The IDF that Eisenkot leaves behind is ready; The test of Kochavi will be to prove it is capable | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

 Series of reports issued by the IDF Ombudsman, Gen. Brick, the IDF Comptroller and the Knesset's Subcommittee on Preparedness, found gaps in the IDF's readiness for war. Under Gen. Eisenkot the military is more prepared, but it’s prudent to listen to Brick too, before the storm comes

In 2002, the US military conducted its "Millennium Challenge" exercise. Considered the greatest exercise in modern military history, its goal was to test the readiness of the American military and develop new tactics and weapons against the outlines of confrontations that American forces would encounter.

The Blue team represented the American forces, while the Red team, the enemy, represented the army of a Middle Eastern state whose identity was not defined. The Red team was commanded by retired Gen. Paul Van Riper, a decorated Marine officer who chose to challenge the planners and exploited the weaknesses of the opposing force one by one. The force under his command launched many surface-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles against the Blue team’s Navy and sank 13 ships. In an original step, the communications of the Red team relied on emissaries mounted on motorcycles that conveyed messages from the main headquarters to its decentralized forces in a way that prevented the "Blue" force from monitoring it and anticipating its actions. This method proved that the basic assumptions on which the American military built its strength and prepared for present and future conflicts were problematic.

Due to the success of the Red team, the commanders of the exercise dictated new rules to Van Ripper that would restrain him and ensure the success of the Blue team. Looking back, it seems that the person who chose him as commander of the Red team simply did not know him. In 1969, as commander of a Marine Rifle Company in Vietnam, Van Ripper led an attack on a fortified objective held by a North Vietnamese battalion. At the end of the battle, the objective was captured, and the Marine Company he led killed 60 enemy soldiers. Van Ripper, who won the Silver Star for his courage, did not give up then, and over the years he seemed to remain as determined. He abandoned the exercise and criticized it in the media.

This story came to mind in the face of the harsh criticism voiced by the IDF Ombudsman, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, about the IDF’s readiness for the next confrontation. Brick, who fought bravely as a tank company commander in the Yom Kippur War, seems as determined now in the confrontation he initiated with the IDF as he was on the Sinai battlefields in 1973. In the past six months since he published his last report as a commissioner, Brick has been conducting a publicized confrontation with the IDF’s senior command. He claims that the IDF, with an emphasis on the ground forces, is not prepared for the next war. Among other things, he stated that the IDF failed to persuade good officers to remain in the army for long-term careers. In addition, he said that the organizational culture is wrong and includes increasing use of the WhatsApp app and as a tool for commanders to communicate with their subordinates ("In war, WhatsApp won’t work," he once said). Brick also found that there is a problem in implementing combat systems in reserve units, including the new command and control system, the Digital Land Army).

Since this is the "last ride" of the veteran commander, it is clear that he wants to give it meaning. Another explanation is that Brick was burned by the lessons of the difficult war that he experienced 45 years ago, and he intends to do everything possible to make sure Israel will "not be caught unprepared again."

The IDF, for its part, claims that during Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s tenure as chief of staff, the IDF has been training much more. Within the framework of the multi-year plan, the Gideon unit underwent a real reform in the ground forces (and in the reserve units) and the readiness of the units was defined as a high priority, even at the expense of strengthening and purchasing. Under Eisenkot (himself a former Golani infantry brigade commander), the infantry brigades switched to a better training model and there is a process to upgrade the capabilities of brigade combat teams to operate in a more coordinated and effective manner. In addition, the Commando Brigade was established, which upgraded the IDF’s ability to operate deep inside the enemy’s territory.

The IDF’s claim that it is prepared is justifiable, although it is always possible to be more prepared. In the last four years, the IDF has built three armies – the Border Defense Forces, the Reserve force and the Attack force – each with its designated components at different levels of competence. The question that should be asked is whether the processes that have taken place over the past four years have brought the army – the regular army and the reserves – to a level of sufficient and even optimal preparedness for the next confrontations.

The answer to this question must take into account many factors, including the fact that time, money and manpower are limited, that there are operational constraints with which the army is constantly dealing, and that the situation obliges the army to prioritize units, projects and even arenas. Given these and other parameters, the IDF is in a better state than it was before the summer of 2014. But with regard to the ground forces, much improvement is needed. Following the ombudsman review, the IDF comptroller and the Knesset’s Subcommittee for Preparedness have produced reports that found gaps in the IDF’s readiness, yet nevertheless stated that the IDF is ready for the next war. However, despite the fact that Brick sounded like a prophet of rage, it’s prudent to listen to him too, before the storm comes.

It can be said that Eisenkot dealt with building strength and readiness, and that his successor, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, will have to instill in the commanders the sense of capability. The belief is that they can act and overcome, even when dealing with ground maneuvers deep into enemy territory, many kilometers from the border. This is not a unique problem for the IDF; the US military is facing it as well. Former secretary of defense James Mattis and chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Danford, both Marine generals, have also done much in the field of force buildup. The next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (if authorized by the Senate), Gen. Mark Milley, a paratrooper and Special Forces officer, will face the same challenge as the Israeli chief of staff.

Almost two decades ago, Kochavi, the 35th paratroopers brigade commander, stood out among a small group of determined field commanders who, during the Second Intifada, broadcast to the senior political and military echelon that they are ready for any challenge – including fighting in Palestinian refugee camps and crowded urban areas. Kochavi’s challenge is to raise a generation of field commanders like the one he was part of.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", January 1, 2019)

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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)

General Mattis: a Warrior Diplomat/ By Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Mattis can restrain the president-elect and prevent him from dismantling the American system in the name of anti-establishment

Two weeks ago President-elect Donald Trump chose USMC General (ret.) James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as his secretary of defense. Unlike Israel the United States has a tradition of appointing a civilian as secretary of defense, to ensure civilian oversight of the military. If Mattis is approved by the Senate he will be the first general to hold the position since George Marshall in the ‘50s.

The desire to appoint a civilian stems from the fact that the main role of the secretary of defense isn’t to command troops in the field – the Unified Combatant Command as well as the national security adviser and the president are responsible for that. The primary function of the secretary of defense is to shape the military strategy and the defense force buildup of the United States. Therefore his business is the civil context of the military, including the size of the military budget, and the interface with the defense industries and the House of Representatives.

These are issues that the American public must engage with, and not the military and its senior commanders.

When a person has served as a soldier for over 30 years, we can assume that, as the saying goes, he will sit where he stands. His mindset, the focus of his work and his expertise will be on military action. In Israel, for example, some of the former senior military officers who served as defense minister wrongly thought the defense minister was a representative of the military in the government and not the government supervisor of the military. Nevertheless, the appointment of General Mattis is extraordinary.

In the book The March Up (Bantam, 2003) written by Francis “Bing” West and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Ray Smith, USMC, they describe the famed 1st Marine Division’s march on Baghdad.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom they acquired an SUV and joined the unit that was spearheading the assault. They described the division commander, Gen. James Mattis, as a “Marine’s Marine,” and wrote that “Mattis’s life, not merely his career, had centered on command in the field. He had a remarkable record of infantry leadership: a rifle platoon; a rifle company; an infantry battalion like Conlin’s; an infantry regiment; and a Navy-Marine Task Force” (page 18). In 2001, as the commander of that task force, “Mattis had taken a reinforced battalion 800 kilometers from ships in the Indian Ocean to a dirt airstrip in Afghanistan – no small feat” (page 78).

Despite the fact that the authors served in Vietnam as Marine infantry officers and were experienced in all aspects of combat “from the ground up,” they were impressed by Mattis, who commanded his division in a swift and aggressive manner that reminded many of the way general Patton led his troops in WWII (Marines will probably prefer to compare him to USMC Gen. “Chesty” Puller).

Mattis’s 1st Marine Division had feinted and slashed through six Iraqi divisions and, ignoring orders to slow down, had seized the eastern half of Baghdad weeks ahead of schedule.

MATTIS LED Marines into combat against a changing enemy, from insurgents to regular army formations in the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq, and was awarded a bronze star for valor. Though Mattis appears to be what is known in the IDF as a plain, outspoken “Golanchick” (member of the Golani Brigade), he is actually an avid student of warfare who understands geopolitical strategy as well as the new trends in the battlefield. As the commander of US Central Command he was also an important diplomatic representative of the US administration in the Middle East.

He opposed the nuclear agreement with Iran, which he saw as a major threat to regional stability, and criticized the Israeli settlement enterprise as an obstacle to peace.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, USMC Gen. Joseph Dunford, as well as USMC Gen. John F. Kelly, selected by President-elect Trump for the position of Secretary of Homeland Security, served under Mattis during the campaign in Iraq. West and Smith wrote that Dunford “was the commander most apt to pick up on Mattis’s invitation to offer alternatives to the division’s planned scheme of maneuver. His regiment, with more than a thousand vehicles and six thousand men, had been the division’s Main Effort since crossing the Euphrates” (page 135). That campaign, as well as the fighting in Fallujah, formed a close comradeship between the three officers. As such Mattis will probably refrain from becoming Dunford’s boot-camp drill instructor and work closely with him.

As someone who understands the limits of power, the importance of the US’s relationships with its allies, the need for proper planning and preparations and the importance of a responsible and restrained strategy, both domestically and internationally, Mattis can restrain the president-elect and prevent him from dismantling the American system in the name of anti-establishment. Mattis very well may be the responsible adult in the room.

Before embarking for the campaign in Iraq Mattis posted a letter to 1st Marine Division which ends with the phrase: “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a US Marine.” As a senior member of President-elect Trump’s cabinet, Mattis will probably try to implement exactly that policy.

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", December 12, 2016)

Back to the ground?\ by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

American and Kurdish special forces recently raided a building in Iraq where the Islamic State group was holding about 70 hostages it had threatened to execute. American Delta Force commandos took the kidnappers by surprise and completed their mission to free the hostages. In a previous raid last May in the village of al-Amar in eastern Syria, Delta commandos killed Abu Sayyaf, a senior ISIS commander, along with several other ISIS operatives. Following a brief firefight the commando force was exfiltrated via helicopter and flown to a base in Iraq.

These operations are directly in line with U.S. President Barack Obama's preferred method of applying force — pinpoint attacks with drones and special forces, while avoiding at all costs the use of ground forces on a large scale. Along with the aforementioned Delta operations, we can count Operation Neptune Spear in Pakistan, during which U.S. Navy Seals killed al-Qaida leader Osama Bin-Laden; the rescue of hostages in Somalia; and pinpoint assassinations with drones in Yemen.

In September, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford was appointed chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford began his career as an infantry officer, and he earned the nickname "Fighting Joe" when he led the Marines' 5th Regimental Combat Team during the 2003 Iraq invasion. His appointment could signal a return of regional ground operations against ISIS.

Budding signs of this possible policy shift could be found in Dunford's most recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, when he said it was certainly possible the U.S. could deploy ground troops to fight alongside Iraqi soldiers against ISIS. Dunford, however, said he would only recommend such a measure if it were to have a "strategic influence" on the campaign against ISIS in Iraq. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter reiterated this approach when he informed the Senate of increased U.S. military activity against ISIS. According to the White House, some 50 special forces commandos will be deployed to help the rebels fighting ISIS in Syria. These soldiers will coordinate efforts between local militias and the U.S.-led international coalition. Additionally, a reinforcement of America's air fleet operating out of İncirlik, Turkey, is also in the works.

The hesitation within the U.S. military's high command is understandable, because in a war such as this there are no magic solutions. Initiating a large ground maneuver could spell success on the battlefield; as such a force would pose a counterweight to ISIS in Iraq. The ground maneuver, however, as we learned during our Operation Protective Edge, is only the beginning. The forces, from the moment they enter the fray, become vulnerable to roadside bombs, sniper fire, anti-tank missiles and mortars. All these threats are familiar to American troops from their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, in the words of one former IDF general, you can't see the movie without paying for the ticket.

During the Cold War, NATO officers would tell an old joke about a meeting between two Soviet tank commanders after conquering Paris at the end of World War III. "By the way," one commander asks his comrade, "who won the air war?" Wars, as insinuated by the joke, are won on the ground. Devoid of an aggressive approach toward ISIS, as exemplified by the Marines' 2010 assault on the town of Marja in Afghanistan, the group will inevitably continue to grow.

Gal Perl Finkel is a former research assistant at the Institute for National Security Studies and operates the blog "Al Hakevenet" (In the Crosshairs).

(The article was published in "israelhayom", November 8, 2015)