HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

« July 2007 | Return to RapidRecon | September 2007 »

August 31, 2007

C-130 Carrying Congressmen Shot At Over Iraq

The USAF C-130 shot at as it left Baghdad landed safely in Amman, Jordan without damage or injury. Naturally, there is conflicting data in initial reports. The reports indicate that RPG's may have been fired, but if elevation reports are accurate, this may be quite unlikely and perhaps another instance of SA-18 Grouse anti-aircraft missiles being fired on Coalition aircraft. First, from the Navy Times:

A military cargo plane carrying three senators and a congressman was forced to take evasive maneuvers and dispatch flares to avoid ground fire after taking off from Baghdad.

The lawmakers said their plane, a C-130, was under fire Thursday night from three rocket-propelled grenades over the course of several minutes as they left for Amman, Jordan.

“The crew did a tremendous job in evading the missiles,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. “It brings home to us what our troops are going through every day in harm’s way.”

Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., were also on the plane.

Cramer and Martinez said they had just begun to relax about five or 10 minutes after the plane took off under darkness.

Crew members apparently communicated to the pilots as they saw the initial RPG fired from the ground, Cramer said. After the first burst, the pilots maneuvered aggressively and set off flares used for drawing incoming fire away from aircraft.

Once the flares lit up the sky, lawmakers said, two more RPGs were fired as the pilots continued maneuvering.

Martinez said he quickly put back on his body armor.

"We were jostled around pretty good," said Cramer, who estimated the plane had ascended to about 6,000 feet. "There were a few minutes there where I wondered: 'Have we been hit? Are we OK?"

At issue initially is the reported time frame after take-off (about 10 minutes) and the estimated elevation (6,000 feet) as guessed by Representative Bud Cramer (D-AL).

The USA Today quoted Rep. Cramer estimating the attack taking place "30 minutes" after takeoff.

"We had had a long, good day in Iraq, and I was beginning to settle in for the flight to Jordan," Cramer told The Huntsville Times. "We were probably about 30 minutes after takeoff and 6,000 feet up and then, all of a sudden, there was a burst of light outside the plane. We were all looking at it wondering what it was, and then there was another burst that went off. It was really a series of bursts. Later, people said it was about three or so."

Senator Inhofe (R-OK), a pilot, said “Three hit real close. It was very noisy.” His estimation of elevation would be more interesting and, perhaps, more reliable. He was in the cockpit observing during the flight.

Perhaps the particulars do not matter much at the end of the day. The plane carrying a US Congressional delegation came under fire, regardless.

However, if the bursts outside the plane were indeed as close as Senator Inhofe's observation suggests, one of two details is off the mark. Either the C-130 was nowhere near 6,000 feet elevation or the weapons fired at the plane were decidedly not rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

6,000 feet is roughly 1,800 meters, and the maximum range of the typical RPG is in the neighborhood of 1,000m (at best) - in horizontal flight. An RPG fired vertically has substantially less distance (about 500m of active propellant burn). Of course, there are all kinds of different models with different specs, but 6,000 vertical feet - and the added horizontal flight of the aircraft from ground launch-point - is a significant distance.

Russian-made SA-18s - believed supplied by Iran, perhaps via Hiszballah - have been used in Iraq in the past, including by Sadr's Mahdi Army to down a British Lynx helicopter in Basra. It is also believed that an SA-18 anti-aircraft missile was fired at another C-130 carrying a Congressional delegation in January 2006.

It has been believed (though unconfirmed) that in January (2006), an SA-18 was fired upon a C-130 transport carrying US Congress members from Baghdad to Kuwait. The Congressional passengers said that whatever was fired at the aircraft, countermeasures onboard allowed evasion of the missile. In an effort to further policy fitting US domestic aircraft with countermeasures against missiles, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “We had a scare in Iraq in January, when my colleagues said they believed a shoulder-fired missile was fired at their plane.”

Three hitting "real close" is an awful lot of SA-18 missiles to put in the air at one slow-moving relatively low-altitude target, suggesting perhaps some validity to the use of RPGs. On the other hand, 6,000ft of elevation is a bit much for even an ambitious and confident insurgent to fire inadequately ranged RPGs. All such action would likely achieve is draw violent return fire in relatively short order.

Unfortunately, few things resolved here. Only more questions. If anything, the questions serve to remind that Iranian-supplied SA-18s remain a threat to Coalition aricraft in Iraq.

August 29, 2007

RE: Nothing Lives Long in a Vacuum

As Michael noted, Nothing Lives Long in a Vacuum. That apparently includes "taking up arms against the occupiers."

Muqtada al-Sadr has announced a six month suspension of Mahdi Army activity in Iraq. The question is why, and at least part of the answer is obvious.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, an aide said Wednesday.

The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran.

"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.

The order was issued after two days of bloody clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala that claimed at least 52 lives. Iraqi security officials blamed Mahdi militiamen for attacking mosque guards, some of whom are linked to the rival Badr Brigade militia.

Muqtada al-Sadr's Najaf spokesman Ahmed al-Shaibani told reporters, "It [six month suspension] also includes suspending the taking up of arms against occupiers as well as others."

Iran can hardly afford much internal Shi'a bloodshed, which is likely the impetus behind Sadr's (read: Iran's) sudden announcement. Iran must salvage the Mahdi Army, Iran's terrorist hedge fund in Baghdad.

Why, it was only 3 months ago that the largest political party in Iraq, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), dropped "Revolution" from its name, a clear shift away from Iran and Khameini and open support for Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Sistani and an unmistakable nod to the fledgling Iraqi democratic system. When the average news consumer understands the context that SCIRI was created in Iran by Iran during the Iraq-Iran war, the announcement of the Iraqi transformation of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to simply the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council this past May is perhaps understood as the significant fissure it represented between Iraq and Iran.

Iranian support for and infiltration of Shi'a Iraqi militias is both deep and wide - including Sadr's Mahdi Army and the former-SCIRI's Badr Brigades. The May SCIRI transformation wrested much control from Iran, which came after many Shi'a leaders within SCIRI were convinced of evidence that Iran was supporting not only them, but groups that were actively killing them as well.

From a May article I wrote for FrontPage Magazine titled "Turning The Corner In Iraq," I noted that the rivalry between Sistani and Khameini is significant and that Iranian support for groups killing Sistani's following was a decisive factor in the split.

It was through those open channels that the United States clearly shared evidence of Iranian material support for specific Sunni groups engaged in targeting Shi’a Iraqis in attacks. And it was clearly compelling enough to cause Iraq’ largest Shi’a political party to seek guidance from the traditionalist (and pro-democracy) al-Sistani instead of the revolutionary Iranian leaders.

While it is not known publicly what specific Iran intelligence was shared with the SCIRI leadership, the compelling details surely included such things as the information gained through December and January Baghdad and Irbil raids on Iranain Quds Force operatives. One official confirmed, “We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to.” Such detailed information proving Iranian cooperation with Sunni groups killing Iraqi Shi’a civilians likely proved compelling enough to the SCIRI leadership that Iran’s support is far less than advertised.

So what to make of Sadr's announcement? Two things.

First, that Muqtada al-Sadr most assuredly makes no such announcement without the direction of his Iranian masters.

Second, that no such Iranian direction comes from a position of Iranian strength. The Mahdi Army was long ago splintered by two actions: Petraeus' orders to confront them rather than avoid them, and Sadr's abdication by fleeing to Iran, leaving the rag-tag group of thugs without any cohesive central leadership.

Iran has long been hedging its Shi'a Iraqi bets between the Badr Brigades of (former) SCIRI and Muqtada's Mahdi Army. It can't very well "fill the power vacuum" in Iraq that Ahmadinejad just prognosticated while the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council trends away from Iran's Khameini and towards Iraq's Sistani and the 'hedge-fund' Mahdi Army disintegrates into the localized street thugs they always were.

When the Mahdi Army spokesman says that Sadr (and his Masters) are "freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception" for six months "in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image," he means exactly that. And that "ideological image" will be unmistakably Iranian.

Time to reconstitute. Time to re-start the public services to garner public support lost. The question is, can the Hizballahfication of the Mahdi Army achieve any measure of success in six months?

If General Petraeus' actions are at all consistent, it will have to occur under great duress. He's not likely to honor a gentlemen's time out while a murderous enemy reconstitutes to fight another day. Petraeus owns the terms. Not Sadr.

Nothing Lives Long in a Vacuum

Agence France-Presse reports:

Iran and neighbouring countries are ready to fill the "power vacuum" emerging in the Middle East as US power in Iraq wanes, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.

"You (the United States) cannot preserve your power over Iraq with a few tanks, artillery and weapons. Today, you are prisoners of your own quagmire. You have no choice but to accept the rights of the Iraqi people," he said.

An interesting choice of words used by the President of a country only nominally elected by the populace (his position is ultimately approved by the nation’s religious leader, regardless of the vote tally), directed towards a people who have an actual popularly elected and representative government.

The list of reasons to stay, secure and stabilize Iraq is long, but perhaps no item on that list is more important than ensuring that we do not cruelly tease and then yank away the prospect of liberty and freedom for the people of Iraq, leaving them to life under another regime of terror and oppression.

August 22, 2007

Deeds Not Words

For all those who say that Iraqis do not know what to do with the freedoms we have enabled for them, we offer the poignant and definitive counterpoint made by an anonymous Iraqi citizen:

FOB HAMMER, Iraq - An Iraqi man saved the lives of four U.S. Soldiers and eight civilians when he intercepted a suicide bomber during a Concerned Citizens meeting in the town of al-Arafia Aug.18.

The incident occurred while Soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, were talking with members of the al-Arafia Concerned Citizens, a volunteer community group, at a member's house.

"I was about 12 feet away when the bomber came around the corner," said Staff Sgt. Sean Kane, of Los Altos, Calif., acting platoon sergeant of Troop B, 3-1 Cav. "I was about to engage when he jumped in front of us and intercepted the bomber as he ran toward us. As he pushed him away, the bomb went off." […]

"[The Iraqi citizen] could have run behind us or away from us, but he made the decision to sacrifice himself to protect everyone. Having talked with his father, I was told that even if he would have known the outcome before hand, he wouldn't have acted differently."

"I spoke with the father," [D Co. Commander Gilbert] said. "He said he has no remorse in his son's death because he died saving American Soldiers."

Later that night, the Concerned Citizens group contacted the local National Police director, Lt. Col. Samir, with the location of the al-Qaeda cell believed to be responsible for the attack. The National Police immediately conducted a raid that resulted in four arrests.

Selfless sacrifice, not just for his fellow citizens, but for the men he viewed as liberators not occupiers. It would seem that the Arab ability to shake off the yoke of dictatorial oppression is a lot easier than some have estimated. More to the point, it serves as a reminder that steadfast, resolute defense of life, liberty and equality for all men, is indeed recognized universally as something forth fighting and dying for.

Hizballah Preparations For Israeli Action

We've not prepared much analysis on Lebanon at ThreatsWatch as of late. In lieu of our own specific look in the interim, we direct you to a fairly good bit of analysis from Beirut's Ya Libnan, Hizballah's 'Big Surprise' in the next war written by Andrew Exum. Have a look.

The most significant development in southern Lebanon since the end of the 2006 war is Hezbollah's construction of a defensive line north of the Litani River. Whereas all territory south of the Litani falls under the jurisdiction of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), territory north of the river is off-limits to UNIFIL.

As soon as the war with Israel ended, wealthy Hezbollah sympathizers began buying up land north of the Litani -- in historically Christian and Druze areas -- at prices well above the market rate. Much of the Christian village of Chbail, for example, has been bought by the Shiite businessman Ali Tajeddine and repopulated with poor Shiites from the south. Another village just south of the Litani has been built entirely from scratch. Such developments have alarmed other Lebanese communities for purely sectarian reasons. But the construction and repopulation of these villages is almost certainly intended to link the traditionally Shiite villages of the western Bekaa Valley with those of southern Lebanon.

Most of this construction is along a new, Iranian-funded road being built along the Litani's northern edge. Constructed by the "Iranian Organization for Sharing in the Building of Lebanon," the road is as large as any in southern Lebanon and features signs every few hundred meters with slogans such as "In the service of the people of Lebanon."

The analysis contains a fairly cogent view on potential future Israeli operations from a Hizballah vantage point.

Why the Litani?

From the perspective of a Hezbollah military planner, it is difficult to surmise what strategic objectives Israel might seek to accomplish in the event of another war. Hezbollah is left in the awkward position of trying to answer the question of how Israel might fight without knowing why it would fight.

At the moment, the group seems to think that despite Israel's heavy reliance on airpower in the last war -- with ground forces deployed in only a limited fashion -- the next war would begin with a much larger Israeli ground assault. Any attempt to defend the area south of the Litani would therefore be suicidal. Moreover, the deployment of 12,000 UN peacekeepers and several thousand Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) personnel has made the construction of static defensive lines in southern Lebanon much more difficult than it was before summer 2006. Accordingly, even as Hezbollah continues to train village units south of the Litani in the hope that they could slow an Israeli ground invasion, the group has constructed its main defensive positions to the north, where the terrain favors the defender and where Hezbollah could deny Israeli armor columns easy access to the Bekaa Valley.

Give a few minutes reading through Hizballah's 'Big Surprise' in the next war. It's worth your time today, particularly if you've let Hizballah-Israel details slip while focusing on other things this summer.

The Re-Liberation of Iraq

No one could ever accuse Ralph Peters of being a cheerleader. In fact, before General David Petaeus ever landed in Baghdad, it would be a safe characterization to describe Peters at the time as hopeful, but with expectations clearly in check.

Recalling his mood from early this year, it is then particularly reassuring to read Ralph Peters describe what - and who - he sees as he enters Iraq and Baghdad, yet again. He describes Iraq's Re-Liberation today.

How did the general and the troops under his command achieve such rapid progress? He lays out a model: "The Re-Liberation of Iraq," this time from a new wave of oppressors, the terrorists, insurgents and militias.

Petraeus acknowledges the errors made in the early occupation years, stressing, above all, the failure to provide security for the population. We cleaned out the violent actors from one city after another, but failed to stay and set the conditions for political and economic progress. When we left, the bad guys came back - and killed anybody who had cooperated with us.

Now, through the efficient use of American troops and a greatly increased employment of Iraqi forces, we're taking an approach that allows for fighting fiercely when necessary, but which looks beyond the gunfights.

As one example, the general points out that, "When we took down Baquba this time, we had a post-operations plan in place."

It's critical to involve the local people immediately and enduringly in shaping long-term outcomes. Petraeus recognizes that there's no one-size-fits-all solution for a country as complex as Iraq, but a series of common emphases have been working well thus far:

Go finish reading Peters' Iraq's Re-Liberation. Encouraging words from a man with no pom-poms.

Understanding America, Understanding Pakistan

Many spend considerable time working to understand Pakistan. So it's refreshing to read a Pakistani who so understands America. From Dr Manzur Ejaz in Pakistan's Daily Times on "The Schism" between Musharraf and Washington.

This episode indicates that the Bush Administration and Musharraf are not on the same wavelength when it comes to the political future of Pakistan. While Musharraf wants to remain president in uniform and keep the political status quo, the US seems to want a fundamental change that will allow exiled leaders, especially Benazir Bhutto, to come back and fill the vacuum that is currently occupied by religious parties and extreme conservatives of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q.

The Bush Administration’s desire to see a change of government in Pakistan is due to possible difficulties and questions that will arise in the Congress regarding Pak-US relations. Furthermore, in the last few months, Washington circles have reached a consensus that extremism and terrorism cannot be handled properly in the current political environment of Pakistan. US analysts also believe that status quo will only benefit the extremist elements. Hence the need to reconfigure Pakistan’s politics.

While the entire column should be read, take special note of the next paragraph, particularly the subtle warning in its final sentence.

In stopping Musharraf from imposing emergency and emphasising the need for transparent elections, the US has indicated that it cannot sacrifice its long-term interests for just one person, no matter how desirable his tenure may be. The US is using the term ‘fair elections’ to indicate to Musharraf that he needs to allow other major politicians to come and participate in the elections. Musharraf, on the contrary, wants to keep his political set up in place and get re-elected without removing his uniform. Therefore, there is a serious divide between Musharraf and the US. Such a schism may result in unpredictable events that can change the entire political discourse as it exists.

It's not the first time I have read Dr. Ejaz's columns in the Daily Times. I do, however, stumble upon him far too often and seek him out not nearly enough. That should change.

August 21, 2007

What's A State Within A State?

If you guessed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, you'd win. If, that is, you are on the Washington Post Editorial Board. Michael Ledeen's description requires no additional words.

I see that the Washington Post has a nuanced view of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps:
…the Revolutionary Guard, a radical state within Iran's Islamic state, is waging war against the United States and trying to kill as many American soldiers as possible.
Which smells suspiciously as if some editorialist is trying to reserve judgment on “Iran’s Islamic State,” as if we could fight the Revolutionary Guards but make nice to the regime. Kinda like the old days when some Communists would say “if only Stalin knew the terrible things the KGB is up to, he’d fix it.”
Exactly. That it is even possible for some to conflate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with some fictitious autonomous zone operating beyond the control of the regime it serves is precisely one of the reasons why I argue against declaring the IRGC and/or its Quds Force a terrorist entity(s) separate from the regime.

Imagine twenty years ago declaring war on the Soviet Marines. We, of course, had no quarrel with the Soviet Navy or its Red Army.

Yes. I understand the nuances of state sponsorship of terrorism. I also think they're uneccessary.

Others clearly disagree.

I still say it is best to disagree about action rather than inaction. We could, after all, be debating the Iranian nuclear weapons program instead.

Larijani Warns US Again On Nuke 'Cooperation'

To whatever extent Tehran or anyone else views Iran's endless 'talks' with ElBaredei's IAEA 'fruitful,' Ali Larijani, the secretary of the regime's Supreme National Security Council, said that "any illogical move" by the United States would render Tehran's nuclear talks 'fruitless'.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator warned on Tuesday that any new U.N. Security Council sanctions on his country would doom Iran's cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog and render its talks with it "fruitless."

According to state television, Ali Larijani also accused the United States of trying to undermine the progress made so far between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, so as to increase tensions and pave way for new sanctions over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Larijani did not explain how Washington is allegedly trying to undermining the talks.

"If they (U.S.) take any illogical move, the trend of Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as the talks will become fruitless," Larijani said.
He may not have explained, but the 'warning' is centered on reports the White House is looking to place the IRGC and its Quds Force on a Terrorist Group list, either by Executive Order or via State.

At some point, ElBaredei and the IAEA's productivity (or lack thereof) with Iran has to be called into check. This is not to suggest what such a time-line should be by any means at this point, but the IAEA seems to operate with an open-ended time frame.

Considering ElBaredei's own statement earlier this year in which he described his primary job as IAEA chief as averting conflict with Iran rather than uncovering and understanding the Iranian nuclear program and those of others, there is little cause for confidence in the man whose term atop the IAEA was extended beyond protocol.

The job of the IAEA and its head is decidedly not to avoid conflict. That is a role left to others who must, in part, use the data provided them by ElBaredei's team. The IAEA's role is to provide data. It does not even have an enforcement arm to ensure adherence to various agreements.

The terms of peace or conflict are not determined by an inspector. The state of systems are determined by an inspector.

You can't tell me that ElBaredei's self-perceived primary role does not or cannot skew analysis (and language used to convey such) that must be used by others regarding matters of international security.

And, if we essentially don't 'walk right,' Iran just might have to stop 'cooperating' with ElBaredei.

Forgive this observer for wondering openly whether ElBaredei's IAEA presence has any effect at all on Iran's ultimately predetermined nuclear course. In case we've forgotten, it's "not negotiable."

August 20, 2007

Planning for the “Reasonable Disaster”

Pick a disaster, pick any disaster, but which one is the “reasonable” disaster? Past commentaries have looked at general preparedness for an outbreak of H5N1 Avian Flu, or at disaster planning and response from the point of view of public private partnerships. P3 is still an area of great interest. However, one issue that has always puzzled and concerned me was the concept of gaming or modeling for disaster planning without actually knowing for which of the “all hazards” we were preparing. Of course, it can be argued that you run a model for a cyber attack to test the ability of the system to respond, or you can run one for a chemical or biological attack for the same purpose. But the series of “what if’s” that need to be considered is endless, and that leads to some interesting conclusions.

An all too often intoned quote from President Dwight Eisenhower seems once again relevant here: "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." I’ve heard from military friends that no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy. It is the same with disaster plans: It really does not matter what disaster scenario you are testing. The real disaster will not be like the test, regardless of what you do, so just pick one and go.

The question of preparedness and response was dealt with in When Disaster Strikes, the Importance of Public-Private Partnerships .

However, recently Bruce Schneier raised some interesting points in his article, Disaster Planning Is Critical, but Pick a Reasonable Disaster

Now, while Schneier is not an disaster response expert per se, he does raise the questions of whether preparedness for an outbreak of avian pandemic flu is a realistic need, especially since, as he concludes, most companies or organizations will not be prepared. As he wrote:

This doesn't surprise me at all. It's not that organizations don't spend enough effort on disaster planning, although that's true; it's that this really isn't the sort of disaster worth planning for.

There is a counter-argument that poses that companies and organizations should and in fact, are, preparing for an outbreak of avian flu .

But the fact is that bird flu isn’t the only potential disaster event that people, businesses and government need to prepare for.

Just what does a business prepare for? It’s actually a matter of scale. To an extent, backup systems and redundant databases - offsite data centers, temporary staffing contracts, planned degradation of services and a host of other products and services - at least compensate for the losses of primary business information during fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and even a cyber-terrorism event. Schneier also notes that a fire that burns down your office building has a greater impact on your company than a citywide disaster that might have been more widely devastating. Dealing with the loss of people from death or injury, or perhaps “only” from their inability to reach the business, is similarly possible if proper systems have been put in place in advance for remote operations. What drills does a business run to prepare for a release of a chemical or biological weapon, or worse, a radiological dispersion device? Schneirer’s point of view is that it isn’t realistic to prepare for global annihilation when a return to “normalcy” is unlikely to occur quickly. But even, some less catastrophic, yet large disasters are not feasible to prepare for.

The key to all of this is preparedness. Much more important than planning, preparedness is about setting up social structures so that people fall into doing something sensible when things go wrong.

And anyone who does this kind of thing knows that planning isn't enough: Testing your disaster plan is critical. Far too often the backup software fails when it has to do an actual restore, or the diesel-powered emergency generator fails to kick in. But testing isn't just valuable because it reveals practical problems with a plan. It also has enormous ancillary benefits for your organization in terms of communication and team building. There's nothing like a good crisis to get people to rely on each other.

It really doesn't matter what disaster scenario you're testing. The real disaster won't be like the test, regardless of what you do, so just pick one and go. Whether you're an individual trying to recover from a simulated virus attack, or an organization testing its response to a hypothetical shooter in the building, you'll learn a lot about yourselves and your organization, as well as your plan.

That’s where the concept of regional resiliency comes in to focus. A program to work on regional resilience has been established at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that is designed to study the ways in which one region, the Southeastern portion of the United States can deal with a multi-threat scenario. The goal of the Southeast Region Research Initiative (SERRI) is to assist local, state, and regional leaders within the Southeast Region in developing tools and methods required to anticipate and deter terrorist events and to enhance disaster response. At its core, the basis of SERRI its belief that regional resiliency is an “economic driver.”

Resilience: a community or region’s capability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to public safety and health, the economy, and national security.

● Prevents and mitigates cascading failures, often characteristic of critical infrastructure impacts

● Minimizes disruption to life and economies.

The program involves a National Laboratory and a linkage with a number of regional universities. It also involves various stakeholders including local businesses, law enforcement, managers of critical infrastructure, emergency response and medical facilities.

While no organization can effectively prepare for a Katrina-like flood which knocks out services for months, a region can mobilize in preparation. On an encouraging note we can look at the mobilization of resources. Buses and supplies are being staged in anticipation of the now less likely direct impact of Hurricane Dean on the Rio Grande Valley.

Officials opened emergency operations centers , moved inmates to prisons deeper inland and passed out sandbags along portions of the Texas coast as Hurricane Dean barreled toward the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Governor of Texas mobilized the National Guard and search and rescue teams, shipped thousands of gallons of gasoline to Rio Grande Valley gasoline stations, and was able to get a pre-emptive federal disaster declaration from President Bush. The Texas Criminal Justice Department has even relocated inmates from three institutions inland. So it seems like at least some lessons were learned from Hurricane Katrina. The question remains however. What disaster do you prepare for, and when will it strike?

All Politics Is Local, Even In Afghanistan

Just as is the case in Iraq, so too in Afghanistan. All politics is local. From the open to The Afghan Grassroots, Ann Marlowe tells the story so often lost amid battle reporting, domestic political posturing and attention turned elsewhere.

"This is an Afghan process," Lt. Col. Gordon Phil lips began, "and I am here to make sure it goes smoothly. But the decisions are not mine. They are yours." A dozen members of this province's Provincial Council or Shura listened carefully as the interpreter translated into their native Pashto.

Phillips, the commander of the Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT, continued: "Don't think about money. Think about what you will need five years from now, about your children, and your grandchildren. I have other money, emergency money, which I can and will use if appropriate. Think about what Nangarhar needs."

For the first time in Afghan history, Afghans are about to set spending priorities for their localities, rather than accepting the crumbs that a king, warlord, or Kabul-appointed governor condescends to allow them.

I hope readers will take a few minutes to read and consider the whole thing. It's certainly worth your Monday time.

August 19, 2007

A 'Smarter Way To Target Iran'?

The Washington institute for Near East Policy's Patrick Clawson and Michael Jacobson have weighed in on the potential designation of Iran's IRGC as a terrorist group (wither by Executive Order or State Department inclusion) in The Smarter Way to Target Iran. They make excellent and accurate points. My reservations, nonetheless, can be found here and here.

Some key points from Clawson and Jacobson:
  • In fact, the United States -- unlike Europe -- still has not designated the IRGC entities and officials named in UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747. (It is ironic that the U.S. government has yet to fully comply with the Security Council resolutions it so strongly advocated.) Designating the IRGC also likely indicates resistance at the UN to American proposals to target the IRGC.
  • The Washington Post stated that the IRGC would be sanctioned under Executive Order (EO) 13224... The New York Times, on the other hand, reported that the IRGC would be listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), joining about forty other groups on that list.
  • Contrary to their image as ideological fanatics, Iran's leaders in fact devote much of their efforts to lining their own pockets -- fighting more often and viciously to protect their incomes than their ideas.
  • And, as Mehdi Khalaji showed in PolicyWatch no. 1273, "Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, Inc.," the IRGC is both the central prop for the Islamic Republic and also a center for corruption, lining its pockets through shady deals and brute force.
  • Before taking unilateral action against the IRGC, the United States should strongly press other countries to join in the designation -- or even to take the lead, if possible.
To the degree that such designations could be effective - and how they may be limited - the above and linked is not a bad initial assessment.

Again, my reservations are not on the potential economic impact to both the IRGC and its regime-directed endeavors (such as rebuilding Hizballah's tunnel infrastructure in Lebanon under the guise of a "$25M reconstruction" gift). My reservations are purely regarding the broader impact of designating a military branch - even a terror-facilitating branch - of a sovereign state - even Iran.

At any rate, it's about time we began to focus on Iran's clear and present terror sponsorship and threat rather than their unmaterialized nuclear weapons.

It's better to debate action rather than to continue to debate inaction on that front. For that, I applaud the move in that regard, criticism or none. That is fundamentally important to keep in perspective during criticism.

August 17, 2007

Al-Qaeda Central Command: Like Blades of a Fan

Reading reports on Joseph Padilla's terror conviction in Miami, one thing kept coming to mind: So many people still think al-Qaeda is a 'decentralized' gaggle of cave-dwelling terrorists, capable but limited by the inhospitable terrain they've secluded themselves within in the Pakistani Hindu-Kush. Then something jumped out from a VOA report; the central role of an al-Qaeda application form signed by Padilla in his conviction.

At The Tank on National Review Online, I took a few minutes to jot down and remind what this form means, including a view that surely such administrative organization still exists inside the rebuilt al-Qaeda infrastructure in Pakistan.

The 2006 NIE stated that the US had "seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations." Yet, only months later, a new NIE — one in which another 'view' clearly won the internal IC debate — significantly toned down the language to read that US counterterrorism efforts had only "constrained the ability of al-Qa’ida to attack the US Homeland again." It went on to note the resurrection (my language) of al-Qaeda's global headquarters, this time inside Pakistan. Nearly all of this infrastructure was in place at the time the 2006 NIE was written and released (hence the heated internal IC/CT debate).

So while the 2006 NIE also assessed that "the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse," let's not confuse the 'global jihadist movement' at al-Qaeda's periphery with the al-Qaeda central command structure clearly in place inside Pakistan. Al-Qaeda most certainly operates with a "coherent strategy." They simply exercise little direct control of the periphery they in large part have inspired, but rather trust that their message (as-Sahab videos, etc, etc.) will rightly guide those fellow travelers beyond their direct management.

The al-Qaeda infrastructure and senior leadership (AQSL) in Pakistan are like the spinning blades of a fan. The "global jihadist movement" is then the air before it, beyond the blades' direct reach but influenced, pushed and guided nonetheless.

Rest assured, al-Qaeda central command is decidedly not 'on the run' in Pakistan (though its wing in Iraq is), and their infrastructure reconstituted - surely including their administrative overhead as they resumed pumping jihadis through their labyrinth of new camps.

Americans should be quite careful not to confuse the loosely organized nature of the outer-lying jihadist movement (which certainly exists) and al-Qaeda's central management now inside Pakistan (which also certainly exists).

August 16, 2007

Hamas: Every Israeli 'Is A Combatant'

While the EU continues to call for normalization of relations with the Hamas terrorist organization operating in and ruling over Gaza, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, justified Hamas' past (and future) suicide bombings of Israeli civilian buses. But, while his justification is self-conflicting, it should demonstrate to international observers the need to continue to isolate the Hamas terrorists, regardless of whether they govern over the Gaza Strip or not.

Hamdan made clear that all Jews "who live in Palestine, in the so-called Israel" are "aggressors and plunderers of the land," that they all emigrated without historical lineage as a result of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Israel. He affirmed the Hamas view that the state of Israel is merely a Palestinian occupation and that every Israeli is "is a combatant, regardless of whether he wears a uniform."

"Anyone who comes to live in a war zone is a combatant, regardless of whether he wears a uniform. That's one thing. Secondly, neither Hamas nor the Palestinian resistance force intentionally killed civilians. You mentioned the buses. What's an easier target - a bus, which is protected by various security measures, or a school [or] a theater, or a stadium, for example? These civilian targets - in which the killing of women and children is intentional - were not targeted by the resistance."

"Why were buses targeted? Because they are the means of transport used by the soldiers as well. The Zionist soldiers, who go from their homes to their bases and back, use public transportation, because it is free or almost free. In my opinion, the occupation soldiers also have a security motive in using public transport: They shield themselves behind the so-called 'civilians' within the Zionist entity."

Curiously, while he calls all Israelis "combatants," in the same breath he says that "neither Hamas nor the Palestinian resistance force intentionally killed civilians." This, of course, is not even possible if all Israelis are outsiders who have "come to live in a war zone" and thus are all "combatants."

As to Hamas' ultimate goal? The annihilation of Israel.

"We are making the preparations for a confrontation. This is not because we need to be prepared for an Israeli act of aggression - after all, aggression is intrinsic to this entity - but because the final goal of the resistance is to wipe this entity off the face of the Earth. This goal necessitates the development of the capabilities of the resistance, until this entity is wiped out."

This is not mere rhetoric to be dismissed. It remains the core of Hamas' own Charter.

Yet the calls to engage Hamas internationally as a governing body persist. As do the calls to force Abbas to negotiate with the group that initiated the bloody civil war that saw Fatah driven from Gaza.

To be sure, Fatah - with its roots in Arafat's PLO - is no angel organization. However, if there is a chance at moderation within the Palestinian Territories, can there be any question that that any hope today goes squarely through Fatah? Yet, the calls persist to somehow force Fatah to negotiate a re-merger with Hamas to re-form a 'unity' government with those who violently rejected it.

Lesson Yet Unlearned: One cannot demand negotiations and settlement from one party while the other insists on continued fighting.

One day, the bright minds of the West will encounter a radical epiphany: We are neither the problem nor solution in the Arab-Israeli conflict. And we cannot manufacture peace when actors adhere to the annihilation of another.

Nor are we helping the Gazan general public by engaging and legitimizing Hamas' rule. Such only prolongs their suffering, even if truckloads of flour arrive each day in physical relief.

August 15, 2007

Petraeus: 'It's all about the local people'

The headline, "Petraeus Says He Will Propose Troop Cuts", while technically accurate, is misleading considering the current tenor and debate in the United States. Hurried news consumers will read that and conclude that General Petraeus is considering drawing down the surge when he briefs Congress in September. The full quote (and principal context) regarding a reduction in troop strength doesn't appear until the end of the article.

Petraeus, who wrote the Army's book on counterinsurgency, said he and his staff were "trying to do the battlefield geometry right now" as he prepared [Ed Note: Or rather, 'prepares'] his troop-level recommendations.

"We know that the surge has to come to an end, there's no question about that. I think everyone understands that by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now.

"The question is how do you do that ... so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going. Again we are not at all satisfied where we are right now. We have made some progress but again there's still a lot of hard work to be done against the different extremist elements that do threaten the new Iraq."

When General Petraeus says "by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now," he is speaking to the current troop rotation policy and the desire leave them relatively unaltered. This is a topic General Casey addressed as well recently.

The head of the U.S. army says the military can sustain the current surge of forces in Iraq until next spring without changing deployment policies. ...

There are currently about 162,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, most of them from the army. General Casey noted that the number will come down automatically in the spring when the deployments of the extra forces sent earlier this year expire, unless there is an order to send more troops to replace them.

"The surge was and remains a temporary function," said General Casey. "I think we're on record here as saying the surge can be sustained through the spring without changes to the existing mobilization and deployment policies. And that's where we are. And we're going to wait and see here what happens, what our commanders on the ground recommend in the coming months."

What Casey and Petraeus are both saying is that 'The Surge' will naturally and mathematically come to an end between spring and summer of 2008 if nothing in rotation policy changes. Recall that 'The Surge' was not merely additional troops sent to theater, but rather primarily already scheduled deployments accelerated and current deployments extended.

'The Surge,' therefore, represents a bell curve overlap of 'in' and 'out' rotations. The back end of the bell curve begins to take effect in early spring and 'normalizes' by summer 2008.

General Petraeus' more notable words are not regarding troop strength. After all, neither the rotation schedule nor his mention of it are new developments or even particularly noteworthy. However, his characterization of Sunnis taking up arms to fight al-Qaeda and side with American forces is.

Petraeus said the shift in loyalty among many Sunni insurgents in Iraq's western Anbar province, Baghdad's Amariyah district and a similar hotspot in the city called Ghazaliyah was "a pretty big deal."

"You have to pinch yourself a little to make sure that is real because that is a very significant development in this kind of operation in counterinsurgency," he said. "It's all about the local people. When all the sudden the local people are on the side of the new Iraq instead of on the side of the insurgents or even al-Qaeda, that's a very significant change."

You really do have to pinch yourself. It's not possible to overstate its importance. And his declaration that "[i]t's all about the local people" is particularly noteworthy. This fundamentally different approach is the key to getting the Sunnis to feel comfortable with American forces and build trust. Al-Qaeda does its part to drive the Sunni's toward us by baking their children and slaughtering them by the hundreds. But the Sunnis do not need to necessarily embrace us to fight al-Qaeda (though it helps immeasurably logistically).

The new emphasis on building local relations is what drives that other side. And it is signature Petraeus.

Marines and soldiers were effectively building local relations before Petraeus arrived. Ramadi, after all, did not change character with a Baghdad change of command ceremony. The difference, however, is that the entire theater now has a commander who understands (and has long understood) that, like politics, all security is local. Overall security is but a conglomerate of localized security that is rolled out in a manner that enlists (and creates) former insurgents and rolls through the enemy terrorist strongholds.

Meanwhile, as Malik Daoud tours the streets under his Baghdad command, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is touring the streets of Kabul, the other primary battleground of the same conflict.

August 13, 2007

Kabul Jirga Skirts Pashtun Radicalization

Haroun Mir notes in the Asia Times that the Kabul jirga bringing together tribal and government leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan has missed the mark.

After months of negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a joint jirga (council) finally took place in Kabul. But the four-day gathering, which ended this weekend, was more like a peace conference than a traditional jirga, where belligerent parties should have faced one another and accepted the outcome of the meeting. Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan made eloquent speeches in support of peace and a policy of friendship between the two Muslim nations. But they failed to highlight the main threat to the stability of the countries - the intensive radicalization of Pashtun tribes at the hands of al-Qaeda.

On one hand, the man has a point. On the other, the optimist would conclude that it's at least a start where there was none previously. How the second jirga proceeds to this end, scheduled to occur this time in Pakistan, will be a more conclusive bell weather.

Readers may also be interested in today's related PrincipalAnalysis: American Power Play In Pakistan.

UK Boycott of Hamas 'Counterproductive'?

The UK's Hamas boycott is 'counterproductive'? According to a new British House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee it is.

Britain's refusal to speak to the Islamist group Hamas is counterproductive, a parliamentary committee said.

Efforts should be made to form a new unity Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza, the Westminster committee said in a report on the Middle East.

Pursuing a "West Bank first policy" - where Britain deals with the West Bank, which is run by the more secular Fatah group, and isolates the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip - would further jeopardise peace, the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee said.

"Given the failure of the boycott to deliver results, we recommend the government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas," the all-party group of MPs said.

Failure of the boycott to deliver results? Perhaps 'results' in Gaza and the West Bank is not entirely up to Britain's boycott or its well-intended parliament.

It gets even more incredulous.

Hamas has been isolated because of its refusal to meet three criteria laid down by the Quartet - recognition of Israel's right to exist, renunciation of violence and adherence to interim peace agreements with Israel. The parliamentary report also recommended Britain press President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah group is backed by the West, into negotiations with Hamas to re-establish "a national unity government across the occupied Palestinian territories".

So here's the tally:

1. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or renounce terrorism.

2. Hamas stockpiles weapons and ammo from Iran in Gaza.

3. Hamas essentially declares war on Fatah.

4. Hamas kills Fatah members in bloody street battles and ejects them from Gaza.

And the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee seeks to compel Prime Minister Brown into applying pressure instead to Fatah and Abbas to force them to negotiate reconciliation with the terrorist group that forcefully ejected them from the Palestinian Territory of Gaza.

Not yet satisfied, the committee also recommends on top of it all that the British Government and the Quartet (US, EU, UN, Russia) to politically engage "moderate elements within Hamas."

Perhaps we might wait first for "moderate elements within Hamas" to appear. It's simply not up to Britain, any member of the Quartet or any other body to determine. This turn of events would be up to Hamas and "elements" that would seek to become "moderate." And to what ends a hypothetical engagement of yet-unmaterialized "moderate elements within Hamas" might occur without aiding the parent terrorist organization is, of course, unarticulated.

Truly, Neville Chamberlain lives.

August 8, 2007

Palestinian Rocket Kills Two Children: 'Responsibility' Or 'Credit'?

Fired from Gaza, a Qassam landed in a Sderot kindergarten in Israel on Monday. Thankfully, with school not in session during the summer months, no one was present to be injured. Several buildings were damaged, however. And the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad quickly claimed responsibility for the attack. (Or, should it rather be phrased 'credit'? To be sure, simply a matter of perspective.)

But another rocket fired from Gaza on Tuesday did strike and kill two children. Palestinian children in their home in the Gaza village of Beit Lahiya. The Qassam that never made it into Israel also injured five other children in the house. This time, however, no one stepped up to quickly claim credit for the attack. (Or, should it rather be phrased 'responsibility'? To be sure, simply a matter of perspective.)

Also silent on the deaths of the Palestinian children are the human rights groups who otherwise would have been setting about a flurry of press releases, had only the rocket instead have come from the other direction.

And nowhere to be seen is 'Green Helmet Guy' (or the Palestinian iteration of the same). You remember him, right? Likely the only 'first responder' rescue worker with his own (Hizballah) media production crew? (Detailed image analysis here.) Chronicled on video tape since at least 1996, he likely has more 'Dirty Jobs' in video archive than Mike Rowe.

And with the clear manipulation of the Qana airstrike 'incident' with 'Green Helmet Guy,' the Hizballah information operation feeding international media coverage of the attack by Israel completely swayed reporting of a war that was sparked by a deadly Hizballah attack into Israeli territory. In fact a recent University of Maryland study, Turning Point: Israeli Air Attack Flips Global Press Coverage of Hezbollah-Israel War, demonstrates this clearly.

So terrorists have killed two Palestinian children and wounded five others according to the reports. Yet, seemingly since it was likely the Palestinian Islamic Jihad again and not Israel, Human Rights Watch shows unequal interest in pressing the issue and 'Green Helmet Guy' is instead awaiting further assignment in southern Lebanon.

Perhaps Hamas' Khalid Meshaal will hold a press conference in Damascus and declare jihad against occupiers killing Palestinian children Gaza.

'Responsibility' or 'credit' is indeed simply a matter of perspective. And with Human Rights Watch, perhaps it's simply a matter of interest.

August 6, 2007

National Infrastructure and Security

Imagine another "perfect storm." What's a perfect storm? It's a coincidental confluence of events that when taken individually have one effect, and yet when occurring in combination, can create far greater havoc, death, destruction and economic impact.

Regrettably, the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis has been politicized. The reality, though, is that there is a connection between our Nation's infrastructure, its security and the safety of its citizens. So lets ignore the statistics of how many bridges and roadways are deficient, or how much it could cost to fix them, or even how to pay the multi-trillion dollar expense. Instead, lets look at the reality of the impact that physical structural issues could have on National security.

We all witnessed the mass exodus from the Gulf Coast during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with miles of traffic backed up. The perfect storm occurs if the natural disaster of a hurricane causes a bridge or a roadway to collapse. That's not a pretty picture, and it is certainly not a circumstance that can be anticipated. Or should it be?

Another consideration should be what terrorists may learn from real life examples. Lyman Faris was arrested before he was able to implement his plan to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge in 2003. Given the recent publicity highlighting the deteriorated transportation infrastructure, it is not out of the question that would be terrorists would now focus on these targets, as already vulnerable. Even though NY State Thruway engineers say they are working on repairs, the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River in New York has significant deterioration to the concrete and the structural steel of the bridge.

The repair and continued maintenance of the Nation's roadways and bridges should not be a political football, nor is it any sort of an issue that only just came about. In August 2006, a few months before he left Homeland Security Watch to join the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), Christian Beckner wrote that he had "become concerned that we've lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation's infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation."

The image of thousands of people in cars attempting to evacuate an area effected by a natural disaster being exacerbated by a failure of the physical infrastructure is a picture none of us should want to see. What's worse could be the inability of rescue workers or disaster response crews to reach a site. The "perfect storm" of a terrorist attack coupled with an infrastructure issue is imponderable.

These Men Are Marines

Embedded with Marines at al-Qaim in Western Anbar province in Iraq, W. Thomas Smith writes of them at The Tank on National Review Online.

Ramos, a 30-year-old, mellifluous-speaking Marine officer, who – even in this sand and heat – always looks as if he just stepped out of a recruiting poster, has only been here since April. But he exudes the same command presence that might be found in any more-seasoned combat veteran.

In fact, all the Marines out here are a reflection of commanders like Ramos. They remind me of my nephew’s high school wrestling team, only a few years older and a bit more severe.

War, the Anbar desert, and simply being a Marine makes you that way.

These men – no women out here (except the Iraqi terp I saw today) – are enduring elements that will make me never again complain about hot South Carolina summers. The Marines are constantly moving, functioning on small four-hour packages of sleep (sometimes less), and subsisting on Pop Tarts, Cheerios, and MREs. Sometimes, they eat steaks and ribs cooked by other Marines on the grill inside the BPs, the highlight of life out here.

They sleep in huge plywood and canvas “hootches,” basically giant tents. They relieve themselves in plastic “wag bags” or tubes sticking out of the ground. Cammie netting shields their battle positions from the searing sun. Razor wire, sandbag berms, and machine-guns mounted in towers protect them from enemy sappers and suicide bombers.

They unwind by reading books and watching DVDs from portable players. There is a single community computer at BP Tarawa with Internet access, but it’s very slow, the Internet signal is hit or miss; and somebody is always waiting in line to use it … even at 2:00 in the morning. Lots of time is spent sharing stories under the stars or in the hootches or outside of the combat operations center – real and imagined – of their greatest sexual conquests, and dreams of girls back home.

They converse in simple sentences with clauses linked by all manner of profanity, but – like their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Bohm – most of them pray openly and unashamedly. They constantly rib each other and boast – a lot of broad chests and big egos out here – but no one is ever offended by the other. They love each other like brothers, but expect a lot out of the same. Here there is no room for weakness, and one who exhibits fear, laziness, or untrustworthiness is quickly isolated and dealt with.

Every servicemember and veteran has good reason to take pride in the particular branch that defines their service. We each joined our respective branches for a reason. As Thomas writes of the Marines in the western Iraqi desert, it reminds me of why I chose the Marines: That rugged bravado, a truly iron-clad brotherhood with a self-imposed demand of higher standards and lower tolerance and a toughness subliminally enforced by the ghosts of such Marines as Dan Daly and Chesty Puller.

All services instill pride in their men and women, and each has cause for such pride distinguished not only by their service, but by the specific traditions and honor of each branch. And we compete heartily among ourselves constantly trying - demanding - to best the others. And we respect each other, though some non-military types may observe and swear by our sharp banter that we must truly hate one another at times. We most certainly do not, though I do recall a few rather untidy Marine-Army unsanctioned 'gloveless group boxing matches' staking out 'bar territory' in a certain unspecified Mexican border town. After all, the invincibility of youth, testosterone and ego is a terrible thing to waste. But such is the capitalism of American military service. And competition breeds excellence.

Sailors take pride in their particular ship. Soldiers take pride in their particular unit. And veterans' decals on their vehicles reflect, with "Big Red 1's, " "Rangers," and "USS Enterprise" stickers to distinguish their service. Such specificity is rare among Marines. Our decals far more often than not say simply one thing: "Marines." In many cases, such as mine, even less. A simple, prominent Marine Corps emblem, the Eagle, Globe & Anchor.

We all make mistakes in our lives and live with regrets. One thing there are absolutely no regrets over is choosing to "Embrace the Suck," as we were fond of saying while griping about one menial duty, task or deployment or another. After all, we were Uncle Sam's Misguided Children (USMC).

As Americans, we love each of our branches of service and those who serve in them. As veterans, we each especially love the one we chose for our own reasons.

I thank W. Thomas Smith for reminding me tonight of my own reasons. I hope you will read it all, for these men are Marines.

August 3, 2007

Critical Infrastructure in Decay - A Call to Action

We all watched in awe at the crumbling of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis Wednesday night. At this point, five people are known dead, as many as 8 people are missing, and 27 of the 98 people injured are still hospitalized (5 in critical and 5 in serious condition). It has also been reported that the bridge was deemed in need of repair as long ago as 1990.

Politicizing the issue, or pointing fingers of blame as many are now doing, does nothing to solve the very real problem that the Nation’s infrastructure is in a horrible state of disrepair. The cost to reconstruct this single bridge is estimated as high as $500 million, and that number is dwarfed by the estimated costs of repairing the country’s roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure.

● There are 756 steel-deck truss bridges nationwide (similar to the I-35 bridge that collapsed).

● More than 70,000 bridges across the country are rated as "structurally deficient."

● Of the 104,348 heavily used structures, only 4,227, or 4 percent, scored below 50, or worse than the I-35W bridge.

● The Federal Highway Administration estimated in 2002 that the backlog of bridge repairs would cost $55 billion.

According to another source, about one-quarter of America’s 577,000 bridges were rated deficient in 2004.

In the federal government's rating system, any bridge that scores less than 80 – on a scale of 1 to 100 – is in need of rehabilitation. A bridge scoring below 50 should undergo reconstruction under federal guidelines. In 2004, 26.7 percent of US bridges, urban and rural, were rated deficient, down from 27.5 percent in 2002, according to the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure assessed the condition and capacity of our nation's public works with an overall grade of D. ASCE estimates that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five-year period to bring the nation's infrastructure to good condition. (See entire report)

On June 20th the Partnership for a Secure America called for the equivalent of a new Energy Manhattan Project:

"We must reduce our vulnerability to high oil prices and supply disruptions, and address the dangers of climate change resulting from energy-related greenhouse gas emissions."
Clearly, while not minimizing the importance of developing means to unshackle this country from the Middle Eastern stranglehold of oil, fixing the country’s infrastructure needs to also become a priority (a "Manhattan Project" for our critical infrastructure). We don’t need terrorists to blow up bridges (“soft targets”) if they fall down on their own.

Smith From Iraq On Sacrifices and Syrians

W. Thomas Smith, whom I write with at National Review Online's The Tank, has been embedded with Marines in Western Anbar in Iraq. This morning, his two-part dispatch caught my eye, as it may yours. In the first part, a vocal Marine laments the common reference of 'casualty' to his fallen brothers, one such killed in an ambush just yesterday interdicting fuel tankers at al-Qaim.

My embed unit, Regimental Combat Team 2, lost a Marine yesterday: Killed in an ambush while interdicting fuel tankers just up the road from my position in the Al Qaim sector. RCT2 then shut down all military to civilian communication — in order that the family be notified before word leaked out — so I have been unable to contact anyone beyond our area of operations.

The Marines are understandably angry about the loss of one of their brothers. One highly vocal leatherneck here was also quick to point out that the Marine's death is "far more than just a casualty of war. It's a sacrifice."

He added, "They should quit calling sacrifices casualties."

In the second part of his dispatch, Smith describes fire from across the Syrian border - initially described to him as "celebratory fire after a wedding." But unless wedding parties in Syria fire tracer rounds horizontally rather than into the sky...

Syrians shooting wildly last night: No one exactly sure at whom or why, though the Marines at the combat operations center said it was celebratory fire after a wedding. A few rounds flew over the border and into our camp.

Just after 10:00 p.m., I climbed into the tower of post 1 overlooking Syria. There, I met Cpl. Brian T. McNeill of New Brighton, MN, passing by the post. He shouted up at the sentry, "Who's up there with you?"

When I told him who I was, he said, "Oh wow, you're the guy from National Review. My dad [Donald] reads NRO all the time. He said you were coming out here, and maybe I'd get to talk to you."

A few seconds later, the Syrians fired a couple provocative shots across our camp: The first tracer round went straight over the center of the camp. The second shot popped straight over my head.

Provocative, indeed. So much for "celebratory fire after a wedding." Just who is delivering the wake-up call from Syrian soil? The line in the sand that is the Syrian border is an invisible barrier of significant magnitude. But I can assure you, there are more than a few hot, tired and fed-up Marines at FOB Gannon who would love to be turned loose to find out precisely who it is and join in the reindeer games. It's all fun & games until it's the Marines' turn.

Check back regularly at The Tank for Thomas' updates and dispatches from Iraq.

The Joint Campaign Plan - Flexibility For Iraq

Richard S. Lowry describes The Joint Campaign Plan, which "was developed and has been approved by the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and Multinational Force-Iraq as a top-level strategic planning document for both the Embassy and Multinational Force-Iraq missions." It is not a static plan, and is a comprehensive yet flexible one that "has both near-term and long-term goals in four critical areas--political, security, economic and diplomatic." The entire article is important reading. And, after sorting out various details, Mr. Lowry navigates an accurate summation mid-article in two essential paragraphs.

This unique conflict requires a unique solution. Colonel Boylan stated, "One way to end the conflict would be to let them fight it out. The other way is to negotiate a power-sharing agreement..." The Joint Campaign Plan is focusing on power-sharing and reconciling the reconcilables. The military element of the plan will deal with the irreconcilables.

Picture several guys fighting; none of them can stop or they risk getting "popped" by one of their opponents. Such is the case with the several competing factions in Iraq. Our forces have to reach in and separate them. Once that happens, other elements of coalition power can be applied. This is where the political, economic and diplomatic facets of the Joint Campaign Plan will come into play. By addressing each "fighter's" concerns in a secure environment, the plan aims to "convince them to stop fighting on a more-or-less permanent basis."

As they say of all 'required reading,' "Read it all."

August 2, 2007

From Russia With Love: Iran's New SU-30 Jets

[Updated below.]

Forget about what few parts may or may not get to Iran's fleet of F-14's. Say hello to Tehran's new Su-30 aircraft fleet purchased from their Russian allies. At the Center for Security Policy, Christopher Holton spells it out.

The reported Russian sale of Su-30 aircraft and aerial refueling tankers to the Islamic Republic of Iran is a very serious development. The Su-30 is an extremely capable aircraft, a potent adversary for aircraft like the F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000 and the F-18. It will be some time before the Iranians are trained up on them--perhaps a long, long time, if ever. But this is a true transformation of Iranian air power. Their current inventory consists of 1970s-era fighters (it is doubtful that any of their F-14s are in shape for sustained combat operations) such as the F-5 and F-4. The Su-30 is truly state of the art. With Iranian pilots at the controls, it is doubtful that these aircraft would be a match for US and Israeli combat pilots, but they could certainly present problems--a real threat--to just about every other country in the Middle East. And, in fact, a US pilot in an F-18 or F-15 would be presented with a greater challenge--by far--than anything the Iranians can present today. This comes about all thanks to our good buddy, Vladimir Putin.

Most of the world is increasingly concerned about Iranian sponsorship of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, HAMAS and guerillas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Virtually the entire world is concerned about Iran's nuclear program, which has all the hallmarks of a weapons program. So what does Russia do? Russia sells Iran advanced offensive weaponry, advanced air defense systems, and helps them build nuclear reactors.

The fact that the Iranians are buying 250 Su-30s is telling. The Iranian Air Force will go from having basically no advanced aircraft to having more than any other nation in the region, save Israel and our "friends" in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia. 250 is a big air force. By comparison, the Royal Air Force does not have 250 aircraft equal to the Su-30.

And while Defense Secretary Gates may publicly say (with a wink and a nod?) that the $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States is not intended to be a counter to Iran's growing regional threat, containing Iran surely remains both the impetus and direct result.

UPDATE: Over at Strategy Page, Harold Hutchison writes of this rumor within the context of "Lies That Benefit Everyone."

That said, not all of the effects will be negative. Israeli and American Air Forces will be using this purchase for the really important war – the annual budget. The Israelis will be asking for a lot more aid, and access to more advanced platforms, like the F-35 and F-22. The United States Air Force will be able to use this to push for more F-22s as well, keeping that production line open. That turn of events would make F-22 manufacturer Lockheed very happy. So will Saudi Arabia, which will now have reason to push harder for systems like Aegis. The Russian aircraft manufacturers, of course, will have the potential for a new customer.

In essence, rumors like this will cut both ways. Iran will benefit, but at the same time, so will potential adversaries – no matter what happens. In essence, these rumors will cause a lot of trouble – and could lead to a number of countries spending a lot of money to counter a deal that may not go through at all.

Such is the nature sometimes of the Rapid in RapidRecon, and Hutchison makes good points.

On Iranian Access To F-14 Parts

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the U.S. sold parts for jets used by Iran.

The Pentagon sold more than 1,000 aircraft parts that could be used on F-14 fighter jets — a plane flown only by Iran — after announcing it had halted sales of such surplus, government investigators said.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the Defense Department had improved security in its surplus program to prevent improper sales of sensitive items.

But investigators found that about 1,400 parts that could be used on F-14 "Tomcat" fighter jets were sold to the public in February. That came after the Pentagon announced it had suspended sales of all parts that could be used on the Tomcat while it reviewed security concerns. It was not known whether any parts were sold to Iran.

Before anyone comes unglued by this incomplete initial report, please note that there is a significant difference between selling parts than can be used in F-14's only flown by Iran and selling parts that are only used by F-14's, which are only flown by Iran.

There are millions of parts in the nomenclature / parts lists for jet aircraft. This includes parts that are used by other jets flown by the US and allies all over the world. Until it is known which parts were sold - which could presumably include nuts and washers - hold angry reactions in check.

This is not to say that it is impossible or even unlikely that critical parts did not make it to scrap or surplus markets. However, even if some critical parts slipped through, rest assured that (A) it will be swiftly addressed, and (B) it is not nearly enough to keep or get an ill-maintained Iranian F-14 fleet in the air.

The GAO is doing its job. Catching oversights like this are its reason for being.

Charity and Terror: Hizballah, South American Tri-Border Area and Dearborn

The United States Government has been aggressive since 9/11 in pursuing and shutting down 'charities' in the United States that are fronts for terrorist groups and means for their financial support. In Dangerous Partners: Targeting the Iran-Hizballah Alliance, the Washington Institute's Matthew Levitt and Jake Lipton note recent developments in the legal pursuit of Hizballah 'charities' in particular. The proximity of Islamist terrorism and its support mechanisms should be alarming to US citizens.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department designated a parastatal Iranian organization as a key link between Tehran and Hizballah. The latest in a series of ongoing measures intended to prevent Hizballah from raising funds either abroad or in the United States, the designation targeted the Iran-based Martyrs Foundation (Bonyad-e shahid) for "provid[ing] financial support to the families of killed or imprisoned Hizballah and PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] members, including suicide bombers in the Palestinian territories," and for being "directly involved in Hizballah operations against Israel during the July-August 2006 conflict." Two individuals intimately involved in the foundation's operations -- Qasem Aliq and Ahmad al-Shami, who concurrently serves as director of the previously designated Hizballah construction arm Jihad al-Bina -- were also designated.

The United States is not the first nation to highlight the relationship between the Martyrs Foundation and Hizballah. In 2001, Paraguayan police searched the home of Hizballah operative Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad in Ciudad del Este, a town in the Tri-Border Area between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. There, they found Martyrs Foundation receipts for donations by Fayad totaling more than $3.5 million. Authorities believe he had sent more than $50 million to Hizballah since 1995. According to press reports, Iran has traditionally funded Palestinian dissident groups in the Lebanese refugee camps, including Munir al-Maqdah, through the foundation's Palestinian branch.

In the United States, a Martyrs Foundation satellite office in Dearborn, Michigan -- the Goodwill Charitable Organization (GCO) -- was also designated for instructing "Hizballah members in the United States to send their contributions to GCO and to contact the GCO for the purpose of contributing to the Martyrs Foundation." The same day GCO was designated and raided, federal agents raided the offices of another Hizballah-linked organization, the al-Mabarrat Charity Association. Although it was not designated, the charity has long been under a heavy cloud of suspicion.

In 2003, for example, then-Lebanese finance minister and current prime minister Fouad Siniora was barred from entering the United States because of a donation he made to al-Mabarrat in 2000. The charity, headed by former Hizballah spiritual leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, raised $954,027 in 2005. Just last week, Fadlallah -- who is on the Treasury Department's list of specially designated terrorists and maintains close ties with Hizballah -- asserted in a Washington Post online forum that "jihad is confronting violence by means of violence and force by force, which makes it of a defensive nature at times and a preventive one at others."

While Fadlallah has distanced himself from Hizballah in recent years, it is unclear from here what the hesitation is on designating al-Mabarrat. Perhaps it has something in small part to do with encouraging others to distance themselves from the radical core of terrorist organizations. Even still, it was Fadlallah who issued the fatwa legitimizing the Hizballah attacks on the US Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut in the early 1980's.

In Mind of Mugniyeh, Dan Darling noted last summer that Fadlallah's bodyguard in the early days of Hizballah was none other than Imad Fayez Mugniyeh.

Details of Mughniyeh’s origins are fragmentary. He is believed to have served as a member of Force 17, Yasser Arafat’s personal bodyguard unit, before joining Hizballah. There he acted first as a bodyguard for the group’s spiritual leader, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, and eventually rose to his current role as the group’s operations chief.

It should be noted regardless that the US Department of Treasury continues to do exemplary work in fighting terrorism's financial networks, both at home and abroad. And, as their work continues, it should also be noted that the threat of terrorism from organized groups such as Hizballah and al-Qaeda is far closer to home than Lebanon, Iraq or Pakistan. Beyond the known financial networks in Texas, Dearborn, Michigan and elsewhere, entrenched terror networks in South America's Tri-Border area and, as recently exposed, Guyana and Trinidad-Tobago should make that clear.

August 1, 2007

Hizballah Officer: Cease Fire Saved Hizballah From Surrender

In the midst of last year's Israel-Hizballah war in southern Lebanon, I observed in analytical commentary that Hizballah Is On The Ropes. After the internationally pushed ceasefire was implemented, Hizballah claimed a "Divine Victory," a message that remains persistent in the Iranian-backed terrorists' propaganda.

But, according to at least one Hizballah officer interviewed on Israel's Channel 10, Hizballah was indeed on the ropes in southern Lebanon, saved only by the ceasefire. He said that Hizballah fighters would have begun to surrender in as little as ten more days if not for the ceasefire.

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, the ceasefire saved much of Hizballah from surrender.

"The cease-fire acted as a life jacket for the organization [at the end of the Second Lebanon War]," a Hizbullah officer said in an interview aired by Channel 10 on Tuesday.

In the interview, the unnamed officer said Hizbullah gunmen would have surrendered if the fighting last summer had continued for another 10 days.

His statement sharply contrasted with those made by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah on several occasions since the monthlong war.

At the end of the war, Nasrallah said his organization had gained a "divine victory."

The officer shown on Channel 10 said the organization's gunmen had been running low on food and water and facing rapidly diminishing arms supplies.

He went on to describe how Hizballah fighters were ordered to fire Katyusha's from civilian complexes in order to either shield themselves with Civilians or draw fire and resultant propaganda coup of civilian casualties, ultimately the centerpiece of international demands for Israeli ceasefire.

  • AudioFebruary 2, 2010
    [Listen Here]
    What on Earth can Usama bin Laden, the mystical calculus of climate change and US Homeland Security have in common? Does bin Laden really agree with the President of the United States on matters weather? How is it that the...

Special Reports

Recent Features