt.Gen. Herbert Raymond “H.R.”McMaster as his new national security adviser. The appointment saga has become a complex issue, especially after it became clear that the candidate the president wanted, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL with a distinguished career in the special operations community, turned Trump down.

Harward turned the offer down supposedly due to personal reasons, but according to CNN a friend of Harward’s said that since his condition of choosing his own team was not met, he considered the job a “shit sandwich.” Although the choice to go with McMaster is a very reasonable one in light of his impressive career, it is worth noting that since he is still on active duty he couldn’t say no to the job.

General Herbert Raymond McMaster has spent most of his career in the US Army Armored Branch. During the Gulf War he led the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment Eagle Troop at the Battle of 73 Easting. Though surprised by the enemy and significantly outnumbered, McMaster’s nine tanks destroyed over 80 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks and other vehicles without loss. McMaster was awarded the Silver Star. Before becoming national security adviser his most recent position was deputy commanding general of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Throughout his service he has excelled in developing theoretical knowledge, formulating strategy and understanding political processes. McMaster, who holds a PhD in American history, wrote a book that explored the military’s role in the policies of the Vietnam War, and it’s widely read in Pentagon circles.

The decision to leave Gen. Keith Kellogg in his position as chief of staff of the National Security Council is a sound one. Kellogg fought in the Vietnam War as reconnaissance platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division (and like McMaster was awarded the Silver Star). Later on he commanded the 82nd Airborne Division and held a leading position in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2004.

Unlike McMaster he is by now familiar with the civilian world, and other aspects of foreign policy, and will be there to help McMaster learn the ropes.

McMaster is a soldier’s soldier. However the position of national security adviser is much more comprehensive.

Stephen J. Hadley, national security adviser under president George W. Bush, wrote an article that defines the job description of the office. According to him the adviser must staff and support the president in his constitutional role in national security and foreign policy, and advocate and advance presidential initiatives within the executive branch. The adviser must also coordinate “those important or consequential initiatives and policies that require the concerted effort of multiple departments and agencies to achieve a presidential objective,” and inject a sense of strategy into the interagency process.

Finally he must explain the president’s policies to the public.

Hadley summarized the way it should be carried out. According to him the adviser should be an “Honest Broker,” which means he must run a “fair and transparent process for bringing issues to the President for decision,” and to maintain a “level playing field” in which ideas and views can compete with one another on an equal basis. The adviser must bring all the national security principals to table as full participants in the policy process. The adviser must “Make sure the national security organizational structure and the interagency process are meeting the President’s needs and evolve over time.”

Hadley also pointed out a few minefields the adviser should stay away from such as inserting himself between the president and the principal cabinet secretaries and agency heads, or undermining national security colleagues with the president. The adviser must always put the president at the center of the decision making process, for he is the “decider.” Therefore the adviser should keep a low public profile and operate generally off stage, and always accept responsibility for his actions.

Two main challenges await the next national security adviser: the political arena and global affairs. The current political atmosphere in Washington, DC, is poisons. The Flynn debacle showed that those who oppose the Trump administration will stop at nothing to achieve their agenda including leaking highly classified documents. McMaster will have found himself in the eye of this political storm the minute his name was announced. Things in Washington appear to be so bad that during a recent military conference Gen. Raymond Thomas, the commander of the Special Operations Command and a former Army Ranger who has two combat jumps (Grenada and Panama), stated that “our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war.”

In the international arena, McMaster inherited a mess. Russia annexing Crimea undermined the world order.

Iran, Russia and China continue to harass US military forces with impunity and immunity. The lack of Western response to the Russian provocation emboldened Russia and encouraged Russian President Vladimir Putin to spread throughout the Middle East.

Putin allied himself with Assad’s regime in Syria and took an active role in fighting the regime’s opposition.

The Syrian and Russian armies carry out the most serious war crimes in a generation, indiscriminately bombing civilians and hospitals.

China continues its march throughout the South China Sea claiming territory it does not own in international waters, while increasing its military spending and developing weapons that undermine the US advantage in the Pacific theater. Iran is on a slow but steady course to obtain nuclear weapons. By signing the nuclear deal Iran improved its financial situation, hence it was able to enhance its efforts at exporting revolution and sign new weapons purchasing agreement with both Russia and China.

Iran has increased its ballistic missile development program and performs (in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions) more ballistic missile tests than ever.

North Korea also continues its nuclear weapons development and tests its intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities.

In addition there’s the war on terrorism. Islamic State (ISIS) has killed thousands and operates in 18 countries around the Middle East and central Asia. In Afghanistan the Taliban is regaining old positions, causing mayhem and threatening the population and the central government.

Gen. McMaster will have to familiarize himself with all these challenges quickly, with a much broader perspective than the one he perhaps had in the past. Then he must form a national security policy that’s appropriate and relevant. Otherwise, someone will write a book about his term in office with a similar title to that he chose for his own book: Dereliction of Duty.

The author is the coordinator of the Military & Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", February 22, 2017)