Women and children first?

Welcome to this week’s CCLKOW discussion piece. We are looking this time at the complications arising from certain of Isil’s irregular strategic choices. To be brief, contrary to current practice they are weaponising children and women’s domestic functions. Child soldiers are nothing new globally, but they have not figured prominently against the West. And one suspects Isil’s strategic intent is specifically to confound Western forces with this choice. Similarly, the active recruitment of women for the purpose of marrying a fighter and supporting the cause in that manner has overtones of that intent as well. So, read the piece and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.

There is a looming problem in the fight against Isil. As they include recruitment of women and the military training of children in their operating philosophy, we are fast racing to a point of uncomfortable decision regarding how to treat them on the battlefields and in the long run.

Turning first to the children, the greatest issue is at the tactical level. At some point, in the fighting to retake the towns and cities held by Isil, children will be deployed. And let’s be clear. Children are what we make them in large measure. There are no shortage of cautionary tails regarding the potential brutality of children run amok, and we should have all read Lord of the Flies. Now consider what happens when they are trained. At the point of combat, these “young cubs” could well be dangerous. Of course, what children survive those battlefields present the longer term problem of their treatment, whether as victims or prisoners of war.

Giving our attention next to the women, ‎with the story of three young women from East London running off to join Isil’s domestic branch fresh on our minds, the problem is their status in the long term. Much consideration of their intentions, both serious — King’s own Dr. Katherine Brown and Elizabeth Pearson have recently offered their thoughts among many  — and silly (CNN’s “Nutella and Kittens”). While some might try to argue that these young women are being lured on false romanticism which preys on their naivete, please consider that the same must then true for the young men. Furthermore, while taking the step to jihadi bride might not seem like an act of war, they do serve the purpose of holding territory, complicating combat operation as civilians, and providing a next generation of fighter. In a 15 year war scenario, that last is n0t inconsequential. Furthermore, one must also consider their intent in joining, their ideological commitment to the conflict and political culture that Isil wishes to spread. That is, in every respect they have donned the uniform. And it bears remembering that not every male who joins is a trigger puller, neither in Isil nor Western forces – a soldier truck driver is still a prisoner of war. Even assuming these women didn’t pick up a Kalashnikov in the defense, as territory is retaken from Isil, their will not be easy to decide.

So, the question for discussion is simple:

What do you do about women and children in war now? 



Televised Salvation


CCLKOW’s discussion this week offers a different vision, literally and figuratively, to counter the horrors of extremist snuff propaganda and re-imagine the use of modern military capabilities. It challenges our discussants to consider in wholly new ways to approach the public brutality of our opponents, arguing that the best response is its opposite, kindness. Read the post, ponder the questions, and join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


Last week the world was justly horrified at the notion of the execution by fire of Jordanian Air Force pilot Lieutenant Moath al-Kasasbeh. I use “notion” particularly because the majority of those who stand opposed to the action eschewed exposure to the images. ‎I did not, because as a historian I must be willing to confront that which I seek to understand: the video was awful, but useful. (1) But even as societies shun the video, embedded within the perverse logic that peddles the horrific exhibition of carnage is the kernel of a counter strategy. The spectacle of relief by way of televised salvation; or rather, the operationalization of Combat HA/RTP.

The truth that must be accepted is that behind the gross displays of the ritualized execution of symbolic and specific targets, the conflicts in Iraq and Syria have exacted a ruthless toll upon a disproportionate mass of civilians. Whether displaced or under siege, local populations have borne the brunt of the violence and chaos. Sinjar is famous, but it is not alone.

We are much in the habit these days of discussing the strategic narrative. But military operations are still too often reckoned in tactical tallies of sorties and targets. (2) There is little in any of that which portends victory, neither on the battlefield nor among the many audiences of concern in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. If taking control of the narrative in this fight is an objective, then a better story than the extremists’ grisly tales must be offered. Humanity, pursued with vigor, would offer a compelling narrative in contrast to the death cult fare. It would be a narrative sustained by the substance of real action and, better still, conveyed by the images of hope and deliverance.

The US particularly has every capability to manage the human dimensions such conflict-induced crises. In all respects it depends upon the strength of full-spectrum logistics. American forces dominate this field, to include expeditionary air mobility, housing, feeding and medical services, and as well the ability to provide security is a given. (3) I am imagining scalable, deployable units, tasked to protect and defend from environmental and enemy harm. Initial focus of application would be on the refugee and displaced populations, but there would be room to expand such operations to consider the provision of defense to those peoples whose political voice coalesces to request it.

None of this ignores the fact that defeat of the extremists will require some fighting, killing and dying. However, the more that is done to move opinion against them, the easier that task will be. It bears considering that perhaps the most important victories of the Cold War were humanitarian: the mighty strategic and political effort of the Marshall Plan and the symbolic tactical victory of the Berlin Airlift. Both acts of strategic kindness, the latter made famous by the iconic image of nothing more than a chocolate bar on a makeshift parachute. In this fight as well, while we have every means at our disposal to bring destruction, it may be that the better answer is in what salvation we choose to deliver.


So, for this week’s discussion questions:

What are the terms of a strategic narrative to defeat the extremist movements who trade in barbarity?

Do we need to reconsider how we use military forces? Is force their most effective capability?

Are American and Western political audiences willing to sacrifice life and treasure to defend others?



1 The worst of it is not the act, but always the coldness of the enemy in attendance. And, in this case, the bulldozer.

2 The Iraqi announcements are at least about ‎the fight for key strategic terrain, about retaking territory from an invading enemy.

3 In varying degrees the NATO allies share this capacity.


Simulposted at CCL KOW: https://medium.com/@CCLKOW/televised-salvation-f0c01cd3cfee


The Thin Red Line? Determining the Future of the British Armed Forces


Late last month, General Sir Nicholas Houghton delivered the annual Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. In his speech, Houghton reviewed the past twelve months of operations and expressed his hopes, concerns and anxieties for the year ahead. 2015 is set to be an exceptionally busy one in British politics with a General Election scheduled for May and a Spending Review. Critically for those in the armed forces, it is also time for another Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). SDSR 2015 will help determine the shape of British defence policy and the budget for the foreseeable future.

Houghton addressed many of the military’s perennial concerns (e.g. budget, allocation of resources, and how best to address emerging threats). However, he was most concerned about the state of civil-military relations. Over the past decade, Houghton believes that, ‘to varying degrees, government, parliament and society have become more cautious, nervous and anxious about the employment of military force.’ [1] Furthermore, ‘as a nation we [Britain] could have started to lose some of our courageous instinct: the instinct to risk and make sacrifices for our own security and the common good.’ [2] Throughout his speech, he stressed the need for the government and by extension, the public to clarify what role they wish the armed forces to play. Are they there to ‘mitigate risks from the narrow perspective of national necessity,’ or to serve a ‘grander ambition’? [3]

In the last SDSR in 2010, the government very clearly stated that, ‘our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions. We have a proud history of standing up for the values we believe in and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come.’[4] Be that as it may, the armed forces have felt the sting of severe cuts to both manpower and the budget over the last few years. Simultaneously, they are asked to meet growing security threats from both state and non-state actors. Consequently, the question as to their role remains open for debate.

The UK has long had global ambitions and defined itself within these terms. At the beginning of the 20th century, Britain was a superpower with an extensive empire. Even after the decline of that empire, the country’s leaders remained determined to maintain a place on the world’s stage. Following WWII, the UK entered a period of severe financial austerity not dissimilar to events since the financial crisis of 2008. Nevertheless, the British government still saw itself as a global power and a pivotal ally for new superpower, the United States. Moreover, the UK still had a vast array of defence commitments around the world. Determined to meet these responsibilities, the country fielded a large army that was principally maintained through conscription (National Service). Today, this is no longer politically viable. Since the end of the Cold War, a more transparent and less deferent society has emerged. The British public is no longer willing to enforce National Service. On the whole, we are also much more sensitive to the risks that military service entails, averse to the casualties that inevitably result from operations.

Having said that, the government’s ambitions remain big. Britain still perceives itself as a major partner to the US and a key country within defensive alliances like NATO. The country also remains the fifth largest spender on defence in the world. However, commentators have predicated that spending will begin to fall below 2 per cent GDP over the next few years. It is likely that further cuts will be made to both the overall defence budget and military manpower, with a greater reliance on the Reserves. [5]

The armed forces are currently in a state of flux. Too often, debates about this process remain largely within Whitehall and fail to engage the wider public effectively. As another election approaches, areas like health and education seem more pressing. In contrast, defence spending only becomes a concern when the need arises. However, the public should take an active interest in determining the direction of the armed forces and considering the issues outlined by Houghton. Whether comfortable with the idea or not, the armed forces play a key role in shaping perceptions of British identity internationally and this in turn shapes the state of UK security. Over the past century, the military has projected British ambitions abroad. From imperialism to humanitarianism, the state of the military says a great deal about Britain’s place in the world. What role should the Army, Navy and Air Force play over the next few decades? This is a question that urgently needs to be asked if the armed forces are to effectively reflect the values of the society, which they represent.




1 General Sir Nicholas Houghton, ‘Annual Chief of the Defence Staff Lecture,’ Royal United Services Institute (17 December 2014).

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 ‘Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,’ HM Government (October 2010), Cm 7948, p. 3.

5 Malcolm Chalmers, ‘The Financial Context for the 2015 SDSR: The End of UK Exceptionalism?’ RUSI Briefing Paper (Sept. 2014), pp. 1-9; Ben Jones, ‘UK SDSR 2015: Same Ends, Less Means, New Ways,’ European Geostrategy (5 Nov. 2014); Paul Cornish and Andrew M Dorman, ‘Fifty shades of purple? A risk sharing approach to the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review,’ International Affairs 89, Issue 5 (Sept. 2013), pp. 1183-1202.


The Prophet Chris Kyle and the Gospel of Force Protection


At the heart of the critique and backlash over “American Sniper” lurks an unchallenged assumption that his kills meant American lives were saved.

The controversy over criticism of the movie has achieved a level of temper that is rather quite shocking. Reaching the point of hurling death threats at those who have questioned the dominant narrative of heroism, perhaps the most iconic example is that of Sarah Palin’s appearance in a photograph shared through social media holding a poster which read “Fuc_ You, Michael Moore.” The O’s were rendered as rifle scope markings, as if to target the erstwhile director. (To be clear, I’ve never seen any of his movies and I’m not a particular fan.) This cannot be considered a case where a biased media has hyped an inopportune moment as she crowed about the message in her recent speech in Iowa. As well, the photograph feature as well Dakota Meyer, Medal of Honor recipient. He has since promoted the photograph and the poster as a message to Michael Moore.

Let us stop for a moment to reflect that a former Vice Presidential candidate (and possible future Presidential candidate, per her own recent statements) and a distinguished military hero have cheekily joked at the idea of killing Moore. Why? Because the latter had the temerity to question the heroism of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. No Charlie Hebdo cartoons will be tolerated about the icons and ideals they hold dear. It is a shocking backlash given the outcry for freedom of speech of late and makes clear the standard is “your beliefs, not mine” when it comes to critique. According to the Church of Appropriate American Patriotism, the heroic image of Chris Kyle is made sacred.

It is not my point, however, to attack the politicized deification of Chris Kyle or the seeming hypocrisy of our application of values such as free expression. I think it’s worth stating and understanding that where the rubber meets the road, most people hold others to standards they often fail to meet, it’s human. Rather, I am more concerned with the military content, and so the backlash is important here because of the underlying assumption regarding military utility that it requires. That content is in the foundations of Kyle’s heroism and their application in contemporary American conflict. This is important to getting at the second part of the title, the consuming fixation upon force protection which leads to the valuation of any acts which serve that end. Because we must be clear, the mantra has been that the significant portion of Kyle’s heroism pinned to the idea that he killed people who posed a tactical threat to American troops. Prospectively saving their lives ennobled his endeavours. And the high standards and training in the US Armed Forces meant that Kyle was an expert of significant consequence, making him a very effective hero under those terms.

Which brings us to the essential question of this piece: Did killing individuals in Iraq in such a fashion save American lives?

It is important to note that even as I ask this question, and intend to discuss its answer in the negative, that this is not about Chris Kyle or individual personnel, or their duly authorised actions in American conflicts. To the extent that American warfighting has gone awry, the problems are at the conceptual level. Kyle was a dedicated sailor, and he would have ably applied his skills in any way asked of him. The same can be said of the majority of his peers. Nor do I hold cheaply the lives of American personnel. If I question the wisdom of tactical force protection it is for the strategic implications, for the possibility that this posture in fact lengthens and deepens the conflict thus putting more personnel at risk in the bigger picture.

The matter of the strategic utility of tactical force is clearly on some American military minds. Last Friday Breaking Defense published the fantastic “Killing is not Enough: Special Operators,” by Sydney Freedberg, which looks at the force versus persuasion balance in that community of military practice. It should be taken as no small matter that leaders within TRADOC and US Army Special Operations Command are considering the wisdom of our exquisite tactical capabilities to kill. I am not alone in confronting this issue, nor the paradox that the better we become at killing the less effective we will be strategically. It is the problem of diminishing marginal returns, and it will be perverse and horrific because as technique improves to lesser success will only accelerate the cycle.

If we are not apt at the art of positive persuasion because we favor expertise in killing, we may pay an even higher price in negative persuasion. In his “8 Imperatives of COIN” I don’t think Stanley McChrystal expounds on a particularly revolutionary thought when he opined on the ramifications of body counting in local people’s wars.  One dead bad guy probably does more to recruit amongst the mourning community than the serve the tactical to strategic calculus. Even if it’s only two not ten who join in the wake of a personal loss, the war effort will still see itself in a negative cycle wherein every death prolongs the conflict.

Finally, it is also important to take account of how the message that heroism is defined by the value of American lives is taken by any given audience. Yes, innately, we all value our own above all. But is that a strategically useful message? Is it a message we want to shout and highlight at every opportunity? Who can be persuaded to our side if we trumpet the cheapness with which we hold their lives?

The history of people’s wars seems to bear out this calculus, with particular perniciousness at the lower end of the conflict spectrum. It is a peculiar consequence and an area that deserves more concerted study. It is certainly undeniable, however, that the US has not benefitted in the outcomes of its conflicts from the fantastic improvement in its tactical abilities since WWII. We kill bad guys and win battles with great facility, but we don’t seem to win the wars. Force, it seems, is generally become less effective, especially for the strong.

Which brings us back to Kyle’s heroism and why it would be useful to have an honest conversation around these issues. But if that question cannot even be asked because it risks offending and enraging a significant portion of the population then we have a real problem.


Colonel Panter-Downes: Not a Warrior Army?


Greetings readers. Welcome to another discussion piece provided by our British Army officer corresponding from America. Today’s piece challenges the rhetoric of warrior self-identification within the US Army particularly and its armed forces more broadly and questions its effects. I think there is something very poignant to questioning whether those ideals which are meant to describe the positive qualities of these institutions and their people may not in fact do more harm than good. And it further bears considering whether such an identity is necessary to serve military needs. Remember that when assembling the army which would go on to contend successfully against the British Army, as well as defeat at critical junctures, George Washington did not set exquisite ideals as his object, merely the utterly reasonable Respectable, in their discipline, skills, and behaviour.  And it is arguable that even accepting the improvements to military technique by the ranks, officers and units, the American military establishment retained that quality of performance until well into the 20th century. So, read the Colonel’s piece, check out the links to the Strategy Bridge conversation and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


The colonel looks left, he looks right, he checks his “six” and confirms, no warriors seem present. There are a lot of very hard-working staff officers masquerading as cubicle gophers, but apparently no warriors.

To be honest when I arrived here to be ensconced in the warm embrace of the US Army one of the bigger differences that I was expecting was that of the US Army’s Warrior Ethos.  As an outsider looking in from afar it is pervasive, but from the inside looking out the effect seems less certain. Indeed the recent CCLKOW and Strategy Bridge Twitter discussion on the military profession elicited but two tangential references to Warriors that I could find.

From the service publication, Army Leadership: “The Warrior Ethos refers to the professional attitudes and beliefs that characterize the American Soldier. It reflects a Soldier’s selfless commitment to the nation, mission, unit, and fellow Soldiers.” (ADRP 6-22, 3-21) While the Service Ethos is comprised of the entire list, those attributes pertaining on to the warrior are highlighted in bold below:

I am an American Soldier.

I am a Warrior and a member of a Team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.                      

I will never accept defeat.                                       

I will never quit.                                                        

I will never leave a fallen comrade.            

 I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American soldier.

(ADRP 6-22 Fig 3-1)

The US military often refers to its personnel as “Warriors”, the recruiting brochures for Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines I browsed last week all referred to their personnel in such terms. Many of the motivational posters that I see on the walls adorning my camp reference this warrior identity and LTG McMaster’s erudite 2014 Veterans Day address to Georgetown University explicitly referenced both a warrior identity and the warrior ethos. Yet in my day to day dealings I work with a fine bunch of professional men and women who are more like than not, to the men and women I serve with in the UK, and in the UK we certainly do not see ourselves as warriors.

We are divided in many ways both by the Atlantic and by a not so common language and culture where the differences can be slight but can lead to misunderstandings large. On arriving here in the United States it took me a while to realise that one cannot hire a car (but renting is permissible) and that while we both refer to ‘tea’ as a beverage one is hot, can be drunk with milk and sugar, and the other is cold and comes with ice-cubes and a life changing amount of fructose corn syrup. Perhaps this reference to ‘Warriors’ is of the same ilk? A different way of expressing a concept we have in the British Army; except the British Army does not have anything that corresponds to either the Soldier’s Creed or the Warrior’s Ethos. This is partly a reflection on the more tribal nature of the British Army where the identities and ethos are bound much more closely with the Regiment than with the organisation as a whole and partly cultural in that as a society we tend to prefer the implicit to explicit (we are the Nation that lacks a written constitution). I think however that it is also of form and function. We have toyed with the idea of a Soldier’s Creed before in discussions, but it jarred with who we are and there did not seem to be a need for it. The British Army does articulate Values and Standards (Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment), but not a creed per se and it does not explicitly inculcate a Warrior Ethos or identity.

In articulating its Values and Standards the British Army states: “It is operational effectiveness that requires the Army to have Values and Standards that are different from society – ‘need to be different’ not right to be ‘different’.” Herein is the heart of the matter. How different from society is its military? My perception prior to arriving here was that the US Army’s Warrior Ethos would be a marked departure from the British Army’s ethos, but its effect is much more understated than that, certainly where I work. But if my perception is that the US Army was very different, how far does that perception go? Is it widespread? At a time of growing debate on both sides of the Atlantic on the seeming growing rift between society and its military, as much a matter of scale as anything else, does the self-identification of the military as Warriors help or hinder in binding the military to society?

Warrior to me is more than being a soldier. A warrior to me lives to fight, a soldier fights for a living. The language of being a warrior is closely linked to the language of caste and status within societies (one thinks of Spartan warriors and Roman soldiers) and it seems to me that in self-identifying as warriors the US Army may be fostering a perception of itself as a breed apart from society as a whole that is entirely unintended, but very real.


So the questions for this week are:

Are we Warriors or are we military professionals?

Does the language and identification of Warriors separate us from wider society? If so, are the benefits of the identity worth that cost?



[Simultaneously posted at CCLKOW on Medium.]



The Officers' Mess, 5th Manchesters, Halluin Art IWMARTLD196

Colonel Panter-Downes: A Messy Business

In this week’s installment of blogs intended to generate professional discussion, we have a bit of fun from our British officer abroad in America.  It is the week of the holidays, so a piece on the Mess is perfectly in the spirit of the times.

This is a subject near and dear to my scholarly heart as I have been researching and writing on military dining for several years now. I have dined in a British Army mess and it is an institution. In fact, until WWII the US Army boasted a mess tradition that, if not so bound to unit as merely to officer ranks, was a close rival to that of the British Army, particularly in expeditionary settings. (1)  The influx of citizens into uniform in the WWII kicked over most of the traces of a custom that had existed since Washington’s family table in the Revolutionary War. Although “O Clubs” remained in the post-WWII Army, their appeal – as places to dine and drink socio-professionally has declined. On the other side of the landpower divide, the Marine Corps as well does not institutionalize socializing. There are, however, the odd turns in both the Army and Marine Corps when Mess Nights are held. Often formal affairs, these can be conducted with and without guests. It is, for example, an institution of the Basic School – Marine Corps finishing school for new lieutenants – to celebrate the conclusion with a Mess Night. And I know that while he was 7th Marines CO, the Colonel Mattis held field mess nights during certain regimental exercises at 29 Palms, though these were anything but formal affairs. However, there is no regular socializing to which officers or enlisted are bound or beckoned. Given the value identified in the bonds forged and renewed at the table, this absence is to be considered.

So, raise an imagined glass of Port in toast to our Colonel and enter the world of the British Army mess. And as it’s the holidays, I would simply ask that our band of merry discussants sip and ruminate on the role of professional socializing in the US armed forces. Where the Colonel identifies the value of the Mess for adding “soul” to the officer, consider where it is that the same is shaped for the American officer shaped. Add your comments to the hashtag, #CCLKOW.


The Colonel enjoys working with the Americans.  I find them professional, courteous and mostly lacking the cynicism that is every British officer’s birthright.  What has fascinated me the most about living and working in the United States are those nuances of culture, both social and organisational that delineate the two countries and armies.  It is very easy for a British officer to think that he understands his US counterparts, such is the relationship built up over the past decade of conflict and the prevalence of US culture in the UK, but the truth is that we are subtly divided and it is often in the small things that large consequences can be seen.  One of these matters is that of Messes.

I live and work in a large US Army base.  I doubt that it is the largest base, but it certainly is not the smallest; by UK standards it would be a super-garrison.  Having lived and worked here for some time it was with a growing sense of disbelief and not a little dismay that I realised that there was no Officers’ Mess on base, in fact there were no Messes at all.  A British Officers’ Mess is analogous to an American Officers’ Club.  If the general staff is the brains and the Senior NCO (SNCO) corps the backbone of an army, then the British mess system is its heart and soul.   There are messes for junior NCOs, SNCOS and officers and they are present in every unit, HQ and garrison.  The best glimpse of what a Mess means to a British officer can be glimpsed in this excerpt from John McMasters’ “Bugles and a Tiger”:

In the mess lived an echo from silver trumpets of the past. There were impressions of light and tone muted and wavering as in a cathedral under the sea.  At dinner the Colours, cased and capped and crossed, stood like huge black rockets against the wall behind the president.  On guest nights they were unfurled and lit the room with the embroidered battle honours of two hundred years.  In their silken richness I saw all that glory, and all of those muskets buried in the mud of forgotten fields, and all those men – my uncle’s generation, Major Tom’s young friends – who had died, broken on barbed wire.

This regiment had a long association with India.  As the 32nd Foot, it held the residency of Luckow through the famous siege of 1857, during the Mutiny.  When the walls crumbled the mess silver, crated, was used to plug the gaps.  At dinner we now ate off some of that silver; the rest, the pieces that had been twisted by enemy fire, hung in glass cases on the walls.  Among them was a soup tureen with a hole in it where a musket ball had entered – and dents where the ball had ricocheted round and round – and the leaden ball itself.  A little farther along hung a long row of bronze medals, each with a short piece of dull crimson ribbon.  These were the Victoria Crosses won by the men of the 32nd at Lucknow. So, in the glow of the Lucknow silver and the self-effacing sheen of the Lucknow Crosses, we laughed and talked and quarreled and felt ourselves lapped in the warm continuity of tradition…(2)

For a British Officer on commissioning, the Mess will be home. (3) He will live in a Mess until such stage as he is either married or of such seniority that his presence is likely to cramp the style of his younger brethren.  I use the term “brethren” deliberately because even without the bonds of shared campaigning the Mess forges a family ethos.  Officers live and socialise together even before they fight together and as a result of these shared social endeavours and not least “in vino veritas” very quickly get to know the whole person and form extraordinarily tight bonds very quickly.  I still count as three of my closest friends the officers I joined my regiment with over twenty year ago.  Only I remain serving but we remain inextricably linked not just by shared bonds of experience but of friendship and family.  As subalterns we ate together and drank together, we became field marshals at the bar in the evening and reverted to subalterns at breakfast in the morning; we saw the best and the worst of each other in the three years we lived together before assignments split us apart.   I was there when they met their girlfriends, present when they married their wives and celebrated the arrival of their children; they are my extended family.

That is not to say that the Americans do not socialise, they do. In fact they are very sociable and generous with their hospitality. I have been on receipt of numerous invites (and I am always open to more, especially if there is red wine or brisket involved), but the socialising is very much individual and not collective, an officer will invite friends and colleagues around for drinks and a barbecue. What I have seen very little evidence for is collective socialising in manner with which the British Army conducts it. The U.S. Military seems to socialise off base (metaphorically), not on base. Whereas the British place the Mess at the centre of base and unit life.

The Mess is also where the junior officer will absorb the ethos of the regiment.  Its history will stare down at him from the pictures and trophies on the walls, the silver will tell tales of past campaigns and characters and even the furniture will normally have a story to be tell.  All this the officer will be expected come to know and in time cherish.  The Mess is where guidance is given, standards are elaborated on and very often measured.  An officer who sets poor standards at home, is hardly likely to set good standards elsewhere. As there is no rank in the Mess, at least not in mine, mentoring is both relaxed and pervasive. (4)  Messes are the trustees of both standards and traditions. If Sandhurst makes the officer, the Mess refines him, adding polish and lustre; Sandhurst builds character while Messes add soul. (5)

There is another aspect to messes and mess life that is often overlooked, and that is of networking.  Messes socialise both formally and informally.  Most messes will hold one, if not two balls a year as well as regular Regimental Guest Nights.  At Regimental Guest Nights the unit and its officers are showcased to guests and relationships either established or confirmed.  Guests are normally from the wider military and garrison community and usually chosen on the basis that they have dealings with the unit; the nights are seen as a way of expressing hospitality and building constructive relationships.  Guests are formally dined and then less formally entertained afterwards. (6)  Informal socialising is simply a matter of the mess bar and common courtesy. Your mess, whether at unit, HQ or garrison level is your home and one should always be hospitable towards one’s guests. What this means in practice is that British officers socialise vertically and laterally within the chain of command and where officers socialise and wine flows so networks are established and the “good idea fairy” springs to life.  My previously recounted expedition to the Hindu Kush was the result of a Regimental Guest Night and said good idea fairy settling on the shoulder of the very senior (albeit retired) officer sitting to the (now) Colonel’s right and recounting when he was on the North West Frontier. (7)  It is at such gatherings that the brigade deputy chief of staff (S4 in US parlance) can for example hear the solution to his logistics issue from the infantry platoon commander who unaware of the issue until then, had a sister whose company solved precisely the same issue the previous year.  In these gatherings alliances are made, deals are struck and things get done; juniors speak to senior and both esoteric knowledge and hidden talents can shine brightly.

What does this mean? Well as an intimate observer the non-deployed U.S. Military does rather seem like a nine-to-five organisation in a cultural sense. There is not the degree of social intimacy that is found in the British Army. Partly because of the lack of a Mess, but also it must be understood, partly the result of 13 gruelling years of campaigning during which the focus was on allowing individuals family time in between deployments. The current US military is without doubt a team, forged in the crucible of operations since 2001, but I wonder if it has lost sight of what it means to be a family, and indeed if it was ever thus? For while I am not blind to the weaknesses of the British Army, one of the strengths of our system is that we remain at heart familial in our social ethos.

So I am somewhat nonplussed by the lack of a mess. Pragmatically I wonder just how to Americans socialise laterally and vertically across their profession; where and how are networks formed? Culturally I wonder, if not in the Mess, then just where does the heart and soul of the US military reside?  Both these matters are best pondered with family and friends, a glass of Islay whisky in hand, over the coming weeks as 2014 draws to a close and 2015 stands to. So I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year, whether you are at the spear’s tip or the families that keep us all strong.




1 Although lengthy, this excerpt from a Fort Leavenworth 1917 manual of Customs of Service prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Miller provides a thoughtful and thorough explication of the form in the US Army at that moment:

The main purpose of a regimental mess is to promote cordiality, comradeship, and esprit de corps, especially regimental esprit de corps, and while such a mess is social in its nature, the meals, especially the dinner, are, in a way, semi-official functions. Do not consider it merely a place where the bachelor officers dine, but rather as the regimental hearthstone where at certain intervals it is compulsory on all the regimental officers to dine together. It should be the place where the old regimental colors are displayed, where all the old regimental relics in the shape of books, pictures, plates, etc., are on file to be looked up and referred to. It should be the place where the colonel and the lieutenant meet in the social equality of gentlemen in that camaraderie and good fellowship which teaches the youngster respect and affection for his seniors, and the elders, kindness and consideration for the juniors; it should be the place where are forged the links that bind the regimental front unbroken to the outside world, and where in their own privacy their can deal with questions affecting the honor and tradition so dear to them; it should be the place where dwells the spirit and the soul of the principles that have made the regiment and that have preserved intact its prestige, its honor, its tradition. There is no single means more full of bright and promising good for esprit de corps than your regimental mess on a firm and zeal-inspiring basis. (Lieutenant Colonel Charles Miller, USA, The Customs of the Service; also Some Suggestions and Advice, p. 16, emphasis added.)

2 Reprint Society, London 1957, John Masters “Bugles and a Tiger” p. 26-27.

3 I will focus on the officers’ messes as that is where my experience is, but many sentiments hold true for JNCO and SNCO messes.

4 I will focus on the officers’ messes as that is where my experience is, but many sentiments hold true for JNCO and SNCO messes.

5 The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where all British Army officers undergo training.

6 ‘Bucket Reels” and “Fireball Hockey” were both favoured forms of post-dinner entertainment in my mess, quite probably due to the high likelihood of physical harm being incurred by participants in both.

7 Which gives some indication of how senior and retired the officer was, the Colonel is not that old.


The Blogshop: Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

The flowering of writing within the military community is commendable, but with reservations. Without wishing to spoil the enthusiasm, I do want to offer the caution that simply putting pen to paper (so to speak) is not sufficient, not the end, but rather the beginning of a process which, for the best works, requires seemingly endless and brutal cycles of revisions. Ideas and the frameworks within which they are constructed need to be rigorously challenged, questioned, poked and prodded, and then brought back to the drawing board. A process which I have referred to elsewhere as a good intellectual rogering, a necessity both to keep “bright ideas” from going too far as well as to allow brilliance to justly emerge. And so, in this week’s CCLKOW installment we are introducing the Blogshop, a variation on the academic Workshop, wherein the writing itself is presented for critique. We have a piece provided by one of the regular participants in the weekly dialogue. However, rather than the usual question and discussion upon the substance of the piece, our purpose in this case is critical commentary, which the questions at the end are intended to generate. Additionally, I have recruited colleagues to provide more in-depth responses, which I will post tomorrow in the comments section. So, enjoy the piece, consider the questions, and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

When I was replacing the outgoing Infantry battalion in eastern Afghanistan in 2010, an outgoing staff officer and I were casually discussing life, combat, and the year ahead. He said something that stuck with me throughout my second deployment, “You know, if you want to be successful here (in Afghanistan), you have to keep hate in your heart.” This statement to civilians seems spiteful and monstrous, resonates with many Veterans that I have discussed our views on combat, the enemy, and our way of war. Hate viewed as a motivating force, a driving factor to defeat the enemy, overcome internal bureaucracies, and the numerous distracters to mission accomplishment. Often these statements might not come out until after a few beers and heated discussions, often in hushed tones and maybe with a little shame. It’s not an official doctrine, but in historical examples vilification of the enemy to the point of hatred seems to be a part of the American way of war, and maybe any nation’s way of war. Theorists often look at the role of hate towards the resistance for killing, that aversion to killing enemy forces is often driven by several factors proximity to the killing and aversion to the act. A strong training foundation and organizational culture can assist Soldiers in overcoming the aversion to the act of killing throughout the recruit process. When creating a service culture there are several necessary facets: Integrity, Selfless Service, Teamwork, Generating Organizational Loyalty, and in my mind, you have to mention the enemy. The French Foreign Legion does this well, recognizing the inevitability of killing enemy combatants, they engrain in new recruits the important of conduct against the enemy in combat.  In evaluation of creating a service culture in new recruits and developing battlefield ethos, what really matters in creating a Soldier from a civilian?

Why the Legion? I discovered a series of documentaries on YouTube on the modern French Foreign Legion covering troops in combat in Afghanistan and recruits during their basic training. I witnessed the professionalism and capacity of these troops in Afghanistan, and have always held the Legion in high regard. As a small all-volunteer force with incredibly high standards always embroiled in conflicts in undesirable lands they certainly hold some valuable lessons for our all volunteer force. In the American way of war, it seems easier to conduct operations against an enemy you hate. Hate of an enemy combatant allows a Soldier to dehumanize or detach from the involvement with the acts of war. A quintessential tenant of American warfare is to be the combatant in the right protecting the world or allied nation from the evils of the opposing force. Detaching our military from the emotion of killing enemy combatants has been discussed fully in various texts including SLA Marshall’s Men Against Fire and Grossman’s On Killing and On Combat. Grossman wrote in an early article, “If we understand the role of hate in the soldier’s dilemma than we can use it to obtain an understanding of the psychological underpinnings of maneuver warfare.” [1] Many of the battlefield indiscretions of U.S. forces over the years are often blamed on the emotional toll of war. I am not suggesting that the creation of robot like soldiers would make war easier, but simply evaluating how other forces mold their recruits and enforce their battlefield standards. The US Army Soldier’s Creed and the Legionnaire Code of Honor share several key themes on duty, mission, and battlefield conduct. One missing point of the Soldier’s creed is captured very aptly by the Legion.

Au combat, tu agis sans passion et sans haine, tu respectes les ennemis vaincus, tu n’abandonnes jamais ni tes morts, ni tes blessés, ni tes armes.

The seventh stanza of the Legionnaire code d’honneur: In combat, you act without passion and without hate; you respect vanquished enemies….. This emotional detachment from the situation is important. This code brings a complete focus on mission accomplishment, and even when we vanquish an enemy, to hold them in respect as our defeated adversary. This mindset is instilled starting in basic training and carried forward into combat operations. No cheering as CAS hits enemy positions, no joy in the death of an adversary; merely a continuation of a necessary part of the mission. When a target pops up, the legionnaire knocks it down and continues on towards a cold beer at the end of a mission (regardless of the country of operation). The Legionnaire does not hate his enemy; they are two parts of a transactional relationship necessary for survival in war, and in the life of a Legionnaire. This focus on eliminating a major part of the psychological underpinning of combat certainly improves their productivity and strong espirit de corps. Unlike the US Military Soldier’s Creed or Airmen’s creed, the Legion does not mention “I” as an individual in their code of honor. The code is addressed more in a third person, removing the individual identity and contributing to the group identity. The American society particularly in this era, values the individual and the US Army overly focused on this point in the past during the Army of One Campaign (well intentioned as a team ethos, created an overt focus on individualism). If we shed the individual identity in basic training, and create a team or organization ethic, how do we expect Soldiers to display an Army ethic on the battlefield instead of allowing their individual thoughts and ethos to govern their actions? Admitting to the realities of warfare from the beginning is an important first step because it instills respect for the enemy combatant as a means to maintain vigilance from hubris and prevent battlefield indiscretions.


CCLKOW Blogshop Questions: these are a departure from the usual questions on substance and are instead intended to generate critical discussion of the writing

1. Last week Tom Ricks posted on the quality of the writing in the Army’s institutional publications. Who writes institutional publications? You do. Taking one of the “sins” identified in his work, upon what unexamined assumptions does Denny’s argument rest?

2. Is the comparison between organizations – the US Army or armed forces and the French Foreign Legion – reasonable? If the two are not well matched for comparability, does this fatally weaken the argument? 

3. Does the problem he sets out to address in the piece exist? Is it worth critical attention within the military community? 

My thanks to Mike Denny for being a good sport in allowing me to use his piece this way. He has set a standard here for future and further intrepid warrior scholars. 



1 David Grossman, “Defeating the Enemy’s Will: The Psychological Foundations of Maneuver Warfare,” Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology, R.D. Hooker (Ed), Presidio Press, 1994.



Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure

Today’s piece is a departure of sorts from that usually provided for the professional discussion. It marks the first in what will be fairly regular pieces from a new author, whom we will be calling Colonel Panter-Downes. This name is taken from a famous London “correspondent” to America in the early years of WWII, Mollie Panter Downes. She wrote regularly for the New Yorker, describing her view of the life of London and the UK at war for an American public. In our contemporary case, we have a British Army field grade officer reporting from the US in a time of different conflict. We can consider these pieces his “American War Notes.”

Obviously it is a delicate thing for a serving officer to report and remark upon life with the armed forces of an important ally. But if done well, a professional observer able to reflect and comment sensibly can offer a novel and valuable perspective of the institution’s many sides. Our author is more than adequately experienced of service in the combat arms, repeated deployments, as well as the rigours of military administration. That is, our author has a trustworthy voice, the fruits of which are what we hope to bring to Kings of War readers.

Today’s piece was commissioned. I had heard about the program from the author and thought it a fascinating thing to put before the American readers. I shall take a small bow now for my prescience in selecting a topic that would resonate so perfectly with the publication of the Army Operating Concept. Many 1s and 0s have already been spilled on the topic over at The Bridge. Here we narrow the focus to a specific idea. 

So, dear #CCLKOW readers, I give you this British idea for your consideration. Read Colonel Panter-Downes’s piece and the accompanying questions and join the discussion on Twitter.


20 years ago as a platoon commander I led the planning and deployment of a small team of British soldiers to the volatile North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. [1]  I was responsible for all elements of the operation, from conception, to execution and then exploitation. I researched and developed the concept of operations, arranged the logistics, selected and trained the team, organized the movement and conducted the follow up briefings. In country I liaised with the Embassy and Pakistani government agencies, recruited the in-country support team, dealt with the unexpected when caught up in an anti-Western riot in Peshawar, practiced the robustness of my contingency plans when we suffered casualties [2] and conducted numerous impromptu shuras and medical clinics in my area of operations. All this was done in the absence of radio or cellular communications to my higher headquarters.  Despite already being operationally experienced from a deployment to Northern Ireland, this was the defining moment of the start of my army career. I learnt more about the art of leadership and the loneliness of command, of logistics and working across cultures in this deployment then I had before or even since in structured training. I was adventurous training.

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,”[3] AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” [4] There are currently nine core AT activities [5] and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities. I had my first taste of AT as an officer cadet and have continued active participation ever since, progressing through experience from participant to practitioner in my chosen disciplines. In all this time I have trained in many different countries, developed new skills and learnt hard lessons; I have been a planner as well as a climber, a logistician as well as a skipper and I have placed myself outside of my comfort zone and to confront my fears on more occasions than I care to remember.

The US Army has recently released its Army Operating Concept (AOC), a conceptual doctrine which “determines how we think about what the Army does”. [6] Much of the AOC emphasizes the human aspect of conflict and stresses the requirement to develop its human capability, in particular developing agile and adaptive commanders.  What is the connection between the AOC and AT? If the US Army is serious about developing its human capability, if it wants to develop leaders who “think critically, are comfortable with ambiguity, accept prudent risk, assess the situation continuously, develop innovative solutions to problems, and remain mentally and physically agile to capitalize on opportunities,” [7] then it should consider AT as a means to achieve those goals.

Now not everyone is going to undertake a high altitude trekking trip to the Hindu Kush, attempt Everest or challenge the Antarctic. [8] But year in, year out, U.K. service personnel conduct adventure training exercises in the U.K. and overseas, and in fact most overseas warfighting exercises have an adventure training element incorporated into the deployment. In all circumstances the value is always that this training challenges practical and leadership skills in uncertain environments with real risk. The skills they use are fundamental to soldiering: leadership, planning, and risk management. Conducted out of uniform and in small groups these personnel also often encounter a significantly different dynamic with the locals than when in uniform. Overseas adventure training is by definition expeditionary and physically the conditions are very often austere. Not that the U.S. Army need conduct significant amounts overseas, being blessed with some of the finest adventure training opportunities within its own boundaries, but it can incorporate adventure training into the rising tempo of small scale deployments already envisaged under the AOC.

Important to the training and the value it would offer the needs of the AOC, less specific highly qualified experts, AT tends to be a junior officer and senior NCO dominated activity. This allows these two elements to operate with normally significantly more autonomy than they get in conventional training; it fosters trust up and down the chain of command, that vital and often lacking ingredient in inculcating Mission Command. Significantly AT is also cheap compared to conventional military training. Infrastructure costs are minimal and the expertise can be brought in from a thriving civilian sector. Lastly AT is recruitment and retention positive. Soldiers enjoy adventure training and most activities undoubtedly have an element of glamour to them. [9]

If the U.S. Army is serious about developing its next generation of leaders to win in a complex world, then perhaps it should consider AT within the AOC framework.  If so, perhaps the ‘Ascent of Rum Doodle’ [10] will in future become as well read in the U.S. Army as ‘The Defence of Duffer’s Drift’ currently is.


Questions: Today’s questions are brought to you by the Editor.

First, and simply, what do the Americans think of Adventurous Training as a form of military training?

Second, do the US armed forces have the manpower flexibility to allow the pursuit of such activities? Consider personnel policies and routinized progress of billets and promotions.

Third, do the US armed forces have the institutional flexibility to allow and foster the initiative necessary for such a program? Does it trust junior leaders sufficiently?

Finally, how many of the Americans briefly wondered whether there was an exchange program to get on one of these expeditions?


Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW and keep an eye out for the Colonel’s next posts.



1 The expedition staged through Peshawar before undertaking high altitude trekking towards Gilgit.

2 Two casualties total; one was bounced over a car in Peshawar and one suffered from altitude sickness.

Joint Services Pamphlet 419 ‘Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme’ 3-1, para 7.

4 Ibid, p 1-1, para 1.

5 Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

6 Army Times, Interview with TRADOC Commander General David Perkins, Oct 13, 2014.

7 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 ‘The U.S. Army Operating Concept’ page 19, para 3-4 a. (4).

8 Everest and the Antarctic have been recent significant U.K. military AT expeditions.

9 Less caving, in my opinion a strange sport for strange people!

10 A comic novel on how not to run a mountaineering expedition.


Putin the ‘Strong Man’ has not protected his people

Despite his publicly cultivated image as a strong leader protecting his people, Vladimir Putin’s Russia still sees terrorist attacks with depressing frequency.

It is the twelfth anniversary of Moscow’s Nord-Ost theatre siege in which 130 people were killed, partly by terrorists and partly by Russia’s botched storming. Here is the story.

In 1999 Prime Minister/soon to be President Vladimir Putin raged about terrorists who blew up Moscow apartment buildings that, “we will waste them on the toilet…. the issue has been resolved once and for all.” More than one respected journalist has since cited what they say is evidence that Putin and the Russian state may have blown up the apartment buildings themselves in order to create popular support.

It was in September ten years ago that North Caucasus terrorists took hundreds of children and teachers hostage in a school in Beslan. Again the terrorists, and again what some say was a botched storming lead to more than 330 deaths, 186 of which were children. 447 Russians have gone the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Russia breached the victims’ right to life over Beslan.

These are a few examples which should prove that that Russia’s large, military and regular ‘anti-terror’ operations don’t work. In its turbulent North Caucasus, the home of Chechnya, Dagestan and countless terror attacks over the past 15 years, a suicide bomber recently blew himself up in Chechnya’s capital Grozny, which Moscow had previously thought pacified. Elections there have regularly returned near 100% of votes for Putin. But don’t mistake toleration, under the barrels of Russian guns, as support for Putin and Moscow. The security forces are about the only ethnic Russians left in the North Caucasus.

Putin may make a macho show of things. But the words of a Russian government spokesman at the European Court hearing into Beslan are more telling: “It is no secret that terrorist attacks, particularly hostage-takings, are very difficult to predict. The sad experience has shown that even the strongest states, with a high level of public security, are not guaranteed against such cases and very often have nothing in the face of the terrorist threat.”

Before and since Beslan, huge expenditures of Russian money and the heavy handed use of force have failed for ignoring the root causes of terrorism in Russia. Kicking in people’s doors all over the North Caucasus, killing people there, and moves like trying to make the families of terrorists pay for their acts do nothing to endear the Russian government to locals. And it is that continued antipathy and fear on the part of non ethnic Russian populations which fuels the continued recourse to terrorism.

Russians shouldn’t believe in Putin’s strong man image. He promised to protect them. But he hasn’t.


These boots are not meant for fighting…yet?

Continuing the weekly professional discussion of military affairs upon Twitter, today’s piece dovetails off of a piece by our Defense Studies Department, “Land Power and the Islamic State Crisis.”  It is a very good summary of the issues, and leads the reader to the unexpected conclusion that the thing which had seemed to be the answer to the current conflicts may, in fact, not lead to a satisfactory conclusion. This piece, for the purposes of discussion, will argue that tactical prowess notwithstanding, at this point Western land power cannot win this war. Read Dr. Tuck’s piece and this one, then join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW. 


“In the end, then, the dilemma facing policy-makers in the fight to stop Islamic State lies is the fact that land power might have the intrinsic power of decision in war; but there is nothing intrinsic to land power that guarantees a decision in our favour.”

That is the money quote from our Defense Studies colleague, Dr. Christopher Tuck. So many have been shouting for Western “boots on the ground” over the past weeks, but there is vastly less real consideration of what that would mean at any level of concern to military affairs, from tactics to policy. Despite absolute tactical proficiency to do so, to enter the conflict on the ground to fight and defeat ISIS is not currently in American interests or, more importantly, those whose lives and fates are so intimately tied to whether and where the ISIS flag continues to fly.

It must be very clear that casualties caused by Western and American armed forces, whether civilians or even the enemy, have a pernicious negative effect. In the former, it increases the moral and human distance between us and those on the ground we mean to support. While it is entirely possible to successfully prosecute a military campaign where local casualties are high and local support is maintained – the campaign in Western Europe to overthrow the German occupation in WWII, for example – this requires a significant foundation of trust and strong shared objectives. Neither currently exists in the region, although it may be possible that Iraq is beginning to manifest the necessary will and interest. Recent calls for increased American assistance from the Government (which is enjoying some greater amount of legitimacy than Maliki’s), from local civilian leaders, and from Iraqi Kurdistan suggest that such support might be growing. Cultivating this sentiment will take smart and sensible diplomacy, both from US/Western actors as well as regional partners. But that will take work, and does not change the contemporary problems.

With respect to the latter, you will likely pause to question why I believe that enemy losses to our military action are detrimental to our strategic purposes. However, as it must be clear at this point, ISIS’s strengths are not wholly or even in the majority on the battlefield. They are, in that domain, adequately sufficient, making good use of their strengths and mitigating their weaknesses. There are certain aspects of their campaigns that have been relatively sophisticated – the reconnaissance and battlefield preparation for the campaign in Anbar [1] should not be undervalued. Nevertheless, we should also note that their military success has been built more significantly upon their abilities to parlay the sentiments of local populations to their tactical and strategic benefit than upon their abilities to fight. But at the end of the day, ISIS’s strength is in its communications and propaganda. And it is in this realm that every fighter killed by Western action becomes nightmarish for us, as each becomes a martyred hero capable of encouraging the recruitment of future fighters. Simply put, the blood we spill is like fuel to the fire.

“We are your sons. We are your brothers. We came to protect your religion and your honour.” This, more than anything else, is ISIS’ selling point on the ground, why they have not yet been pushed out by the locals in whose name they are fighting and attempting to govern. That is where the fight is. And as it stands, on their own Western boots have neither the strategies nor the tactics to sell or make that promise.


So, simple questions for this week’s discussion.

1. In the short term you cannot change the context. So, what do you do? Contrary to the hype, “boots” are not the limit of Western military power – and for that matter, neither is airpower. So, what are the remaining elements of our military capabilities that could be used to strategic advantage against ISIS?

2. In the medium to longer term, the context is malleable. What military and political efforts would help to shape the context and increase the effectiveness of Western military activity, to include the option to use ground troops if that is deemed necessary and of potential utility?




[1] In “Clanging of the Swords, IV” the Raafidah hunters which targeted Iraqi military personnel were brutal, but that should not belie the sophistication of the preparation and execution of the mission to utterly dislocate the Iraqi Army forces. The video is awful, but does offer good military insights.