January 17, 2005

Army-Rumsfeld Friction

The Army is engaged in a bureaucratic brawl with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over how to organize troops for "nation-building," a growing problem for the military as it settles in for lengthy occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly other countries.

Rumsfeld wants to shift thousands of civil affairs troops from the Special Operations Command to the regular Army on the theory that the service needs to do better at security and stabilization. This comes as he is pushing other components of the elite Special Operations Command -- such as Navy SEALs and the Army Delta Force -- to focus on aggressive actions against terrorists and other missions.

Officers specializing in civil affairs -- which helps establish local governments in occupied areas, oversees humanitarian assistance and coordinates military activities with aid organizations -- say they oppose the move. They say many officers believe, based in part on their experience in Iraq, that regular combat commanders do not understand their work and do not know how to use them well.

"This is a huge change," said retired Army Col. Michael Hess, who remains active in civil affairs issues and who said he has concerns about it...

...The reorganization also touches on the sensitive issue of the changing role of Special Operations forces since Sept. 11, 2001. Some Special Operations officers feel that under Rumsfeld, short-term "direct action" missions to kill or capture enemies are being overemphasized to the neglect of less dramatic long-term missions, such as training foreign militaries or winning hearts and minds with aid projects. They maintain that those less dramatic missions are sometimes more important. One example, they say, is Iraq, where the U.S. exit strategy turns on training local security forces, an endeavor that has hit frequent bumps.

In recent years, said Robert Andrews, a former official in the Pentagon office overseeing Special Operations, "Our Army Special Forces have been focusing on direct action -- killing or capturing HVTs" -- that is, the "high-value targets" who are key figures in terrorist organizations and Saddam Hussein's deposed regime.

Rumsfeld "wants the SOCOM [Special Operations Command] guys to focus more on kinetic stuff," agreed one civil affairs commander who recently returned from Iraq. Like every other active-duty civil affairs officer interviewed for this article, he declined to be identified because he fears being punished. "The CA [civil affairs] community is really concerned" about the proposed change, he added. "One hundred percent, we want to stay in the Special Operations community."

Historically, civil affairs has been something of a backwater for the military. But since the end of the Cold War, it has served an increasingly prominent role, most notably in peacekeeping and relief operations in northern Iraq in 1991, in Bosnia and Kosovo later in the 1990s and across Iraq and Afghanistan over the past three years. Most recently, civil affairs soldiers have been deployed to Southeast Asia for tsunami relief.

Some civil affairs officers interviewed for this article said they fear Rumsfeld's desire to move them out of Special Operations will only accelerate the trend toward emphasizing Special Operations attack missions. "From my perspective, he's never liked nation-building," said Hess, who helped run such missions in northern Iraq and in Bosnia. He worries that the proposed transfer would "dilute" the effect of civil affairs work. [emphasis added]

Article here.

To be sure, of course, Special Operations personnel need to be well versed in killing HVTs. But, at least equally important, they also need expertise, as the article puts it, in "less dramatic missions" that support nation-building efforts. After all, we know that failed states--whether located in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, or the Caucasus--will continue to be one of the most critical challenges in the stuggle against terrorist groupings in terms of denying them safe havens. Nation-building will, therefore, remain a strategic imperative for many decades to come. On some levels, transfering civil affairs guys out of Special Operations to the regular Army Command sounds like a good idea and one that B.D. would favor (on the theory that the regular Army needs to get more experience in security and stabilization tasks). But, managed like this, I agree with the disgruntled brass who leaked to the Washington Post. Why? Because many regular Army commanders likely don't know how to use these civil affairs units yet (as someone interviewed for the article pointed out). The net effect could well be a further diminishment, at least in the short term, of effectively pursued nation-building efforts in places like Iraq. I could be wrong on this one, and I'm open to hearing from any of you out there with relevant military experience, but I don't think this proposed bureaucratic reorg is a good idea. And I agree with Col. Michael Hess' assessment that, at least in part, this reorg is being pushed by Rumsfeld because he doesn't really take nation-building all that seriously. It smells a bit of get the wussies and kindergarten-builders out of Special Ops--without, unfortunately, having really diligenced how well they will fit into the regular army corps.

On a related topic, read this earlier post too.

Posted by Gregory at January 17, 2005 02:35 AM

If it's a Rumsfeld reaction to nation-building being a bad thing, I'm agin' it.

Posted by: praktike at January 17, 2005 03:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My impressions from dealing with SF teams in both Iraq and Afghanistan is that much of the emphasis on "direct action" vs. nation-building comes from doctrine generated in the late '90s as SF struggled to better define its role.

Generally speaking, Special Operations forces began to believe the "future" was in direct action (plus, truth be told, most SpecOps guys simply like the idea of being labelled a "shooter"). This shift in emphasis has proven difficult to reverse now that they are being called upon to carry out their originally defined role. Unfortunate since we need that now more than ever.

If the likes of SEALs and Delta are being concentrated on direct action, that's fine. It's the role they were meant to fill anyway.

I think SF guys - down at the grassroots level - are starting to figure out on their own that SOMEone has to give up the shooter role and do the hard work of counterinsurgency campaigning...or there's going to be far too much shooting taking place for anyone's liking.

Posted by: Tim at January 17, 2005 03:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is fascinating how some personalities become lightening rods. Whenever someone in Washington tries to change anything, someone else's ox will be gored. And the goree will not complain about the ox being gored, but about something else that if addressed would stop the change and end the goring.

So, Rumsfeld wants to get the Regular Army to be more CA conscious and adept by transferring CA to the Army commands. It makes sense because the regular Army does the occupation and reconstruction. CA units will still be available to SOCCOM as a result of the jointness Rumsfeld is forcing on all the services. Some CA people don't like the switch. Because SOCCOM is the elite and because it doesn't have to follow all the rules. So they complain that Rummy hates nation-building and should not be allowed to make the change. And they get credibility but Rumsfeld's intentions are always questioned.

The Army, and the entire military and intelligence community, were left to run open loop during the 8 years of the Clinton administration. The command was stuffed with officers who would implement the Clinton social policies and budget cuts knowing that the only military assets he would put in harm's way after Somalia were cruise missiles and fighter-bombers at 15,000 feet. It needed to start thinking about fighting the nest war instead of the last. Think Crusader.

Rumsfeld came to office needing and wanting to make some serious changes in the military. Suffereing the first foreign attack since the War of 1812 increased the importance of making these changes.

Implementing changes, always makes some uncomfortable and unhappy, especially those who have grown comfortable with the status quo. They'll whine. Tough.

And in making these changes, Rumsfeld will make mistakes. That is the price of humans taking action. And he deserves to have his actions analyzed by the public to determine if errors are occurring.

But it becomes difficult to accept such analyses when the analysis is, "Rumsfeld has bad intentions and his changes should be opposed."

All I am trying to say is this is a bureaucratic squabble, albeit with very important implications. There are two sides to the story. Neither party comes to the table with pure intentions...it's a bureaucracy.

And if Rumsfeld is so opposed to nation-building, why isn't he pushing to get the troops out February 1?

Posted by: Richard Heddleson at January 17, 2005 04:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, that's about the size of it - nicely done, Heddleson

Posted by: Art Wellesley at January 17, 2005 05:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agree with Mr. Heddleson. If the Civil Affairs community can't teach the value of their skill sets to our Army, how the hell can they be expected to teach liberal democracy and civilian control of the miitary to foreign armies?

And who says the regular Army neither knows nor values civil affairs expertise? Gen. Petraeus and his lads haven't done too shabbily.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson at January 17, 2005 07:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Reading between the lines, could it be that SOF will get the warfighting mission and the Army will get the nation-building mission ("system administration" in T. Barnett's words)?

Interesting. It could just be that an individual soldier's lethality is such (as multiplied by automation, intel, and locally directed air-assets), that unless the opponent is russia or china, we can turn the majority of the force into swat teams, emergency aid folks, logistics, police (& prison guards), aka what they have actually been doing day-to-day (that their leadership grouses about because it's not what they signed up to do) in all these engagements dating back decades (could gulf-1 have been fought by today's SOF? I suspect so). So, rather than this being a diversion, make it their job w/ appropriate metrics and rewards.

And it would be a classic corporate transformation move (think about how successful companies recreated themselves in the face of technology given change, when a major part of their workforce needed a new job). A classic American CEO bit of ju-jitsu. Almost Rumsfeldian :-)

Very interesting.

And of course, the old guard always has a tough time realizing how the world has changed and how their failure to evolve has left them with only this job, if any. Same song, second verse (think firemen on trains, operators for computers, engineers on aircraft, large, centralized headquarters corporate staff, etc.).

And then if we find we don't like to do nation building (perhaps we discover we only need to clear out the noxious weeds when they make a stink - i.e. simply removing bad-actors who don't exemplify and promote democratic and limited government), we can either shut that division or sell it off (shades of the late 80s M&A fever as american industry recreated itself :-)

Posted by: Ari Tai at January 17, 2005 08:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Um, except that no one has "evolved" past the infantry yet, Mr. Tai. When someone finally does, we'll be sure to look you up...

Posted by: Tommy G at January 17, 2005 09:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I agree with your characterization of Rumsfeld. He came in with a very difficult mandate: "clear out eight years of dead wood and move the military out of the Cold War." Some of his actions have been too extreme...some probably not extreme enough. Bottom line: we need to remember that the "top military officials" who like to express their disgust with Rumsfeld off the record aren't all heros of the republic. Many are incompetent pigeon-holers scared by the idea someone might be closing their hole.

Posted by: Tim at January 18, 2005 12:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's my understanding that the Green Berets have always had the job of training indigenous forces; that's what they had in Vietnam. And that SEALs, Delta Force, Rangers, Force Recon are the "break stuff" people.

It doesn't look like that's changing, just moving the Green Berets out of the "cool" SpecOps community, probably with loss of prestige.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 18, 2005 04:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

re: evolving past infantry. Well, I suspect the MEF thinks it has. Every generation of a discipline has its defining challenge. And ours has no "front line" that a (traditional) infantry can advance. I suspect this means the end of infantry (as we knew it).

Granted, what remains might call itself infantry, just as the term cavalry has been reused multiple times. But "boots on the ground" no longer means what it used to (now it means "target" when standing still - since there's no front line). All of which argues for separating the pacification mission from the war-fighting mission. Each with its own definition of success, metrics and rewards.

Posted by: Ari Tai at January 18, 2005 08:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is a recap of a debate thrashed out in the British armed forces in the 1960s - after their return from Malaya there was an intense argument about the future of Special Forces (specifically the SAS Regiment). The parties to the row were the Natoists and the Third Worlders - essentially the first hoped to chisel out a role in the BAOR, thinking this would be more budget-secure and more relevant, whereas the second suspected (a) that this would lead to their being absorbed into the Parachute Regiment, (b) that there was really no specific SF role on the NATO Central Front, and (c) that even with decolonisation a worldwide guerrilla/terrorist threat would exist and that this was the true role of SF (and would guarantee their continued independence).

In essence the Third Worlders won, although they were helped in this by the eruption of a counterinsurgency war in their back garden and the rise of international terrorism. (Although the NATO job was eventually found and given to the reservist 21 and 23 SAS)

Take-home message? That the link between peacekeeping (in the widest sense) and special forces should be maintained....but perhaps this is an exclusive British perspective, as the US SOCOM seems much more focused on battalion level assaults than the UKSF. Thought - perhaps the problem should be reframed, and the question asked whether the Rangers and Airborne units should be moved out of SOCOM (I don't think anyone in the British armed forces would recognise a division-plus as "special forces"), leaving the Berets and Civil Affairs etc to specialise in specialness?

The UK is currently making some changes to reflect this, for example the permanent earmarking of a Para battalion to provide a storming party for the SAS, as well as extra signals, artillery observers and others.

Posted by: Al at January 18, 2005 10:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Oddly, the Brits are in the midst of doing the opposite of your suggestion for US SOF. The 1st Para Bn is being moved to their SF command to assume a "Ranger-like" support role.

Of course, this still leaves their entire SF community at about the size of one U.S. SF Group (or the Ranger Regiment).

Agreed that much of the US SOCOM mission seems to revolve around large scale operations. I think this has to do with a lot of former Ranger officers and not enough former SF officers at its higher levels. I also think it's changing as the nature of the current "War on Terror" changes. There just isn't that much need or room for large-scale assaults.

I worry that pulling all but "trigger pullers" out of SOCOM will change its mentality. They need to be more than just another warfighter command.

Posted by: Tim at January 19, 2005 08:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Didn't notice your last line. Obviously you've seen the planned Brit changes as well....

Posted by: Tim at January 19, 2005 08:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As Heddleston points out, in one breath people note that Rumsfeld wants to move the Civil Affairs specialties to regular Army commands because he thinks that the service should do better at it and in the next breath we see people concluding that this means Rumsfeld "hates" Civil Affairs work.

I'm glad to see people who hate the Secretary are not letting inconsequential things like logic, consistency or even rationality get in the way of an attack on him.

Posted by: Robin Roberts at January 20, 2005 05:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To Mr. Heddleson:

Re:"And if Rumsfeld is so opposed to nation-building, why isn't he pushing to get the troops out February 1?"
Wow, that's a really funny one, I don't know, maybe Rummie is forced to play ball because his Boss and neocon buddies have a different opinion?

I think many of you may not be aware (or not considering) the delicate balance of active versus reserve and NG units in the Army. Given that there is a cap on active duty manpower (and Rummie etc don't want to grow manpower in lieu of weapon systems), the real issue is that the very few active duty CA units have to be where their value is maximized. The fact is that the SpecOps guys doing the quiet nation-building work that has been successful is in part due to these CA guys. If they all get transferred to general use by the Army to the Middle East, several other theaters will slowly go to hell.

And let's face it, most of our infantry guys are not very educated past fire and maneuver techniques (and by that I mean LTC and down). Short of those War College grads, I have no doubt that the majority of their time would be in sitting in the rear, advising the BDE CDRs on what they ought to be doing in CA issues, and then watching their advice go to hell. If there were more active duty CA folks, yes, fine, send them to the Army for doing great things. Otherwise, we have to maximize their talent where they work best.

Rumsfeld wants to see transformation happen, and he had some good ideas, unfortunately they will all go to pot due to his need to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan to the exception of his desired agenda.

Posted by: J. at January 20, 2005 04:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would concur that the proposed move would be disastrous, not only to CA but to the more 'sexier' elements of the SOF community.

First, even with the current table of organization, our current operations abundantly show that maneuver commanders have a difficult time understanding how to make the best use of these troops, and that such an understanding becomes more and more rare as one moves down the chain of command. It is hard to imagine how placing CA operatives in the unit-of-action structure would somehow lead to a better understanding of their strategic use.

Second (and here I echo the concerns of previous posters) moving CA out of USASOC would further a regrettable trend trend toward seeing SOF as basically small, technically sophisticated commando units. U.S. Army Special Forces are doctrinally designed for a wide range of politically sensitive missions, and to use them essentially as global SWAT teams is a grave misuse of a finely-honed tool.

The error is a fundamental one, and one that is glaringly obvious to the SOF community, where time-tested adages hold that quality is more important than quantity, that tools are not as important as people, and that special operations are special not because of their equipment or training, but because of the political nature of their work.

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Posted by: online poker at January 28, 2005 05:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Posted by: Tom Breen at January 29, 2005 08:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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