Thursday, January 31, 2013

Surgical Approach

This morning driving into to work I learned the reason President Obama has chosen Kerry for State and Hagel for Defense is because of his preference for a "surgical approach" to fighting terrorism instead of the long and protracted wars of the last 12 years.

Immediately my mind flashed back to how we got in this situation in the first place.  Our journey begins with the same war that gives Kerry and Hagel their street creds.

The United States military of the late 1950s and 1960s were still about fighting major battles with enemy militaries.  Large manuever units, waves of fighters and bombers along with fleets of ships were going to be needed in the post World War II world.

Korea was the first post WWII conflict and reinforced the notion of force-on-force conflicts.  What was missed is that Korea was fought only to a cease fire.  To this day, Korea remains the longest cease fire in the history of warfare.

President Kennedy have some inkling that he would needed some other type of way of waging war and became enamored of special forces.  It was the use of special forces in Indochina (who were there to train resistance fighters) that would lead to the Vietnam War.

As the 1960s went on, it became increasingly necessary to deploy more and more troops into Vietnam.  Unfortunately, the Johnson Administration really did not understand what type of war was being waged.  The North Vietnamese certainly had fighter jets and tanks but as the years wore on the Vietcong relied more on guerrilla tactics.  American military forces were still fighting a classic force-on-force war against small units that would disappear into the thick jungles.

Vietnam was also the first war that showed the horrors of war on TV.  The long, indecisive battle in a country most people still could not find on a map resulted in little public support.  The counter-culture revolution was also in full swing populated by young adults that would not just blindly follow the propaganda of the United States government.

In the end, the US military lost credibility and face with the American public.  Veterans came home physically broken and mentally damaged to an unsympathetic public.  It was a war in which no one really won.

The Ford and Carter administrations as a result could not really pursue any type of strategy that would require large military conflicts.  A sort of non-engagement policy took effect.  We would really on our nuclear force to deter the Soviets but it did not seem the military would drawn into another major conflict.

Then on November 4, 1979 the world changed.  The puppet Shah of Iran (placed in power through the help of the CIA) had oppressed the Iranian people for long enough.  He was deposed and the US embassy was siezed.  For the next 444 days, the US stood in disbelief as every night on ABC news we learned that there was NOTHING that we could do.

President Carter tried using the newly formed Delta Force to rescue the hostages and they suffered one of the worst failures by US special forces ever.  During a hot refueling in blowing sand.  One of the helicopters lost visual with the HC-130 and turned into it. The resulting explosing killed 8 service members and forced the mission to be aborted (because Carter would not authorize the requested number of helicopters in the first place).

Reagan's inauguration began with the release of the prisoners.  The Reagan Administration pursued a massive build-up of the US military as if to warn Iran and others, "never again".  Reagan would never use this massive military in a force-on-force confrontation but did create the first surgical strike.

When US servicemembers were killed in the 1986 discotheque bombing, the Reagan Administration determined those responsible were from Libyan.  As a result, Reagan authorized Operation El Dorado Canyon.

On April 16, 1986, eighteen FB-111s would drop 60 tons of explosives on Tripoli (note, the French would not allow the USAF to overfly their airspace.  As a result, crews had to fly around our ally).  Civilian targets were hit but more likely were struck as a result of the Libyan air defense artillery slew their barrels backwards to fire at the departing jets.  Hence began the new notion of sending in airstrikes whenever you were pissed off at someone.

Reagan would also go after another terrrorist in Norriega by sending in Special Forces.  Unlike Hussein and Qaddaffi, Norriega survived the operation.

When it was George H. Bush's turn, he went back to a force on force scenario that strike at Iraqi forces in Kuwait. It was the one sure way to get the Iraqi occupying force out and by using "coalition forces", the first Bush administration was able to avoid potential risks of a Western/Christian based superpower attacking a Sovereign/Muslim country.

The real lesson learned though became the realization that daylight, precision bombing had finally become a reality. Bombs could be sent down the window of a suspected target. When weaponeers (those who planned the loads for USAF fighters and bombers) had a surplus of 500lbs bombs, they hooked laser guided heads and inventing the quaint art of "tank-plinking" (a term the late Gen Schwarzkopf despised!).

Desert Storm was fast and sexy. US casualties were quite low and audiences were treated to scenes of Iraqi military targets being vaporized by US airpower. The lowly A-10 became the darling of the US military. Not only could it turn Iraqi tanks into Swiss cheese, it became a flying watchdog protecting downed US airmen from Iraqi forces. Iraqi troops would later say just the sound of the A-10 engines were enough to cause them to lose control of their bowels.

The Clinton Administration took from this that the best way to answer the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was to use airpower. Clinton's preferred method of anonymous shooting was not manned fighters but rather cruise missiles. His preference being the result of the failures in Somalia. Much like Carter before him, Clinton sent Rangers and Delta Force into Somalia without the armor they needed. The Clinton administration wrongly assumed that the Blackhawks could fly above the fracas with immunity.

The second Bush administration tried to follow the first Bush administration and use massive military power to swat a fly. Somewhere along the way George W. and Chaney forgot to read about the Soviets results in Afghanistan and sent Marines and Army troops in to right the wrongs of 9/11. Chaney and Rumsfeld decided that the war in Iraq needed to be completed on the cheap and declared war on Iraq due to their position of weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein was ousted and eventually captured and executed. Osama bin Laden would take much longer and cost many lives on all sides. In the end, Osama bin Laden was dispatched by two rounds from a SEAL.

The build-up necessary to wage war under the George W. (and the first term of the Obama administration) is too costly to maintain over the long haul. The advent of drones has taken the notion of precision airstrikes to an even more sophisticated than Desert Storm planners could have ever imagined.

Drones can remain on station longer, at lower altitudes, and can do much more damage with smaller warheads since they are even more precise than Desert Storm airborne weapons. The USAF has moved more towards using warheads as small as 250lbs on the B-1B since targeting systems allow for precise placement on the target. You don't need to blow up the whole city blow when all that is needed is a single head shot.

This brings us back to the beginning. The Obama Administration now wants to rely on drones to execute a "surgical approach" instead of using massive military force. The lead would also go to the CIA instead of DOD. This should cause alarm for the public as this means much less transparency in regards to who is being targeted and why.

The more we head towards a "drone war", the easier it will be for the government to target without comment from the public. By risking our sons and daughters, we HAVE to have the American public's approval. No one cares about a drone.

The Obama administration seems to not understand that if you shoot someone with a missile, their friends and relatives will get pissed. Send in a Marine Amphibious Group and everyone wants to offer you tea. There are gains to sending in armed troops you just don't get by conducting long range, anonymous airstrikes.

Our involvement in Libya, Egypt, Algeria and Mali have only emboldened Al Qaeda to strike (something they did seem to want to do under George W.). If you want to stop Al Qaeda, you have to make all of their family, friends, and potential friends feel like they have something to lose. Otherwise the targets just become martyrs.

You only need look at "The Troubles". The British SAS sniped at the IRA for decades. They even rounded up all "potential" IRA members and sent them to the "Maze". Instead of reducing the number of IRA operatives, the numbers actually increased. The Obama administration is doing the same thing with Al Qaeda.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Inside the Ring: New al Qaeda threat

Back at the start of Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein famously promised "the mother of all battles" to wit the US military then proceeded the send the Iraqi packing out of Kuwait.

Unfortunately, Al Qaeda is now making similar threats against the "heart of the United States".  This is a different situation with terrorist cells most likely already here in place waiting to launch an attack.  I was just talking with a colleague today about the likelihood that the next attack would involve some type of biological attack.

We also have a major soft target coming up this weekend with the Super Bowl.  Thousands of drunk NFL fans roaming all over the Crescent City could be just the ticket for a terrorist attack.

As has happened throughout history, by attacking Al Qaeda in Mali we seem to have encouraged rather than discourage additional violence.  The announcement of military drawdowns in the Army and Marines will not help reduce the threat.

Inside the Ring: New al Qaeda threat

Monday, January 28, 2013


The Marine Corps will drawdown 4,000 positions between now and 2017.  Total end-strength for the USMC is 202,100 and the proposed cuts will take it down to 182,100.  The drawdowns could not come at a worst time.

As the article points out, part of the failure in Benghazi was the lack of an Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) on-station.  The ARGs were deployed elsewhere and there are too few Marines to create more ARGs.

The other branches are also being drawing down so the responsibilities can't be shifted to the Army.  To accelerate the process, the USMC is looking to offer early outs.  Having gone through this myself back in 1992, I can tell you what isn't clearly addresses is the effect on combat readiness.  Most of those eligible for early are your more senior people who have the combat experience younger troops may not.

The Army drawdown means Marines may be forced to be used in roles that they are not by doctrine equipped to execute.  For example, Marines are an expeditionary force designed to be rapidly deployed any where in the world.  They also tend to fight from ships.  All of this means Marine units tend to be "lighter" than Army units (less armor and artillery support).  Marine units are intended to work further in-country than 60 kilometers from the shore (although that was pretty much ignored in the early days of Iraqi Freedom).

In fact, the Army drawdown is so massive that for the first time full-qualified soldiers may be denied re-enlistment!  (Source: Army Times).  The long range implications for recruiting and retention is staggering.  Imagine a soldier who has score high on his/her AFPT, deployed, and received excellent performance appraisals being denied enlistment.

Place all of these morale destroying moves with increased tensions in Mali, Algeria, Syria, Iran and now even North Korea and you wonder how the United States will remain engaged on so many fronts.  At home, we will see massive numbers of seasoned combat troops re-entering the civilian world.  How truly ready is the United States to absorb these troops into the workforce?

Unfit for Combat

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Egypt's Morsi declares state of emergency

"Egypt's president declared a state of emergency and curfew in three Suez Canal provinces hit hardest by a weekend wave of unrest that left more than 50 dead, using tactics of the ousted regime to get a grip on discontent over his Islamist policies and the slow pace of change.

Angry and almost screaming, Mohammed Morsi vowed in a televised address on Sunday night that he would not hesitate to take even more action to stem the latest eruption of violence across much of the country. But at the same time, he sought to reassure Egyptians that his latest moves would not plunge the country back into authoritarianism."
  CBS News

Ferdinand Marcos was President of the Philippines from 1965-86. He declared martial law in response to Communist and Muslim regimes threatening his power. It was not popular and lead to many accusations of human rights violations. I was reminded of Marcos while reading the above CBS piece about Egypt.

Mubarak took over as president after the assassination of Sadat. Mubarak kept the peace accords with Israel that Sadat championed.  This meant the Muslim Brotherhood were constantly trying to oust Mubarak.  In order to keep the Muslim brotherhood in check, Mubarak turned to martial law which inevitably leads to human rights abuses. Mubarak was eventually kicked out and Morsi now turns to the same violence that lead to all of the problems in the first place.

Regime change, especially when the former used violence, is difficult to achieve peacefully.  Usually those taking over were the oppressed and now that they are in charge, they want revenge for previous abuses.  The potential is for the cycle of violence to continue to repeat.

The West really are not in a position to intervene (at least not publicly) with attention focused on Syria, Iran, Libya, Algeria and Mali.  The unknown is this case is what will Israel do?  Mubarak kept peace with the Israelis and now with the Muslim Brotherhood in control, Tel Aviv may worry about disruption on their western flank.

CBS News

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Not messengers of death

France has insisted that its intervention is a “war against terrorism” and not a return to its post-colonial habit of intervening in its former African territories, hence the sensitivity about the soldier wearing the bandana.

Alright, I believe the French soldier above was just being politically incorrect, however in the same article we learn;

Earlier this week, however, the French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, implied that French ground forces would also be involved in the drive to recapture “every square kilometre” of Mali.

No, it can't be that the French might want to hedge their bets against a collapse of the European Union by reacquiring former colonies!

'We are not messengers of death in Mali'

Friday, January 25, 2013

France upset as Assad still in power

Perhaps this is why France has set her sights on Mali?

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday, “Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the (opposition) coalition to power, has not happened.”

Press TV

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Modern Day Manchurian Candidate?

A few years ago, I asked my class to imagine what social issue might lead to a modern day civil war.  The class pretty much came up with either class warfare (based on a dwindling middle class) or cultural warfare (based on the growing Spanish speaking majority).

The latter has intrigued me since we see so many examples of cultural conflicts based in part on language; the Basque, the Kurds, the Quebecois, and now even the Walloons and Flemish.  Language is the perfect tinder since it automatically segregates people into those that speak it and those that can't.  Combine the issue of a growing Hispanic population in the US with immigration issues and it seemed like a perfect storm.

Recent events have caused me to wonder if there isn't a more volatile issue that could really lead to an insurrection.  And this issue comes with a high level of emotion with pundits on both sides spread across the media.  I am of course speaking about gun control resulting from recent mass killings.   The subsequent pontificating on both sides is becoming disturbing.

First, let's look at a word that is necessary for this discussion; propaganda.  According to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, propaganda is defined as "ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect".  No one side is innocent, both pro and anti gun control advocates are trying to spread their ideas while discrediting the other's views.

The propaganda of the pro-gun rights is that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.  The problem is this really doesn't address the concerns of the gun-control advocates who want to feel safe and not see children massacred in schools.  Access to guns in their minds equals increased violence.

The propaganda of the gun-control side states more legislation does not in fact reduce gun violence as much as it reduces access to guns.  Historically legislation has not been successful in controlling behavior.  One only need to look at the 21st Amendment (the repeal of prohibition) to see the fallacy of believing behavior can be legislated.  Gun control will only reduce access to guns by those who follow the law.  It will do nothing to reduce the desire to hurt one's fellow man.

The pro-gun crowd fails to acknowledge the very real fear of increased violent attacks at schools and public areas.  Why else the need for concealed carry if not for the same shared realization that the world has become far more dangerous?  Pro-gun rights would say that's the problem, they recognize the threat but the gun-control group wants to deny them the best option for defeating violence (the right to bear arms).  Being armed does not prevent violence, it merely gives you the means to deal with it when other options are not available.

The gun-rights/gun-control argument is not one that will be solved any time soon and it really isn't my point.  Rather, the debate is rapidly becoming one of "I'm right and you're wrong" with no compromised being tolerated.  With compromise coming off of the table, escalation is inevitable.

Escalation in turn has me wondering if this is not just the work of our emotions but of external enemies.  As I've written about before, the drug war is in part the result of long held feelings by Central and South American countries that they have been exploited by the United States.  Realizing that they lacked the military and economic power to threaten the US, the manufacture and smuggling of drugs were supported as a means of destroying the United States from within.

Since 9/11, we have been thrilled with the notion of some mastermind terrorist grouping attacking a major city with a dirty bomb.  In reality, there has not been a single document case of a dirty bomb being used.  The technical and logistical issues with assembling such a device is far more complex than movies and books make it seem.  Furthermore, any device that uses radioactive material can be traced very easily by overhead assets.

Most 21st Century terrorist cells are small, autonomous groups that really can't execute the James Bond like scenario of a dirty bomb.  In fact, in "Skyfall" the new "Q" lectured 007 on how he could do far more damage using his laptop than Bond could do with his old-fashioned reliance on bombs and guns.

The best op would be one that you can't trace back to a particular enemy but could lead the destruction of your enemy from within.  The increase incidence of mass killings is leading to more calls for the Obama administration to pass gun legislation.  In turn this is leading to more divisiveness in the United States and propaganda on both sides has replaced any dispassionate debate.  How do we make schools safer?  How do we deal with a society that isolates individuals to the point they turn to violence as a means to be heard?

I've been thinking about this past for the last few weeks and then I saw something else that makes me wonder if the mass killings could be part of a psychological warfare on the United States?  I followed saw YouTube video that talked about the MK Ultra program.  Basically MK Ultra looked to produce Manchurian Candidates, operatives who had no idea they were operatives until they heard a codeword. This is not science fiction or conspiracy theory, this was a strategy of the Cold War that both the US and Soviet Union pursued.

In two of the most recent mass-shooter cases, Aurora and Newton, two lone gunmen committed mass murder with little prior warning as to what they were contemplating.  Both were intelligent, introverted outliers.  What if they had been manipulated somehow to commit those murders with the intent of disrupting society?

When the Soviets and the United States went looking for candidates, they had to find young people and connect them with psychologists and hypnotists who were trained in how to implement subconscious directions (marketing is a more benign form of the same principles).

In the 21st Century, the Internet provides both the perfect recruiting and training medium.  Video games could have subtle behavioral messages in them.  Only the right type of personality would respond and could be directed to other internet forums for further behavior modification.

Add to that the huge population of Americans that are taking some type of psychotropic drug (that often have side effects that include tendencies toward violence and suicide) and our enemies don't have to leave their home base to create Manchurian candidates. Our mental health system has already provided them fertile ground.

Far-fetched?  At first but when you realize the potential this would give a group like Al Qaeda, it suddenly becomes much more compelling.  The US citizens could be at war with each other due to the actions of modern day Manchurian Candidates.  And we just might too busy arguing with each other to even notice.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Panetta: US has to 'fight back' against al Qaeda

“I’m glad we were able to get some rescued, but we did lose three Americans,” Panetta told a small group of reporters Monday as he left the inaugural lunch at the Capitol. “That just tells us al Qaeda is committed to creating terror wherever they are, and we’ve got to fight back.”

The above quote is from The Hill's DEFCON Hill. Sec Def Panetta is calling for more action in Algeria in response to the three Americans that were killed. Reading the quote, I was struck by how it calls for unilateral escalation of violence while ignoring how US involvement in Mali caused the latest attack. No the US can't back down but we do have to remember that we are fighting an asymmetrical enemy and our actions will have asymmetrical results.

The Hill's DEFCON Hill

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Now that didn't take long. Reports are coming in about the "Battalion of Blood" storming a gas production facility in Algeria and capturing 41 foreigners. The Battalion of Blood is demanding a halt to military operations against Al Qaeda insurgents in Mali.

A local source told Reuters six foreign hostages were killed along with eight captors when the Algerian military fired on a vehicle being used by the gunmen. Mauritania's ANI news agency, which has been in constant contact with the kidnappers, said seven hostages were still being held: two Americans, three Belgians, one Japanese and one British citizen. It quoted one of the kidnappers as saying that Algerian ground forces were trying to fight their way into the complex. Reuters

After I wrote my blog about Mali, I was going to wrtie one abou the French and their involvement in Indochina (Vietnam) in the mid 1940s through 1950s. The French attempted to use conventional forces and tactics to fight unconventional forces (the Viet Minh) in a jungle. The result was the eventual defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu. You may recall US forces had a similar experience a mere ten years later fighting the Viet Cong with conventional forces with the end result being the same as the French.

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Despite the long history of others who tried and failed (including the might 19th Century British Army), the Soviets had one thing up their sleeve that should have made the difference. The Mujahideen fighters loved to run up into mountain caves and fired down on their enemies. Works like a charm on infantry, cavalry and even armored troops. It doesn't work so hot against a flying tank better known as the Mi-24 Hind. A hovering gunship was not something the Mujahideen were ready for until the US gave them stinger missiles (through our former friend, Osama bin Laden). The carnage became too high even for the Soviets and they pulled out.

Then in 2002, the US thought it was worth a shot chasing Osama bin Laden around Afghanistan. Needless to say, the US faced the same challenges as the Soviets. Ten years later, and the Obama administration is pulling out and there is not a lot to show for all of the carnage (remember, Osama bin Laden was actually killed in Pakistan).

It seems to me the West (especially the United States) is being drawn slowly into another Vietnam, only on a much larger scale. The US has been focused on Iran and Syria but now is also involved in Mali and potentially Algeria. We are still trying to use conventional forces to fight a hit and run type of foe. We do not have the forces to deal with all of these pop-ups and our enemies know it.

The British and French for that matter aren't that well off militarily either. Protracted involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan have tired the populace and caused a depletion of much of their wartime spares. Escalating conflicts in Northern Africa is not something the West should be drawn into.

Since the Tehran Embassy crisis, the West has focused on the Middle East as the potential region for a major conflict. What this mindset overlooks is that pan-Islamism is actually rooted in Northern Africa (the very region we are now being drawn into). The more Western military forces are used, the more strength the movement to create an Islamic state becomes.

Monday, January 14, 2013


US aircraft are supporting France in attacking Al Qaeda forces operating in Northern Mali. In retaliation, the Islamists have pledged to attack at the "heart of France". According to the article below, Mali is supportive of France's (and thus the US) intervention in Northern Mali.

Military intervention here has the very real possibility of turning Malin into what Afghanistan has become for the United States; a ground war with no real end in sight. Are troops really leaving Afghanistan in 2014? Well yes and no according to a piece on NPR last week. The majority of troops are due out in 2014 (perhaps in time to assist the French with Mail?), however a contingent of US commandos will remain for an undetermined amount of time assisting Afghani forces in killing Al Qaeda. This moves seems more in keeping with austere budget cuts for the military that are to begin this year than with any type of military success in Afghanistan.

The United States involvement in this action comes at an odd time. The Deparemt of Defense is going into sequestering which would ground aircraft and call ships back should it go into effect. “[W]e have no idea what the hell’s going to happen,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta bluntly said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday. “All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness.”

In the Daily Report from AF Magazine, it states "According to the Jan. 7 memo (from the service's leadership to Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter), signed by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force can no longer simply hope Congress will avoid the postponed sequester and is therefore taking steps to blunt the effects, which in any case will have "immediate and devastating impacts to readiness." Specifically, since combat units must have top priority, the Air Force will apply the mandated spending cuts to any units not in Afghanistan or spooling up to go there, "sacrificing preparedness for contingencies or [operations plans]," states the memo. The 18-percent reduction would be applied "disproportionately across the force," causing some units to "stand down for extended periods," with a possible "flying standdown from late July through September," wrote Donley and Welsh."

Despite warnings from both Panetta and the USAF, the Obama administration has the United States involved in yet another contingency.  The Mali government is perhaps one of the most pro-West governments in the region and since 9/11 has tried to prevent the northern provinces from becoming a haven for terrorists.  Unlike Libya, Mali is not a major oil producer.  Its main strategic mineral is gold.  It remains to be seen if the joint US/France military operations will result in a reduction of Al Qaeda activities.  More likely, it will result in terrorist attacks in France and perhaps even the US.

Marine Corps Times

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A retrospective

This time of year, many people reflect on what has happened as a way of figuring our what may happen in the future. Looking at world affairs, it seems 9/11 may be a good place to start.

Qaddafi, Hussein, and bin Laden have been killed in the years since 9/11 yet much remains unchanged. Al Qaeda remains the terrorist boogeyman and the Middle East is perhaps less stabilized than before the beginning of the war on terror. Mubarak's ouster has had a more dramatic impact with the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood (which was outlawed by Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat).

In Obama's second term, Kerry will replace Clinton at State, Hagel has been nominated for Defense and Brennan will take over at the Central Intelligence Agency. Kerry is not seen as doing anything to lessen use military presence overseas. Hagel is seen as anti-Israel and Brennan is seen as major proponent of drones. The three combined means tensions in the Middle East are unlikely to be decreased and more remote targeting of "terrorists" will be conducted via airborne robots. (Hagel should get confirmed but pro-Israeli groups and politicians may lobby to block his confirmation.)

All of this continues to ignore our neighbors to the South. A long time, I heard a South American analyst lecture about Colombia. His conclusion was that the perceived exploitation of Central and South America by the US was the reason for the drug cartels success. Basically drugs were being produced by with the intent of destroying the US from within (this was back in 1988).

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, cocaine was the main drug the Colombian/South American drug cartels smuggled into the US. At some point in the mid-90s, the cartels realized the market for cocaine was pretty much maxed-out, no room for increasing the market with new users. Thus was born the higher grade heroin that we see today. Heroin with a higher concentration could be snorted or smoked so cocaine users would be attracted to the new heroin (and not appear to be a junkie shooting up in an alley). Unfortunately for these new users, they discovered the real strategy of the cartels was to get users hooked.  Heroin is immediately addictive unlike cocaine.

Heroin is produced from poppies which aren't grown in Colombia so a new partnership was formed between South American cartels and Afghani poppy growers. The connection between cartels and Taliban leads many to speculate as to the real reason we are in Afghanistan. The new Secretary of State (Kerry) and Sec Def (Hagel most likely) will have to assess the consequences of keeping troops on the ground in that part of world.

China continues to build-up and improve its military capability which begs the question, why? Even if not for a direct confrontation with the US, Chinese technology will force the US to keep developing new weapon systems at a somewhat quicker rate than has happened in the past. Part of the reason the F-35 cost so much is its lengthy development time (plus coming up with three distinct variants to meet the needs of three different service components).

Speaking of the F-35, this is most likely the last manned fighter aircraft we will see. Drones and robots have advanced to the point that manned aircraft are actually a barrier. Flight characteristics are hampered by the need to keep the pilot from being squished to death in a high G-turn. Drones can now take-off, fly and return to base without human intervention. Drones can maintain extremely times on-station and the best part, they are much more affordable than the F-35. Ground forces are not to be outdone, robots now walk and look like men and pack animals. Meaning robots can handle rough terrain that wheeled vehicles cannot and again don't get tired (or want promotions or healthcare). 

Despite those advances, we still pretty much remain focused on fighting asymmetrical threats with symmetrical forces. Despite being at war for over a decade, we still are using much of the same tactics. 

It is unlikely that under the second Obama Administration much will change. There may be some increase tensions and perhaps some more air campaigns but in the end, nothing much is going to change.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Saudi jets bolster US drone attacks on Yemen

According to this article France24, Saudi Arabian fighters supported US drone strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Yemen. The unasked question is how are we striking targets in a country that the US has not declared war on? The same question went unasked when a US drone killed a cleric in Yemen (who held US citizenship). The US has had cause to declare hostilities against Yemen going back to 2000 when the USS Cole was bombed, however such unilateral action was not an option in the pre-9/11 world. Saudi Arabia supporting the strikes has more to do with the royal Saud family worries about and nuclear Iran than US concerns about Al Qaeda. Keeping US forces in the region means Iran will not be able to target Saudi targets without potentially striking US forces. It will be interesting what happens after the innauguration.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

EMP Attack

An oldie but goodie has been showing up in movie plotlines and web articles over the last few months; electromagnetic pulse or EMP. 

"EMP is the abrupt pulse of electromagnetic radiation usually results from certain types of high-energy explosions, especially a nuclear explosion, or from a suddenly fluctuating magnetic field. The resulting rapidly changing electric fields and magnetic fields may couple with electrical/electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges."

Back when I got paid to worry about what the Soviet military might do, EMP was our favorite attack to worry about.  Unlike say a full out nuclear strike, a single nuclear device could be detonated at altitude and in theory wipeout all of the solid-state circuit based technology of the 80s and 90s.  The movie version would have it attacking major population centers but the USAF was more concerned about a localized EMP over the battle field.  It would render all of the high tech weapons of the USAF more or less useless.

EMP had the added attraction for the Soviets of giving more bang for the buck.  Since Soviet nukes were not thought to possess great accuracy, they tended to be built with greater yields.  Basically if you can't hit it with a rifle shot, hit it with a howitzer.  An EMP attack overcame the accuracy deficit one better; if you can't hit the street address, blackout the whole zip code.

Successfully launching an EMP burst would essentially blind your advisary and render anything that uses solid state components (including modern ignition systems) inoperable.  This is in part why EMP has become an motivating concept for some "preppers".  EMP does not have to come from a nuclear device, our good old sun is more than capable of spitting out a large enough burst of electro-magnetic energy to make the Soviet attack scenario look like a picnic.

But all of this seems to grandiose to me.  We now live in the 21st Century with smart phones and tablet computers common place.  I wondered, could you build a compact EMP generator that did not require a nuclear detonation?

A simple Google search for "EMP generator" produced 1.6 million hits!  This shows an EMP attack is far more likely and concerning than anything I imagined back in the 20th Century.  A large EMP generator could be built that could render a nuclear power plant, power grid, network operations center or telecommunications hub inoperable.  Unlike a nuclear explosion, this could be covert and re-used to target different communications nodes.  Also unlike our favorite WMD scenario, building an EMP generator is not likely to kill your operatives.

Unlike a cyber attack like Stuxnet, it doesn't require specialized coding and networking skills.  Someone with basic electronics training could build something that could disrupt a police dispatching system.  A coordinated attack of EMP generators through a major city or region could be easier to pull of that any of the other doomsday scenarios that are dreamed up by DHS.

The news will be filled with the NRA and gun control advocates battling it out over legislation.  Images of confiscation will be transposed with images of more school shootings.  Yet a terrorist cell is more likely to go for something more wide scale compared to a mass shooting spree (Mumbai being an exception).  A coordinated EMP attack seems even more likely than it did 30 years ago.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Predictions

As we await news of if the US is going over the fiscal cliff, it seems like just as a good a time as any to make some predictions for the upcoming year;

1.  The European economy will force NATO to reduce or completely withdraw from Afghanistan.  The US will then follow suite and will refocus on North Korea and China.

2.  Unfortunately for the US, Iran will continue to provoke Israel into a shooting conflict. If tensions do lead to a conflict, it will most likely happen over the spring or summer.

3. Syria will devolve into Somalia creating an interesting choice for the US, continue to sit it out or send in forces?

4.  Much like the advent of CENTCOM, US African Command (AFRICOM) will send troops into Africa on a low level first and then hostilities will increase as new cells of Al Qaeda are "suddenly" encountered.

5.  Al Qaeda will be linked to a new attack on the homeland.  Unlike what the conspiracy theorists think, this will the impetus for granting DHS new powers and federalizing the National Guard.

6.  More mass shootings will occur at schools and malls.  These targets are just too soft and afford copy cats the opportunity for their 15 minutes of fame.

7.  Hillary Clinton's health will continue to deteriorate preventing her from running in 2016.

8.  China will ramp up production of aircraft carriers and stealth fighters.  China gets my vote for the country most likely to produce technology that will render our best drones useless (with an honorable mention to Russia).

9.  Our food supply will be attacked (again) and everyone will mistake it for poor hygiene of migrant workers.

10.  A major cyber attack will successfully be launched against the US attacking either our power grid or water purification.