Friday, August 31, 2018

Was There Something Unclear About Carrot AND Stick?

From the North Korean "Well, Duh" File:

North Korean state media has accused the US of plotting to "unleash war" on the country while continuing to negotiate "with a smile on its face."

Sunday's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Worker's Party of Korea, called out "extremely provocative and dangerous" US military movements in the region.

Rocket Man has a point.

Since Trump became president I've said that I believed we were gearing up for a military campaign to stop North Korea before they have a nuclear threat to American cities.

If North Korea isn't serious about negotiating an end to their nuclear threat which Trump seems very serious about achieving--if North Korea cooperates--America still has the military option if we don't want to risk a policy of deterrence to protect our people.

Is There Anything Shipping Containers Can't Do?

If the Air Force must fight in eastern Europe, it will not have access to established air bases the way it did during the Cold War in West Germany. So it has a "base in a box" to quickly set up a base at an air field in an allied country:

Defense News traveled to Poland’s 31st Air Base near Krzesiny this July for an exclusive look at the first-ever trial of the U.S. Air Force’s new deployable air base system, or DABS — a series of humble-looking shipping containers filled with everything needed to stand up air operations, including temporary billeting and mess facilities, vehicles, airfield repair resources, and power and electrical equipment.

This is basically a land-based modularized auxiliary cruiser.

Although improving existing air bases in NATO allied countries is helpful, of course.

But it is nice to have the ability to operate from bases not already on the Russian target list.

Second Fleet

Second Fleet's area of responsibility will extend up to the Barents Sea:

The boundaries of the Navy’s reestablished U.S. 2nd Fleet extends well past the old submarine stomping grounds of the Cold War and into waters north of Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle, near the submarine headquarters of Russia’s Northern Fleet, Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson said on Friday.

“A new 2nd Fleet increases our strategic flexibility to respond — from the Eastern Seaboard to the Barents Sea,” Richardson said. “Second Fleet will approach the North Atlantic as one continuous operational space, and conduct expeditionary fleet operations where and when needed.”

This gives the fleet the responsibility to stop Russian sorties from their northern bases into the Atlantic and make them run a gauntlet all the way to the sea lines of communication from North America to Europe.

I wonder if the border now runs to Europe's ports as far east as German ports on the North Sea, too?

And it puts striking those Russian bases in their task list.

This is different and more expansive than the boundary I initially saw.

UPDATE: The 2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet commanders are working out cooperation. My uncertainty over the boundary of 2nd Fleet is because the boundaries aren't yet set:

For the 6th and 2nd Fleet, a key question will be how the lines will be redrawn on 6th Fleet’s area of operations, which now extends across half the Atlantic, and from Iceland to the Antarctic.

If it was up to me, the border between the fleets would be at the northwest tip of Spain and angle southwest until it hits 4th Fleet. I really think that a single fleet commanding the fight from the Continental United States to the shores of our Baltic allies and friends would be the way to go.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

As the socialist paradise in Venezuela that so many American fanboys (and girls) praised teeters between collapse and violence, could the idiot thug Maduro yet try to rally his people with a foreign war against an easy target?

Inflation has become hyper-inflation and the socialists who managed to ef up the wet dream of an oil-rich Venezuela are watching their country disintegrate. People flee abroad and the security forces are starting to wonder if they are the bad guys:

Maduro surrounds himself with armed loyalists and Cuban security advisers. Yet rumors of military and police disenchantment proliferate. reported Maduro commanders "are not sure most of their troops could be trusted to fire on angry civilians if there were widespread anti-government demonstrations the police could not handle."

Bay notes that Hugo Chavez, who set up the system that Maduro has ridden to disaster (for the people--not for him, he's rich on plunder), considered invading Curacao--a Dutch island just off of Venezuela--in 2007.

I've highlighted, since 2005 as near as I can tell, the threat Venezuela poses to the Netherlands.

Maduro in desperation may hope that a short and glorious war against a distant and small European country could rally the people around the Bolivarian vision of a Venezuelan-led empire--starting with rallying around the flag at home.

In 2007, Chavez surely thought  that was the first step to glory. Now it would be a desperate step to survive. Let's hope the Dutch are staying alert and that SOUTHCOM has contingency plans updated to support our NATO ally if attacked.

No worries for the socialist fanboys (and girls) here. Venezuela was a socialist success story only while it had other people's money to spread around. Now that the source of that money has run out and the specter of starvation and disease stalks the land, I'm sure we'll be told this wasn't "true socialism" after all.

Which is convenient.

Who Builds the Kalashnikov of Drones?

The AK-47 was cheap and easy to maintain--making it perfect for ill-trained troops and insurgents everywhere--which added to the body count of the "Cold War." A similar result could happen if a cheap mass-produced lethal drone is designed:

The AK-47 is at least as famous, if not more so, for its role fueling insurgencies and violent nonstate actors across the world. Which leads to the central question at the heart of a new report on the global military drone industry: Who will develop the AK-47 version of the drone?

I think that conventional air defense missiles and guns for our troops, relying on ground-based air defenses up the table of organization and on aircraft flying high in the sky won't protect the infantry at the pointy end of the stick from such a threat.

American infantry isn't used to facing enemy air attack. That will change in that gap in our defenses.

UPDATE: Countermeasures are hard.

The Kurds Revive the Kurdish Question

This is something I've certainly wondered about:

To be sure, [Iranian Kurds have] waged a low-level insurgency off and on with the Iranian regime for decades, but it’s held steady at a low simmer for some time. This summer, however, something seems to have changed.

Also this summer, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal. This may not be a coincidence. Washington this month reapplied the first of two batches of sanctions on the Iranian regime, and it makes sense that the U.S. would be exploring other means – beyond economics but short of direct war – to destabilize the regime. There’s reason to believe it may have found such a means in the form of Iran’s Kurds.

Remember that the Kurds are 10-15% of Iran's population. Iran itself is the remnant of the Persian Empire where Persians are only about half the population, if memory serves me.

Given that Iran was behind the Iraqi seizure of Kirkuk and surrounding areas from Iraqi Kurds, Iraqi Kurds are probably happy to help their Iranian brethren.

And America's large consulate and an air base in Iraq's Kurdish region are relevant.

Building on the prominence of Kurds in Iraq and Syria in defeating ISIL, the reputation of the Kurds would be enhanced with any successes the Iranian Kurds have in taking Iran down a peg or two.

Which would add to Turkey's incentive to be on better terms with NATO lest the emboldened Kurds with chits to cash in might try to bring in the sizable Kurdish population of Turkey into a long-desired state carved from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Making Ukraine Great Again?

Ukraine has made great strides since 2014 in rebuilding the military that lost Crimea and parts of the Donbas to the Russian invasion. Ukraine must make great strides in rule of law to make more progress.

Ukraine is building its military back up from the nadir of 2014 which the pro-Russian government had allowed to deteriorate dramatically. In 2015 Ukraine's defense budget was $3.1 billion and the military had been expanded dramatically.

But given Russia's advantage, the state of the military is not the most important task Ukraine has to work on:

Indeed, it would be naive to believe that it is possible to modernize the Ukrainian military without reform in other spheres of Ukraine’s government. Military reform will only succeed if Ukraine finds ways to limit corruption, develop a more democratic political system, and respect civil rights, especially linguistic and cultural rights of national minorities. Ukraine’s military reform effort is ultimately not only a question of modernizing its equipment. Modernizing and improving the management of Ukraine’s military is ultimately a more important—if more challenging—determinant of the success of military reform.

As I've argued, if Ukraine is just a smaller version of corrupt Russia, Russia will win.

But if Ukraine truly combats corruption and achieves economic status of countries in the West, Ukraine can defeat Russia.

Remember, Ukraine has one threat to defeat: Russia. Russia has a far longer border with potential threats across a long border from the more powerful NATO in Europe, the rising China in Asia, the powerful Japanese and South Koreans, and America behind them. And there is potential unrest on their Central Asian border. This is simplistic but somewhat illustrative: Russia's land border is over 20,000 kilometers while Ukraine's is under 5,000.

Yet so far, Russia has far more money to spend on a military than Ukraine because Russia's GDP  is more than 13 times Ukraine's GDP. Russia's GDP is above $1.5 trillion while Ukraine's is under $110 billion.  But it is not hopeless when you consider America has a GDP nearly 13 times greater than Russia, and Russia poses a threat to America. Russia's threat to Ukraine is diluted by the far greater Russian security problems. And already, Russia cannot devote the power to occupy and pacify Ukraine.

And if Ukraine can get a GDP of Poland, which with only 38 million people has five times Ukraine's GDP and a GDP per capita greater than Russia, Ukraine could make itself too hard to defeat with what Russia can afford to devote to the Ukrainian border. Russia has 147 million people while Ukraine has 42 million people. With a Polish level, Russia's economic edge would shrink to a manageable level.

Will Ukraine find the Russian threat is bad enough to build rule of law as the foundation of Ukrainian military power? If not, they should get used to being The Ukraine again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Claims Versus Control

Iran has geography to strengthen their claims to have the ability to open and close the Persian Gulf at will. But "control" will need to be established in the face of American and allied military power that does not accept that asserted control.

Big talk from the religious nutballs:

Iran has full control of the Gulf and the U.S. Navy does not belong there, the head of the navy of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, General Alireza Tangsiri, was quoted by Tasnim news agency as saying on Monday.

Tehran has suggested it could take military action in the Gulf to block other countries' oil exports in retaliation for U.S. sanctions intended to halt its sales of crude. Washington maintains a fleet in the Gulf that protects oil shipping routes.

Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz. Iran could not keep the strait closed for long despite its geography.

Here's more information on the region and issue.

Which is similar to my views on China and the South China Sea. I do not believe China has gained control of the South China Sea.

Were we supposed to destroy the islands that China built and militarized? Short of that, what besides real freedom of navigation operations denying Chinese control that were begun in the current administration (we had fake FONOPs in the previous administration that were nothing but innocent passage that did not challenge assertion of control) should America do?

Yes, China has created the geography to assert control, but until China asserts control and defeats American and allied power to maintain that control, China has no control.

I'm not sure I'd rotate American detachments to allied islands in the South China Sea. But I have long argued that every state that has islands in the South China Sea should fortify them while they can before China takes them.

Once allied or friendly states have fortified their islands, then we can discuss American military tripwire presence. But we can't defend those positions for those friends and allies who don't do it for themselves.

UPDATE: In the Pacific, America continues to carry out aerial versions of FONOPs:

Several US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers have flown through the contested East and South China Seas multiple times [in August], sending an unmistakable message to potential challengers.

China can claim. Control will be contested if China does more than claim.

How Evil Wins

Dictators count on this attitude to survive a rebellion:

In Syria, an Ugly Peace Is Better Than More War

And that attitude encourages dictators under attack to hold their people hostage.

Indeed, the attitude encouraged Assad to promote jihadis as the opposition to him to make his continued rule seem better for Syria than losing. And encouraged him to promote the flight of refugees to Europe to pressure them into seeing and ugly Assad as better than more refugees.

Just remember that about 500,000 deaths and more than six years ago, America refused to help non-jihadi rebels unseat Assad--who President Obama said must step down--out of worry that we'd "further militarize" the conflict.

But Assad got the whole new war he needed to win despite early American government assessments that Assad would lose without America having to intervene by backing the rebels firmly.

And here we are. With a Russian flotilla gathering off of Syria in a likely move to provide visible Russian missile support for the offensive into the last rebel stronghold in the west.

Although Assad's victory doesn't prevent more war. It just makes a different war more likely and just means that absent an evolution of the Alawite government to be more inclusive that there will be another rebellion in a generation when the memories of this bloodletting fades.

Maybe an ugly peace is better than more of this war.  But don't pretend that is the only choice or that this particular choice wasn't the result of our past  policy failures.

Bouncing the Rubble?

Chinese money is going to American think tanks:

China's Communist Party is intensifying covert influence operations in the United States that include funding Washington think tanks and coercing Chinese Americans, according to a congressional commission report.

The influence operations are conducted by the United Front Work Department, a Central Committee organ that employs tens of thousands of operatives who seek to use both overt and covert operations to promote Communist Party policies. ...

In addition to Johns Hopkins, other think tanks linked to China and influential in American policy circles include the Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, Center for American Progress, EastWest Institute, Carter Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

CAP said they received no money in their collaboration on a joint report.

Although I wonder if the Chinese get much return on their investment. Wouldn't a lot of those think tanks argue for things that China would like anyway?

The article also mentions the Confucius Institutes that are on "hundreds" of American college campuses. Honestly, what can the Chinese persuade these faculty members to do against the interests of the United States that they don't do already for free?

And China works to manage ethnic Chinese people living here.

I certainly wouldn't make it illegal to take money from foreign donors. But it should be transparent. And I'd hope that think tanks would reject money from the communist tyranny that China is.

Remember that Russia's attempts to influence American policy is amateur hour compared to the far better funded Chinese effort which turns out to be even more extensive than I thought it is.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rules are for the Little People

Just one of the reasons I value the Electoral College is that it deprives a candidate of focusing on just the high population states for votes. It makes far more sense under the rules of the game to appeal to a broader portion of the country.

Case in point:

Bill Clinton carried California twice by the solid margin of 13 points. In 2016 she carried it by 30. But she built up that margin by taking stands that antagonized “deplorables” in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, and the rest is history.

It would not be healthy for our large country if dominating the 9 largest population states (based on the largest population cities) meant you win the entire country (at the federal level) despite people in vast sections rejecting your party.

All Hillary Clinton had to do was campaign a little more in the states she ignored and appeal to their concerns--even at the risk of winning California "only" by Bill's margin--and she'd be president and nobody would be complaining about the Electoral College as an excuse for failing to follow the rules everybody knew.


Other than asking if we are really winning in Afghanistan, this article about America at war in the 21st century is a load of stupid.

The author (tip to Eric at Learning Curve who emailed me about the article) starts with the time-honored story of a small unit of soldiers and uncovers the not astonishing fact that soldiers at the pointy end of the stick wonder about the wisdom and common sense of the senior officers who sent them on their missions. From that bit of banality that is apparently news to him, he jumps off to matters of strategy.

Let me see if I can summarize the author's views.

The war drags on with no "exit strategy." Indeed, the same charge is made for Iraq and Syria, where the author says we have not won despite past claims of victory. Indeed, he says, ISIL which we recently defeated (in its caliphate form) didn't even exist when the war against al Qaeda began in 2001.

Further, he bemoans our reliance on military means, saying we have failed to reorder nations and cultures, and have failed to achieve the objectives promised.

So what of the charges?

You know my view on the folly of "exit strategies." Long before I blogged I was frustrated with the idiocy of the concept:

Not wanting to repeat our experience in Vietnam, many speak of needing an "exit strategy" before committing troops. Such an approach seeks to minimize our losses under the assumption that we will at some point lose, so we had better know when to cut our losses and get out. It also assumes that the situation allows for an exit and that our enemy will allow it. [emphasis added]

Sadly, we face enemies with such a fanatical level of hatred and determination to kill that the war drags on. That's not our fault. If the jihadis stopped wanting to kill us, we'd go home the next day. Indeed, in Iraq we tried going home before that and found we had to go back to wage Iraq War 2.0. It's not our fault our enemies in Afghanistan are so evil and persistent. Really, they don't hate us because we fight them over there. Which is a reason to win and not walk away from Afghanistan.

As for not achieving objectives, of course we have.

In Afghanistan we defeated the Taliban government that hosted al Qaeda and wrecked the terror sanctuary that bred 9/11. And we built an imperfect ally that is out there every day killing jihadis so we don't have to. It is a success that our role is far more limited to supporting these allies on the ground than it was when we had 100,000 Americans on the ground in direct combat. Sadly, sanctuaries in Pakistan and (to a lesser extent) Iran limit how much we can win the war. Are we to abandon what we achieved and go home--only to find we have to go back and fight Afghanistan War 2.0 when we find things really can be much, much worse?

In Iraq we defeated Saddam who made Iraq a conventional threat to the region (remember the Persian Gulf War?), who supported terrorism, who abused and murdered his own people, who tried to kill a former American president, and who was a WMD threat. We created an imperfect democratic ally that struggles with rule of law; and which fights at our side to kill jihadis rather than recruiting and training terrorists. Indeed, like the author of the article fails to do, we can't seem to recognize the evidence of our victory when we are looking at the evidence!

And it doesn't matter that ISIL didn't exist when the war started. The war is against Islamist jihad where the name plates change but the mission statement remains--kill everyone who doesn't submit to the jihadi vision of what Islam should be. This is the culture war and no, we can't directly affect that very much.

Mind you, even on the specific fronts like Iraq and Afghanistan, efforts on the civilian side must follow the military victories. I have issues with Cordesman on a number of specific points, but he is right that we have to invest in stabilizing the civilian side of the government and economy to finish the battlefield victories with more durable victories. And that doesn't mean desert or mountain versions of New Hampshire governance. Even as we fought tooth and nail in the first Iraq War, I called for post-victory surges of law enforcement and judicial experts to help rule of law in Iraq. That's where we need advisers now in Iraq in addition to help keeping the pressure on the atomized ISIL terrorists there.

Yet even with full battlefield and stabilization victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Long War against jihadis would not end because those are campaigns in the war despite being called "wars" themselves. There will be other campaigns in the Long War on terror that are called "wars" until the bigger war is won.

The campaigns/wars drag on because at its heart, the war on terror is an Islamic civil war where the West is just collateral damage in that internal war over who defines what Islam is. Over what their culture will be.

Our military action is a holding action to prevent the jihadis from killing us while they wage that civil war and our military action must support those in the Islamic world who want to reject the jihadi vision of Islam and put in place a modernized and tolerant version of Islam. Such leaders are strengthened by our military action. Until that civil war is won, we have no "exit strategy" unless you want to retreat from the fight and accept a body count of civilians and increasing loss of civil liberties at home as we ratchet up defenses to plug the latest hole revealed by the latest terror attack.

I have no problem with what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of that war. I'll grant Syria is up in the air, and I've said we have to decide our role there before we have a Mogadishu moment in Syria that exposes that we are unwilling to shoulder the burden of what we are doing.

We've achieved victories in the war on terror on the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syrian fronts (among other fronts). But they did not end the war because the war is broader than those campaigns.

The failure to recognize victories is perhaps inevitable given the inability to look closely at a war and distinguish the brush strokes of combat from the picture of war. That's what the author does.

And please note that "hearts and minds" which the author mocks is not shorthand for making people love us in a counter-insurgency fight. It is shorthand for the fight for allegiance. Which encompasses--wait for it--hearts and minds.

You will have among those people allies; people who lean toward you; neutrals; people who lean toward the enemy; and enemies.

The process of hearts and minds is to move people along that continuum toward you. It may be because they love you (or hate the enemy)--which is the hearts part; or it may be because they conclude that it is safer to side with you than it is to side with the enemy--that's the mind part.

Anyway, there are always reasons to question conduct in a war and reshape how we fight. I don't demand unquestioning support for a war effort any more than I practice that. I suppose the difference is that I want to win and believe we deserve to win.

Was the Korengal outpost a mistake? That was the assessment. But the idea of outposts is not. It is the heart of counter-insurgency that seeks to deny the use of terrain--and more important the people--while allowing your forces to use them--by spreading out forces to hold the ground and influence the hearts and minds of the people away from the enemy and towards your side. Individual outposts can be a mistake. It is wrong to generalize from the particular Korengal issue at that point in time.

Still, the story is a good snapshot of the grinding duty of infantry in an alien battlefield (mind you, as a reservist signal soldier, I'm not judging that from first hand experience--perhaps combat veterans will dispute my judgment). I'll grant the author that. If the author had been content to write that story without trying to make it a symbol of the entire futile war effort as the author sees it, it would have been much better. I'm not asking for gung ho. Just tell the story of that platoon's part of the war and let it stand. And understand that rather than being the result of disillusionment about a long war, the unit cohesion that leads men to fight and die for each other rather than the grand cause is a feature of warfare and not a bug. Any war for any cause features that kind of motivation.

Robert Soto, of the 1-26 Infantry battalion, did his duty. With honor and skill, it seems. Why tarnish it with this effort to deny what he helped achieve?

Personally, I wonder why our press corps continues to lack a basic understanding of war after 17 years of covering war. It's an intellectual quagmire that our journalism schools can't seem to exit, I suppose.

Looking Forward to the Peace Dividend

Russia wants a quiet Syria so the Russians can enjoy their naval and air bases in western Syria in peace. Can they get that with all the problems that exist within Syria's formal borders?

Sure, nice work if you can get it:

Now, for the first time in the conflict's seven-year history, all meaningful territory in Syria is either under the direct control of loyalist forces or subject to a significant foreign presence. The Syrian Democratic Forces and allied U.S. troops control the northeastern portion of the country, while Turkish troops are embedded in northern Aleppo province and Idlib province, where the last of the rebel forces are holding out.

It is President Bashar al Assad's government, however, that controls most of Syria, with help from allies such as Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. Each of these partners has a different vision for the country's path forward. But Moscow — having already achieved its primary goal of securing its position, and that of al Assad's government, in the country — is eager to stabilize the war and reap the rewards of its involvement in the conflict. To that end, Russia has crafted a multipronged plan, one that is full of risk and whose success is far from certain.

Rebuilding Assad-controlled Syria with other people's money is just one task. Keeping Iran and Israel from battling out in a Syrian battlefield is another. Will Turkey fight to keep Assad out of Idlib and other regions in the north? And how does Russia react if Assad tries to retake the Kurdish-held northeast which America watches over behind the Euphrates River-based Deconfliction Line (DCL) or the Tanf region that spans the border with Jordan and Iraq?

Russia is clearly worried about their ability to get peace and quiet:
Reacting to comments by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton about Washington's possible strong reaction in the event of a chemical or biological attack in the Syrian region of Idlib, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: "We warn the Americans and their allies against taking new reckless steps in Syria."

That's a bit much coming from the people who engineered the 2013 deal that was supposed to get rid of Assad's chemical weapons capability but which I said would simply save Assad.

I'm of the opinion that we should never consider doing anything that reduces the costs to Russia of consolidating their Syria position. Every ruble spent there is money that can't be spent to cause trouble in Ukraine, Belarus, or the Baltic Sea region.

UPDATE: Russia will need to reorganize Syria's military and help get rid of the Iranian-organized militias:

[To] keep the country in order, to expand Russian influence in Syrian force structures and to maintain at least a mere facade of a political resolution process, Russia needs at least two things. First is Russian participation in the creation of a revamped Syrian military where some former rebel units and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be integrated into the armed forces.

Second, Moscow needs to tackle an equally complex challenge of disbanding numerous local militias, particularly the National Defense Forces (NDF), which are virtually a parallel army created by Iran and Hezbollah. The problem of reining in the regime-loyal factions is becoming more urgent, and Damascus seems to welcome Moscow’s role in helping to fix it.

In a world where direct intervention in Syria is not enough of an American interest to carry out, a weak Russia with bases in Syria what manages to eject Iran from Syria is good enough for government work, as far as I'm concerned.

UPDATE: Strategypage says that Israel, America, and Russia agree that Iran must get out of Syria:

Now Russia, the Americans and Israel have agreed to cooperate in getting Iran out of Syria. Turkey and Iraq would also prefer this. Until recently there were few press releases or other official announcements about this but you can see the plan unfolding as Iran finds itself abandoned in Syria and under growing attack.

Turkey and Iraq would prefer that outcome, too. Not that Russia can push Iran out, but they won't resist Israeli attacks that are limited to Iranian targets.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Get a Sense of Urgency and Work the Problem in Afghanistan

I've said it is tough to get a feel for the war in Afghanistan. But I think recent events provide enough data to conclude we are not winning and could lose if the problems aren't solved.

The enemy in Afghanistan has plenty of its own problems that we don't see--probably a lot more than our allied Afghan forces have. But that doesn't deny our side has problems:

The SFAB has arrived at a time of increasing pressure on the Afghan National Army (ANA) from Taliban fighters who overran a series of outposts and stormed the strategic city of Ghazni this week.

The problems they have found are the same ones that existed a decade ago when the NATO-led coalition began to reshape Afghan forces into an army on U.S. lines - poor logistics and organization as well as a reliance on static checkpoints that are vulnerable to attack.

Like other advisers, Fontana, who served in a combat unit in the southern Afghan provinces of Zabul and Kandahar in 2011-12 as well as in Iraq, speaks admiringly of the fighting spirit of Afghan soldiers.

But he said the army is dogged by persistent problems with supplies, maintaining equipment and making sure units get proper support, issues which for years have been an obstacle to creating Afghan forces capable of standing on their own.

Afghan forces backed by American and coalition forces have defeated the Ghazni assault, but the assault should not have happened at all:

After five days of fighting, Ghazni, a strategically vital centre two hours from Kabul on the main highway between the capital and southern Afghanistan was a city of burned-out buildings and vehicles with bodies lying in the streets.

Local officials had been warning for months that the Taliban’s growing control over surrounding districts had left Ghazni vulnerable to attack and President Ashraf Ghani faced bitter accusations over the failure to protect the city.

And there was another battle that the Taliban won:

While the security forces appeared to reassert control over Ghazni, the Taliban attacked and seized large parts of an army base in the northern province of Faryab, killing at least 10 soldiers and capturing dozens over two days of clashes, officials said.

And a district headquarters was captured after a week-long siege and attack:

The Taliban overran the district of Bilchiragh in the northern province of Faryab after besieging it for more than a week. More than 100 Afghan security personnel are reportedly missing. This latest fall of another northern district is part of a disturbing pattern of Afghan forces being surrounded by the Taliban and then either overwhelmed or forced to surrender.

No friendly help arrived.

Strategypage has more, noting that the Ghazni assault was the result of Pakistan sending a message via dead Afghan civilians:

In the last week the Taliban lost over 300 men in Ghazni province during a futile attempt to seize the provincial capital. Security forces, armed locals and American air support disrupted and defeated the large scale effort against the city and several rural areas nearby. Ghazni is near the Pakistani border and contains some major heroin smuggling routes into Pakistan. These routes are kept open by the Taliban. The recent attacks, which included using civilians as human shields inside the city and destroying nearly a thousand small businesses, was basically an intimidation attack. It was very costly as it exposed many of the attackers to airstrikes and that’s how most of the Taliban gunmen were lost. There were financial costs as the Taliban usually pay next of kin when one of their members is killed in action. Without that payment recruiting would be a lot more difficult. Major losses in a single operation don’t help either, because they include some mid-level combat leaders who are career Taliban and difficult to replace. Not surprisingly many foreigners (Pakistani, Central Asian and Chechen) were found among the Taliban dead. Since the 1990s the Pakistani ISI (military intel) has sent reinforcements recruited in Pakistan to the Afghan Taliban. Ghazni has long been fought over, because of the heroin smuggling routes.

They also mention the Taliban victory where there are drug smuggling routes:

In the north (Faryab province) hundreds of Taliban attacked a small army base and the hundred or so troops there. When repulsed (after killing or wounding over half the soldiers) they besieged the base and after two days the 57 surviving troops surrendered because had received no resupply, air support or any assurances that help was on the way.

Strategypage also notes an Iran angle:

Captured Taliban in eastern and northern Afghanistan report a special Taliban force being trained in Iran, where they also receive new equipment and weapons with the understanding that they will return to Afghanistan and concentrate their attacks on Americans and ISIL. Iran is desperate to strike back at the Americans for renewing economic sanctions and thwarting Iranian efforts to take control of Syria and then launch attacks on Israel. These Iran backed Taliban have apparently been going after ISIL groups in western Afghanistan but not the Americans, at least not as far as anyone can tell. By August it was apparent that this Taliban strategy had worked in Jawzjan, where in a few weeks of fighting a 500 strong ISIL force was reduced to less than 200 and forced to surrender to the government to avoid annihilation.

The situation is a problem and we should not deny it. Although calling the battle at Ghazni a "siege" is silly, as is the comparison of the several attacks to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, it is undeniable that the Taliban were able to mass a thousand fighters to attack Ghazni.

Note too, that the Taliban had lots of RPGs. No doubt thanks to the Pakistanis sending a message.

But this battle for Ghazni, while a victory, was not "a misfire from a fading enemy" as we claimed. If the Taliban were fading they'd be relying on mines and IEDs. That's the bottom rung of the escalation ladder. The mere fact that the Taliban are using direct fire assaults on Afghan security positions tells you that the Taliban have a level of strength that is dangerous.

And if left unchecked, the Taliban will learn to organize bigger and bigger assaults until even a city or major base garrison can be attacked, taken, and held.

I will note that in 2015 the Taliban did seize and briefly hold a provincial capital city. So the Taliban have been knocked down from that level of capability. But the potential of the Taliban to regain that ability is still there and that has to be ended.

We need to seize the initiative from the enemy and by relentless pursuit on the ground and with air and fire support make the Taliban think more about what we will do them than about what they will do to us.

Do that and we atomize the enemy--that is, force them into smaller and smaller combat formations out of the need to survive--and deprive them of the ability to even freely attack--let alone defeat--even small friendly outposts.

Once the enemy is atomized, small platoon-sized friendly outposts and patrols are safer and can extend a net to deprive the enemy of the ability to use the people and resources of areas now untouched by friendly government forces. This will extend a zone of defense around cities and big bases that deny the enemy the ability to approach unseen and attack in force.

Friendly forces must also have reaction forces all over the place (mobile by ground and air assets) along with responsive fire power, resupply, and medical evacuation. This will allow the government to react to enemy attacks quickly to hold those outposts that come under attack.

Atomizing the enemy makes friendly security forces in small outposts more likely to fight. They will know that the enemy can't mass much and can't mass for long because friendly forces will be on their way. Right now, Afghan forces manning those outposts have real reason to think they are on their own and that surrender or retreat are better options than fighting off an attack.

And yes, with such a low level of skills, Afghans need outside help to maintain weapons and equipment and to advise them on how to use the equipment. The government troops' jobs are far harder than what the Taliban do, who rely on simple techniques of killing and inspiring fear.

We can talk about statistics of control and opinion polls to divine whether we are in a stalemate, but the simple fact is that the enemy's clear ability to mass troops to attack cities and overrun smaller outposts indicates we are not winning this war.

It may be that the increase in Afghan special forces that are the mobile force Afghanistan needs to support their static outposts and garrisons (those forces must never be given the mission of holding outposts, replacing conventional infantry and police), and to seize the initiative, are part of the solution to these problems. And if growing Afghan air power backed by coalition air power, logistics, intelligence, and advisors can support those mobile and static forces, we will solve the problem that the news reveals.

But the situation does need to be turned around. And unless we want Afghanistan to again be a sanctuary for jihadis who will strike us at home, we must continue to work the problem.

UPDATE: Despite the ability of the Taliban backed by Pakistan to mount major attacks, Strategypage writes that many Taliban actually are tiring of the war:

Although a growing number of Afghan Taliban leaders want peace and an end to being manipulated by the Pakistanis the senior Afghan Taliban leader and the Pakistani generals are not inclined to consider peace talks because of all that money from the drug gangs as well as the ability to “control” (or at least disrupt) Afghanistan.

As I started out, this highlights that the enemy has problems, too. If we pull out because of our side's problems, the enemy's problems that could yet break them apart go away by winning.

UPDATE: Abandoning smaller outposts is better than having them wiped out, but at some point we have to help the Afghans hold those bases with adequately trained, equipped, supplied, and supported troops and police.

We can't win the war with only air power and Afghan special forces which is what we have been focused on building up.

UPDATE: I had thoughts nearly two years ago about the outpost issue where I go more into the atomization issue.

Arktis Korps

I haven't been shy about pointing out Germany's deficiency on defense matters. They are real and frustrating. So I should commend them when they do something for NATO.

Well good:

NATO says its 40,000-troop "Trident Juncture" exercises to be spearheaded by a German brigade, will proceed in Norway in October. Russia was briefed about the maneuvers near its border by NATO ambassadors last May.

Germany will provide 8,000 of the troops, alongside NATO allies and the Swedes and Finns.

And I'll leave it at that without any added snark to diminish my appreciation for Germany's participation.

Compare and Contrast

Do you really wonder why I've long called the European Union proto-imperial project a long-term threat to America (and to the free West in general)? Behold.

Who does the EU want to help?

The European Union agreed 18 million euros ($20.6 mln) in aid for Iran on Thursday, including for the private sector, to help offset the impact of U.S. sanctions and salvage a 2015 deal that saw Tehran limit its nuclear ambitions.

The announcement is part of the bloc's high-profile efforts to support the nuclear accord that President Donald Trump abandoned in May. It is part of a wider package of 50 million euros earmarked for Iran in the EU budget. ...

The bloc's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement the bloc was committed to cooperation with Iran.

Ah yes, good ol' Mogherini, friend to autocrats (which is how you know America is not becoming a dictatorship as some insist--if we were, she would embrace America).

And who does the EU want to hurt?

The European Union is unlikely to heed London's call for it to match the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow over an attack on a former Russian spy in Britain earlier this year, diplomats in Brussels said.

And that's on top of the grief the EU is giving Britain in Brexit talks for daring to want to escape the imperial power being built on the continent.

So there you go. The EU wants to help Iran despite Iran's record of terrorism and support for mayhem--on top of a nuclear program. And the EU wants to shield Russia from British anger over Russia's use of poison gas on British territory to kill people.

So yeah, basically I do want the EU to die with festering boils. If left alone, the EU will become an empire that will eject American power from the continent and degrade the freedom that America helped Europe embrace after World War II:

It is easy to forget--and this [article cited above] was a useful reminder to me--that Europe with its autocracies and monarchies was not fully part of a free West (although obviously part of the Western tradition) until we rebuilt Western Europe in that template after World War II.

Europe is fully part of the free West because America helped make Europe fully part of the free West. The EU is a force working against that positive American influence to go back to the Europe of autocracies and strongmen whose legitimacy came from blood and soil rather than individual liberty.

It has long been in America's interest to prevent a hostile power from taking Europe and mobilizing its scientific, military, economic, and demographic potential to be used against America. We stopped the Kaiser, we stopped Hitler, and we stopped the USSR.

The EU will so obviously be a threat given time that I am astounded that any American--or any European who values freedom and liberty--can support the EU.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Weekend Data Dump

I understand when people wonder why America cuts taxes when we have a budget deficit and rising debt. But tax cuts didn't raise the deficit--spending has. And that is how it has been my adult life. Cut taxes, the debt goes up. Raise taxes and the debt goes up. Any period where the deficit declines seems temporary until politicians use that as an excuse to spend even more, in a self-"correcting" feedback loop.

This article explains how the break up of a CIA spy ring in China was achieved through the "dystopian-like surveillance state" China is building. I've mentioned the China Dystopian State 1.0 in Xinjiang that will roll out fully across China in version 2.0.

I hope it is true that Westerners with autocrat crushes--whether Xi, Putin, or Erdogan--will have their fawning admiration crushed. I don't understand how Westerners can admire thug rulers who destroy rule of law. Nobody is reasonably enlightened enough, "strong", or pious enough to justify that kind of power. May they all rot in Hell and may statues of those who destroy them rise up in great numbers. I include Trump as somebody who should lose his admiration for strongmen--although the notion he is one of them is at least recognized as ludicrous.

Libya still struggles to build a state more than 7 years after the American-led bombing campaign killed Khadaffi. Militias still prowl the land alongside terrorists in the ungoverned (or just friendly governed) spaces. I'm so old that I remember when the lesson Democrats gleaned from the Iraq War is that if only we had knocked out Saddam and promptly left Iraq, the locals would have sorted out their differences without an American presence mucking up their spirit of cooperation. It really does sound stupid when you say it out loud, doesn't it?

Don't ever forget that the communist scum who are "antifa" aren't "anti-hate"--they are just "differently hateful."

Russia shot itself in the foot with its Macedonia meddling.

The Pope says that sexual abuse of children by priests must not be tolerated or concealed. Good. You don't need infallibility to figure that one out. Root those SOBs out and let parishes go without priests if the alternative is to keep abusers in position. That logic that has been followed for too long is evil. And practically, insane. Is it really better to drive out the faithful flock to keep the predator wolves? I'm  sure the Pope's recent declaration that the death penalty is verboten is a coincidence. These criminals must have criminal justice systems and not be punished within the system like our colleges try to do with rape allegations. Serious crimes require serious responses. Also, perhaps the Church will stop debating how many Carbon atoms fit in the head of a pin and address the plank in its institutional eye.

Science reporters, it seems, have a bad habit of not understanding science. I'm generalizing from one incident, I know. But I've long noted this problem with our reporters covering wars. My distrust of them when going beyond the basic "who, what, and where" of news to pretend to inform me of "why"--or any other interpretation beyond the basics--is longstanding, existing well before I started blogging. Get the basics right and stick to that, and nobody will be able to charge "fake news." I think this is a side effect of "journalism schools" turning out people who think the basics are beneath their "profession."

Saudi Arabia will build a pipeline to the eastern part of Yemen which bypasses Iranian efforts to potentially block oil exports through both the Strait of Hormuz and the southern outlet to the Red Sea.

In theory, we should pressure Pakistan to behave better. But explain to me how we supply our forces in landlocked Afghanistan without access through Pakistan?

When South Africa looks like the economic basket case that Zimbabwe and Venezuela turned into under dictatorial socialism, mark this moment in stupidity and violation of rule of law. South Africa has the economic strength to be a powerhouse of the region, propelling growth. Instead it will be an anchor dragging down southern Africa.

An Israeli news channel says F-35 engine production will be shifted from Turkey to Israel. This makes sense given Turkey's erratic behavior.  And it is a prerequisite for my hope that America does not deliver the backbone of American air power for the thirty years to a potential enemy like Erdogan's Turkey, who may give up F-35 secrets to Russia and/or China. Tip to Instapundit.

"ICE has deported a 94-year-old WWII veteran and grandfather, even though he was granted citizenship in 1957."

And speaking of hilarious.

Russian attempts to influence American policy is amateur hour compared to the far better funded Chinese effort. It's even more extensive than I thought.

So how many times are the Iranians going to put tail fins or a cup holder on an American F-5 and call it a triumph of Persian aerospace technology?

I missed that Swaziland renamed itself eSwatini. It sounds very 21st century with the lower case "e."

There is probably one more good jihadi. We think.

Venezuela would be better off lopping off the zeros who destroyed their country under the guise of compassionate leadership.

This is just stupid. Short of expanding our embassy staff to 300,000--all Marines--we won't have influence in communist China.

John Chapman was one Hell of an airman. Rest in peace, MAKO 30C.

At this point, aren't the Russians just bouncing the rubble? Tip to Instapundit.

So what privilege should we cite for this failure to pursue national security implications? Tip to Instapundit.

Free market capitalism makes everyone richer--but at different levels. Socialism makes almost everyone (except for the rulers) equal--but at the same low level. Being twice as wealthy as the poor might have been decent five years ago in Venezuela. Now it doesn't make any difference at all. And by the end of the year, being 100 times richer than the poorest won't make a difference there. And if the track record of socialism isn't enough to make people reject them, does it help to recall that Nazis were socialists, too?

How is it that a 5th generation fighter has a persistent problem with a second generation nose gear?

We should not decide to lose the Afghanistan War by withdrawing our support for the Afghan forces who daily kill jihadis. All I know for sure is that if Trump does order a withdrawal of US troops, Democrats will suddenly be ferocious defenders of winning the once again "good war" there. Remember, contra the article's claim that he felt "trapped" into escalating, that candidate Obama vowed to win in the "real war" in Afghanistan even if he had to "invade" Pakistan to do it.

Oh ... just kiss my formerly green ass.

That's a nice sentiment. But America doesn't recognize Taiwan, so ... just send the bill to committee and let it die of embarrassment. Also, this is stupid under the same circumstances. I support Taiwan, but give me a break.

In last week's data dump I expressed my skepticism that there were 17,000 ISIL fighters in Iraq. I noted the possibility that this included a mass of part-time supporters in addition to the small core of full-time fighters. Strategypage writes that this number includes unarmed supporters and family members in addition to the armed fighters.

This article urges America to stop support for the Saudi alliance fighting in Yemen. But note how the disasters are all threatening or pending ("at risk", "dangerously close"). In reality the war isn't that deadly according to the statistics. And the list of "non-military" targets struck by the Saudis to justify abandoning them is ludicrous and fails to account for Houthis using civilian structures--which makes them military targets. Certainly, I wouldn't put troops on the ground for that clusterfuck of shifting alliances, but denying Iran a bridgehead there and killing jihadis--which we do--is definitely in America's interest. The call to wash our hands of the place--which Obama once called our "model theater"--sounds more like Iranian propaganda to clear the deck for their win in Yemen.

America won't get involved in the Serbia-Kosovo land/people swap issue. Recall that in the 1990s we were involved in a couple aerial wars against Serbia over their aggressive role in the post-Yugoslavia sorting out. Which is still going on, it seems.

I cringed when I read Trump tweeted about South Africa. I truly wish he'd just stop. But the long article which says he wrote "a tweet containing inaccurate comments" doesn't actually mention any inaccurate comment. South Africa is looking at confiscating without just compensation productive farmland from white property owners. And this is the path that Zimbabwe took to national impoverishment and despotism. I'm unclear at this point on the problem with the tweet.

Lord knows I appreciate his desire to report news rather than play second fiddle to talking heads spouting opinion, but is Fox News really so bad compared to CNN, MSNBC, or the traditional big three? That's certainly not my impression. But good luck to him and I hope he finds a place to report on news. I hope more reporters get to report news and that we get less of people blindly defending or attacking the president. The latter is tiresome and I've tuned it out. To Hell with them.

This seems prudent given electrical grid vulnerabilities to attack or natural causes.

Assad will ignore Turkish warnings not to strike the last major rebel territory in Idlib province.  Although one can't rule out Erdogan deciding a foreign war is just what he needs to distract from a faltering economy.

The Navy shows the flag in the Black Sea.

The Army has an urgent need for short-range air defense with the rise of enemies with helicopters and drones that threaten our troops with aerial attack. During our COIN years we didn't need that capability and it atrophied and disappeared. We are now equipping vehicles with air defense missiles. I'm not confident this addresses the small drone threat and I should have an article out in the fall on this gap.

Oh, and this Chinese "bird surveillance drone" has clear military implications in addition to being a frightening component of the Dystopian State 2.0 that China is building. I have to say that when a truly giant dragonfly perched on my window screen a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that drones like that would be an amazingly easy way to spy on people.

Blackmail? No, you annoyingly self destructive maniacs, we're refusing to reward terrorism and corruption. Well, refusing to reward it as much. But this is progress.

Trump appears impatient with North Korea on the pace of talks. And he should be. North Korea is on the cusp of having a nuclear threat against America and the talks aren't for the purpose of ruling out an American military option to stopping that threat. Honestly, I thought we'd have reached the point where we had to strike by now. But I just don't hear estimates in the media about how long it will take for North Korea to be a threat the way I used to routinely hear it.

China continues to formally absorb the South China Sea by insisting it is domestic territory. And regional states are going along somewhat. Whatever problems Trump saw in the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he needs to replace it or build bilateral deals that collectively replace it in order to tie regional states to America and not leave China a free hand.

Thoughts on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As horrible as those were, the collective horrors continuing to unfold as long as the war raged were far greater if not ended quickly. And I think that a small-scale demonstration of what the bombs could do probably had a good effect on leaders in the Cold War when tens of thousands of far more powerful warheads existed. Nobody could pretend they were just really powerful explosives no different than other bombs but in scale.

I view the new Expeditionary Sea Base as a purpose-built modularized auxiliary cruiser that I describe in this article.

I'm not too worked up about this because any humanitarian aid to a region suffering from terrorism and insurgency ends up becoming part of the insurgent/terrorist logistics network. That's the way it is unless you want to deny food to everyone as a weapon to defeat insurgents/terrorists. That's how Assad wages war and not how America wages war.

Seriously, what happened to Max Boot?

I discovered that my two most recent Army articles are online after all. See my publications page for links.

Venezuela is lucky the big quake was so deep. Countries living on the edge of civilization because of poor governance are fragile and cannot resist and recover from a natural disaster as well as they should. Just look at Puerto Rico. Personally, I think the vast majority of the death toll that followed the actual hurricane should be blamed on the government rather than blamed on last year's hurricane.

Russia has penal colonies??! That was colony number 1. How many are there? And how are they different from gulags?

Trump's complaints about buying Russian energy may have had an effect on Germany as Merkel looks into getting Azeri natural gas.

I'm fully on board military wargaming. I know my knowledge of the subject was improved by playing commercial wargames since I was 10 years old. I regret I don't play them much any more even though I keep buying them. I should work on that as diligently as I have been working on reducing my book backlog.

A couple weeks ago I wondered about the cancellation of the XM-25 given that I thought it provided a capability we need. Apparently the Army will seek the capability in other existing weapons. Strategypage looks at the problems that led to cancellation, as well as capabilities. What I miss is the anti-tank capability against light armor. Which seemed like a good addition to standard anti-tank rockets for infantry.

Russia continues to kill Ukrainian troops from their positions in Russian-occupied Donbas. I don't know why the BBC refers to those people as "separatists." This is an astroturf Russian occupation. Stop pretending it isn't.

Apparently I was born to be a rich man.  I've read that SAT and ACT scores correlate with family income, so the study cited in the link adds to my conviction that my family has been hiding wealth from me all these years. Tip to Instapundit.

Senator John McCain passed away after battling cancer, ending his long career of military and legislative service. Although the governor should not even consider appointing his widow to the seat for the remainder of the senate term as if a senate seat is a family fiefdom. Tip to Instapundit.

Apparently human intelligence sources in Russia have gone silent in regard to Russian election meddling intent.

How Specialized Does the Air Force Get Without Space?

Is an independent Space Force such a threat to Air Force missions that it will essentially become the F-35 Force?

In fact, all five of the "core missions" described at the beginning of the Air Force's most recent posture statement depend in varying degrees on space assets for their successful execution. So it is no exaggeration to say that the creation of a Space Force presents an institutional crisis for the Air Force. Its identity and relevance in future conflicts are in doubt. ...

[The] advent of a Space Force should focus the thinking of Air Force leaders on what only their service can contribute to a fight once all those satellites, and maybe the ICBMs, migrate to another service. The F-35 fighter will, for decades to come, be the defining feature of U.S. air power, and the Air Force needs to embrace that reality.

Could that be the end state of a rump Air Force after a Space Force pulls in all the space, space-related, or space-improved missions that the Air Force has?

At that point, the Army might claw back that rump to be the Army Air Corps as it once was.

I'm open to be persuaded on what we should do to own space in the Earth-Moon system, but my preference is still for an Aerospace Force that explicitly expands the Air Force to space while giving ground support aircraft back to the Army the way Marines have their own fighter and ground attack aircraft.

Allah is Not Iran's Copilot

I've gotten my hopes up before for the overthrow of the Iranian mullah regime, but disillusionment with the rulers sure seems persistent:

Since 2017 there have been more and more nationwide anti-government demonstrations in Iran, with Iranians calling for their leaders (Islamic clerics running a religious dictatorship) to quit and allow for a real democracy. The protestors call for an end to the corruption (the families of senior clerics live visibly luxurious lives) and the lies. This nationwide unrest has been brewing for some time. The clerics thought they had it fixed with the 2015 treaty that lifted the sanctions. They failed to note that when life did not improve, as long promised, after the sanctions were lifted in 2015 more and more Iranians realized that their continued poverty made it clear that the government lies included far more than economic ones and promises to reduce corruption.

Iranians are finding out that if Allah is on the regime's side, Allah is doing a piss poor job of making Iran great again. All the fake aircraft that the mullah-approved and Allah-inspired Iranian engineers put together over the decades are becoming known fakes among more Iranians who wonder what else the government has lied about.

Perhaps without a president who did not want to add another big problem to America's plate (Bush, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan) and without a president who wanted to make the evil regime his friend (Obama), American pressure on Iran can be a force for sustaining the Iranian people in their opposition to the mullah government.

Let's hope.

UPDATE: Iran will persist in their Syria expedition:

Iran's defense minister said Sunday his country will continue its support of the Syrian government to ensure improved security in the region, adding that the nature of the two countries cooperation won't be decided by a "third party."

Let's raise their costs.

UPDATE: Iran and Syria signed a defense agreement. Which likely means that Syria signed away sovereignty to Iran in certain areas of Syria where Iran can build the Syrian version of Hezbollah that has harmed Lebanon so much.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The 21st Century Spanish Civil War

The Russians seem to have been more interested in using their small intervention force in the multi-war in Syria the last five years to get combat experience than to fight for Assad:

A total of 63,012 Russian personnel have "received combat experience" in the war-torn country, the ministry said in a video about Russia's campaign to support the Syrian regime dating back to September 2015.

This number includes 25,738 ranking officers and 434 generals as well as 4,349 artillery and rocket specialists, it said.

So that's 26,172 officers leading 36,840 enlisted men. Which means each officer led 1.4 enlisted men.

Clearly, Russia was rotating officers through Syria to get some real world experience, which they know is a major American military advantage.

I dismiss the Russian claims of killing huge numbers of jihadis, which either is wholly made up or includes civilians defined as well disguised jihadi terrorists.

Neat--But is the Mission Being Overlooked?

During the Iraq War a lot of friendly casualties--both uniformed and contractors--happened on the roads during supply convoy movements. We continue to adapt to that problem.

We ended just-in-time supply and re-established reserves of supplies to endure short breaks in supply runs; we used aircraft to replace (1%) of truck convoys, we built MRAPs, we diligently cleared routes of IEDs, used predictive software, and we used contractors to reduce military casualties. We won the battle of the convoys, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers and keeping the supplies moving. It  was a unique feature of the war.

And now we will have automated convoys for the next war:

After a decade and a half of development, the Army has decided to forgo normal acquisition procedures and field leader-follower robotic truck convoys by 2019, a service official said Aug. 22.

The Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center will begin outfitting 50 to 70 Palletized Load System trucks with autonomy kits by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, Jeffery Ernat, the center’s team leader for autonomy teaming, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Army Science and Technology Symposium in Washington, D.C.

The trucks will be split between two Army companies and be used in operational field tests in the United States, he said. Leader-follower concepts usually have one manned vehicle in front of the convoy with the rest of the trucks following autonomously without drivers.

Of course, while limiting exposure to casualties, the leader-follower concept makes it easier to stop the supplies by disabling the leader truck. Do that and everything following stops, too.*

Which seems kind of odd when you remember that the mission is to deliver supplies to the combat troops and bases. The mission is not to avoid casualties. We surely want to minimize casualties, but that should be in the context of carrying out the mission. Did the Army forget that?

Also, it seems to me that remote weapon stations manned by troops on secure bases--in a version of my (somewhat) recent proposal in Infantry magazine--could be used to defend the convoys.

*And I'd be remiss if I didn't note the time I was driving a truck in convoy out to Fort Custer and somehow--I know not how--all the other vehicles ahead of me disappeared as we entered the camp (perhaps they had important officer stuff to do) leaving me the lead vehicle going into Custer. There was nobody to guide me, neither I nor my co-driver knew where we were supposed to go, and it was dark. So at one point I decided to pull off the left side of the road to figure out where we were supposed to go. Surely an officer or NCO would know.

To my amazement, the convoy efficiently and neatly lined up to my left and behind me in the field that I didn't know was there in the dark, in a truly neat truck park in the minutes that followed. In daylight it would look rather impressive. As I became aware that every vehicle crew was shutting down and leaving their trucks, I turned mine off, too.

I do know that the plan was to deploy into the field with our vehicles and then return to the barracks for the night so we could start training early. But with troops scattered, that plan failed right off the bat. And all that because the leader had no instructions on where to go and the followers followed unaware that the leader had no guidance.

Murphy's Law is scary to see. Even with no lethal consequences.

Nobody ever asked me if I knew what happened that night and I sure didn't volunteer an explanation.

Enjoy Your Blowback Comrade


NATO is moving its military infrastructure closer to the Russian border and Russia needs to strengthen its own infrastructure in response, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Boo hoo. Of course, Putin's actions and hostility motivated NATO to build infrastructure closer to Russia after leaving it a logistics desert for fifteen years after expanding NATO east.

Cause and effect is a wonder to behold, eh?

Seriously, stop talking to me about how Putin is a strategic genius, or something.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Good Money After Bad?

I don't know if China's Belt and Road Initiative (aka One Belt One Road, aka the New Silk Road) is akin to the USSR's self-destructive investments in their Far East which only undermined their economy:

Like the Soviet Union in the 1970s, China is coming to the end of a long labor-force boom, and hoping that an orgy of investment will keep the old magic going while stabilizing its fraying frontiers. The success or failure of its Belt and Road projects — and the still greater sums it’s spending domestically — will determine whether the nation achieves its dream of prosperity or succumbs to the same forces that doomed the U.S.S.R.

But this "investment" isn't in areas designed to get more bang for the buck. It is for the purpose of bringing up poor inland regions of China that have been bypassed by the coastal export boom, as I note here.

There might actually be a reason those interior regions didn't boom, too.

So there will be a lot of wasted money spent by China--or at least money not effectively spent to make their economy more productive.

We'll see if these "reasonably enlightened" despots can pull this off.

Bonus TDR points for seeing the labor-force boom for what it is--and which is now coming to an end.

I don't see a USSR-style collapse even if there are strong parallels, simply because Russians were a smaller portion of the Soviet empire than Han Chinese are in the Chinese state. And China is far more productive and plugged into the world economy. But that said, it wouldn't shock me.

These are interesting times for China, I dare say.

Physical World Cyber-Warriors Blow Up Real Good

If enemies use cyber weapons as an asymmetric means of fighting America when they can't (yet) take on our conventional military power, why does America insist on fighting that asymmetric cyber threat with a symmetrical cyber response?

This author suggests a number of physical world responses to cyber threats:

These options may seem extreme; they were once unthinkable. But, frankly, so was Russia's playing a major role in a U.S. presidential campaign. If we don't want to suffer more extreme injuries at the hands of our adversaries, we need a few unthinkable responses of our own.

This is in line with my longstanding view that JDAMs are the ultimate cyber weapon:

Let me just say as I long have argued that while cyber warfare takes place on the Internet, until virtual Artificial Intelligence lives online, the equipment and people waging it live in the real world:

It is necessary to prepare for war in cyber-space with sophisticated cyber-weapons as have been deployed against Iran. But in the rush to fight in cyber-space, don't forget that a physical smart bomb can simply blow up a room full of enemy cyber-warriors if they have an office park and we know the address.

Indeed, as I note in that post, offensive cyber-war capabilities at the strategic level might be a waste of effort on our part.

Number Two, But Trying Harder?

Russia is having some problems in their Chechen territory:

Armed assailants injured several policemen in attacks in three locations in the Russian republic of Chechnya on Monday, as the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

The Russians blew the Hell out of the place late in the 20th century and that seemed to settle it down.

Perhaps a new generation of young people is willing to give the jihad against Russia another try.

Russia can't be looking forward to one of the three traditional sources of Russian weakness getting more active.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Target: Belarus

Belarus' longtime dictator continues to balance between needing Russia to survive and needing to keep them out to remain sovereign:

[President Alexander Lukashenko] warned Saturday that Belarus will not turn into a “vassal” of its giant neighbor, Russia, even though he underlined the importance of close ties with Moscow.

Belarus has long depended on cheap energy and other subsidies from Russia, which is facing its own economic woes and warned that it would scale down assistance to its ally.

We have an interest in this given that Belarus may be the most important territory in Europe today.

Remain Calm, All is Well?

Well alright then:

Even after a string of deadly Taliban attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, the outgoing commander of U.S. and international forces there insisted on Wednesday that President Donald Trump's strategy of an open-ended deployment was making progress.

I'm not as confident that we are on the right path given the ability of the Taliban to mass and overrun Afghan security outposts.

But the idea that "open ended" is a problem is silly. It is "open ended" because we want to win. We can have a closed end if we simply go home, abandon those who fight with us, and accept eventual defeat.

But don't be surprised if another tall building here at home comes crashing to the ground as we give our murderous jihadi enemies a sanctuary to plot against us.

Bush Did What He Could Within the Limits of the Crisis

The idea that Bush did nothing when Russia invaded Georgia is making the rounds again a decade after the Goons of August War. Now the suddenly anti-Russian liberals try to go back in time to fight the Dread Russkies.

America did a good deal to halt the Russian offensive short of the Georgian capital, Tblisi; and get the Russians to withdraw from Georgia back into Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which the Russians had prior to the war, remember) .

America sent in an airlift of Georgian troops from Iraq back to Georgia, escorted by American fighter aircraft. That had the effect of being a no-fly zone for Russian planes unless they wanted to risk direct combat with America. As well as making sure the capital was defended and putting Americans on the ground in the capital to deter a Russian attack.

We also flew in supplies as well as shipped them in to Georgian ports, with an American Coast Guard cutter an early contribution, followed by Navy warships. Which again shielded those ports from Russian attack unless they wanted to risk war with America.

We put a command and control ship into the Black Sea that could also monitor Russian military activity.

We shielded the Georgian president from Russian demands that he had to go.

And what if Bush had done more to resist the Russians? At the time, Putin claimed Bush was "orchestrating" the crisis to benefit one of the candidates in our 2008 election.

Don't even try to tell me that in the contest between Saint Obama and the evil and old McCain (during that campaign, Democrats and the media went from deeming McCain a double plus good "maverick" to double plus ungood--until he lost to Obama, at which point he again became a "good" Republican) that the howling accusations of Bushitler trying to influence the election by creating a war to justify rejecting Obama--or even seizing power for good by canceling the election--wouldn't have exploded from coast to coast across all our media world.

And remember the financial crisis that erupted in September? Again, the cries of a manufactured war to distract from that event would have flown fast and furious.

Also, was it really appropriate for Bush to start a war that Obama would have to finish?

Further, although Russia obviously planned to attack, and would have lied that Georgia fired first even if the Georgians didn't; the Georgians really did shoot first in a major miscalculation to give Russia an excuse to invade. It is not a good idea to let an ally drag you into a war against that ally's major power nuclear-armed enemy, no?

Despite the Democratic complaints that Bush did too little--which isn't true under the circumstances--what did Obama do when he took office just months later? Did he make Russia pay the price that Democrats claim Bush should have made Russia pay in the waning months of his presidency focused on surviving the financial crisis?

No, Obama launched the high profile, stumbling "reset" (the button Hillary Clinton presented to Lavrov actually said "overcharge") that simply ignored Russia's invasion of Georgia, complete with the cancellation of the Bush missile defense plan for eastern Europe already nervous enough before Georgia about Russian intentions.

Oh, and here is my bonus warning to Georgia (with an aside warning to Ukraine) three months before Russia attacked Georgia.

Also, it seems as if Georgia did have sufficient anti-tank weapons in the war contrary to my impression at the time, although I don't think the Georgians were trained for their use to blunt an armored attack.