Walkabout In The Weminuche Wilderness

Herschel Smith · 05 Aug 2018 · 41 Comments

"There are no socialists in the bush" - HPS All of my physical training only barely prepared me for the difficulty of the Weminuche Wilderness (pronounced with the "e" silent).  It's National Forest land, not National Park.  The Department of Agriculture no longer prints maps of the area, so we relied on NatGeo for the map, and it's good, but not perfect. We have a lot of ground to cover, including traveling with firearms, the modification I made to one of my guns for the trip, the actors…… [read more]

SECDEF Gates Loses Intelligence-Gathering Opportunity?

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

With the (then) upcoming North Korean missile launch, I had settled on the idea that the U.S. would shoot the missile out of the sky.  This position quickly evaporated into one of watching Japan shoot the missile out of the sky.  With some thought, I landed on the notion that Japan doesn’t have reliable enough systems to ensure success, and so attempt and failure would no doubt be an intelligence boon for North Korea.

No, over time my position evolved to one of no attempt at a shoot-down, just high quality intelligence-gathering.  We’d pull a Sun Tzu on them – they wouldn’t get to see our capabilities, but we’d see all of theirs.  If they’re willing to show us their capabilities, then we should collect data – and lot’s of it.  It was the most sensible position to take, and I was sure that the Pentagon would follow this line of thinking.

Not so, apparently.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates denied permission for the U.S. Northern Command to use the Pentagon’s most powerful sea-based radar to monitor North Korea’s recent missile launch, precluding officials from collecting finely detailed launch data or testing the radar in a real-time crisis, current and former defense officials said.

Jamie Graybeal, Northcom public affairs director, confirmed to The Washington Times that Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, the Northcom commander, requested the radar’s use but referred all other questions to the Pentagon.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Mr. Gates’ decision not to use the $900 million radar, known as SBX, was “based on the fact that there were numerous ground- and sea-based radars and sensors in the region to support the operational requirements for this launch.”

SBX, deployed in 2005, can track and identify warheads, decoys and debris in space with very high precision. Officials said the radar is so powerful it could detect a baseball hit out of a ballpark from more than 3,000 miles away, and that other radars used by the U.S. would not be able to provide the same level of detail about North Korea’s missile capabilities.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, who until recently headed the Missile Defense Agency, said the SBX would have gathered data other U.S. systems could not.

“The sea-based X-band radar is clearly without a doubt the most powerful and capable sensor in all of our missile defense inventory,” he said. “It is three or four more times powerful than other radars” in Asia, including Aegis-equipped ships, a Cobra Dane early warning radar in Alaska and a small X-band radar in northern Japan, he said.

Gen. Obering noted that the SBX was used by the U.S. Strategic Command to track a falling satellite and guide U.S. sea-based missile interceptors that destroyed it in February 2008.

There are several potential reasons for this decision that have been floated.

One current and two former specialists in strategic defenses said the administration rejected the request because it feared that moving the huge floating radar system would be viewed by North Korea as provocative and upset diplomatic efforts aimed at restarting six-nation nuclear talks …

Obama administration civilian policymakers accepted North Korea’s claim that the rocket spotted by intelligence satellites being fueled at North Korea’s Musudan launch complex was a space launcher with a satellite, and not a missile, the official said. He spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations.

In the end, the missile failed to put a satellite into orbit, although the missile traveled farther than in previous North Korean tests.

Former defense officials said the failure to use the SBX precluded the U.S. from gathering finely detailed intelligence and electronic signatures on the North Korean missile – information that could be useful in guarding against a future rocket launch aimed at the United States or one its allies.

Regardless of whether it was a missile or space launcher, “the technologies that overlap between a ballistic missile and a space launcher are incredible; everything you need for a ballistic missile can be tested out with a space launcher,” one of the former defense officials said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the information he possesses about the SBX’s capabilities is not public.

The first potential justification for this decision is that it would be seen as provocative.  We’ll come back to that in a moment.  The second potential justification is that the technology was associated with a satellite launch.  This is of course irrelevant, since the North Koreans are attempting to perfect missile technology, whether the technology is used for satellites or warheads.  The Obama administration had no chance of this justification passing muster, since the launch was a test.  The circumstances surrounding the test have nothing whatsoever to do with how the technology might be used in the future.

Let’s continue with the next excuse.

The SBX radar, built on a large floating oil rig platform and normally based at the remote western Aleutian island of Adak, about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage, was undergoing maintenance in Hawaii in early March.

The senior military official involved in continental missile defense said it would have required suspending the work to get the SBX sailing “so we asked [for it to be moved] pretty early, and preparations were begun.”

“As it became more clear that this was a space launch attempt and SBX would not have added any to the capabilities we needed to monitor a space launch, we canceled our request to allow refit to continue on timeline,” the senior official said.

Nice try, but again, that dog won’t hunt.  One cannot say ahead of time what data might be required after the fact to properly assess performance.  Ask any test engineer how precise he would like the test data, and you’ll get the answer “as precise as we can get it” every time.  This senior official has offered an uncompelling excuse for utilizing what is arguably the most suitable technology for the situation.  If not now, then when would the technology be used?

Finally, the worst excuse floats to the top.

Philip Coyle, a former Pentagon weapons testing specialist who has been critical of missile defense testing, said the SBX is technically a better radar than any system in Japan.

However, Mr. Coyle said one problem with the radar is that its resolution is so fine it needs to be “cued,” or directed where to look. That may be a reason it was not deployed, he said.

“Both the [Government Accountability Office] and my former office have questioned whether this radar can survive the maritime environment,” said Mr. Coyle, now with the Center for Defense Information.

Oh good grief.  They should have stopped with just poor instead of ending up with ridiculous.  Now they look like they’re just making stuff up.  If you want to know if the system can “survive the maritime environment,” just ask the weapons design and testing engineers.  The GAO won’t know something that they don’t.  If the engineers don’t know, then this presents yet another unmatched opportunity to test our own systems real time and in a live environment.  Who knows when the North Koreans will launch another missile?

In short, the most plausible reason for this decision is the first, i.e., that a huge floating radar system would have been “provocative.”  Thus we’ve missed a once in a blue moon opportunity for valuable intelligence-gathering.

Whether Gates supported this decision behind closed doors is not known.  But one is left to wonder, would he have made the same decision while working for the previous administration?

Is Pakistan the Next Failed State?

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

Concerns are being raised about the potential instability of the most populous province in Pakistan.

Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.

The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.

Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be identified because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”

Attacks intended to intimidate and sow sectarian strife are more common. The police point to a suicide bombing in Dera Ghazi Khan on Feb. 5. Two local Punjabis, with the help of Taliban backers, orchestrated the attack, which killed 29 people at a Shiite ceremony, the local police said.

The authorities arrested two men as masterminds on April 6: Qari Muhammad Ismail Gul, the leader of a local madrasa; and Ghulam Mustafa Kaisrani, a jihadi who posed as a salesman for a medical company.

They belonged to a banned Punjabi group called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, but were tied through phone calls to two deputies of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the police said.

“The phone numbers they call are in Waziristan,” said a police official, referring to the Taliban base in the tribal areas. “They are working together hand in glove.” One of the men had gone for training in Waziristan last summer, the police said. The operations are well-supported. Mr. Kaisrani had several bank transfers worth about $11 million from his Pakistani account, the authorities said.

people complain that landowners and local politicians have done nothing to stop the advance and, in some cases, even assist the militants by giving money to some of the religious schools.

“The government is useless,” said Mr. Ali, the local landlord. “They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”

The police are left alone to stop the advance. But in Punjab, as in much of the rest of Pakistan, they are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police officers in Punjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts virtually unprotected, police officials said.

Analysis & Commentary

As feared by the senior police official in Punjab, a lot of people truly don’t understand the gravity of the circumstances in Pakistan.  The Captain’s Journal is not one of them.  Six months ago we said that Pakistan was on the brink of collapse, and just recently David Kilcullen sounded the alarm.

Pakistan could collapse within months, one of the more influential counter-insurgency voices in Washington says.

The warning comes as the US scrambles to redeploy its military forces and diplomats in an attempt to stem rising violence and anarchy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now,” said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House …

Laying out the scale of the challenges facing the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dr Kilcullen put the two countries invaded by US-led forces after the September 11 attacks on the US on a par – each had a population of more than 30 million.

“But Pakistan has 173 million people and 100 nuclear weapons, an army which is bigger than the American army, and the headquarters of al-Qaeda sitting in two-thirds of the country which the Government does not control,” he told the Herald.

It’s really worse than just the concern for al Qaeda.  We’ve discussed the morphing of al Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban into a conglomerate globalist organization with the Pakistan Taliban being led by Baitullah Mehsud. (who had made threats against both the U.S. and Britain).  There are now even indications that the Afghan Taliban may have morphed into a more globalist organization than before under the influence of al Qaeda.

Control over the North West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas has allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to merge ideologies, recruit fighters and extort money for their operations.  In fact, the recent Pakistani approval of the “peace” agreement in Swat has allowed more recruitment through the local Mosques in that area.  Each successive agreement with the Taliban strengthens the Taliban and weakens the Pakistani government.

It is not apparent yet that the Pakistani army has lost its neurotic obsession with India and begun to focus on the internal threat within.  But army headquarters in Ralwalpindi is at risk as much as any other city in Pakistan.  So are Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Somewhere in the recesses of the Pentagon, gaming should be occurring concerning use of U.S. military assets to ensure the security of the Pakistani nuclear ordnance, because if it becomes necessary to implement these plans, it will be no game.  But the continual degradation of logistics through Pakistan has led us to strongly recommend another route, free from influence by Russia.

From nuclear assets to logistics, to potential Taliban operations in Kashmir and certainly the affects to the campaign in Afghanistan, the failure of Pakistan will indeed dwarf the previous problems that we have seen in that region of the world.  Comprehensive planning should be underway to address the exigency of Pakistan as the next failed state.

Major Combat Operations in Now Zad Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

U.S. Marines patrol single file on April 1, 2009 through Now Zad in Helmand province Afghanistan.Taliban have buried IEDs throughout the abandoned city, and U.S. forces there patrol through unpaved areas behind a mine sweeper in “Ranger file” to avoid stepping on the hidden explosives (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images).

In Marines in Now Zad Afghanistan II, we observed that “Now Zad is currently abandoned.  Perhaps someone in the chain of command could drop by and explain the strategic and/or tactical significance of patrolling and holding an abandoned town.  Do we intend to secure it, rebuild it, and repopulate it with the original citizens?”

Probably not because The Captain’s Journal asked, but nonetheless timely, a fuller account comes out as to what actions are being taken and why.

Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan conducted a major combat operation against insurgent forces in Now Zad, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, April 3.

The Marines of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, struck well-known enemy locations identified within and near the insurgent-infested Now Zad District center.

Now Zad’s District center is kind of a unique place in Afghanistan because there is no local civilian population,” said 1st Lt. Mike H. Buonocore, the executive officer of Co. L.

Company L was reinforced by engineers with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, the logistics combat element of SPMAGTF-A, aviation support from the aviation combat element, rocket artillery support from SPMAGTF-A’s Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, Air Force and Navy aviation assets and Army rocket artillery support. During the combat operation, the Co. L Marines targeted positively identified enemy positions where insurgent attacks have originated from over the past several months. Other locations were identified with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.

The two major components involved in the operation were a ground force and an aerial assault. Enemy targets were destroyed by combined fires from rocket artillery, aircraft, mortars and ground troops …

The ground scheme of maneuver employed Co. L as the main effort by conducting a raid on a known enemy position, while other Marines held blocking positions to ensure insurgent reinforcements were denied freedom of movement and the opportunity to engage the Marine forces …

Leading up to the operation, the Marines had proactively conducted combat operations in Now Zad’s District center daily in order to shape the battlefield by moving insurgents into disposable positions. Marines took precaution by using leaflet drops and radio broadcasts in the area to warn the population in nearby villages of danger in the area, which helped create agreeable conditions that would result in little or no collateral damage.

Nice.  A thinking man’s battle space.  ” … proactively conducted combat operations in Now Zad’s District center daily in order to shape the battlefield by moving insurgents into disposable positions.”

That was the answer we were looking for.

God bless the U.S. Marines in Now Zad, Afghanistan.

Update: The Captain’s Journal thanks Richard at EU Referendum for the props.


Response to SOF and Piracy

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

So Andrew Exum is mad, or so it seems, over a recent post on piracy and our preferred model for comprehensively addressing the problem (although he doesn’t mention us by name, a rather awkward exigency in this debate).

I do not have the time to explain the training, missions, and capabilities of our nation’s special operations forces. To even those without a security clearance or any relevant military or policy background, the value of these forces should be gobsmackingly obvious. And anyone who has closely read what I have written knows that I — far from being “obsessed” with special operations forces — have been quite critical about their employment in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This criticism is based on both personal experience and a careful study of policies and operations.

No, an average platoon of Marines or Army light infantry does not have the capabilities or the training to carry out the missions executed by Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and other SOF (to include the SMUs). That’s okay. Because in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the so-called “general purpose” forces are the ones responsible for carrying out the main effort. But parachuting into the middle of the Indian Ocean, swimming to the USS Bainbridge and then shooting three pirates from a boat that is rocking up and down and side to side is pretty effing difficult. If this operation to rescue Richard Phillips isn’t the damn poster child for why we need special operations forces — and why it’s important that those forces are able to work in tandem with normal U.S. Navy and U.S. Army forces — I don’t know what is.

Sorry. I usually don’t go off like that. But I have been holding my tongue for three days. And I don’t get angry when genuine subject matter experts respectfully criticize me on issues about which they know more than I — think Josh Foust on Afghanistan — but do when others attack me in a know-it-all fashion about things they don’t have any experience in or knowledge of.

To be completely fair, readers should see all of Exum’s response.  Also, one particular comment on this post helps explain the debate fairly well.

so (sic) in fairness, the asshat who said “Andrew Exum’s idea to dispatch SEAL teams is absurd” seems to be criticizing the strawman idea of solving the whole piracy problem using SEALs, as opposed to this particular hostage situation. which is still asshat-ism but a somewhat different form than is implied here.

I’ll try to be clinical and not proscribed in my response.  I think Andrew (and also this commenter) missed the point, but the comment makes the response easier.  I am happy that the Captain of the ship is in safe hands tonight.  But the issue to me is not and has never been the capabilities of SOF versus anyone else, what one team of warriors is capable of versus the next, what one billet entails versus the next, and so on.  The argument has never been to send the wrong people to do the wrong job.  It is that we shouldn’t be doing the wrong job in the first place.

At the risk of sounding caustic, calloused and uncaring, this rescue helped no one but the Captain of the ship who was held hostage.  Whether the specific sequence of events is a precursor to more violence is also irrelevant.  The point is that it will not be a deterrent to more piracy.

The commenter helps the discussion by pointing out that this was a so-called “hostage situation.”  Ah … hostage situation indeed.  And aren’t they all?  In what situation could pirates abscond with a vessel, take control over the ship’s crew, demand ransom, and it not be considered a hostage situation?

The sum of the problem is the aggregate of the “hostage situations.”  The number of “hostage situations” is increasing yearly in the Gulf of Aden, and in fact in spite of the celebratory mood over this specific rescue, at the present moment at least twelve ships with more than 200 crew members are being held by Somali pirates.

The argument doesn’t go to the capabilities of SOF, Army, Marines, Navy or FBI (who were involved in the “negotiations”) or who knows more about what.  The argument centers on what the ailment is and what should be prescribed to cure it.  Quite obviously as I have pointed out, performing this kind of operation on every piracy event, or to put it in other terms, “hostage situation,” is quite out of the question.  It is unsustainable in terms of logistics, force size and expense.

So the problem was analyzed to be the psychological predilection towards conducting acts of piracy, at least, that’s the way I saw it.  To this problem, conducting SOF raids and cloak and dagger rescues of specific “hostages” won’t affect the proclivities of the ones conducting the piracy.  A much different solution is needed, one that recognizes the nature of the illness.

When Exum gets angry about the fact that I don’t know as much as him about so-and-so, he doesn’t pause to consider the fact that I might wholeheartedly agree with him.  And why shouldn’t I?  I don’t.  But I have come to a different diagnosis of the malady, and thus I would prescribe a different treatment.  In fact, I have, in Piracy: The Only Solution and Somalian Piracy.  It might seem barbaric to some, and some may choose for piracy to exist rather than implement the solution to it, an outcome I both understand and pity.

Finally, another way of summarizing this whole issue might to be quote Admiral Rick Gurnon.

Few expect that death of five pirates in three days will make Somali pirates think twice. Dire poverty and the collapse of the Somali state mean piracy is “a business model that works for them,” said Rear Adm. Rick Gurnon of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne – the school that trained Phillips – during a press conference Sunday.

“I don’t think this will have any deterrent value at all,” he added.

Instead, he quoted Thomas Jefferson, who spoke of the scourge of piracy at the beginning of the 19th century – and the need to hit the pirates in their home bases on land. “It was said, ‘It’s easier to go after the wasps’ nest than swat the wasps.'” Admiral Gurnon said.

Knowing how hard it has been and will be to conduct COIN operations in two theaters at once, I have spoken against nation-building in Somalia at this point in time.  But there is no comparing poverty with the multi-million dollar ransoms that we have seen with Piracy.  They aren’t attempting to feed their families.  They want to get rich.  In order to change the proclivities of the pirates, they must believe that their profession will kill them.

One final observation is in order.  The comments to this post don’t really challenge the author.  A professional military blog is not complimented when the commenters sound like apparatchiks.  The commenters should refrain from emotional outbursts and pejorative language and concentrate on the main points.  That is what I have done in this response.

Somalian Piracy

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

Piracy: The Only Solution, was written following six months of following the issue of piracy in and near the Gulf of Aden.  The reaction to this article and other developments in piracy (and Somalia) are both instructive and interesting.  While not comprehensive, the following reactions give us a primer on how to see the situation going forward.

Glenn Reynolds linked Shannon Love who said that “as with terrorism, the return of piracy indicates the collapse of international law and the liberal order it establishes. It tells us how dysfunctional international law has become.”  Friend of The Captain’s Journal Raymond Pritchett, a good analyst, tireless blogger and manager of Information Dissemination (and who has been given props by Military.com), has been involved with in a tet-a-tet with TCJ for some while over the answer to piracy.  He is an all around good guy and nice enough to link our answer,  and not only in the comments section, but later in another article, points out that the Somalian problem is much larger than merely piracy.  It is a failed state, and Raymond seems to be pointing to a larger, more costly counterinsurgency and state building campaign.

Tigerhawk, who was nice enough to link our response to him, asks what Obama is going to do about the situation.  This is not dissimilar to the response by Jules Crittenden, but Jules gives us specific recommendations.

… sink the boats. Declare Somalia’s coast to be a no go for boats of any kind. Offshore or tied up at the dock. On trailers, on the beach. Send whatever airframes may be appropriate to the task … UAVs, helicopters, Warthogs, F-16s, whatever … and destroy every boat along the coast. Wait a day or two, repeat. Wait a week or two, repeat. Destroy any boat launch, repair, storage or harbor facilities as may exist while you’re at it. A few quick Marine shore parties, naval missile barrages and close-in naval raids may be helpful.

Some people who might consider all this violence abhorrent, who might protest that the pirates are simply victims of dysfunctional society themselves, might suggest we engage in less distasteful methods to restore government, law and a legitimate economy to Somalia. But Somalia has proven highly resistant to this, so interim measures are needed to contain the lawlessness onshore. Obama can propose a big Somalia bailout down the road if he wants.

Jules is clear, but his counsel is not as visceral as ours was.  Send in the Marines on LCACs, or CH-46s and CH-53s, fastrope onto the boats, shoot them with sniper fire, and kill all of the pirates.  The ones who survive the ensuing fire fight are to be lined up at the rail and shot in the head, bodies dumped overboard.  The whole event is to be taped and published to the world so that they will know how we deal with pirates.  It is the most humane way of dealing with piracy, because without this kind of action piracy will continue, hostages will be taken, money will be spent, and trade and Maritime operations will be interdicted.

But the issue with Jules’ and Tigerhawk’s articles is that they both point to the Obama administration and what their response is going to be.  True enough, the current administration has been weak on foreign policy, but as we have pointed out, the previous administration did little to address the issue either.  In fact, in our original post, we noted a conversation we had with a Marine who had just come back from the 26th MEU, and who had a pirate in the sights of his Sasser .50 Caliber sniper rifle on board a CH-53.

“Did you take the shot,” I asked him?  “No,” he answered.  “RoE.  Who wants to have lawyers put him in jail when he gets back to the States?”

As stated above, Information Dissemination and Tigerhawk linked this response, but no other blogs or Main Stream Media reports.  How does this happen?  How does original reporting come from a recently deployed Marine and get ignored, while extraneous political observations get published, republished and circulated ad infinitum?  It isn’t an issue of blog traffic.  It’s an issue of influencing policy.

Continuing, there might now be a justification for wondering how firmly the current administration will deal with the situation.

An attack against al-Shabab camps in southern Somalia would mark the administration’s first military strike outside the Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan war zones. The White House discussions highlight the challenges facing the Obama team as it attempts to distance itself from the Bush administration, which conducted at least five military strikes in Somalia. The new administration is still defining its rationale for undertaking sensitive operations in countries where the United States is not at war.

Meanwhile, the FBI has decided that the original ship is a crime scene.  Also, the French have “stormed a yacht held by pirates elsewhere in the lawless stretch of the Indian Ocean in an assault that killed one hostage but freed four. Two of the pirates were killed and three captured.”

“Crime scene.”  “Failure in international law.”  Not only is the reversion to national and international courts, treaties and agreements dangerous, it’s more than a little bit creepy.  Someone in the Hague, or Spain, or Italy, or Washington, is going to decide what to do with Somalian pirates when Somali is an utterly failed state, the pirates don’t fear the Kenyan courts or the Americans?  Or worse, they will decide what to do with Americans who decide what to do about piracy.  The French, oddly, are stronger than the U.S. has been, but will be sorry for the expense, time and trouble for having captured their pirates rather than killing them.

Raymond at Information Dissemination also links Mattew Yglasias who wants the U.S. to ensure stability in Somalia as an antidote to piracy.  Strange.  Yglasias, who has been no friend of the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, now wants us to engage Somalia in one while we are at the same time engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is juvenile and politically crass and self-serving, and Raymond is far too smart to listen to Yglasias and his boy-followers.

In the end, it is infeasible to launch another full blown counterinsurgency campaign in Somalia or anywhere else with two campaigns ongoing at the present moment.  The piracy problem is not now and has never been an issue of failed states or dysfunctional international law.  It’s an issue of force and fear.

While it is both sad and brave that the Captain of the Maersk Alabama is currently captive to the pirates, the U.S. must not and cannot negotiate with them.  The real failure is that by the time it gets to this point there are no easy or clinical solutions to piracy.  The failure has already occurred.

The solution is to engage them in a fire fight, line the surviving pirates up at the rail, shoot them in the head, videotape it, release it to the world, and inform the world that this is the way we deal with pirates.  Then the problem will be solved.  Or did we already say that six months ago?

Finally, Desert Sailor over at Information Dissemination comments:

As you know, I’m kinda a simple guy, so simple solutions always seem best to me, must be the connection to the War of 1812 that flows in my DNA.

Hersh has it.

Kill em.

Send in DEVGRU, secure the good Captain, get the Maersk Alabama to her destination. Blue NSW has some little friends called MkVs, open season for them, park a ‘phib out yonder for support. Meanwhile, est a Predator overwatch from HOA duty, let DEVGRU continue un-hindered. Bring 1 ESG in for MEU effect and then task every outbound CSG to “unload” their magazines along that stretch of pirate infested shore.

Always better to unload ammo through the barrel than offload at the pier.

Be “joint” – allow the USAF the opportunity to offload their BUFFs and BONES prior to RTB Diego.

This ain’t hard. Breakin Shi’ite and killing folks that killin’ has been our mission set for 233 yrs.

Politics and UN based ROE will stymie any effort towards simplicity. Sad.

Ah.  Someone else gets it.

Signs of Progress in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

General Ray Odierno, whom The Captain’s Journal likes very much, has gone on record saying that the U.S. might need to stay in some of the cities after the designated June departure date.

The activities of al-Qaeda in two of Iraq’s most troubled cities could keep US combat troops engaged beyond the June 30 deadline for their withdrawal, the top US commander in the country has warned.

US troop numbers in Mosul and Baqubah, in the north of the country, could rise rather than fall over the next year if necessary, General Ray Odierno told The Times in his first interview with a British newspaper since taking over from General David Petraeus in September.

He said that a joint assessment would be conducted with the Iraqi authorities in the coming weeks before a decision is made.

Combat troops are due to leave all Iraqi cities by the end of June. Any delay would be a potential setback for President Obama, who has pledged to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 as he switches his focus to Afghanistan.

General Odierno, 54, said that he was also concerned about the risk of renewed conflict between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq, where tensions are rising over the ownership of territory. He also cited the “very dangerous” threat posed by Iranian-funded militants, who appear to be styling themselves on Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

So how is this a sign of progress?  Iranian-funded militants have always been dangerous, and will continue to be after the complete departure of the U.S.  The Iraqis will have to deal with them and protect their own country.  There are some sectarian issues in the North, and while these will still need to be resolved, it is a sign of significant progress that Odierno is floating the idea now that U.S. troops might need to stay in some cities to ensure security.

As for the idea that this is a “setback,” that’s just poor and biased reporting.  The Status of Forces Agreement will still be followed exactly unless agreed to by the Iraqi authorities.  Either way, any modification to the SOFA would have no affect on the existence of troops in Iraq, only where they are based.  The SOFA envisions them based entirely on large bases by the end of June.  This might have to change in Northern Iraq, and if so, it will be because the Iraqis wanted it to be that way.  We have always said that the field grade logistics officers will make the final decision as to how fast troops can be withdrawn (and in Logistics will Dictate Troop Withdrawal from Iraq), and that Obama (and any President) has less power over the ability to move men and materiel than some people tend to think.

As for other signs of progress in Iraq, an al Qaeda training camp was found in or near Fallujah.

In Anbar, police spokesman Major Abdul Sattar Al Halbousi announced that Al Qaeda training camp was uncovered in the province. The camp is referred to as Afghanistan Iraq camp affirming that Al Zarqawi was responsible for this camp.

Al Halbousi noted that caves near the camp were used to manufacture bombs and keep Al Qaeda blueprints and plans. He added that five people were arrested while mass graves were found including security forces members in an area around the camp.

Joint forces in Falluja imposed curfew and closed off the city entrances to carry out crackdowns and inspections.

What’s good about this?  Well, the Marines aren’t in Fallujah.  They aren’t even at Camp Fallujah, which has been closed.  Most Marines left in Iraq are at al Asad Air Base – training.  Locking down Fallujah to search for hostiles?  That was done by the Iraqi Police.  They didn’t need Marine Corps assistance to do it.  They are stepping up to govern their own society.  As for the North, they may need a little additional time, but we’ll only give it to them if they ask.  These are unmistakable signs of progress.

China’s Unrestricted Warfare Against the U.S.

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

Just nosy snooping, or something larger?

Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.”

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. “There are intrusions, and they are growing,” the former official said, referring to electrical systems. “There were a lot last year.”

Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet.

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said. He added, “If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on.”

Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.

“Over the past several years, we have seen cyberattacks against critical infrastructures abroad, and many of our own infrastructures are as vulnerable as their foreign counterparts,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told lawmakers. “A number of nations, including Russia and China, can disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure.”

The concerns about nuclear reactors being controlled from software is an overreach, since the plant operators and control systems are the only ones who have direct control over plant components.  However, the balance of the concerns are salient.

This is much more than nosy snooping, although there is no need to exonerate nosy snooping either.  In 1999 two Colonels in the Chinese Army, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, authored a study entitled Unrestricted Warfare.  In it, they argued that while conventional warfare had become too costly in terms of its financial and political ramifications, rather than relying on direct military confrontation alone, other means must be employed to defeat the U.S.  These include lawfare and political pressure, network warfare and terrorism, among other means.  The entire study is worth reading.

What is being witnessed is network warfare.  It’s more than just stealing proprietary information and technological secrets (although they have indeed managed to obtain some very important technology in miniturization of nuclear weapons).  This goes to actual warfare, although not of the kind the public typically thinks of when considering war.

But it is no less dangerous, hostile and intended for harm.  If you doubt this, consider a nation without electricity, water, banking, refrigeration, and traffic signals.  Now consider the fact that China is pursuing an aircraft carrier, is flexing its muscle in its littorals, and is designing UAVs for the purpose of “military aerial inspection and detection, electronic warfare and other missions.”

Piracy: The Only Solution

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

Somali pirates recently hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 20 Americans on board.  Apparently the crew retook the vessel, but the pirates still have hostages in their custody along with a lifeboat that is out of fuel.  In any case, the valuable information concerning Somali piracy has nothing to do with the specific details of this particular incident.  The most interesting place to start is with a quick survey of the reactions across the web.  As we survey the reactions, my hypothesis is that piracy exists because we want it to.  But more on that later.

The involvement of Americans and a U.S.-flagged vessel brought much more attention to the issue of piracy than typically given to it in the past.  Tigerhawk wants to know why the fact that it was a U.S.-flagged ship wasn’t enough deterrence and what Mr. Obama is going to do about the situation, even with the apparent self-rescue of the ship’s crew?  Andrew Exum links the story without much to say, but stays devoted to his obsession with Special Operations Forces with his post title Calling all SEAL Teams.

The clearest prose comes from Galrahn at Information Dissemination, when he points out that Littoral Combat Ships are “terribly designed to fight pirates,” because “We fight pirates with boarding parties, which means sailors, and we fight war in the littorals with helicopters, and the LCS can only support 1 H-60.”  Just so.  Galrahn also has a very detailed post about the difficulty of fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden given the hidden nature of the pirates.  They never announce themselves as such until just in time to hijack a ship.  Until then, there are merely fishermen.  Galrahn’s post is required reading for everyone who wants to understand what we are and aren’t doing about piracy.

In the end, though, it isn’t quite as difficult as Galrahn makes it out to be, Tigerhawk comes too late to the discussion, and Andrew Exum’s idea to dispatch SEAL teams is absurd.  The real problem is somewhat simpler and yet more difficult to solve.

There is nothing new about piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and we have been covering and commenting on it for at least six months.  While The Captain’s Journal finds it very easy to criticize Mr. Obama, the issue of piracy didn’t begin with him, and although he could demonstrate strength and resolve and end it quickly – an unlikely exigency – President Bush didn’t do much to end the threat either.

Exum’s idea to dispatch Navy SEALS is simply silly, for at least (but not limited to) the following reasons: [a] Use of Navy SEALS who are experts in the use of Drager rebreathers and underwater demolitions is a terrible misuse of their forces, [b] they would have no platform from which to operate, and [c] there are far too many pirates for them, or another way of saying it is there aren’t nearly enough SEAL teams for the pirates.

Galrahn’s misgivings about the capabilities of the LCS to address piracy are spot-on, but his misgivings about our overall capability to deal with piracy is somewhat less accurate.  The USS San Antonio did in fact have pirates in their possession before deploying back to the States after the 26th MEU.  The USS Iwo Jima had LCACs, and this picture shows that it is easy enough to shoot from the sides of the LCAC.

Marines qualify on the rifle with iron sights at 500 yards, so they could have easily handled pirates from an LCAC.  The USS Iwo Jima and San Antonio both had helicopters, including the CH-46 shown here training with the 26th MEU.

Colonel Desens observes that even with the advent of the V-22 Osprey, the CH-46 will be in service for many years to come.  “The CH-46 is a proven technology. It is one of the most reliable aircraft in the inventory. It is stable and provides the perfect platform for things like fastroping, which will be problematical with the Osprey. Also, it is metal. Which means if it gets shot full of holes it is an easy fix, while the MV-22 will not be so easy.”

And so Colonel Desens gives us another means of delivering Marines to pirates: fastroping from the CH-46.  There is also the CH-53 Super Stallion.

In fact, I had a chance to talk extensively with one Marine who had pirates in the sights of his Sasser .50 caliber rifle while on board a CH-53.  “Did you take the shot,” I asked him?  “No,” he answered.  “RoE.  Who wants to have lawyers put him in jail when he gets back to the States?”

From Harrier VTOL aircraft, to CH-46s (and fastroping), to CH-53s, to LCACs, and then to actually landing on the shores of Somalia to hunt down pirate domiciles (assuming good intelligence), there is almost no end to the possible tools that could have been used to perform counterpiracy operations with the 26th MEU and Fifth Fleet.

But it requires commitment, time and resources, and in the end, turning them over to a Kenyan court is no deterrence at all.  Somalian pirates don’t fear the Kenyans, and as proven today, they don’t fear Americans either.  The missing piece is what we do with pirates, and Galrahn mentions that “The current policy driving strategy, specifically the policy driving RoE, is clearly inadequate to solving the piracy problem off Somalia.”

And thus has he finally driven to the root of the problem.  As we have discussed before, three analysts – including The Captain’s Journal – have given us the solution.

The Captain’s Journal has weighed in saying:

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort).  Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Ralph Peters has weighed in saying:

Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren’t folk heroes or champions of the oppressed. They’re terrorists and violent criminals whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they’re not impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court.  The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British brought an end to the profession’s “golden age:” Sink them or board them, kill them or hang them.

Lt. Col. P at OpFor has weighed in saying:

Kill all of the pirates.

Seriously. Why do we allow a handful of khat-addled assholes to dominate one of the world’s most important sea lanes? We, the western powers, have sufficient naval units in the area to take care of the problem in very quick order. What we lack is the will. We apply an idiotically high standard of judicial due process to a situation that doesn’t lend itself well to a judicial solution. Anyone who has dealt with Somalis can tell you that they laugh at western legalisms, and what they perceive as western weaknesses. And then they redouble their violent efforts to take what they want from you. They do react very well to a boot on their necks, and a gun to their heads. Then they tend to wise up quickly.

Here’s how it needs to be done. Oil tanker sends distress call, takes evasive actions insofar as it is capable. (Or better yet, armed men aboard oil tanker defend by fire.) Coalition forces despatch (sic) vessels and boarding parties. Pirates who survive ensuing gun battle are lined up by the rail and shot in the head, then dumped overboard. Pirate boats are burned. If their bases or villages on the coast can be identified, said bases are raided and destroyed. No fuss no muss, no ransom, no hostages, no skyrocketing costs.

Contra Exum, cloak and dagger raids with concealed results aren’t the order of the day.  This all needs to be very open and public, with video of our actions.  Sure, if we line up surviving pirates at the rail, shoot them in the head and dump the bodies overboard, the world will go into a fit, the lawyers would scream … and the piracy would end.

So we must consider which is the more humane and civilized way to deal with piracy: continuing to allow them free reign over the Gulf of Aden, or ending the problem quickly with hard actions.  In the end, this isn’t for purposes of shock and the counsel given above is serious.  We must decide, for there isn’t an easy alternative within the existing RoE to deal with piracy.

We may not want to deal with piracy this way, but this only shows that we want piracy more than we want the solution.  Piracy exists because we want it to.

Obama, Russia and the Future of Georgia

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

Significant attention is being given to Mr. Obama and his administration’s position on engaging the Muslim world.  But little attention has been given to what may be a very important exchange over the Caucasus.  We have extensively covered Russia’s interest in its near abroad, including in Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy, where we observed that the ceasefire with Georgia:

… has left the strategically important Russian base in Armenia cut off with no overland military transit connections. The number of Russian soldiers in Armenia is limited to some 4000, but during 2006 and 2007 large amounts of heavy weapons and supplies were moved in under an agreement with Tbilisi from bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki (Georgia). At present there are some 200 Russian tanks, over 300 combat armored vehicles, 250 heavy guns and lots of other military equipment in Armenia – enough to fully arm a battle force of over 20,000 (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozrenie, August 20, 2004). Forces in Armenia can be swiftly expanded by bringing in manpower by air transport from Russia. Spares to maintain the armaments may also be shipped in by air, but if a credible overland military transit link is not established within a year or two, there will be no possibility to either replace or modernize equipment. The forces will consequently degrade, undermining Russia’s commitment to defend its ally Armenia and Moscow’s ambition to reestablish its dominance in the South Caucasus

Russia hasn’t lost interest in the Causasus in spite of the overwhelming worship of the new administration on the world wide stage.  They have a long attention span and have kept their eye on the ball, so to speak.  At The Captain’s Journal we have recommended the full engagement of the Caucasus region, including transit of logistics through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan; from there the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.  This approach would have a dual affect.  First it would address the issue of interdiction of supplies through the Khyber region in Pakistan by the Taliban, and second, it would aid and benefit Georgia and assure the world that the West supports its sovereignty.

But perhaps Georgia shouldn’t have sent troops to Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The U.S. doesn’t have such a long memory when administrations change.  Russia is playing nice when it comes to logistics, in that it has “offered to discuss allowing the US to ship military cargoes across its territory to Afghanistan in a significant step seemingly aimed at building bridges twithWashington” (sic).  On another front, the Russians are hailing comrade Obama.

Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev hailed Barack Obama as “my new comrade” Thursday after their first face-to-face talks, saying the US president “can listen” — even if little progress was made on substance.

The Russian president contrasted Obama as “totally different” to his predecessor George W. Bush, whom he blamed for the “mistake” of US missile shield plans fiercely opposed by Moscow.

Obama agreed to visit Moscow in July after his talks with Medvedev on Wednesday on the sidelines of a G20 summit in London aimed at fixing the battered world economy.

“I believe that we managed to establish contact. But Moscow lies ahead. I cannot say that we made much progress on the most serious issues,” he told reporters, adding: “Let’s wait and see.”

“I liked the talks. It is easy to talk to him. He can listen. The start of this relationship is good,” he said, adding: “Today it’s a totally different situation (compared to Bush)… This suits me quite well.”

So Dmitri Medvedev is happy, something that may be a sign of trouble.  Continuing:

“Today from the United States there is at least a desire to listen to our arguments,” he said, adding that: “Such defence measures should be carried out jointly “between Washington and Moscow.”

The missile defence plan was “a mistake that the previous US administration is responsible for. Many of my European colleagues also believe this,” the Russian leader added, without specifying who.

Obama, speaking on Wednesday, admitted US-Russian ties had cooled, saying: “What we’ve seen over the last several years is drift in the US-Russian relationship.

“There are very real differences between the United States and Russia, and I have no interest in papering those over. But there are also a broad set of common interests that we can pursue,” he said.

One area of difference is Georgia — Russia sent troops and tanks deep into the ex-Soviet republic last August in response to a Georgian military attempt to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Medvedev made clear later Thursday that Moscow’s views have not changed — in particular about Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili — however he feels about Obama.

“Everything that has happened, I will tell you frankly, that the leader of Georgia is responsible for everything. That is my direct and honest and open opinion.

“A lot of people had to pay for the mistakes of one man. We love and appreciate the Georgian people. But I do not want to have any relations with President Saakashvili.”

A catchphrase to remember: “jointly between Washington and Moscow.”  So there you have it – the price for the happiness.  Georgia had best be preparing to defend itself or have a puppet dictator installed who is subservient to Moscow.  Same for the Ukraine, and other nations in the Russian near abroad.  As for any possible U.S. reaction to this potential aggression?  Well, we wouldn’t want to “cool” our new-found happy relations with Moscow.

Robert Gates Reshapes DoD Budget Plans

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 7 months ago

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates delivered a benchmark speech today and unveiled sweeping changes in both the weapons systems being pursued and the budgetary process.  But the plans aren’t simply a numbers game according to Gates.

My decisions have been almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books or fit under the “top line” – as is normally the case with most budget exercises. Instead, these recommendations are the product of a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs for the purpose of shifting this department in a different strategic direction. Let me be clear: I would have made virtually all of the decisions and recommendations announced today regardless of the department’s top line budget number.

There are so many commentaries on Gates’ decisions that I cannot possibly hope to cover and comment on all of his proposals.  However, a few important observations follow.

First, while I don’t celebrate the demise of the defense industry like some commentators, even when they are shown to be inefficient, the Army Future Combat System (FCS) was doomed to failure and properly so.  The whole notion of field robots, unmanned ground vehicles, connectivity and cyberwar from the soldier to the UAV, Soldier exoskeleton, and the like, is untenable in areas such as Afghanistan where there is rough terrain, limited electricity, dust, grunge and grime, and the continual risk of fouled and failed components or components which otherwise cannot function because of loss of battery power supply.  The concept, while futuristic and exciting to some, doesn’t comport with the realities of the battle space.

It would be better to see the Army (and for that matter, the Marine Corps) invest in a new generation of rifles which can be fired from the open-bolt or closed-bolt position and which isn’t susceptible to carbon blowback and fouling.  Also as regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know, the reduction in battle space weight (due mainly to heavy SAPI plates in body armor carriers) is a worthy investment.  Add to this the necessary ground logistics and troop movement equipment such as a new generation of helicopters or at least an expansion in the size of the Cavalry, and this all amounts to quite a significant but certainly worthy undertaking for the Army and Marines.  Turning our warriors into cyborgs doesn’t compare to simply giving them lighter battle space weight and assured logistics with helicopters.

There are disappointing aspects of the proposals, though.  The Navy gets hammered, and focuses on littoral combat ships.  We here at The Captain’s Journal are skeptical about the program, and have yet to see the strategic need for turning our focus off of the larger ships to smaller ones that, according to Marine Corps Commandant Conway, the Navy has said won’t be taken nearer than the horizon, or about 25 miles from shore.  As for Aircraft carriers, it is as expected by Galrahn at Information Dissemination.  It appears that the fleet is going to exist with 10 carriers for the foreseeable future.

In my estimation this is a mistake and we should expand the carrier fleet by at least two (for a total of twelve).  Again, consider the example of China.  The Aircraft carrier is the prize towards which it pushes.  China knows that true sea power will not be had until it can field an aircraft carrier.  Besides, no matter how many littoral combat ships are fielded and no matter how many MEUs (Marine Expeditionary Units) are active at any one time aboard the USS Iwo Jima or the newer USS San Antonio or other docks, when hell starts raining down from the skies because we don’t control the air space above the Amphibious Assault Docks, Battalions of Marines will be sitting ducks and it will be too late to be concerned about deploying enough air power to protect our troops.  Debates on the budget by the Congress and Secretary of Defense will be a long gone exigency in issues of life and death.

And considering air power, we have already weighed in on the F-22.  It is far superior to the F-35 and is simply needed in order to ensure air superiority into the future.  Expensive, sure.  But Gates is stopping at 187 F-22s, plus about four more.  We probably need more.

Concerning the refueling tanker, it will go out for bids again this summer.  There is no need according to our own analysis.  It should be unconscionable that we would award a contract for the refueling tanker to a company that is majority owned by Vladimir Putin.  We should sole source it.

One final note.  As best as I can determine, the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle has gotten out unscathed.  We have been hard on the EFV.  Due in part to an effort to show the recent success of the program, the EFV might be looking better.  It is, after all, the only vehicle that even proposes to be capable of forcible entry as a sea-based force.  But since it has been given a reprieve, it had better perform.  No more cost overruns, no more maintenance failures, no more design flaws.  But if the lack of a V-hull for IED protection comes back to haunt us, let it be known that The Captain’s Journal has issued the warning.

Overall, The Captain’s Journal rates the budget proposal as a mixed bag.  Again, it’s simply too bad that trillions of dollars are being thrown away on things that won’t help our ailing economy, while the Soldiers’ and Marines’ salaries, weapons and gear have to suffer.  One has to consider the possibility that it is immoral to ask our warriors to sacrifice even more when the executives are being bailed out and banks are being nationalized.


Concerning U.S. Defense Cuts

How to Pay for a 21st Century Military

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