Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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The Declassified Intelligence Report Used to Justify the Iraq War; A Timeline of the Ukraine Crisis

by Janine Davidson
U.S. President George W. Bush passes crew members as he walks the deck of
the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to deliver his speech to the nation
as the carrier steamed toward San Diego, California, May 1, 2003. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President George W. Bush passes crew members as he walks the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to deliver his speech to the nation as the carrier steamed toward San Diego, California, May 1, 2003. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Declassified: the 93-page document that justified the invasion of Iraq. The 2002 National Intelligence Estimate raises further questions about the veracity of data used to show that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had restarted his nuclear weapons program. Previously classified dissents from the Department of Energy and Department of State are now public. The case, long criticized for being weak, appears to have been weakened further.

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Is the Partner the United States Needs to Get the Job Done

by Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani addresses the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, March 26, 2015. (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters) Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani addresses the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, March 26, 2015. (Mike Segar/Courtesy Reuters)

By Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking

If there is one thing we have learned from the painful experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that success in such missions requires political as much as military solutions. This is why Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore worked together just before leaving office to jointly publish their interagency 2009 U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide. In contrast to the U.S. Army’s Counterinsurgency: FM 3-24 (arguably the most famous doctrine ever released, published by General David Petraeus in 2006), this little handbook was aimed squarely at policymakers.

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Afghanistan and Big Data; Russian Nukes in Crimea; New Evidence of Reprisal Attacks by Iraq’s Shiite Militias

by Janine Davidson
Afghan policemen display their skills at a police training centre in Nangarhar Province March 9, 2015. (Parwiz/Courtesy Reuters) Afghan policemen display their skills at a police training centre in Nangarhar Province March 9, 2015. (Parwiz/Courtesy Reuters)

In Afghanistan, a close correlation between Taliban violence and villages’ positive attitudes toward the United States. This is the conclusion of a big-data research project run by Jason Lyall, a political scientist at Yale University. Lyall’s statistical models could help anticipate and prevent Taliban violence in the future.

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Growing Fears of Sectarian Retaliation in Tikrit; Tragedy off the Florida Panhandle

by Janine Davidson
Eleven flags line the road across from the staging area where crews search waters around the Navarre Bridge following the crash of a military helicopter, east of Pensacola, Florida March 11, 2015. (Michael Spooneybarger/Courtesy Reuters) Eleven flags line the road across from the staging area where crews search waters around the Navarre Bridge following the crash of a military helicopter, east of Pensacola, Florida March 11, 2015. (Michael Spooneybarger/Courtesy Reuters)

Fears of sectarian retaliation amid the battle to retake Tikrit. The ethnic targeting of Sunni residents by Shiite militias had been a persistent cause for concern during operations to liberate Tikrit. The Iraqi force that regained control of Tikrit was composed of 20,000 Shiite fighters and only 1,000 Sunni. However, a member of one of the main Shiite militias argued that the battle of Tikrit, “has proven to the world that the Sunnis and Shia are united.” In addition to worry over the conduct of Shiite militias, U.S. officials are also investigating potential atrocities committed by U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces.

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The Battle for Tikrit Begins; An Online War Against ISIS; Laser Weapons Inch Closer to Reality

by Janine Davidson
Shi'ite fighters fire a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants in Salahuddin province March 1, 2015. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Shi'ite militiamen sought to seal off Islamic State fighters in Tikrit and nearby towns on Tuesday, the second day of Iraq's biggest offensive yet against a stronghold of the Sunni militants. Picture taken March 1, 2015. (Ahmed Al-Hussaini/Courtesy Reuters) Shi'ite fighters fire a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants in Salahuddin province March 1, 2015. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Shi'ite militiamen sought to seal off Islamic State fighters in Tikrit and nearby towns on Tuesday, the second day of Iraq's biggest offensive yet against a stronghold of the Sunni militants. Picture taken March 1, 2015. (Ahmed Al-Hussaini/Courtesy Reuters)

The battle now rages for the ISIS-held, northern Iraqi city of Tikrit. ISIS captured Tikrit, located roughly seventy miles north of Baghdad, in June 2014, marking their second significant gain after Mosul. The Institute for the Study of War has been keeping a thorough tracking of the Iraqi army’s offensive since February 26. Notably, this offensive has not been coordinated with the United States. Of the 30,000 pro-government fighters, two thirds are drawn from Shiite militias, and Iranian influence is pervasive throughout.  Iraqi forces’ initial advance into Tirkit has been stymied by roadside bombs and suicide attacks—the same tactics used to such great effect by Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), ISIS’ predecessor, some ten years ago.

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Four Myths That Drive (and Endanger) U.S. Defense Policy

by Janine Davidson
Maserati Alfieri car is pictured during the media day ahead of the 84th Geneva Motor Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva March 4, 2014. (Arnd Wiegmann/Courtesy Reuters) Maserati Alfieri car is pictured during the media day ahead of the 84th Geneva Motor Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva March 4, 2014. (Arnd Wiegmann/Courtesy Reuters)

U.S. defense planning has evolved since the mid 1970s, with the end of the Vietnam War and the founding of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF). Since then, at least four troubling myths have become baked into doctrine, strategy, and force planning processes. These beliefs focus on our strengths, but have in some ways blinded us to the enduring nature of conflict. They have hindered our ability to institutionalize lessons from our most frustrating operational experiences in favor of constructs like the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), “rapid, decisive, operations” and (most recently) AirSea Battle. As the Pentagon grapples with diminishing resources and an accelerating technology curve, it is worth reflecting on these myths and how we can overcome them.

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The Specter of ISIS’ Foreign Recruits; Ash Carter’s Listening Tour

by Janine Davidson
Spanish civil guards lead a detained man suspected of using social media to recruit people to violent groups like the Islamic State, in Spain's North African enclave Melilla, February 24, 2015. (Jesus Blasco de Avellaneda/Courtesy Reuters) Spanish civil guards lead a detained man suspected of using social media to recruit people to violent groups like the Islamic State, in Spain's North African enclave Melilla, February 24, 2015. (Jesus Blasco de Avellaneda/Courtesy Reuters)

ISIS made headlines again with the abduction of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria. Across the Iraq border, ISIS pointed its efforts this week towards destroying history, including ancient books and sculptures. However, the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is showing progress; General (ret.) John Allen, special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, commented that half of the ISIS leaders in Iraq have now been targeted and killed. General Allen continued that the goal should be to make this terrorist group inoperable; in his mind, it is unlikely they will ever be completely eradicated.

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ISIS Traces Its Roots to 2003

by Janine Davidson
A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city August 24, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city August 24, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

This week, I had the opportunity to hear my friend Emma Sky speak at the New America Foundation’s first annual Future of War Conference, held here in Washington, DC.  Emma was General Ray Odierno’s political adviser during the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and is one of the smartest people I know (check out her new book about it all, The Unraveling, due to be released soon). Although she was only allotted three short minutes to speak on the panel, her message about the origins of ISIS and the shortfalls in the US strategy were as clear and compelling as they were depressing.

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Prioritize Operations, Ban PowerPoint: Ash Carter Is off to a Good Start

by Janine Davidson
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (C) holds a regional security meeting at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait February 23, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (C) holds a regional security meeting at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait February 23, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

On February 17, Ash Carter was formally sworn in as the twenty-fifth Secretary of Defense. Within his first week on the job, he’s wrapped up intensive, fact-finding trips to both Afghanistan and Kuwait. This sends a powerful message about his priorities: although Carter previously distinguished himself as a thoughtful student of Pentagon bureaucracy, budgeting, and acquisitions, in his new role, current opsand getting the strategy rightcome first.

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A Savage Ukrainian Defeat at Debaltseve; What ISIS Really Wants

by Janine Davidson
A Ukrainian serviceman who fought in Debaltseve is seen in a bus before leaving for his home, near Artemivsk February 19, 2015. (Gleb Garanich/Courtesy Reuters) A Ukrainian serviceman who fought in Debaltseve is seen in a bus before leaving for his home, near Artemivsk February 19, 2015. (Gleb Garanich/Courtesy Reuters)

In a breach that may mark the end of an abbreviated ceasefire, fighting resumed in Ukraine over the town of Debaltseve, a strategic location in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian troops endured a terrifying, chaotic retreat from Debaltseve early Wednesday; an estimated 170 casualties occurred during the withdrawal, with even more thought to be captured or missing. The evacuation of Ukrainian forces came just days after the Minsk ceasefire went into effect on Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sympathy, mocking Ukrainian’s inability to defend against, “people who were yesterday working down in the mines or driving tractors.” Leaders in Kiev are now worried that pro-Russian separatists are preparing for a heavy assault on the strategic port of Mariupol, located on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov.

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