Friday, October 24, 2014

Now That's a Littoral Combat Ship

I have never believed that the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has any business fighting in the littorals where shore-based artillery, helicopters, aircraft, and small boats could overwhelm the expensive ship. Now we are getting vessels we can afford to lose in combat in littorals.

Our Navy could buy nearly 50 of these boats:

The 85-foot long MK VI accommodates a 10-person crew and up to eight additional passengers. It can sprint in excess of 35 knots and is equipped with a covered fly bridge, reconfigurable main deck cabin and shock mitigating seating that offers greater comfort in high sea states.

This says that the vessel is potentially well-armed:

She is bristling with weaponry, including a pair of remotely operated and stabilized 25mm chain guns and six crewed 50 caliber machine guns in her primary configuration.

Seeing as the Mark VI was built to be armed depending on the mission, other weapons such as mini guns, grenade launchers and smaller caliber machine guns can also be installed. Guided missiles, such as the Griffin or Spike, are planned for the Mark VI in the near future as well.

Hand-held air defense missiles could be carried, too, I'll note. And should be for Persian Gulf missions.

The idea of fighting in the Persian Gulf with ships even as small as the LCS--let alone putting large destroyers or even carriers there--has always seemed like madness.

The Cyclone-class patrol vessels we are putting in the Gulf should be the largest thing we put in there until the Iranian threat is greatly reduced. Okay, this is okay, too.

And minesweepers and barges, of course.

If we want anything larger, try a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser, eh?

Whistling Past the Graveyard

So the Syrian ground forces are thriving under the experience of their civil war? In Assad's wet dreams, I say.

Huh. Who knew the Syria army was in such good shape?

The army has shrunk by nearly half since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 but experts say the remaining military force is now both more flexible and capable.

It has transformed itself from a traditional military built on the former Soviet model into an effective counterinsurgency force.

And with sustained military support from Russia and Iran, and the guerrilla warfare expertise of its ally, Lebanon's Hezbollah group, it has gradually regained ground.

Let's look at a few factors in this remarkable renaissance:

"Defections, desertions and attrition after three years of civil war saw Syria's total manpower decline from a high of 325,000 in 2011 to 295,000 in 2012 to an estimated 178,000 in 2013 and 2014," he told AFP.


Nearly 190,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, including some 40,000 soldiers and 27,000 pro-regime forces, as well as 55,000 rebel fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


Despite its losses, the army has avoided recruitment campaigns and relied on compulsory military service to replenish its ranks.

Men of between 18 and 50 have to serve for at least 18 months, and the term can be extended on orders from the military leadership.

So Syria's much better army is much smaller, has--along with the supporting militias--suffered tremendous losses (67,000 dead in three years, which must include Hezbollah and the Shia foreign legion adding a small part of the total), and churns their (surviving) soldiers with new conscripts.

These are the building blocks of a much better army?

Do recall that our volunteer Army (including mobilized reservists) strength of probably 600,000 (which grew during the war) suffered probably 3/4 of 4,500 dead (killed in action or other causes) fighting in Iraq in the nearly 8 years we were there. The Army was routinely judged (by others--not me) as being "broken" or in danger of breaking by the casualties and stress of long deployments.

Yet the Syrian ground forces are a model of adapting under the pressures of war to become a "more flexible and capable" force?

I think not. At 23,000 dead per year (we never lost more than a thousand total per year in Iraq), a Roman punishment decimation was easier on a Legion than this civil war has been on Syria's ground forces.

The question isn't this big wet kiss of an article to Assad of just how good has Assad's army gotten--it is how much can Syria's ground forces take before they break?

Although with Syria's air force now capable of 200 sorties in a day, I'll say that is a remarkable come back from years past when their air efforts seemed rather pathetic. You can thank Russia for that rebound.

You Can't Rule Out That Elephant in the Room

Southeast Asian nations around the South China Sea are beefing up their amphibious warfare assets. The reason for this, apparently, is a mystery.

This is kind of funny:

ASEAN navies are rapidly acquiring amphibious capabilities. Their intentions, however, remain unclear.

Hey, here's a clarifying thought:

Chinese construction efforts on Woody Island (one of the disputed Paracel Islands) continue as China recently announced the completion of a 2,000 meter long air strip. This is long enough to support warplanes and work continues on facilities adjacent to the air strip, apparently to support warplanes based on the tiny island. Earlier a school building was completed. This is being used for the 40 children of officials and their families stationed there. The workers continue construction of facilities for the capital of Sansha, a new Chinese municipality (city). Sansha is actually Woody Island and dozens of smaller bits of land (some of them shoals that are under water all the time) in the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south. In fact, the new "city" lays claim to two million square kilometers of open sea (57 percent of the South China Sea).

Yeah, China's low-level creeping annexation of the South China Sea under the pretext that the region is their "city of Sansha" could require slightly higher levels of force by other countries to repel, reverse, and otherwise contest.

China would like to keep gaining ground without resistance or with resistance that can be quickly overcome. It is possible that the cost of a bigger fight might seem to risky if it leads to a war and disrupts China's economy (and therefore causes political problems for the Chinese Communist Party).

Or the Chinese could think that a big escalation that rapidly teaches a lesson to one of these ASEAN opponents will bolster nationalist street cred for the CCP and be over fast enough to avoid risk to the economy.

You never can tell how the thinking will end up. That, at least, is truly unclear.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Paper Tigers

The military goes to war with lawyers to screen our use of firepower. I worry the soldiers doing the fighting need them more.

The Soviets had political officers to ensure that military officers did their duty in accordance with the party line. We have political correctness officers, instead (tip to Instapundit):

U.S. Army combat brigades are now being deployed with lawyers in the command post. ...

David Woods, the HuffPo’s military correspondent, cites it as a “good-faith effort” to uphold “American values.” But nobody is suggesting that this is necessary because American troops routinely violate the norms of civilized warfare. Instead, this seems to be an effort to sanitize something that is inherently messy (“War is heck”). This is a classic peacenik proposition: the whole world can be tamed, and not only that, so too can the means by which it is tamed.

Our troops fight clean. Does anybody really want to argue that but for the lawyers we'd carpet bomb civilians?

At best this slows down operations--perhaps tolerable in counter-insurgency but deadly in conventional fighting.

At worst it provides the means to prosecute officers for fighting a war rather than policing.

More than worry about whether our troops fight according to the rules of war, I worry that simply fighting will be criminalized:

When we have a battlefield where we see all of our troops and record all that they do, how will we treat our soldiers? Even in "good" wars that are universally agreed to be justified, such as World War II, we had our share of criminal actions and mistakes that cost lives. Civilians were killed or abused. Prisoners were shot or robbed or abused. Americans died from incompetent commanders or shoddy equipment or just bad luck.

Our military fights very clean based on any combat standards you want to apply--from a historical basis to a contemporary comparison. But war will never be completely clean. Even police commit crimes and abuse prisoners or detainees. Combat is far more stressful and so our troops will commit crimes or simply make lethal mistakes on occasion. How will we react to this? How will we make sure our troops fight even cleaner and how will we protect out troops from unfair prosecution? ...

How do we get our military to win when human rights groups might get a hold of tapes that show fatal mistakes and even isolated crimes?

We want our troops to fight clean but when even a good war like World War II would be flyspecked in our day, how do we deal with all this recorded material and how do we bring our troops home with their heads held high over a war well fought and won?

The objective of going to war should be to win, not to get the fewest penalties. While we should (and do) fight clean, that's a relative term given that this is killing people and breaking things. An over-emphasis on fighting super clean risks that whole "winning" notion.

Ah, what the Hell. Our leaders don't send our troops to do anything as 20th century as "winning" these days. We should just take our standard infantry company and strip out that dangerous heavy weapons platoon, and just replace it with a JAG platoon to be the company's attorneys when the inevitable charges are drawn up for "fighting while American."

UPDATE: Maybe our police departments should have these lawyers, instead.

Baby Steps, People. Baby Steps

Whoa big fellas, hold your enthusiasm:

EU leaders will urge Russia at a summit this week to do more to stabilize Ukraine, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters, but diplomats expect no change in sanctions on Moscow in the near future.

Let's not jump all the way to the big idea of getting Russia to do more to stabilize Ukraine.

That's too ambitious.

Let's just settle for the short-term goal of getting Russia to do less to destabilize Ukraine.

I fear that is still too ambitious.

Putin--Not the West--Made Russia the Paranoid Aggressor It Is Today

We did not provoke Russia into their current bout of paranoid expansionism.

We need to hear more of this rather than another counter-productive round of "why do they hate us?"

Instead of celebrating this achievement on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is now fashionable to opine that this expansion, and of NATO in particular, was mistaken. This project is incorrectly “remembered” as the result of American “triumphalism” that somehow humiliated Russia by bringing Western institutions into its rickety neighborhood. This thesis is usually based on revisionist history promoted by the current Russian regime — and it is wrong.

Indeed. I agree:

Russia isn't a part of the West because Russia's leaders lately have been a bunch of a-holes. Right now I'm glad we've pushed NATO east as fast as possible. Russia has a lot further to go if it ever rebuilds its military and that alone will deter the Russians. I seriously get an eerie inter-war feel for the whole situation.

You know, the common wisdom is that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Imperial Germany after World War I, which led to the rise of Hitler. When you compare the occupation, dismemberment, and de-Nazification of Germany after 1945 which created a prosperous and democratic allied Germany, you have to conclude that the Allies weren't nearly harsh enough in 1918.

And since 1991, we've treated the Russians with kid gloves, and now they too think they've been betrayed and deny they were really defeated in the Cold War. Now the Russians pretend they were being reasonable and just voluntarily gave up their empire. Of course, occupying Russia and de-Commiefying Moscow was never going to happen. We didn't have much choice at the time since Russia still had lots of working nukes. But the result has been a Russia that increasingly acts like they want to be our enemy.

I wrote that in July 2008, the month before the Goons of August war.

In the south, Georgia still wants our help:

Georgia will not allow pressure from Russia to stop it hosting a NATO training center on its territory or deter its plans to deepen ties with the West, the former Soviet republic's defense minister said.

In the north, Sweden wonders what the Russians are up to:

The Swedish military said Sunday it had made three credible sightings of foreign undersea activity in its waters during the past few days amid reports of a suspected Russian intrusion in the area.

Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad said the armed forces had observed the activity in the Stockholm archipelago and nearby coastal area, but declined to give details of an operation reminiscent of the Cold War, when Sweden's armed forces routinely hunted for Soviet submarines in its waters.

The armed forces published a photograph taken on Sunday by a passerby showing a partially submerged object in the water from a distance, but it was unclear what kind of vessel was in question.

Ukraine in between them continues to fight Russian aggression while Poland and the Baltic States worry about Russian designs on them.

And Putin rattles a nuclear sabre even as NATO as a whole continues to field armies that are nothing but civil servants in uniform.

Russia is not our fault.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Boldly Going

The X-37B came home to Earth from a two-year mission in orbit. Let's hope the Air Force learned enough to become the Aero-Space Force.

The Silent Eagle has landed:

A top-secret space plane landed Friday at an Air Force base on the Southern California coast.

The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission. Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle.

I noted it on the way up.

And I first mentioned it four years ago in the hope that it represented a move by the Air Force to become the Aero-Space Force:

I think the Air Force needs to go up to space and let the ground guys take over the aerial missions needed to directly support the troops.

Air superiority (including counter-air missions against enemy airfields), space control (both offensive and defensive), ICBMs, air transport, and electronic warfare should be the Air Force missions. Missions that are directly in support of ground forces should be controlled by those services with either helicopters or UAVs.

Science fiction calls space assets "ships" but there is no reason we must have a space navy in the future. Aim high, Air Force. Space Force has a nice ring, too.

I later added cyber-warfare--plus include missile defense that they do now, too.

I remain unclear about what could motivate the Air Force to aim high--the thought of Chinese competition or U. S. Navy competition--rather than fixating on Army aviation as the real threat.

There is speculation about the payload of the X-37B and what such a small craft can do. I believe that while as designed it could do interesting work, the craft is a scaled down version of what could be a larger space vessel. Then it gets real interesting.

Droit du Seigneur Invoked

Luckily, our president isn't a college student.

Otherwise this incident would be part of the rape culture we hear so much about lately.

Or maybe the president's view on marriage is just evolving again.

What the Hell is Going On in Canada?

A Canadian soldier was shot in Ottawa outside their parliament building:

A uniformed Canadian soldier has reportedly been shot the War Memorial in Ottawa. Police are on the scene.

One incident is odd.

But this is the second of late:

A young convert to Islam who killed a Canadian soldier in a hit-and-run had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and had seized his passport, authorities said Tuesday.

The suspect was shot dead by police after a chase in the Quebec city of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu. A second soldier suffered minor injuries in Monday’s attack.

So now we are at the "coincidence" stage.

But do remember that Canada's parliament was targetted by jihadis not all that long ago.

Although to be fair, we don't have a motive for this current incident. So we can't officially be at the "pattern" stage.

Perhaps the current incident has nothing to do with Islamists. We'll see.

UPDATE: If this is jihadi terror, I'll guess that this is home-grown locals since while they may have worked themselves up to kill government (including military and legislative) people, they had not worked themselves up to just kill civilians they ran across:

"He was wearing blue pants and a black jacket and he had a double barreled shotgun and he ran up the side of this building here and hijacked a car at gunpoint," construction worker Scott Walsh told Reuters.

The driver got out safely, then the man drove the car to the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, where construction work is underway, Walsh said.

The suspected gunman rushed past a woman with a child in a stroller, who ran away screaming. He did not attack the woman or child, he said.

I'm sure the after-action terrorist review will mark him down on this oversight.

UPDATE: The shooter was a recent convert:

Court documents show he previously faced a robbery charge in Vancouver and multiple drug-related charges in Montreal.

U.S. officials said they had been advised the dead gunman in Wednesday's shootings was also a Canadian convert to Islam.

I've read elsewhere he may also have been a bit nuts. So that could still be the primary cause rather than Islamist thinking.

More Irrelevant Than Usual


Fox News' Bill O'Reilly recommended in recent weeks that President Obama raise 25,000 mercenaries to battle the Islamic State. The use of such forces has been banned by the United Nations General Assembly. [emphasis added]

I commented on the O'Reilly position. I disagree but it doesn't deserve the scorn it has received from the left.

But what's that latter statement about?

Mercenaries are a pretty routine factor in global warfare and have been for a long time.

My so far one and only (I keep meaning to do more) e-book collects posts from here to discuss the theme of private warfare.

So I have no idea what the UN banning mercenaries even means.

There have been thoughts that the UN should regulate the use of mercenaries, but even aside from the question of whether the UN should have the authority to regulate the practice, the notion that lack of regulation is the same as a ban is not true.

Just where did the idea that there is a ban come from?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't Let the Long War Become the Thirty Years War

As long as the jihadis wage war on civilization, somebody will fight back even if our governments try to "responsibly end" the fight.

The fight against ISIL is also raising the issue of Westerners going to fight ISIL:

As an estimated 2,000 expatriates from the United States and other Western nations join the Islamic State to fulfill a passion for conflict or jihad, a much smaller number of Westerners have signed up to fight against the militants. The latest: members of a biker gang from Holland.

The head of Never Surrender, Klaas Otto, told a Dutch radio station that three of its members went to Iraq to join Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS. ...

The bikers join others outraged over the brutality displayed by Islamic State fighters, who have seized wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. A former U.S. soldier from Racine, Wis., joined Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and was wounded in a mortar attack.

"I couldn't just sit and watch Christians being slaughtered anymore," Jordan Matson, 28, told USA TODAY last week from a hospital bed in Derike, Syria. "These people are fighting for their homes, for everything they have."

Our jihadi enemies recruit without regard to national boundaries. Why should those who resist the jihadis behave differently? Especially if Western governments are seen as being insufficiently aggressive in fighting the jihadis?

Vigilantes arise anywhere when the authorities fail to provide security or justice. If lawfare undermines our government's ability to defend our society from our enemies, private military groups will wage war on the jihadis--or even against Islam in general. ...

In many ways, our state-centric views hobble our efforts against non-state actors who may wield destructive power hitherto reserved to states. But our state-centric system is not all bad. If freebooters join our Long War, and the system of Westphalia is breaking down and private military entities return, we might want to remember the impact of religion and private military forces on Europe in another long war--the Thirty Years War.

If we worry that Islamist sympathizers from the West will return home from war radicalized enough to start a front in their home towns, what happens when anti-jihadis come home, too?

We may think we can responsibly end the war on terror by refusing to send our military to fight it.

But all we can really do by trying to avoid using our military is change the nature of that fight to emphasize private warfare as long as our enemies continue to wage jihad.

Teach Them to Elect Good (Non-Islamist) Men

If we can re-win in Iraq, reduce Iranian influence there, and restore our efforts to build a functioning democracy in Iraq, we can yet help the Arab Moslem world escape the dismal traditional alternatives of autocracy or Islamism for governance and exploit the earnest if vague yearnings for democracy that the Arab Spring revealed.

I am not demoralized by the failure of the Arab Spring in 2011 to inspire immediate progress for democracy (and the necessary rule of law). I am encouraged that people expressed a desire for democracy even if they had a weak understanding of what that requires. At least these protesters did not call for religious dictatorship as an alternative to autocrats.

This project to undermine the appeal of jihadi thinking that reappears from time to time and which one day could involve WMD as it spills over into the West, is a long-term struggle that requires our support to reinforce indigenous efforts to reform the Moslem Arab world.

Strategypage discusses the problem:

Moslems in general and Arabs in particular have developed a peculiar relationship with democracy. Since the 1960s, when many Moslems were able migrate to the West, millions of Moslems have come to understand democracy from personal experience. They did this either by moving to live in the West, or being visited by family or friends who had and were eager to explain this curious but wonderful form of government in great detail. As a result of this opinion polls in Moslem countries have shown a growing approval of democracy. This was especially true in 2011 after the Arab Spring uprisings. But since 2011 that approval of democracy has dimmed a bit as Moslems unaccustomed to running a democracy found that doing so was not easy. A majority of Moslems still think democracy is the best form of government, but a quarter of Moslems also believe that democracy may be unsuitable for Moslem countries at this time. This disappoints and confuses many Moslems. They can see that democracy creates superior results where is has been established, but the process of getting democracy to work reliably is a lot harder and more difficult than many Moslems originally believed. This is largely because of some unique problems in Moslem states.

Do read it all, as the expression goes.

This is a necessary struggle and the forces in the Moslem world resisting reform are strong. If we don't win this struggle, we'll have more (and worse) war in the future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Target

As we ramp up air strikes around Kobani to rack up the jihadi body count as ISIL commits forces to the conquest of that city from the Kurdish defenders, keeping those defenders in the fight has become much more important.

We dropped weapons to keep those ISIL fighters in action:

The U.S. Central Command said it had delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Kurds who are trying to stave off an onslaught by Islamic State fighters who have overrun swathes of Syria and Iraq this year.

The main Syrian Kurdish group defending Kobani from the better armed Islamic State militants said on Monday the town had received "a large quantity" of ammunition and weapons.

Three C-130s carried out the drop. Good.

I've heard that with our air strikes inside the city in support of the Kurds, somebody wearing boots must be on the ground calling in those strikes.

Turkey, at least, is allowing Kurds into the Kobani region where they can use those arms:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington had asked Ankara to let Iraqi Kurds cross its territory so that they could help defend the town which lies on the Turkish frontier, adding that he hoped the Kurds would "take this fight on".

If we can really fix the attention of all those ISIL fighters into Kobani to their front from the west, south, and east, the Turks--if they choose--could do some serious damage to ISIL from the rear.

Iraq First

Iraq is our priority front against ISIL. But don't worry that air strikes around Kobani in Syria indicate that we are being distracted because we have more than enough military power to deal with both. But do worry that it isn't apparent that Iraq is the main effort.

I've advocated acting against ISIL in Iraq first and in time set it out as a Win, Build, Win formula of winning in Iraq while building up the forces to win in Syria, and then winning in Syria.

Central Command (CENTCOM) commander, General Austin, verified that Iraq is our priority despite the high profile of the air campaign in Syria the last several weeks:

The intent of the expanded airstrikes is to degrade ISIL's capability and their ability to threaten U.S. interests and the interests of our partners.

More specifically, we are enabling the efforts of the Iraqis in their fight against ISIL, acknowledging that, in addition to halting ISIL's advance, the Iraqis must secure the border. They must regenerate and restructure their forces to ensure that they are able to provide for the sovereignty of their country going forward. And this represents our main focus right now -- enabling the efforts of the Iraqis. ...

Again, Iraq is our main effort and it has to be. And the things that we're doing right now in Syria are being done primarily to shape the conditions in Iraq. And once the Iraqis are able to get a better handle on the situation inside of their country and regain control of their border, that will help to localize the problems a bit more.

And certainly, this will serve to restrict ISIL's freedom of movement and specifically, his ability to send reinforcements from Syria into Iraq. [emphasis added]

He also noted that the air attacks in Syria are going after military assets, command and control capabilities, and revenue-generating oil refineries:

With respect to the airstrikes, and together with our coalition partners, we are purposely and necessarily targeting very specific capabilities, again, with the intent to degrade the enemy's ability to command and control, to degrade his ability to project combat power, and to degrade his ability to sustain himself.

We've conducted precision strikes, for example, targeting ISIL's communications equipment and hardware, their command centers, and their vehicle parks, and tanks and Humvees which were stolen from the Iraqi army, as well as oil refineries which are now under ISIL's control.

Yes, we've recently seen an upsurge in activity in support of the Kurds around the Syrian city of Kobani. But that is important to kill ISIL members, deny them a victory that could be a recruiting tool, to gain the good will of Kurds who we need both in Iraq and Syria, and to prevent Turkish Kurd anger against the Turkish government for failing to intervene to save Kobani from developing into a very distracting revival of the Kurdish war inside Turkey.

But this doesn't represent a distraction from Iraq. The relative inaction in Iraq is not caused by air strikes committed to Syria. It is caused by too little activity in Iraq

Remember, that after Japan attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, we had a "Germany First" strategy since Germany was rightly judged the bigger threat.

Despite that declaration of a main effort in Europe, our initial combat was weighted against Japan since there was nobody else to carry out that effort to halt Japan's advances. Our ground forces didn't go into combat in Europe until the invasion of North Africa in November 1942, 11 months after the Pearl Harbor attack.

North Africa wasn't a particularly important objective in Europe, but attacking there did have the advantage of not confronting the toughest problem we'd have to face--the invasion of German-occupied France--and risk early defeat. And it got us involved in Europe so that pressure could be resisted to send resources to the Pacific where we were actively (and desperately) fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal and the seas and air around that island.

In the end we had the power to go on offense in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters rather than rely totally on a sequential effort (remember that Army troops from Europe were needed for the planned invasion of Japan prior to using atomic bombs to compel Japan to surrender).

Despite the weight of recent air attacks tilting to Syria, our air effort fits within my calls for air actions in Syria to be limited to attacks that support the primary fight in Iraq rather than attacks that strengthen Assad in Syria too much.

And General Austin actually provides needed news that the Iraqi ground forces are fighting, even as the situation in Anbar deteriorates under ISIL assault, and even as Austin couldn't say when the Iraqi military would visibly go on offense to roll back ISIL gains:

It's difficult to put -- to designate a specific point in time when they'll be able to do this. As you know, we're doing some things now. They are doing some things now to incrementally recapture ground that's been lost. In the north, we've seen the Kurdish security forces conduct an excellent operation on the Mosul Dam. They took back the port of -- the Rabiya port of entry. They are currently still operating, still pushing to recapture ground that has been lost.

We're seeing some of the same things in the south. About a week-and-a-half ago, you saw the 9th Division attack west to, you know, towards -- north of Karma, towards Ramadi, and link up with the 1st Division and open up a line of communication so that you're -- they're able to -- to provide logistical support to the forces that are out in Ramadi.

And so this morning, Iraqi time -- Iraq time, excuse me, you saw Iraqi security forces elements attack north from the Baghdad area up to Bayji And that that assault -- attack is ongoing as we speak. Their effort is to relieve the forces that have been defending Bayji for a period of time and make sure that they open a line of communications there as well.

So we're doing some things to -- to incrementally improve conditions. At the same time, we will begin to train and equip Iraqi security forces to regenerate some much-needed combat power. But it will take time.

Q: What about Mosul? Are they making any progress at all to retake Mosul?

GEN. AUSTIN: Mosul's going to be probably a much bigger effort. And again, it's going to -- we're going to need to regenerate a bit more combat power and do some more things to shape the environment a bit before we go after Mosul. I think Mosul will -- you heard the chairman describe it as potentially the decisive fight. Certainly, it will be a -- an important fight and a difficult fight.

You know, as you know, Bob, I was a corps commander in Iraq, and I was a force commander there as well. I've spent a lot of time in Mosul. It is difficult terrain. And -- and so, we want to make sure that when we take that on, that we have the adequate capability and we set the conditions right to -- to get things done.

We're building up local forces in Iraq that our air power can support. We have advisors in both the north with the Kurds who will be able to drive southwest and in the center with the Iraqis who will be able to drive west and north.

On the bright side, Iraq may finally be ready at the top to fight:

Iraqi lawmakers approved defence and interior ministers on Saturday, filling the key posts after weeks of delay as security forces battle Islamic State jihadists who hold swathes of the country. ...

Khaled al-Obaidi, a Sunni who was named defence minister, was a senior officer in the air force of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein who specialised in engineering. ...

The new interior minister, Mohammed al-Ghabban, is a member of the Shiite bloc Badr.

Right now the high profile fight to resist ISIL in Kobani seems like the Guadalcanal of today. It's important to win there but it does not mean Syria is the main front. It just means that we aren't yet ready to go on offense in Iraq.

I worry that we need to have visible victories over ISIL sooner rather than later, and that we don't have the luxury of time to set the conditions just right.

Remember that the French in Mali wanted to wait until local and regional forces were ready to lead the offensive north into jihadi-held territory. But a jihadi offensive south compelled the French to use their small ground forces to launch the offensive lest the war be lost before the non-French forces were ready.

We may have to figuratively invade North Africa in Iraq to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that ISIL in Iraq is the main effort and that the end of the beginning is here even if the beginning of the end is years away.

UPDATE: Assuming our enemy gives us the time to set up the perfect killing blows, in a few months and then throughout next year, we will help Iraq retake their lost ground:

The United States and Iraq are drawing up a campaign plan for offensive operations by Iraqi ground forces to gradually reclaim towns and cities that have been occupied by the Islamic State, according to a senior administration official.

The plan, described as methodical and time-consuming, will not begin in earnest for several months and is designed to ensure that Iraqi forces­ do not overextend themselves before they are capable of taking and holding territory controlled by the militants.

ISIL will just sit patiently and wait to be destroyed, right?

The Day the Unicorn Died

The emperor has no close.

The Eastern Front

Strategypage looks at the variety of Ukrainian non-army units sent to fight in the Donbas.

Did Ukraine send way more troops to fight in the east than I suspected?

Ukrainian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine (Donbas) against Russian sponsored troops and Russian regular forces consists of Ukrainian Army units and an even larger number of volunteer battalions. These volunteer units comprise about 20 percent of the 50,000 armed personnel Ukraine has sent to the Donbas.

I think it is safe to assume that this number refers to the total number rotated through the eastern front and not the strength maintained there, since the Ukrainian army is only about 60,000 strong (pre-war active duty). And I have noted that a unit usually stationed in Ukraine's west was identified as fighting in the east.

Further, the Ukrainians were doing well until the Russians intervened directly with relatively small numbers of regular mechanized forces. So there couldn't have been too many Ukrainians if they were overmatched by a small Russian mechanized force.

Nor would it have been safe to commit such a large number of Ukrainian troops so far east where they'd be vulnerable to a battle of annihilation if the Russians escalated to cut off the region with mechanized forces.

I don't understand how the volunteer units could be both an even larger portion of the Ukrainian force sent to fight in the east and be just 20% of the armed personnel sent to fight.

Strategypage outlines Ministry of Defense territorial defense battalions (24+ battalions); Ministry of Internal Affairs special purpose battalions used for garrison duty in liberated territory (31 formed); volunteer National Guard battalions (4 formed); and a small -"Right Sector" Ukrainian volunteer corps of no more than 500, who are the armed wing of the political force of the same name.

I imagine we are talking about fewer than 25,000 light infantry in these units. I have no idea if they are in "for the duration" or just for the tour of duty. I suspect the latter.

These units have been crucial in holding the east while the army was demoralized:

These volunteer units played major role at the beginning of the conflict when regular units were ineffective due very low morale. The regulars were inspired by the energy and success of the volunteer units and eventually matched the volunteers in morale and effectiveness.

It would be helpful to know how many troops were committed on a day-to-day basis to the east and what Ukraine's current ground forces are.

But they did okay, all things considered.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Best and Brightest

Is public confidence in our public officials dependent on the public not retaining what was said a moment earlier?

Because this reassurance by Tom Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control does not fill me with confidence in the competency of the federal government that President Obama said he'd demonstrate during his presidency:

I think there are two different parts of that equation. The first is if you're a member of the traveling public and are healthy, should you be worried that you might have gotten it by sitting next to someone. The answer is no. Second if you're sick, and you may have Ebola should you get on a bus, the answer to that is also no. You might become ill; you might have a problem that exposes someone around you..

I readily concede in a bow to the wonders of science that if you are sitting on a bus full of healthy bus riders, you won't get sick by sitting next to someone on said bus. And sure, in America right now, simple odds dictate that even in an Ebola world where infection by proximity is 100% certain, that getting on a bus should not be a worry because there are so few infected people riding on buses at any given moment.

But how is it possible to make the second statement about the risk of infecting someone else in a manner that implies you already forgot the first statement? He sounded like an idiot.

This ability starts at the very top. See the first update.

Clearly, the first statement should have simply said "Yes, you could get Ebola from someone on the bus who has the illness. But there are so few sick in America that it is not a worry if you are currently healthy. Should circumstances change, we will update our advice."

We are so screwed.

At the Mall

I went to the mall today, in which a toddler was saved from near injury.

I bought wooden spoons at a deep discount.

Checked out possible couch and shoe purchases.

Said "no thanks" to the pushy kiosk operator who tries to put cream on your face--and got really annoyed when she violated the boundaries of politeness to continue the interaction by asking me if she could ask me a question.

I ignored her. That kiosk really annoys me. Do I really look like a potential customer? Seriously?

I identified a potential Michigan cap for Lamb, since the one I got for her seems to have vanished in her mom's house.

I also finally bought something fried from that restaurant that recently replaced the hated sushi stand (which replaced the fresh-fried donut stand that was the subject of an early post on what was surely the old Geocities site). I realized I'd forgotten about it.

And I saw the most amazing parental save in my life. A young mother and the dad were pushing along a double stroller with two young children in it. The dad was pushing and the mom was walking next to them.

I know this because I was behind them and the mom was in really good shape. If I hadn't been in in a mall and hence on a countdown clock to get out before I become a "shopper" (aside from my need to get back home before the Lions game started--yes, they had a last-minute win to avoid sports frustration, thank you very much) I would have slowed down and gone wherever she was going.

Anyway, all was a happy afternoon at the mall. Me with chili cheese fries and wooden spoons, catching up with the lovely (from behind, anyway) young mom out with children and husband (I assume), when out of nowhere one of the toddlers decided to take a header out of the stroller.

Good grief, who would have seen that coming? Isn't this the parental fear I've gone on about over the years? Isn't this exactly why I did not turn on my fireplace while my kids were young out of fear that while I was in the kitchen one would toss a toy into the fireplace, causing it and then the child to burst into flames while my back was turned for one single freaking moment?

But the mom reached out and actually grabbed the child by the leg before the kid could hit the ground, saving her kid from potential injury.

Bravo! That was most amazing. The kid was crying from the shock of the whole experience but was fine. Heck of a catch, I must say.

I almost congratulated her as I went by, but didn't know how that would go over.

Anyway, that was my time at the mall today.

Hearts and Minds

Shia militias brought into the fight after the fall of Mosul and the north during the summer risk depriving the government of another Awakening by alienating Shias. But there is still hope of influencing minds if we start winning.

ISIL forces threaten Baghdad from the west in Anbar province:

[Iraqis Brigadier General Saad] Maan also said that the Islamic State doesn’t have the capacity to seriously penetrate the capital. But maintaining a buffer zone is essential in protecting Baghdad from longer-range attacks like those on the Green Zone. And there are worries that the Islamic State will find sympathizers in the Sunni-majority belt that rings the capital, including Abu Ghraib.

Shia militias who commit violence against the Sunni Arabs who live there threaten to undermine Iraqi efforts to secure the western approaches to Baghdad

Even if ISIL can't take Baghdad, by taking positions on the outskirts, ISIL could send in terrorists to launch attacks that will shake the Iraqi government and make it look weaker.

Winning hearts and minds is often portrayed as a way of making the people like you and so not support insurgents or terrorists who operate among them (and with their help).

Yes, getting people to like the counter-insurgent side is good. That's the "heart" part of "hearts and minds."  That's only part of it.

A government that looks like it will win and that it will keep going until it does win can get the "minds," too. People can decide that it is futile to fight and that it is wiser to get on with life rather than die for a lost cause.

Do you really think that the 2006-2007 Awakening was a victory of the Sunni Arab "hearts?" The Sunni Arabs didn't suddenly love the Shia majority and the Kurds. Nor did they suddenly love the American troops who had destroyed their privileged position in Iraq under Saddam.

So while we should definitely try to rein in the Shia militias, because they affect both the hearts and minds part of the equation, we should make visible efforts to show that the Iraqi government will win the fight.

Unfortunately, Iraq is not demonstrating the ability to win. Especially when you remember that much of Anbar fell in January 2014, well before the fall of Mosul and other points north got our attention:

The Islamic State’s advances in Anbar Province, which is largely Sunni, have been a central concern for the Iraqi authorities since the beginning of the year. The militants first established a major foothold there in January when they seized the city of Falluja. They have expanded their authority throughout the province, sometimes by force, but also by taking advantage of the profound disenchantment among Sunnis alienated by the government in Baghdad.

The most recent string of Islamic State victories in Anbar Province began with the onslaught last month of the Saqlawiya military garrison, followed closely by the defeat of a detachment of Iraqi troops based in the village of Albu Aitha. The Islamic State also gained control of Hit, a town on the main east-west road between the Haditha Dam and the provincial capital of Ramadi, both of which the militants have sought to take.

Just saying that our plan to win which will eventually deliver victory is not enough. We need to start visibly achieving victories. Anbar would be a good place to start.

UPDATE: While Syria is still the secondary front in the war on ISIL, it is (or should be) a war on Assad.

Syrians opposed to Assad and ISIL need to be supported or by the time Syria is the main front for the fight against ISIL, Assad might be the only other force in Syria:

The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.

By the time the killing stopped, 700 people were dead, activists and survivors say, making this the bloodiest single atrocity committed by the Islamic State in Syria since it declared its existence 18 months ago.

The little-publicized story of this failed tribal revolt in Abu Hamam, in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province, illuminates the challenges that will confront efforts to persuade those living under Islamic State rule — in Iraq as well as Syria — to join the fight against the jihadist group, something U.S. officials say is essential if the campaign against the militants is to succeed.

We intervened in Libya in 2011 for less of a humanitarian reason than this.

How do we get non-American boots on the ground if we don't support those local boots?

Worse, how do we do it when it looks like we are effectively on Assad's side?

As U.S. and allied jets swoop freely over towns and cities under control of extremists in northern Syria, the Syrian army has scaled back its air activity over areas of IS control, doing as little as possible there to avoid confrontation. Instead, Assad's troops are now focusing their energies on the country's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo. ...

While few people think the American and Syrian militaries are actively cooperating or coordinating their operations, there appears to be a tacit alliance, ensuring at the very least that Syrian military operations would not come into conflict or friction with any American or allied aircraft.

We intervened against such a dictator in Libya in 2011 for far less than this level of killing.

R2P (Responsibility to Protect) had a short but exciting Obama administration policy life, I guess.

What Does This Study Really Say?

Ah, support for Syrian rebels is probably folly because a CIA study says that doesn't work very well?

The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history — from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba. The continuing C.I.A. effort to train Syrian rebels is just the latest example of an American president becoming enticed by the prospect of using the spy agency to covertly arm and train rebel groups.

An internal C.I.A. study has found that it rarely works.

I'm not that surprised that a study of CIA support for insurgencies shows a lack of victories. That may reflect a use of support for insurgents as an alternative to US action rather than as a supplement to US action.

I'd be happier if we focused on replicating the factors that help insurgencies win.

UPDATE: Related.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mission Accomplished

I lost the article (and don't feel like finding it or recreating the post before my Internet blinked out), but Green opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline from western Canada to our Gulf coast refineries will just make things worse for the environment and our economy.

That article explained that some oil tars are coming to America anyway via trains--more dangerous.

The Canadian alternative is a longer pipeline to the Atlantic--more dangerous than a shorter pipeline and Canadian workers get the project money.

The oil tars will then be shipped via tanker to our Gulf coast refineries--more dangerous than a pipeline.

And since the oil tars will go by sea from Canada's Atlantic port, the oil can go overseas where customers are eager to have this resource, too--which not only puts more oil on tankers on even longer voyages but means we will have to pay world market prices for the oil tars (Canada currently has to offer discounts to us since they have no one else to sell to).

So congratulations, Greens! That's quite the victory you and President Obama are engineering.

Now go and emit no more.

Mission Being Accomplished?

While I think that in the long run our strategy (if I'm right about it) to defeat ISIL could work, in the short run we could face defeats. Defeats that could undermine carrying out the long-term strategy.

I guess the Obama administration thinks we need to stay the course in Iraq:

White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted that the president’s plan against ISIS was “succeeding.”

“We’re in the early days of the execution of that strategy,” he said. “But certainly, the early evidence indicates that this strategy is succeeding.”

Earnest pointed to two pieces of evidence for that claim from Iraq: the achievement of dislodging ISIS’s control of the critical Mosul Dam and the evacuation of embattled Yazidi civilians from Mount Sinjar.

But other events on the ground are not cooperating with the White House’s preferred narrative.

Defense officials acknowledged Tuesday that ISIS forces now have “relative freedom of influence throughout” Anbar province, after killing its police chief and taking over a military base.

“It’s hard to say how close Anbar is to falling,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Tuesday. “We know that ISIS can move freely around the Anbar province.”

On Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno expressed reservations about the Iraqi military’s ability to protect its nation’s capital, Baghdad, saying he was “somewhat” confident they could do so.

In the long run, I think our strategy can work. At least if I am correctly reading that we are carrying out a strategy that I've called Win, Build, Win.

But surviving the short run is the problem. While the Kurds in the north are proving to be a capable ground ally, the problem of finding a core ground force to exploit our air power in the center and west still eludes us.

And if we can't get Jordan to provide a core force, we have to wait until we can retrain 3 Iraqi divisions to be that core offensive force.

Until then, the Iraqi army we have and not the Iraqi army we wish we had must hold the line against the ISIL fanatics who keep capturing Iraqi bases in Anbar.

I suspect--as I have since ISIL's Mosul region successes--that the threat to Baghdad isn't nearly as dire as some make out, but I can't be sure given ISIL advances during 2014.

Nor can I be sure that continued ISIL victories won't again crack Iraqi morale.

And apart from the simple battlefield balance, we have to keep Shia fanatics from undermining the ability to get Sunni tribes to re-Awaken to support a counter-offensive when we are ready. This is a real problem to executing our strategy:

Iraq's Shiite militias have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians with the tacit support of the government in retaliation for Islamic State group attacks, Amnesty International said Tuesday, as a suicide car bombing claimed by the Sunni extremists killed 23 people, including a Shiite lawmaker.

It's not large-scale--yet--but this could nullify ISIL's atrocities that provide the foundation for getting Iraq's Sunni Arabs to side with the Iraqi government.

We need forward air controllers on the ground to help the Iraqis hold the line north and west of Baghdad and claw back territory from ISIL both to break ISIL sieges of Iraqi bases and to give Sunni Arabs hope that our side can win.

If not, we'll never get beyond the early days of executing our strategy--and so lose the Iraq war that we had won by 2008 and which we still had within our power to defend at a low cost in 2011.