05 June 2009

Warthinker’s Digest - Issue #1

Warthinker's Digest is a feature of the Science of Global Security & Armed Conflict blog that scans the scholarly literature from academia, government agencies, and major think tanks, highlighting new reports and documents bearing on the complexity of conflict and future trends in warfare. A must-read feature for defense and security strategists from all sectors interested in honing their "actionable intellect."

The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis

Authors: Major Shahid Afsar, Pakistan Army; Major Chris Samples, U.S. Army; and Major Thomas Wood, U.S. Army Military Review, May-June 2008

The Taliban did not grow out of the dark overnight, nor was it unknown in the Middle East, the region of the world most severely affected after 9/11. Following its emergence in 1994 from madrassas, the Taliban achieved surprising victories over its enemies and assumed rule over much of Afghanistan. Simultaneously hailed as saviors and feared as oppressors, the Taliban were an almost mythical phenomenon that seemed to embody the very essence of Afghan cultural beliefs, especially revenge for transgression, hospitality for enemies, and readiness to die for honor. The Taliban knew the Afghan people and their ways and embedded themselves in the complex Afghan web of tribalism, religion, and ethnicity.

Despite their quick overthrow in 2002 by a small coalition of U.S. forces and anti-Taliban groups, the Taliban has not gone away. In fact, today, in the face of thousands of NATO and U.N. troops, a growing Afghan National Army (ANA), and a popularly elected government, the movement's influence in Afghanistan is increasing. It continues to wage an insurgency that has prevented the new government from establishing legitimacy, and it has created massive unrest in Pakistan. Clearly, it behooves us to know something more about this archaic but formidable enemy.

In this article Afsar, Samples, & Wood provide a thoughtful, yet practical, primer on the evolution and organization of the Taliban, addressing each of the following dimensions: History, Culture, Religion, Ethnicity, Organizational Resources (Religious Allies, Human Terrain, and Drug Revenue); Physical Terrain; Strategy; Structure (Leadership, Decision-Making, C2, Recruitment & Training, & Motivation); and its means of Securing the Future (Growth of coercive capabilities and of internal and external political influence).

You can read the full report HERE.

The Past and Present as Prologue: Future Warfare through the Lens of Contemporary Conflicts

Author: General Robert H. Scales

Center for a New American Security

Eight years of war have given the U.S. military an unparalleled opportunity to translate real war experience into a vision of how conflicts will be fought in the future. Getting a vision of the future more right than wrong depends on the military's ability to sift through experiences gathered from combat to discern those that will endure. This monograph seeks to do just that.

A key premise of this paper is that the United States' emerging national security strategy is right in postulating a future conflict environment dominated by irregular wars. For brevity, the paper concentrates on a few characteristics of future irregular wars that are likely to endure. For clarity, it parses the vision into the three classic levels of war; strategic, operational, and tactical. And for credibility, it concentrates on the ground dimension for two reasons: because Afghanistan and Iraq, like all irregular wars, are being fought principally on the ground and because the author's past intellectual endeavors and expertise have been in that dimension.

You can read the full report HERE.

Hybrid Threats: Reconceptualizing the Evolving Character of Modern Conflict

Author: Frank G. Hoffman

This essay describes the hybrid adversaries that employ a combination of capabilities to gain an asymmetric advantage in modern warfare. "America's ongoing battles in Afghanistan and Iraq have highlighted limitations in our understanding of the complexity of modern warfare. Furthermore, our cultural prism has retarded the institutionalization of capabilities needed to prevail in stabilization and counter-insurgency missions. An ongoing debate about future threats is often framed as a dichotomous choice between counterinsurgency and conventional war. This oversimplifies defense planning and resource allocation decisions. Instead of fundamentally different approaches, we should expect competitors who will employ all forms of war, perhaps simultaneously. Such multimodal threats are often called hybrid threats. Thus, the choice is not simply one of preparing for long-term stability operations or high-intensity conflict. We must be able to do both simultaneously against enemies far more ruthless than today's." This report compares and contrasts four competing perspectives of the hybrid threat and evaluates them for readiness and risk implications. "This risk assessment argues that the hybrid threat presents the most operational risk in the near- to midterm. Accordingly, it concludes that hybrid threats are a better focal point for considering alternative joint force postures."

You can read the full report HERE.

Cultural Dimensions of Strategy and Policy

Author: Jiyul Kim

There has been a growing recognition in the post-Cold War era that culture has increasingly become a factor in determining the course of today's complex and interconnected world. The U.S. experience in Afghanistan and Iraq extended this trend to national security and military operations. There is also a growing recognition by the national security community that culture is an important factor at the policy and strategy levels. Cultural proficiency at the policy and strategic levels means the ability to consider history, values, ideology, politics, religion, and other cultural dimensions and assess their potential effect on policy and strategy. The Analytical Cultural Framework for Strategy and Policy (ACFSP) is one systematic and analytical approach to the vital task of viewing the world through many lenses. The ACFSP identifies basic cultural dimensions that seem to be of fundamental importance in determining such behavior and thus are of importance in policy and strategy formulation and outcomes. These dimensions are (1) Identity, or the basis for defining identity and its linkage to interests; (2) Political Culture, or the structure of power and decisionmaking; and (3) Resilience, or the capacity or ability to resist, adapt or succumb to external forces. Identity is the most important, because it ultimately determines purpose, values and interests that form the foundation for policy and strategy to attain or preserve those interests.

You can read the full report HERE.

Human Terrain: A Strategic Imperative on the 21st Century Battlefield

Author: Nick Masellis

Small Wars Journal 5/31/09

Six months into a one-year deployment, my unit was shifting its area of operation from the southeastern Tigris River city of Al-Kut, to one of the main centers of adherents to the Shia sect of Islam – Karbala …we all were mesmerized by the mosques and the culture around us, but had no clue where to begin in order to understand what they meant in the context of our presence among the people apart from: 1. do not get near the mosques; and 2. do not fire on them if fired upon from its vicinity. But more importantly, the prevailing attitude at the time seemed to be that we didn't really have to understand anything beyond the latter. That seemed to be a reasonable tenant; after all, why would it be necessary to know such things about any given area, people or buildings? How, if at all, is it pertinent to the mission?

Well, one of the gravest shortfalls in the early years of Iraq "stabilization" was the lack of such understanding. That the tribes and religious sheiks had, in the midst of the political vacuum that developed after the fall of Saddam's regime, assumed control and influence. The majority of military and civilian leadership in Iraq did not understand these religious and ethnic nuances, which heavily contributed to the sectarian violence and militias that developed in areas like Najaf and Karbala. Moreover, corruption in the country ran rampant, especially through the local police, who had a long history as a force of subversion and brutality. Even the interpreters were at times influenced by their own biases; to include the fear for their own lives and those of their families. As a result, this depreciated the value of effective translation, actionable intelligence and serious engagement with the population - essential components in counterinsurgency operations.

You can read the full report HERE.

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