Situation Report

Big Army goes SF

Big Army goes SF

The Army is getting culturally attuned. Recent worry about al Qaeda’s increasing impact in the Maghreb gives lift to the Army’s effort to create "regionalized-aligned brigades" that are specifically trained for certain areas and can carry out missions in those theaters armed with at least basic levels of language and cultural awareness. Sometime this year, the Army’s 2-1 brigade combat team will be fully trained and ready to be used in the U.S. AFRICOM theater of operations. Soldiers will have received only six weeks of language and cultural training, but they will be better prepared for any kind of operation — from five-man train-and-equip missions to larger battalion-level exercises.

"I think what we want to make sure is that they’re much more culturally attuned to the area they’re going to," an Army official working on the initiative, told Situation Report. "I think that is an important part, and it’s certainly something that 12 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has highlighted to us, that you’ve got to understand the culture within which you operate. If you don’t, it does come with potentially cataclysmic problems."

For more on this, read below.

A deadly attack at a mosque in Faryab province in Afghanistan brought condemnation from Gen. John Allen this morning, who said the attack, which killed or injured dozens of Afghans, is an "affront to human life, to religious devotion and to the peaceful aspirations" of all Afghans. "This violence undertaken at a place of worship, and during Eid, once again shows the insurgency’s callous hypocrisy and disregard for religion and faith." 

The oft-used term "perfect storm" usually has nothing to do with the weather. But today forecasters fear Hurricane Sandy (a.k.a. "Frankenstorm,") could rival the perfect storm of 1991 and the combination of Sandy and a winter storm from the west could be hitting the East Coast by early next week.

Tracking Sandy:

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where we’re battening down the hatches and chaining the scooter to a tree. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list.

Bill Hammink will be the new chief of mission for USAID’s Afghanistan program, we’ve learned. He’ll begin next summer and take over from Ken Yamashita. USAID had struggled to find a replacement for Yamashita but in Hammink found someone who’s the kind of person AID would have wanted, one official told Situation Report. Hammink has been mission director in India.

What $71 million pays for: SIGAR says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to address serious construction flaws at an ANA base in Afghanistan and let contractor DynCorp off the hook — even after SIGAR pointed the flaws out two years ago. The Camp Pamir garrison in Kunduz province was cited in 2010 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction as being at risk of structural failure because of poor site grading and "serious stability issues." In March of this year, SIGAR revisited the garrison, finding more structural failures, improper grading, and new sink holes, according to a new SIGAR report out yesterday. "Despite the unsatisfactory performance of the contractor, DynCorp, [the Corps of Engineers] released DynCorp from further contractual liability…"

SIGAR report (including pictures of buildings cracked in half):

Panetta said there was not enough "real-time information" to deploy forces to Benghazi at the time of the Sept. 11 attack that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. There is a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" with regard to Libya, Panetta told reporters at a Pentagon presser yesterday. "We were prepared to respond to any contingency and certainly had forces in place to do that. But the basic principle here is you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on, without having some real-time information about what’s taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who is on the ground, or in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey, and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation."

Read E-Ring’s Kevin Baron:

Those crazy Brits: running in Sunday’s Marine Corps marathon will be a U.K. bomb disposal team. We hear that 27 British Army servicemen and -women will compete in Sunday’s marathon and one of them will be running in a protective bomb disposal suit. The group will be raising funds and awareness for soldiers wounded in the course of their duties as bomb disposal experts — the people who face mortality every time they do their job. Major Lain Church will try to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon time while wearing the 75-pound protective suit. Current record: 7:06:37, held by Cpl. Dan Skelly, also of the British EOD. Prince Harry: "Running a marathon is challenging enough. Doing it in a 75lb protective bomb disposal suit simply beggars belief, and just further illustrates the superb qualities of the men and women who serve so selflessly in bomb disposal."

The Army gets culturally attuned, con’t. It’s obvious to anyone watching that the Army is going through a transformation, figuring out how to position itself for the next era of warfare — whatever that is. The pivot to Asia gives it additional missions, but for the most part, the service, one Army official told Situation Report, will be largely based in the U.S. for the first time in a hundred years, apart from bases in Europe and Asia. That’s where it can refocus intellectual and training energy on the places where it may be called to deploy — in small forces and in large. "Building partnership capacity" will become an increasing buzz-phrase for the Army — indeed the military overall. Creating regionalized brigades is a "sourcing solution" that makes those units more geographically relevant when the combatant commanders need them to deploy. "We want them to be globally-available for contingency operations, so they have to be decisive-action trained – defense, offense and stability operations, but we also want them to be regionally and culturally-sensitive," " the Army official told Situation Report.

The Army official acknowledged that training junior soldiers in cultural awareness and some language training will be "quite a challenge," but stressed that it would focus on basics. There would be a higher level of learning for senior leaders, he said.

"I think we would have an expectation that our senior leaders within the brigade would be relatively proficient," he said. "But I think we have to be realistic about proficiency among some of our junior soldiers."

The first regionally aligned brigade will support AFRICOM, which has seen its missions increase dramatically, from 190 in fiscal year 2011 to 322 in fiscal year 2013. Missions run from sending five soldiers to build a firing range to battalion-level exercises — efforts that build capacity in nations with which the U.S. wants strong relationships. Indeed, Secretary Panetta said this week that the U.S. military might play a supporting role for now in hunting al Qaeda in northern Mali.

But there is some fear that "Big Army" is getting too specialized, and, among the Green Beret community, there is resistance to the idea.

Roger Carstens, a former Special Forces officer, told Situation Report that he thinks the idea of cultural awareness for soldiers isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But in Africa, Carstens doesn’t believe there is demand for a large Army presence, and he compared the new U.S. effort to using a jackhammer to build a house when a regular hammer will do a more effective job — and less expensively.

"African countries in Maghreb are a little concerned about a big American footprint," said Carstens, in a phone interview from Somalia, where he is conducting research. "What they would probably like is a small footprint where the hand of the U.S. is really not seen: low-cost, behind-the-scenes, discreet, so the leaders don’t have to apologize for the U.S. — maybe some Green Berets sleeping in the dirt with their soldiers."

The lesson learned from the last 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carstens says, is that the U.S. Army has trouble with nuance. "Americans are going to demand air conditioning, helicopter pads, the ‘golden hour,’ medical, and Baskin Robbins," Carstens says. "They just can’t do small."

Carstens sees the effort as a defense against congressional scrutiny: "Is there a demand signal, or is the American Army asking for this because they are about to get their balls cut off?" Carstens said. "The Army is running scared right now because they see the budget axe coming."

Not everyone sees it that way. Teaching soldiers basic cultural awareness — like what it means to hold up your hand, which, in some cultures can have distinctly different meanings — makes sense. "The ultimate argument for cultural training is the hand argument," a former soldier who served in the special operations community told Situation Report. "I can’t imagine that it would be unhelpful for a BCT to have language and cultural awareness where they go into theater."

And the former soldier did not see the move as a threat to Special Forces. "My sense is policymakers will use Special Forces wherever they can," he said.

Read Carstens’ piece on FP on what it takes to stand up special forces in Libya.

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