WASHINGTON: French forces have made great strides driving al-Qaeda-linked insurgents out of Mali’s major cities, said the Pentagon’s top counterterrorism official, Michael Sheehan. But any long-term solution requires local forces in the lead — not Westerners. And those recent successes in Yemen and Somalia provide a model for Mali — and for Afghanistan after 2014.
Sheehan, the assistant Secretary of Defense for special perations and low-intensity conflict (ASD SOLIC) spoke to scholars, industry officials, and military officers from two dozen countries this afternoon at the National Defense Industrial Association‘s annual SOLIC conference. Across the Maghreb and down to Nigeria, “an inverted L,” he said, “that area in North Africa is becoming awash with different al-Qaeda groups and affiliates.” Keep reading →
[UPDATED with comments from Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, SOCEUR]WASHINGTON: Even the celebrated Special Operations Command is feeling the budgetary bite of Washington dysfunction, SOCOM chief Adm. William McRaven said today.
“I haven’t gone through the list yet,” McRaven told reporters accosting him after a speech, but SOCOM will make cuts “just like the services” (the Air Force, Army, and Navy and Marines have all outlined painful impacts) to accommodate both the continuing resolution, which sets spending at 2012 levels in the absence of a proper appropriations bill, and sequestration, the automatic across-the-board cuts set to take effect in March. Keep reading →
ARLINGTON, Va: Col. Frank Donovan, commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was standing on the flight deck of the USS Iwo Jima as the amphibious assault ship sailed near the Horn of Africa one day last October, seven months into a nine-month deployment, when a young lance corporal asked to speak to him.
“I said, ‘Yeah, what’s up?’” Donovan recalls. “And she says, ‘Everyone says we’re America’s nine one one force.’ I said, ‘Yeah, we are.’ She goes, ‘How come no one’s calling?’” This was asked, remember, when the Middle East and Maghreb were boiling over after the Arab Spring ripened.) Keep reading →
As 2013 hurtles towards us, Breaking Defense has asked the experts on our Board of Contributors to forecast the key defense issues of the coming year (click here for the full 2013 forecast series). We kick off the series with this essay from Rachel Kleinfeld, founding president of the aggressively progressive Truman National Security Project.
In a world of tumult, which national security problems will really matter in 2013? Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is now in the irregular warfare business, the top service official in charge of the program said today.
Naval Sea Systems Command is developing a new LCS mission package focusing on irregular warfare operations. Those capabilities will fall more toward the humanitarian and disaster relief-types of missions under the IW banner, LCS Program Executive Officer Rear Adm. James Murdoch, said during a speech at the Surface Warfare Association’s annual conference.The IW package will bring aboard additional medical and other support capabilities to care for victims of a natural disaster, Murdoch said. Once complete, the new IW package will be the fourth one designed for the LCS. The current ship modules cover surface warfare, counter-mine and anti-submarine operations. Along with the IW mission package, program officials are also developing a fifth mission package designed for maritime security operations, a NAVSEA official added. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: The White House’s newly-minted national security strategy is full of big ideas. But among all these big ideas is a much smaller one that could draw the Pentagon much deeper into the small wars that have defined America’s global counterterrorism campaign.
U.S. special operations forces and counterinsurgency specialists returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are poised to ramp up operations across the globe, focusing on Africa and South America, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today. These small bands of special forces and COIN experts will lean upon “innovative methods” learned in Southwest Asia to support local counterterrorism forces and expand American influence in those two continents, Panetta said. The plan is part of the new strategy unveiled by President Obama today.
These “innovative methods” include increasing rotations of small special operations units into those regions for longer periods, bolstering military-to-military training with indigenous forces and supporting those troops with more U.S. weapons and equipment, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld said during the same press conference. The American military units heading to Africa and South America were the same ones that spearheaded the “high end [counterinsurgency] fight” in Iraq and Afghanistan, Winnefeld said. With the U.S. withdrawal from Southwest Asia already in motion, Pentagon leaders now have the flexibility to move more troops into places like Africa and South America, the four-star Admiral explained.
U.S. special forces were sent to Uganda last October to help those forces in their war against the Lord’s Resistance Army. The Army is also in the midst of creating a number of “regionally aligned brigades” whose sole mission will be to train and advise foreign militaries. The first of these brigades is set to deploy to Africa Command next year.
Small U.S. units schooling foreign troops on the finer points of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations is much different from the intensive, “long-term” COIN missions American troops carried out in Southwest Asia, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pointed out today. The Pentagon’s new strategy moves the military away from building up security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of the smaller, less-intesive training missions envisioned for Africa and South America, Carter said. “Its all about the force we need,” he added. That said, DoD isn’t abandoning that kind of COIN mission entirely.
Completely walking away from the nation building-style of counterinsurgency would be a clear example of “departmental hubris,” Winnefeld pointed out. To avoid that DoD planners have built in “reversability” clauses into its new COIN strategy, Carter added.When enacted, these clauses will allow the Pentagon to build its counterinsurgency operations back up to Iraq and Afghanistan levels. To make sure DoD retains that COIN know-how, the department will continue to invest in “specialized capabilities” and “keep the tradecraft” in house.
Washington: The White House’s decision to send U.S. troops to help the Ugandan military curb a violent separatist group had Washington buzzing last week.
Many inside the Beltway feared the mission, in which American special forces would support Ugandan forces in their war against the Lord’s Resistance Army, could be a first step into a protracted conflict in Africa. Keep reading →
Washington: A number of sophisticated shoulder-fired missiles looted from Libyan armories have already been smuggled out of the North African country and we don’t know where they’ve gone, a top U.S. general said today.
Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham said his organization picked up “worrying indicators” that some of the unaccounted for Libyan stockpiles of Grinch SA-24 and SA-7 shoulder-fired rockets are already gone, Ham said today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Keep reading →