A Roundup of Recent Reading Lists

Books in the vault, Deck C, Folger Shakespeare Library, 9/11/09

Everyone who is someone and every organization that is something seems to be putting out a reading list these days. Perhaps I can persuade Chris to put one together for TDI sometime. In the meantime, several lists have popped up recently that are worth the time to peruse. They are particular good for sparking arguments over what was omitted and should be added.

The first is from LTG H.R. McMaster (scroll halfway down for the sidebar), the newly appointed Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. He actually put this together a few years ago to outline his reading choices for military professionals. The list should be familiar to military historians and folks working in defense-related fields. It definitely delivers a sold grounding in theory and practice and informs McMaster’s view of the relationship between war and policy.

However, policy-making veteran Heather Hurlburt pointed out that McMaster’s list included no works written by women or non-Westerners. So she compiled a list of additional selections written primarily by women, including several contributors to the current ongoing national security conversation. As for non-Westerns, she only offers the ubiquitous Sun Tze, so there is room for more recommendations on that score.

The next comes from the membership of War on the Rocks and addresses the Vietnam War. It is an impressive mix of classic works on the subject and newer revisions based on declassified primary sources from all of the belligerents. The list also includes personal memoirs and novels. As a former Special Operations Forces historian, I lament the exclusion of any titles related to the covert side of that conflict.

The last list comes from Professor Andrew Bacevich, by way of West Point’s Modern War Institute. His list of five works includes Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Dr. Strangelove. Bacevich also cites the theologian Reinhold Neibuhr’s The Irony of American History. His admiration for Neibuhr’s work is shared by former President Barack Obama.

So, has anyone read anything interesting lately?

Proposed Defense Increases

President Trump has proposed a 10% increase in the defense budget. I gather this means he will request supplementary spending of $30 billion for FY2017 (this year) and a full $54 billion for FY2017. This will put the defense budget at $603 billion and non-defense discretionary spending at $462 billion for FY2018. Of course, this has to go through congress, as the House of Representatives only can initiate spending bills, and they somehow or the other have to pay for this (which is going to be an issue). No specifics on what the money will be spent on, although they mentioned planes and ships.




The cuts will be a challenge. According to one article: “Two officials familiar with Trump’s proposal said the planned defense spending increase would be financed partly by cuts to the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other non-defense programs.”

The State Department and U.S. AID budgets are around 50 billion. Around $26 billion goes to foreign aide. The top four recipients for aid are Israel (3.0 billion), Egypt (1.3 billion), Afghanistan (1.3 billion) and Pakistan (700 million). I can’t envision we would cut any of these four aid programs, so savings from these budgets may be limited.

The EPA budget is 8 billion. They are talking about a 25% cut there, so $2 billion.

The rest of the money will have to come from other non-defense discretionary programs (vice Social Security, Medicare, paying interest on the debt, etc.) or we will have to increase the deficit. Right now, I suspect it will be the later. The last two major defense build-ups were funded by deficit spending.


Status of Service Secretaries

The nominee for Secretary of Navy has withdrawn his nomination: navy-secretary-nominee-withdraws

Army: Robert Speer (acting). No one new nominated yet.

Navy: Sean Stackley (acting). No one new nominated yet.

Air Force: Lisa Disbrow (acting): Heather Wilson nominated.


All the acting secretaries are hold-over undersecretaries and assistance secretaries from the previous administration. I gather that the various deputy, undersecretary and assistant secretary slots are also mostly not filled.


Iraqi Casualties in Mosul

I don’t think Iraqi casualties in the Mosul operations have been published. This article has a report that the fight to take the eastern half of Mosul cost Iraqi forces 500 dead, with another 3,000 wounded in three months of fighting (6-to-1 wounded to killed ratio). On Saturday, Iraq had four soldiers killed and 53 wounded in the fight for western Mosul: U.S. Forces Push Artillery, Rockets and Helicopters Closer to the Fight in Mosul

The source of the estimate was General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command. Suspect they have more precise figures. Not sure if the figures include Kurdish forces or Iraqi Shiite militia. Also see: iraqi-army-ahead-of-schedule-in-fight-for-west-mosul

List of U.S. Arms Sales

I like lists. Here is an interesting one: Countries Buying the Most Weapons From the US Government

Last year the U.S. government sent almost $10 billion worth of vehicles and arms to other countries. In the past five years, more than 100 nations have purchased from us. Thirteen countries accounted for almost 70% of our 2016 arms exports. The list is:

  1. Saudi Arabia: $1.9 billion
  2. Iraq: $893 million
  3. Australia: $869 million
  4. UAE: $773 million
  5. Qatar: $595 million
  6. Israel: $526 million
  7. Italy: $511 million
  8. South Korea: $501 million
  9. Japan: $307 million
  10. Mexico: $280 million
  11. Morocco: $244 million
  12. Egypt: $238 million
  13. United Kingdom: $217 million

Army Creates Security Force Assistance Brigades and Training Academy

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Blanton, center, a trainer with Company A, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Strike, assists Iraqi army ranger students during a room-clearing drill at Camp Taji, Iraq, July 18, 2016. The new Security Force Assistance Brigades will assume these types of missions in the future. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

With much of the focus of the defense and national security communities shifting to peer and near-peer challenges, the Department of the Army’s recent announcement that the first Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) will begin standing up in October 2017 comes as an interesting bit of news. The Army will also establish a new Military Advisor Training Academy at Ft. Benning, Georgia to train officers and non-commissioned officers to staff what are projected to a total of six SFABs with 500 personnel each.

The Strategic Role of Security Force Assistance

Security Force Assistance (SFA) is the umbrella term for U.S. whole-of-government support provided to develop the capability and capacity of foreign security forces and institutions. SFA is intended to help defend host nations from external and internal threats, and encompasses foreign internal defense (FID), counterterrorism (CT), counterinsurgency (COIN), and stability operations.

The use of military aid to bolster allies is a time-old strategic expedient; it was one of the primary weapons with which the U.S.waged the Cold War. SFA has assumed a similar role in U.S. policy for countering global terrorism, as a cost-effective alternative to direct involvement in destroying or deterring the development of terrorist sanctuaries. The efficacy of this approach is a hot topic for debate in foreign policy and national security circles these days.

Organizing, training, equipping, building, advising, and assisting foreign security forces is a time and resource-intensive task and the best way of doing it has been long debated. One of the Army’s justifications for creating the SFAB’s was the need to free line units from SFA taskings to focus on preparing for combat operations. The Army is also highlighting the SFABs dual capability as cadres upon which combat-ready U.S. Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) can be quickly created in a national emergency with the addition of junior personnel.

Advise and Assist: SOF vs. General Purpose Forces?

The Army believes that dedicated SFABs will be more effective at providing SFA than has been the case with recent efforts. This is an important consideration in light of the decidedly mixed combat performance of U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan and Iraqi security forces. The dramatic collapse of Iraqi Army units defending Mosul in 2014 that had been trained by conventional U.S. forces contrasts with the current dependence on U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF)-trained Iraqi Counterrorism Service (CTS) forces to lead the effort to retake the city.

This apparent disparity in success between the SOF advise and assist model and the more generic conventional force SFA template is causing some angst in the U.S. Army Special Forces (ARSOF) community, some of whom see training foreign security forces as its traditional institutional role. Part of the reason conventional forces are assigned SFA tasks is because there will never be enough ARSOF to meet the massive demand, and ARSOF units are needed for other specialized taskings as well. But the ultimate success of the SFABs will likely be gauged against the historical accomplishments of their SOF colleagues.

1979 to present

We try to stay away from politics in this blog, which is hard to do when discussing national security policy. Still, there are enough political and opinion piece websites and blogs out there, that we do not wish to add to the noise! This article by Major Danny Sjursen borders on the edge of being overtly political but I found it very interesting regardless: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165261

I have not read his book Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge but I did invest parts of two chapters in my book, America’s Modern Wars, discussing the surge in Iraq and its later adaptation to Afghanistan. His book will also be added to my growing reading list (right now I am struggling with getting the final edits to War by Numbers completed on time…and should not be blogging at all).

Anyhow, I do like his theme that U.S. involvement and policies in the Middle East fundamentally started shifted with the events on 1979. I think it is a useful timeline.


VX Nerve Agent

Apparently North Korea used a VX Nerve Agent to assassinate the leader of North Korea’s older half-brother in the airport in Malaysia: kim-jong-nam-nerve-agent

It is this agent: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VX_(nerve_agent)

Nerve agents are outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 and the United States has not manufactured any since 1969 and banned its production. We destroyed our last VX inventory in 2008. There is at least 124 tons of VX that was dumped in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of New York, New Jersey and Florida. I gather Russia has not completed its elimination of all its nerve agents: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/world/europe/27russia.html?ref=world and new-chemical-weapons-destruction-facility-opens-at-kizner

Anyhow, it does clearly indicate that North Korea has VX Nerve Agents.

Mosul Airport is Retaken

Well, they had the airport in sight two days ago. At least half of it is now in Iraqi government forces hands: https://www.yahoo.com/news/iraqi-forces-push-mosuls-main-military-airport-062407500.html

Best quote from the article: “It’s not caution, they’ve learned, they’re smarter now.”


By the way, someone is offering flights to Mosul for $1,178: http://us.jetcost.com/en/flights/iraq/mosul/?gclid=CIz237q1p9ICFRZMDQodhqEHrg&gclsrc=aw.ds

I would advise against booking this.




Slowly retaking Western Mosul

But, it is going faster than some World War I fights: iraqi-military-says-troops-consolidate-gains-south-mosul

A few highlights:

  1. Have taken 50 square miles south of the city in the last two days.
  2. Have the airport in sight.
  3. Not the same level of violence as the fight for eastern Mosul, so far.
    1. Four car bombs attacked on Monday
    2. Eight troops killed and dozens wounded the past two days
      1. Compared to over 90 casualties in one day in east Mosul