Friday, February 29, 2008

Still not making headlines

Much like this story didn't break in the UK, it still really hasn't attracted attention here either. The UK's Prince Harry is indeed deployed in Afghanistan and has been there 10 weeks. The British media had apparently cut a deal with British officials to keep the information a secret in exchange for details.

It wasnt until Drudge Report drug it out of an obscure Australian newspaper that it ever saw the light of day. The lack of coverage is interesting however, given how the tabloids seem to always follow this stuff so adroitly. Perhaps nobody really cares that much.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

British Buy New Aircraft Carriers

Is that true about the heat produced from the joint strike fighter takeoff?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Surgeon General's Warning for Pakistan...

Today the NY Times reported that a top Pakistani general was killed by a suicide bomber on Monday in Rawalpindi. The bomber was linked to militants in the tribal areas. Sharif has called for the resignation of Musharraf as well as negotiations with the militants, citing the negotiations between the IRA and British government as a template for ending the ongoing conflict between the Pakistani government and militants in the tribal areas.

While the assassination of top officials has been par for the course as of late in Pakistan, the clamoring for the resignation of Musharraf make these developments particularly disturbing. Now to be fair, Musharraf has not been an ideal democrat and has perpetrated inhuman acts such as the sacking of supreme court officials (oh the horror...). But in these turbulent times in Pakistan, it is important to remember his potential as a transitional figure and his cooperation with the US still make him an asset for US policy makers. Musharraf's successor may not be as cooperative.

Musharraf's administration/dictatorship has also, on the whole, been good for the country. Musharraf has presided over a booming Pakistani economy and has improved Indo-Pakistani relations. This is far more than Sharif any of the other clowns likely to replace Musharraf will accomplish.

Negotiations are likely to prove fruitless, given the fact that Islamic militants have intangible goals, such as the recreation of the Caliphate of Islam's golden age and seek a complete societal revolution.

While the elections in Pakistan may be hailed as the beginning of the new era for Pakistan, they will most likely pave the way for the return of the incompetence of the administrations that preceded Musharraf.
Pakistan is starting to look like the Middle East, a place where when things can't get any worse, they do.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hydrazine for the Masses

So since the 1987 study cited by the previous post says that hydrazine is used in everything from cigarettes to airbags, it must be safe enough to hand out to children. I would love to see the next flavor of Kool-Aid be hydrazine. I bet it is delicious. Seeing as there was enough hydrazine on board to fill 2 football fields, I think that exposure may be a little higher than that found in cigarettes. This is what a study done by the EPA and revised in 2000 has to say about hydrazine exposure:

Symptoms of acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of hydrazine may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, coma in humans. Acute exposure can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. The liquid is corrosive and may produce dermatitis from skin contact in humans and animals. Effects to the lungs, liver, spleen, and thyroid have been reported in animals chronically exposed to hydrazine via inhalation. Increased incidences of lung, nasal cavity, and liver tumors have been observed in rodents exposed to hydrazine.

This does not sound like your family safe chemical that one would want in a heavily populated area like say, a massive Chinese city. The short-term exposure levels are enough to put a human being in a coma. Sounds pretty serious to me. And last time I checked, China does not have the health care capabilities to deal with chemical exposure of this magnitude.

The satellite was the size of a bus. Imagine the damage this would cause if it were to strike a building. There would be little chance of survival, and those who did survive would be exposed to the massive amounts of hydrazine. The US was unsure of what form the hydrazine would be in when it reentered Earth's atmosphere as well. If it was in a gaseous state, the damage could be much more extreme. Either way, it is possible for thousands of people to die if a satellite the size of a bus, carrying a toxic material, were to crash into a large building filled with people. The fact that hydrazine is a carcinogen does not help either. Those who are exposed to it have the potential to develop tumors also.

I admit that the chance it would hit China and even a population center in China is very low, but it is still possible. I would hope that you would not be "laughing aloud" if the satellite were to hit Beijing or Shanghai. Just the same, many people thought it was highly unlikely that 2 planes would be flown into the same building within minutes and another into the Pentagon, and I know there were not many people "laughing aloud." It was also a great shock when the levies broke in New Orleans and a city was devastated after Hurricane Katrina, and I would venture to say that not many people were "laughing aloud." I do believe that the US did shoot this down mainly to show that they had the capability to, and I also know that they did not want any country to have their hands on the technology that was displayed in this satellite, but the US also does not want to tarnish an already questionable international image by being responsible for a satellite landing in a Chinese city and killing and injuring thousands of civilians.

I recognize that the debris caused by the destruction of the satellite is not an issue. I thought that I had made that clear in my previous post with the joke that China was worried only because it may obstruct certain views of their current satellites. I would expect that the death toll from hydrazine exposure would increase to a much higher number than 1 if the satellite were to hit a population center. So next time some unbelievable tragedy rocks the international scene, I hope that at some point in your life, you did no "laugh aloud" at the previous thought of such an event taking place.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Houston: There is no problem

I contend with the previous post on three points: The threat posed by hydrazine was negligible, the U.S. shot NRO 193 for national security reasons not altruistic concerns over toxicity, and the debris emitted from recent explosion are not a significant threat to orbiting satellites.

First of all the idea that thesatellite could kill thousands of people, much less thousands of Chinese, is hyperbole. The odds of it landing in China are slim, and hitting population center slimmer yet. Further, all of the hydrazine would need to survive reentry, and then be distributed in aerosol through an enclosed area. Think falling into Rupp Arena this weekend during the Arkansas game. Again, the chance of this happening is so remote that it makes me want to laugh aloud. On a side note only one person has died from hydrazine, ever.

More info on hydrazine here: ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CRITERIA 68 HYRDRAZINE (Seriously check it out! Hydrazine is used to deploy airbags AND its in cigarettes!)

Second, the U.S. did not hit the satellite due to the hazardous fuel it contained but due to the technology this asset possessed. The satellite was launched in 2006 and, logic dictates, that satellite 193 was probably one of the most advanced reconnaissance systems we have launched. An uncontrolled re-entry by a satellite is difficult to predict - there are no guarantees that it would have been completely destroyed during re-entry or that it would land in the ocean. The possibility of a rival military getting a look at some of our treasured technology certainly ruffled a few feathers at the Pentagon and, to soothe their collective nerves, our military officials decided to blow it to tiny bits. This had the added benefit of showing China, Russia, Iran, and everyone else that “Yes, we are that damn good.”

Lastly the threat posed by debris from the missile intercept of satellite 193 is also exaggerated. The U.S. missile strike, as opposed to the Chinese ASAT exercise, occurred just prior to reentry. This means that most of the debris ejected from the strike will continue to de-orbit and burn up. No harm no foul. In contrast, the Chinese chose to hit their satellite, Fengyun 1C, at a comparatively higher orbit. This is much, much worse because it means that the debris will be orbiting in LEO for an inordinate amount of time. NASA has playfully described the Chinese test as “the worst satellite breakup in history”.

You can read more about orbital debris in NASA’s stellar (pardon the pun) Orbital Debris Quarterly: Now on Volume 12!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shut Up China!

So China is worried about the effects of the spy satellite that has been shot down. They are whining about the effects of the debris that will be left orbiting the earth. Well maybe the US should have left the satellite in orbit to reenter whenever and wherever it ended up. Maybe it would have landed in a Chinese city and the chemicals would have harmed thousands of Chinese citizens. Does that sound better to the Chinese than some debris floating on orbit around the Earth? It would be a phenomenon that a US made product would actually be harming Chinese civilians, but the same cannot be said on the other side. China has sent the US such great presents as pet food that kills pets, toothpaste that is toxic, toys with enough lead paint to cause permanent brain damage to children, and tires that have treads that randomly separate because of the poor design. And the Chinese are worried about debris in space. HA! The whole purpose, according to Pentagon spokesperson Brian Whitman, was about "reducing the risk to human life, on Earth." Not to mention the fact the the US proved that they were capable of shooting down a satellite. China is just worried that the debris may actually affect the view that their satellites have. SO shut up China and deal with it or you may find that a few of your satellites have come up missing.

Hey y'all, watch this!

Gotcha! A heartfelt thanks to the U.S. Navy for providing us with an ultra-nifty display of technological prowess.

Attention World: All your satellites are belong to us (U.S.?).
Update: China calls for data on shot-down US satellite - China believes that low orbiting debris from a U.S. asset are, somehow, a greater threat to space security than high orbiting satellites of Chinese Extraction. Go figure.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

two players with one COIN?

Certain sections of the counterinsurgency manual hark back to our earlier discussion of Private Military Firms. For example, if COIN is a large part of ongoing U.S. operations in Iraq, and if effective COIN requires a highly sophisticated, coordinated strategy, then what is the relationship between PMF's active in Iraq - particularly Blackwater - and U.S. COIN? Do PMF's like Blackwater only constitute a liability?

In general, PMF's in Iraq are on escort or guard duty. The most troublesome examples involve Blackwater, whose employees have in at least two occasions been engaged in urban firefights that strongly anger the local populations. These in turn provide serious fodder for insurgents and can damage any attempts to legitimize the occupying force or existing Iraqi government.

Look at the assault on Fallujah, prompted by the killing and post-mortem desecration of several PMF employees. Given the crowd's initial response - to mutilate and burn the remains - the event seemed to be a serious victory for the insurgents, demonstrating the authority of their violence and the weakness and corruption of the Western occupiers and the Iraqi government they support.

So what do ya'll think? Can PMF's be effectively incorporated into COIN in Iraq, or if they cannot, can their damaging effects at least be minimized, or are they in fact largely irrelevant?

Imad Mugniyah Assasinated

Imad Mugniyah, the leader of Hezbollah’s military wing and a senior officer in Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria on Feb 12. Despite its potential ramifications, mainstream news didn’t seem to cover this potentially dangerous situation.

Cries of protest came from Hezbollah supporters, while the US and Israel expressed happiness over the alleged kidnapper and terrorist’s death.

The controversy however seems to be not between the traditional east-west rivalries that plague Israeli-Hezbollah relations, but that the Syrian government may have been complicit in the assassination.

If this was indeed the case, then it seems as if the traditional support that Syria has reportedly given Hezbollah may indeed be waning.

Or perhaps, the price on Mugniyah's head was simply too high for Syrian government officials to pass up.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Sky is Falling

(Public Enemy No. 1)
Several weeks ago we were treated to news that a derelict U.S. spy satellite, floundering aimlessly in a decaying orbit, would soon burn up in an impressive but ultimately harmless fireball as it re-entered our atmosphere. Now, one Iranian missle launch later, the U.S. has decided that this satellite is a threat and should be terminated with extreme prejudice.

I am not an engineer, nor do I comprehend the complexities and toxicity of hypergolic fuels such as hydrozine (ahem.), however, this turn of events is highly suspect. I find it more than a mere coincidence that NASA Administrator Micheal Griffin has gone from indifferent to alarmed, and enlisted the help of the military to remove this toxic fireball forged in the fires of Mt. Doom.

Iran already has one satellite in orbit, and plans more following its successful test in February 2008, but it appears President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclamation that "We need to have an active and influential presence in space" will be contested by the Pentagon and Bush Administration. Iran may be capable of placing satellites in orbit, but the U.S. military will be damned if it will allow such assets to remain there. Happy hunting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

the Talibanites who say "Ni"

Interesting variance in the reports of kidnapped Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin.

"According to Ahmad Zaidan, the head of the Pakistani bureau of Arab TV network Al-Jazeera, local Taliban commander Beitullah Mahsoud has claimed responsibility for Azizuddin's kidnapping and has made an offer to the Pakistan government to exchange the diplomat for Dadullah"

2) "
Taliban purported spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed Tuesday denied responsibility for the reported missing of Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Aziz-ud-Din."

Two other interesting things to note. At this point, the Pakistani government has denied receiving any official claims of responsibility from the Taliban. Additionally, Beitullah Mahsoud is the tribal leader whom the Pakistani government has charged with being behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December.

What this seems to indicate is (1) that no one is really sure what's going on yet, (2) that the Taliban is not as unified an entity as we might think, (3) the kidnapping of the ambassador is probably not directly linked to the disappearance of the two nuclear officials.

If Mahsoud is really behind - or at least a key player in - both this kidnapping and the assassination of Bhutto, his objective seems to be to disrupt the Pakistani government and not to obtain access to nuclear materials.

The interesting question here is whether there is still a centralized Taliban leadership, or whether there is now a serious internal struggle for leadership and direction within the Talibanis. If things go in the direction of
Beitullah Mahsoud - kidnappings and assassinations - then there is probably good reason to expect some serious destabilization and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Woohoo.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The September Six

According to a recent story in the BBC, six men involved with the September 11 attacks will finally be sent to trial.

The court they are destined for however is not a US civilian court, but instead a military tribunal.

Although Brig General Thomas Hartmann, a head legal adviser at the Pentagon says that there will be no hidden trials and that "It's our obligation to move the process forward, to give these people their rights", there is still great doubt as to the transparency of the matter.

The law is being challenged by two of the prisoners that contend exactly that: they will be deprived of the right to due process. A representative of Mohammed al-Qahtani corroborated this worry by stating that they would create "show trials".

To complicate matters, the CIA may bring in testimony that was corrupted by newly revealed illegal torture methods like waterboarding. Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York executive director Vincent Warren said: "These trials will be using evidence obtained by torture as a means to convict someone and execute them and that is absolutely abhorrent to what we believe in here in America.''

Since Khalid and company would likely be easily convicted in a standard civilian criminal court the question remains why the US would need to conduct these trials based on coerced testimony under extreme duress and in special military tribunals. That is, unless the US has something more to hide.

Friday, February 08, 2008


From our recent reading "Knowing the Enemy" from the December 2006 edition of the New Yorker it seems that disaggregation could be a word many of us will have to get used to.

Just as containment was the defining strategy of the Cold War, it appears disaggregation could be the defining strategy of and equally long "worldwide counterinsurgency" as defined by David Kilcullen.

In disaggregation, Kilcullen emphasizes that strategy should be specific to very local concerns. For instance, forces should be concentrated at the Pakistani border to keep insurgent ideology from bleeding into cross border regions or population centers.

Although the US is very good at "big, short wars" it is miserable at local counterinsurgencies because its focus is global and national. If the US wants to win this "long war" on terror it must take cues from past successes in Indonesia and Malaysia. Moreover, it must combine economic intervention with cultural knowledge to stem the spread of dangerous ideology much like it did quite accidentally in the humanitarian interventions in the Indonesian state of Aceh post tsunami.

If this new strategy does appear to be as successful as its potential demonstrates then disaggregation may be the next containment. Is it too much to ask then, if Kilcullen is the next Kennan?

In photo above:

First Lt. Nicholas Ziemba (far left), Capt. Blake Keil (left), Capt. Dustin Walker (center), and Maj. Matt Zimmerman (right rear), all of the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), out of Fort Drum, N.Y., spoke with Dr. David Kilcullen (right front), counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, at the Mahmudiyah Iraqi Army Compound June 3.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Collective Inaction

(Secretary Gates jokes that A NATO divided against itself cannot stand)

Just to clarify on the previous post, Robert Gates has said neither "tonayto" or "tonato", though he is flirting with the phrase "Two-NATOs" (I win). He recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO risks becoming a “two-tier” alliance. "You have some allies willing to fight and die to protect peoples’ security" he stated, "and others who are not. It puts a cloud over the future of the alliance, if this is to endure and perhaps even get worse." He would add that some countries are "really over there on the line and fighting. But there are a number of others that are not.” before forcibly coughing the word "Merkel" and sheepishly grinning.

The comments were interpreted as a swipe at Germany who, according to the Economist, had been contemplating a politically risky increase in NATO operations. The odds of this are now unlikely due to the latest bit of harsh rhetoric from Mr. Gates, who insulted many allies by implying that European troops Southern Afghanistan pretty much suck when it comes counter-insurgency tactics. He did, however, refrain from calling anyone childish names.

you say tonayto, i say tonato

Since we brought up NATO contributions to Afghanistan last class, thought it relevant that there are two days of informal talks among NATO members in Vilnius, Lithuania today. This weekend will also see the 44th Munich Conference on Security, during which the Afghanistan issue is also expected to come up.

US SecDef Gates is requesting that other NATO members put in to replace the 3,200 US troops being redeployed to specifically go after Taliban forces. I think its safe to read into this that the US is worried about a resurgence in Taliban attacks, both because of the eventual spring thaw (over winter the mountainous areas become fairly inhospitable and difficult to transit, let alone fight in) and because of an expected devolving situation in Pakistan, which could result in more fighters coming into Afghanistan from the Federally (un)Administered Tribal Areas and the Northwest Frontier Province.

At the same time, Canada is talking about pulling out its 1,500 troops when their mandate expires in Feb 2009, unless NATO provides 1,000 troops in assistance.

Rice and Gates are making a surprise visit to Afghanistan today, emphasizing that operations in Afghanistan are about counterinsurgency, not peacekeeping. And this seems to be the problem. Peacekeeping and reconstruction is relatively easy to accept - you send your troops, they don't have to fight, and its a big, happy humanitarian love-fest. Counterinsurgency is just the opposite. Your constituency hates it because there's fighting and soldiers dying. The occupied population hates it because you're shooting everything. Counterinsurgency operations are harder, more expensive, require more training, more commitment, and entail more risk.

The countries that are putting in that risk, commitment, $$ and training besides the US are the ones that have traditionally worked with the US on this stuff in the past: Canada and the UK. This of course, begs the question: is it reasonable to expect other NATO member nations to contribute to a COIN force, with all that entails?

Still, there does seem to be some sort of compromise. It's been getting less press, but Germany has agreed to deploy this summer a special 200-strong reserve unit to Afghanistan as a Quick Reaction Force. This is ostensibly the first official combat - instead of reconstruction or training - group Germany has sent so far. No 200 QRF is going to substitute for 1,000 troops requested by Canada and 2,000 requested by Gates, but it may be evidence that Germany is trying to meet its more demanding NATO allies just a little more than halfway. If the German QRF indicates a strategy shift, something significant but not too controversial for the German government/populace, it could lead to larger additions in the future.

There are about 43,250 NATO troops in Afghanistan. The US provides 15,000, Britain 7,800, Canada 2,500, Germany about 3,500, Netherlands 1,650, Australia 1,070, France 1,515, Italy 2,880, and Poland about 1,100 (according to the BBC and ISAF).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Freedom in China (as posted in the New York Times)

This video was posted in the New York times on 2/4.

Apparently the Chinese secret police have this man under house arrest apparently for political dissidence.

Although this deals more with internal security matters, it begs the question: Should the US be preparing to defend against a regime so ideologically different than ours?

How extensive is the Chinese Intelligence apparatus and how much presence do they have within our own borders?

The scene showing the secret police blocking the Hu's wife's exit really is disturbing.

Paranoid Turkish Pigeons heard chanting "Coup"

Turkey, possibly jealous over all the attention Kenya and Chad have been receiving as of late, is confronting its own threats to internal security. The only question is whether these threats are real or imagined.

A series of arrests related to a nationlist group called "Ergenekon" has sparked renewed interests in a "deep state" conspiracy. Ergnenekon believes it necessary to undermine and overthrow the Turkish government when it behaves in an "un-Turkish" manner (i.e. ascension to the E.U, or less secular government) and the police have associated it with a string of recent murders.

Prime Minister Erdogan (pictured at right gesturing in the direction opposite a "deep state") recently made the following cryptic statement: "There is a deep Turkey working against the deep state. This prevents them [the gangs] being as active as they once were." An exercise in obfuscation or poetry? You decide.

It is tempting to ponder a paramilitary effort to undermine the increasingly Muslim government in Ankara. This is, after all, the same nation that forcibly reformed its government in 1960, 1971, 1980 and (almost!) 1997 . Here a coup seems plausible, indeed likely, and cynics might argue one of Turkey's more effective methods for domestic policy.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


On behalf of Patterson, I want to issue a heartfelt congratulation to President Sarkozy and Ms. Bruni:

Long life, happiness, etc. etc.