Saturday, February 28, 2009

Apropos of this weekend...

Another pirate attack. Once again, it was within the "security corridor" established by the US to contain this problem.

At least in this case, there aren't bodies being dumped overboard or IRG units on the boat.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fight Terrorists, Not Farmers

The United States military went into Afghanistan in 2001 to fight Al Qaeda, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and their Taliban patrons. Somewhere along the way, someone decided that pressuring farmers to abandon poppy cultivation and even eradicating their crops was essential to that mission. This intermingling of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror is a clear case of mission creep, and it is antithetical to America's war aims in Afghanistan.

Antagonizing Afghan poppy farmers goes against everything we read in FM 3-24. Many former poppy farmers have taken up arms against the United States and the Kabul government as a result of these efforts. Strong arming farmers is not the way to win Afghan hearts and minds.

It also seems fairly clear that efforts to eliminate poppy production there will ultimately be futile. The decades-old U.S. War on Drugs has proven time and time again that the problems of drugs, addiction, and the drug trade cannot be solved on the supply side. Only the draconian Taliban has succeeded in limiting poppy production in Afghanistan--theirs is not a model that the U.S. and its allies want to follow.

However, it is clear that the current poppy production in Afghanistan is a serious problem. Most importantly, proceeds from illicit poppy sales are going to fund the insurgency there. Poppy revenues are also exacerbating the already enormous level of graft in Kabul. Even President Karzai's brother has gotten in on the action.

Replacement crops, such as pomegranates, sound good in theory, but still involve coercing farmers into abandoning their crops which, again, runs counter to the COIN precepts we've read about. Furthermore, while farmers can currently make more money from pomegranates than poppies, producing fruit from an orchard is a more time and labor intensive process than poppy production. Lastly, I would predict that the current pomegranate craze (related to the fruit's purported health benefits), like most such food crazes, will be nothing more than a passing fad. History has taught us that the demand for poppies is decidedly not a fad.

And it is important to remember that poppies do have legitimate uses. According to the International Council on Security and Development think tank, the world is currently facing a shortage of the important poppy-based painkillers morphine and codeine. They have launched a program called "Poppy For Medicine" that would involve production of these vital medicines--from plant to pill--at the village level. This would ensure a stable of flow of money into the Afghan countryside and eliminate the need to push farmers around and into the hands of the insurgency. It would require, though, legalizing and regulating poppies--something "drug warriors" the world over seem to find icky.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Aaaand.....BOOM goes Marine One spending!

How many choppers does one man need? Is the answer 1? 2? 28?! Apparently that was the order that President Bush put in for a new fleet of Marine One helicopters before he left office. Now that President Obama has inherited that order, he's decided to cancel it- or at least put it on hold.

In President Obama's "fiscal responsibility summit" over the weekend John McCain all but called Obama out on wasteful spending on the project, which has ballooned from $6.1bil to $11.2bil.

But why 28 choppers? I realize that one will always fly as a decoy, but 28 seems a bit excessive to me. What I'd really like to know is what makes these aircraft so doggone expensive. Divided out, that puts the approximate price of each at around $400 million. (The Brits recently bought similar choppers for a paltry $57mil each) As Senator McCain points out, that's rivaling the cost of Air Force One.

Does President Obama really need a kitchen for the long, arduous, 10-minute haul from the White House lawn to Andrews AFB? Who's to say? But the war of words between the White House and Lockheed Martin as to why the program has run over budget is fierce.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why the Tigers Won't Die

The Sri Lankan military has made great strides of late towards extinguishing the Tamil Tigers. The momentum has built to make the Tigers' demise seem all but inevitable, but the truth is they aren't going to go away.

Just yesterday, the group's senior leaders called for a cease-fire with the Sri Lankan armed forces, anxious to cut a deal. So maybe their insurgency will lay low for a while, but a couple of considerations make it clear that this struggle will live on. The first is their procurement and logistics methods. The second is their franchise potential.

Estimates show the Tigers have a revenue stream of $50-80 billion a year. A proscribed terrorist organization, their creativity in opening revenue streams would make seasoned Wall Street pros jealous. First, they have found a way to tax their diaspora communities living in the UK, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland and elsewhere. Canadian intelligence estimates $1.5 billion / month flows to the Tigers from Canada and the UK alone.

The investments are next. Senior leaders have taken these taxes and invested them in totally legal funds. Another Canadian estimate showed the return on these investments 10 years ago was $6.5 billion. That was only in one country. One can easily see how the other investments would pay off. The Tigers use the revenue to procure weapons and arms from dealers in 15 different countries. We don't know where all of their money is and we don't know from whom they procure all of their supplies.

Even if the Sri Lankan military "wins", these revenue streams are still going to be available. Their logistics network is still strong, the diaspora tax and investments still flowing in. Without cutting out the roots, the insurgency can always flare up again.

The second point is the franchise potential. Even if the Tamil Tigers were do cease to exist in Sri Lanka, they have proven themselves the most adaptable and creative insurgency in history. They've captured submarines near completion, had their own airforce and invented the suicide vest. As Zachary Abuza noted at the Counterterrorism Blog, " Their nearly forty-year struggle is highlighted by firsts and superlatives"

Their tactics and designs have been adopted by insurgents and terrorists around the world. That's why they will always be with us. Hey, come to think of it, they could probably work out some royalty agreements if they need more cash.

We could make a lovely salad

As discussed in class, reducing Afghan production of poppy would be a significant movement towards stabilizing the system. In addition to pomegranates, I have heard that watermelons from Tajikistan are great, so Afghani melons may be tasty too. Combined they would make a lovely salad.

While we are talking about food, it seems appropriate to recall a conversation I had with a high school friend, who had spent four years with the navy in Japan:

"Hey that is great, Japan; so are you fluent in Japanese, or what?"
"Oh, no way. I learned to say yes, no, sorry, for a bit, but forgot all that by now."
"Well, its a hard language. But I bet you had some great sushi, and love the stuff now."
"No way. Never tried it. Looked gross."
"Wow. Well, what did you think was the best part about Japan, and their country?"
"Well, its hard to like too many things - since the island is so crowded. But their trains are effecient."

Now, I think anyone who had spent four hours in Japan would know these things. This correlates to known troop isolation from everything native (i.e., Come to Iraq, the food is great! What kind of food d they have here? Imported steaks every night).

I'm all for steaks, but since we are in a bit of a squeeze with supply routes recently, and the Russians maybe want us to suffer a little bit in Afghanistan, can't we integrate with the people more, and buy their pomegranates and watermelon? I would think if we could funnel in a percentage of our food, it might help encourage production, especially since we are going to be there for a while, and in increasing numbers. The troops will like watermelon, it is super-American. Maybe they will like pomegranates too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Counterinsurgency for Dummies

A recent post on Small Wars Journal contained a link to the U.S. Government’s new counterinsurgency guide. The guide, signed on January 13, 2009, serves as a primer for policymakers on the history, policy and practice of insurgency and counterinsurgency.

The doctrine laid out in the document mirrors policy suggested by David Kilcullen (who is credited for his role in creation of the guide), in emphasizing a population-centric approach to combat most insurgencies.

The guide isn’t as specific about tactical and operational details as the Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24), but gives more of a general overview of the strategy and requirements for prolonged counterinsurgency campaigns. The guide should help bring policymakers up to speed on theory and components of COIN strategy, the actors involved, and the assessment and planning phases of a COIN operation.

The pdf is visually appealing, with explanatory graphics (see image at right, taken from page 22 of the document) and clear sections divided and organized logically.

The document should be a useful tool in educating policy makers, pundits and the mainstream media about the difficulties and requirements for conducting an operation to win the hearts and minds of a population in hostile territory. Releasing this document in an easy-to-read, visually appealing package is a step in the right direction for building political support for COIN strategy that is a tough sell domestically.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's all but official...

North Korea is no longer a Communist state. Nor is it a military state. It's a monarchy.

Kim's successor has been identified, and it's his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. A recent general, moreover, has stated that the military will always support and defend Kim's "bloodline". Jong-un was described by his former sushi chef of being just like his father: “He has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.”

No word on whether he's crazier or not.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Kim Jong-il!

Hey hey he is back at the big 6-7 on Monday (well his b-day party is at least). And just to familiarize ourselves with the oh-so-finicky leader of North Korea! Apparently, and to reassure a doubtful world that he is still alive (accordingly to the synchronized swimming team, anyways). The picture gallery is really special.

Of course all these celebrations (a huge national holiday, reminds me of another Asian country) occurred around the time of a prospective long-range missile launch. Is North Korea upping the ante? Or is it just the same old, same old? I think it's time to get those Six Party talks chugging along.

Dude…where’s my gun?!

“Could Not Fully Account”

The GAO has recently released a report (GAO-09-366T) stating that the Department of Defense has neglected its duties to keep track of the weapons the U.S. sent (part donations from other countries and part U.S. donations) to the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) for the Afghan forces’ use (ANSF). The U.S. contribution was over 242,000 small arms, which were a grab-bag of rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, shotguns, RPGs, mortars and others. (you know, the usual) Cost to U.S. (us)? $120 million. In addition, DoD procured about 135,000 arms (value: $103 million) from 21 other countries. Thus, the DoD so graciously “got” over 375,000 small arms to equip the ANSF between 2002 and 2008.

Yet, the GAO found that there were “lapses” in accountability in obtaining, transporting, and storing the weapons. Despite existing Defense protocol to ensure accountability of weapons, such as serial number registration and reports and annual physical inventories of weapons, Defense “failed to provide clear guidance to U.S. personnel regarding what accountability procedures applied when handling weapons obtained for the ANSF” according to the report.

So…just what does a “lapse in accountability” mean? The GAO report tries to simplify with the heading “Defense Could Not Fully Account for Weapons.” In short, the CSTC-A couldn’t tell the GAO investigators the location of over 86,000 of the 242,000 weapons provided by the U.S. Moreover, in regard to the 135,000 weapons procured from our international friends, no reliable records (including serial numbers) were kept. (this explains why your British friends won’t let you borrow their clothes!)

Excuses Excuses…

Among the reasons for the poor management of deadly firepower:
-Afghan army and police do not keep equipment accountability books (despite being required by ministerial decree)
-Due to widespread illiteracy in the Afghan population, the capacity to keep such records is very low.
-Many units do not have secure facilities to keep their weapons safe.
-The Afghan forces are unclear as to the policies of property managing because the accountability policy materials were not widely disseminated and anyway, the Afghan property managers often default to the Soviet-style accountability methods.
-Many weapons are POW MIA. Some are taken and resold by Afghan forces (often to the enemy) who need money and others are taken when the forces desert to the opposition forces.

The situation in Afghanistan is a tough one. Up ‘til now we didn’t want to spend too much time or energy there. So, we rounded up a few guns for a few bucks and sent them with good intentions. But, in the end, the lack of any real strategy, plan of attack or foresight in Afghanistan has been illuminated. Due to the lack of diligence on the part of Defense officials (the people who should be the most concerned about issues such as keeping track of where our guns are) over 30% of the weapons sent between 2002 and 2008 are nowhere to be found. No doubt many of them are in the hands of the enemy, as postulated by an article in DefenseNews. Let’s hope the DoD gets its ducks, or should I say RPGs, in a row before the big stuff goes missing too.

"He can only win if he cheats..."

Afghan election are coming up later this year, but they are more dreaded by the allies than anticipated. Officially Karzai's term ends in May, but elections have been postponed until August because of the security situation. By August, the fighting season will have peaked and more troops will be in the country (most likely to guard polling stations...?). Karzai wants to run again. According to an Afghan businessman, Karzai "can only win if he cheats, and he can only cheat if he is in office." Well, that sure does not sound like much faith remains in our darling.

Karzai has fallen out of grace with Afghans as well as NATO allies. While Afghans acknowledge that there has been progress made under his reign, such as in the health care and education sector, alot overshadows this now.  The government is plagued by corruption, the exclusion of some tribes from power and general indecisiveness. Karzai is seen as a weak leader that would not be in power if it weren't for the allies.  

The allies are growing impatient with him for many reasons. He is evasive about corruption caused by opium production and trade, constantly critiques military strikes that cause civilian casualties and threatens to turn to Russia if "America" does not "give him planes and tanks."  (Could that be our ticket out of there? Just hand it all over to Russia, they know the country and what to do...)  

In our happy war-mongerer W., Karzai had found a supporter that did not utter much criticism.  But Obama and Biden have had enough. Open criticism is now on the agenda and it needs to be. If this country shall function, someone needs to be in power that radiates trust and authority. However, this may be hard to find in a land where tribal feuds are hardly forgotten or put aside for national unity and where allegiances can be "rented" but not bought.

The question is, is there really a viable alternative to Karzai? There has to be. Yet, not many serious rivals have declared they will run and there don't seem to be many that are as known and as appealing as Karzai.  A consensus seems to be that a leader needs to be a Pashtun with support in Southern Afghanistan. Last year, Obama visited the country and the first person he spoke to was Gul Agha Sherzai, once warlord and governor of Kandahar. The important thing seems to be that a serious opponent needs to be able to be a political professional, but believable enough to "play the tribal game."

Whoever runs for office will have to learn from Karzai's mistakes...and need alot of money.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well! I accept!

The Obama Administration has taken over and revamped the White House website, accordingly outline what is on "the Agenda." I was surprised to see that Iraq warranted its own headline on a list including Defense and Foreign Policy. So where is Afghanistan? With President Obama pledging to "review" the US policy on Afghanistan as he sends in roughly 17K more troops to join the 34K already there (13K shy of the requested number), I wonder if they are even close to seeing a clear strategy for the country. There is the obvious worry of a failed state, and no one wants that, especially in such a sensitive region. However, per the presentation last week, the US needs to decide what we really can expect from Afghanistan (and how much we are willing to sink into the seeming money pit).

The timing of the troop increase makes sense: Afghanistan will soon be warming out of a cold winter, increasing the fighting from the insurgents (hope I used insurgency correctly). But, considering the truce the Pakistani Army just declared with the Taliban in Swat, things could be turning even more sour. Although the US tried to spin this one optimistically (the Paks will be more conducive to aiding the US in moving logistics/communications through the area and Khyber Pass). Needless to say, the Indians aren't so jubilant about this, fearing repercussions in the North from the Taliban and similar terrorist organizations .

Karzai seems optimistic about the escalation. It's obvious something else needs to be done, and swiftly (death tolls continue to rise). This is a good step forward for Obama (and also a follow through from the campaign/debate trail) but it's hardly the beginning. Perhaps this deployment warrants that extra heading on the White House agenda. At least to remind the US people that Afghanistan is still at the forefront of the administration's to-do list.

Monday, February 16, 2009

National Defense... From OUTER SPACE!!

Well, technically not from outer space but low-earth orbit. Foreign policy ran an article this weekend about the collision between a defunct Russian communications satellite and an American commercial satellite (owned by Iridium, who had this to say about the incident) early last week. The whole thing was apparently an accident, even though my intuition tells me that the odds of an un-planned collision like this are incredibly small. Think about it: even if the two satellites are orbiting at the exact same altitude, at 500 miles above sea-level they are on a surface that has more than 250 million square miles to travel in… the odds of them running into each other are astronomically low. Still, I guess the odds are better since the two spacecrafts were traveling along the same longitude. Or, considering that two nuclear submarines collided earlier this month in the Atlantic, maybe those in possession of advanced technologies are just really bad drivers.

Conspiracy theories aside, FP goes on to describe how space is a resource (like oceans, or land) that give those in possession of it certain advantages over those who are not in possession of them. Those who possess communication, spy and military satellites control space, and those who have the ability to shoot down those satellites have the ability to challenge the current hegemons (China has recently demonstrated this ability, and technically Iran as well). All of this will, of course, lead to marvelous new and really cool conflicts in the coming decades (space wars!!!) if satellite-launching countries do not mutually agree to demilitarize space. Noticeably, the current space-hegemon (the United States in case anyone didn’t know that already) has a very long record of refusing to ratify such treaties in the event that we ever develop “Goldeneye” technology (or “Diamonds are Forever” technology for that matter).

The article describes a “nightmare” scenario in which countries start blasting each other’s satellites leaving the earth encircled with a layer of debris that will damage other satellites and eventually prevent any space based communications. This will lead to mass starvations, de-globalization, and a technological return to pre-satellite eras. It also notes that “humane” wars with low collateral damage require precision guided weapons that often require satellites to guide them to their target (or at least find the right target). Without this technology, conflicts will supposedly become more costly.

Sounds like some pretty bad stuff… but the whole thing sounds pretty unlikely to me. I mean, humans are pretty ingenious… I’m pretty sure that if space debris ever were a problem we could develop some kind of anti-debris technology.

Regardless, the article does bring up a very valid point: since space is now required for advanced economic activity, states will increasingly compete with each other for its control. Rising powers on the world stage (Iran, China, India…) will start to deploy their own satellite and anti-satellite technologies in the next few decades. While space-based weaponry is still a long time coming, weapons that use space-based technology may soon proliferate and open up the skies to an unprecedented new type of conflict.

Aaaand....BOOM go the nuclear subs!

British and French officials acknowledged yesterday that two of their nuclear-armed subs collided in the Atlantic Ocean earlier this month. Neither sub was severely damaged, no crew members were hurt and the nuclear components remained intact.

From the article- "Britain's most senior sailor, First Sea Lord, Adm. Jonathon Band, said the underwater crash posed no risk to the safety of the submarines' nuclear reactors and nuclear missiles. But he offered no explanation of how the rare incident might have occurred."

First, how awesome would it be to be given the title "First Sea Lord"? There's power in that name, baby! Secondly, how did this happen? When you consider the vast expanse of space that is the Atlantic Ocean, how did did any two submarines find each other to collide?

Now, I'm not completely well-versed on the maneuvers of nuclear subs, but it seems like it would be nearly impossible for this to happen. The article makes it seem like this was a one-in-a-million occurrence and I'll tend to believe that. But good grief, is there precedence for this? I guess the question I'll ask is this- what is a bigger threat to our national security? Nukes falling into the hands of terrorists or the mishandling of nukes by our own people?

More Violence in Iraq last week

Another suicide attack against Shiite pilgrims in Iraq. This is from Friday.

First the facts. According to Iraqi officials, a female suicide bomber, hiding explosives in her clothes, detonated herself in a tent designed for resting Shiite women and children making the pilgrimage to honor the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein. At least thirty people were killed and several more injured, almost all women and children.


It was the latest in a series of attacks directed at Shiite pilgrims in recent days, which Iraqi and Western officials said were aimed at stoking sectarian violence.

The resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq might have been predictable at this time of year. The pilgrimage not only makes Shiites more vulnerable to such attacks due their guaranteed congregation in large numbers and predictable locations. Perhaps equally striking, at least symbolically, is the nature of the pilgrimage itself - it marks the Shiite holiday Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein - essentially commemorating the original Sunni-Shiite split in Islam.

More importantly, however, is the question of whether the relative security that Iraq has experienced recently has been broken. Just Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week, there has been a deadly attack on Shiites every day. Wednesday, 12 Shiites were killed in an attack in Baghdad. And yesterday, eight were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a belt filled with nails, this near the Hussein shrine itself in the holy city of Karbala. The Thursday attack was the most deadly of five prominent attacks reported in the country by the Associated Press.

So what's going on here?

Is the resurgence of violence portentous of things to come, or limited to the holiday time? The Iraqi government, as well as the US military, had greatly intensified security during the holiday, especially along the road to Karbala. And yet, for three successive days, extremists have succeeded in killing pilgrims, likely for the purpose of stirring up sectarian violence.

The point: it ain't over yet. As you might imagine (stereotypically), I've supported the concept of giving the Iraqis a firm timetable for the withdrawal of our forces. At the risk of being too nonspecific - we've got some other major things to focus on, not the least of which is a looming backslide of everything we've gained in Afghanistan (and, you know, the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, not to hit the talking points too hard). But as much as we'd like to pretend that our job in Iraq is over, the fact is we still have some way to go before we can hit the road.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dirty Bombs and Terrorists

It looks like the FBI have found a guy who had everything ready in his house to construct a "dirty bomb". However, they had nothing to do with capturing the guy. And guess what? Not an Islamic terrorist.

James Cummings was a white supremacist/neo-Nazi who hated Barack Obama and had bought up 4 lbs of depleted uranium and 2 of thorium. Moreover, he had gallons of would-be chemical explosive to help him detonate it.

Why is we're now safe from him? It was because his wife had become tired of years of abuse and killed him.

What's my point? We worry so much more about foreign terrorists, when (excepting 9/11, obviously) the most dangerous terrorists we've had in this country have long been domestic ones, particularly white supremacists. Most of the terror operations that have been busted since 9/11 have been white supremacists.

The other question does a guy get that much radioactive material without red flags going up SOMEWHERE?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Call me skeptical...

The GAO says we don't have enough air planes. David Axe says that this is "embarrassing" and that it means the end of us as a "superpower".

I'm not so sure. The whole point is that (by 2020) we would not have enough fighters left to perform "air sovereignty missions", which are supposed to protect us from foreign bombers and incoming airborne terrorists. I really have to say that the first is not that big a deal anymore, and the second has already failed because the terrorists are smart enough not to enter US airspace like that.

The other thing that's involved is fighting smuggling--do we really need a bunch of Raptors or F=35s for that?

Dr. Kilcullen, or How I Will Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Surge

Whether you believe the 2007 Iraq war troop surge was effective or not, it is evident that the strategy embraces many of the counterinsurgency tactics advocated by General Petraeus adviser David Kilcullen. The strategy changes the focus of the military from inflicting heavy enemy casualties to winning the hearts and minds of the local population. To win the hearts and minds, Kilcullen suggests, among other things, a higher emphasis on infantry education and more troop presence in towns among the people the insurgents want to recruit. The technique also means a longer presence in country, and soldiers in harm’s way for a longer time. In his 28 Articles, Kilcullen argues that daily deployment of heavily armored troops from remote bases alienates the soldiers from the population. His strategy is to man more outposts among the people and patrol more heavily to build connections and prevent the insurgents from winning popular support.

Journalists in the United States, covering the war from Duluth and Denver, rarely have a background in military strategy or history. They are unfamiliar with General Westmoreland’s strategy of attrition in Vietnam. They expect short wars, fought with minimal American casualties using shock and awe techniques. As a result, what appeared in the media most often was that more troops were needed to put down insurgency. What was missing from popular consciousness was understanding of the way the troops would be used, and how it differed from previous strategy.

If our newfound commitment to Kilcullen’s counterinsurgency articles is to be the foundation of future military strategy, then one of the DoD’s most important goals should be to better explain the techniques to American journalists, and by extension, to the American people. Otherwise, peace through “long war” techniques won’t receive the domestic support required to use the strategy effectively. The DoD needs to give us reasons to quit worrying and love the surge.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Kremlin & the Kyrgyz Kibosh

Patrick Barry at Democracy Arsenal provides an excellent explanation of the cognitive dissonance resulting from the combination of:

a) what is widely recognized as Russia's role in prodding Kyrgyzstan to close Manas Air Base


b) Russia's decision to allow the US to ship supplies for the war in Afghanistan through their territory

Barry argues that these two seemingly contradictory actions by Putin and pals should be viewed through the prism of conflicting Kremlin priorities--and possibly internal squabbling.

On the one hand, given its problems with separatism and considerable Muslim population (and probably given its history with Afghanistan), Russia would probably like to see the Taliban and Islamic extremists in general go down in flames in the region. But, on the other hand, American entree into Russian "Near Abroad" states like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan (all of which are, according to the Kazakh national anthem, run by little girls) in support of operations in Afghanistan is seen as a threat to Russian hegemony in Central Asia. Pushing for the closure of the Kyrgyz base while permitting transit of American supplies through Russian territory allows Russia to flex its muscles in what it considers it sphere of influence while simultaneously aiding the US in its fight with the Taliban.

This is really a neat encapsulation of the current US-Russian relationship: extremely at odds on some issues but quite compatible on others. Eventually, Russia may be forced to make a decision on whether fighting extremism or playing the new Great Game v.2.0 is ultimately a higher priority.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Taming the Tigers (The end is near?)

It seems that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are getting fairly desperate now. This is mainly due to their being shoved into a corner by the government forces. However, during the continuation (and perhaps final hour) of the ethnic-based civil war in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers (apparently) shifted targets from Sri Lankan military to civilian safe zones.

Now. This incident can go two ways: 1) The Tigers realize they are beginning to lose grip on the island (they only hold roughly 200KM now) and are getting sloppy, and perhaps ruthless. Coming from the pioneers of suicide bombing, I wouldn't be terribly surprised. 2) The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) is trying to ebb the Tiger's popularity among the people in the NE of the island. The latter view is upheld by, a pro-Tiger site providing constant updates on the conflict. Of course the government denied the shelling, blaming it on the dissidents. Either way, the humanitarian issues are growing. Food and other supplies are unable to reach sections in the north of the island (reportedly due to the Tigers).

At this time, I'm not prepared to make a call as to which side is violating international laws of war (and general decency). The Tigers are receiving much opposition from the SLA and losing ground (and sea) quickly. But Sri Lanka has been battling the Tigers back since the '70s. We shall have to wait and see. Until then, Third World Democracy! (Check out her tiger kicks...)

Once again, Russia shows that it's only a paper bear...

We learned last semester that the Russian navy is so decrepit that it has to send a tugboat along with every naval deployment. Now, we find that the majority of the Russian air force is so obsolete a full third of their fighters are unable to take off.

That's right. It's not that they would lose in aerial combat to any of our fighters. It's not that they might have trouble stopping our bombers. They literally cannot get off the ground. Others have such corrosion problems that they crashed. Algeria recently returned some new MiGs they bought because the parts in them were substandard.

The same situation apparently holds in their ground forces as well. Most of the best equipment in 1991 went to the new forces of the FSRs (where the best divisions were deployed), and Russia has not yet reequipped all of its grounds forces with new equipment. (They also lack basic defensive equipment, at least according to Wikipedia.)

Granted--Russia has a great big nuclear arsenal. (Though I'm starting to be less convinced of their ability to deliver it...) But it is increasingly looking like, in any conventional war, they would get pounded by just about anyone with a modern military.

So why are we still supposed to be so afraid of Putin?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Iranian Satellite: A Defense of the Defense Shield?

The Bush administration pushed hard for a missile defense system to be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic causing a stern reaction from Russia. Although there were serious protests from the Kremlin, the United States explained that this was to be a joint venture to protect that region from the emerging threat that is Iran. However, Russia doesn’t quite seem to see it the same way. A missile defense shield in Poland is an ominous sign for the paranoid country.

With the Obama administration, Russia may be able to rest easier. Obama doesn’t necessarily share the same enthusiasm for a defense shield. He frowns upon the large amounts of spending on something that has yet to be determined “workable.” He had yet to completely cancel all plans but the United States definitely looked like it would reevaluate the project.

This was all good and well until the recent Iranian launch of a satellite that may have him second guessing his postponement of the shield. The launching of the satellite causes some fear because it’s an indicator that Iran could potentially acquire and launch long range missiles. Currently they posses the capability of launching missiles with the range of a little over 1,000 miles. Not only is there a fear of Iran but North Korea also plans to test long-range ballistic missiles.

The question is whether or not the shield is worth the money and the increased tensions between Russia. The main argument is to protect our allies in this region, but Poland is well over 2,000 miles from Iran which exceeds their current missile capabilities. Obama has pledged to treat America’s allies better and this is an issue that will test his approach to such a theme. At any rate, the United States is taking part in the Munich Security Conference – its first appearance at a security conference outside of the United States. Undoubtedly the missile shield dilemma will be one of hot debate.

Anbar Err...Going Back to Sleep

The dramatic security gains in Anbar province related to the so-called Anbar Awakening--which consisted of the US paying and arming former Sunni insurgents to root out Al-Qaeda--has been widely touted as one of the most significant successes of the Iraq War, evidence of the wisdom of the 2007 troop surge, and even held up as a model that, if properly replicated, can produce similar successes in the war in Afghanistan.

As Awakening triumphalists crowed about the success of the empowering Sunni tribesmen during the post-surge euphoria, some skeptics quietly pointed out that arming and empowering local tribal groups may not be the best way to move toward the US goal of a strong Iraqi central government. This threat seemed to metastasize as the Maliki government, ambivalent at best toward the Awakening movement, dragged its feet on properly incorporating the Sunni tribesmen into Iraq's formal security forces.

Today, the Washington Post reports that Awakening leaders, greatly displeased at the apparent outcome of the recent elections, are crying foul and pledging not to recognize the election results if they keep the rival Iraqi Islamic Party in power in the province.

Money quote:

"We will form the government of Anbar anyway," vowed [key Awakening leader] Ahmed Abu Risha, his voice dipping to a quiet growl. The tribesmen seated in his visiting room, where photos of U.S. generals and Sunni monarchs adorn the walls, nodded in approval. "An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud," Abu Risha said.

This seems like a prime case of what the intelligence community refers to as blowback--although in this case the operation in question was not covert. As Spencer Ackerman suggests, it is unlikely that the Awakening members will return to their former life as insurgents, but intercommunal conflict in Anbar between the Awakening and Iraqi Islamic Party seems likely if the the former persist in refusing to accept the results of the election.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Great Britain: America's Fightin' Buddy or Just a Little Brother?

This post is written in response to the article "Britain's Armed Forces: Losing Their Way?" in this week's Economist.

The article emphasizes two main points: 1) Britain's army (conventional ground forces) are undermanned and under supplied and are likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future, and 2) this has led to friction between US and English forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As aptly started by a former Bush administration official, there is "a lot of concern on the US side about whether we are going to have an ally with the capability and willingness to be in the fight with us."

Given these developments, what should be America's policy toward our most reliable ally - an ally who might not have sufficient military capabilities to be useful in the future? This is a question that must be addressed now before America is in the heat of battle and only then realizes that its pub brawling partner has turned into a little brother who can't contribute to the fight and must instead be protected. America, the Michael Jordan of the world's military forces, doesn't want to go into battle thinking that Scottie Pippin is in the wings waiting to shoot the trey only to realize that a middle school b-ball beginner stands in his place.

The article details the 2006 counter-insurgency manual developed by American forces which eventually led to the military surge in Iraq. The theme for the manual was "clear-hold-build," and this same strategy should be deploy for strengthening military and political ties between the US and England.

First, American and British forces need to clear away any sour feelings that have arisen because of miscommunication and misunderstood strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article seems to indicate that it is time for American commanders to speak publicly about British failures on these two fronts. But what would this accomplish? There is no need to kick an opponent while he’s down, much less turning from the fight in front of you to hit your partner behind you. The US and England need to better coordinate their military efforts in the future and have clear policy objectives that are understood by both sides, not fight about who did (or didn’t) do what in the past.

Second, I believe that America could incentivize the English to truly place an emphasis on revamping its ground forces by holding out its hand to other allies. If the British feel that America is searching for a new partner, then it will be incentivized to make sure that it doesn’t find one. Britain derives many benefits from being the US’s closest ally (mainly intelligence sharing and nuclear arsenal support) and placing those benefits on the line would make England work harder to secure them. I don’t honestly believe that America would ever cut-and-run on the British in this way, but talk of it might be enough to light a fire under the Union Jack and put it into action.

Finally, America needs to help Britain build (or rebuild) its conventional ground forces. It appears from the article that the English have plans for expanding and improving both naval and air forces, but that the army will receive “less than 10% of all spending on defense equipment between 2003 and 2018.” I’m certainly not advocating that cargo ships begin heading toward England stocked full of M1-A1 tanks marked for delivery to Buckingham Palace, but I do believe that America has a vested interest in making sure that British ground forces are adequately supplied so that they can carry out their supporting role in American offensives. Perhaps America could provide cost-savings information to the Brits or even go into partnerships on the development of new army weaponry which would allow the English to restock at a lower price. I’m open to suggestions on this front.

Some of the views above can seem contradictory, but if mustered in a balanced way, they can be used to ensure that American and Britain continue to have a long, beautiful, and prosperous relationship.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A far cooler Supreme Emergency

This is for those of you who used the snow days to get so far ahead in readings for class that now you are desperate for any sort of entertainment; instead of diving into Battlestar Gallactica, I would like to suggest a far sweeter melding of defensive policy, science fiction, and alien fightin'- Ender's Game.

Even though bookstores and libraries put this in the juvenile fiction category (a fact I attribute to the young protagonist factor) this book is assigned as required reading by numerous military educational institutions; for crying out loud, Orson Scott Card predicts blogging as an important driver of public sentiment, which should encourage us all.

The story centers around Ender Wiggin, chosen by a Big-brother global government to train in a battle school, in preparation to fight against the wretched buggers, who have already attacked earth and left it in such dire straits that there is no longer the option of negotiation or compromise. Ender has the gentetic composition to be the greatest general ever, and he proves himself worthy and earns the right to be trained, manipulated, and coerced into an imaginative and thinking tool of the humans against their enemy.

What is so interesting about this exploitation of kids in the military for the benefit of long decided policy (Ender is being trained to command a fleet of warships which have been speeding toward their goal for years at top speed; there is no option for him to stop, he is only a herder who can most efficiently direct the human fleet against the aliens) is not only Ender's position as a slave to his superiors, but the freedom which his siblings enjoy.

Although Ender is the smartest, his brother and sister enjoy a vast intellectual advantage, what we today might call "mad smarts," which translated weirdly into leadership in the civilian realm; they decide to submit opinion pieces under fake names (named after philosophers John Locke and Demosthones) and for fun (for fun!) they pull world opinion back and forth, each showing how a few savvy words can change the fate of an entire race of sentinent beings.

The only downside of Ender's game is the unrealistically young age of the protagonists; the same feeling we felt after watching Rugrats for a few seasons, and then realising "I'll never be as cool as Tommy Pickles," only to turn to Hey Arnold!, and reach the same conclusion ( hey mom, where is my unversal remote/unfolding couch?) six years later. If you can handle reading about a kid half (or one third) your age who might make Napoleon feel like an underachiever, check it out.

Bloody Civilians!

"The virtual soldier, who causes real death and destruction, may not be able to completely empathize with images on a screen that resemble those of so many popular warfare games. This certainly has to desensitize a person from the realities of their actions. This experience over the course of an eight-hour shift juxtaposed with the family dinner scene shortly thereafter must create a rift in the psyche."

The nature of modern war makes it difficult to morally distinguish combatants from civilians. While on its face such a statement might seem to enhance pacifist arguments against the morality of force, it actually weakens them substantially. First, most pacifists are not "absolute" pacifists. Meaning, they are not 100% all-the-time opposed to the use of deadly force. Most pacifists believe that force lacks utility; it usually leaves a bigger mess than the one it was intended to solve.

Rupert Smith argues that interstate industrial conflict reached its culmination when the U.S. dropped nuclear weapons on Japan. This may be correct, but the fact remains that the industrial base and weapons development are crucial aspects of U.S. military doctrines. Many civilian products were initially designed for military application (which is no surprise to many), however many Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Raytheon et. al products are designed exclusively to increase the fighting capabilities of modern militaries.

Civilians in those industries should have no illusion that their hands are just as bloody as the soldiers using the products. I am not arguing that there is no moral justification for those industries or its employees. Force is a necessary evil in a depraved world and it is possible that their work leads to less bloody conflicts, or conflicts with quicker and more decisive endings.

Yet, pacifists and just war theorists alike perpetuate a false dichotomy between the civilian and soldier. The pacifists enjoy the benefits of defense, the benefits of an ordered society enforced by the threat of violence while not willing to pay any of its costs and in many instances morally condemning those who do. Just war theorists also like to pretend the civilians in defense industries are morally distinguishable from combatants because it makes a constantly revised theory even more complex.

At the end of the day, civilians and remote war fighters have to work out the morality of their actions while understanding they also are soldiers at war.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Gang Logic and the Military

This will be a brief post in response to the gangs in the military topic below.

What images do you typically associate with inner city gangs? Poverty, drugs, illegal weapons? Probably all of the above. It is difficult for gangs to annihilate each other because, when it comes down to it, they aren't very efficient in the use of force. Routinely, homes and cars are shot up with a bazillion rounds by people who don't really know how to fire a weapon (i.e. the ubiquitous side-cocked .45). Also, street fights get pretty bloody and nasty, and while I'm not saying some of those people don't pick up good fighting skills, they rely mostly on numbers and intimidation.

Watch this video for a good example: Latino Gang Fight . These kids are throwing wide, telegraphed punches, stopping every two seconds to pull up their pants, are very unsure what a headlock is supposed to look like, etc.
Compared to the skilled grappler at the beginning of this video : Army Combatives exercise
These fights are over much quicker because your opponent is incapacitated by broken bones, unconsciousness. Less time for the cops to show up.

My point should be obvious. Gang members enlist in the military, especially in the reserve forces to receive free weapons training, fighting skills, and to get in good physical shape. They return to their communities to help train other gang members. They become more efficient in the use of violence, their shoot-ups aren't as noisy and easy to catch. A 'hit' before would take a car load, where as only two infantry soldiers can handle the thing much better.

Also, gangs spread their ideology world-wide through military deployments. They can take advantage of military vehicles for transport. All of this is completely free to them. CID conducts assessments periodically of gang activity. Here is a censored version of the 2004-2005 assessment: US Army Criminal Investigation Command Gang Activity Assessment