Military

By Joshua Shinbrot

Kurdish Peshmerga troops take part in intensive security deployment against the Islamic State in January 2015. Source: Flickr/Times Asi (https://flic.kr/p/qTtEd7)

Yazidi men and women are being massacred. Their girls are being sold as sex slaves. Their boys are being forcibly converted and indoctrinated to form a modern Janissary Corps of suicide bombers and executioners. ISIL (ISIS/Daesh/IS) has been attempting to exterminate the Yazidis for over a year, yet with few exceptions the world has remained silent. All major world leaders know, few care, and none will act. History offers a plethora of examples of the dire consequences of the silence and indifference exhibited by the President of the United States and the leaders of powerful European Countries. This type of apathy allowed for the genocidal murder of approximately 10,000,000 people in the twentieth century: 100,000 in Bosnia, 800,000 in Rwanda, 2,000,000 Armenians, over 1,000,000 Roma, and well over 6,000,000 Jews. ISIL’s ideology seeks to implement a radical seventh century interpretation of Islam by using 21st century weaponry to murder or subjugate all who refuse to embrace their ways. The group most threatened by ISIL is the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who overwhelmingly reject ISIL’s fanatical interpretation of the Islamic faith.

Today, ISIL is stronger than al-Qaeda was on September 11, 2001. It controls more territory, it is better funded, and it is more successful at recruiting westerners. ISIL’s genocide of the Yazidis is just the beginning. If we are to protect ourselves, our allies, the Yazidis, and Muslims threatened by ISIL, the United States needs to destroy the Islamic State and it must do this now. It’s time to level the territory controlled by ISIL and destroy the major transportation routes the group uses to supply and maintain itself.

President Obama has accurately referred to ISIL as a cancer. However, Obama has failed to properly treat the disease. This aggressive radical cancer requires an equally aggressive treatment. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it kills a lot of normal, healthy cells too. There is no way to destroy ISIL without killing large numbers of innocent people. The Obama administration’s attempts to destroy Daesh have killed many innocent people, but it has failed to make substantial progress in the struggle against ISIL. Drone strikes may kill higher-ups in IS, but it seems that every time this occurs there are plenty of people waiting to take the place of the dead. A 2014 report by The Guardian regarding Obama’s “targeted killing” program indicates that “attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of 1,147 people.” That means 28 civilians were killed per targeted individual without any substantial strategic gain from their deaths. Those are 28 families who lost an innocent mother, father, brother or sister. Locals lose loved ones, but the terrorists are not defeated.

It is time to take noncombatant immunity seriously. The United States and its coalition partners have a responsibility to ensure that the innocent lives lost during hostilities actually serve to defeat ISIL. If the strategy advocated in this article were implemented, substantial numbers of civilians would be killed. Yet, ISIL would be defeated, the world would know that America will do what it takes to defeat extremism, and international norms against genocide would be strengthened.

Just War Theory demands more than ensuring the proportionality of noncombatant deaths during hostilities. The object of a war with ISIL needs to be the creation of a just and lasting peace. It will not be possible to achieve such a peace without a long-term American presence in Iraq. ISIL is creating a backwards society with apocalyptic aims. The United States and its allies have defeated warped ideologies before. It was accomplished in the post-war occupation and reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II.

Unlike in Iraq, the United States never turned its back on Japan and Germany. Even today, there is a massive American military presence in Germany (36,691 troops) and Japan (52,060 troops). If the United States and our coalition partners aggressively work towards post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, in a few decades, the American military presence in Iraq may look much more like the American military presence in Germany or Japan. There is no simple, fast, or cheap way to resolve the “ISIS Crisis.” Failure to change the strategy for defeating ISIL will only raise the cost of victory over extremism in treasure and, more importantly, in blood.

By Salma Khamis

Egyptian President Abdelfattah El Sisi and his French counterpart François Hollande at the Opening Ceremony of the Suez Canal's Expansion, July 2015. Source: BFM TV

For anyone who has been following Egyptian affairs, this past month’s headlines have provided for a curious case of seemingly implausible coincidences. Coming from a country that sometimes seems to be purposely trying to embarrass itself on the international stage (see: the army-financed AIDS-curing laser machine), I must say that PR mishaps are no stranger to the Egyptian government. Unfortunately, the events of this month only serve to reinforce this fact.

The first case in point: the tragic September 13th accidental killing of 8 Mexican tourists by an army airstrike in the Egyptian White Desert.  In every sense of the word, this event was a domestic and diplomatic catastrophe, and it should have been treated as such. Rather, internally, Egyptian media outlets chose to focus on whether or not the tourists should have been where they were without the army’s authorization. Externally, President Abdelfattah El Sisi, the presumed highly skilled arbiter of diplomacy, chose to congratulate Mexico on the occasion of the Mexican Independence Day, whilst in mid-condolence-speech regarding eight of their nationals who perished on Egyptian soil for absolutely no reason other than institutional incompetence.

Fast-forward to September 23 and France’s announcement that it has decided to reroute its previously Russia-bound Mistral helicopters to Egypt. As any freshman IR student could tell you, this is a decision with profound geopolitical motivations and consequences. On the one hand, increased Russian military intervention in Syria undoubtedly played a role in determining whether or not the weapons made it to Putin. On the other hand, there could not possibly be a more pronounced endorsement of Sisi and the path upon which he is leading his country than an internationally advertised arms deal such as this.

Despite limited French criticism of the Egyptian government’s human rights abuses, it was only during the opening ceremony for the expansion of the Suez Canal (itself a vestige of French influence in the country) that the speculation regarding warming Franco-Egyptian relations was confirmed. Sitting side by side with El-Sisi, French President François Hollande seemed every bit as impressed as Egyptian liberals were infuriated. The visual of a P5 country president sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Sisi served as a loud and clear confirmation, not only of the economic soundness of the canal expansion (a notion widely contested by academics); but of all that Sisi has become notorious for in barely over a year of being in office: forced disappearances, mass death sentences, dwindling academic freedom, and a whole host of other “democratizing” pursuits.

Adding yet another ‘coincidental’ insult to injury, on the same day the French government announced the Egyptian arms deal, the Egyptian government announced that Sisi had decided to presidentially pardon 100 political prisoners. Out of these 100 prisoners, the names of two in particular caught the world’s attention: Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed who, up until their arrest in 2013 on terrorism allegations, worked in Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau. Despite being a Canadian national, Fahmy could not secure his release through diplomatic efforts in what had become an international controversy as the Egyptian government continued to defy foreign pressure to release the Al-Jazeera journalist. Predictably, Sisi was hailed domestically for his act of historically unprecedented benevolence.

I am fully aware of the dangers of having hypothesized a correlation between a set of variables, only to make it seem like there are no two ways about it. This sequence of events could very well be purely coincidental and, as a cynical Egyptian observing events from afar, I could be making an unfair correlation between a number of factors that bear little relevance to one another. It is not like Sisi was subsequently making a trip to the United States the very next day after pardoning these prisoners, attempting to put the final nail in the coffin of Egypt’s bad press.

The fact of the matter is, foreign and domestic analysts alike should not be commending President Sisi for the decision to pardon 100 political prisoners who should not even have been arrested in the first place. To commend his efforts is to be complicit in justifying the need for their initial arrest and subsequent detainment under blanket “anti-terrorism” laws that serve only to terrorize an entire population into silence. The decision to pardon these prisoners comes not from Sisi’s newly found conviction in the sanctity of human rights, but from a need to save face after a month of spectacularly unfavorable press. Even if the prospects of being elected for a second term have already been deemed an inevitability in domestic discourse, Sisi still has to salvage his image abroad.

Rather than commending Sisi for pardoning 100 unjustly detained political prisoners, we should question the premise upon which the pardon was issued. Bartering the livelihood of 100 individuals for the acquisition of weaponry or redemption of diplomatic stature is not only irresponsible, but provides room for the future manipulation of domestic affairs to save face on the international stage.

When push comes to shove, what commentators do not want to admit in their analysis of Egyptian affairs is that all of these coincidences, or mishaps, or temporary setbacks, or whatever it is we want to call them; they are but symptoms of an overarching and undeniable institutional failure that needs to be addressed before it morphs itself into yet another global embarrassment… or twenty.

“Discussing Life in Afghanistan” A Psychologist and Department of Defense civilian deployed to Afghanistan as members of the Human Terrain System interview local residents in April 2009. Source: U.S. Army/Flickr.

In 2005, Montgomery McFate, a former defense consultant for the Rand Corporation, and Andrea Jackson, the Director of Research and Training at the Lincoln Group, published a paper entitled: “An Organizational Solution for DOD’s Cultural Knowledge Needs.” In it, they outlined the goals, needs, and cost for the development of a “specialized organization within the Department of Defense to produce, collect, and centralize cultural knowledge, which will have the utility for policy development and military operations.” The article in Military Review was published at a time when policy makers recognized the need to have cultural knowledge of their enemy, especially during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It went on to suggest the establishment of regional combatant commanders (RCC) and regional offices to supplement teams on the ground and to maintain close relationships with local forces and possible other sources of intelligence.  From this paper, the Human Terrain System (HTS), a United States Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) support unit costing $726 million, was born.

Units in HTS, known as Human Training Teams (HTT), were supposed to deploy people with social-science backgrounds, such as anthropologists and linguists, to provide military commanders and staff with an understanding of the local population in the area. In 2007, the program was critiqued by the American Anthropological Association, which called the collaboration of social scientists and combat units “an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise,” as there existed a moral conflict between studying, for example, Iraqis, and advising troops who might end up killing them. However, the criticisms did not stop there; taxpayers were upset, as were military personnel, who felt that there already existed units that carried out the same function and that HTS was draining resources away from other priorities. The program also came under close scrutiny in 2009, when Staff Sergeant Paula Lloyd, a member of HTT in Afghanistan, was doused with petrol and set alight by a local Afghan. Her death went unreported, despite it being the third researcher with HTT to die on that deployment.

The need to thoroughly understand our enemies and associates is something that has been recognized for a long time. Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” And the need still exists today; General Odierno, the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army and former Commander General, United States Forces – Iraq, acknowledged its necessity during the war. While in Iraq, he recruited Emma Sky, a non-military British expert on the Middle East and who had lived in Kirkuk and dealt with the Iraqi-Kurdistan disputes after the Fall of Saddam and the war, to be his political advisor.

In late June of this year, the press got word that HTS had been terminated quietly in September 2014, as “there was no longer a requirement for HTS teams in theater.” But why was there such a long delay in announcing the end of the program? Many believe that HTS had the potential to change humanitarian missions and reconstruction efforts. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates even praised the program and its “alternative thinking” that was key to success for a military that has a reputation of being heavy handed, something that was only emphasized around the world. Secretary Gates expressed how HTS led to less violence, citing a commander in Afghanistan who had worked with Human Terrain Teams and, as a result, had to carry out 60% fewer armed strikes.

So what does the military do now that HTS has been terminated? Major Adam Martin doesn’t believe HTS’s termination left any void for his operations. His fellow soldiers are from diverse backgrounds and are trained in the same way and can, therefore, carry out the same functions as HTS personnel did; he works with reserve soldiers who are anthropologists, state troopers, civil engineers, and environmental engineers to name a few. Maj. Martin has been with Civil Affairs since 2010 and is the HQ Company Commander for the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade based in Philadelphia. His unit is part of the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) (USACAPOC(A)) which was founded in 1985, is comprised of mostly U.S. Army Reserve soldiers and which is meant to carry out five functions: civil information management, population resource control, support to civil administration, foreign humanitarian assistance and nation assistance. I met Maj. Martin when I worked at the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy this year in New York where he was visiting to research how to engage youth in post-conflict areas through creative arts programs, such as the dance and music classes the Academy ran.

He too thinks that understanding your enemy is vital, as you cannot do your job (in this field) without understanding the culture. He added that this applies more to Civil Affairs soldiers who are “expected to understand and to know a lot more than anybody else.” For example, when examining the next Area of Operations (AO), he explained how there are two systems the unit uses to assess various factors: PMESCII – political, military, economic, social, cultural, informational and infrastructure – and ASCOPE – areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people and events. Every minute detail, such as the location of power plants and natural resources, are plotted, analyzed and discussed.

U.S. Army Reserve Officers from 418th Civil Affairs Brigade work with locals in the Horn of Africa in 2010. Source: U.S. Army Africa/Flickr.
U.S. Army Reserve Officers from 418th Civil Affairs Brigade work with locals in the Horn of Africa in 2010. Source: U.S. Army Africa/Flickr.

Despite being civilians, HTS personnel wore uniform when deployed, like those in Civil Affairs. Wearing uniform might seem imposing and threatening but Maj. Martin assured that it “can be helpful as it opens doors. There is credibility.” He even mentioned that local interpreters would also wear military uniform but would be covered, as they would not want to be seen, as this may endanger their families – something that the army would try and prevent at all costs. Maj. Martin did explain that Civil Affairs does differ from HTS in its operations, which include advising on infrastructure development projects, water distribution centers, and school and bridge refurbishment – known as Engineering Civil Action Programs or ENCAP – such as those he carried out in the Philippines. Moreover, Civil Affairs personnel can carry out a wide range of programs: Veterinarian Civil Action Programs (VETCAP), Educational Civil Action Programs (EDCAP), and Medical Civil Action Programs (MEDCAP) – Maj. Martin disclosed that through this last set of programs, he has had to carry out circumcision operations with a local doctor.

Understanding our enemies and foreign populations beyond what their military capabilities are, where they could be deployed, what history says and what their tactics are can only tell us so much. It is vital to comprehend and to follow cultural practices to add credibility to the incoming force and to not aggravate what is likely to be an already complex, volatile environment. The United States has, unfortunately, only emphasized its controversial approach to reconstruction efforts in recent history. The Human Terrain System was established to help with this. Although marred in controversy, the program also received much praise so it does not seem to make sense that its termination was abrupt, hushed and muted. However, there is no rush for the country to consider finding and funding another similar program for it seems as if there already exists a unit to help military forces without the assistance of HTS.

Civil Affairs appears to overlap with HTS in many aspects but surpasses it in its capacity with regard to personnel and operations, which beckons the questions: did we really need the Human Terrain System? What would have happened if it were never established?

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