Future Risk & Surge: Chris Townsend

Editor’s Note:  This article differs from the regular format we use at Divergent Options per a request from Nate Freier of the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  This article has the writer imagining that they are a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  The writer is responding to a request from the SecDef for a two page memo that defines or describes strategic and military risk and identifies national security situations that may take place from 2017 to 2027 that would require the U.S. Department of Defense to surge personnel or capability to address.  The entire call for papers can be found here.


Chris Townsend is an active duty U.S. Army officer with 20 years of service.  He is a Middle East and North Africa Foreign Area Officer.  He can be found on Twitter @FAO_Chris and has written for the Journal of Defense Resources ManagementSmall Wars JournalArmchair General, and the Strategy Bridge.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


16 February 2017

MEMORANDUM FOR: Secretary of Defense

SUBJECT: Strategic and Military Risk

1.  DEFINING RISK:  Risk is any uncertainty that could complicate military operations or limit strategic options in responding to threats to U.S. interests.  Risks to strategic and military response can be categorized into three areas:  Operational, Institutional, and Global.

a.  Operational risk represents potential threats to military options and includes the presence of near-peer adversaries capable of area denial and the creation of threats across multiple domains simultaneously; weapons of mass destruction; adversarial Cyber, Space, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities; and the potential for simultaneous multiple-theater, multiple-phase conflict.

b.  Institutional risk includes the forces, funding, and acquisition uncertainties and inefficiencies.  These affect the size, training, equipping, readiness, and resilience of the fighting force and the ability to project power in response to dispersed threats while defending the homeland and assisting civil authorities.

c.  Global risk represents the uncertainties introduced by climate, politics, and societal factors.  Complications introduced from changes to climate or natural disasters, competition for resources, challenges to sovereignty, cultural friction, and global, criminal—independent or state-aligned—actors all present risks that must be mitigated and used to inform planning.

2.  THREAT SCENARIOS:  The greatest threat to the United States response capability is a simultaneous, multiple-theater, multiple-phase, multiple-domain conflict compounded with a homeland defense requirement in an era of dwindling resources and forced reductions in manning and equipping in a global political environment where the U.S. has reduced basing, access, and overflight options due to lapsed efforts in relationship maintenance, coupled with a lack of partner capacity and poorly defined political and strategic end states.

a.  The most likely scenario for the next ten years is for America to continue its military involvement in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan as Iran seeks to increase its influence through the continued proliferation of the Iranian Threat Network and meddling in regional politics.  As the conflicts resolve, there will be significant requirements for the U.S. to train and equip security forces to maintain the fragile stability in these countries.  Periphery conflicts like Egypt in Libya, Turkey in Northern Syria and Iraq, and Saudi Arabia in Yemen will strain resources as the U.S. continues to support partners with equipment and training.  Counterterrorism efforts will continue to require attention and resources around the globe and here at home.

b.  The most dangerous scenario is state-on-state aggression that either through treaty or interest requires U.S. engagement in addition to the ongoing security missions around the globe.  Potential conflicts include Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, Iranian-Saudi War, Chinese seizure of Taiwan and surrounding waters, clashes between India and Pakistan, and North Korean attacks on South Korea or Japan.  Any such conflict would expose the inability of the U.S. military to truly project power in multiple theaters while protecting the homeland.

c.  The most disruptive scenario would be a full-scale, multiple-domain attack on the homeland while forces are deployed into multiple theaters.  Potential adversaries have demonstrated the capability to disrupt internet, power, and communication systems in addition to the ability to shoot down satellites.  Significant network outages would create chaos in civilian arenas and significantly challenge military planning.  Space capabilities of new satellites deployed by potential adversaries could threaten lateral physical or cyber attacks against our satellites creating long-term disruption.  The U.S. could find itself unable to address threats from distant adversaries that have developed capabilities that increase stand-off distances and preclude insertion of forces without significant risk.  Other belligerents would likely seize on U.S. preoccupation by launching efforts to resolve regional disputes.

3.  SURGE REQUIREMENTS:  In every scenario the U.S. would be required to surge forces in response to aggression or instability.

a.  U.S. Forces must be capable of surging forces into two separate theaters while maintaining ongoing security requirements at home and abroad.  Current manning, arming, and equipping forecasts are insufficient for this kind of conflict, straining the ability to respond, reducing the margin of error, and increasing the costs.  Potential conflicts with near-peer adversaries would be longer wars with higher casualties that embolden those that threaten our interests while undermining the confidence of allies and partners.

b.  The priority now must be to shift current security and training responsibilities to partner nations with U.S. support.  Domain owners must refocus on basic proficiency in their respective domain: air, land, sea, cyber, space.  Efforts to establish relationships between domain owners that allow for quickly assembled Joint Task Forces to effectively operate are vital to addressing potential threats.  The risks from multi-domain battle and anti-access/area denial must be addressed through focused strategic planning for ways to defeat these threats and develop our own capabilities in these areas.

c.  While global risk can only be understood and used to inform planning, operational and institutional risk can be managed by military and civilian leaders.  Legislative and doctrinal efforts must define the institutional and operational risk tolerance thresholds and match those assessments with funding and programs to mitigate residual risk.  Without a rebalance away from ongoing security requirements, and a refocus on core domain competencies absent the uncertainty of sequestration, the U.S. will find itself challenged in the most likely scenarios and sorely outmatched in the most dangerous and disruptive ones.

4.  POC for this memorandum is Christopher P. Townsend, MAJ, SC.

Chris Townsend DO Partners Risk Assessment Strategy U.S. Army War College

Options for Turkey in Syria

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Chris Townsend is an active duty U.S. Army officer with 20 years of service.  He is a Middle East and North Africa Foreign Area Officer.  He can be found on Twitter @FAO_Chris and has written for the Journal of Defense Resources Management, Small Wars Journal, Armchair General, and the Strategy Bridge.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Turkey’s options regarding the civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  November 23, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  December 12, 2016.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is an active duty military officer currently focused on Multinational Logistics for a Geographic Combatant Command.  This article explores Turkey’s options in the Syrian Conflict.  The author’s opinions of Turkey’s options in Syria have been informed by his experiences as a Foreign Area Officer and benefitted from articles published by World Politics Review, Politico, The Middle East Institute, The Atlantic Council, and Stratfor.

Background:  Following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, protests in Syria resulted in a security crackdown that devolved into outright civil war between Alawi leaders and loyalists and the largely Sunni resistance.  Refugee flows from conflict areas have created problems for all neighboring countries.  Al-Qaida and the Islamic State have been actively involved in the resistance, while Lebanese Hezbollah has supported the Syrian ruling regime.  Russia has intervened on behalf of the Syrian government, while the United States has provided training and equipment to resistance fighters.  Kurdish militias in Northern Syria have largely supported opposition forces.  The complex and dynamic array of forces presents significant challenges politically and militarily for Turkey.

Significance:  The ongoing sectarian struggle in Syria presents significant security challenges for Turkey.  The presence of international and indigenous military forces in Syria as well as heavy refugee flows fleeing the fighting all represent a threat to the security and stability of the Turkish state.

Option #1:  Containment.  Turkey can close its border and protect its airspace until the situation in Syria is resolved.

Risk:  Refugee flows will create problems at the border and a potential humanitarian crisis that would draw condemnation from the global community.  Kurdish militias will be able to link up and may represent a perceived threat to Turkish security.

Gain:  Refugees are kept out of Turkey.  Turkish military involvement is limited to border security and airspace defense.  Turkey provides a neutral space for negotiations between belligerents and reaps potential diplomatic gains.

Option #2:  Syrian Buffer Zone.  Turkey pushes ground and air forces south to secure Northern Syria from Azaz in the West to Jarabulus in the East.

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Risk:  Turkish troops exposed to increased conflict from Syrian Forces.  Potential clashes with Kurdish and Russian military elements could escalate conflict.  Actions could be seen as the invasion of a sovereign nation and will likely be met with condemnation and potential sanctions.  No-fly zone activities to support the buffer zone may be challenged by Russia or Syria with ramifications for interdiction.  Turkish resources are insufficient to sustain such an effort and would require external support for extended operations.

Gain:  Provides a safe space for refugees without allowing them into Turkey.  Prevents Kurdish elements in the East and West from linking up.  Provides a learning opportunity to Turkish Forces by deploying troops and equipment into combat with a minimal logistics tail.

Option #3:  Support to Syrian proxy Jaysh Halab (Army of Aleppo).  Turkey provides training and equipment with support from Saudi Arabia to its proxy in Syria to maintain a Turkish footprint without Turkish presence and prevent Kurdish elements from combining into a larger force on Turkey’s southern border.

Risk:  Exposure to culpability for actions of the proxy force if war crimes are committed against Syrian or Kurdish soldiers or civilians.  Lack of vetting capability exposes the proxy to infiltration by other elements.  Little clarity of intent as forces are engaging both Kurdish and Syrian forces.

Gain:  Proxy inhibits Kurdish momentum towards unification of forces.  Increased relations with Saudi Arabia help to further offset Iranian influence in the region.  Turkey poised to establish proxy as peacekeeping force if hostilities cease, maintaining influence in Syria and positive control of border interests.

Other Comments:  Turkey seems to be currently pursuing all three options simultaneously.  A border wall is under construction.  Turkish forces are operating in Syria. Jaysh Halab is receiving support but its early activities seem to be anti-Kurd instead of anti-Syrian Government.  The Turkish presence in Northern Iraq serves as a hedge that will largely funnel retreating Islamic State forces west into Raqqah, Syria.  The Turkish or proxy forces to the North of Raqqah provide pressure and limit options for the Islamic State as threats emerge from the East and South.  Turkey represents a potential spoiler for U.S. efforts to clear Raqqah as their involvement creates political hazards by limiting U.S. options and increasing the risk of rejection by Kurdish partners.

Recommendation:  None


Endnotes:

None.

Chris Townsend Civil War Islamic State Variants Option Papers Syria Turkey