Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Learning Curve

I wondered who learned more from the 2008-2009 war--Israel or Hamas?

So far, Israel is losing more troops than they did in the last ground war:

Israel's casualties also mounted, with the military announcing the deaths of two more soldiers, bringing the number of army fatalities to 27 - almost three times as many as were killed in the last ground invasion of Gaza, in a 2008-2009 war.

Israel lost 10 in that battlefield victory over Hamas.

So I have to assume that Hamas learned more from that defeat than Israel did.

It all depends on what Israel's objective is before we find out if Israel actually learned more. Will Israel achieve more to justify the higher casualties?

As Far From Cyber-War As It Gets

Salute Ryan Pitts, newest Medal of Honor recipient:

Alone and losing blood, Pitts radioed Myer to inform him that everyone at the OP was dead or gone. Myer told Pitts, he had no one to send as reinforcement for the OP. At this point, the insurgents were in such close proximity to Pitts, Soldiers at the command post and those listening on the same channel at FOB Blessing could hear enemy voices through the radio. Despite this, Pitts remained determined to bring the fight to the enemy before they overwhelmed the OP.

It was obvious at the time that the troops at Wanat fought an epic battle.

Never forget that all the high-tech weapons and Internet reach-back capabilities that people dream will make war a push-button exercise are just so much expensive junk if not wielded by determined soldiers who fight, kill, and die at the pointy end of the stick against bloodthirsty enemies within hand grenade range.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Appreciate Our Edge While We Have It

We really have no memory of what it is like to fight without air supremacy:

With a few teeth-clenching exceptions (the Korean War's MiG Alley battles), since 1944, American land, sea and air forces have enjoyed the military and diplomatic benefits of U.S. air superiority. Unfortunately, in 2014 there are strong indications that America's air advantage is diminishing.

Given the increase in precision, we should not want to find out what failing to achieve aerial supremacy means:

Each CBU-105 is actually a container carrying 40 BLU-108/B SFW (sensor fused munitions) bomblets. These were originally called SADARM (Search And Destroy Armor Munitions) when first created in the 1980s. Individual SADARMs have their own radar and heat sensor that searches for armored vehicles below and destroys them with a special shaped charge warhead. ...

The first use of the CBU-105 was on April 2nd, 2003, when a B-52 dropped six of them on an Iraqi army column moving south from Baghdad. Most of the vehicles were later found destroyed by SADARM.

We should not be on the receiving end of weapons like that. I'm a land guy. But I appreciate that we need a dominant Navy to deploy and supply our Army and dominant air power (Navy, Marine, and Air Force) to keep the CBU-105s falling on the enemy rather than on our troops.

A Political and Not a Refugee Crisis

Controlling (defending) our border is a basic right of nationhood. The problems we face with Central American minors crossing into America through Mexico is a political crisis caused by Obama administration policies and statements, and not a refugee crisis obliging us to keep all those crossing into our country.

If the Central Americans are refugees from conditions that legally justify refugee status, Mexico, as the first country of refuge for those Central Americans, has the obligation--as is generally accepted--to rescue the refugees and not pass them on through to America.

Whatever you may think of that policy, the reason we intercepted Haitian refugees at sea and took them to refugee camps at Guanatanamo Bay, Cuba, was to avoid the legal responsibilities of refugees touching down on our soil.

If those kids are refugees, Mexico has the responsibility to host them.

UPDATE: Ah, a longer post on exactly this issue.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Harangue Nach Osten

Did one of our senators really just send Germany to the Eastern Front?

Well, I'm sure this will go over well with the paranoid Russians who actually have been invaded twice by the Germans in the 20th century:

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein called on Germany to lead an international campaign to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his support of the pro-Russian separatists who shot down a commercial jetliner Thursday.

This will work out swell.

Degree of Difficulty

The last time Iraq's Baathists joined up with the al Qaeda types to launch a Sunni Arab uprising, they had far more success than they've had this year.

In spring 2004, when we faced a Sunni Arab uprising that consisted of the Iraqi Baathists joining arms with al Qaeda, the situation was a lot worse.

Back then, all of Iraq was set ablaze as the Shias backed by Iran (Moqtada al Sadr and his ilk) joined in the mayhem.

Half the Iraqi ground security forces dissolved in that 2004 offensive and we had to take the lead in the fight againts the Baathists, al Qaeda, and the pro-Iran Shia militias for the remainder of that year.

This time, Iraqi security forces in the north collapsed. But outside of that area, the remainder did not evaporate. Damage done to the rest of Iraq's security forces predated the ISIL offensive and was from lack of rule of law and the effects of corruption.

So outside of the Sunni Arab areas, the Baghdad region is not ablaze. And the Shia south is fairly secure, without Iran's violent meddling.

I confess that clashes between a Shia militia and security forces in Karbala is a worrisome development on this score. But as long as it doesn't get to 2004 levels of resistance, it's still an improvement.

Although Iran is taking the opportunity to fill the vacuum that our perceived insufficient attention has left to put their men back into Iraq, unfortunately. But still, seing Iran going in as better than their being in Iraq, as they were in 2004.

And there are more Sunni Arabs still willing to fight ISIL jihadis than in the 2004 uprising. In addition, those who welcomed the ISIL "liberation" last month are already learning that their joy might have been a big mistake.

So from a distance, we aren't facing a problem as bad as we successfully coped with in 2004. We can decisively intervene in Iraq without putting combat brigades into action.

Let's not panic. Work the problems of defeating ISIL, supporting rule of law and effective military force in Iraq, and keeping Iranian influence in Iraq to as low a level as possible.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

About That Post-War Plan

During the Iraq War, plenty of war opponents slammed the post-war planning for Iraq, contrasting it with the years that we planned for the post-war occupation of Germany. Not so fast, Sparky.

When we ran into difficulties in Iraq after the major combat operations, war opponents pointed to all we did to plan for the post-World War II in Europe.

I protested that we planned for post-war Iraq. It's just that many of our assumptions went awry.

I also protested that we had years to make plans for the treatment of defeated Germany. Were we really to be condemned for winning in weeks rather than years?

Or should we have spent years on the plan before invading?

As it turns out, I shouldn't have been generous in assuming the anti-war account of the smooth post-World War II occupation was accurate.

That was always a hole in my education. I knew that things were rough in Europe after World War II, but basically it was the interlude between World War II and the Cold War. Even my post-World War II European history education skipped over the end of the 1940s for the most part.

So it has been with some horror that I have been reading Savage Continent by Keith Lowe. It is honestly numbing in the horrors of the post-war in failed plans, hatreds erupting that led to new slaughters and ethnic cleansing, hunger, and political violence:

Imagine a world without institutions. it is a world where borders between countries seem to have dissolved, leaving a single, endless landscape over which people travel in search of communities that no longer exist. ...

Nothing is made here: the great factories and businesses that used to exist have all been destroyed or dismantled, as have most of the other buildings. There ar no tools, save what can be dug out of the rubble. There is no food.

Law and order are virtually non-existent, because there is no police force and no judiciary. In some areas there no longer seems to be any clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. People help themselves to whatever they want without regard to ownership--indeed, the sense of ownership itself has largely disappeared. Goods belong only to those who are strong enough to hold on to them, and those who are willing to guard them with their lives. Men with weapons roam the streets, taking what they want and threatening anyone who gets in their way. Women of all classes and ages prostitute themselves for food and protection. There is no shame. There is no morality. There is only survival.

It was painful to read. There was shame enough to go around. No wonder it is so easy to skip over this period between periods.

But the point is that compared to Europe after World War II, our post-war occupation of Iraq was friggin' brilliant. Sure, the scale was far less. But the fact is, but for the Iranian, Syrian, and al Qaeda invasion of Iraq after Saddam's regime was destroyed, the Iraq post-war would have gone pretty smoothly. Remember, Europe was not invaded right after the fall of Hitler's regime. Yet still it was a horror show.

I should also point out the obvious: Don't assume that because we did succeed in Europe that it was inevitable. We can look back on Europe as a success despite the horrible post-war because we stayed for the long haul and struggled to rebuild the institutions and repair the physical damage.

Do you really want to say that Iraq had to fail when we walked away in 2011?

Perhaps we are getting involved enough now. If so, perhaps the last 30 months will seem like an interlude like the time between VE Day and the the era when we passed the Marshall Plan and formed NATO.

If we ultimately succeed, I can forgive lapses like prematurely walking away from Iraq. Stuff happens.

And I don't want to hear how the poor Sunni Arabs were mistreated after their bloody reign was ended. They had it easy after 2003, all things considered.

Remember the Forest

I know there is a rush to condemn Putin for the downing of that Malaysian 777. But aren't we missing the point on this?

If Russia's proxy secessionists shot down the plane (as it seems), it was surely a mistake. 

So I'm not sure this is a war crime rather than a horrible accident.

Perhaps the manner of targeting--if the shooters failed to do what rules of war require to distinguish between a military target and civilians--makes it a crime.

But isn't the bigger crime that Putin invades Ukraine to capture Crimea; and is trying to seize eastern Ukraine by a proxy war?

I find it a little stunning that the whole war of Russian aggression against a member of the sainted international community in violation of the UN charter and other international agreements isn't sparking outrage while an incident that flows from the aggression suddenly sparks outrage.

UPDATE: Ah, there could be problems with the targeting process:

If a missile was fired without attempting to identify the aircraft, the destruction of Malaysia Flight 17 would be an act of criminal negligence, said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Latiff.

So it could be a war crime. Remember, too, that there was no heat of the moment excuse since that plane was at such a high altitude that it wasn't any threat to the shooters.

UPDATE: And Applebaum beat me to the basic point:

Before there is any further discussion of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, it’s important that one point be made absolutely clear: This plane crash is a result of the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, an operation deliberately designed to create legal, political and military chaos. Without this chaos, a surface-to-air missile would not have been fired at a passenger plane.

Yet even Appleabaum misses the point that Russia's invasion started not with eastern Ukraine, but with Crimea--which Putin still controls.

Amazing. How short is our attention span?

Target Baalbek?

Israel has mobilized 30,000 troops for the Gaza operation and authorized 18,000 more.

Is it me or does that seem like an awful lot of troops to comb northern Gaza for rocket-launching and Hamas infrastructure?

If I was the suspicious type, I'd wonder if the Gaza operation was just securing the Israeli flank before plunging into Lebanon to hammer Hezbollah while that group is committed to Syria fighting for Assad.

UPDATE: Strategypage says that Israel has mobilized 60,000 (I assume all services) to fight the 1.6 (or so) million Gazans.

But rather than being prepared to take on Hezbollah, Strategypage's Dunnigan and Bay said (in Strategy Talk) they suspect Israel is going in heavy to Gaza to really damage Hamas.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The First Casualty

Remember when Russia's invasion of Crimea--the "subliminal war," as I called it--was considered nearly bloodless?

And Russia still has Crimea, I'll add.

Perverse Incentives

The idea that the secessionist shoot-down of a civilian airliner should lead to a ceasefire in the Ukraine fighting when the secessionists need a ceasefire to survive in the face of government advances is just the most morally repulsive notion I've heard all day.

Call on the Russian-supported (and sometimes Russian-staffed) secessionists to surrender. But rewarding the secessionists for killing 298 civilians (even in error as seems likely) by granting a ceasefire is grotesque.

Ukraine should argue that defeating the secessionists to regain control of eastern Ukraine is the best response.

Honestly, we've already rewarded Syria's  use of chemical weapons by turning Assad into our disarmament partner (and some want to be his anti-ISIL partner, now).

Are we to make the Ukraine secessionists and their Russian masters our partners as a reward for this tragedy?

Logically

I heard that Russian President Putin said that the government of the territory from which the missile that shot down the Malaysian 777 was launched bears responsibility for the shoot-down.

Since the missile was launched from secessionist territory in eastern Ukraine, is Putin blaming his secessionist proxies?

Or is Putin admitting that eastern Ukraine is lawfully part of Ukraine and not part of some make-believe "New Russia?"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Dug-in is Hamas?

Israeli ground troops have entered Gaza.

In theory, Hamas should have learned more than the Israelis in the 5-1/2 years since they last tangled on the ground.

Uglier

Somebody shot down a Malaysian 777 airliner over eastern Ukraine, killing all 295 aboard.

It had to be a big missile at the altitude it was hit.

Pro-Russian separatists announced shortly before news of the 777 downing that they had shot down a Ukrainian transport plane. The separatists deny firing at the 777, but unless Ukraine is short an Antonov, it seems likely that the separatists did it--albeit by mistake.

I have to believe Russian air defense wouldn't make that error.

And it makes no sense for Ukraine to even have their air defense missiles active when Ukraine is using air power. I have to believe their ability to deconflict the air space precludes having aircraft and air defenses active at the same time at the same place.

Bit with wreckage in Ukrainian territory, there will be answers.

I wonder if NATO AWACS planes have coverage that far east? 

Don't Count On Our Eight-Dashed Line

Do not count on our submarines to deter or defeat China from invading Taiwan. And the fact that China discounts them is reason to worry whether Peking is right or wrong.

We're safe from a Chinese offensive because of 8 forward-deployed attack submarines?

The bad news first. The People's Republic of China now believes it can successfully prevent the United States from intervening in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or some other military assault by Beijing.

Now the good news. China is wrong — and for one major reason. It apparently disregards the decisive power of America's nuclear-powered submarines. ...

Cliff estimated that in wartime, each American submarine would be able to get off "a few torpedo shots" before needing to "withdraw for self-preservation." But assuming eight subs each fire three torpedoes, and just half those torpedoes hit, the American attack boats could destroy all of China's major amphibious ships — and with them, Beijing's capacity for invading Taiwan or seizing a disputed island.

One, I think it is right that China assumes they can deter us long enough to defeat Taiwan. Attacking Japan or Guam draws us (and Japan) into the fight over Taiwan immediately rather than exploiting the time it will take us to decide to intervene to fight with Taiwan.

But the idea that 8 subs can defeat the Chinese invasion assumes way too much.

It assumes all eight are close to Taiwan.

It assumes that all eight subs can quickly target China's relatively few amphibious warfare ships.

It assumes that sinking those amphibious warfare ships ends the invasion threat.

Those assumptions are wrong.

Those eight subs will be stretched from Singapore to Japan--not clustered around the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan is not our only mission.

The idea that China's invasion would be defeated by sinking their amphibious warfare ships requires you to simultaneously believe that China would conduct an invasion successfully with only those few amphibious warfare ships.

In fact, those amphibious warfare ships can lift about a division and that isn't enough to conquer Taiwan. Obviously, if China is invading Taiwan, they have other means thatn those amphibious warfare ships to invade.

Invasion would consist of those amphibious warfare ships, a parachute assault on Taipei, and lots of Chinese troops lifted to Taiwan on civilian ships (including ro-ro ships) and converted obsolete warships, and special forces and light infantry deployed into Taiwan or Taiwan's ports hidden in merchant ships before the invasion.

And the amphibious invasion would go right for Taipei, too, in addition to assaults elsewhere to dilute Taiwan's response and overwhelm their command and control already under cyber, missile, and air attack.

Worse, even if the author is right and our few subs are capable of staking our a perimeter and holding it, the problem is that if China believes the subs can't stop them, we'll have a war. China defines "rational" for their decisions, recall.

I will say that it is good to see that there is recognition that China faces a window of opportunity to exploit their growing relative power, as that article author writes:

If American subs can hold the line for another 20 years, China might age right out of its current, aggressive posture without ever having attacked anyone. That's because economic and demographic trends in China point towards a rapidly aging population, flattening economic growth, and fewer resources available for military modernization.

I agree.

The long run is better for us. The short run is still okay. But I won't sleep better over the medium term because 8 nuclear attack submarines patrol the western Pacific.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Defining Appeasement

Saying we can solve the Ukraine crisis by giving Russia eastern Ukraine while bringing in the rest of Ukraine is both morally bankrupt and won't work.

Seriously?

Third [of four options, which is the best option,] is a de facto partition of the country, in which the Russian areas secede and join Russia and the continuing Ukraine is made less ambiguous politically. It could then join the West, having adopted a consensus to behave fiscally and politically like a serious country, something it has never managed before, in distant or recent history. The West should be pulling itself together for the achievement of this objective, which is distinctly attainable.

Morally, this is bankrupt. It assigns the people (even ethnic Russians) of eastern Ukraine--who have little interest in joining Russia--to live under Putin's increasingly autocratic rule.

Practically, it counts on Russia accepting this deal as final rather than as step one of a multi-stage effort to regain all of Ukraine. Say? How'd that 1994 Budapest Memorandum agreement about Russia respecting Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity work out?

That Russia would want to keep pushing for more of Ukraine rather than basking in peace for our time after settling the Czechoslovakia Ukraine question is conceded by the author, who even says that to keep Russia from seizing more of what we "give" to Russia, the West would have unite and step up to absorb a properly Westernized rump Ukraine into the West, which would then protect these Ukrainians from Russia.

And as an aside, despite the author's assertion that Germany has no tanks,Germany does have tanks since their conventional army is based around two tank divisions.

I Ask For So Little, Really

In my criticisms of our Benghazi response, I've focused on our failure to even try to help.

We may not have been able to alter the results by trying to intervene. But at the time, we had no way of knowing how long the crisis would last.

My concern was that our military leadership was under command influence of our civilian leadership which argued--as the November election approached--that the war on terror was over.

So our military lacked the wartime reaction of "going to the sound of the guns."

Our military seems to have gotten over that delusion:

We learned here in DOD--we learned certain lessons from Benghazi, and one of them was to make sure that because of the instability throughout that arc, all the way from the Levant to the Sahel, we need to be even more forward-leaning than perhaps we are in some other parts of the world.

"Forward-leaning."

In order to march to the sounds of the guns, unless I misread the admiral's intent.

So our military, at least, is at war again.

Sadly, Not Too Stupid to Be Believable

Did we allow shipments of Stinger missiles to Libyan rebels back in 2011? Why would we do that given we were providing air power to support the rebels?

I didn't see any news about this, but apparently a Stinger used by the Taliban against one of our helicopters in Afghanistan (luckily, we lost no troops although the helicopter had to make a hard landing) on July 25, 2012, opened up a link that went back to Qatar and the Libya War in a State Department plan to send hand-held anti-aircraft missiles to the Libyan rebels:

My sources in the US Special Operations community believe the Stinger fired against the Chinook was part of the same lot the CIA turned over to the ­Qataris in early 2011, weapons Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department intended for anti-Khadafy forces in Libya.

Up to 60 Stingers were sent as well as more than three times as many Russian models, according to the author.

Even though I favor arming friendlier rebels in Syria, this is why I've always opposed sending anti-aircraft missiles. I just don't believe the gain would outweigh the possible problems. And I believed alternatives like auto-cannons (to keep the aircraft away) and longer range mortars and rockets (to fire at the airfields) would be good enough given the air threat.

Just who in the world thought the Libyan rebels needed advanced terrorist-friendly missiles when the NATO alliance was providing an air force to the rebels?

I know that the air umbrella was less capable of stopping low-flying helicopters, but there is not way that it was worth it to send those missiles to Libyan rebels.

Our air patrols would have gotten some of the helicopters and air strikes could have been sent to attack the helicopters when they landed at bases. And we could have helped the rebels put auto-cannons captured from the government depots back into action.

If we absolutely had to send those missiles, we could have given them to the Western special forces on the ground who were helping to call in the air strikes. If you are forward enough to do that, you are forward enough to be able to use Stingers.

If true, this plan was just stupid.

And if we had diplomats on the ground in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 because we were trying to sweep up the missiles still in Libya as RUMORINT had it, we did suffer casualties because of this decision.

Tip to Radag, who emailed me the news.