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Tuesday, February 5, 2008


On Scene Report #1

On Scene Report #2 

On Scene Report #3

For purchase of a DVD recording of any of the panels, please Click Here for more information.


On Scene Report #3:


America Cannot Win War on Terror, Says Conway; Cyber War Looms

By Mark Sauer 

All photos by Michael Carpenter


U.S. Marine Corps Commandant James Conway told AFCEA/USNI West 2008 attendees that America cannot win the war on terrorism, rather it must be won "from within" by regions affected by terrorism.

Progress has been mixed recently on wars real and imagined which U.S. forces are waging across the globe. Violence has abated in Iraq, while ominous signs are emerging from the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

But in the "Cyber War," the unseen war of vigilance against electronic hackers and saboteurs, the nation has yet to be fully engaged.

These sobering assessments were offered as West 2008 concluded in San Diego. The theme of the annual convention, sponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute, was, "U.S. at a Crossroads: Where – and How – After Iraq." The theme was addressed in many speeches and forums over three days, but General James Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, chose to focus on the current hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their impact.

Surprisingly, the plain-speaking general, characterizing both fights as "the first battles of a long, long war against terrorism," said he does not expect it will be America that wins them.

"It's not a war that we can win," Conway said. "It is a war that moderates in the region must win over time for us to eventually be successful. It has to be handled from within."

Wars driven by religious extremists have happened several times before in history. Foreign forces alone cannot prevail. "They (the moderates) are the ones who have to decide that they've had enough," Conway said.

Echoing previous convention analysts, Conway said violence is down and prospects up in Iraq, thanks to decisions by local leaders to turn on Al Queda as the surge of U.S. forces took hold in places like the western province of Anbar. But things are "going in the opposite direction in Afghansitan," he said.

Coalition casualties and attacks are on the rise, and the time has come, Conway said, for international forces – including the United States – to determine whether to send a surge of troops coursing through Afghanistan even as we draw down forces in Iraq.

"We are about to reach the realization that if we are going to have similar success there (in Afghanistan), we will need more effort," he said. "For example, it used to be that come winter, the Taliban went across the border to regroup until spring. That is not the case now."

Saying Afghanistan is "a fight the nation will continue to see boil for some time," Conway observed that the nature of the battle and terrain there is more to his Marines' liking than in neighboring Iraq.

"The Afghan fight is ideally suited to our capabilities. It is a more expeditionary kind of fight, the terrain is more rugged and we have operated there before with a good measure of success," Conway said. "Plus, we enjoy a coalition environment; we do well in that."


Lieutenant General John M. McDuffie, U.S. Army (Ret.), vice president of U.S. Public Sector Services at Microsoft Corporation, addressed West attendees at lunch.

Even at the expanded strength of 202,000, the Marine Corps cannot be committed to both Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously, Conway said. "We're too small for that. If Marines go there in the spring, we will need relief elsewhere."

Conway spoke extensively about the strain the past five years have taken – on Marine families and on the Corps itself. He said families are "the most brittle part of the equation," with family members reeling from the stress of multiple, seven-month deployments more than intensely than the Marines themselves.

Marine wives, he said, have pointed out to him that there are things that cannot be done during seven months at home. "You can't have a child in seven months – you can be on the front end or the back end of that process, but you can't be there for the whole thing," Conway noted.

"And post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious concern. Sgt. Sasquatch gets evaluated four times a year, but his wife is telling me that someone needs to counsel their two young sons, and I may need help, too. It's tough for families and a serious concern."

Also of concern, he said, is "the strain on the institution. Today as a Corps, we cannot offer the nation what historically we have been able to do.

"When we are home, we spend all of our time preparing to go back to Iraq. We are not doing the desert, mountain, jungle and cold-weather training we need to do. We are not doing amphibious warfare training – we have not been exercising on those capabilities for the past five years now.

"Now, we have a generation of officers and Marines who are combat hardened, but in most instances they have never set foot on a ship. The amphibious operation is the most complicated military operation of all; we are losing this expertise and it will take a decade to recover this knowledge base."


Cyber War panelist Rear Admiral Janice Hamby, of Naval Network Warfare Command, stated that we create vulnerabilities each time we advance our information technology.

Shooting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may dominate today's headlines. But even more is at stake, according to military and civilian experts, in the ephemeral trenches of the nebulous Cyber War.

Nearly every important military and civilian communications network is dependent upon computers and satellite links, they said, and much more needs to be done to keep the nation and its citizens safe from computer-based catastrophe.

"This is akin to nuclear warfare because of the consequences if something goes awry," said Navy Rear Admiral Janice Hamby, speaking on a panel called "The New Frontier: How Do We Fight and Win a Cyber War?"

Whether we realize it or not, every member of the military, every government employee – indeed, every American – is a "cyber warrior," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Herb Browne, the panel's moderator.

The term cyber war is misleading in that crisis will not come in the conventional sense of battlefield and conflict, even if the battlefield is thought of in spacial terms. With the exponential expansion of communication networks, the Internet, cell phone networks and all manner of electronics, risk and vulnerability expand at the same rate, according to the panelists. Individuals, companies, military units, defense contractors – virtually anyone can be a target, or a potential hero thwarting attack on this new and infinite battlefield.

"It is really a daunting challenge; we are creating additional vulnerabilities to our own forces all the time as we expand IT (information technology)," Hamby said. "We need operators with a good understanding of the concepts behind the networks we're using so they are able to recognize when we are under attack.

"Understanding the authorities and the rules of engagement equates to a PhD-level of education in my book. It takes three to five years to grow folks (operators) who truly understand how to do this. And for every operator, we have 24 or 25 support folks. We've started on it, but our capacity is not nearly where it needs to be."

Steve Cooper, former chief information officer of the American Red Cross and of the Department of Homeland Security, said one overlooked example of a vulnerable cyber-war target is our national blood supply.


Cyber War panel moderator Vice Admiral Herb Browne, former Deputy Commander, U.S. Space Command, said every citizen is a cyber warrior. 

"The Red Cross controls about 50 percent of our available blood supply; non-governmental entities, non-profits for the most part, control the rest. Anyone have any idea how easy it would be to access data bases that have nearly all the information there is about the use of blood in this country?" Cooper asked rhetorically. "The reality is we are not thinking about protecting such things from a cyber perspective. The good news is that I'm not sure that our enemies are yet thinking about ways of how to attack."

A sobering exercise was conducted within the public and private cyber sectors in February 2006, Cooper said. Called "Cyber Storm," it was a type of war game designed to assess how vulnerable military, government and industry information systems were to invasion and attack.

"Bottom line: We are NOT prepared," Cooper said. A main lesson, he added, was that Cyber Storm needs to become a regular exercise.

Firewalls, anti-virus- and anti-spyware, and other protective software programs need to be vigorously sought, used and maintained by not only the service branches and government agencies, but also all corporations and companies, as well as every individual with a home computer or laptop.

"We are all in this together," said Dave Wennergren, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense/Deputy Chief Information Officer. "It doesn't do any good to simply make things better for myself. The weakest link is always exploited. No matter where you work, nor what you do, you need to think of this as a national imperative." 

Freelance writer Mark Sauer spent more than 30 years as a journalist, working on daily newspapers in Lansing, MI, Houston, and San Diego. He focused on news and human-interest features, including many involving the military and military families in Texas and California. Both his mother and father served in the U.S. Army during World War II.


On Scene Report #2:

The Forgotten War on Drugs 

By Mark Sauer 

All photos by Michael Carpenter


In his luncheon address on the struggle against narcotics, Admiral James Stavridis said Afghanistan is where narco-terrorism is fulminating.

America's overlooked "war," one that has taken an estimated 120,000 U.S. lives since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was thrown into dramatic relief by the key Navy admiral charged with fighting it.

In a rousing call to arms, Admiral James Stavridis, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, challenged the thousands of military and defense-industry leaders at West 2008 to come up with innovative technologies and intelligence-sharing systems to combat the scourge of narcotics killing people across the Americas.  

Stavridis, commander of the U.S. Southern Command based in Miami, said the nation's security is on the line in the long-standing struggle against illicit drugs, as much as it is in the broad war on terror.

The admiral's powerful luncheon address in the middle of the three-day convention, which is sponsored by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute, centered on drug-related threats in Central and South America. He said "drugs are the fuel of misery" in the part of the world for which he is responsible.

"The struggle against narcotics is an increasingly important facet of national security in the United States today," Stavridis said. "The good news is we are not launching Tomahawk missiles in this part of the world, we are not down there with aircraft carriers and F-22s and Hornets.

"We are launching ideas in this part of the world. We are engaged in the marketplace of ideas and in order to compete, we are going to have to help our partners."

He added that drug cultivators and distributors are beginning to merge with the "stream of Islamic radical terrorism bubbling up around the world. They are tracking toward narco-terrorism, and the junction is in Afghanistan."


Former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Admiral James Loy, USCG (Ret.), moderator of the panel on the drug war, said America cannot ignore the drug curse.

In a panel discussion titled, "Forgotten War: How Goes the War on Drugs?" retired Coast Guard Admiral James Loy said an American public that is concentrated on headlines out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan, while ignoring the relentless drug curse, places itself in peril.

"Complacency, when aided by distractions by the war on terror, can be deadly," Loy said.

Stavridis's sobering address intersected with an overview of the Navy's role in helping to protect and develop maritime commerce throughout the world, offered by Rear Admiral Mike Tillotson, commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

Noting that 80 percent of the world's commerce flows through its seas, Tillotson said that in addition to "forward presence and deterrence," the mission of an expeditionary force is to "strengthen partner nations and services so they can defend themselves, and keep issues local so they don't spread to our shores.

"We do this by building trust and confidence among nations."


Commander, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command RADM Michael Tillotson, who addressed West conferees at breakfast, said U.S. expeditionary forces help strengthen parnter nations.

Whether talking about a shooting war, such as the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, or a metaphoric war like the war on drugs, the two admirals said success could result only from cooperation among nations.

"We want our partner nations to ultimately provide their own security and to make sure they are not in any way supporting the spread of terror or drugs," Tillotson said.

Understanding the demographics, unique elements, needs, and history of countries involved is critical to the mission, the admirals said. Stavridis said Latin America is often mistakenly perceived as a monolith by those in the United States. "But it's hard to imagine a more diverse region," he said.

"Could there be two more different countries than Brazil, a nation of 200 million, an enormous, emerging mega-power where the language is Portuguese," he noted, "and Belize, a country of African" and European descent, which was a British colony and has English as an official language?

Chile, he said, is a First World country of 15 million, Spanish speaking with a business model based on Ireland and South Korea; while Haiti is the poorest country in the region, with 80 percent of people living on less than $2 a day, where Creole is spoken.

"This is not our backyard," he said. Yet we are linked through trade, demographics, politics – every nation in the region is a democracy except Cuba, Stavridis noted – and, of course, the commerce in narcotics.

The role of the military and its partners in the defense industry, he said, is to find ways to disrupt the air and sea-lane transit of drugs by smugglers from various countries, as well as bulking up interception efforts at our borders.

Latin America, Stavridis noted, is "a land of rivers," and drug runners use them constantly. Citing the valuable partnership already in place with Admiral Tillotson's Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, Stavridis urged defense-industry leaders to generate ideas on how to fight this most unconventional of wars.

"This is the ultimate team sport," he said. "We need everybody – the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Defense, the State Department, intelligence agencies; and we need you."

Stavridis said detection equipment that may have been developed for Cold War purposes might be adapted, as could the type of fast "brown water Navy" boats made manufactured during the Vietnam War. He spoke of flooding border areas with wireless sensors, enlisting radar systems and developing specific intelligence software as some ways industry can be enlisted in the fight.

Another important need, Stavridis said, is to establish a Fourth Fleet. "We do not have a numbered fleet focused on this part of the world that we're talking about, and I am a big proponent of getting one," he said. "The need is there, starting with drugs, and on to disaster relief and all kinds of training and exercises.

"It's time we think seriously about that." 

Freelance writer Mark Sauer spent more than 30 years as a journalist, working on daily newspapers in Lansing, MI, Houston, and San Diego. He focused on news and human-interest features, including many involving the military and military families in Texas and California. Both his mother and father served in the U.S. Army during World War II.


On Scene Report #1:

Understanding Is Key

By Mark Sauer

All photos by Michael Carpenter



Commander Mike Horan, USN (second from right), speaking on the AFCEA/USNI West 2008 panel, "Fighting an 'Unconventional' War: How Have You Done It?" makes a plea for understanding the local environment before entering a conflict.

Despite its unmatched advantages in weaponry, equipment and technology, the power and majesty of America's conventional military might can carry the nation only so far in our international battles against terrorists. Equally important is the ability to speak the languages and understand the cultures of those we fighting, as well as those we are trying to liberate and befriend, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Indonesia, Korea, and China.

That theme emerged in discussions by veteran commanders recently returned from theaters of war, and in speeches by senior military leaders yesterday as West 2008 opened its annual three-day run in San Diego.

The United States faced problems early on in both Afghanistan and Iraq because we looked at problems and possible solutions through American eyes, instead of understanding how the people on the ground there saw things, said U.S. Navy Commander Mike Horan.

"We have to understand things before we go in and start blowing things up,"  Horan said.

The former commander of the Joint Provincial Reconstruction Team in Farah, Afghanistan, took part in a panel discussion exploring how to fight an unconventional war. It was a topic that dovetailed with the theme of the convention: "U.S. at a Crossroads: Where – and How – After Iraq?"

The convention, a wide-ranging interchange between military, government, and industry leaders, is sponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute.

Horan said the enemy has two immediate advantages we don't have, "He is local, and he speaks the language. Unless we do a better job of understanding the language and the culture, we cannot understand how to help," he said.

Keating Appraises Pacific Relations


U.S. Pacific Command leader Admiral Timothy J. Keating shared his impressions of relations with North Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China at a luncheon address.

To be sure, no one was understating the importance of ships, aircraft, missiles, satellites, tanks, troop carriers, machinery, and all manner of technological equipment provided to our fighting men and women.

"We don't make enough of a fuss over our contractors," is how Admiral Timothy J. Keating put it during his luncheon address.

Keating, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, took the hundreds in attendance on a tour of his vast command area. He noted that for the first time in memory, he was "very, very, very cautiously optimistic" about talks with North Korea over dismantling that nation's nuclear capabilities.

Keating also cited ever-strengthening relations with leaders in Japan and the Philippines; and he said keen understanding of the sensitivities of more than 200 million Muslims in Indonesia had helped U.S. commanders to understand when to step in and offer help and when to graciously stand by in that complex and vast nation of islands.

The admiral focused particularly on relations with an ever growing and energy-hungry China. Keating said that while the U.S. maintains a watchful eye on the People's Republic, it appears to him that among the Asian giant's pressing concerns are energy, economic management, and its increasingly polluted environment, rather than military aggression.

An environmental controversy closer to home came up during the question/answer session. Keating fielded a question regarding whether interruptions in training sailors in the use of sonar, due to allegations that such exercises kill whales, was harming U.S. readiness.

The admiral answered in the affirmative. "These sailors who deploy to the Pacific are less qualified than I need them to be. We've tied up one hand behind our backs," Keating said.

Pace Stresses Iraqi Attitude Shift


Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, USMC (Ret.), explained the reduction in violence in the Anbar Province as a result of a shift in attitude by local leaders.

In his keynote address earlier in the day, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Peter Pace focused on the paramount issue facing the U.S. military: the War in Iraq.

Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while the surge of U.S. troops had achieved undeniable success since its launch a year ago, it was more important to understand changes brought about by certain Iraqis.

It wasn't the 4,000 Marines sent in to Anbar Province in Western Iraq that quelled the extraordinary violence there, Pace said. "What changed Anbar was the local sheiks who decided the Coalition's vision for the future of Iraq was so much better than Al Qaeda's.

"They have made the difference. They have determined that tomorrow will be better than today, they have decided to love their children more than they hate each other," Pace said. "I feel optimistic about Iraq not because of U.S. military might, but because of what is happening in the minds of local leaders there."

Winning over hearts and minds starts with basic communication and understanding, said Lieutenant Commander Joel Lang. He has deployed to the North Arabian Gulf five times in the past 10 years, most recently as commander of the USS Typhoon, a coastal-patrol vessel.

"Language is the key, but it's also very important to understand the environment," said Lang, whose latest mission involved everything from protecting oil rigs to performing sea rescues and intercepting potentially hostile craft.

"You have to understand the importance of the two fishing collectives that operate in Iran and Iraq, what the flags mean, who works for whom, who's paying off whom," he said. "It's understanding how not to piss a guy off even before you open your mouth."

Captain Robert Kapcio, commander of the hospital ship USNS Comfort on a recent 12-country humanitarian mission, said sometimes the vital needs or interests of those you're trying to help are completely misunderstood until a translator explains.


MCPOCG Charles Bowen

One day in Guatemala, Kapcio said, nurses came back "wide eyed" from a trip to meet with pregnant women in a village. "They said they'd spent the afternoon explaining the birds and the bees to these women! The women had no idea how they'd gotten pregnant; apparently, they thought it was through immaculate conception. We're really talking basic health care here."

In Nicaragua, he said, the crew learned that veterinarians were more important to subsistence farmers than medical doctors.

"We were out with a vet working on a man's horse and asked that he bring his family to the clinic," Kapcio said. "He said he didn't have time for that. Then he explained: If his child dies, he can have another child. But if his horse dies, he can never afford another one and if the horse dies the whole family will die."

Such perspective, Kapcio concluded, comes only through understanding of language, culture and customs.

Charles W. Bowen, master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard, spoke at the evening's awards dinner about "the importance of people." Speaking of the men and women in all the services, he said, "they all have one thing in common: on a daily basis they get the job done."

Freelance writer Mark Sauer spent more than 30 years as a journalist, working on daily newspapers in Lansing, MI, Houston, and San Diego. He focused on news and human-interest features, including many involving the military and military families in Texas and California. Both his mother and father served in the U.S. Army during World War II.




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