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Michael Vickers, The Stealth Operator of the Pentagon Budget Reforms

In February, I was told that Michael Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for (deep breath) special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, was a key player on Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ defense-budget review. Over at DOD Buzz, Greg Grant has an interesting look at Vickers’ whole deal:

Vickers is a big proponent of the “indirect approach” to combating terrorists and insurgencies: providing advisors and money to work with and improve foreign militaries rather than sending in large ground forces to pull constabulary duty on foreign soil. Gates has also become an advocate of the indirect approach, and his budget proposal includes $500 million to “boost global partnership capacity efforts,” including training and equipping foreign militaries. Vickers has also pushed hard for the services to provide more, and better foreign advisors and for the Army in particular to change its culture governing promotions so that serving as an advisor is seen as career enhancing, rather than a career ender, as many now see it.

In a speech before a defense industry gathering last month, Vickers said he foresees a shift over time from the manpower intensive counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan to more “distributed operations across the world,” relying on close to 100 small teams of special operations forces to hunt down terrorist networks, part of a “global radical Islamist insurgency.”. He called it “counter network warfare,” using a “network to fight a network,” and building that network is the driver behind the increase in special operators. “The emerging challenge of this global radical Islamist insurgency is conducting operations in scores of countries with which the U.S. is not at war,” he said.

Grant admirably restrains himself from pointing out that Vickers was immortalized in the movie version of “Charlie Wilson’s War” as the nerd who can kill you without breaking a sweat. Beyond that, I wonder how Vickers’s special operations forces-heavy approach would grapple with the logistics challenges posited by David Kilcullen in a talk last week about his new book “The Accidental Guerilla“. Here’s Andrew Exum’s summary:

[I]f you decide to do [counterterrorism], you need to base a SOF team somewhere nearby — and then build a base to protect them and their air assets. So you end up with a) a pretty significant presence on the ground and b) more contact with — and need to protect — the local population than you originally bargained for.

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