Monday, June 08, 2015

The burdens of being a secretive warrior clan

tl;dr summary: something about special forces and their problems - not for idiots!

tweet: It is hard to become and stay special. Special forces cost a lot money to build and maintain. Customers inside the national security complex want value for money and often end up overusing or degrading the very capabilities that they have paid so much to build up. Temporarily diluting the SF label offers a way to reduce attrition losses and optimizing SF capability utilization.

Full Post:

This is in part a comment about Mark Mazzetti's NYT article and the persistent debate on special forces in India. The Mazzetti article captures some of the problems the Navy Seals are facing and this seem identical to what a lot of SF people in India were running into. As both setups are actually quite similar in their makeup, the fact that they face similar problems is not surprising. In fact the SG in India underwent a similar "routinization" almost a decade before the DevGru ever heard about Taliban.

There is a hidden reason behind this. Both the SG in India and the Seals in the US have been facing the same exact enemy. The Pakistanis have long used the SSG in an extra-regimental role to act as stiffeners and provocateurs in Jihadi groups. The SG in Kashmir and the Seals in Afghanistan have been up against the same strategy,

The SG was brought into the valley brought to counter SSG officers who were being slipped into the region under the guise of Al Badr Mujaheddin.  The main local support arm of the Al Badr Mujaheddin was an entity comprised of Kashmiri born Hizbul Mujaheddin UGW (under ground workers). It was a very complex and painful task to sort through the UGWs, penetrate screening forces of fedayeen squads and then positively identify and contain SSG personnel. This could only be attempted by the SG and to that end, a highly specialized force was reworked to suit the circumstances. SG actually spawned two units SG-I and SG-II which operated in certain regions (the Pir Panjal and Kupwara) to dominate key entrance routes to the valley. A relatively less visibly organized presence acted in other parts of the valley as well. The objective of the SG's actions were very clear - deny the SSG a permanent foothold in the region. This was viewed as being critical to the security of India's strategic posture in Kashmir. Although I am talking about this like it was an India-Pak cricket match, it was a very brutal and bloody struggle. The SG took grievous losses (given is small size) and the Government of India prevailed only after the sons of Nahan made meaning to the word "Balidan".

The Navy Seals faced a similar goal in Afghanistan. The PA SSG was being used to stiffen the ranks of the "Afghan" Taliban (I say "was" instead of "is" because you don't see as many reports of PA officers being arrested by Afghan security forces now). If you look at "Afghan" Taliban actions, you will see that they were attempting to cut MSRs (Main Supply Routes) in the region and dominate heroin trafficking routes out of the region. The Seals were used extensively to stem the tide of Taliban success. The importance of this work cannot be overstated. The security of the entire US posture in Afghanistan rested on leveraging the Pakistanis into supporting their actions. The US LoCs ran across Pakistan and the only way to prevent Pakistan from completely bleeding the US dry was to stockpile supplies inside Afghanistan and periodically open corridors via Iran and Russia. If the "Afghan" Taliban grabbed control over key transit routes inside Afghanistan then the Pakistan would effectively control all aspect of military maneuver in the region. This would enable them to shake the US down for a lot more money than they were currently getting. With guys like Gen. Hamid Gul having deep ties to the trucking mafias in the region, stopping the Taliban in their tracks was essential to the success of the US mission in Afghanistan.

As with the SG, the elements of the Seals saw this somewhat long-drawn-out mission as a waste of precious resources. Like the SG in the valley, the Seals took heavy loses (ex. Extortion 17). Given that the average special forces operator is truly combat effective for about 5-7 years (average attrition due to PTSD, TBI, and death/permanent bodily dismemberment) and that it takes somewhere in the range of several million to train one SF person properly in their job, this is a real concern. The complaints were made publicly in India (and also in the US). Everyone understood that members of the National Security community wanted to get their money's worth with these secret warriors, but it wasn't clear to anyone if that was actually being done with the current utilization paradigms.

After much head scratching, the powers that be in the GoI decided that they would dilute the SG, and spread its burden on to the other entities like the remainder of the Parachute Regiment and the RR's newly created Cdo battalion. The RR's and CPMF QRS units were also beefed up to ensure that the SG had less work to do on a daily basis. There was a lot of complaints about dilution of the exclusivity of the SF community with these moves, but the end result was a multi-tiered security structure that held the valley at an apparently lower amortized cost.

A similar structural evolution is still absent in the US. The number of units specializing in MOUT or COIN is still very low in the US. This is contributing to the over dependence on the Seals. The Seals kind of pick up everything between what CIA contractors can deal with and what the regular boots on the ground can cope with. Given that there are only 1500 or so of them, that is a huge per-capita load. That load will caused increased attrition.

Long range recon/strike patrols tend to be the most intensive use of SF personnel.  So there is another problem with the absence of enough Lilypads to support shorter range raids. There is one in Djibouti but that covers an amazingly large piece of AFRICOM's region of responsibility. The Indian equivalents of the lilypads were the RR garrisons, There was a time when there simply weren't enough of those. Increasing the number of RR garrisons was key to securing the valley.

The question of optimal utilization of SF capability will present itself repeatedly but the only known way to cope with this problem is to dilute the SF label and create a buffer that absorbs some of the more routine aspects of the true SF role. While such a dilution will create problems for the image of the special force and degrade its apparent elite status, it will provide much needed relief to the men-at-arms.

It is unlikely that the Pakistani will be able to keep up their strategy of using the SSG in a "stay-behind" role for much longer. The Pakistani economy cannot support the cost of suppressing all the internal fires that this kind of thing starts. Eventually the true of this will catch up with Islamabad's deep staters and this kind of warfare will come to an end. That will allow the SF community to shrink back to its "normal" size.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Why India has not seen a military dictatorship *yet*...

tl;dr summary: Prime Minister Nehru put a stop to it on day one... now who knows what will happen.

tweet: Prime Minister Nehru created a kind of "democratic dictatorship" that effectively crushed any military aspirations of power. The large cult of personality worship that supported the Nehru-Gandhi family's leadership has kept the military juntas at bay. In this fashion India's "democracy" deflected the onset of military rule. With the Nehru-Gandhi clan's decline, the likelihood of a military takeover and other nastier departures from democratic values gain momentum.

Full Post:

The credit for creating a massive power structure that kept the military in its barracks in India rests almost entirely with Prime Minister Nehru.

It is said that President George Washington could have appointed himself Emperor of the United States, but instead he chose to be its first elected president. This enshrined democracy as the guiding principle of the US nation. Similarly in India Prime Minister Nehru chose to be Prime Minister instead of "el Dictator for life". By repeatedly throwing himself into electoral politics and forcing himself to communicate with the most ordinary of Indians, he setup an accountability principle that holds sway over India to this day. Jinnah by contrast was a poor communicator and never cared about accountability to a wide mass of people. That is why he failed to create a persistent democracy in Pakistan.

Given his extraordinary communication skills, inside the Congress party, Prime Minister Nehru gathered universal support. This support increasingly took on the appearance of a personality cult to outsiders. For his supporters, Prime Minister Nehru could do no wrong. Prime Minister Nehru went to great lengths to show that he was as ordinary any other Indian. He would never shy away from picking up the shovel and digging at a major national project. He would not shy away from interacting with anyone regardless of caste and religion. He would seamlessly move across cultural and ethnic boundaries. This fluidity endeared him to large sections of India and as his extremely persuasive tone was heard and copied throughout India, he became directly identified with India itself. His supporters filled the ranks of the civilian government, the intelligence agencies and the military. His vision of a diverse but integrated and constitutional sense of nationalism became pervasive. Given the sheer size of his following, all other political forces including those inclined towards military dictatorship were reduced to a minority.

His daughter Prime Minister Indira Gandhi inherited his support base and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was born. The supporters of Nehru effectively switched their loyalty to the next in line for the throne. All members of the dynasty experimented or flirted with dictatorship in some way but the wiser counsel prevailed in each case and all the descendants eventually fell back on the Nehruvian formula of direct contact with the Indian masses even if it meant losing your life (such as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi).

The Nehru-Gandhi cult was never able to stamp its will on all Indians as there were simply too many Indians. They were however able to maintain a stranglehold on national debate and ensure that corrosive tendencies like sectarian thought, ethnic chauvinism, radical Marxism, etc... were kept away from the major government organs. The ensured that principles of accountability enshrined by Prime Minister Nehru continued to operate.

As the Indian population has grown and the cost of maintaining a direct relationship with the Indian people has become quite high. This has led to Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka losing touch with the people of India. The direct consequences of this is that many traditional support bases have lost interest in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. This weakness in the Nehru-Gandhi cult has presented itself as a kind of paralysis in the parliament. It seems that the houses of the legislature have become rubber stamps or inconvenient hurdles for the executive branch. Absent checks and balances the executive branch (both the babudom and their fauji cousins) have become steadily infiltrated by people with extreme agendas. This decay is slowly taking its toll on the organs of government.

In this climate the forces opposed to the dynasty - including those of a Hindu-Nazi variety and military dictatorship variety - have strengthened significantly. And so the future of Indian democracy has become quite uncertain.

India's democracy has always battled state failure in sizable pockets of the country. Despite its overtly democratic wrappings, India has fought several bloody civil wars over the last 60 years. These matters have made a mark on India. Society is much more militarized now then it ever was before.

As an old friend once put it - the "militarisation of Mother India" is almost complete
- look at the innumerable legions of CPMFs, see how much better armed and trained they are,
- look at the numbers of RR battalions,
- look at the rising number of private security agencies and their armed staff, and
- look again at the ease with which each state maintains "India Reserve Battalions" IRBs that can be quickly re-badged as CPMF battalions.

These security units are a double edged sword. They can act as a barrier to criminal behavior or they can feed authoritarianism. A strong civilian leadership is critical to resisting the onset of anti-democratic behavior.

If Prime Minister Modi wants to keep India democratic - he will have to reconnect with its Nehruvian past. In his association with organizations like the RSS and other Hindu-uber-allez entities, he has become estranged from Indian democracy's Nehruvian founding principles.

It is not enough to simply dress like Prime Minister Nehru. One has to actually behave like Prime Minister Nehru - for example - when someone offers you a kufi - wear it! don't refuse it.