France’s Fight in the Sahel, Strategic Risks of Withdrawing Troops from Iraq, Magical Realism and Other Bullets

France’s Fight in the Sahel, Strategic Risks of Withdrawing Troops from Iraq, Magical Realism and Other Bullets

Whew, it has been a little while since I have put together one of these posts to round up the goings on across the world. Hopefully, I can get another together in a day or two to get you caught up. On a side note, sustained winds can make for some choppy boating in the intercoastal waterway.  I know my bilge pump works…. on to the bullets.

France now finds itself stuck in the Sahel, much like the United States found itself in Afghanistan and Iraq — spending years and billions of dollars on fighting highly mobile Islamist groups in difficult, unfamiliar terrain, with no end in sight.

The article talks about all the problems of trying to develop a competent force across many languages with fighters that have little education or equipment.

West African security forces have little of the equipment, training or even basic education that their French counterparts do. Most of the Malian soldiers said they had never seen a compass before, and they kept getting their directions wrong. They tested each other on the powdery sand, an empty cigarette packet marking north, a plastic cup for south.

The French are facing all of the same problems that the U.S. has faced in Iraq and Afghanistan and is finding that the military solution is not enough. A frustrating aspect of the entire ‘War on Terror’ is illustrated here…

In most cases, the militants hear the long noisy convoys of the French Foreign Legion from miles away, and clear out. French commanders recognize this. They say that the idea is to keep the armed groups on the run, so they cannot settle in with the local population.

The suspected terrorist in flip-flops apparently did not hear the convoy coming, but by the time the soldiers could maneuver their vehicles to the tangle of trees where they last saw him, he was long gone — perhaps blending in with the local population.

While I was working on my Master’s Degree at Penn State, I wrote a paper about the Rhodesian Counterinsurgency and the lessons learned. The Army asked the Rand Corporation to conduct an in-depth review of tactics, what worked and what didn’t. Rand did an excellent job but the Army implemented very few of their recommendations and we are struggling with the same problems today. Again, it is really good and definitely worth checking out. Honestly, its good reading articles like these just to know that other countries are facing the same problems.

In this Perspective, we assess the possible strategic risks associated with U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq and recommend policies to help the United States meet its strategic objectives in the Middle East. As of early 2020, the United States has several thousand military personnel in Iraq providing direct combat assistance to Iraqi security services and to U.S. forces in eastern Syria. Following the targeted killing of Iranian Major General Qassim Suleimani in January 2020, the Iraqi parliament passed a nonbinding measure calling for the ejection of foreign—and primarily U.S.—military forces from Iraq. This vote, and the concurrent rise in tensions with Iran, reignited the debate over the purpose of the U.S. military mission in Iraq Why is the United States engaged in Iraq? What is the purpose of sustaining a military footprint there? What would happen if the Iraqi government expelled U.S. military forces, or if they were willingly withdrawn? If the U.S. military remains in Iraq, what should constitute this presence.

Again, it is really good but there is a lot there to take in for this format. This will require a post solely dedicated to it but I wanted to put it in-front of you because I think that it is important. I’ll put a pin in this for later but leave you with the recommendations.

Four policy recommendations based on this analysis:

      1. Support: Continue to actively support the development of stability and democracy in Iraq.
      2. Stay: Select optimal risk-benefit balance between no withdrawal and limited withdrawal.
      3. Endure: Maintain an enduring advisory mission to help develop Iraq’s security forces.
      4. Improve: Help the Iraqi military improve civil-military relations over time.
  • Next, we are going to a site that I have not linked to before, Divergent Options, a non-revenue generating non-politically aligned national security website that does not conduct political activities.  I have not done a deep dive on this website but I follow them on Twitter and the folks over there are seem interesting and I believe are definitely worth checking out. Assessing the Threat posed by Artificial Intelligence and Computational Propaganda , by Marijn Pronk, a Master Student at the University of Glasgow, focusing on identity politics, propaganda, and technology. First, what the heck is computational propaganda?

Computational propaganda is defined as ‘’the assemblage of social media platforms, autonomous agents, algorithms, and big data tasked with manipulating public opinion[3].‘’ AI has the power to enhance computational propaganda in various ways, such as increased amplification and reach of political disinformation through bots.

While I cannot say that I agree with Pronk on everything, I definitely don’t believe the media is unbiased, but they appear to be uncensored. If there was one thing that I find terrifying about this paper it is this little fact:

Currently, more people use Facebook as their main source of news than via any news organization[2]. Therefore, manipulating the flow of information in the digital sphere could not only pose as a great threat to the democratic values that the internet was founded upon, but also the health of democracies worldwide.

Overall, I find the paper interesting because it is so different than the normal stuff that I read. I watched a FRONTLINE episode yesterday, China Undercover, which I will be writing about tomorrow. It went in-depth on the surveillance China conducts on its own citizens. In the age of ‘Fake News’ understanding this type of work is important.

The current economic trajectory is not sustainable for either of the warring coalitions, and there is infighting among both of them over how to respond. Fragmentation is perhaps the best single-word description of the situation in Libya, where defining groups and interests in overarching terms is increasingly difficult in the midst of the third bout of civil war since 2011, and since rival governments emerged in 2014.

The article details the internal problems with the national army, the problems in the east and Haftar’s continued offensive on Tripoli. I honestly don’t know what would be a ‘good’ outcome here, the entire situation is a mess. One thing is certain, the more instability there can only create space for terror organizations to further exploit.

  • If you want more details on the continued fighting, Alison Pargeter has you covered with Haftar, Tribal Power, and the Battle for Libya. This article takes a good look at the internal politics of Libya and the many power brokers there. I don’t think anyone knows if Haftar will ultimately succeed there but tracking the progress of this fight is important. Hopefully they can find some stability.

As for Haftar, although he is no Qadhafi, and while tribal support is never unconditional, his hold over the east will remain reliant on his continued ability to cultivate and manipulate the tribes effectively. Not that one should inflate their importance. Tribes are just one part of the complex jigsaw of the Libyan crisis, and there are many other factors and forces at play. However, tribes remain an important component of Libyan society, and while some city dwellers may look upon them with disdain, associating them with backwardness and colonial plots to divide and rule, they have proved able not only to survive, but to adapt and modernize, too. Indeed, tribes still represent an important force in the country both socially and in the political and security realms, and they will continue to have a bearing on the evolution of the conflict and what comes after it.

Veterans of Vietnam and Afghanistan famously said that, instead of fighting “one 10-year war,” the United States and its partners fought “10 one-year wars,” due to the discontinuity wrought by the constant rotation of military personnel.

The potential here for a low-risk long-term commitment is definitely interesting. In the great global competition, we need to utilize every tool in the toolbox. Again, this is not going to work for all partner forces but it can work for some. It is a way that we could further stretch our already overly stretched forces.

Their digital influence campaigns work in tandem and toward the following objectives:

      1. Undermine liberal democratic norms and institutions.
      2. Weaken cohesion among democratic allies and partners.
      3. Reduce U.S. global influence.
      4. Advance Russian and Chinese positions.

Over the last several years, Beijing and Moscow have taken different paths to advance these shared goals. Although the differences in their approach to digital influence are likely to persist, there is growing evidence that the two countries are learning from each other and enhancing their coordination, leading to a growing convergence in their digital influence efforts. This is occurring in real time as China and Russia seek to obscure the origins of COVID-19 and while Beijing cynically recasts itself as the global leader in responding to the very pandemic it failed to contain.  

Again, I think this is an interesting read because of the potential but I am skeptical on its overall effectiveness.

Since July 2018 to the present, three new radical Islamist English-language online magazines have appeared— Al Rishalah with the publication of two issues in January and February 2019, One Ummah with the publication of one issue in mid-September 2019 and Voice of Hind with the publication of two issues in late February and late March 2020.[2] It should be noted that no new issues of pre-existing magazines identified in our earlier works were published during this time span.

Reading and keeping track of these works is very important. We discussed the importance of reading the first hand sources here because you cannot always rely on the second hand source as they are sometimes colored by perspective and agenda. This is a very good article. I think an interesting aspect is how it highlights the competition between varying jihadi groups. Their perspective on Al Risalah:

This newer, yet little noticed, magazine was published by the Al Burhan Media Center Kashmir by the Jundul Khilafah Kashmir (JKK)—as opposed to the earlier magazine of the same name published by the al-Nusrah Front out of Syria. The earlier al-Nusrah Front magazine saw four issues appearing between July 2015 and January 2017. The Jundul Khilafah Kashmir is a pro-Islamic State terrorist group in constrast to the al-Nusrah Front which is a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. The term ‘al Risalah’ refers to ‘the message’ in Arabic, hence the reason why both competing terrorist networks would utilize the same name for their online English magazines.

 Generally, I really do not closely track jihadist propaganda and this article is a very good primer and will provide a lot of depth to your understanding of the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ the jihadis are saying and doing what they are.

  • Popular Mechanics has several new articles that we could discuss but I want to highlight The Pentagon Is Building a Fleet of Tiny Spy Satellites by Kyle Mizokami. Currently we rely on very large and very expensive satellites that are vulnerable to our adversaries. You can read about that here and here. The concept is to create a ‘swarm’ of very small, inexpensive satellites that will give us redundancy and decrease our vulnerability. Given how much we rely on technology, GPS, this is something that we have to achieve.

One of the most innovative new space technologies in recent years is the idea of mesh networks, orbiting networks of small, inexpensive satellites. The networks are designed to cover an entire region, or planet, with satellites that communicate not just with ground stations but also with one another. The satellites within the network bounce data from one another instead of a ground station, making for a shorter overall travel distance. The system is also capable of self-adjusting to maintain coverage if one satellite goes down.

  • To wrap things up today I give you what I think is the most thought-provoking article. Once again, this goes to Grounded Curiosity. This time, Todd A. Schmidt writes about The Consequences of America’s Era of Magical Realism. In a lot of ways, Grounded Curiosity is very much like what I want to produce here. I did not know it existed at the time I started this but I am glad that I found it. They are based out of Australia and here is how they describe themselves:

Grounded Curiosity is dedicated to the professional development of military personnel across all ranks and experience levels. We seek to promote discussions that will best prepare our people for the future.

In today’s article, Schmidt takes a look at the American psyche and the global consequences of its wavering.

American society has entered an era of “magical realism” with real-world consequences. It is an era tainted by decay, diminishment, and dilution of truth as it becomes intermingled with fiction, fancy, and the farcical. It is an era stained by political polarization and proclamations of alternate facts and alternate realities. It is an era soiled by targeted, biased media that divides and parses society by beliefs and values, peddling and pushing biased opinions that masquerade as fact. Truth has become tarnished and individualized, while society abandons universal certainties. Left unchecked, this era of “magical realism” will have consequences for American society, security, and civil-military relations.  

The article paints a pretty bleak picture of where we are as a society. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but it is challenging nonetheless. How this impacts global security goes to the heart of our nation.

The security implications of magical realism are directly related to how America informs and educates its society. The intermingling of truth and fantasy, fact with opinion, and science with fiction, all elements of magical realism, has hobbled the American system. A media, charged with keeping Americans informed, openly wages political and misinformation campaigns. The education system, once one of America’s greatest strengths, ranking first in the world, now ranks tenth globally. The number of American high school graduates that go on to pursue tertiary education falls below 50%, behind Russia and many of our allies.[1]

And the civil-military balance of power.

Finally, an age of magical realism has consequences and implications for civil-military balance-of-power relations. When military elites perceive political and social decay marked by extreme incompetence, corruption, and malfeasance by weak civilian leadership, they naturally question civilian supremacy and feel obligated towards direct involvement and activity in the political arena.[2] Novice, inexperienced political leaders that are viewed as immoral, unethical, and corrupt invite increased praetoriansim. Unconstitutional behavior, severe economic downturn, and social disorder and turmoil invite increased praetorianism.[3] Do American military service members increasingly view American society in a negative light?

Read the whole thing. It will definitely challenge your thinking and provide a different perspective on the problems we face today.

7 thoughts on “France’s Fight in the Sahel, Strategic Risks of Withdrawing Troops from Iraq, Magical Realism and Other Bullets

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  3. Reply
    The Rhodesian Counterinsurgency, Failure to Adapt and a New Marine Corps Doctrine | The Cognitive Warrior Project
    June 6, 2020 at 1:20 PM

    […] the thought of a paper I wrote on the Rhodesian Counterinsurgency, which we briefly touched on here . How The Selous Scouts continuously adapted and how the Army studied their methods but was either […]

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    Featured Article: France’s War in the Sahel and the Evolution of Counter-Insurgency Doctrine – Texas National Security Review | The Cognitive Warrior Project
    November 3, 2020 at 11:30 AM

    […] have discussed this fight briefly here and The New York Times’s, Ruth Maclean, does an excellent job of summarizing the conflict in […]

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