I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty
March 8, 2006 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Special operations were fully engaged in Iraq back in 2003. Since that time the mission has (officially) shifted focus a bit to hunting down high value individuals like Osama bin Laden and a cavalcade of al-Qaida stars. But if that’s the case why are we drawing down our forces in Afghanistan? Apparently a bunch of things are going on folks are hard pressed to figure out: “Nobody understands — other than the SecDef — what the hell Kearney is supposed to do,” the Pentagon source said. “Is he supposed to be the future JSOC commander, or is the intent to continue JSOC as a three-star billet? Only the SecDef, as far as I know, knows. There’s been absolutely no explanation.”
posted by Smedleyman (40 comments total)
I don't think even Rumsfeld knows. He's the worst SecDef this country has ever had, and only continues to royally fuck up his job because he works for the worst president this country has ever had.
posted by teece at 11:50 AM on March 8, 2006

I've never understood why USACAPOC is a separate command under USASOC - either we're a part of the community, or we're not (and I know a lot of operators would say that we're not).

It's just barely possible that for once Don R. has accidentally connected with some piece of sound judgment. You know what they say 'bout broken clocks.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:53 AM on March 8, 2006

It sounds like part of the confusion is that everyone thinks McChrystal is meant to fill a position other than the one the Senate confirmed him too. Pure, uninformed speculation, but: could this be an executive gambit to diminish congressional oversight of high-level assignments in the military hierarchy? (The methodology is somewhat familiar: ignore the rules and hope that establishes a new, non-compliant precedent.)
posted by grobstein at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2006

Isn't one of the reasons why the US is drawing back in Afghanistan is because NATO has been willing to play a larger role there, and the US has enough fun dealing with Iraq. Shit, already Canada has taken over for the US in Kandahar. The US wouldn't have that same opportunity in Iraq.
posted by furtive at 12:03 PM on March 8, 2006

Maybe President Bush was kidding about rebuilding Afghanistan. (He's still confident we'll get bin Laden, though.) Maybe we're tired of having more and more soldiers killed every year. Or embarrased that Afghanistan's the world’s largest exporter of heroin; supplying 87 percent of the world market and producing more heroin than Colombia is producing cocaine. NATO's commitment may be a little shaky but they'll be in Afghanistan for years and years.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:24 PM on March 8, 2006

He's the worst SecDef this country has ever had

I beg to differ. Robert McNamara: 3,000,000 Vietnamese dead.

Rumsfeld is definitely headed in that direction, but he's got his work cut out for him.
posted by psmealey at 12:51 PM on March 8, 2006

"Gee, I predict that this post will be deleted sometime around Post #89"


No, wait - sorry - fuck off troll.

I’m with adamgreenfield to some extent that maybe leaner is meaner and maybe divvying up the pie is a better way to operate - but tell someone whatever the intention is maybe?

Same thing in Afghanistan - SF officers are saying the Taliban playing possum. Is the administration listening? Sounds like we’re making progress - but.
“The Americans in southern Afghanistan are making the most of their new allies. No combat mission is considered complete without ANA participation. However, U.S. officers are in complete agreement on one key point: Neither the ANA nor any other element of the Afghan government’s security structure is ready to handle the Taliban on its own. “If we left tomorrow, this place would implode rather quickly,” Bolduc said.”

It’d be nice to know the good work done on the ground isn’t going to get beached for political bullshit.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:58 PM on March 8, 2006

I wasn't using deaths caused as a metric. Rumsfeld is in way over his head -- a smart guy, but he refuses to let the reality of Bush's plans for the military change his grand vision of a radically altered military, and thousands have died simply because he is an arrogant, pig-headded bastard who won't admit he needs to change.

McNamara got folks killed for entirely different reasons, and they don't rise to the same level of incompetence to me. His reasons are much more tragic and much more hubristic, but not nearly so goddamn banally evil.

But if you want to quibble and have historical debates about whether Rumsfeld is #1 worst, #2 or #3, that's cool, and I'd enjoy it, but it makes for complete shit rhetoric to say that Rumsfeld was "one of the worst." And it really doesn't matter if he's only in the top three -- "worst" captures the spirit just fine, without any fundamental dishonesty.

And if there is one thing that Bush's opponents have failed to grasp, it's that rhetoric really, really matters.
posted by teece at 1:03 PM on March 8, 2006

I don't disagree with your assessment of Rumsfeld, teece. The scale just struck me when I stopped to think of previous Secretaries of Defense, upon reading your comment. Both McNamara and Rumsfeld's failings seem to be the result of ego/vanity issues, it's just that so far, McNamara's has a much higher body count by an order of magnitude or more.

Having said that, Rumsfeld is incompetent in every way you describe, but in an entirely different way than Bush. Rummy thinks he grasps the details, but he really doesn't. Bush has no interest in the details. Together, however, they are working to do what they can to ensure that permanent damage is inflicted upon this nation.
posted by psmealey at 1:17 PM on March 8, 2006

Remember when Rummy was on TV every day and the media just loved his peudo-FDR-meets-the-cranky-Jimmy-Stewart schtick? Where the hell is that guy now? Hanging out with William Hung?
posted by tkchrist at 1:39 PM on March 8, 2006

What tkchrist said. There's some kind of perrformance art ethos with Rumsfeld speaking--he's got the jargon and newspeak down perfectly, and yet it's obvious he has no grasp of the realities behind those words. And that double-podium for both him and the real military guy to do press conferences? That's just precious--it would be funny if he hasn't been such a disaster for America.

He had a good idea re: transforming the military into a leaner/meaner/smarter group. Since he's a Republican, he was praised for this. Clinton set the ball rolling towards much the same thing, and he gets labeled as soft on terror.

Afghanistan is already a "forgotten war" a la Korea, before it's even over. As I said in another thread, even capturing ObL in a spiderhole would be worthless now--most Americans have forgotten who he is, and think Saddam knocked down the towers.

(And good avoidance of the PP monster.)
posted by bardic at 1:55 PM on March 8, 2006

Canada has 2000 troops in Iraq, which is Canada's biggest deployment since the Korean War. This is freeing up some US resources for Iraq. Simple explanation.
posted by Deep Dish at 1:59 PM on March 8, 2006

[removed PP's troll comment, you can make it easier if you ignore them originally]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:05 PM on March 8, 2006

Interesting link, kirkaracha
If the Iraqis are on their feet by then, if there’s no major bloodshed as a result of our leaving - etc. - cool.
I haven’t heard much from guys on the ground that this would be a bad thing.
I could have done without the “Fuck you” rhetoric to some of the folks talking about easing out of there, but ok.

I’ve not seen a “why” on Afghanistan though, and I’ve been looking.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:46 PM on March 8, 2006

If you are looking for scarry crap to try and tie together, why not somehow link it to the 'shortage' of MRE and ammo per
urbansurvival.com/week.htm ?

From the site (as he doesn't have linking that STAYS with an article)

"The 7.62x39 ammo is all but dried up according to my firearms dealer.

And: .223 ammo has gone up in price dramatically according to the same dealer. He said that the ammo manufacturers are of course dedicated to the military. It is available but he said some of what he normally orders went up 14%. (more than his profit margin) He said that his December and January was the best Dec and Jan he has ever had. And those months are usually extremely slow!


At Cabelas (www.cabelas.com) I found when I tried to order 7.62 X 39 154 grain soft points in the 500 round bulks pack (Item IG-215187) they were on back order. So were the 1,000 round boxes. Also, the 7.62 X 39 hollow point rounds in quantity (500 and up) are back ordered.

No problem, I thought - I'll just go to Cheaper Than Dirt (www.cheaperthandirt.com) and buy some there. Anything in quantity (and some special use) 7.62 has the "check status" warning - indicating back ordered.

At Sportsman's Guide (www.sportsmansguide.com) I was able to find some sealed cans of 7.62 full metal jacket (FMJ), but when I tried to add it to my shopping cart, look at the lead times: (middle of april, after tax time)

I was surprised to hear about MRE's though, so I put in a quick call to Scotty at out Emergency Essentials (www.beprepared.com, 1-800-999-1863) to find out if MRE's had in fact "gone missing." Turns out Scotty was out till this morning, but his staff advised me that yes, they are out of MRE's - and they also were kind enough to advise me that the ones that may still find on eBay could be old stock (be sure to get dates!).

Now, here is what I've some to as a possible "bottom line."


The military (and not just the US military, I was told) is indeed buying up huge amounts of ammunition. Not the kind of thing I would expect if the war in Iraq was going at all well. I read the ammo part of the story as "more war - bigger war - to come."

The food purchases are also worrisome because it indicates to me that the current levels of military activity (or higher) are to be continued for some time.

Again, the web bot project has been predicting an "encounter with scarcity" this summer (along with two major international crisis to come, war in September and so forth). The question the pragmatic economist must ask today is whether this recently developed lack of availability of quantity ammunition (and it's not just 7.62, as you'll find if you do some serious research) and the lack of available current run MRE's is the leading edge of scarcities of other commodities yet to come.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:01 PM on March 8, 2006

The tragedy of Donald Rumsfeld is, in my book, identical to the tragedy of Robert McNamara: taking a good idea and applying it in the wrong way, at the wrong time, and under the wrong circumstances.

McNamara's schtick was systems analysis. (Operations research, call it what you will.) He tried to run a war using the same cost-benefit methodolgy he had successfully employed at Ford, thus managing to lose sight of the fact that - whatever kinds of spurious metrics one devised to quantify the incremental contribution of each cluster bomblet to the war effort - the Vietnamese were fighting from the heart, for their own country, in their own country. And so he rode the hobby horse of systems analysis to ignominy.

Rumsfeld's comparable Big Idea is the RMA, the "revolution in military affairs." Lighter, smaller footprint forward, more network-centric, vastly more (but occasionally non-)lethal, the RMA was supposed to see the entire military remade in the image of the Special Operations community, right? Not in itself at all a bad idea, assuming that you're even on board with the idea of a national military establishment to begin with.

And just as McNamara refused to reconcile his vision of a thoroughly rationalized military with the reality of Ho and General Giap that confronted him on the ground in Vietnam, Don just doesn't want to let go of the RMA - even after being confronted with evidence that his is not the right approach to a protracted counterinsurgency engagement. He's a classic example of someone so smart he's stupid, and if there's any justice in the world, he'll see out his days in orange, alongside the others who have called the shots on this whole sordid and heartbreaking affair.

It's a good thing his fighting technique is unstoppable.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:45 PM on March 8, 2006

It's now, what, 4 and a half years since US forces have been trying to track down a Yemeni man in South Asia who's 6'7" tall and needs dialysis. Even without the beard you'd think a guy like that would stick out enough that there would have been at least one live sighting by someone since then. There's a lot about this that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
posted by clevershark at 4:02 PM on March 8, 2006

There's a lot about this that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
posted by clevershark at 4:02 PM PST on March 8 [!]

And here WE are, trying to make sense of it.

Which side is actually making progress?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:07 PM on March 8, 2006

posted by adamgreenfield at 4:10 PM on March 8, 2006

7.62x39 has been drying up for a while now. At least for 5 months or so.
posted by c13 at 4:19 PM on March 8, 2006

I assume the US, Canada, and UK use the standard NATO rifle cartridges: 7.62 x 51 and 5.56 x 45. 7.62 x 39 would be for older Russian and Chinese rifles. Is the 7.62 x 39 used by any "friendly" militaries, other than the fledgling Iraqi Army?
posted by ryanrs at 4:54 PM on March 8, 2006

Ahem.. 7.62x39 is used in Kalashnikov assult rifles, of which more than a 100 million were made, and which is the most widely used one in the world.
posted by c13 at 4:59 PM on March 8, 2006

I read the ammo part of the story as "more war - bigger war - to come.

After 9/11 and before Afghanistan I watched on TV a congressional meeting with the Joint Chiefs of staff, and only General Zinni of the Marines stood up to cry bullshit. He was the only one concerned at all with budget, strategy and logistics. It was pretty clear then, that the remaining Generals and Admrial were kissing ass to position themselves as future defense contractors.

Sadly, I think we are still on the front end of this thing. (I'm not eligible for the draft! Yea!!---I mean, oh shit!)
posted by snsranch at 5:06 PM on March 8, 2006

c13: 7.62x39 is used in Kalashnikov assult rifles ... most widely used [assault rifle] in the world.

Right. The most common military rifle cartridge in the world is backordered. But our side doesn't use that cartridge. Did the Iraqi insurgency corner the world market for 7.62 x 39? Have manufacturers shifted production to NATO rounds? Or is some other large country preparing for war?
posted by ryanrs at 5:14 PM on March 8, 2006

I totally see the disparity between McNamara's "big idea" and his reality, but not so with Rummys.

I thought the "special forces" approach kinda seemed like a good way to apply a large conventional force such as ours to a bunch of disparate militias and terrorist cells.

If IRC the idea was born in the 90's when we needed to diffuse situations (Bosnia) quickly with minimum collateral damage, and then let NATO do the nation buiding.
posted by butterstick at 5:40 PM on March 8, 2006

What butterstick said. I'm not going to go too far out on a limb to defend McNamara (although Fog of War humanized him more than I thought possible), but Rumsfeld had the lesson of Viet Nam re: prolonged insurgency that he completely ignored. He wasn't alone, of course--Cheney believed that the Iraqis would line up and become democrats over night.

I'd be curious to be a fly on the wall of Zinni or Shinseki's house these days--if only to hear what they think of Pace, who seems like a reasonable guy, but has become the military equivalent of Scott McCllelan. That can't sit well.
posted by bardic at 6:16 PM on March 8, 2006

rough ashlar writes "Which side is actually making progress?"

At least we seem to realize that there's a problem...
posted by clevershark at 6:35 PM on March 8, 2006

butterstick, bardic -

Don't get me wrong. I am *all* about the RMA, and I think America would be much better served by a smaller, smarter Army where language and cultural skills were emphasized (the old "quiet professionals" model, I guess) than one ten times as large that was all about bringing the shock and awe.

The trouble is that imperial wars require an imperial army, which is as much a constabulary and a nation-building force as it is about direct action. What you need is a deep, genuine, long-term hearts-and-minds approach, executed by a force that resembles nothing so much as the Peace Corps in digiflage, supplemented by a modern-day equivalent of the Gurkhas. A constabulary, which almost as an afterthought is able to bring pinpoint application of overwhelming force to bear as necessary. But how many 19-year-olds would sign up for that? For that matter, how many prime contractors/lobbyists would stand for it?

In any event, I suspect that any such musings, even at the highest levels, are more than usually impotent anymore. We've made our bed, and now we have to lie in it. Thanks to W. and Dick et al., we're "not in the nation-building business" anymore, and our room for manuever has narrowed down to "that blowed up real good." Too bad.

(None of the above discussion of this as an abstract problem in military science should be read as an approval either of the general project of empire or more specifically the American presence in Iraq, by the way.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:53 PM on March 8, 2006

That's really bizarre, running out of MREs and ammo. I know there was a uniform shortage a bit back, but that was a blip during the changeover from olives to cammys.

Yeah. That's damn strange.

And a lot of folks aren't taking NATO seriously anymore either.

posted by Smedleyman at 7:24 PM on March 8, 2006

Right. The most common military rifle cartridge in the world is backordered. But our side doesn't use that cartridge. Did the Iraqi insurgency corner the world market for 7.62 x 39? Have manufacturers shifted production to NATO rounds? Or is some other large country preparing for war?

Well, that's the worrisome part. Apparently US army has been buying up a lot of it to supply the Iraqi army (whatever it is called now). Which is pretty ironic, because we've been busy destroying weapons and ammunition storage facilities there for quite a while.
Venezuela is buying about 100k of AK's from Russia, don't know whether its AK-47's or 74's, but they would probably also want to buy the ammo. Lots of it.
Is this enough to account for the shortage? I hope so. Because othwerwize someone is stocking up for some reason.
posted by c13 at 7:26 PM on March 8, 2006

posted by c13 at 7:27 PM on March 8, 2006

I think America would be much better served by a smaller, smarter Army where language and cultural skills were emphasized (the old "quiet professionals" model, I guess)
Worked for the Romans. They not only occupied a country, they adopted that country's beliefs and religion as their own to better assimilate that country into the Roman Empire.
I guess when Johny comes marching home raving about how wonderful the Koran is while shouting 'Allah Akbar' at the top of his lungs with all his fellow soldiers in Alabama we'll know our troops have successfully made the transition to the new Roman Legions.
posted by mk1gti at 8:11 PM on March 8, 2006

7.62 x 39 is the AK-47 ammo; the AK-74 uses a smaller cartridge (5.45x39).
posted by clevershark at 8:15 PM on March 8, 2006

Yes yes. Like I said, I don't know which kind they are buying. Besides, if the demand has increased that much, maybe the factories switched over to making more of 5.45.
Although it is gone as well..
posted by c13 at 8:22 PM on March 8, 2006

From what I can tell Venezuela is ordering 100k AK-103s. Going through the Google results it looks like most news services got this wrong because I've found a bunch of gun enthusiast forums quite upset about this error. The AK-103 is essentially an updated version of the AK-47 and uses the traditional 7.62x39mm round. Regardless of who's right in this case, it's definitely that ammo.

So yeah, they could be part of the shortage. However I think the US outfitting the Iraqi forces is probably a bigger contributing factor - most of Venezuela's purchase is for replacement of outdated existing rifles. That being the case their problem most likely isn't an ammo shortage because existing stockpiles will do just fine. In Iraq we're destroying the existing stockpiles of weapons and ammunition that we come across.
posted by Ryvar at 5:06 AM on March 9, 2006

Great comments admagreenfield. Thanks.
And the image you created is very funny mk1gti!
So it was soliders returning to Alabama been burning Baptist churches, huh?
posted by nofundy at 5:30 AM on March 9, 2006

Doesn't the SOCOM FN SCAR use 7.62x39? Also I believe Knight's Armament Corporation at one time made a modification of the M16 (the SR47) to allow AK mags to be used (issues of resupply and native ammo usage saves on logistics of shipping hundreds of thousands of 5.56 rounds everywhere). It would make sense for this ammo to be short if the US military is buying homebrewed ammo instead of trusting foreign supplies.

Thanks all for some excellent commentary.
posted by longbaugh at 7:44 AM on March 9, 2006

Bardic wrote:
Cheney believed that the Iraqis would line up and become democrats over night.

Republicans, you mean.

Although he shoots those too.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 7:58 AM on March 9, 2006

longbaugh: the SCAR is going to be in all of the big three calibers - 5.56x45, 7.62x51, 7.62x39, and I'd bet that someone somewhere will make a 5.45x39 version, too. The SCAR is a SOCOM project, though, and not for the general troops. The point of the 7.62x39 variant is for situations exactly like Afghanistan where you have small numbers of special operations troops inserted alongside indigenous forces and those troops need to be able to pick up and use the AK-47 magazines littered all about.

The point is that a) this not being a general infantry issue there aren't going to be enough produced to impact ammo stockpiles that much, and b) training aside, most of the ammo used is going to be coming from local preexisting stockpiles in Eastern hemisphere nations.
posted by Ryvar at 12:42 PM on March 9, 2006

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