Monday, September 19, 2011

Deaths in Yemen protest march

Yemen, the site of the USS Cole bombing and training ground for Abdulmuttalab, continues to use violence against its own people. News coverage of Egypt, Yemen and Syria do not reflect the level of violence that continues. The Arab Spring was scene as a way of certain leaders, such as Gaddafi, to be ousted in the short-term. However in many countries the new governments are proving to be as oppressive as the previous regimes. Even where there has been no change, the protestors are meeting with increasing violence.

BBC News - 'They shot at him' - Deaths in Yemen protest march

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Libya the day after

The commander of US African Command, Gen Ham, has three fears as a result of Libya.  First,  Libya has a large stock pile of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.  Second is the large quantities of ammunition.  Third, Libya has many of the components to make chemical weapons (even though Libya does not have chemical weapons).

When the Soviet Union fell, the stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons became available to terrorists and the black market.  Inventory records either were destroyed or never existed so no one really knows what weapons may have found their way out of the former Soviet Union.

Gen Ham's concerns are another example of jumping into a conflict without a clear understanding of the implications.  We do know who will follow Gaddafi as the new leader of Libya.  Whoever that turns out to be will most likely be ousted as they will little traction.  Now analysts are beginning to realize that no Gaddafi means no one is around tending to the store.  The new regime is going to need funds to rebuild after the NATO air campaign.  Selling the missiles and munitions could provide ready cash.

Shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles are low-cost and effective.  You don't need to sneak in operatives and have them take flying lessons.  Now a single operative, who could already be in-country, can now take a shoulder-launched SAM and down an airliner.

The general is concerned the cache of munitions could be turned into improvised explosive devices (IED).  The munitions could be used as is to attack soft targets in the United States or embassies abroad.

Finally the components to make chemical weapons means rogue nations could find a ready supply.  Chemical weapons are very difficult to deploy for small cell terrorist groups.  Unless the weapons are manufactured by a qualified maker, the terrorists are at greater risk of being exposed to the weapon than the intended target.

All three of the general's fears are correct.  Imagine had another course of action been pursued (like leaving things alone), this new threat to our security would be less or even non-existent.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Ragged Ede

Air Force is flying "at the ragged edge." The Marine Corps is not equipped to handle a contingency if it were to arise in the Pacific theater. And, the Army doesn't even have enough resources to fulfill some of its "most basic needs," warned Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), House Armed Services Committee chairman.

Yet a newly formed committee has until Thanksgiving to come up with $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in savings or an automatic cut will kick in that will decimate the US military, said McKeon. "Fifty percent of the mandatory cuts associated with the [automatic] trigger are from the Defense Department. Fifty percent. That's a deeply unbalanced number with defense accounting for less than 20 percent of federal spending,"

While I admire the Congressman's frankness, he doesn't list some big ticket programs that could be a huge step in reducing DoD spending.  The F-35 is the most expensive acquisition program in the history of the U.S. armed forces.  According to the Daily Tech, the program is pegged at somewhere in the $380 billion range and the costs keep moving upward.  

The tanker replacement program to find a new air refueler will cost at least $25 billion just in the first phase.  There has already been on very costly scandal involved in finding a replacement tanker.  I have no reason to believe this version won't have cost overruns as well.

Why am I picking on the USAF?  Because the F-35 and KC-46 programs are a legacy from the days when manned aircraft were how we fought air wars.  The 21st Century has shown us the efficiencies of unmanned aerial vehicles.  They cost less to operate than manned aircraft, they can remain on station for much longer periods of time, they don't risk the lives of pilots, they can operate from the most austere locations, and they don't require air refueling.

Instead of looking to cut manned aircraft programs (while increasing drones), Secretary of Defense Panetta wants to restructure military retirements.

In contrast to what both the Secretary Clinton and Panetta have said about China, Rep McKeon said the Pentagon's recent report to Congress on China's growing military was "face whitening."  The report "outlined a country that is emboldened with a new-found military might and drunk with economic power," said Rep. Buck McKeon, "For the first time in history, Beijing believes that they can achieve military parity with the United States." 

China has the production capacity to far out produce the US military industrial complex.    Trying to match their capacity is a game we will lose.  Ah but we have the technological advantage some may argue.

In our pursuit of reducing costs, we have outsourced much of technology to overseas companies.  The risks of this practice are only now being realized by cyber analysts who point out malicious hardware and codes could be built into our cellphones and other electronic equipment.  Our imagined technological advantaged could be zeroed out by the push of a button.

The US has been at war for ten years and both the troops and the civilians are growing tired.  China on the other hand hasn't had to devout serious amounts of resources to a war since World War II.  

The Obama Administration needs to realize the rest of the world is not impressed with us.  We have lost whatever competitive edge we enjoyed.   The drop in the S&P bond rating and squabbling over the budget have show just how tenuous our economy is to the rest of the world.

If the military gets hacked down to pre-9/11 levels, we won't have the time to ramp back up if we are attacked.  Reducing the budgets needs to include a plan that recognizes that our next conflict could be the last.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swedish Police Arrest Four Terror Suspects

Sweden arrested four terrorist suspects on the eve of 9/11. Their intended target was an old heating plant that had been converted to an arts center. Sweden has been focused on radicalized Muslim terrorism but with the advent of Anders Breivik (the Norwegian right wing terrorist/mass murderer), experts started to look out for similar groups. The Swedish government has released few details about the four suspects. The attack may have been related a Swedish cartoonist who in 2007 drew the prophet Mohammed.

According to Fox News, this wasn't the first attack by a Muslim suspect. In December, suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab blew himself up in downtown Stockholm among panicked Christmas shoppers, injuring two people.

The latest case from Sweden shows that terrorists are opportunists and will attack targets they perceive to be "soft". It also shows that attacks can be thwarted without resulting in the country becoming a police state.

Fox News

Saturday, September 10, 2011


You don't have to blow anything up to be a terrorist.  By just threatening to attack, you can force your target to spends millions, and even billions, on counter-measures.

Transit authority police are patrolling Penn Station in New York armed with assault rifles.  Wow, they must be preparing for an invasion along the lines of "Independence Day" or "Battle Los Angeles".  Then I read this on MyWay:

Late Wednesday, U.S. officials received information about a threat that included details they considered specific: It involved up to three people, either in the U.S. or who were traveling to the country; a plan concocted with the help of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri; a car bomb as a possible weapon and New York or Washington as potential targets.

New York City has mobilized a brigade-sized force to intercept three terrorists that may be armed with a car bomb.  I saw the terrorists are winning just on economics.  Yes, I agree NYC and Washington DC need to protect their citizens and visitors but the reaction is too cumbersome.  The footprint is too obvious and goes beyond a show of force.  We need a nimble response that can easily flow from one type of threat to another, one that doesn't cost the equivalent of the GDP of Mozambique.

Some future historian will write about the Global War on Terror and wonder why the United States spent billions of dollars to ostensibly hunt down one man.  It took ten years to find him and then he was essentially shot on sight.  If that was the goal all along, why was it necessary to mobilize the entire US military at the cost of thousands of lives?

I'm not that future historian.  I'm trying to figure out if we aren't being snookered by a very small group into providing a huge response and costly response.  What if the attackers are heading to Chicago?  Detroit is right across from Windsor, Canada and has one of the largest Arabic populations in the United States.  Detroit is only a few hours by car from Chicago which happens to be the hometown of President Obama.

Or what about LA? Los Angeles has Hollywood, a symbol of Western influence abroad.  Los Angeles also has fewer police per capita than New York City (the most recent numbers I could find were from 1998; 55 per capita in NYC versus 26 per capita in LA).  The weather is far milder and the border with Mexico provides a means of ingress or egress for the attack.

Analysts can sometimes over analyze the past and create an assessment that looks like the terrorists will repeat the same behaviors.  Perhaps they will try to attack NYC or Washington DC but why?  Those targets have already been hit.  Even a moderately successfully attack on another city would create a far greater psychological impact.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A "specific, credible but unconfirmed threat"

Dilemma, Catch-22, Hobson's Choice, Morton's Fork, double bind...all of these terms apply to the latest warnings from DHS and the White House about an al-Qaeda threat to New York City or Washington D.C. on eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The fact there is a threat should come as no surprise to anyone.  People are fascinated by anniversaries that are a factor of 5, so the 10th is much poignant than say the 9th or 12th.  All any would-be terrorist needs to do is come up with some detailed plan and leak it to the authorities.  Bam!  You know put the authorities into the classic dilemma of damned if you do or damned if you don't.

The authorities know that there is little real chance of an another 9/11 scale attack against NYC or DC.  There are just too many resources focused on there now to make any attack successful.  However, they can't afford to become lax and thus allow an otherwise ineffective effort to become successful.  A threat to one of those cities could also be a feint and the real attack could happen elsewhere.  There are many targets that do not have New York or Washington zip codes.

A number of events earlier this year have come together to make the 10th anniversary of 9/11 an especially intriguing date.  Osama bin Laden was killed, Gaddafi was ousted and Libya bombed, the Arab Spring, Syria/Turkey/Israel/Egypt all shooting at each other, and the falling of the US bond rating are all rallying points for a terrorist cell to attack.

Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 69 people, identified himself as a Christian and slaughtered his fellow Norwegians because his country had become too liberal towards Muslims.  The attack should have served as a reminder to analysts that it doesn't take a radicalized Muslim to become a terrorist.

Eric Robert Rudolph committed a series of bombings throughout the South from 1996-1998 ending in the Olympic Park bombing that killed two and injured 150.  His motivations for such crimes?  Abortion.

The real target of any terrorist attack is not the victim but the survivor.  More people die each year in the United States from the flu then did in the WTC bombings.  But which group gets a memorial?  That's the point of a terrorist attack.

The other part is to cause the government to spend money and resources in reaction.  New York City is spending huge amounts of its budget to add additional patrols (including air and maritime) to prevent an attack.  Imagine what a fraction of that money could do for public works or social services!  The terrorists are driving our priorities.

As the 10th anniversary draws near, we need to keep things in balance.  While NYC and the Pentagon were in a state of chaos, the sun still rose and many people went to work on Sep 12th just like any other day.  Be careful out there but don't let the potential threat cause you to make drastic changes.  After all, you are at a far greater risk of being killed by a drunk driver than being a victim of a terrorist attack yet you are still driving.  Keep it in perspective.

Fox News

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Want to know why relations between Turkey and Israel are strained?

In May last year eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish descent died on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of the six-vessel convoy taking aid to the Palestinian territory of Gaza, in a raid by Israeli special forces in international waters. The U.N. reports did nothing to diffuse the situation by on one hand criticizing Israel for excessive force but then saying it Israel was right to impose a naval blockade to prevent arms from reaching Hamas. Turkey has not blacklisted Hamas as a terrorist group (Europe has making Turkey's attempts to join the EU difficult). Last week, Turkey announced that Israeli ambassador Gaby Levy was being expelled and all bilateral military agreements were suspended as it angrily rejected the findings of a United Nations probe into the deadly flotilla raid (source: Sydney Morning Herald). Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a total freeze of military and trade ties with Israel and threatened to visit Gaza as the one-time allies' diplomatic spat intensified.

Want to know why the United States has been silent on the issue?

 The State Department last week announced that Turkey will host a ballistic missile defense radar in support of NATO's efforts to defend its European member states from attack. "The United States welcomes Turkey's decision," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in a Sept. 2 release. Stars and Stripes reported that the United States hopes to set up the AN/TPY-2 transportable X-band phased-array surveillance radar at an undisclosed Turkish military site by year's end. The radar will link to Navy's BMD-capable Aegis ships that will operate in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the US Phased Adaptive Approach BMD architecture that will help protect Europe. Both Poland and Romania already have agreed to host US missile interceptor sites later this decade as part of the PAA. AFA Magazine

Forward-based radars enhance the missile defense system’s capability by adding precision in tracking and cueing interceptors against incoming missiles. Radars are capable of detecting ballistic missiles early in their flight and will provide precise tracking information for use by the missile defense system. This approach provides overlapping sensor coverage, the potential to extend ballistic missile defense system battle space, and to complicate enemy's ability to penetrate defense system.

The United States and NATO cannot create a ballistic missile shield without a presence in Turkey. Dealing with Turkey whenever its interests diverge from US policies becomes difficult. It is far easier to just ignore our Eastern ally and hope they can peacefully settle things on their own. Of course, that was before the Syrian government crackdown that is driving thousands of Syrians into Turkey.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jihadists plot to take over Libya

Back in February, we had only begun to think about the "Arab Spring". I wrote a blog about pan Islamism and with Gadhafi out of the way, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) may be trying to make it a reality.

U.S. officials said spy agencies are stepping up surveillance of Islamist-oriented elements among Libyan rebels. A government report circulated Tuesday said extremists were observed “strategizing” on Internet forums about how to set up an Islamist state in Libya after the regime of Col. Gadhafi is defeated.

I've wondered who would replace Gadhafi and what the government would look like. Western governments felt the transitional government would be superior to Gadhafi's regime. Of course, since Gadhafi has so successfully crush any opposition that likelihood of it succeeding is low. It simply does not have the infrastructure and history to keep itself in power. So the question becomes, what follows? It appears the LIFG (which according to the Washington Times has ties to LA Qeada), is thinking about creating an Islamist state. Even just the discussion of such a government could embolden efforts in other countries such as Egypt.

Some future historian or foreign affairs analyst will be able to answer, what was the point of taking out Gadhafi? Especially since neither the United States or the European Union had a plan beyond getting oil rights.
Washington Times

Friday, September 2, 2011

Scott AFB

Officials are still trying to figure out why two US postal workers and an airman became sick while handling mail early Wednesday at Scott AFB, Ill. All three were sent to the hospital and later released after "experiencing adverse reactions to handling mail," according to a base release. Fourteen others were decontaminated on site. The postal center, education center, bowling alley, information tickets and tours office, and the airman family readiness center all were evacuated. As of Thursday afternoon, the postal center remained closed; however, officials had reopened the surrounded buildings. Bio-environmental specialists at Scott and explosive ordnance disposal technicians "found nothing of significance at the official mail center," although US postal inspectors continue to investigate. "Our personnel are safe and the buildings in which they work have been declared safe and we will proceed with normal business tomorrow," said base commander Col. Michael Hornitschek. He added, "We view this as an isolated incident that could have happened any particular day in any particular mail center" in the Air Force.

I was stationed at Scott AFB during the mid to late 80s. Even today, it still sits out in the middle of a corn field. Unlike say Andrews AFB (which is basically on the beltway in DC), the area around Scott is rural. The incident should serve as a reminder that incidents can occur anywhere.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

US Troops Will Pull Out By Year's End

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said his country has no intention of asking the United States to extend its military presence in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline to withdraw all 46,000 remaining US troops, reported Agence France Presse. "The agreement on the withdrawal of American forces will be implemented on schedule by the end of the year, and there will not be any bases for US forces here," Maliki told Al-Ittijah TV channel in an interview, according to AFP. The United States will still continue to work with the Iraqi military under a post-2011 training mission that leaders of both nations have approved, although no details have publicly surfaced yet. AFA Magazine