Unfortunately the full article is only for subscribers, but there's some choice quotes I'd like to share:Generation Kill
A Conversation With Stanley McChrystal
In July 2010, General Stanley McChrystal retired from the U.S. Army after almost three and a half decades in uniform. Soon after graduating from West Point, McChrystal had joined the U.S. Special Forces, and he eventually led the Rangers, the Joint Special Operations Command, and all U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. Author of the recently published memoir My Share of the Task, he spoke with Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose in December.
A knowledgeable author wrote in a recent issue of this magazine that "as head of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command . . . , McChrystal oversaw the development of a precision-killing machine unprecedented in the history of modern warfare," one whose "scope and genius" will be fully appreciated only "in later decades, once the veil of secrecy has been removed." What did he mean?
I was part of a & effort that we can call Task Force 714. When the counterterrorist effort against al Qaeda started, it was narrowly focused and centralized; you only did occasional operations with a high degree of intelligence and a tremendous amount of secrecy. That worked well for the pre-9/11 environment, but in the post-9/11 environment -- particularly the post-March 2003 environment in Iraq -- the breadth of al Qaeda and associated movements exploded. This gave us an enemy network that you couldn't just react to but actually had to dismantle. It also gave us a very complex battlefield -- not just terrorism but also social problems, an insurgency, and sectarian violence.
So the first thing we did when I took over in late 2003 was realize that we needed to understand the problem much better. To do that, we had to become a network ourselves -- to be connected across all parts of the battlefield, so that every time something occurred and we gathered intelligence or experience from it, information flowed very, very quickly.
The network had a tremendous amount of geographical spread. At one point, we were in 27 countries simultaneously. Inside Iraq, we were in 20 and 30 places simultaneously -- all connected using modern technology but also personal relationships. This gave us the ability to learn about the constantly evolving challenge.
People hear most about the targeting cycle, which we called F3EA -- "find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze." You understand who or what is a target, you locate it, you capture or kill it, you take what intelligence you can from people or equipment or documents, you analyze that, and then you go back and do the cycle again, smarter.
When we first started, those five steps were performed by different parts of our organization or different security agencies. And as a consequence, each time you passed information from one to another, it would be like a game of telephone, so that by the time information got to the end, it would be not only slow but also corrupted. We learned we had to reduce the number of steps in the process.
In 2003, in many cases we'd go after someone, we might locate them and capture or kill them, and it would be weeks until we took the intelligence we learned from that and were able to turn it into another operation. Within about two years, we could turn that cycle three times in a night. We could capture someone, gain intelligence from the experience, go after someone else, and do three of those in a row, the second two involving people we didn't even know existed at the beginning of the night.
In August 2004, in all of Iraq, our task force did 18 raids. And we thought that was breakneck speed. I mean, we really thought we had the pedal to the metal. These were great raids, very precise, a high percentage of success. But as great as those 18 raids were, they couldn't make a dent in the exploding insurgency. Two years later, in August 2006, we were up to 300 raids a month -- ten a night. This meant the network now had to operate at a speed that was not even considered before, not in our wildest dreams. It had to have decentralized decision-making, because you can't centralize ten raids a night. You have to understand them all, but you have to allow your subordinate elements to operate very quickly.
But then, we had to be able to take all of that and make it mean something -- because it's not just about capturing and killing people; it's about synchronizing into the wider theater campaign. And that took us longer. We really didn't mesh completely into the conventional war effort [in Iraq] until 2006, 2007.
On the value of GPS, night vision, drones, and manned aircraft:
Traditionally, if we did a raid and we thought we were going to need 20 commandos to actually be on the target, we might take 120, because we had to put security around the site to protect it from enemy reinforcements, and we might have to put a support section and a command-and-control section there, because you need all those things to account for the unexpected. But when you have very good situational awareness and good communications, you only send the 20, because your security comes from being able to see, and then you can maneuver forces if you need them. So suddenly, the 120 commandos aren't doing one raid; they're doing six raids simultaneously, and you start to get the ability to do 300 raids a month.
And that's important, because if you're going at an enemy network, you're trying to paralyze its nervous system. If you just hit it periodically, say, every other night, it not only heals itself; some would argue it gets stronger because it gets used to doing that. But if you can hit it in enough places simultaneously, it has a very difficult time regenerating. And that's when we started to have decisive effects.
What lessons did you learn in your Iraq and Afghanistan tours?
In Iraq, when we first started, the question was, "Where is the enemy?" That was the intelligence question. As we got smarter, we started to ask, "Who is the enemy?" And we thought we were pretty clever. And then we realized that wasn't the right question, and we asked, "What's the enemy doing or trying to do?" And it wasn't until we got further along that we said, "Why are they the enemy?"
Not until you walk yourself along that intellectual path do you realize that's what you have to understand, particularly in a counterinsurgency where the number of insurgents is completely independent of simple math. In World War II, the German army could produce x number of military-aged males. In an insurgency, the number of insurgents isn't determined by the population, but by how many people want to be insurgents. And so figuring out why they want to be insurgents is crucial. And that's something we had never practiced.
On torture:Did the success of your efforts in Iraq lead to an overemphasis on the use of direct action by Special Forces, raids and drone attacks and targeted killings, rather than indirect action, such as training and building local capacity?
My wife Annie and I are not golfers, but some years ago, we took part in a golf tournament in our unit. After having significant trouble, on one of the tees, Annie used a Kevlar driver. She hit this amazing drive straight down the fairway, and she was elated. For the rest of the afternoon, the only club she used was the Kevlar driver. She chipped with it. She putted with it. She used it for everything.
That's the danger of special operating forces. You get this sense that it is satisfying, it's clean, it's low risk, it's the cure for most ills. That's why many new presidents are initially enamored with the Central Intelligence Agency, because they are offered a covert fix for a complex problem. But if you go back in history, I can't find a covert fix that solved a problem long term. There were some necessary covert actions, but there's no "easy button" for some of these problems. That's the danger of interpreting what we did in Iraq as being the panacea for future war. It's not.
I thought this was really interesting, wove a lot of pieces together for me on the last ten years. Of course, those pieces are still just strands that will take a lifetime to weave into a coherent understanding of what the fuck happened to the world in my adolescence.There's a debate going on about the role of torture in American policy, what constitutes it and how important and necessary a tool it is in counterterrorism. What's your take?
I teach a seminar at Yale on leadership, and in one of the classes, I decided to bring up the issue of torture to rouse their indignation at the idea. And more than half the class said, "Well, if you need to do it, it's OK." And I was shocked.
I've never been in a position where I had a detainee or prisoner who knew where a nuclear weapon in New York was and if I was able to get the information out of him in three hours I could save millions of people. So for me to say I would never torture anyone under those circumstances, I don't think anyone can answer that question, particularly if my family was there or something.
That said, I think torture is an absolute mistake, and I made that clear within our organization. Whether or not torture works is an academic argument I don't even want to be a part of, because at the end of the day, I think the torturers are weakened. They're weakened internally individually, and they're weakened strategically as a cause.The thing that hurt us more than anything else in the war in Iraq was Abu Ghraib. When the pictures came out in the spring of 2004, many Americans felt our government was being honest -- that we had a problem with a platoon operating in the prison mistreating prisoners. The Iraqi people viewed it very differently. Many of them felt it was proof positive that the Americans were doing exactly what Saddam Hussein had done -- that it was proof [that] everything they thought bad about the Americans was true.
So what we thought of as an exception, they thought of as the rule?
That's right. They thought that was the broader reality. And there were hundreds of foreign fighters that came in [to Iraq] because they were responding to Abu Ghraib. Using torture is ultimately self-defeating. It's morally wrong, and it's a strategic mistake.