Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hard Not to Kill

My training continues to be occassionally intense (mentally, anyway) and consistently fills most of the hours in my day. I'm doing my best to learn naval tactics, techniques and procedures so I don't look like a complete fool when I get to my ship in June. We're in the intermediate phase of training right now, where we learn to combine warfare areas (air, surface, subsurface, expeditionary, etc.), and today I learned that one of the hardest thing to do as a member of the armed forces is not to kill everything that looks like a threat.

Conflict is psychological, we try to figure out what the adversary is doing without giving away what we are doing; trying to figure out who the enemy is and determine hostile intent and avoid being goaded into shooting when what they really want is an international incident with which to embarrass the U.S. More often than not we are not shooting everything that moves. Trying to make them make the first move without being forced to take the first hit ourselves is extremely complex. I just did it for a couple hours and I'm wiped out. Of course, I also have a cold and I think I just drank a moldy protein drink. Mm-mmm!

But it got me thinking. In two-hundred years, that's always been the hardest part of our mission. Engaging other nations on the high seas, or in their ports, or wherever, involves talking more than it involves shooting. I get the impression that many people think that all we do is kill people and break things. Though we do some diplomacy with violence, the majority of our operations these days are called (aptly) "Military Operations Other Than War" (MOOTW). (Link goes to .pdf copy of the Joint Pub 3-07, interesting reading if you have the time or inclination). So I thought I'd tell you a little bit about it in an effort to foster understanding of military employment.

MOOTW focus on deterring war, resolving conflict, promoting peace, and supporting civil authorities in response to domestic crises. As Figure I-1 indicates, MOOTW may involve elements of both combat and noncombat operations in peacetime, conflict, and war situations. MOOTW involving combat, such as peace enforcement, may have many of the same characteristics of war, including active combat operations and employment of most combat capabilities.
For example, we conducted Maritime Intediction Operations (MIO) for 15 years in support of the UN sanctions on Iraq, we've conducted Counter Drug Interdiction in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific for nigh on 25 years (I think), tsunami and earthquake relief efforts in southwest Asia, the mudslide in the Philipines and any other major natural disaster (inside the U.S. as well) and we've done Noncombatant Evacuation Operations in Saigon and Berlin (there may be more recent examples). This is what the military now does most of the time, for better or for worse.

MOOTW covers all the conflicts and murkily define operations we've done since the second World War and leads me to wonder which cam first; the U.S. being the world's policeman or the concept of us being the world's policeman? I doesn't matter much, because as much as I dislike having to handle the rest of the world's problems, to loosely quote Colin Powell, when someone needs a cop, who do they call?

By the definition above, however, it occurs to me that when George Bush landed on the aircraft carrier and declared an end to major combat operations... he was right. By our own standards, the "war" in Iraq is and has been over for quite some time, because an end to major combat operations does not mean that there isn't any more combat. You'll see in the Joint Doctrine that MOOTW are usually intended for short duration, but may last for years where destabilizing conditions persist and long-term commitment is required to meet objectives. The primary objective of MOOTW is political, as it is in Iraq, and because of wide and varied amorphous nature of these operations it is often diffcult to understand why the military is doing them.

My reponse: who else is going to do it?

People want to know when U.S. involvement in Iraq will end and I will tell you now that these conditions must be met before MOOTW operations in Iraq end:
  • Transition to civil authorities: Check.
  • Marking and clearing minefields: Check (we never laid mines)
  • Closing Financial Obligations.
  • Pre-redeployment activities.
  • Redeploying forces.
That's all well and good, you're saying to yourself, but why don't we just get on with it? I think that practically the single-most important concept in the Joint Doctrine is this: "The manner in which US forces terminate their involvement may influence the perception of the legitimacy of the entire operation" This is one reason why we have failed at such operations in the past (like Somalia and Vietnam). When I hear calls for bringing the troops home, it indicates to me people's ignorance of world affairs and the conduct of such operations. Is it any wonder when they are spoon-fed their awareness of the world through their television sets, resulting in wildly disparate claims of what is actually taking place?

So I thought this information might be useful to some of you in understanding what is going on and what has to happen for a successful conclusion in this particular battle in the Global War on Terror. I certainly hope it will spark some discussion of the concepts, at any rate.


Blogger Crazy Politico bloody well said...

I've spent the last two days teaching the point that shooting isn't always a good answer, and it could be a very bad one.

It's a hard concept for naval officers to grasp early on, but the senior folks seem to get it better.

I must be an excellent teacher, my class didn't shoot anything they weren't supposed to, but damn they were tempted.

02 March, 2006 22:35  

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