Thursday, June 30, 2011

U.S. drone targets two leaders of Somali group allied with al-Qaeda

OPERATION RESTORE HOPE began on December 8, 1992 with the Unified Task Force (UNITAF). UNITAF included U.S. and allied troops working together in one task force, but under U.S. and not UN direction. RESTORE HOPE tried to establish peace between the two warring Somali warlords General Muhammed Farah Aideed of the Habr Gidr subclan and Ali Mahdi Mohamed of the Abgal subclan in Mogadishu.

The failure of this operation was depicted in the movie "Blackhawk Down". There is one part in the movie about a third of the way through were the Somalis take out a US Blackhawk with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) shot to the tail rotor. The movie does not explain the real significance of this tactic.

US Blackhawk helicopters are amazing aircraft but for all of their ability, they are not armored. Why then did the Somalis shoot at the tail rotor rather than the much larger fuselage?

In the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Soviets brought a weapon the battle-hardened Afghanis had never had to face; the Mi-24 helicopter. This is a huge gun ship and it is heavily armored. The rifles the Afghanis had would not stop the Mi-24 which lead Osama bin Laden to obtain Stinger missiles from the US through the CIA. The Afghanis learned firing the missiles or RPGs at the tail rotor had the highest probability of downing the helicopter. A helicopter becomes aerodynamically unstable without the tail rotor.

The events in "Blackhawk Down" therefore show a tactic that was developed by the mujahideen (the pre-cursor to al Qaeda) being used in Somalia. The following quote from today's Washington Post should therefore come as no surprise:

"The airstrike makes Somalia at least the sixth country where the United States is using drone aircraft to conduct lethal attacks, joining Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. And it comes as the CIA is expected to begin flying armed drones over Yemen in its hunt for al-Qaeda operatives."

Targeting terrorists from the air versus the ground was favored by the Clinton Administration. On Aug. 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were bombed by terrorists, leaving 258 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.

In response, the U.S. launched cruise missiles on Aug. 20, 1998, striking a terrorism training complex in Afghanistan and destroying a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Khartoum, Sudan, that reportedly produced nerve gas. Both targets were believed to have been financed by wealthy Islamic radical Osama bin Laden, who was allegedly behind the embassy bombings as well as an international terrorism network targeting the United States. (source: Info Please database).

Unlike President Clinton, President Obama does not have to rely on cruise missiles that introduce the possibility of striking civilians (often referred to as "collateral damage"). President Obama can rely on a much more accurate weapon, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The picture at the top is of the current MQ-9 Reaper that is replacing the earlier Predator model. The Reaper was intended from the start to be a hunter/killer unlike the Predator. It can stay on station longer with more ordnance at higher altitudes. UAVs also means a President can skirt the political hot potato of the War Powers Act. A limited military operation (i.e. using drones) seems to fall outside the purview of Congressional approval (at least according to the politicians). Drones, like cruise missiles before, provides the ability to conduct strikes at targets without risking the lives of US troops (as well as risking a President's ability to get re-elected).

As the Washington Post points out, we are now shooting targets in six different countries. With the exception of Pakistan, none of the others have nuclear weapons. We are also supposedly partnered with Pakistan, although striking ground targets with drones is probably a quick way to wear out a welcome.

It will be interesting to see if the Obama Administration starts to use drones in other scenarios such as Syria or Iran.

The Washington Post

How much will our wars cost?

A new report out of Brown University estimates that the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq--together with the counterinsurgency efforts in Pakistan--will, all told, cost $4 trillion and leave 225,000 dead, both civilians and soldiers.

Basically the population of Reno, Nevada has been killed in the wars. Despite much posturing by the Obama Administration, the wars aren't going to end anytime soon. Plus we now have Libya and potentially Iran.

Yahoo! News

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Iranian Situation

Syria and Egypt continue to experience violence between the government and citizens creating potential flash points in either country.

In the meantime, Iran presents the most destablizing scenario of any Middle Eastern country. President Ahmedinajad, through a series of political missteps, faces the very real possibility of being forced to step down. Nepotism and narcism have left the President in a untenable position opposite the powerful Ayatollah. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been the only Middle Easter countries to thus far avoid any of the turmoil from the Arab spring (although Iran is not an Arab state, they are of course Persians).

Ahmedinajad stepping down should in theory reduce tensions with the United States. However, any number of his potential successors can take an ever harder stance against the West. Now comes the news that Iran has secretly been testing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Hague has declared this a violation of UN Resolution 1929 which means with the political turmoil in Tehran, tensions could escalate into hostilities.


Iranian Nuclear Missile Test

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ex-cons busted for alleged plot to blow up Seattle military recruiting station

The headlines caught my attention because of the first two words, "ex-cons". If there is a built-in network to recruit and train domestic terrorists it is our prison system. Gangs have been using the prisons as a way of recruiting new members and expanding their networks for years. MS-13 is perhaps is the best know example. Originally started by El Salvadorians in East Los Angeles (in response to Mexican gang threats), MS-13 can be found on both coasts. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) used the technique at the Maze. The attempted attack of the military recruiting station should be taken as a sign that more terrorists are coming out of our prisons. Sociopaths fueled by a religious or political zeal make for an especially dangerous combination.

NY Daily News

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Air breathing platforms

Prior to Desert Storm, the USAF was moving away from air breathing platforms citing their high costs and the advancement in satellites. Desert Storm proved the continued need for surveillance assets that could be directed by the theater commander. Desert was much too short to keep the pressure off so air breathing platforms (the RF-4C for example) were retired with no follow on system.

Iraqi Freedom demanded air breathing platforms with longer duration that the Predator. Thus Global Hawk was born but again without thoroughly thinking through the needs of the theater level commander. Global Hawk is an amazing, but increasingly expensive, platform. Yet even in the 21st Century, commanders and analysts still rely on wet film imagery.

U-2 and Global Hawk: Le Bourget, France—For years, the Air Force has known it will give up some intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability when it retires the U-2 fleet. The U-2 can carry heavier sensors than the RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft and has a still-in-demand wet film capability. Now USAF is involved in an analysis of alternatives to consider what sensors it wants on the Global Hawk going forward, said officials with Global Hawk prime contractor Northrop Grumman here Monday at the Paris Air Show. Ed Walby, company executive, said Air Force officials have told him that they expect to complete phase one of the AOA by the end of the summer. The Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft configuration is "full," said Walby; if USAF wants to change out sensors in a modular way, though, it should be able to, he said. "The reason for the Block 30 was to do what the U-2 can't," he added, noting that the RQ-4 can collect electronic intelligence and communications intelligence simultaneously, something the U-2 cannot. He acknowledged that "some of the U-2 sensors can see further than ours," but that this shortcoming is made up for by the Global Hawk's three-to-one advantage in loiter time. Moreover, some of the Global Hawk's sensors can be changed simply by modifying the software, he said.

Barack Obama and Pentagon split on Afghanistan pullout

The pullout raises some questions. If the original purpose of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM was to hunt down Osam bin Laden, then the mission was completed once he was killed. Why continue the military presence? Unlike Iraq which had its government destroyed by the US invasion, Afghanistan has a government in place. Continuing our military presence in Afghanistan invites escalation as Taliban forces or Al Qaeda plot revenge. Pakistan is an unpredictable environment and raises additional potential of escalation.

The other question is, are these troops needed elsewhere? The obvious is Libya but with Syria and Turkey having skirmishes, could the Obama administration be concerned about hostilities in the Middle East? Iran remains committed to their pursuit of nuclear weapons, however with now Germany, France, China and Russia all condemning the initiative the United States may feel it can deal with Iran on a more unilateral basis. Therefore, the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan becomes even more crucial.

The bump in poll numbers President Obama received as a result of the killing of Osama bin Laden seems to have faded. The elections are still a long way off and pulling troops out of Afghanistan, regardless of their eventual use, could be a way for the President to still make good on one of his campaign promises.

The Guardian

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Syrian forces 'storm town near Turkey border'

Syrian forces attacking a Turkish border town. Unlike other attacks during the "Arab Spring", this attack in upon a NATO ally. If Turkey and Syria declare war, NATO and the United States are placed at the brink. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton tries to appease the Taliban in hopes they will break from Al Qaeda.

Al Jazeera English

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hotels Warned Of Potential Terror Threats

In November 2008, 10 gunmen launched a "commando-style" raid on hotels and cafes in Mumbai, India. The attack spanned three days, killing 174 people and wounding more than 300 others.

Contrary to the movies and books, an effective terrorist attacks does not require high-tech weapons of mass destruction. A well trained, small unit armed with rifles can inflict a high number of casualties. In the Mumbai attack, the terrorist came in on rubber rafts. They then fired on the crowd and moved, staying in contact via radio. Their tactics thwarted the police and allowed the terrorists to kill 174.

Now reports are coming that their could be a similar attack at the Ritz Carlton in London. London is more densely populated than Mumbai and even with Scotland Yard and the British SAS vigilant, an attack could swiftly kill many civilians before authorities could neutralize the attackers.

The United States presents an even better target. We have so many large cities with multiple targets it is almost impossible to protect all against a well coordinated attack. As we go into summer, there are countless street festivals and concerts with thousands of unprotect civilians milling around. A Mumbai type of attack would have devastating results.

While the press focuses on the uses suspects of Pakistan and Somalia, we need to be aware of lesser know groups. One of my students did an excellent presentation on the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) of Algeria. While very active in Algeria, this group has not been known to operate outside of Algeria. However, reports indicate at least one cell is here in the United States (albeit inactive). There are other groups that we have not heard of as well as domestic terrorist groups. This is the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and we should be alert to potential threats.

Fox News

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pakistan Arrests C.I.A. Informants in Bin Laden Raid

At a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael J. Morell, the deputy C.I.A. director, to rate Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Three,” Mr. Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange.
--NY Times

Where to begin, where to begin? The relationship between Pakistan and the United States is a study of illusion and political posturing. If we go back to the 1980s, we meet a young Osama bin Laden fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The United States felt a little payback was in order for all of the support the Soviet Union gave North Vietnam. The CIA began supplying the Mujahadeen (freedom fighters) Stinger missiles since the Afghanis were getting decimated by Soviet Mi-24 helicopters.

The recipient of these Stinger missiles was our then friend, and future most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The missiles took out the Mi-24s, and many feel, led to the Soviet withdrawal. So why then did Osama bin Laden attack the US? The Reagan administration, especially the CIA, assumed Osama bin Laden was an ally since he was fighting a common enemy. However, the whole reason the Saudi was in Afghanistan in the first place was because of his extreme Islamic beliefs. Osama bin Laden felt the United States had no more business being in Afghanistan than the Soviet Union.

Osama bin Laden fought in Afghanistan but was actually based in Pakistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, the Pakistanis gave the remaining Stingers to North Korea in the hopes the special batteries could be reverse engineered. You have to wonder what Pakistan received in return for those missiles (and sniper rifles).

Flash forward to earlier this year when a CIA "contractor" killed two ISI (Pakistani intelligence service) agents. The killings marked the previous months of bombings by US forces based in Afghanistan on tribal areas in Pakistan. The Pakistanis were not pleased.

Given the history of Osama bin Laden operating from Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, it is not so surprising to discover he was hiding out in Pakistan before the SEALs came knocking. The killing of Osama bin Laden publicly raised the question of just how committed Pakistan is to fighting Al Qaeda. There are public reports that Al Qaeda may have placed operatives in the Pakistani military.

Now Pakistan has arrested the CIA informants and in the media it looks like a surprise. In reality, this is a continuation of what has been developing between the United States and Pakistan going on 30 years. The real problem for the United States is Pakistan may not allow armed drones to be flown out of their bases forcing the US to relocated the drones to Afghanistan.

A story that seems to have already been forgotten is China's announcement several weeks ago that it will not tolerate any military action by the US in Pakistan.

The story of the United States and Pakistan is far from over and will not get resolved before the 2012 election.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Six powers push defiant Iran to address nuclear fears

VIENNA (Reuters) - Russia and China joined Western powers Thursday in telling Iran its "consistent failure" to comply with U.N. resolutions "deepened concerns" about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program.

The United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China issued the statement a day after Iran said it would triple production of high-grade uranium and shift it to an underground bunker which would be protected from possible U.S. or Israeli air strikes.

Russia and China have in the past been less inclined to try to isolate Iran over its uranium enrichment which Tehran says is solely to generate electricity. Western nations suspect the Islamic Republic wants to enrich uranium to a higher level so as to be able to make nuclear weapons if it chooses.

Let's see what we can learn from this article. The United States helped place Mohammad Pahlavi as the Shah of Iran. His subsequent human rights abuses by the the SAVAK (secret police) led to the revolution and the 1980 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. US-Iranian relations have been tense ever since (leading the US to support Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq war).

The British colonized much of the Middle East. BP or British Petroleum was originally the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). In the 1950s, Iran voted unanimously to nationalize its oil production. Britain contested in the World Court but its complaint was dismissed.

On 19 August 1953, Prime Minister Mossadeq was forced from office with CIA support, involving the Shah and the Iranian military, and known by its codename, Operation Ajax. Mossadeq was replaced by pro-Western general Fazlollah Zahedi. After the coup, Mossadeq's National Iranian Oil Company became an international consortium, and AIOC resumed operations in Iran as a member of it.

The consortium agreed to share profits on a 50–50 basis with Iran, "but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors. The AIOC would become BP in 1954.

Germany is not interested in seeing an unstable Middle East with the potential of increased oil prices since it is shutting down its nuclear power plants. Until Germany arrives at a cost-effective means of replacing her nuclear power plants, oil will remain an important means of producing energy.

France has no intentions of abandoning nuclear power at this point, however they still require a steady flow of cheap oil for their economy as well.

Russia still remembers its last war with the Persian empire in 1828 and views the Iranian nuclear program as a threat. Unlike the US, Russia does not dismiss Persian aggression lightly and knows that as a modern country Iran is not to be ignored. A nuclear Iran could pose problems even for the Russians.

China is perhaps the only country of the six that does not have a direct interest in the state of Iran's nuclear program. The only interest seems to be having the other five countries engaged with Iran leaving China alone to pursue its policies unfettered.

Yahoo! News

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gates Blasts NATO, Questions Future of Alliance

Gates' comments only reinforce what has been know for sometime. NATO is nothing without the US military. The sham of "NATO" commanding Odyssey Dawn is only as good as the US carriers and drones supporting the operation.

NATO is a self-protection pact formed after WWII to protect Europe from a Soviet invasion. At that time, NATO consisted of 16 countries and relied heavily on US military bases for defense. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO's role was in question but despite an ambiguous future its membership climed to 28 including former Warsaw Pact nations.

NATO assumed a more expeditionary war during the global war on terror. Most of the Eurpean nations were against sending forces outside the continent. However, pressure from Washington and London resulted in NATO troops being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It also shows how the US has come to depend on NATO to provide the illusion of broad support when in reality it is just another US military operation.

With the demise of the Soviet Union and advent of the European Union, does there still need to be a NATO instead of a European defense force?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

BBC News - Aircraft carrier symbol of China's naval ambitions

But I thought China wasn't a threat? Granted, a single carrier does not make a true threat but why build them in the first place? They can fight the Russians without a carrier as well as the Indians. That can only leave one other power-projecting, blue water navy.

BBC News - Aircraft carrier symbol of China's naval ambitions

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Narco-terrorism or the war on drugs

The news has been flooded with corrupt US politicians of late, from Arnie to Weiner (the latter being just too easy to lampoon). In the midst of these political imbroglios, it is easy miss some bigger issues that don't quite make the headlines.

A report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy is calling for the legalization of some drugs. The report recommends instead of punishing users (and costing the taxpayers millions of dollars), governments should seek models to legalize drugs and undermine the drug cartels.

BBC World News

The war on drugs (now more commonly called war on narco-terrorism to reconcile the two campaigns) has not dented opiate production. According to the Global Commission's report, the UN estimates that opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine by 27%, and cannabis by 8.5%. The war on drugs seems to have had little impact on production which also means usage increased or at least remained consistent.

Opium is produced from poppies grown in Afghanistan. The Taliban (al Qaeda) control opium production and one can't but wonder if the US military presence wasn't in part to try to curtail opium production. If a terrorist group controls the production of drugs, then it is easy to conclude drug money funds terrorism. Nothing new here really as most terrorist groups active during the 1980s had to find a new funding source once the Soviet Union folded.

The al Qaeda now is active in Honduras. The United States history in Central America is abysmal. From the United Fruit Company to the Sandinistas, the United States has backed some of the most violent groups in the region. As a result, Honduras has a very weak economy. Al Qaeda has money and trafficking opium through Honduras offers both advantages. Honduras can receive some badly needed money and Al Qaeda gets closed to targets in the United States.

My original inclination was to right a cautionary piece about Al Qaeda renewing its efforts but then I read where US military construction in Central and South American has doubled in the last two years (source: "Pentagon Using Drug Wars as an Excuse to Build Bases in Latin America", News America Media Jun 3, 2011).

"Congress approved a $25 million expansion of barracks for enlisted troops at the U.S. base in Soto Cano, Honduras, located 50 miles north of the capital in Tegucigalpa. The base houses about 500 U.S. troops, as well as support personnel, and served as a way-station for the aircraft that whisked President Manuel Zelaya out of Honduras during the June 2009 military coup, according to Zelaya and a leaked State Department cable. Zelaya had proposed making the base intro a commercial airport in 2008. Now, a new operating center for U.S. Special Forces troops is being built on the base. "

News America Media

Most Americans think US bases overseas have drawn down. That is because most think of overseas bases as those in Europe where the US presence has drastically reduced over the last 20 years. However, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq created a boom in overseas constructions through Southwest Asia (Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain). US military are often based on existing military bases so those in Colombia and now Central America don't show up on a list of bases since those facilities are not owned by the United States.

The United States continue to spend money on bases and policies that have not produced results (especially in regards to drugs). The building of bases in Central America seems to only increase the likelihood of Al Qaeda spending more money in the region. The Southwest border is extremely porous despite efforts to the contrary. The drug wars in Mexico seem like the perfect compliment to Al Qaeda operations.

We need to refocus on these issues no matter how much fun it is to read about a politician's self-destruction.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cost of Operation Odyssey Dawn

According to the Air Force Association Daily Report, the USAF has spent $270 million on air operations in Libya (as of May 22nd). Officials are still trying to figure out how to pay for all of this. For the time being, "Libya operations are being cash-flowed internally,"Air Force spokesman Andre Kok told the Daily Report. At the same time, the Department of Defense intends to cut $400 billion over the next 12 fiscal years. The need to reduce government spending would seem to argue against continuing operations in Libya, especially since this is a NATO operation. The United States flew 1,206 of the 1,990 sorties during Operation Odyssey Dawn—the term for the air operation before NATO took control on March 31. However, US forces (both Navy and USAF) continue to support operations. As of mid May, total costs for Odyssey Dawn to the United States is $750 million.

Cautioning that federal spending had a way of getting out of control, Senator Dirksen observed, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."

The 101st is returning from Afghanistan and commanders are struggling with their troops doubts (and their own) if their sacrifices made any difference. Their poignant introspection seems to apply equally to Libya. What did we get for the $750 million? Even if Qaddafi steps down or is killed, who takes over? What does the change in Libyan leadership mean for the US and rest of the world?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

World Health Organization Says Virulent E. Coli Strain Was Previously Unknown

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that an unusually lethal strain of E. coli, which has infected more than 1,500 people in Germany, mystified public health officials and threatened to touch off panic in Europe, was a previously unknown variant of the bacteria, raising new concerns about the extent and severity of the contagion.

The story continues to take a sinister turn and with a previously unknown variant could indicate a biological attack. Germany recently crossed Iran by voting to extend economic sanctions over the failed nuclear weapons talks. There is also the potential that the Spanish economy needing a bailout from Germany could have lead to a terrorist attack, either to humiliate the Germans or Spanish governments. Al Qaeda has cells in both Spain and Germany and could be using the cover of these state of affairs between Germany and Iran or Spain to deflect attention away from themselves.

The German government is most likely reluctant to declare this a terrorist attack without overwhelming proof. The economic damage if this proves to be an attack is immeasurable