Thursday, September 24, 2015

An Old Continuum and Not Something New

Just because a war on terror policy is new to the reporter doesn't mean it is new.

Sometimes I just weep with frustration over the state of defense reporting. This article rightly notes the impact of a few special forces in Niger, but then goes and ruins the ride:

The Diffa meeting was a modest success not just for its mutually suspicious tribes but for a small team of fewer than 20 U.S. Special Operations Forces conducting an experiment that is part of President Barack Obama's new counter-terrorism strategy.

The soldiers, who encouraged the meeting and helped provide a ring of security, do not go into combat, or even wear uniforms. They are quietly trying to help Niger build a wall against Boko Haram's incursions and its recruitment of Diffa's youth.

A Reuters reporter was the first to visit the detachment, which is among about 1,000 U.S. Special Operations Forces deployed across Africa.

In Chad, Nigeria, Niger and elsewhere, they are executing Obama's relatively low-risk strategy of countering Islamic extremists by finding local partners willing to fight rather than deploying combat troops by the thousands.

One, it is interesting to see that we have a thousand special fores deployed across Africa.

Two, it is good that we are doing this in Niger.

But three--and this is the part that makes me weep for the state of reporting on the war on terror (or any military matter, really)--is the idea that this small deployment is an alternative to sending thousands of combat troops.

Fighting jihadis is a continuum of force commitment that needs to be determined based on the threat and the capacity of the friendly government to defeat the threat.

At the low end are allies with the capacity to fight jihadis without our help. They may simply help us with information and advice based on their own efforts. Nice work if you can get it, as the saying goes.

But if we don't have such a fully capable ally, we may need to supply advice. Or intelligence.

We may need to provide weapons and equipment.

We may need to send trainers.

We may need to provide direct support like logistics and surveillance.

We may need to add direct close air support with manned or drone aircraft.

We may need to send our special forces directly after jihadis in combat.

We may need to send small conventional combat forces to supplement local forces in combat with jihadis.

Or--if the threat level is way beyond the level our ally can defeat--we may need to send a full force of 150,000 ground troops supported by air power and sustained by sea power if the outcome in that place is vital to our interests.

So our effort to support Niger is not an alternative to sending thousands of combat troops to fight jihadis. It is the level we think we need to support Niger's efforts to defeat the jihadis.

It is not new. It is not a smart alternative. It is simply a good thing among many options we have to fight and defeat jihadis.