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November 30, 2009

An Incoherent Strategy?

We will soon know - and perhaps experience - whether or not President Obama's Afghanistan strategy is incoherent. But there are signs of inconsistency and even self-contradictory cornerstones in what we can see of it so far.

An anonymous administration official provided glimpses of the president's speech and plan to the New York Times. The signals are troubling, including a view to withdrawal from Afghanistan that "would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground." This is akin to saying that the situation won't really matter. When the unspecified clock runs out, it runs out - win, lose or draw.

"It's accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion," said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. "He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down."

The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011.

How much of Obama's strategy is guided by General McChrystal's analysis and recommendations for victory beyond his troop level requests? This remains to be seen, but in the strategy formulation, the cart appears well ahead of the horse.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are almost certainly licking their long-view chops. "Ride the storm. The Americans want out more than they want to win."

November 25, 2009

Appear Weak When You Are Strong

"Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak. "
-- Sun Tzu

In our own domestic commentary, we waste little time in ascribing the former to our own president for the various ways in which he seems to embody such. For Iran, the latter applies, just as it always has.

With no shortage of bluster, Iran's military wasted neither time nor opportunity to puff out its hollow chest and proclaim its military superiority. It can shoot down anything that flies. Or so it goes.

Let's just get right down to brass tacks.

Here's the problem: Their vaunted air defense picture show hinges around an old vintage 1970's medium altitude HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) missile system. It can only fire at one aircraft at a time. It's a Phase I system, with no TAS (video tracking system) to allow it to follow a target without a massive radiation signature. There are no cameras on the radar that guides the missiles once fired (the radar that looks like a pair of Mickey Mouse ears.) Which, of course, means that simple HARM missiles (anti-radiation radar killers) can reduce the entire system to scrap metal.

How do I know this? Well, Mr. Iranian General with that silly Disney-design Goofy hat, that's what I did in the United States Marine Corps for eight years. I've worked on, maintained, calibrated and fine-tuned just about every piece of gear on display for your Regime Media Dog & Pony Show. Well, except my gear was better and more advanced.

We, of course, sold it to them. Before the revolution in 1979, when the Shah was an ally. It's a Raytheon system.

Dear Mr. Iranian General with that silly Disney-design Goofy hat,

You know the HAWK missile system doesn't detect stealth. I'd tell you how I know this but a.) I'd have to kill you and b.) you already know anyway. You also know that Phase I HAWK is easily jammed and quite easily killed as soon as you turn the English-labeled power switches to "ON". Yeah, that was kinda my own fear, too, fella. HARM sucks because HARM works. Too bad you got all uppity and killed the Shah. You'd surely have Phase II toys with TAS or even Phase III with simultaneous multi-target engagement and even rudimentary anti-missile capabilities.

But no. You had to go all jihad and stuff. Now look at you. Look at your creaking old gear. You should stick to terrorism showcase media events. That you're pretty good at.

But there is hope. The Russians might yet deliver the S-300 missile systems they promised you. Maybe. Until then, best of luck with the conventional military thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Warmest regards,

Your friendly neighborhood HAWK Missile Systems Tech

RE: Theater of the Absurd

It is an understatement to say that I am fully aboard with Mike on this one. Three Navy SEALs have the audacity to punch a terrorist responsible for the murder and mutilation of four Americans in Fallujah? I thought audacity was in these days.

Three rough men - who happen to be the good guys - punch a murdering terrorist. To the few not cheering, please put down your law degree for just long enough before you cause our Warriors to simply opt out of warfighting.

Most of the howling types taking up complaint have done worse as children. I once hit my cousin in the forehead with the claw end of a hammer. Please, charge me and leave these warfighters to do their business. The business that you are clearly unsuited for.

Consider, howlers, this closing paragraph from Peter Kirsenow's September 11, 2006, National Review column, The Real Jack Bauers.

While it may be apocryphal, Winston Churchill is often quoted as having said (supposedly paraphrasing Orwell) "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." We owe it to these gentlemen not to take for granted the undisturbed sleep we've enjoyed the last five years. Without them we might not have been so fortunate.

And they punch terrorists.

November 24, 2009

Theater of the Absurd

At some point - with stories like this - you have to ask yourself: are we fighting, or are we dancing?

Ahmed Hashim Abed, whom the military code-named "Objective Amber," told investigators he was punched by his captors -- and he had the bloody lip to prove it.

Let's get a few things straight before the black-and-white crowd can start clamoring about equivalence (moral or otherwise): Getting treated roughly in the course of an apprehension in a combat zone is par for the course. It is NOT tantamount to torture or "enhanced" anything. It is NOT Abu Ghraib all over again. Its COMBAT. The SEALs who rolled him up probably got worse scrapes, cuts and dings executing the mission. Abed might want to familiarize himself with the phrase "soldier(of Allah) up."

The saddest part of this whole ordeal is that that'll be three less SEALs on the job once this debacle is over. War or not, its still a zero defect military. Back in the day, you could get away with actually wanting to fight and kill your adversaries - and recover from a court martial to do great things - but those days are long gone.

US Embassy Denies Secret Eikenberry Talks With Taliban

The US embassy in Kabul has responded to the ThreatsWatch post yesterday highlighting a report in the Saudi al Watan newspaper saying Ambassador Eikenberry was in secret talks with the Taliban and offering territory in exchange for a cessation of rocket attacks on US bases. (See: Whispers of Surrender in Afghanistan?)

Early Tuesday morning, US Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden denied the veracity of the Sunday Saudi report.

"There is no truth to reports that the U.S. Embassy is engaging in secret talks with elements of the Taliban. Our position on the inclusion of Taliban and other fighters into Afghan society remains unchanged: we support the efforts of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghan to reintegrate fighters and other disaffected individuals into society, under the Afghan constitution. This process must be Afghan-led."

We take the US embassy in Kabul at its word. The Tuesday morning denial is the first we have seen in response to the anonymously Afghan-sourced al-Watan report.

The issue of winning in Afghanistan is one of counterinsurgency, not counterterrorism. The insurgency is aimed at gaining a US withdrawal, which would be followed shortly by a Taliban toppling of the Afghan democracy. And insurgencies are won by populations, not by armies. But that said, without a blanket of security which can only be consistently provided by a strong military presence, no population would side with an army, foreign or domestic, which it believes may vacate before the murderous insurgents.

Whispers of talks which include ceding territories between the US and the Taliban erodes Afghan public confidence in America's stomach for the fight. This in turn translates into diminished cooperation from Afghans with allied forces and perhaps more siding with the Taliban. For us, it's a debate. For them, it's survival in their homeland.

At the time of the report, we interpreted initially that, if the talks indeed happened, the source was likely a panicked Afghan within the government who saw the handwriting on the wall and wanted desperately to derail any efforts that would mirror Pakistan's own past failures of surrendering territory for the illusion of a localized cease-fire.

It also appeared plausible that - coupled with the president's troop deployment delays - it could be part of an Obama administration effort to give Hamid Karzai a sense of urgency in cleaning up corruption in his government, as the administration has repeatedly demanded both in public and in private. The negative impact of public support erosion would have had to have been either considered a tolerable secondary affect or not considered at all.

If the US embassy is to be taken at its word, this leaves the inverse as the most plausible: An anti-American source (truly Afghan or otherwise) with the primary aim of eroding Afghan confidence in the idea of sustained American and allied forces.

We most likely will never know the true source or his/its ambition. But if the US embassy is not engaged in such talks offering five provinces to Taliban control in exchange for anything, then this is a good thing. Because such is the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Pakistan's Miranshah I & II gambits were stupid. Our own would have inarguably met the definition of insane.

November 23, 2009

By Nature, Whispers Defy Clarity

Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette has this to say in response to our earlier post, "Whispers of Surrender in Afghanistan?"

The story defies logic and belief, but unfortunately if the US State Department (or the White House) hasn't responded clearly and forcefully to unequivocally deny the allegations yet, now would be a good time to do that, too. The current administration has elected to conduct its Afghanistan business via leaks and rumors. Presidential decrees that they're "not appropriate" are correct - but insufficient. Among other complications the practice lends credence to stories like this one. Because of that, regardless of source, and no matter how foolish or self-destructive a rumored course of action might appear, the sliver of doubt that it's a complete fabrication exists.

And in this case that "sliver" can grow to damaging size; the interpretation of described events as "whispers of surrender" unfortunately doesn't seem at all far-fetched, and that thought has probably crossed the minds of allies and potential allies alike.

Along with leaks from others, remarks by the president that are "open to interpretation" have been the hallmark of the administration's cloudy national security 'policy'. So clarity would certainly be a welcome change, too.

Pay special attention to the bolded reference to "potential allies" above (emphasis mine.) Greyhawk nails it. A little bit of clarity goes a long way, both with the Afghan people and the American people.

Whether the president's delay is based primarily upon a lack of depth of knowledge and comfort level with the subject matter, or upon simply being too nuanced by half, the first casualty is clarity. The next is the Afghan people. And the next are our own troops as Afghan civilians side quite logically with who they perceive to be the last man standing in the darkness of a cold Afghan night.

Put yourself in the shoes of an Afghan in a remote village. What, after such "smart diplomacy" executed by un-secretive public whisper campaigns of leaks and rumors, compels you to risk life, limb and your children's throats and jugulars to assist or side with a supposed ally who so loudly demonstrates a desire to leave (read: abandon them) as a strategic motivating factor?

Better for men's families to live as reluctant allies to a dominant Taliban than to die gruesome deaths as their traitors.

This administration can ramble on all it wants about the government in Kabul. That's a rather easy task and a large stationary target. But the key to - dare say - winning is security for the people.

No trust, no dice.

The absence of trust among Afghans will cost us life and limb of sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines on a muddled battlefield.

The absence of trust among Americans will cost every Commander In Chief his next election.

The end.

UPDATE: Jim Hansen at Blackfive has this to say.

Like I said this is a sole source so far, but sadly it fits in with Eikenberry's strategically leaked messages stabbing Gen. McChrystal in the back by calling for no reinforcements. It also offers President Obama the opportunity to start the exfil from the country and avoid having to attempt to win.

Just a question that pops into my meager little brain, what do we think the Taliban will do if we surrender the 5 provinces to them? Renounce their avowed goal of an Islamic State leading to a larger Caliphate? Settle down and become kindly goat herders studying the Koran in pursuit of peace?


Take this as another sign of the weak horse status of the declining United States? A sign to Pakistan that there is no point to their continuing operations against their own Taliban? A good time for the Talibs to declare Greater Pashtunistan on both sides of the border?

Even The Anchoress, primarily a political and religious Catholic blogger, weighs in.

I suggest the Taliban will not be able to keep its end of this face-saving bargain, and that the whole tactic is simply a way to blow smoke in front of our faces.

Understand, it's not that I love war; I don't. I hate war. But pulling out of a theater before accomplishing the serious goal of utterly disabling an enemy and coaxing their surrender does two very detrimental things in war:

First, it sends a message that resonates to an enemy like Al Qaeda, which understands only power: we are again a weak horse.

Second: It tells the families who have lost sons and daughters in Afghanistan that their loved ones deaths were in vain, because the enemy is still able to thrive and nothing has changed.

Whispers of Surrender in Afghanistan?


It comes to our attention that the MEMRI Blog highlights an article from the Saudi al-Watan in Arabic that - according to an Afghan source - the United States is talking to the Taliban seeking to trade control of 5 provinces in exchange for the cessation of attacks on US bases. MEMRI summarizes:

An Afghan source in Kabul reports that U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry is holding secret talks with Taliban elements headed by the movement's foreign minister, Ahmad Mutawakil, at a secret location in Kabul. According to the source, the U.S. has offered the Taliban control of the Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan, Kunar and Nuristan provinces in return for a halt to the Taliban missile attacks on U.S. bases.

Kunar province borders the Khyber Pass region where the majority of US and NATO supplies pass enroute from Pakistan. And the remaining four provinces constitute fully the southern 25% of Afghanistan's territory.

This, if true, is a disturbing development.

I have tried to come up with scenarios of why someone would lie about it in a leak. What would be to gain? Who would gain, and what would they gain? Without sleeping on it, the options for such appear narrow at best.

What does seem logical is that an Afghan privy to the negotiations could have become (rightly) spooked that they might just pull it off, and leaked word in hopes that it might so anger American public opinion that the entire endeavor might be scrapped. That's the most logical explanation for motivation I see at the moment.

It would also fit in consistently with Ambassador Eikenberry's leaked cables recently railing against a 'surge' in forces in Afghanistan. He wouldn't voice such without thinking he has his hands on something else. Could this be it? The surrender of 25% of Afghan territory in exchange for some form of ceasefire?

One would hope not. But if so, this demonstrated type of 'effort' in Afghanistan would prove to be the strongest indication that it may be time to advocate the full pullout of American forces from Afghanistan.

If this is true, then not one more drop of American blood for a path that resembles Pakistan's path. You recall Pakistan's series of surrenders touted as agreements, right?

Yeah. How's that working out for Pakistan these days? And we want some of that? Do we?


UPDATE: Please see: US Embassy Denies Secret Eikenberry Talks With Taliban

November 13, 2009

"Send in the Clowns"

In what seems to be a signal of admission of defeat, officials in the blood drenched Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez have called upon the United Nations to send support to help stop the violence that had ripped their city with what will end up being more than 2000 murders in 2009. The battles between rival drug gangs rage on, the Mexican government has trained their police forces, and the United States has sent 5000 troops to the El Paso side of the border to no avail.

So, yes, with all of the sarcasm intended, "send in the clowns." The United Nations has a track record of peace keeping, doesn't it? Of course, it could be that establishing an International force on the Mexican side of the U.S. border might create a demilitarized zone and protect U.S. citizens from the terror foisted upon us by the cartels.

We need to understand that the drug cartels have not respected our borders. Most recently, in a culmination of Project Coronado 50 more members of the newest, and maybe deadliest cartel, La Familia Michoacana were arrested.

La Familia Michoacana drug cartel is formally allied to Gulf Cartel, as a part of Los Zetas, and has split off into it's own organization during 2006. The cartel's active leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as El Mas Loco, was said to teach his organization the "devine right" to eliminate enemies, a true test of the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel.

During this 44 month operation more than 1200 people and nearly 12 tons of narcotics were seized.

How bad is this situation really? The Forbes Magazine list named Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel, as 41st in its list of "World's Most Powerful People."

And by the way, according to a comment by an official on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Los Zetas and the rest of the drug cartels, are not considered a terrorist threat, and instead are the responsibility of the counter-drug agencies.

November 12, 2009

Wars Don't End, They Are Won Or Lost

You may not be comfortable with Jim's rather direct language here. That's fine. So you wouldn't last long at the bar with blunt Special Forces operators and Marines wholly unimpressed with nuance. There are greater tragedies in life. But from the relative safety of your own chair, pay attention. Because whether you speak the language of Nuance or No Bull, the inescapable fact remains: Wars Don't End, They Are Won Or Lost. And Jim advises the new Commander in Chief with simple and direct advice on leadership in war.

This dovetails with two pieces up today at ThreatsWatch.

The military and its veterans and supporters fear most a politically motivated decision on Afghanistan rather than one based on a strategy for American security. Now is the time for wisdom, principle and leadership, not campaign considerations or past promise fulfillment. In Afghanistan, there is no middle ground.

November 10, 2009

War Fighter Robots

Beyond the fantasy of such movies as "I Robot" (with Will Smith) or "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" lies the reality that the future of military tactics may well include the use of robotic war fighters.

One senior officer, Lt. General Rick Lynch leading the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq says that of the 150 troops killed in combat, 122 might have lived, if only the U.S. had sent a bigger and better-capable robot army in Iraq . "80 percent of those soldiers didn't have to die."

The exploits of the explosive ordnance disposal teams and the robots they employ to clear roadside bombs are well known. But Lynch doesn't consider those devices robots because they require humans to control them remotely. "I'm talking about a system that has a certain degree of autonomy," he said.

That General Lynch holds a Master's Degree in Robotics from M.I.T. helps to establish his credibility in making this assertion and in arguing for more support. Lynch focuses on four separate areas in which he believes robots could play an expanded and important role:

1) Unmanned route clearance.
2) "Persistent stare" (diligent observation of known hotspots with armed robots)
3) Convoy following (having only the lead truck of a convoy manned, the rest being "directed" by a robot.
4) "Robotic wingman" (in which "an unmanned vehicle that will mirror the movements of others with a certain degree of autonomy')

The reality is that this vision of deploying robotic war fighters to substitute for human soldiers in known dangerous situations is still not on the horizon because of limited field testing. Yet the argument for greater testing an deployment is compelling and is underscored by the numbers of soldiers killed or wounded in battle situations. General Lynch's desire is

He said seven soldiers under his command were killed and three were captured because they were out watching IED hotspots. "That didn't have to happen." Robots can take the soldiers' places, he said. They can continuously keep watch on an area, and if nefarious activity is spotted, "We can take appropriate action. ... We can kill those bastards before they plant the IEDs," he added

The future of war fighting included many new technologies. Some seemed like science fiction a decade ago, even while military research was being conducted. Limiting funding for innovative programs like the ones supported by General Lynch would be a mistake paid for by the lives and limbs of our soldiers. New technologies are being tested and developed all of the time. The chance that wars will end, or conversely, never return to conventional means, is unlikely. How we fight on the field of battle, should. We have the means.

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