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2008 December 07 Sunday
Imposter Almost Causes India-Pakistan War

This really happened.

Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani President, took a telephone call from a man pretending to be Pranab Mukherjee, India's Foreign Minister, on Friday, November 28, apparently without following the usual verification procedures, they said.

The hoax caller threatened to take military action against Pakistan in response to the then ongoing Mumbai attacks, which India has since blamed on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), they said.

Mr Zardari responded by placing Pakistan's air force on high alert and telephoning Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, to ask her to intervene.

This is funny. Admit it. Sure the stakes are high and tens or hundreds of millions could have died. But the fact that a phone caller can trick the President of Pakistan into putting the Pakistani air force on high alert is a hoot.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 07 10:48 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 December 25 Monday
New York Times Wants Bigger Army

You might think by now the editors of the Gray Lady might have figured out that giving a US President a big military is asking for trouble. But no. The editors of the Gray Lady think future Presidents should be able to send larger occupation forces abroad in foreign adventures (really, I'm not making this up).

Military reality finally broke through the Bush administration’s ideological wall last week, with President Bush publicly acknowledging the need to increase the size of the overstretched Army and Marine Corps. Larger ground forces are an absolute necessity for the sort of battles America is likely to fight during the coming decades: extended clashes with ground-based insurgents rather than high-tech shootouts with rival superpowers.

Why should we want to get into extended clashes with ground-based insurgents? By what logic does the United States need to become a neo-colonial power that occupies other countries with hostile populaces for extended periods of time? How is the United States made more secure by this practice?

To put it another way: What list of countries does the New York Times editorial board think make candidates for future American military occupation and to what end? Long term occupations are expensive in dollars and manpower and in deaths and maimings of soldiers. The $170 billion we are wasting this fiscal year in Iraq is not a pattern we should try to emulate in other countries in the future.

Foreign occupations do not uplift and enlighten the occupied peoples. Most countries that do well by occupation tend to be more advanced and organized in the first place (e.g. Germany and Japan). The truly messed up places that get occupied again and again (e.g. Haiti) stay messed up. That's a pattern that will recur until we develop the ability to do genetic engineering on occupied peoples.

The Gray Lady notes that the Pentagon has wanted to invest in more powerful naval and air assets.

When the 21st century began, Pentagon planners expected that American forces could essentially coast unchallenged for a few decades, relying on superior air and sea power, while preparing for possible future military competition with an increasingly powerful China. That meant investing in the Air Force and Navy, not the Army and Marines.

Money wasted in Iraq is money not available for building up the US military to meet real threats that could emerge such as China. We are better off spending on the Air Force and Navy. Oceans and air space separate us from any serious potential future challengers.

If the goal is to protect ourselves from the Muslims the best way to do that is to separate Muslims from Western countries by keeping them out of the West. That would buy us more security than a big Army, and Marines big Navy, or big Air Force. Also, we should work seriously to develop energy technologies to make non-oil energy sources cheaper than oil. Cheaper nuclear, solar, and other non-oil energy technologies would reduce the flow of money to the Middle East, the idleness that oil money makes possible for in Arabs in oil states, and the problems that come from an old saying my grandmother used to say "Idle hands are the devil's workshop".

By Randall Parker    2006 December 25 09:41 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 September 10 Sunday
Hezbollah Beat Israel At Electronic Warfare?

An article in the Asia Times reports a variety of ways in which Hezbollah fighters, using technical help from Iran and Syria, were able to glean important battlefield information from Israeli forces in Lebanon while blocking Israeli attempts to block Hezbollah communications.

"Israeli EW [electronic warfare] systems were unable to jam the systems at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, they proved unable to jam Hezbollah's command and control links from Lebanon to Iranian facilities in Syria, they blocked the Barak ship anti-missile systems, and they hacked into Israeli operations communications in the field," Richard Sale, the longtime intelligence editor for United Press International, who was alerted to this intelligence failure by current and former CIA officials, told Asia Times Online.

In the next Arab-Israeli conflict will the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) take way the cell phones of Israeli soldiers going into battle?

Part of the reason for Hezbollah's decisive battlefield performance was that it was gleaning valuable information by monitoring telephone conversations in Hebrew between Israeli reservists and their families on their personal mobile phones.

We do not see much (or at least I haven't) about electronic warfare in Iraq where the insurgents use electronic measures to monitor or block communications of US forces. The insurgents use cell phones to set off bombs. Do they do anything more with electronics and communications?

By Randall Parker    2006 September 10 12:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2005 October 11 Tuesday
US Soldiers Going Deeper Into Remote South Afghanistan

Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor is writing a 3 part series on his experience embedding with US Army 82 Airborne soldiers as they flew into a remote part of Afghanistan and went on patrol. The soldiers carry 115 lbs of equipment.

For the next five days, I will have a front-row seat in what some call "The Other War," where 18,000 US troops continue fighting four years after ousting the Taliban government and sending Osama bin Laden into hiding. I will accompany a US Army squad carrying a mere 40 lbs. of body armor, notebooks, water, and MREs, while they carry up to 115 lbs. of "battle rattle" - guns, ammo, food, body armor, radios, and night-vision equipment.

The villagers need to be friendly to both the Taliban and the US and Afghan government soldiers.

But as they patrol the villages, the squad also knows that democracy often has little to do with local loyalties. Unarmed Afghan villagers will always cooperate with whatever gunman is in town at a given time. Brannan's men know that a village of "friendlies," as cooperative Afghans are called, can turn into a Taliban haven overnight.

"I don't know who the villagers are closer to, the Taliban or us," says Senior Airman Brian Mellon, alias Gunslinger 37. He's an Air Force forward air controller temporarily assigned to Brannan's unit to call in and coordinate airstrikes if needed. "If we go there, we talk to them, give them food. But if the Taliban go there, they beat the local people. So if your life's in danger, it's more conducive to work with the Taliban."

US soldiers are going deeper into remote areas where US forces haven't previously patrolled. When a village has ammunition but no guns the soldiers assume that the ammo belongs to the Taliban. What I find curious is that some villages are so poor the people can not even afford guns - and this in a country with large numbers of guns.

I'll update this post with links to the 2nd and 3rd parts of the series when those articles show up on the web.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 11 12:59 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2004 October 12 Tuesday
US Military Sensor Network In Iraq Invasion Performed Poorly

Lt. Col. Ernest “Rock” Marcone was a battalion commander of the 69th Armor of the US Army 3rd ID during the Iraq invasion tasked with seizing the Objective Peach bridge across the Euphrates on the edge of Baghdad, Marcone found that all the modern US military sensor networks provided front line troops little help in finding the enemy.

As night fell, the situation grew threatening. Marcone arrayed his battalion in a defensive position on the far side of the bridge and awaited the arrival of bogged-down reinforcements. One communications intercept did reach him: a single Iraqi brigade was moving south from the airport. But Marcone says no sensors, no network, conveyed the far more dangerous reality, which confronted him at 3:00 a.m. April 3. He faced not one brigade but three: between 25 and 30 tanks, plus 70 to 80 armored personnel carriers, artillery, and between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi soldiers coming from three directions. This mass of firepower and soldiers attacked a U.S. force of 1,000 soldiers supported by just 30 tanks and 14 Bradley fighting vehicles. The Iraqi deployment was just the kind of conventional, massed force that’s easiest to detect. Yet “We got nothing until they slammed into us,” Marcone recalls.

Objective Peach was not atypical of dozens of smaller encounters in the war. Portions of a forthcoming, largely classified report on the entire Iraq campaign, under preparation by the Santa Monica, CA, think tank Rand and shared in summary with Technology Review, confirm that in this war, one key node fell off the U.S. intelligence network: the front-line troops. “What we uncovered in general in Iraq is, there appeared to be something I refer to as a ‘digital divide,’” says Walter Perry, a senior researcher at Rand’s Arlington, VA, office and a former army signals officer in Vietnam. “At the division level or above, the view of the battle space was adequate to their needs. They were getting good feeds from the sensors,” Perry says. But among front-line army commanders like Marcone—as well as his counterparts in the U.S. Marines—“Everybody said the same thing. It was a universal comment: ‘We had terrible situational awareness,’” he adds.

The article goes on to state that front line troops found the enemy the way they always have: by running into them. Also, even that quote above paints a rosier picture than the full aricle provides. There were lots of failures of network data flows at the higher levels of the command chain with systems shutting down for 10 and 12 hours at a time.

The US military is even less well equipped to fight an insurgency. Though obviously in the extended battle against the insurgency lots of lessons are being learned and no doubt some high tech equipment is being developed and deployed to better fight an insurgency. Still, whatever the technological advances may have occurred in the last year and a half since the fall of Baghdad those advances have not yet managed to give the US military such a huge advantage over the insurgency that the US military can crush the insurgency the way the US forces can crush a conventional army.

If you think the US military's electronic information systems worked incredibly well in Iraq be sure to read the full and lengthy article and you will be disabused of that notion.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 12 12:01 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 January 11 Sunday
Peter Maass On Major John Nagl, Counterinsurgency Scholar In Iraq

US Major John Nagl, who has studied counterinsurgency at Oxford, is now in Iraq serving as operations officer for a batallion of the First Infantry Division in the Sunni Triangle. The always excellent Peter Maass followed Nagl around for two weeks on patrols and wrote a very insightful report on how US military counterinsurgency efforts are faring in Iraq.

Maj. John Nagl approaches war pragmatically and philosophically, as a soldier and a scholar. He graduated close to the top of his West Point class in 1988 and was selected as a Rhodes scholar. He studied international relations at Oxford for two years, then returned to military duty just in time to take command of a tank platoon during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, earning a Bronze Star for his efforts. After the war, he went back to England and earned his Ph.D. from St. Antony's College, the leading school of foreign affairs at Oxford. While many military scholars were focusing on peacekeeping or the impact of high-tech weaponry, Nagl was drawn to a topic much less discussed in the 1990's: counterinsurgency.

The US civilian presence in Iraq is so meager and incapable that the US military is effectively the ruling government and carries almost all the counterinsurgency burden.

Ignoring the civic side of counterinsurgency has been likened to playing chess while your enemy is playing poker. Though this truism is now well known in the military, Nagl acknowledges that it is not being applied in Iraq as well as it could be.

The civic chores are supposed to be shouldered by the American-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority, led by L. Paul Bremer III, but the C.P.A. remains isolated and rather inept at implementation. Its presence is minimal outside Baghdad, and even in the capital the C.P.A.'s thousands-strong staff spends much of its time in the so-called Green Zone, in and around Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace, behind elaborate rings of security and far removed from Iraqi civilian life. Some of the staff are on 90-day tours: they arrive; they learn a little; they leave. On the few occasions when C.P.A. officials venture outside the compound, they are usually escorted by G.I.'s or private guards.

The single year of service in-country for each soldier sent to Vietnam combined with the ticket-punching mentality of so many officers who treated Vietnam experience as essential for their resumes resulted in a serving force that was not committed to victory and which suffered from a continual lack of experience in a way that lasted many years. The US civilian officials in Baghdad are essentially repeating this mistake with their way of staffing and operating.

One morning, during breakfast at the battalion canteen, I asked Nagl about the Coalition Provisional Authority. He has yet to see a C.P.A. official at the base, he said. He pointed to an empty plastic chair at the table and asked: ''Where's the guy from C.P.A.? He should be sitting right there.''

Given the weakness of the C.P.A., Nagl and other soldiers are effectively in charge not only of the military aspects of the counterinsurgency but also of reconstruction work and political development. Trained to kill tanks, the officers at Camp Manhattan spend much of their time meeting local sheiks and apportioning the thin funds at their disposal for rebuilding; the battalion maintains a list of school-improvement projects known as ''the Romper Room list.'' It is not unusual for Nagl and Colonel Swisher to go out in the morning on a ''cordon and search'' raid and return in the afternoon to their tactical operations center for a meeting with the second in command, Maj. David Indermuehle, about dispersing small grants to local health clinics.

But how can the US forces win over hearts and minds when few of the US soldiers can speak Arabic?

After a half-hour, the crowd filtered away, leaving Nagl with a metaphor for his hearts-and-minds effort: ''Across this divide they're looking at us, we're looking at them from behind barbed wire, and they're trying to understand why we're here, what we want from them. Almost inconceivable to a lot of them, I think, that what we want for them is the right to make their own decisions, to live free lives. It's probably hard to understand that if you have lived your entire life under Saddam Hussein's rule. And it's hard for us to convey that message, particularly given the fact that few of us speak Arabic.''

To the extent that US troops in Iraq can not speak Arabic and can not accurately identify who is an enemy and who is a neutral or a friend to that extent the US will use the wrong kinds of force against the wrong targets and will create resentment and build up support for the enemy. Well, US forces have not been trained well enough for counterinsurgency and do not know Arabic or Arab culture in sufficient numbers to be able to function down at the batallion, company, and platoon levels with the finesse and insight that the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq requires.

''I didn't realize how right Lawrence of Arabia was,'' Nagl said to me once. ''My first experience of war was the gulf war, which was very clean. We shot the tanks that didn't look like ours, we shot the enemy wearing a uniform that didn't look like ours, we destroyed the enemy in 100 hours. That's kind of what I thought war was. Even when I was writing that insurgency was messy and slow, the full enormity of that did not sink in on me. I am seeing appreciable progress, but I am starting to understand in the pit of my stomach how hard, how long, how slow counterinsurgency really is. There is no prospect it's going to end anytime soon.''

Maass recounts a visit to a training camp where US soldiers are teaching Iraqi recruits for the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC). What does it say about US capabilities to train Arabs that the Arabs are being taught to say in English ''Raise your hands!'' and ''Drop your weapon!''? The Americans are giving the Iraqis English language nicknames because the Americans can't remember the Iraqi names. This is ineptitude.

More of the aid money being sent to Iraq ought to be passed down to the batallion level for dispersal by officers on the front line of the counterinsurgency. They ought to have that money to pass out in order to give them more carrots to use along with their sticks. Also, thousands of officers and regular soldiers ought to be getting intensive courses in Arabic in advance of their deployment to Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2004 January 11 04:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 November 05 Wednesday
Japanese Leaders Want To Remove Constitution Pacifist Clause

Worries about North Korea are a major factor in the shift in thinking. (Daily Telegraph, free reg. required)

Japan's constitution should be rewritten to remove or amend pacifist safeguards imposed after the Second World War, according to a poll yesterday of candidates representing the country's governing party. The poll by the Asahi newspaper showed that constitutional revision was favoured by almost 90 per cent of candidates from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is expected to win this week's general election comfortably.

While fears of North Korea are no doubt the biggest factor who wants to bet they haven't been thinking about China's growing economic might and growing military?

By Randall Parker    2003 November 05 08:18 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 11 Friday
Private Military Services Companies For Peacekeeping

Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution has written a long article about private military services entitled Peacekeepers, Inc.

The contrasting experiences in Sierra Leone between the military provider firm Executive Outcomes and the U.N.'s peacekeeping operation are the most often cited example of privatization's promise. In 1995, the Sierra Leone government was near defeat from the ruf, a nefarious rebel group whose habit of chopping off the arms of civilians as a terror tactic made it one of the most truly evil groups of the late twentieth century. Supported by multinational mining interests, the government hired the private military firm, made up of veterans from the South African apartheid regime's elite forces, to help rescue it. Deploying a battalion-sized unit of assault infantry (numbering in the low hundreds), who were supported by firm-manned combat helicopters, light artillery, and a few armored vehicles, Executive Outcomes was able to defeat the RUF in a span of weeks. Its victory brought enough stability to allow Sierra Leone to hold its first election in over a decade. After its contract termination, however, the war restarted. In 1999 the U.N. was sent in. Despite having a budget and personnel size nearly 20 times that of the private firm, the U.N. force took several years of operations, and a rescue by the British military, to come close to the same results.

The UN is incredibly expensive and ineffective. The British military is more cost effective. But what about Executive Outcomes? I bet they were cheaper still. So where are they?

Curiously, while the Executive Outcomes home page still exists in Google Cache if you click thru to the ExecutiveOutcomes.com web site you now are redirected to an organization that sounds like it offers the same kinds of services: Northbridge Services Group Ltd. They have all sorts of services available:

Northbridge Services Group prides itself on the success of its team which is comprised of a highly professional workforce. We have a track record of over 5000 man-years of military knowledge, combat and training experience, with staffing from organizations such as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. and British special forces. All personell are hand picked and highly trained, assuring you nothing less than the best. Our success record is as yet unequalled. The corporation is most probably the largest of its type in the world.

Northbridge offers a wide range of services designed to meet the needs of most organisations. Whether it is strategic advice, intelligence support, humanitarian disaster relief, counter-terrorism, support for law and order or close protection teams, we have the services and resources to suit.

Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper to pay these folks to change the government in Liberia and to make it a relatively peaceful place? This may sound funny or somehow irreverant perhaps. But think about this seriously. Why not contract out peacekeeping if private organisations can do it more cost effectively? Iraq is probably too big a problem to be tackled by a private company. But Liberia is a whole lot smaller. A company like Northbridge could probably name a price for the removal of Charles Taylor and various other prices for other desired outcomes. Singer reports that Executive Outcomes claimed it could have handled the Rwanda situation more quickly, cheaply, and with much less loss of life:

Similarly, the aforementioned Executive Outcomes performed a business exploration of whether it would have had the capacity to intervene in Rwanda in 1994. Internal plans claim that the company could have had armed troops on the ground within 14 days of its hire and been fully deployed with over 1,500 of its own soldiers, along with air and fire support (roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Marine force that first deployed into Afghanistan), within six weeks. The cost for a six-month operation to provide protected safe havens from the genocide was estimated at $150 million (around $600,000 a day). This private option compares quite favorably with the eventual U.N. relief operation, which deployed only after the killings. The U.N. operation ended up costing $3 million a day (and did nothing to save hundreds of thousands of lives).

Singer also mentions an association of private military services companies called The International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) whose own web site description makes it sound like just another industry trade association.

The International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) is an association of Military Service Provider companies - companies who work or are interested in international peace operations around the world. This includes companies that do everything from mine clearance, to armed logistics, to emergency humanitarian services, to actual armed peacekeepers.

The association was founded to institute industry-wide standards and a code of conduct, maintain sound professional and military practices, educate the public and policy-makers on the industry's activities and potential, and ensure the humanitarian use of private peacekeeping services for the benefit of international peace and human security.

Update: One reason to be for the use of private militaries is that the US military is not big enough. As I've previously posted, the US military is too small for its current responsibilities. We already can not sustain current force levels in Iraq indefinitely. Also, see Trent Telenko's lengthy post on the overstretched US military. If the UN or the Europeans or US liberals want something done about Liberia then it is time to hire a private army to get the job done. This will spare the already overstretched US Army and save money.

Update II: Managing Director Denis Fraser writes to tell me about Isec Corporate Security Ltd.

I was interested to read your excellent article on Private Military Companies on your website. I cannot agree more.

Isec Corporate Security are a private military company specialising in all forms of Military combat and training. Our operatives are intelligent and extremely well disciplined. We have over twelve hundred hand picked Ex-British special forces at your disposal. We recruit solely from the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Squadron (SBS) Airborne and Marine Commando. We are a self contained force and available for missions in any theatre of operation any where in the world and for any duration.

We are able to supply teams for skill transfer as well as full military intervention. We also have teams available for hazardous close protection duties or indeed we can supply a larger force with air or marine support should the task require. We have extensive experience in Africa. We are have the best battle tested combat teams available anywhere in the world. British Special forces are revered the world over for their military prowess, this resource is available to you for deployment immediately.

Our motto is "Ethics in action" we have been described as the perfect balance between corporate ethics and military precision. Should you have any questions about security issues or wish to discuss any related subjects for future articles please contact me and I will be happy to answer any of your queries. Alternatively visit our website for further details: www.privatemilitarycompany.com

By Randall Parker    2003 July 11 11:12 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (43)
2003 July 06 Sunday
Frederick Kagan Says US Army Too Small

Frederick Kagan joins Stanley Kurtz and a number of other commentators in claiming that the US military is too small for the tasks that have been assigned to it.

The problem is that we cannot maintain such a large force in Iraq for a year without seriously damaging the Army and harming our ability to pursue other critical objectives. Given the normal requirement to have two units at home for every one deployed, the 11-division-equivalent U.S. Army could support a three-and-two-thirds division commitment to Iraq indefinitely--at the cost of having no forces available for operations anywhere else in the world. But the current deployment is the equivalent of more than five divisions (the 101st Airborne, 4th Infantry, and 1st Armored divisions, two brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division, the 2nd and 3rd Armored Cavalry regiments, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and elements of the 1st Infantry and 10th Mountain divisions).

Additional forces are tied down in South Korea, Afghanistan, and an assortment of other places. It is obvious from looking at the numbers that the US military is too small for everything it is doing. One might expect in response to this that there'd either be a push by top leadership to increase the size of the military or to scale back on some US commitments. Instead in response to political pressure Bush is considering sending US troops to war-torn Liberia.

Among those calling for US intervention in Liberia is Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic.

Second, if the Bush administration isn't prepared to save countries like Liberia, perhaps its supporters could at least stop lecturing Europe about our morally superior foreign policy. Explaining his government's intervention in Côte d'Ivoire, France's much-loathed Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said recently, "France accepts its responsibilities." Can the Bush administration look at Liberia, America's brutalized, abandoned West African stepchild, and say the same?

This is the same Peter Beinart whose magazine is complaining about the Bush Administration's handling (or apparently mishandling in TNR's view) of intelligence reports to sell the war on Iraq. Given that the TNR's support for the war in Iraq probably predated the claims the Bush Administration made about Iraq's WMD program the TNR argument about how Bush justified the war seems somehow ungrateful. He did what they wanted. But they were determined (probably because he's a Republican and they are Democrats) not to be happy about it. Now TNR has moved on to calling for US military intervention in some God forsaken place where they can say any imperial administration obviously must be altruistic. Could it be that as liberals they didn't find the US intervention in Iraq to be sufficiently altruistic and that they want to advocate a policy that will let them assuage their guilty feelings over supporting the war even though they really thought the war was necessary?

The calls for US intervention in Liberia strike me as irresponsible. We do not have enough soldiers to deal with problems we already have (you know, little things like the occupation of Iraq and the attempts to intimidate North Korea and Iran out of developing nuclear weapons). The proponents of US intervention in Liberia would be a lot more convincing if they argued for a large increase in funding for the military as a necessary precondition before the military was saddled with any added responsibility. They'd at least then be admitting to the populace that there is a cost to the taxpayers for the US playing global policeman.

Update: Linda Feldmann reports on arguments being made on behalf of US intervention in Liberia.

On the humanitarian front, the war in Liberia has killed more than a quarter-million people and chased out 2 million more as refugees. On the regional front, Liberian President Charles Taylor is seen as a destabilizing presence, having helped launch wars in three neighboring countries. On the energy front, there is an oil dimension to the Liberia story: One-fifth of US oil comes from West Africa.

First of all, Liberia's fighting is not endangering oil production in Nigeria. Also, what sets the United States military apart is the ability to intervene against much more formidable opponents. A military of far lesser ability (e.g. Germany's or France's or Italy's for that matter) could intervene in Liberia and change the regime there. If Western elites are so upset about what is happening in Liberia and at the same time resent US unilateralism then I say to them "have at it". If a foreign military's ships (even leased cruise ships) appeared on the horizon that'd probably be enough to cause a coup. The US faces much bigger problems with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea and can not afford to waste already overstretched resources in Liberia. Others could do the job and if it is to be done then others should do it.

That article repeats the widely made assertion that Liberia was founded by freed slaves. Well, as Mary Kay Ricks reports "Although some freed American slaves did settle there, Liberia was actually founded by the American Colonization Society, a group of white Americans—including some slaveholders".

Update II: The 3rd Infantry Division is stuck in Iraq because the US Army is not big enough to do everything assigned to it.

"The frustration is so great, you just wonder if it's going to cause someone to snap," says Maj. Patrick Ratigan, chaplain for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Fallujah. This unit was told that the way home was through Baghdad, and subsequent exit dates have come and gone, as the deployment stretches to 10 months.

Morale is falling in tired Army units in Iraq.

In one Army unit, an officer described the mentality of troops. "They vent to anyone who will listen. They write letters, they cry, they yell. Many of them walk around looking visibly tired and depressed.... We feel like pawns in a game that we have no voice [in]."

By Randall Parker    2003 July 06 01:56 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 11 Wednesday
South Korea Joins United States In Arms Build Up

South Korea is going to make a large increase in defense spending.

South Korea's defense ministry asked for a 28 percent increase in next year's budget to 22.3 trillion won ($18.7 billion). This equals 3.2 percent of gross domestic product, up from 2.7 percent this year.

Defense spending will increase even more in future budgets.

Earlier this week, South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil said the ministry was considering raising the annual defense spending gradually to a level that represents 3.5 percent of the GDP

The latest budget notably revives plans for the purchanse of the Patriot missile defense system.

The project to bolster South Korea's defense capabilities against North Korean missiles was suspended in February when South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun took office, vowing to step up inter-Korean rapprochement.

This comes on the heels of a US announcement to spend an additional $11 billion on US forces in Korea in the next 3 years and to pull US troops back from the DMZ. The US wanted South Korea to increase defense spending and so this announcement is a win for US policy makers. It is possible that the Bush Administration played hardball and told the South Koreans that the US would pull out of South Korea entirely if South Korea didn't step up to the plate and make a bigger effort to build up its defenses. Also, the South Koreans now have to face the fact that they are going to be alone up there on the DMZ and had better be well equipped. Plus, they now understand the US could get sufficiently confrontational with North Korea that a real war is a distinct possibility at some point.

North Korea can not afford to compete with the United States and South Korea in an arms spending race. This latest news is additional pressure on the Pyongyang regime. There are obvious historical parallels that can be drawn with the US arms spending build-up of the 1980s and its contribution to bankrupting the Soviet Union. Whether the North Korean regime will also collapse as a result remains to be seen.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 11 11:58 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 10 Tuesday
US Soldiers Against Syrian Jihadists In Fight For Baghdad

StrategyPage.com has published a couple of emails it received about a battle that happened during the fight for Baghdad against Syrian Jihadists to control critical road junctions.

I can't tell the story of this fight in an email. It will take me at least an Infantry Magazine article, maybe a series of articles. The enemy at CURLEY turned out to be fanatical Syrian Jihadists, determined to die. They attacked incessantly for 12-14 hours, firing small arms and RPGs from buildings, trenches, bunkers, and rubble along side the cloverleaf intersection. They "charged" the US positions (the only word that fits), in taxis, cars, trucks with heavy machine guns mounted, and even in motorcycles with recoilless rifles tied to the side cars (not a war story, I saw one of them that the battalion captured). They drove cars loaded with explosives at high speed towards the US positions, hoping to take American with them in death when they exploded. The mortar platoon occupied the southern part of the objective with two tubes aimed north and two aimed south. They fired simultaneous indirect fire missions south and north, while the gunners on the .50 caliber machine guns fired direct fire to defend their positions. The mortar men continued to fire missions even while under ground assault and indirect fire. They fired over 20 direct lay missions against buildings housing enemy forces and against "Technical Vehicles" firing against the position.

Objectives code named CURLEY, LARRY and MOE were large coverleaf highway intersections which were the scene of a couple of days of fierce fighting. The second letter details how a platoon leader narrowly escaped death at the hands of a couple of T-72 tanks.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 10 02:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 08 Sunday
Half US Army Active Division Strength Tied Down In Iraq

With a total number of troops committed to Iraq adding up to half the 10 active US Army divisions the United States does not have a large enough force to deal with any other problem that may arise.

While the stress on the Army can probably be sustained for a few more months, the official said, any delay beyond that could seriously disrupt troop rotation schedules for Afghanistan and South Korea and erode the Army's ability to maintain an adequate reserve for other contingencies.

Asked if he had ever seen the Army so stretched, the official said: "Not in my 31 years" of military service.

The United States isn't going to attack Iran or North Korea for many months to come because the US military is not big enough to manage anything more than its current commitments.

In light of the strains that occupation of Iraq are putting on the US military it is interesting to note that Donald Rumsfeld would like to cut the US Army size by two active divisions. He wants to free up the money to buy equipment that will revolutionize American war-fighting capabilities. This brings up the question of what the US military is for at this point. If the biggest job it is going to have is to invade countries that are developing nuclear weapons then the problem with Rumsfeld's plan is that it already takes a lot more soldiers to occupy a country than it does to invade it. Perhaps he should put more funding toward the development of equipment that will automate more of the work of an occupying army rather than built fancier equipment for doing the invasions.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 08 06:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2003 May 08 Thursday
Taliban Resurgence In Afghanistan

The resurgence of the Taliban is helped greatly by their Islamic fundamentalist Pashtun compatriots who control the governments of the Pakistan provinces which border on Afghanistan.

Taliban activists in Pakistan and Afghanistan say they are receiving direct support from Pakistan's powerful religious parties, including Jamaat-i Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i Islam, which control the government of two key border provinces. "We are at home as we were before (President) Musharraf hatched a conspiracy against us at the behest of the Americans," says Mir Jan, a Taliban fighter in Quetta. "But our brothers [the mullahs] are in power, so it means we are in power."

The New York Times reports that even elements in Pakistan's federal government continue to help the Taliban,

Those familiar with the situation contend that Pakistan's army and secret service are allowing the Taliban to operate in Pakistan, and even protecting them. Further, the local government, now dominated by an alliance of religious parties sympathetic to the Taliban, provides them with legitimacy by association.

The Taliban are attacking and destroying schools around Kandahar.

But that approach has failed and the evidence mounts with each new Taliban insurgence in the region. A Western aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross was killed in the province recently. Gul Agha's soldiers and U.S. forces have battled Taliban fighters to the north and south of Kandahar in recent days. Schools are being burned in the night. Western aid workers are fleeing.

Is the Bush Administration worried? US military figures say US troops may be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2004.

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The departing commander of U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan says those troops' success fighting terrorist holdouts, combined with improved recruiting by the new Afghan army, means that Americans stationed here could start going home as early as summer 2004.

Donald Rumsfeld paints a fairly rosy picture of progress in Afghanistan.

In addition to ISAF personnel, more than 10,000 U.S.-led coalition forces remain in Afghanistan to seek out Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week in Kabul that the combat phase of operations in Afghanistan is largely over. He said military forces have begun shifting their focus to civil-assistance and reconstruction projects.

US handling of post-war Afghanistan does not inspire confidence over how post-war Iraq will be handled. However, Iraq is more important to the US and therefore a bigger effort will be made there. Still, what is happening in Afghanistan is also important for a reason which is too often forgotten: Pakistan has nuclear bombs and the support coming from Islamists in the Pakistani government for the Taliban is a frightening indicator of the extent of Islamist influence in a nation that has nuclear weapons and the ability to make more of them.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 08 03:29 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
South Koreans Fearful Of War Make Quiet Departure Plans

Writing in The Christian Science Monitor Robert Marquand reports on South Koreans who plan ways to leave South Korea in case war looks imminent.

"It is what we talk about, but not too loudly," an older research specialist in Seoul reports. Like most Koreans contacted, he won't be identified. "It is a North Korean scare, and related issues. It is a subterranean feeling of insecurity. If you are wealthy, you've got a plan, and maybe a plane ticket sitting in a drawer."

Few Koreans will say directly that "North Korea" or "security" is a rationale for leaving. Yet several who are thinking about a visa, admitted that security issues influence their thinking.

The most interesting thing about the article is just how long-standing this fear has been in South Korea. While the fear is higher now than it was a few years ago it was higher still in 1994. The belief that they might some day need to flee has been a recurring belief among many South Koreans for a long time.

While it is not clear that the US will go to war against North Korea this year it seems inevitable that the war will happen sooner or later. The United States military needs to make a larger effort to develop counters to those parts of the North Korean arsenal that pose the biggest threat to the South Korean civilian population. If the US could succeed in developing effective counters this would reduce the divergence of interests between the US and South Korea over how to handle North Korea. The effect would be to create new military options for the US to deal with North Korea.

The threat of massive North Korean artillery barrages into civilian areas south of the DMZ seems like the problem most in need of a solution. The threat comes from what is reported to be over 10,000 artillery pieces dug into hillsides and mountains in North Korea. It is very difficult to find the locations of the small cave entrances for the artillery let alone to direct bombs or artillery shells into them. With that in mind here are some ideas for taking out the North Korean artillery:

  • Develop Fuel Air Explosives which can be targeted at the mountainsides where the artillery is dug in. The idea is to suck the breathable oxyigen out of the tunnels which contain the artillery so that no artillery operators would be left alive.
  • Develop specialized radars and electronics to be loaded on UAVs that can fly above areas which contain artillery in order to catch artillery shells on radar to track back to the locations of the dug in artillery pieces. The UAVs would be fairly autonomous and would simply report back by encrypted radio messages target coordinates and possibly numbers of shells recorded coming from each target.
  • Develop small portable ground radar systems which special forces could use near the DMZ and even inside North Korea to track artillery and send back originating coordinates to direct bombing and counter-battery artillery.
  • Develop smaller JDAMs so that a single bomber could carry and drop more JDAMs at suspected artillery locations. The idea is that a near miss may not work but if a larger number of bombs can be dropped the odds of a hit into a cave entrance goes up.
  • Develop radar or infrared sensors to put on bombs to help guide them in their final phase into cave entrances.
  • Develop very small sensors that can be dropped in large numbers which will glide down onto mountainsides in sufficient density that at least one will go into the entrance of every cave on a mountainside. The sensors should be able to detect (perhaps by light sensors if dropped during the day or by an attenuation of their radio signal or by their GPS signal placing them underground) that they are in a cave.
  • Develop small robots that can be parachuted in and then scramble across a mountainside looking for cave entrances.
  • Put long duration UAVs into the air in South Korea at high altitudes near the DMZ and keep their cameras and radars trained on North Korean mountainsides to look for human activity that reveals the locations of artillery caves. Do this for months on end and keep looking for clues.

The North Korean artillery threat should be approached in the spirit that it is a solvable problem and multiple approaches to solving it should be investigated in parallel.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 08 01:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2003 May 07 Wednesday
Iraq War Experience Argues For Maintaining Army Size

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article about what the experience in Iraq says about the size and mix of US ground forces. Donald Rumsfeld may desire to shrink the number of combat units but the US Army has already shrunk a great deal since the end of the Cold War and peacekeeping in Iraq is currently tying down a substantial portion of US ground forces.

This buildup in Iraq is only half the size of Desert Storm, when 23 Army brigades were deployed at once. But this operation eats up a far larger proportion of the smaller post-cold-war Army. In fact, not since the Korean War has the US committed as large a share of its combat troops and National Guard units needed to support them to a single operation.

The US is in no position to do anything in Iran let alone in North Korea. The US Army is not big enough to take on a bigger job. Rumsfeld's desire to cut the active force in order to get money for more acquisitions runs up against the demands that an escalating set of peackeeping deployments place on the active forces.

Rumsfeld's idea of shifting more support jobs to civilians seems like a wise move though.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 07 01:02 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 25 Friday
Chemical Ali May Still Be Alive

Juan O. Tamayo reports that Ali Hassan al Majid, who was in charge of the chemical attack on the Kurds in 1988, has been seen alive by hospital workers in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Hospital workers say they saw the infamous Saddam Hussein henchman known as "Chemical Ali" alive in Baghdad just before the city fell, contradicting British Army claims that he had been killed in an air raid on a house in the southern city of Basra days earlier.

Tariq Aziz was supposed to have been killed by some accounts and yet he is now in custody. Saddam may still be alive as well. While attempts to kill top regime members didn't succeed they might at least have rattled Saddam enough to cause him to make poorer decisions.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 25 05:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 22 Tuesday
Unanswered Questions About The Iraq War

Writing in Slate Fred Kaplan lists a number of unanswered questions about the recent war in Iraq.

On the 29th, an unnamed officer told the Washington Post that the war would last through the summer. On the 30th, Gen. Myers said the assault on Baghdad would have to await the arrival of reinforcements. Then, suddenly, on April 1, U.S. troops were on the outskirts of Baghdad. Two days later, they were occupying the airport. Next day, they were inside the capital. What happened? Did the Fedayeen simply stop attacking the supply lines? Why? When a few U.S. battalions broke away on "seek and destroy" missions in Nasiriyah and Najif, going door to door and block to block, did they kill all the Fedayeen guerrillas who were taking refuge in those cities? And was that all the guerrillas there were? Did that finish off the threat?

What would be most interesting to know is that as the war progressed what was the evaluation of Tommy Franks and his top officers of the progress and problems encountered? Certainly they had legitimate military motives for hiding both unexpected problems and some positive aspects of their progress. For instance, if the enemy believed US forces were making slower progress then that enemy would not expect US forces to show up as soon and the enemy would not be as prepared for them and sudden arrival of US forces dealt psychological blows to the Iraqi forces.

The huge pessimism in the Western press that preceded the arrival of US troops in Baghdad is reminiscent of the conduct of the war in Afghanistan where the press was calling it a big quagmire shortly before the Taliban forces began a rapid collapse. The press coverage focused on when the US forces encountered resistance from some quarters (e.g. the Fedayeen) that was greater than they expected. The unexpected resistance was portrayed as a major failure in intelligence and war planning. But intelligence is always going to be less than perfectly precise and it is likely the case that in other areas the intelligence assessment overestimated the amount of resisistance. Overall the difficulty of the fighting may have been no greater than some expected.

It is possible that the Pentagon war planners expected the Iraqis themselves to turn on Saddam's regime and fight it more. Hence, the battle for Basra was probably more difficult than expected. But what is important for the long term is why didn't the Iraqis rise up? Did the Iraqis not feel that much hostility toward the regime? This seems unlikely given the uprising in Basra after Gulf War I. Or did they not trust the coalition forces to go thru with an overthrow of Saddam's regime? This seems plausible given the events after Gulf War I where the US forces stood by while Saddam's forces suppressed the rebellion in the south of Iraq. Given that US and British forces were busily fighting Saddam's forces it seems likely that the Iraqis in the south just decided to let the coalition do the work. If I'd been in their shoes I'd have done the same.

There's one aspect of war planning that media reports tend to miss: It is unlikely that the war plan had a single time table and a single set of most-likely-to-happen events for the conduct of the war. US military officers who plan wars certainly know that they are dealing with a lot of unknowables and that they therefore can not plan according to strict timetables. A good war plan should be written more along the lines "If X happens then we have Y and Z ready to respond to it and if A happens we can shift B and change C to deal with it".

Still, it would be interesting to know what turns of events were truly surprises to the CENTCOM staff around General Tommy Franks and which problems were really unforeseen by the military officers planning the war. Many civilian advocates of the war, including officials in the Bush Administration, painted rosy scenarios of how the war would go. But we can not assume that just because those folks didn't expect various problems (e.g. the Fedayeen or the foriegn Arab fighters) that the military officers planning the war didn't either.

What I'd most like to see explained is how the war planners envisioned the battle for Baghdad and its immediate aftermath. My guess is that the war planners did not think that Baghdad would fall as easily as it did and therefore were not prepared to take over policing of the city as rapidly as turned out to be needed. But possibly they did not plan to be prepared to take over policing of the city very quickly even if Baghdad had fallen later and more slowly. Was the failure to initially maintain order a result of the unexpected speed of the fall of the regime, an underestimation of the number of people who would join in looting, or a lack of importance attached to preventing that looting?

The Bush Administration has come in for some harsh criticism for not preventing the looting and destruction of the Iraq Museum, the National Library and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Lots of critics claim that the military was in a position to stop the looting at that point if it had really wanted to. Is that really the case? There are military officers who were there who say they were not in a position to stop the looting.

The military perspective is that it did all it could to protect the museum at the time. During the looting, ``the fighting was still going on. The Republican Guard headquarters are across the street, and they were far from secure,'' Army Maj. Michael Donovan said.

Jim Miller has more on whether the military was in a position to stop the looting.

Suppose you hold the view that the military should have been in a position to stop the looting. I've made an argument that the rapid restoration of order would have supported other war aims. Yet a lot of looting happened. Where was the mistake? My own suspicion is that the war goals were not defined expansively enough to justify the use of a ground force large enough to allow a rapid assertion of order in each captured area. I also suspect that the bulk of the complainers who think the US military forces that were in Baghdad could have done a lot more to stop the looting do not understand military affairs well enough to form an opinion. If they are right it is probably an accident.

A related question on the restoration of order issue is this: how big were the intelligence losses that came from the lack of ability to more rapidly and effectively secure all regime installations that had valuable files and other intelligence assets?

Another set of unanswered questions relates to the non-Iraqi Arabs who fought the coalition forces. How many were there? How hard did most of them fight? Was the size of their presence a surprise to Pentagon war planners?

``Everyone who fought us hard was an Arab,'' said the Marine intelligence officer, meaning both that the non-Iraqis fought well and that U.S. ground forces tended to think that anyone who fought well was not Iraqi.

It would also be interesting to know how many of the fanatics were supported by the Syrian or Iranian governments and how many were sent to Iraq by terrorist organizations. The ones that had organizational backing of some sort are more likely to be a problem in the longer run.

Update: While the artifacts from the museum have gotten more attention in the press I think the fires set in the National Library and in the Islamic library represented a greater loss. A lot of the most valuable artifacts in the museum were just stolen and will turn up elsewhere. But the documents that were burned up are gone forever. I wonder whether any Western scholars had at least taken pictures of all the pages of those documents. What motivated Iraqi arsonists to torch these places?

By Randall Parker    2003 April 22 04:34 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
More Revelations From Iraqi Intelligence Files

The Iraqi Mukhabarat intelligence agency engaged in some activities that cry out for proper explanations.

The questions raised are tantalizing: Why did the Mukhabarat send covert agents again and again to the United States and at least two dozen other countries on four continents? Why did it have an entire office devoted to the two Koreas? Why did it have an office devoted solely to Zimbabwe and another to the Great Lakes region of East-Central Africa?

The Daily Telegraph reports on German intelligence contacts with the Iraqi regime.

Germany's intelligence services attempted to build closer links to Saddam's secret service during the build-up to war last year, documents from the bombed Iraqi intelligence HQ in Baghdad obtained by The Telegraph reveal.

The Russian FSB was not surprisingly providing Saddam with information about American intentions and plans.

They show that, only months before war began, the Russian Federal Security Bureau briefed Saddam that the White House was pinning its hopes on Iraq obstructing the weapons inspection teams.

The Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) does not come across as a highly professional organization.

The director of the IIS, Tahir Jalil Habbush, comes across in the papers examined by NEWSWEEK as an exasperated bureaucrat. He chastises his supposedly secret agents for showing off their firearms and IDs (the better to shake down frightened citizens). He has to send out memos reminding the secret service of the most elemental tradecraft, such as “not mentioning informants’ names when sending correspondence.”

The Daily Telegraph is reporting documents found in the Iraqi foreign ministry which describe contacts between British Member of Parliament George Galloway and the Iraqi Mukhabarat intelligence service. If the documents are correct the Iraqi regime was paying Galloway a significant amount of money while Galloway was acting as a critic of hardline policies toward Iraq.

George Galloway, the Labour backbencher, received money from Saddam Hussein's regime, taking a slice of oil earnings worth at least £375,000 a year, according to Iraqi intelligence documents found by The Daily Telegraph in Baghdad.

Galloway strongly proclaims his innocence of any wrong-doing.

See this later Christian Science Monitor article about George Galloway and Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 22 01:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 17 Thursday
Japan Debates Patriot Missile Defense Deployment Against North Korea

The Japanese military want to purchase the latest generation of the Patriot missile defense system.

After the US "successfully tested" the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile system in the war against Iraq, the Japanese military is now urging the government to order the PAC-3 system if Japan wants to shoot down missiles without US help.

Hawkish Japanese Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba makes clear that he sees North Korean missiles as aimed chiefly at Japan.

"North Korea's missiles will not be launched against China," the official, Shigeru Ishiba, said in an interview. "They won't be launched against Russia. They won't be launched against South Korea, because it's too close. They can't reach the United States

Other Japanese politicians are talking up missile defense against North Korea.

In a mid-February meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's National Defense Division, Takemasa Moriya, who heads the Defense Agency's Defense Policy Bureau, played up the effectiveness of the upgraded Patriot (PAC-3) surface-to-air missile. Responding to questions about Japan's own missile-defense measures, Moriya said, ``U.S. officials have told us the PAC-3 can shoot down a Nodong (medium-range ballistic missile). We consider it an effective (air defense) system.''

While Ishiba appears to be fairly supportive of missile defense he cautions that the success of the previous generation of Patriot missiles in the first Gulf War was exaggerated.

"What is judged as success?" he questioned. "A variety of judgment exists (concerning the effectiveness of PAC-2) after the last Gulf War. Some said a lot of damage had been caused by fragments (of enemy missile) that had fallen out after they were intercepted at the terminal phase, while others said even limited success was meaningful.

The biggest factor holding back the wider deployment of missile defenses is the widespread doubts as to whether any missile defense systems work. It will be very important to find out whether the PAC-3 Patriot missiles used in Gulf War II really worked as well as initial reports have claimed.

Robyn Lim argues for Patriot missile deployments to protect American bases in Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, fearing that he is next on U.S. President George W. Bush's list for "regime change," is openly threatening Japan with his Nodong missiles. Yet Japan chooses to remain naked to this threat. Why doesn't it ask for PAC-3 (Patriot) missiles to be deployed by U.S. forces in Japan?

At a foriegn policy forum held in Japan right after the Iraq war started the worries of Japanese national security and foriegn policy thinkers revolve around fear of North Korea and concern about American ability to deter a North Korean attack and stop North Korean nuclear weapons development.

Okamoto: Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi's administration's policy toward North Korea has been resolute thus far.

In the event that North Korea acquires a nuclear capability, the only path Japan can take is to rely on U.S. deterrence, since Japan cannot provide for its own defense. Depending on the outcome of the war in Iraq and the anti-American nationalism brewing in South Korea, the United States may have no recourse but to withdraw its troops from Asia.

To avoid the prospect of facing North Korea alone, Japanese diplomacy must strive to ensure South Korea and the United States keep reading from the same page.

It is necessary that Japan work with the United States to establish a missile defense system (to counter North Korean nuclear weapons).

Obviously, the debate was colored by the early stages of the Iraq War when lots of press accounts were exaggerating the trouble that coalition forces were having in Iraq. The US did not fail in Iraq. It did not inflict massive civilian casualties. It is not paralyzed by mutual recriminations over who botched the war effort. Therefore the US is not going to withdraw from Asia.

I find the arguments I've read from Japanese debating their national security to be fairly rational for the most part. They do not want to be defenseless against North Korean missiles and they know they will be less safe if North Korea develops nuclear weapons. They know what the threats are, they are not overly influenced by a resentment toward American forces that help guarantee their security (by contrast with South Korea), and they are arguing about appropriate responses.

I think Japan needs to move a lot more quickly to build missile defenses. One short-term option might be as Robyn Lim suggests: shift Patriots PAC-3 defense systems that the US has in other locations to American bases in Japan.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 17 02:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 13 Sunday
Russia Provided Intelligence To Iraq About Tony Blair

Russian intelligence even passed along lists of hit men available in Europe to hire for assassinations.

Top secret documents obtained by The Telegraph in Baghdad show that Russia provided Saddam Hussein's regime with wide-ranging assistance in the months leading up to the war, including intelligence on private conversations between Tony Blair and other Western leaders.

It is great that Western reporters are combing thru Iraqi government buildings. The CIA will probably keep secret much of the great stuff they find. But the reporters will rush to tell us all about it. The intelligence value of capturing Iraqi intelligence files and agents will be immense. Activities of other intelligence services will be revealed as well. I'm especially looking forward to reading about documents relating to contact with the French, Russian, and North Korean governments.

Update: The Times of London also has an article about discoveries about the nature of the Iraqi Mukhabarat secret police as shown from examining their files.

The dusty sheaves of documents, compiled with the kind of attention to detail of the former East Germany’s Stasi, attest to the ruthless determination with which the Mukhabarat monitored the population.

The handwritten notes show that people merited surveillance on the slightest of pretexts. These could range from being “talkative” or “a troublemaker” to having a “disreputable wife” or “bad sisters”.

The UK Observer also has a report on the contents of files at a Mukhabarat facility in Baghdad.

Iraqi intelligence agents were ordered to take files and computers with information about weapons of mass destruction home from their offices before United Nations weapons inspectors arrived late last year, say documents found at a security headquarters in Baghdad.

Matthew Fisher of the Canadian National Post finds the Iraqi Mukhabarat did more extensive surveillance and record keeping than the East German Stasi.

The difference between the Stasi and the Mukhabarat is the sheer volume of information collected by Saddam's henchmen. Like the Nazis, they both appear to have been meticulous record keepers. The files, which sometimes appeared to include information on both a husband and wife, often had 30 or 40 items in them. The files filled building after building in a compound that dwarfed that of the Stasi.

Files on each person were very detailed.

In just one room were files for a million souls — their pictures, personal details, and entire history recorded in minute, chilling detail, reports CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan.

Jim Bronskill reports on what US and allied intelligence services hope to find in Iraqi intelligence files.

Intelligence experts said yesterday the files of Mr. Saddam's intelligence and military security agencies might contain clues about attempts to acquire nuclear devices, alliances Iraqi personnel forged with spies in neighbouring countries and espionage operations mounted around the globe, including in Canada.

The San Francisc Chronicle has an extensive write-up about the Baghdad Mukhabarat site including information about connections between Iraqi intelligence and Russia.

Baghdad -- A Moscow-based organization was training Iraqi intelligence agents as recently as last September -- at the same time Russia was resisting the Bush administration's push for a tough stand against Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraqi documents discovered by The Chronicle show.

Iraqi intelligence archives captured in the previous Gulf War also provide a glimpse into the nature of Iraq's secret police.

The government personnel card for Aziz Saleh Ahmed, which identifies him as a "fighter in the popular army" whose duty was "violation of women’s honor." The report calls Ahmed a professional rapist.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 13 11:01 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 12 Saturday
Foreign Fighters Led Resistance In Basra Fighting

The Times of London reports that the foreign fighters imported into Iraq by Saddam Hussein before the fighting began were highly trained before they arrived in Iraq and behaved as a disciplined foreign legion. The question is what group trained them?

British investigators are more cautious, but one officer involved in questioning the survivors told The Times: “These are not just zealots who grabbed a gun and went to the front line. They know how to employ guerrilla tactics so someone had to have trained them. They are certainly organised, and if it’s not bin Laden’s people, its al-Qaeda by another name. But they certainly came here to fight the West.”

Captured survivors of this fighting force might turn out to be useful sources of intelligence once some of them can be made to talk.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 12 05:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 10 Thursday
Russian Spies Competing With CIA In Baghdad For Regime Info

The Russians are trying to grab information from Saddam's fallen regime before the CIA gets to it.

Russian newspapers have cited anonymous intelligence sources saying that a unit of the Sluzhba Vneshni Razvyedki (SVR) - the Russian foreign intelligence service and equivalent of MI6 - has been sent to Baghdad to secure the Russian embassy compound, and hoard there the invaluable archives of Saddam's regime.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 10 09:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 April 07 Monday
Observations By Richard Muller On The Iraq War

UC Berkeley Physics Professor Richard Muller examines lessons from the Iraqi war. He argues that truthful propaganda is far more effective than deceitful propaganda.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the pamphlets. If they were important, and we will know someday, it will illustrate a key and underappreciated aspect of U.S. Special Operations psychological warfare. Their doctrine demands truth. It is the key to effective propaganda. Don’t lie; build trust. This strange new approach (not totally accepted by the government, or other parts of the military) is based on the observation that in most conflicts, truth will benefit the United States. This was such a case. Don’t destroy the wealth of the Iraqi people. It rang true.

Muller also argues that there are no software programs for doing facial recognition that work as well as the human mind. Therefore he argues that humans examining old and new pictures of Saddam Hussein are as qualified to determine if the new pictures are legitimate as the intelligence sources who claim they are using special software to make facial comparisons.

While Muller, like many other commentators, properly draws attention to the importance of GPS-guided munitions for bringing air power to a higher level he misses the importance of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). UAVs have allowed battle damage assessment to be done in real time and have greatly degraded the ability of defending forces to create fake targets and fake damage. UAVs have allowed air controllers to identify many more legitimate targets and to spot the construction of fake targets. Therefore, many more real targets have been identified for attack by precision guided munitions.

Greater accuracy in bomb delivery is just one element that has contributed to another phenomenon: a reduction in the number of friendly fire incidence. Friendly fire incidents have been reported on very rapidly and therefore the press gives an impression of a significant problem with friendly fire incidents. But as compared to previous wars the rate has been quite low. A greater ability to manage the information flowing from the battlefield and better electronic and other means to identify friendlies have worked together to reduce the incidence of friendly fire attacks.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 07 05:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
John Keegan: Events In Iraq Have Not Been A Real War

John Keegan, whose assorted books on military history (e.g. The Face Of Battle and The Mask Of Command) demonstrate his familiarity with battles and wars, argues that what we have been watching unfold in Iraq has been such a total debacle for the Iraqis that it can not properly be called a war. (free registration required at the Daily Telegraph)

Because the war has taken such a strange form, the media, particularly those at home, may be forgiven for their misinterpretation of how it has progressed. Checks have been described as defeats, minor firefights as major battles. In truth, there has been almost no check to the unimpeded onrush of the coalition, particularly the dramatic American advance to Baghdad; nor have there been any major battles. This has been a collapse, not a war.

Keegan ticks off a list of things that Saddam should have done had he been intent in slowing the allied advance: destroy the Umm Qasr port facilities, blow up bridges as his forces retreated northward, use paramilitaries for harassment instead of for direct attacks, and use forces more talented than the Baath Party members to hold cities.

Some attribute the punishment that the totalitarian regime has meted out to anyone who doesn't follow orders exactly as an explanation for why the Iraqi soldiers in the field didn't take obvious actions to slow the US advance.

This chronic lack of initiative may also explain why vital bridges across the Euphrates and Tigris were never blown up as the US forces advanced closer to Baghdad.

Commander of British forces in Iraq Air Marshal Brian Burridge thinks the degree of improvisation involved in fighting in Iraq makes war more like jazz music.

"In the cold war, you knew who the enemy was; you knew his kit; you knew his doctrine; you knew his training. All you had to do was to play the music, set down in notation and conducted from the front.

"Now, there's a constantly moving kaleidoscope, and you have to improvise. War used to be like symphony music - now it's like jazz."

Update: Keegan examines the question of why did so many pundits call the war so wrong?

When the history of the campaign comes to be written, that to which it may be compared is the German blitzkrieg in France in 1940. The distances covered are similar; so is the speed of advance; so is the extent of the collapse.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 07 04:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 05 Saturday
How the United States Almost Killed Saddam Hussein

Richard Sale of the UPI has the hot story on how US intelligence and special forces managed to locate Saddam Hussein for the attempted assassination by air strike.

Three Iraqis who aided the CIA in the March 20 attempt by the United States to kill Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were executed this week by Iraqi counterintelligence, former and serving U.S. officials told United Press International. A super-secret U.S. intelligence operation, working in Baghdad for weeks before the war, provided the crucial targeting data for the attack on Saddam and his sons, launched in an effort to pre-empt a full-scale war, these sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

What I've wondered about this since the very first announcement that the bombing only managed to wound Saddam is why didn't they use more bombs? Why didn't they send, say, 4 times as many F-117A bombers and 4 times as many cruise missiles? They probably could have killed him if they had just made a much bigger hit on the building he was in. If someone out there thinks the size of the strike force used makes sense and can explain why I'm all ears.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 05 08:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 03 Thursday
Coalition Forces May Stop Outside Of Baghdad

US forces may stop outside of Baghdad, grab just a few key pieces of it, conduct only special forces operations in Baghdad and wait for the regime to collapse.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated the coming days might bring neither an all-out fight for the city, as many have predicted, nor a conventional siege of the capital.

``When you get to the point where Baghdad is basically isolated, then what is the situation you have in the country?'' he said at a Pentagon news conference. ``You have a country that Baghdad no longer controls, that whatever's happening inside Baghdad is almost irrelevant compared to what's going on in the rest of the country.''

It will be interesting to see how this strategy plays out. Do they think they can get the regime to break up into factions? Can they get into the underground tunnel passageways without capturing all of the city? Can they build large spy networks to track the movements and activities of members of the regime in Baghdad? There are a lot of possibilities.

The US military obviously wants to avoid large numbers of casualties.

Although he did not rule out any scenario for Baghdad, Myers' comments strongly suggested that the intention is to bleed Saddam's government of its political and military authority without launching an all-out ground assault that would risk high casualties.

ABC TV correspondent Mike Cerre reports so many people streaming away from Baghdad that the military unit he is travelling with has had to stop to set up a POW compound.

"What is stopping us now is the flood of deserters and civilians, on buses, trucks, taxicabs and whatever they can catch a ride on, trying to make their way south to their families or American forces to surrender," he said.

They will need to find a way to handle the large numbers of civilians who are bound to try to flee Baghdad.

Update: The reason why this strategy may not work is illustrated in a report filed by Newsweek journalist Rob Nordland. Here he talks to Umm Qasr port workers about how everyone in southern Iraq is still living in fear of Saddam's intelligence agents.

They begin naming people they know in Safwan, overrun well before Umm Qasr, who spoke out. "One even said, 'What took you so long?' when the Americans and British arrived. And now he's dead," said a dockworker named Khalid. "We hear from Basra that they're hanging them in the streets." In their own town, the coalition authorities are acting on tips and hunting down regime activists, but that still hasn't made them feel terribly safe. "You can never tell who is from Saddam's intelligence, and if I can't tell, how can the Americans and British? They can come in our homes any night and kill us any time," says an engineer named Ali.

An AP story by Doug Mellgren with US Marines in Nasiriyah illustrates the level of fear in the minds of the Iraqi people.

The civilians seemed terrified in the first house he searched. Beitia assumed they expected the Americans to murder the men, rape the women and plunder the home.

''Then I got down on my knee and gave their little girl a piece of chewing gum,'' he related. ''The father was ecstatic. It was like I was saying I was not better than them. When I got I got down on my knee, they almost started to cry.

The job of routing out Saddam's intelligence agents will take months if not years.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 03 05:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Guessing On American Baghdad Casualties

The US Marines have captured the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah which has a population of about 560,000 (and as recently as 1987 had a population of only 265,937 - Iraq has a rapidly growing population). That population number is interesting because Baghdad has a population of approximately 10 times that size. Let's take a look at the casualty figures for the U.S. Marines who took Nasiriyah. While the exact number dead is not yet known exactly let's guess its approximately 20.

The American marines of Task Force Tarawa — whose task it has been to secure Nasiriya and its bridges across the Euphrates that sustain the main supply route to the armies to the north — said today that they had suffered 12 confirmed dead and more than 50 wounded in the battles for the town. Six or seven other marines are believed to be missing there.

If casualty figures for urban fighting in Baghdad scale up proportionately we can guess that the US military will suffer about 200 dead and possibly as many as 500 wounded to take Baghdad. That is a lower figure than some estimates that Dartmouth academic Daryl Press has made. The Iraqis will probably have a higher ratio of fighters to population in Baghdad than they had in Nasiriyah. Also, it seems likely they will concentrate their most devout loyalists there. Therefore Press's estimates that run from 400 to 2000 American dead seem more plausible. Still, the Nasiriyah experience at least is heartening from the perspective that if it had been worse we would expect even higher casualty rates for Baghdad than estimates that Press has made.

I haven't been able to find any numbers of how many soldiers and what kinds of forces defended Nasiriyah. Therefore it is hard to compare the battle for Nasiriyah to the coming battle for Baghdad. However, here are some numbers of the defenders of Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein's personal security is the responsibility of another group, the Special Republican Guard, often described as a "Praetorian Guard." Many of its estimated 12,000 troops are natives of Tikrit, Hussein's home town, and nearby communities.

Those 12,000 are in addition to the 50,000 regular Republican Guard. How many of those regular Republican Guard are either dying or being captured outside of Baghdad? How many will manage to retreat back into Baghdad to continue fighting in an urban environment that will afford them much better protection? There are also paramilitary forces including the Saddam Fedayeen defending Baghdad.

The four remaining Republican Guard units, as well as the Special Republican Guard, have also suffered losses, officials said, but not as extensive. Baghdad is also defended by a paramilitary force estimated at 6,000 and 8,000.

It is beginning to look unlikely that the US Army and Marines will have to fight regular Republican Guard forces within Baghdad because Saddam may not trust the loyalty of the Republican Guard soldiers enough to allow them in that close.

"The mystery is why the Iraqis left the RG in defensive positions so far south of Baghdad," a British staff officer in Kuwait told UPI. "They must have known from Desert Storm what our air power could do. I can only assume that Saddam Hussein was worried about the loyalty of the RG if he pulled them back into the city. His priority has always been the survival of his own regime rather than the survival of his troops."

If anyone can find information on the size and nature of the defending force in Nasiriyah I'd really like to see it.

There are other wild cards in the attack on Baghdad. Saddam could use chemical or biological weapons. The defenders could fight either more desperately or some, seeing that the end is near, could opt to surrender in greater numbers.

So far the British forces have stayed out of Basrah which is less than half the population of Baghdad (I can't tell you what the population of Basrah is since news media reports run from 1 million to 2.3 milion). Currently the British believe there are only 1000 militia fighters left in Basrah.

Further south, British forces battling for control of Basra were still facing resistance from about 1000 militia.

Israeli military historian Yagil Henkin comments on lessons learned about the best urban fighting techniques.

Israeli experience, as well as Marine Corps studies since 1996 of war games based on urban combat, also shows that most casualties in urban fighting occur when soldiers move along the city streets, exposed to enemy fire. Therefore when Israel took the casbah in Nablus, soldiers moved through holes they cut or blasted in the walls between attached houses. Israeli snipers positioned themselves in the tallest buildings and worked closely with troops at the street level to identify targets and confound their enemies' expectations.

Update: I'm beginning to suspect that a lot of news services use old atlases and other reference works to get Iraqi city population estimates for their news articles. The numbers quoted are all over the map. Above I quoted a Reuters article that said Nasiriyah has a population of 560,000. The Christian Science Monitor says Nasiriyah has 250,000 people. whereas Voice of America says 500,000 whereas USA Today puts it at 300,000. These numbers all come from news articles that are at most a few days old and they are all over the map. Keep that in mind the next time you read a news article that states a number for the population of some city or country. If they are reporting on a place where the population is growing rapidly the odds are great that the number they are providing is lower than correct number by a substantial amount.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 03 12:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 02 Wednesday
Pavel Felgenhauer: Coalition Forces Pretended To Be Bogged Down

Writing in the Moscow Times Russian defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says the US and British forces floated fake stories of logistics problems and exaggerated the problems caused by Iraqi paramilitary forces.

The U.S. and British allies also had a good reason to cheat. By faking weakness and portraying an inability to make a decisive push for overall victory without weeks of preparation and reinforcement, the U.S. military command apparently hoped to trick the Iraqis into keeping their best units in the field rather than withdrawing immediately to Baghdad, where defeating the Republican Guard would come at a higher cost.

This is a plausible argument. A large number of air bases and forward supply depots have been opened around Iraq. The paramilitary forces are degrading rapidly in their ability to slow supply convoy shipments. While there are people arguing that the US is going to have to wait for weeks for reinforcements before closing on Baghdad it seems more likely that the coalition forces will keep pressing on and engaging and destroying more Iraqi forces in the field. The US forces are experiencing such a low rate of losses that it is hard to argue that they need more equipment in order to make the odds more favorable for them. Also, the competition between the US Army and US Marines over who will get to Baghdad first is an additional impetus for continued offensive operations that has not gotten the attention it deserves. The threat of the Marines getting ahead of them will keep the Army from stopping to wait for reinforcements.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 02 05:14 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 March 31 Monday
In Kurdistan Even Intellectuals Like America

Jeffrey Goldberg has a great article in The New Yorker about the peshmerga fighters and the mood of the populace in Kurdistan. What's the difference between Kurdistan and Ivy League universities? In Kurdistan the intellectuals are pro-American hawks.

It is virtually impossible to find anyone in Kurdistan who is opposed to the war against Saddam’s regime. People on street corners ask for American flags or photographs of George Bush; the appreciation of the United States extends to the intellectual class. Sherko Bekas, who was described to me as Kurdistan’s unofficial poet laureate, was particularly upset by the well-publicized efforts of American poets to stop the war. “Saddam is the god of war,” Bekas said, when I saw him in his office at a publishing firm in Sulaimaniya. “He is the killer of poetry.” He went on, “I say to these poets that if they lived for two weeks under Saddam’s rule they would write verse in reverse. They would write poems asking Bush to attack Saddam sooner.”

Goldberg captures the intensity of the Kurdish desire to regain control of Kirkuk. My guess is that the Arabs in Kirkuk will be forced to give back their dwellings to the Kurds who Saddam forced out of Kirkuk.

The Kurds are understandably thrilled that Turkey did not agree to help the United States to attack Saddam's regime. They understand that the United States will be far more solicitous toward the Kurds as a result. I think that is great. History has repeatedly dealt the Kurds a poor hand for such a long time that they deserve a good break for once.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 31 05:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 30 Sunday
Did War Planners Ignore Intelligence About Iraqi Capabilities?

There is a fierce debate going on about whether the US sent too few troops to the Gulf and also why too few troops were sent. The blame game is getting fierce.

"It warned that paramilitaries could threaten and exploit the civilian population as shields. It predicted that irregular and unorthodox tactics could be used by Saddam's fedayeen. It said they might fight wearing civilian clothes. It was ignored."

Intelligence officials have also complained that warnings of possible resistance were frequently "sanitised" by hawks, including the agency's own director, George Tenet, before reaching the White House and President Bush. "The caveats would be dropped and the edges filed off," said one.

This brings to mind the War of Numbers book by former CIA analyst Sam Adams about how the numbers for the Order of Battle estimates for the Viet Cong were cooked to make the size of the enemy look smaller than it really was. One of the founders of the Steerforth Press publishing house that published Adams' book is Thomas Powers. Powers gave an interview to The Atlantic in 1997 about Sam Adams and the politicization of intelligence.

The answer to all of those questions is essentially the same: There is no real way to take politics out of intelligence. It's a problem. The more interested the White House is in a question, the narrower the range of freedom that any analytical or intelligence agency has in trying to explain what's going on. When the White House really has its mind made up, you can't talk them out of it. If you try too hard they stop listening to you and start listening to somebody else. So the politics of intelligence is just a fact of life.

If the CIA didn't let its more pessimistic analysts submit more accurate assessments of the dangers facing US and allied forces in Iraq is that because Bush didn't want to hear more accurate assessments? Or did the top people in the CIA simply lack confidence in their own analysts? Or are what we hearing out of the CIA now a matter of blame shifting? Heck, if what is being claimed is true the blame is being shifted as much onto the top CIA leadership as it is on the White House or the civilian leadership at the Pentagon.

The biggest question in my mind is what was the chief error. Here are some possibilities:

  • an excessive confidence in the technological edge of the US military.
  • a failure to appreciate the threat posed by Iraqi irregular forces.
  • a failure to appreciate the ability and motivation of the Baathists to maintain fear of the regime in the minds of the Iraqi populace.
  • a failure to understand that most Iraqi people, even if they favored the removal of Saddam from power, were going to be unwilling to put themselves at greater risk to help the coalition forces (for any number of possible reasons: general mistrust of America, uncertainty about American determination, or simply a desire to let someone else do the job after having suffered enough already).

The US Air Force is of course a great believer in the efficacy of air power. At the same time, Rumsfeld and other top civilian officials in the Defense Department are great believers in the ability of technology to be a great force multiplier. Therefore there were certainly factions that wanted to believe that more could be done with less for reasons that had nothing to do with the debate over whether the Iraq war should be fought in the first place. However, the intensity of the larger debate about what should be the US strategy for dealing with the Islamic countries elicits a great deal of intensely partisan polemics where the factions accuse each other of all sorts of things - including claims that some members of an opposing faction have been hiding intentions that they have never really concealed.

If, as seems to be the case, the top Pentagon war planners underestimated the difficulty of defeating Saddam's regime why is that? Is Donald Rumsfeld to blame? Or are neoconservative hawk advisors to Rumsfeld the reason for the underestimate? Or did General Tommy Franks really believe that he could get away with such a small force? If he did, is that because he wasn't given accurate intelligence about enemy capabilties? (of course if Saddam's regime collapses in a week there will be a competition for who should get credit for the US war plan)

Rumsfeld says he didn't turn down a request for a larger force.

Rumsfeld denied published reports that he had rejected requests from U.S. war planners for additional troops.

Tommy Franks said he was satisfied with the number of troops he had available.

The commander of the U.S. war in Iraq denied Sunday that he had asked the Pentagon for more troops before invading the country but sidestepped a question about whether the war might last into the summer.

Where is the truth in all this? We probably aren't going to understand in detail how the decisions were made until the memoirs get written and documents get declassified many years from now. Tommy Franks may be telling the truth. Or perhaps he knew he'd be turned down if he asked for more troops. Or perhaps he's taking the public position he's currently taking because he needs to maintain his working relationship with Rumsfeld. Or perhaps he thinks the war really is going well.

Update: What would worry me the most is if it turns out to be true that there are CIA analysts who predicted the problems that the Saddam regime loyalists would cause and if those analyses were not even made available to the war planners.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 30 01:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
US Iraq War Strategy Wise?

In advance of the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq some proponents of the war against Saddam's regime exaggerated the ease with which Saddam could be ousted. At the same time, to be fair, many of the war's opponents painted excessively pessimistic pictures of an enormous quagmire with huge casualties both among the Iraqi civilians and coalition soldiers. Initial reports of rapid advances enforced the Panglossian view. However, the mood switched from optimism to pessimism within a week. The sandstorm, over stretched supply lines caused by rapid advances, a lack of rapid collapse of the Baath Party control of bypassed towns, the failure of the "Shock And Awe" attack to cause regime collapse in Baghdad, and unexpected resistance from fighters sallying forth from bypassed towns to attack convoys all led to a big shift from optimism to pessimism about the course of the war. While the initial optimism was excessive it is likely that the current most pessimistic views are excessive as well. We should ask what the real mistakes were, whether the mistakes can be rectified, and if so at what cost and in what time frame.

First of all, what have been the surprises?

  • The "Shock and Awe" air attack didn't cause a collapse of the regime. Its not clear how many people believed it would. Its importance may have been overstated by a media looking for dramatic angles on the war planning. I think I wasn't alone in feeling a lot of skepticism about the ability of a bombing attack to bring down the regime. The only way bombing could have brought it down would have been if the top leaders were all killed.
  • The Baath Party was both willing and able to maintain control of the bypassed cities in the south of Iraq.
  • Some of the Fedayeen and Al Quds fighters have turned out to be highly motivated.
  • The Baathists and Fedayeen have used their terror apparatus to force otherwise unwilling Iraqis to try attacks against coalition forces. This is clearly reminiscent of World War II Soviet tactics.

In light of these surprises was the initial US strategy a mistake? First of all, it is important to understand that the decision to bypass the southern Iraqi cities is not obviously a mistake. The goal of the US war plan is to take Baghdad. There is a good reason for making directly for Baghdad If and when Baghdad falls then the enforcers of the Baathist system of repression in the rest of Iraq will be faced with the knowledge that their days are numbered for their smaller and weaker outposts. Also, the populaces of those other cities will be far more likely to oppose the local representatives of the regime if Saddam is gone from power in Baghdad.

The chief question about the war that is debated is not whether we should be taking the southern Iraqi cities. The most contentious question is how big should the US and coalition forces be. One reason we are seeing a lot of criticism in the media from retired military officers and off-the-record from serving officers is that much of the Army officer corps wanted a larger force with more divisions to do the invasion. Anything that goes wrong is taken by these officers as a reason to argue that they have been right all along and that the civilian leaders who overruled them are wrong. There are highly visible retired US Army officers such as Barry McCaffrey working as news analysts for the big news channels who are representing this point of view on news shows. These folks have motive to cast a negative light on various developments just as the Pentagon officials speaking publically have motive to portray developments in a more positive light.

Here are some questions that can be asked about the wisdom of the US war plan that concentrates on a rush to and attack on Baghdad using a force that is only a third the size of the ground force used in the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait:

  • Was there a shortcoming in US military intelligence that caused the US to underestimate the level of motivation of some core portions of the regime?
  • Can the coalition forces defend their supply lines sufficiently to support an attack on Baghdad if the cities of southern Iraq are not taken before the attack on Baghdad?
  • Does the US have sufficient forces to invade Baghdad in a way that minimizes casualties?
  • Does the lack of the example of another city that has fallen to coalition forces have the effect of reducing opposition to Saddam's regime in Baghdad?

Lets take the last question first. To put it another way: if the coalition forces focused first on some other major Iraqi city and totally purged it of its Baathists and of its Fedayeen and other Saddam supporters what would be the potential benefits? Here's a list of potential advantages of taking other Iraqi cities before Baghdad:

  • The example of another city fallen to coalition forces might help convince the people in Iraq and especially in Baghdad that Saddam's regime really was going to fall. The idea here is that the example of the fall of another major Iraqi city would embolden the opponents of Saddam's regime in Baghdad while at the same time weakening the motivation of Saddam's loyalists and of those who defend his regime.
  • Many Baathist, Fedayeen, and other regime supporters would be killed while taking other cities and therefore would not be around to cause problems after the war was over.
  • Threats to supply convoys would be reduced.

The problem with taking another city first is that the taking of that city would cause destruction and death as well. That is important for the post-war period because the more death and destruction the rebuilding will be harder and the resentment of Iraqis toward the US forces will be greater. Would the amount of destruction and death that would be caused by the capture of another city be paid back by less destruction and death in the taking of Baghdad? Its hard to say. It even depends on which city is taken instead of Baghdad. If the first city taken was Basra then the potential benefit would not be as great as would be the case if the first city taken was one further north and along the route of the US Army supply convoys. That's because taking a city that is near a supply convoy route would presumably greatly reduce the forces that could sally forth from that city to strike the US supply convoys.

It may be possible to protect the supply convoys without taking the southern Iraqi cities. Troops can be stationed near the areas where the convoys are most likely to come under attack, more tanks and APCs can be included with the supply convoys, and intelligence collection will lead to targets to hit in the bypassed cities to selectively knock out some of the Baathist, Fedayeen, and Al Quds forces leadership.

The bypass of the southern cities has at least one historical precedent: the US island hopping campaign in the Pacific during World War II. Though in that case the Japanese forces on the bypassed islands had less of an ability to attack the US forces that bypassed them. Japanese air bases on the islands could be attacked and their aircraft gradually destroyed without invading the islands. So the military value of those bypassed islands was probably less than the military value of the southern cities to the Iraqi regime.

Here's the key reason for the bypass strategy: the regime falls if Baghdad falls. Baghdad is the center of gravity for the Iraqi regime. The bypass strategy may well be the most sensible way to bring down the regime with a minimum loss of life and property.

The most substantial objection one can make about the US conduct of the war is that the US didn't send enough ground forces. If this argument is correct (and I think only time will tell) then the underestimate of the threat from the Fedayeen and other forces in Iraq would be one reason the US didn't send enough ground forces. But it is important to note that a mistake in intelligence estimates of enemy fighting motvation is not the main reason for the lower level of ground forces as compared to Gulf War I. The main reason there are fewer ground forces is that some of the top civilian leaders think that the quality of the weapons and information systems in the US military has gotten so good that the US ought to be able to conquer Iraq with a much smaller ground force than the force the US is fighting against. Also, the civilian leaders think the Saddam Hussein regime is so unpopular that few people Iraqis will fight for it. Plus, underlying all of these considerations are the general reasons why Arab societies do not produce effective militaries.

One argument for a larger US force is that it has to attack into urban environments where the defending force can basically use civilians and buildings as shields. Another argument for a larger force is that there are people in the regime who are so dependent on it and loyal to it that they will force others to fight to a much greater extent than was the case in Kuwait. Basically, the stakes for the Baathist elite are much greater this time around and they have home court advantages. Hence we hear reports of Iraqi soldiers found shot by their own side in order to force other Iraqis to go into battle. Also, we hear about families being held hostage by the regime in order to compel youthful family members to take up arms and become suicide attackers.

Still another reason to expect greater resistance in Iraq is the presence of Islamist fighters (some Al Qaeda, some from other organizations) who have come into Iraq to fight against the Great Satan. In fact, more jihadi martyr wannabes are flocking to Iraq. These people have more motivation to fight than do most of the Iraqi military. The Jihad seekers can be seen as an argument to use more ground soldiers to get the war over with before more fanatics make it to Iraq. On the other hand, it could also be argued that a lengthening of the war would draw more in to Iraq where they can be killed in order to remove them as future threats. If there are Islamists running around trying to kill American soldiers then taking the time to hunt them down and kill them while the war is still raging will prevent the Islamists from killing American soldiers afterward.

One final argument for using a larger ground force would be the ability to show up at Baghdad with a much larger force all at once and do a ground-based "Shock and Awe" against Baghdad's defenders in order to demoralize the defenders and cause them to give up before large numbers of civilians are killed. Also, if a larger force had been used and the time spent fighting had therefore been shortened the fighting would not have extended as far into the hotter spring months. Of course, the Iraqi regime might collapse in two or three weeks even with the current level of the coalition fighting force. In that case heat might not end up being much of a problem. Whether that will happen is hard to predict at this point.

How the war plays out will have a great deal of impact on future decisions in weapons development, procurement, and upgrades of existing weapons systems. The most radical change taking place for the battlefield is the development of pervasive systems of sensors networked together to provide real-time integration of information about threats and the status of friendly forces. Iraq is a testing ground for the current level of implementation of the information revolution on the battlefield. Even if the current level of technology fails to provide as large an advantage as its most enthusiastic proponents expect the US military is going to learn a great deal from its experience of trying to use technology to compensate for a larger force and it may well learn more than it would have had it deployed with the larger force which many officers advocated.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 30 02:00 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 28 Friday
Attacks On Supply Lines Slowing War Advance

Coalition convoys are being driven back and stalled by Iraqi attacks.

Since this afternoon, the fighting has been continuous. Cobra gunships raced back and forth to the front lines, their racks full of rockets on the way out and empty on the way in. Twice this evening, American officers sounded warnings for poison gas. All through the night, the ground shook from the telltale explosions of American B-52 strikes.

All the while, for three days the convoy was still. Lashing sandstorms have not helped the advance either.

The stretch near Nasiriyah is now called the turkey shoot because vehicles driving thru it are routinely attacked.

They call it the turkey shoot, and they are the targets. Every day, Marines trying to keep critical supply lines open to forward units heading toward Baghdad run a gantlet through the strategic crossroads city of Nasiriyah -- over one bridge, up a few miles and then over another bridge. If they make it without getting shot at, they are lucky.

The attackers are dressed in civilian clothes and are strongly loyal to Saddam's regime. The Baath Party appears to be coordinating the attacks.

Colonel Saylor and other officers said that they had discovered arms caches along the route and that some of the guerrillas were traveling in Toyota pickup trucks. Most seemed to be operating in civilian clothes. The colonel added that in some towns, "it's the Baath Party headquarters, that's where they pour out of."

Lt. Col. Clarke Lethin, an operations officer, said, "There are battalions stationed throughout the country in order to intimidate. The Baath Party and those people are still in charge."

The US mistake was in assuming that the fear that the Iraqi populace had toward the Baath Party would dissolve very quickly once the coalition forces attack began in earnest. The Iraqis are definitely still strongly intimidated by the Party and by intelligence agencies of the Iraqi regime. Reports are coming out about refugees fleeing Basra being shot at by regime loyalists. Even in areas where the coalition forces are nominally in control there are still regime agents who are instilling fear in the populace. The Iraqis need to be convinced that the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein really are going down and not getting back up again.

"The biggest problem we are having is getting it out of their minds that the Baath Party is returning," McSporran said. "I've got an enormous amount of sympathy for them -- they've lived under a reign of terror for 30 years. They don't know who to trust."

Even though the decision to bypass cities on the road to Baghdad is coming in for a lot of criticism there are people in the Pentagon who maintain that this decision will be vindicated by events. The proponents of the current strategy argue that it will result in fewer civilian casualties and less damage to infrastructure. If this strategy succeeds the populace of Iraq will emerge from the war more favorably disposed toward the coalition forces than would have been the case if the coalition had brought in a much larger force and fought to capture every town and city.

More important to Pentagon and Central Command planners is reducing the strategic risk. They do not want to win the war just to lose the peace afterward.

Bringing such firepower would run the risk of flattening the country, killing civilians and convincing the Arab world the United States does indeed intend to "own" Iraq for a long time to come, according to military officials.

The criticisms now being heard from a lot of the retired generals may stem from an attachment to old orthodoxies of infantry warfare that may now be obsolesced by technological advances. The Iraqi regime has managed for longer than expected to maintain the aura of fear that the Iraqi populace feels for it. However, the regime's ability to attack convoys may seriously degrade in the days ahead because of high casualties suffered at the hands of coalition ground and air power. Also, as more Iraqi fighters who are dressed as civilians are captured and interrogated the structure of the Baathist and Saddam Fedayeen forces may become much better understood. Development of sufficient information about those forces will lead to the knowledge of how to more selectively attack and destroy the Saddam loyalists.

Update: Saddam's Fedayeen militia have been the biggest surprise in the campaign.

The paramilitary forces, while recognized by planners, have demonstrated a willingness and ability to fight that has caught the Americans off-balance. "The theory was that they might not welcome us but that they wouldn't resist us," a senior officer said today. He later added, "I hope this is what's being cast in some quarters as the dying gasp of a regime on the ropes. But I'm not so sure."

Asymmetric warfare is no fun.

"I'm getting pissed off about it, really," said one British Fusilier, a member of the famed "Desert Rats." He said, "This is getting to be peacekeeping duty, like in Bosnia and Kosovo. I came here to fight a war."

Here's the most interesting unknown to me: How many of the Iraqi fighters really want to be fighting? How many are out there because the regime is holding their families hostage? How many are fighting because they are being forced into the battlefield with guns at their heads? Also, on a related note: divide the Iraqi fighters into the willing and the unwilling. Is a larger percentage of the willing or the unwilling dying?

The willing fighters really break further down into two more categories: Those who directly go out fighting themselves and those who concentrate on forcing others to fight. My guess is that those who are willing to go out fighting themselves are dying at a much higher rate than those who are focusing on forcing others to fight. This poses a problem for the coalition forces. What the coalition forces need is intelligence that will let them pick out and capture or kill Saddam's enforcers in all the towns and cities between Kuwait and Baghdad.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 28 02:32 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 March 27 Thursday
Pessimistic Voices On War Length Growing Louder

Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post has written an interesting article summarizing a variety of views on how long the war will take.

The combination of wretched weather, long and insecure supply lines, and an enemy that has refused to be supine in the face of American military might has led to a broad reassessment by some top generals of U.S. military expectations and timelines. Some of them see even the potential threat of a drawn-out fight that sucks in more and more U.S. forces. Both on the battlefield in Iraq and in Pentagon conference rooms, military commanders were talking yesterday about a longer, harder war than had been expected just a week ago, the officials said.

The article says the logistics supply train has been been doing a sufficient job of keeping up with the rapidly advancing 3rd Infantry Division. A pause to give time to improve the logistics situation may be necessary in any case.

The argument for a 'Pac Man' attack to destroy all the Republican Guard who ring Baghdad before an attempt is made to enter the city has an advantage not mentioned in the article: the more Saddam loyalists die in the fight for Baghdad the easier it will be to govern Iraq afterward. This is also an argument for hunting down the Saddam Fedayeen and Baath Party officials who are running the hit-and-run attacks in other parts of the country as well. The more totally the current regime is shattered and destroyed the easier it will be to remake and transform Iraq into a better place.

As for the pessimistic views voiced in this article: Keep in mind that in past conflicts predictions of how long a war would take have varied all over the map. War is full of a great many uncertainties. It would probably be prudent to send more forces to Iraq at this point. But the worst case scenarios now being bandied about may turn out to be excessively pessimistic.

The hard part of any siege of Baghdad is illustrated by the events in Basra. There are worries that the civilians will run out of water. On one hand the coalition forces should avoid urban fighting that would rack up large numbers of coalition and civilian casualties. On the other hand, a surrounded city will likely decay in its ability to support the lives of its inhabitants. A real practical question this brings to mind is whether coalition forces could capture water and sewer plants on the outskirts of Baghdad and use them to maintain the water supply and sewage removal from Baghdad even during a prolonged siege that lasted weeks or months.

Update: Using previous examples of urban combat between forces of differing abilities Daryl G. Press estimates potential coalition forces deaths from an assault on Baghdad.

With their technological advantages, coalition forces in Baghdad should perform at least as well as the Marines in Hue; the poorly trained Iraqis can be expected to fight less effectively than the North Vietnamese did. Depending on how many Iraqis resist, total coalition deaths might be in the 400 to 800 range. However, if the Iraqis perform as poorly as the Panamanians, coalition fatalities would be only half as high. But if the Iraqis are as skillful as the Jordanians were in 1967 — which seems unlikely because the Jordanians at the time were the best soldiers in the Arab world — then coalition losses could rise to between 1,000 and 2,000 dead.

(found courtesy of Joe Katzman's daily news round-up)

By Randall Parker    2003 March 27 02:02 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Why Many Iraqis Show Little Enthusiam Toward Coalition Forces

Steve Sailer lists a number of reasons why the Iraqi response to coalition forces has been more subdued than many have predicted.

-- Many Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq might fear that the United States will abandon them, as it did during their 1991 uprising against Saddam following the end of Operation Desert Storm. The ruler then put down their rebellion savagely.

-- While American planners hoped that Shiites would view the allies as their friends in struggle with Iraq's Sunni rulers, Middle Easterners don't always subscribe to the catch phrase that "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Sometimes, he's just one more enemy.

Put yourself in the position of an Iraqi in some town that seemingly has been liberated from Saddam's rule. It is possible that Saddam's agents are still lurking and that the identity of some of them are unknown. Why put your life at risk by showing any enthusiasm for the American and British forces? Also, after US forces pulled out in 1991 and left the rebels at the mercy of Saddam (and Saddam has no mercy) how can the Iraqis know for sure that Saddam is really going to go down and not get up this time? Better safe than sorry.

Sky News is reporting on an incident where British forces Scots unit Black Watch entered the southern Iraqi town of Al Zubayr, were about to hand out aid, and Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam Hussein opened fire on the gathering crowd.

he troops were greeted by cheering crowds of several hundred people as they arrived western edge of the town, he said.

But before any food or water could be handed out, snipers opened fire and two mortars shells fell into the crowd.

Update: Iraqis are afraid to speak their minds.

Iraqis tend to whisper when they criticize Saddam. If they sense someone has appeared nearby, they immediately switch to loud talk about American aggression against Iraq.

Many said they were still terrified of Baath party members, even as Saddam's loyalists come under the pressure of U.S. and British bombs that shake the ground near their strongholds.

Coalition forces are putting more effort into attacking the Baath Party in Iraqi cities.

"Our effect on Basra must be to convince the people to have the confidence to rise against the oppressive political control of the Baath Party and the irregulars who do its bidding," said Col. Chris Vernon, a spokesman for the British military, which has encircled Basra.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 27 01:23 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 26 Wednesday
Iraqi Regime Coercing Soldiers To Fight

The New York Times reports on Iraqi officers who are threatening and shooting soldiers (and very likely their families) to get the soldiers to fight.

But the Iraqi private with a bullet wound in the back of his head suggested something unusually grim. Up and down the 200-mile stretch of desert where the American and British forces have advanced, one Iraqi prisoner after another has told captors a similar tale: that many Iraqi soldiers were fighting at gunpoint, threatened with death by tough loyalists of President Saddam Hussein.

British commander Air Marshall Brian Burridge made a similar point in his press conference on Thursday morning. The problems this creates are especially apparent in the siege of Basra. A big challenge for allied forces is to find ways to reduce the ability of the regime's loyalists to coerce the bulk of the Iraqi soldiers to fight. Allied forces outside a city like Basra face mostly unenthusiastic Iraqi soldiers who would be happy to surrender. But those soldiers are in a populated city with Baath Party loyalists and officers who are preventing them from leaving the city. The Baath Party loyalists who are policing the behavior of the soldiers are harder to identify by looking into the city because many of them are not even wearing uniforms. The regime's loyalists can move around safely in a city to maintain control of the soldiers in the city because the loyalists look like civilians. Invading the city would cause to many civilian and allied military casualties.

Burridge says the British are going to continue to conduct fast raids into Basra aimed at hitting leadership and other key targets. This could take a while. From a military standpoint there is no need to rush. But from a humanitarian standpoint there is. A city's residents especially need water. Can Baghdad's water supply be maintained under the conditions of a prolonged siege? Could medicines be airdropped in if the airdrops were made with small enough packets that were widely enough distributed that some of them would make it into the hands of civilians?

The biggest challenge of this war appears to be the regime's use of urban populations as shields.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 26 11:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 25 Tuesday
Israeli Analyses Of Iraq War Progress

The Israeli Haaretz newspaper offers the opinions of a variety of Israeli military experts on the progress of the war in Iraq. One of their points is that the TV reports are giving an illusion of conveying the nature and progress of the war while much of the US war plan remains quite hidden.

Van Creveld supports the view that the we know little about the American war plan. "I have a list of questions for which I haven't found answers," he said. "Did the American forces cross the Euphrates on their way to Nasiriyah? How far are they from Baghdad? What is air division 101 doing? It is clear to me that the U.S. troops are advancing, but the significance of this advance is not clear. And are the achievements real or not."

One of the reasons I haven't posted much on the blow-by-blow reports on the war is that I similarly have a lot more questions than answers. For instance, what percentage of the Iraqi skirmishers are locals who are really indignant about the American military presence and what percent are from Saddam Fedayeen or Special Republican Guard or top Baathists who have a great deal invested in the regime? What is the significance of the pockets of opposition in terms of what the post-war attitudes will be like? How many of the resisters are fundamentalist Muslims and how many are just hard core regime supporters and how many are fighting out of loyalty to Iraq rather than loyalty to Saddam or to Islam? How much are Iraqis hiding their true feelings until they know for sure that Saddam is going to be gone?

Also, can the US military destroy most of Saddam's armor outside of Baghdad? Can US airpower spot and destroy that armor quickly if that armor starts trying to retreat into Baghdad? What percentage of that armor is so well hidden that US forces do not know where it is? What percentage of the armor is outside of Baghdad in rural areas where it can be destroyed with minimal loss of civilian life?

Have the Iraqis tried to mine the roads? Is it easy to detect mines that have been embedded into roads? Have there been any armor losses to road mines? Will road minnig be a bigger problem closer to Baghdad?

What sorts of conversations are taking place between US forces and Republican Guard officers and other top Iraqi figures? How many will switch sides and under what circumstances? How well positioned are Special Republican Guard and Iraqi intelligence agents to prevent that from happening? Are Iraqi officers telling US forces lies about their willingness to switch sides because they really fear for their families if they try to switch sides? Is the US military faking its reports about secret negotiations with Iraqi officers and regime members? Is it doing so either to make Iraiq officers think that other Iraqi officers are already negotiating and therefore that they should too? Or is this part of an attempt to make Saddam suspect his officers of unfaithfulness?

I have a great many more such questions. There are just so many unknown factors at work in this war that it seems very difficult to interpret the meaning of much of what comes across on television and in written reports. I'm of the opinion that we just have to sit and watch to find out how it will turn out. We don't know enough to know what the heck we are talking about.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 25 11:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
Free Roaming Battlefield Reporters Dangerous To Troops

In Kuwait City Matt Labash has an interesting conversation with US Marines public affairs officer Major Chris Hughes.

Though he admires their nerve, in this conflict, Hughes is not a big endorser of unilateral reporters. "No one has any business running for that border as an independent operator, that is foolish. No story is worth dying for. And these guys running pell mell through the battlefield, have no situational awareness. That's what's getting them killed. The people running around the battlefield present an incredible dilemma to the operational commander. Suddenly he has to think twice before engaging a target, because, 'My God--is that a news crew?'"

After blurting out this harsh judgment, Hughes almost seems contrite: "That's a helluva statement for me to make--saying they have no business there. In their mind, they have every right to be there, that's where the story is. But the thing that concerns me is that they're putting the young Marine's life at risk. The kid's now got to think, 'Is that a news crew I saw earlier, or is that my enemy?'"

The 500 or so embedded reporters are already providing excellent and extensive coverage of the war. The free roaming non-embedded reporters are making unnecessary problems for the soldiers. The argument makes sense.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 25 11:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
US Covert Mission To Get Iraqi Intelligence Archives

Rowan Scarborough has an interesting article in the Washington Times about special operations units that are negotiating with portions of Iraq's Mukhabarat intelligence service to gain access to Iraq's intelligence archives.

The sources said the task is being carried out by military special-operations units whose goal is to find and safeguard reams of intelligence documents that would tell a fuller story of Saddam Hussein's brutal 24-year regime.

The article implies that the US has enough information about the Iraqi intelligence archives that it has avoided destroying them thru air attacks even though the US has targetted some buildings run by Iraqi intelligence organs. This is a topic about which I've recently expressed concerns.

The Iraqi intelligence archives are of enormous value for a variety of reasons. They will point to the locations of hidden weapons technology. They will provide information about arms smuggling networks, contacts with terrorist networks, the identities of Iraqi agents living under cover in other countries, and information about activities of other governments. The stakes are high in any efforts to find all of the Iraqi intelligence archives.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 25 12:41 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 21 Friday
The Problem With The Bombing Campaign Over Baghdad

The strikes against the Iraqi regime's administrative buildings may be destroying valuable evidence of past covert operations of the regime, information about Iraqi intelligence agents currently abroad, and extensive documentation of contacts with assorted terrorist groups. Knocking out palaces that are more for Saddam's luxurious lifestyle is undestandable. Knocking out communications and radar and military command centers are both similarly understandable. But the bombs dropped on administrative buildings come with the cost of covering up past misdeeds and of information about other governments and terrorist groups. I have to wonder whether these downsides were considered when target choices were made.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 21 04:12 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 19 Wednesday
State Department Names Iraq War Coalition of the Willing

30 Named Partners in 'Coalition of the Willing'

The countdown to war with Iraq intensified yesterday, with administration officials issuing a list of 30 countries that have publicly stated their support for the U.S.-led conflict to disarm the Iraqi government and warning that President Saddam Hussein had made a "final mistake" by rejecting President Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to surrender power.

Here's the list:

Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan. The State Department listed Japan as available for "post-conflict" support.

Curiously Kuwait and Jordan are not on the list and yet US troops are entering Iraq from both of those countries. While the Jordanian government tries to deny and hide the small US special forces presence its not like Kuwait can pretend its not a lanchpad for the Iraq invasion.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 19 12:31 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 15 Saturday
Order Of Battle In Iraq War

Ian Urbina breaks down the number of soldiers and types of forces arrayed by US and British troops against Iraq.

Within the last week and a half, the US Department of Defense reported that the total force strength in the relevant arena known as Central Command (also called CENTCOM) as 211,000, with roughly half of those numbers in Kuwait. Over 1,000 total aircraft (across different military divisions) have already arrived for duty. In prior years, the theater of operations surrounding Iraq has seen on average between 20,000 and 25,000 soldiers at any given time, and 200 aircraft.

The biggest surprise is that navy personnel represent half of deployed US forces. One big contributing factor that causes this is that each carrier battle group is about 11,000 sailors and there are currently 5 carrier battle groups in the area.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 15 01:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Mark Erikson On Likelihood Of Korean War

Mark Erikson believes that the increased US focus on North Korea that will follow the Iraq war and the expected continued escalation of provocations by the North Korean regime will increase the likelihood of accidental or intentional war in Korea in the months and even years to come.

To my mind, the only no-war outcome as events unfold over coming months may well be US and international-community acceptance of North Korea as a declared nuclear state in return for enforceable non-proliferation guarantees. But such an outcome, if feasible at all, is likely years rather than months away. In the meantime, war risk will fluctuate, but instead of going away, will on average continue to increase. As this plays out, miscalculation and accidents could at any time transform tense standoff into hot conflict.

Erikson surveys North Korea's offensive capabilities. The missiles and long range artillery stand out as means by which the North Korean regime could in just a few hours cause hundreds of thousands and even millions of South Korean casualties.

His only no-war outcome leaves in power a regime that could still manage to sell nuclear weapons or nuclear materials to other states and to non-state actors. It seems very unlikely that sufficiently invasive non-proliferation inspection regime could be developed that would be acceptable to the North Korea. Unless the Bush Administration is willing to accept North Korea as a potential source of nuclear weapons for non-state actors war still seems like the most likely outcome.

If the Bush Administration does accept North Korea as a nuclear power that will in turn lead to the emergence of a number of other new nuclear powers in the Middle East and eventually elsewhere as well. In the longer run (somewhere between five and twenty years) that will lead to the nuking of one or more American cities by nuclear terrorists and then a very large global nuclear war will be fought as the United States seeks to disarm states that are already nuclear powers.

It is possible that nuclear terrorists will strike cities elsewhere before striking US cities. Of course Israel will be high on the target list of Islamic nuclear terrorists. But Islamic terrorists have reasons to want to strike at cities in India such as Dehli and Calcutta. European and certainly Russian cities would also be on the target list of Islamists as well as Sydney and other Australian cities.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 15 01:23 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 05 Wednesday
Bush Says Military Force Against North Korea Is Option

Bush says that if diplomatic efforts fail against North Korea then the use of military force is an option.

WASHINGTON - President Bush explicitly raised yesterday for the first time the possibility of using military force against North Korea, calling it "our last choice" if diplomatic moves fail to halt Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program.

Speaking of efforts to prevent North Korea from building a nuclear arsenal, Bush said, "If they don't work diplomatically, they'll have to work militarily."

The official purpose of the deployed bombers is to deter an attack by North Korea during the war in Iraq. But once the Iraq war is completed does anyone seriously think these bombers will then be sent home?

A senior Pentagon official says the decision to deploy 12 B-52 and 12 B-1 bombers to Guam was made last week. He says it is not related to Sunday's intercept of a U.S. spy plane by four North Korean fighter jets over the Sea of Japan, near the Korean peninsula.

A White House spokesman called the spy plane incident provocative and reckless, and said the United States was in close consultation with its allies on how to make a formal protest.

Defense officials say the Pentagon is also considering sending fighter jets to escort U.S. surveillance planes on future missions.

My guess is that the US will continue to build up more forces in the Western Pacific before and after the war in Iraq.

The South Korean government is trying to bribe North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons.

SEOUL, March 5 (Reuters) - A top South Korean presidential aide held secret talks with communist North Korea in Beijing last month, offering large-scale aid and urging it to drop its nuclear ambitions, a Seoul daily reported on Wednesday.

The North Koreans are not willing to accept the offered bribe.

The US government expects more provocations similar to the recent interception of the RC135S reconnaissance aircraft by North Korean fighters. Most do not think these provocations will lead to war. But what kinds of provocations do the North Koreans think they can get away with without triggering a war?

U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday that they anticipate a continuing series of provocative acts by North Korea along the lines of last weekend's interception of an Air Force surveillance plane by North Korean jets, saying such moves would be aimed at pressuring the Bush administration at a time when it is preparing for a possible war with Iraq.

There is a real possibility of a war in Korea this year.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 05 01:45 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 01 Saturday
Turks and Kurds Could Fight Over Northern Iraq

The Israeli Haaretz newspaper reports on the agreement between Turkey and the United States over Iraq and the hostile reaction of Kurds to what they think the agreement means for them.

The political section of the agreement was spelled out in considerable detail, but neither side, neither the Americans nor the Turks, is certain it will be carried out. Under the terms of the agreement, Turkish forces will be able to enter Iraq up to a distance of 60 kilometers; they will not enter the oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. Their declared goal will be to prevent the entry of Kurdish or Iraqi refugees into Turkey. The size of the Turkish expeditionary force is not specified in the agreement. Turkey intends to dispatch about 40,000 troops in addition to the 12,000 Turkish soldiers who are already stationed in northern Iraq.

The Kurds have been getting expelled from Kirkuk and Mosul for many years by Saddam Hussein's regime as it has sought to make those cities have Arab majorities. The Kurds are eager to return and expel the Arabs who took their homes. At the same time the 2 million Turkomen of Iraq are allied with Turkey and Turkey wants to keep the Kurds out of those cities so that the Turkomen can take control of those cities and the oil fields around them.

The Kurds are afraid of losing the portion of Iraq's oil revenue that they have been receiving via UN control of most of Iraq's oil sales. They also have plenty of examples to look back at in their recent and more distant history where they feel they have been betrayed by various powers.

The Turks want a slice of Iraq's oil revenue and to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq that would serve as an example for Kurds in Turkey who would like to be able to rule themselves free of Turkish control.

Battles between the Turks and Iraqi Turkomens on one side and the Kurds on the other side could easily happen. The Turkish government has refused to make its military forces in Iraq subordinate to US commanders. Distrust toward the United States and Turkey among the Kurds is increasing.

Update: The Turkish Parliament has rejected the terms of the deal between Turkey and the United States for US basing from Turkey into Iraq.

The final tally was 264-250, with 19 abstentions. The defeat stunned U.S. officials, who had been confident that Turkey's leaders would be able to persuade the members of their party to support the measure. U.S. ships had already begun unloading heavy equipment at Turkish ports in anticipation of a favorable vote, and more than a dozen vessels were idling off the coast.

At least the United States will save some money.

In exchange, Washington promised $15 billion in loans and grants to cushion the Turkish economy from the impact of war. That money may now be lost.

Turkey has been relying on US support for entry into the European Union as well as for International Monetary Fund loans. It will be interesting to see how the US responds to this diplomatically in the long term.

In terms of the war the Turks may still decide to move tens of thousands more troops into northern Iraq. The US forces will have a hard time with logistics to support large numbers of its own forces in northern Iraq. This complicates efforts to prevent the oil fields from being destroyed by Saddam's regime and also makes it harder to keep the Turks and Kurds from coming to blows.

Update: Kurdish Cdr Kemal Musa Faqi says if the Turks enter northern Iraq the Kurds will fight them.

"Everybody here, the men, women and children, will fight the Turks.

"We expect them to be much worse to the Kurds than any one else. Saddam's forces are better than the Turkish; both are dictators but he is Iraqi and we are Iraqi also."

By some accounts there are already 12,000 Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq. One guesses that the Kurds are going to wait and see what the Turks do with their troop presence before they start fighting them.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 01 07:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 February 20 Thursday
US Soldiers To Attack Abu Sayyaf In Philippines

Someone obviously forgot to tell the Pentagon that they are supposed to be too distracted by the run-up to the war on Iraq to do anything else.

Plans call for U.S. military assessment teams to begin arriving on the island of Jolo in the southern Sulu Archipelago "within days," the spokesman said, with the rest of the American force likely to follow in about a month. The U.S. contingent will consist of about 350 Special Operations forces in the Sulu area and about 400 support personnel in Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao, where the Philippine military maintains a regional headquarters.

In addition, two U.S. amphibious assault ships with 1,300 sailors and 1,000 Marines armed with Cobra attack helicopters and Harrier AV-8B planes will sail from Japan to the waters around Jolo to provide aviation support, logistical assistance and medical help and also serve as a "quick reaction" back-up force.

The Filipino government is billing this as a training mission. But they will be training where the Abu Sayyaf are most active. Also, its obvious the Cobra helicopters and Harriers are not being sent there for training.

The Abu Sayyaf group are considered to act as terrorists.

"The Philippines have a terrorist problem, and we have offered our assistance," a senior Pentagon official said. "Over time, that assistance takes different shapes and forms. The Philippines have invited us to expand our role with them."

The current governor of Sulu province is obviously a Muslim but a portion of the Filipino Muslim population has long opposed rule by non-Muslim governments.

Interviewed over the phone, Sulu Gov Yusof Jikiri, who just arrived from pilgrimage in Mecca, said, "he was not consulted in the holding of the Balikatan exercise in Sulu." But Jikiri said he would talk to his local leaders about it. He expressed hope that the exercise would bring development to the province.

The United States first started fighting Muslim rebels in the Philippines about a century ago.

Update: The Filipino government officially continues to deny a direct combat role for US troops while US officials off-the-record say US troops will directly engage Abu Sayyaf fighters.

...the American and Philippine governments agreed to place U.S. troops alongside Philippine soldiers in direct combat, defense officials said Thursday. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 20 07:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 February 13 Thursday
US Air War To Spare Iraqi Infrastructure

Some US Air Force officers are upset that the targetting list approved by General Tommy Franks will spare so much infrastructure that ground soldiers will be at greater risk.

The officers said the plan, as of a few weeks ago, would largely spare infrastructure targets, such as bridges, and most, if not all, telephone communications.

I wonder whether it would be possible to do things to the infrastructure that wouldn't cause major damage but which would render it unusable for days or weeks. The infrastructure doesn't have to be wiped out entirely. It just has to be put into a state that is hard to fix in a short period of time.

For instance, electric power plants are useless without power cables to deliver the electricity. Could a low flying aircraft dangling a long cable make passes over power lines and rip them up? Or could thin cabling be designed that would flutter down onto power cables and short them into the high tension line towers that keep them off the ground? Or could a bomb release a highly electrically conductive chemical that would coat the insulators in order to short out the cables?

Similarly, imagine a slippery chemical that could be used to coat the surface of a bridge to make it impassable. Or how about metal spikes that could be dropped to partially embed into the asphalt so that the spikes would rip up tires that passed over them.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 13 02:54 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 February 07 Friday
Iraqi Soldiers Near Kuwait Hungry, Ready To Surrender

Saddam is moving soldiers down to near the Iraqi border with Kuwait. These soldiers will be able to surrender much sooner than the rest of the Iraqi army.

UNIKOM officers who patrol the 9-mile-wide demilitarized zone, created after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and who travel in southern Iraq provided a firsthand independent look at war preparations and troop morale in the region.

"They are terrified," said one army captain, clad in a blue beret. "They won't surrender at the first shot. They will surrender when they hear the first American tank turn on its engine."

This leads to obvious questions: Have US special forces managed to negotiate in advance how these Iraqi soldiers will be able to surrender safely? Just how extensively have US forces managed to establish contact with regular Iraqi army officers in order to negotiate casualty-free surrenders?

Update: The Iraqi soldiers in the north of Iraq are also ready to surrender. An Iraqi soldier who recently defected and was taken into custody by Kurdish forces tells The Guardian the Iraqi soldiers have low morale.

Conditions back in the Iraqi trenches were not so good, he said. "We have two blankets for every soldier, but they are very thin and don't keep us warm. The officers beat us. And the food is disgusting. I'm only paid 50 dinars [about £3] a month."

Update II: Some Iraqi recently attempted to surrender in response to a British military live fire exercise in Kuwait.

The motley band of a dozen troops waved the white flag as British paratroopers tested their weapons during a routine exercise.

The stunned Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade were forced to tell the Iraqis they were not firing at them, and ordered them back to their home country telling them it was too early to surrender.

Keep in mind that Saddam does not intend to put up a strong fight on his borders. So the soldiers being sent to the border areas are probably his worst troops.

Unfortunately, not all of Saddam's troops will immediately surrender. Saddam intends to disguise some of his more loyal troops to look like American soldiers and then have them commit atrocities against his own people and try to blame Americans for it.

IRAQ is acquiring military uniforms "identical down to the last detail" to those worn by American and British forces and plans to use them to shift blame for atrocities, a senior US official has said.

If that previous link expires then also try this link.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 07 07:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 January 25 Saturday
Perspectives On The Coming Iraq War

Saddam Hussein biographer Con Coughlin says Saddam Hussein believes he can defeat the United States if his troops can only manage to get close enough to American troops to inflict some casualties.

Saddam was also immensely frustrated at his inability to engage US troops on the ground while some of his Republican Guard battalions remained intact. He believed that if he could inflict just a few casualties, Washington would cease hostilities. There is no reason to believe that Saddam's view of the US is any different today than it was then. It is a mindset that provides Saddam with the confidence not to be intimidated by the Americans, even though they have overwhelming firepower. In this context he will have taken Donald Rumsfeld's suggestion last week - that war could be averted if Saddam slipped quietly into exile - as yet further evidence that Washington's arch hawk has lost his bottle.

Saddam thinks the Americans are so casualty-averse that by inflicting some losses on the US Army he will be able to get the United States to withdraw from the field in the middle of battle. If Coughlin is right about this then Saddam sees no need to go into exile or give up his weapons of mass destruction. This makes war inevitable.

The French see the war debate as presenting them with a difficult dilemma. On one hand, they want to oppose the Iraq war in part because of a reflexive desire to oppose the will of the United States on the international stage and in part because France has its own interests in Iraq and it doesn't want to lose its political influence and contracts with the Iraqi regime. Plus, they may sincerely believe that the war will inflame the Arab street and increase the attractiveness of terrorism. On the other hand, if they sit it out they will have no influence in Iraq when its over. The French see the Iraq war mainly in terms of a threat to French power and influence. (The "duel" in the first line of the excerpt should probably have been "dual".)

"The French have a duel problem," said David Malone, head of the New York-based International Peace Academy think-tank and a former Canadian U.N. ambassador.

"On one hand they have played their cards masterfully and achieved a genuine compromise with the United States," he said.

"But the risk for them is that if the United States moves ahead, France may be dealt out of Iraq altogether, a significant blow to its standing in the Middle East and commercial prospects in the area," Malone said.

Another council diplomat agreed. "The Germans may be quite happy to sit this one out but the French would want to be leading any action," the envoy said. "It matters to matter for France."

Of course, if the French cave and go along with the US then they will be seen as having been bluffing in their opposition all along. But if they don't cave and the US goes ahead anyway then the UN Security Council will be seen as irrevelant and therefore the French seat on the UN Security Council will be seen as irrelevant. The French leadership is having a hard time trying to figure out a course thru the Iraq crisis that is least costly in its longer term effects on French influence and credibility.

Meanwhile, the British government still believe that the UN "international community" path will work for them.

The British Government, meanwhile, remains quietly confident that a second resolution is within its grasp. Gerhard Schröder's position, ministers say, is annoyingly sanctimonious, but entirely explicable in the light of forthcoming elections in Germany, and the German people's resolute hostility to a war in Iraq. President Chirac's posturing has caused more fury in Number 10. But, as one Cabinet Minister put it to me, "there is no way the French won't want a slice of the Iraqi cake when Saddam falls". No less than the Russians, though less explicitly, the French have their price.

That same article by Matthew d'Ancona argues (and I suspect correctly) that most of those calling for UN approval for the Iraq war do so because they sincerely believe the UN Security Council's permanent members would never all vote for it. The Blair government thinks the UN will come thru and make its life easier. Many others just as firmly believe (and comfort themselves with this belief) that they can count on Russia, China and France to prevent that outcome. Someone's going to be wrong here. What will Chirac decide? I for one hope he opts for making the UN Security Council irrelevant.

While the Brits still think they can bring the French around and save the United Nations route to war with Iraq the belief in Washington DC is that the French are a hopeless case. As a result Colin Powell's star is falling.

Last fall Secretary of State Colin L. Powell won unstinting praise for what the world seemed to regard as a coup: persuading President Bush to seek United Nations Security Council approval for confronting Iraq, and then lining up unanimous Council backing for that approach.

Today administration officials say Mr. Powell is abruptly on the defensive after France and Germany went public with their bluntly worded refusal to support quick action to find Iraq in breach of United Nations resolutions and clear the way for a military attack.

The NY Times reports the French diplomats say privately that they see war is inevitable. Then why are the French taking the position with Germany against the war? Do the French see opposition to the Iraq war as a way to increase their standing with Germany in order to get what they want from the EU? The French position is causing people in the US State Department to refer to the French envoys as "the French resistance".

There are perspectives on the coming war that sound like they are the result of sincere deliberations about moral principles and what will result in the best future for the world. Whether one agrees with the UK Observer's principles or its view of the world it seems clear that the Observer's support for military action to take down Saddam's regime isn't the result of a cynical calculation.

The moral and political advantages of holding to the current course of action are overwhelming. Legitimacy is fundamental to the values of Western powers. Wherever possible, we make law, not war, and where war is unavoidable, we observe the law in its conduct. The prospects for any successor Iraqi regime will be much rosier if it is seen to have come into being through a UN mandate derived from a very substantial majority of members, rather than bilateral Anglo-American action.

Those who demanded a multilateral route have responsibilities, too. They must recognise that the much-maligned Bush administration has dutifully pursued a multilateral approach over both Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. The world asked America to work through the UN. The UN and its members must now show that its decisions and resolutions can be effective.

Some US war theorists see the Iraq war as an opportunity to try out a method of rapid attack that they hope will break the enemy's will to fight. This approach features an enormous opening attack of precision guided munitions that will include 300 to 400 cruise missiles per day in the first 2 days of fighting.

The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It's called "Shock and Awe" and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

"We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.

Will the US military shock and awe large portions of the Iraqi military into immediately surrendering? Seems possible. The regular Iraqi army has got to be looking beyond the end of Saddam's regime. When the field commands and large chunks of the Iraqi communications networks get taken out in the initial attack they will know how its going to end and will be looking for a way to still be alive when the US and its allies take over.

Here's an argument on the Iraq war which I haven't yet seen made: the conquest of Iraq will free up 1 or 2 precious US aircraft carriers which would otherwise need to be stationed all the time in the neighborhood of the Middle East. After the war the USAF will be able to establish air bases in Iraq. Use of USAF aircraft will no longer be restricted by the Turks, Saudis or other regimes which now provide basing rights. With a centrally situationed set of air bases the USAF will be able to project from Iraq any air power that US might need to use in the region. So the US Navy can move a lot of assets toward the Pacific.

The argument against attacking Iraq first misses another obvious point: Iraq is really the best place to control first because it borders on Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. All three of those countries pose various forms of terrorism problems and/or WMD proliferation problems to the United States. Control of Iraq provides the US military a suitable place from which to pressure or attack any of those regimes.

Update: There's also an intelligence agency conflict about how much risk to run with intelligence sources in Iraq in order to prove the obvious fact that Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction.

Senior Foreign Office officials said that, to date, they had been instructed to be circumspect with sensitive evidence about Saddam's weapons to protect Iraqi informants. But ministers have accepted that more information must be released if the case for a pre-emptive war against Iraq is to be made.

Disclosing more detail may lead to tensions between MI6 and the CIA, which fears that a more explicit dossier could jeopardise Western intelligence networks in Iraq.

The people who don't believe that Saddam is developing WMD are people who don't want to know the truth. Blair's problem with British public opinion on this is so large that Iraqi informers may end up dead so that Blair can sway British public opinion.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 25 11:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 January 15 Wednesday
Al Qaeda Adapting To US Military Tactics

Rowan Scarborough reports on ways Al Qaeda is nullifying some of the technological advantage of the US military.

   "At night, when these groups heard a Predator or AC-130 coming, they pulled a blanket over themselves to disappear from the night-vision screen," Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the Army's Field Artillery magazine. "They used low tech to beat high tech."
   •Al Qaeda leaders greatly reduced their time on telephones and radios after realizing the United States' unmatched technical ability to monitor voice communications. During the summer, the military found a large cache of brand-new satellite phones — unused. This signaled that al Qaeda fighters have found other ways to talk without being detected, a Pentagon official said.

Steven Biddle has written more extensively on how Al Qaeda has adapted to and reduced the efficacy of US military weapons systems and tactics.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 15 11:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 January 11 Saturday
Tony Blair's Dilemma On Iraq

Tony Blair is between a rock and a hard place. His public and a significant portion of his parliamentary Labour Party are opposed to an attack on Iraq without UN approval. But George W. Bush may call him up asking for Britain to join in such an attack within 30 days from now.

One issue is crucial. Polls indicate that if the United Nations authorises an invasion of Iraq, then 73 percent of the British public will back it. But what if the United Nations doesn't?

"When you ask those same people what if the U.N. doesn't take action but the U.S. leads an attack on Iraq, how do you feel about using British troops then, it's now down to about 22 percent," says Peter Kellner, chairman of UK pollster YouGov.

It would probably take months of inspections for firm evidence of forbidden Iraqi weapons to be discovered. In my opinion it is unlikely that Bush will let inspections go on for that long before starting the invasion. Even if firm evidence was discovered by UNMOVIC or IAEA inspectors it is far from clear that Russia, France, and China would all vote to approve military action. Also, from a military point of view an attack under those circumstances would be far from ideal. There'd be basically no element of surprise and the Iraqi regime may be able to launch missiles with biological or chemical weapon warheads at Israel and at alliance military concentrations in Kuwait and other locations in the region.

Consider Blair's choices. If he doesn't go along with Bush then he loses support of the US for other purposes and damage to relations between the US and UK will be considerable. But Blair risks a rebellion from his own backbenchers if he tries to go forward with the attack. So what's he to do? He's got to figure that if he can manage to carry his Cabinet along to support the attack that within a week or two of the beginning of the attack US and UK soldiers will have captured Iraqi chemical and biological weapons stores and probably nuclear weapons development labs. Some of the critics will still be after him for failing to be more supportive of the UN and international multilateral "We Are The World" naive impractical utopian nonsense. But the wind will be out of their sails. So I say Blair goes along with the Bush attack unless Blair can convince Bush to delay till autumn. Will Bush feel enough obligation to Blair to hold back for Blair's political benefit?

The attack on Iraq is a character test for Dubya. He can push thru against all the international resistance and by March 1st have the evidence he needs to his decision. Or he can choke, take too long, and lose momentum while giving the rogue WMD proliferating states more time to do WMD development.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 11 06:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Debka: Turkey Opposing Iraqi Kurdish Autonomy

Many impatient commentators think the Bush Administration has taken far too much time before attacking Iraq. Part of the reason for the delay can be attributed to the limits of US military power. Budget cuts have cost the US ability to fight and win 2 regional wars at once. The large assortment of existing US military obligations combined with insufficient airlift and sealift slow any build-up. Also, limits to US military resources increase the extent to which the US must rely on allies for parts of the job and therefore the military limits increase the leverage that some US allies have over the US. One important ally for the attack against Saddam's regime is Turkey. Turkey's people are resistant to Turkish support for the US operation against Iraq because the last Gulf war generated large numbers of refugees who fled into Turkey, Turkey lost economically due to disruptions in trade and the fear and uncertainty that accompany war. Also, the Turks are Muslims and therefore resist attacks by non-Muslims against Muslim governments.

If all of this wasn't already enough, there is a large Kurdish minority in southeastern Turkey some members of which conducted terrorist operations for many years in order to push for greater autonomy and self-rule while at the same time there is a Kurdish zone in northern Iraq that has autonomy from the Iraqi government as a result of US and British protection. The Turks fear that the Kurdish zone in northern Iraq will gain a more permanent form of autonomy as a result of the defeat of Iraq's regime by the US coalition. Kurdish home rule in Northern Iraq would serve as an inspiring example for Turkish Kurds and therefore is seen by the Turks as a threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey. Turkish military is certainly competent enough and large enough to firmly grab ahold of northern Iraq in order to prevent this. Plus, the Turks under the Ottoman Empire once ruled all of Iraq and have claims to the oil fields around Kirkuk and Mosul which they are pressing once again because they want the revenue that the oil fields would bring.

In light of all this Debka's report of Turkish military actions in northern Iraq and of Turkish demands for a post-war settlement that is more favorable to Turkey is incredibly plausible.

Already, the Turkish army has stepped out of its pre-defined war role. The Turkish 2nd and 3rd Corps, deployed along and across the Iraqi border to take on Iraqi troops, are laying Iraqi Kurdistan to virtual siege, interrupting the flow of imported foodstuffs from Turkey and Kurdish exports going the opposite direction. Travelers to Kurdistan must go round through Syria or Iran.

A large Turkish military force fully deployed in northern Iraq has advantages for the US. One really big one is that the Turks (likely with the help of US special forces) may be able to move on the Iraqi oil fields rapidly enough to prevent Saddam's destruction of those oil fields. Large economic costs and environmental harm (both to human health and to other species) could thereby be prevented.

To the extent that squabbling over terms between the US and Turkey makes it seem less certain that an attack will take place this also has advantages. It is in the US interest for Saddam to not know for certain whether the attack will take place. Once Saddam thinks that the attack is a certainty he has actions which he could take (eg sending out terrorist squads against the US, shooting missiles off against Israel) that he would not take otherwise. Similarly, the diplomatic activities around the UN Security Council and the position of the Blair government in Britain to delay an attack all increase the doubts in Saddam's mind as to whether an attack is imminent. An ideal scenario from a military standpoint would be one where the doubts about the imminence of attack were quite high up until the moment when the attack began. The doubts would cause Saddam to hold back on using his most extreme options until the US began to deny him of the ability to use those options.

Could diplomacy (whether intentionally or not) provide the US with the element of surprise in its initial attack? The US force build-up continues. We do not know how many soldiers and how much equipment the US requires to have present in order to be ready to start. If the Bush Administration and the US Defense Department were wise they'd put the publically reported needed number of troops at a much higher level than the number they decide they want to have. That way they could be ready without seeming to be ready. But then the diplomatic element of the surprise has to be worked out. Would the US be willing to start an attack on Iraq while UNMOVIC inspectors were still present in the country? Would the US be willing to begin an attack even while UN Security Council deliberations were on-going? Uncertainty as to the answers to questions like these makes it hard to guess the true intentions of the Bush Administration at this point.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 11 03:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 January 09 Thursday
British Want To Delay Attack On Iraq Until Autumn

The British government wants to give the UN UNMOVIC and IAEA weapons inspectors more time to find the weapons labs and storage facilities of Iraq.

Britain is pressing for war against Iraq to be delayed for several months, possibly until the autumn, to give weapons inspectors more time to provide clear evidence of new violations by Saddam Hussein.

Ministers and senior officials believe that there is no clear legal case for military action despite the build-up of American and British forces in the Gulf.

Here's the biggest problem with going along with such a delay: It ties up US military assets. The US does not have enough military capacity to deal with other problems such as North Korea or Iran while the US military forces are tied up waiting until autumn. North Korea already feels emboldened by the extent to which US forces are tied down in other theatres of operation. If the Bush Administration goes along with the UK request for a delay then this is going to cost precious time in efforts to prevent WMD proliferation in other countries which have dangerous regimes. Those other regimes will become more dangerous during the period of delay.

There are other benefits from invading Iraq now and getting it over with not least of which is that Saddam Hussein still has on-going WMD development programs. An attack on Iraq now already brings with it the risk that Saddam's regime will respond with chemical and biological weapons. We don't want to wait for that threat to grow larger.

Another big benefit that will come from defeating Iraq sooner is the intelligence bonanza that will come from capturing Iraqi government offices with all their files and from capturing and interrogating high level figures in the Iraqi regime and Iraqi intelligence officers as well. Saddam Hussein's regime has had many contacts with a large variety of terrorist groups (not only Al Qaeda) and has lots of useful information about their activities and their operatives and resources. Iraq's officials and intelligence agents also will certainly have information about the WMD development efforts and terrorist support efforts of other regimes such as that in Libya and Iran. We need that information.

A delay may have diplomatic benefits. But the risk of terrorist attacks and WMD proliferation are both too great for diplomatic considerations to outweigh them. US needs to make faster real progress in preventing the proliferation of WMD and in taking apart terrorist groups.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 09 12:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 December 26 Thursday
US To Try Many New Weapons In Next Iraq War

Rowan Scarborough reviews the weapons systems that will make the second war against Iraq (which probably will start in February 2003) qualitatively different than the first war. This estimate of just how much more effective the US military will be this time really stands out.

"When you roll it all together, I say we're 10 times more powerful," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney. "And [Saddam] is about 30 percent what he was before. So you can see how we can achieve rapid dominance using 'effects-based' operations."

Saddam could still manage to unleash bioweapons and even manage to lob a few missiles with biological or chemical warheads at Israel or other countries. Saddam might also have sleeper terrorists in the US ready to unleash bioweapons. But as bad as all that sounds the biggest problem we face isn't what the Iraqi regime can do in response to a military attack. The biggest challenge is the reconstruction afterward. To change a nation's political culture is not a trivial matter. Islam as a political force which is hostile to liberal democracy, cultural influences of neighboring Arab countries, and tribal attitudes that are reinforced by consanguineous marriage patterns all make the political transformation of Iraq highly problematic.

Outwardly the Bush Administration has provided no indications that its top thinkers are aware of the scope of the problem that they will face once the fighting is over. My fear is that too many of them may uncritically accept claims by some pundits and intellectuals about the universal appeal of liberal democracy and as a consequence they may not appreciate the sheer scope of the political and cultural problem that the US must solve in order to successfully transform post-war Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 26 10:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 December 22 Sunday
Iraq War in February 2003?

The US wants British involvement in an attack on Iraq. Therefore indicators of movement of British forces may be a good way to tell when the war will start. By that line of reasoning February looks more likely than January.

Britain's 3 Commando Brigade, the elite force that made up the main British contribution to fighting in Afghanistan last year, would send about 3,000 men to the amphibious operation to join a much larger contingent of Americans.

A large British naval task force is due to sail from Britain at the end of January, and would presumably include the amphibious units.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 22 01:02 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 26 Tuesday
Steven Biddle On Afghanistan And Military Doctrine

Steven Biddle has written an article for strategypage.com arguing that the experience of US special forces in Afghanistan does not serve as a model for revolutionizing US military doctrine.

The key to success, whether in 1916 or 2002, is to team heavy, well-directed fires with skilled ground maneuver to exploit their effects and overwhelm the surviving enemy. This kind of skilled maneuver, however, is beyond the reach of many potential indigenous allies. In Afghanistan, U.S. proxies with American air support brushed aside unskilled, ill-motivated Afghan Taliban, but against hard-core al Qaeda opposition, outcomes were often in doubt even with the benefit of 21st century U.S. air power and American commandos to direct it. Where we face opponents with the gumption and training to stand and fight, our allies need the same, even with all the modern firepower we can offer them.

This in turn implies that we should neither restructure the military to wage Afghan-style wars more efficiently, nor reflexively commit conventional U.S. ground forces in every conflict. Where we enjoy local allies with the needed skills and motivation, we can expect the Afghan Model to work, and we should use it. But we will not always be so lucky. In Iraq, for example, the lack of a credible, trained opposition bodes ill for an Afghanistan-style campaign without major American ground forces. Deep cuts in ground capability could thus be very risky in spite of our strengths in air power or special operations forces. More broadly, though, we should be wary of suggestions that precision weapons, with or without special operations forces to direct them, have so revolutionized warfare that traditional ground forces are now superceded.

You can download the full 68 page report as a PDF file (requires Acrobat reader or equivalent software for viewing).

I base these findings on a new collection of primary source evidence centered on a series of 46 interviews with key American participants in the conflict,ranging from Special Forces Sergeants to the Major General who commanded CJTF Mountain during Operation ANACONDA,and including subjects from the Special Operations Command,the U.S.Army,the U.S.Air Force, and the Central Intelligence Agency.13 These interviews were complemented with official written documentation on the conduct of the war and direct physical inspection of the Anaconda battlefield in Afghanistan ’s Shah-i-kot valley, together with available secondary source accounts,chiefly from the print news media.This body of evidence cannot be considered complete;a definitive history of the Afghan campaign would require years of research on a much broader range of issues.Rather,my intention here is to focus on one key issue —the new Model ’s role in the Afghan campaign and its implications for the future —and to muster as much evidence as can be produced in the near term,so as to make initial findings available sooner than a definitive history would permit,but with a stronger foundation in the evidence than the debate to date has offered.

Biddle points out that most of the defections from the Taliban side occurred after the tide of battle had shifted against the Taliban. So the argument that the CIA bribed its way to victory (touted in write-ups on Bob Woodward's Bush At War book) is not credible.

As for the use of precision-guided missiles (PGM), their efficacy decreased as the war progressed. Al Qaeda fighters quickly adapted in a matter of weeks and became increasingly better at avoiding detection until attacking ground forces got quite close to them. By the time of the battle for Shah-i-kot Valley they had become very skilled at concealment.

At Operation ANACONDA in March 2002,an intensive pre-battle reconnaissance effort focused every available surveillance and target acquisition system on a tiny, ten-by-ten kilometer battlefield.Yet fewer than 50 percent of all the al Qaeda positions ultimately identified in the course of the fighting on this battlefield were discovered prior to ground contact.In fact,most fire received by U.S. forces in ANACONDA came from initially unseen, unanticipated al Qaeda fighting positions.69 How could such things happen in an era of persistent reconnaissance drones,airborne radars,satellite surveillance,thermal imaging,and hypersensitive electronic eavesdropping equipment?The answer is that the earth ’s surface remains an extremely complex environment with an abundance of natural and manmade cover and concealment available for those militaries capable of exploiting it.

The full PDF article provides a number of fascinating details about the course of a number of battles in Afghanistan. In one case, the battle for Bai Beche, the outcome was the result of an accidental cavalry charge (presumably on horses) of Dostum's forces just as JDAM strikes were in-bound. The cavalry was able to overrun the enemy position without being destroyed by the JDAMs due to an enormous luck of timing.

Biddle has written a great essay. If you are interested in getting a detailed understanding of what happened militarily in Afghanistan and what its ramifications are for the future of warfare his article is well worth the time it takes to read it.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 26 04:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 November 23 Saturday
Victor Davis Hanson On The Fight For Baghdad

Victor Davis Hanson discusses the end game in the destruction of Saddam's regime: the fight for Baghdad.

And herein lies the problem: We are suddenly supposedly at war not with tens of thousands of veteran conscripts in the desert, but only with 50,000 or so tribal thugs who owe everything to Saddam, killers who have everything to lose with his defeat and nothing to gain with a humane government in his place. Ensconced in Baghdad — in private homes, mosques, hospitals, and tunnels — with access to biological weapons and perhaps a few Scuds — in theory they will be hard to evict and harder to hit amid women and children as they strike from afar. They are, in other words, analogous to the Taliban gangsters in Kabul or Kandahar — only more numerous, savvier, and perhaps with a few missiles and lots of germs.

Davis is optimistic that Baghdad can be sealed off and then slowly parts of it can be sliced off from Saddam's control with fairly low casualties. Whether that is the case depends heavily on how many of Saddam's core fighters stay loyal to him and for how long. One question I have is whether, once Baghdad is sealed off, will the US military be able to maintain a large enough constant surveillance in the skys above the city to be able to instantly spot a Scud that is being pulled out of a building for launch. My guess is that they can. There is the additional problem that Saddam could start releasing germ warfare agents locally which would kill many civilians.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 23 09:36 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 20 Wednesday
James Dunnigan: Lets Not Overlearn Afghan Lessons

James F. Dunnigan argues that many of the factors that were crucial to US success in Afghanistan are already being adapted to by the opposition in Afghanistan. Also, the element of surprise in the use of the successful tactics will not be there in future conflicts since the whole world saw what the US military did. We shouldn't overreact and go to far in moving toward a special forces model.

Just as the North Vietnamese quickly learned that you don't fight the American army in a straight ahead battle, the Afghans figured out how to become less vulnerable to smart bombs. The Afghan solution, which is quite similar to the North Vietnamese one, is to stay out of the way of the Americans, don't bunch up, and, in particular, dig deeper, and more numerous hiding places. Then you wage guerilla war until the impatient Yankees lose interest and go home.

Its worth noting in this context that many other wars have seen changes in efficacy of weapons from the time the weapons first scored their big successes till when the conflicts ended. For instance, tanks lost much of their advantage as WWII progressed and infantry developed tactics for dealing with them.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 20 01:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 17 Sunday
Bob Woodward: "Bush At War"

Bob Woodward has just released a new book, Bush at War, which is about the inner workings of the Bush Administration as it has responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent developments of the war against the terrorists.

Evan Thomas of Newsweek reports on Woodward's book:

Woodward has CIA Director George Tenet regretting that he did not push the president—either Bush or Clinton—to give the agency the authority to try to assassinate Osama bin Laden before 9-11. But after 9-11, Tenet emerges as a bluff dynamo. The CIA director wants and gets an open-ended hunting license for the agency. He prepares an intelligence “finding” for Bush with entries like “Heavily Subsidize Arab Liaison Services.” Woodward quotes Tenet explaining to the president that “the CIA would ‘buy’ key intelligence services [including] Egypt, Jordan, Algeria.” The CIA spent $70 million renting friends and allies in Afghanistan, Woodward reports; the spooks’ kitty for buying Iraqi colonels and other covert ops is already set somewhere between $100 million and $200 million.

I'm skeptical as to the extent that the CIA can "buy" other intelligence services. They will take the money and then help only in the ways that they choose to help. Also, note that you don't see Saudi Arabia or Pakistan on Iran on the list of countries whose intelligence services have been bought. There are still very important areas from which threats emanate where the US does not have enough visibility or influence.

Woodward told 60 Minutes that the CIA has a lot more freedom of operation:

Woodward: The gloves are off. — There are no restraints on the CIA. — And there's this whole invisible war where the CIA has had foreign intelligence services and police forces arrest or detain terrorists, al Qaeda members, thousands of them.

Its great to hear that the CIA is being very aggressive and is cutting deal with foreign intelligence services. But has the CIA started recruiting and deploying agents to infiltrate radical Islamic groups? Has the CIA improved its own operational capability? Again, this sounds grand. But does it accomplish enough of what needs to be accomplished in practice?

Bush's emotional reaction to Kim Jong Il seems highly appropriate:

Describing his aspirations for an ambitious reordering of the world through preemptive and perhaps unilateral action, Bush turned first to Iraq but then to North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong Il. With the administration contemplating a response to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Woodward reports that Bush shouted and waved his finger in the air as he vented about Kim.

"I loathe Kim Jong Il," Bush said. "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people. And I have seen intelligence of these prison camps -- they're huge -- that he uses to break up families, and to torture people."

This article by Bob Woodward appears to be excerpted from the book and describes the doom and gloom scenario that Colin Powell argued would follow an Iraq invasion:

With his notes by his side, a double-spaced outline on loose-leaf paper, Powell said the president had to consider what a military operation against Iraq would do in the Arab world. He dealt with the leaders and foreign ministers in these countries as secretary of state. The entire region could be destabilized -- friendly regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan could be put in jeopardy or overthrown. Anger and frustration at America abounded. War could change everything in the Middle East.

It would suck the oxygen out of just about everything else the United States was doing, not only in the war on terrorism, but also in all other diplomatic, defense and intelligence relationships, Powell said. The economic implications could be staggering, potentially driving the supply and price of oil in directions that were as-yet unimagined. All this in a time of an international economic slump. The cost of occupying Iraq after a victory would be expensive. The economic impact on the region, the world and the United States domestically had to be considered.

Is Powell arguing that the only way to go multilateral is to go thru the UN? If so, why? The US has done many things abroad with ad hoc coalitions of countries. It is unlikely that the US invasion of Iraq is going to be any more palatable to the Arab masses if the US gets UN approval. Of course, the UN Security Council is very unlikely to vote that approval anyhow. If the US reacts to Iraq's blocking of the work of UNMOVIC inspectors by invading Iraq will the Arab masses be any less likely to try to rise up and overthrow their governments just because the US did get the UN Security Council Resolution which gives the inspectors authority?

Cheney shows his calm practical attitude:

The book indicates that Vice President Cheney made the decision himself to go into an undisclosed location Oct. 29 after Bush went macho when told there was intelligence about a possible dirty bomb-like weapon.

"Those bastards are going to find me exactly here," Bush said. "And if they get me, they're going to get me right here."

Cheney erupted: "This isn't about you. This is about our Constitution. ... And that's why I'm going to a secure, undisclosed location."

I think the write-ups on this book are exaggerating the importance of the money spent to buy allies. See for instance this AP article:

A new book says President Bush's advisers had grave doubts about the early course of the war in Afghanistan and suggests that the ultimate defeat of the Taliban was due largely to millions of dollars in hundred-dollar bills the CIA handed out to Afghan warlords to win their support.

The money alone wasn't going to buy a shift in control in Afghanistan. The ability of the US special forces soldiers to call down incredibly accurate air strikes was more important. Any place where the Taliban tried to form a front line they just got shredded by JDAM bombs. Also, moving convoys could be struck by laser guided bombs. Also, a lot of that money went to the Northern Alliance forces who were already opposed to the Taliban. So the argument that the war was won by bribing groups to switch sides is an exaggeration. Yes, faction leaders were bribed to switch sides. But that by itself was not decisive.

Powell appears to have complained a lot to Bob Woodward about internal divisions within the Bush Administration. I find his complaints to be self-serving and peevish. Would he have complained about the lack of an internal debate to hash out the pros and cons of policy options if everyone had agreed with him? Probably not. Yet if there had been no internal divisions critics on the outside would have been complaining that the Bush Administration was a big Borg Mind which didn't question its own assumptions. This would have been a more justified criticism. It is helpful to have some healthy disagreement which forces people to justify their positions more fully. A president who is hearing only one position isn't being well served. Also, what harm came from these internal divisions? The disagreements didn't seem to interfere with the Bush Administration's ability to formulate and execute policies.

A Secretary Of State is not an elected position. He's answerable to the President and the President has ultimate say in foreign policy. Also, foreign relations are no longer just the province of the State Department for obvious reasons. Countries have dealings with each other across a large number of policy areas that involve many different government departments and agencies. Powell is just upset that ideologically speaking he's not in the mainstream of this administration. But no one is making him work at the job. If he really disagrees with the direction of the Bush Administration that much then he's always free to resign.

Update: It appears that Woodward had much better access to Powell than to Cheney or Rumsfeld and therefore Woodward's narrative tends to describe the internal disagreements and events from Powell's perspective. Woodward may even favor Powell's viewpoint because he appears not to try to make arguments for why the opposing viewpoint may be reasonable. There are questions I'd like to put to Mr. Powell which Woodward doesn't appear to address. For instance, does Mr. Powell really believe that inspections can work? Or is he in favor of inspections just as a necessary prelude for getting governments in the Middle East to be more supportive of a US move against the Iraqi regime? Does he want the inspections as a way to make it more obvious to Middle Easterners that Saddam will not be reasonable? Exactly what does he expect the UN inspections to accomplish?

Update II: The Monday excerpts from the Washington Post can be found here and here. The Tuesday excerpts can be found here and here. The excerpts provide quite a bit of insight into Bush's management style. Probably the most important insight is that Bush is acutely aware of the importance of good management style and has some pretty good ideas on what techniques are effective for getting the best out of high level manager subordinates.

Bill Sammon has also written an account of the insider decision making process of the Bush Administration post-9/11: Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism from Inside the Bush White House.

Update III: Tony Blankley has the same reaction that I did: Colin Powell and George Tenet gave Woodward better access and therefore the story gets told from their vantage point:

Mr. Woodward's book more aptly should be titled: "What I shrewdly saw, brilliantly thought and nobly did in the Bush adminstration by Colin Powell and George Tenet, as told to Bob Woodward." Not surprisingly, Mr. Powell and the CIA turn out to be the heroes of this story.

Update IV: Howard Kurtz links to some of the reactions to the Woodward book. One article he links to is by David Frum:

For more than a year, we’ve been reading nasty little stories in the papers about Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld and condescending stories about President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice. Careful readers have understood that these stories emanated from the State Department – but until now, Powell has taken care to protect his personal deniability. Now he has abandoned that polite pretense.

In the Woodward piece, Powell scorns the president for his “Texas, Alamo macho.” (I guess Powell thinks Col. Travis should have negotiated.) Powell complains with Senate Democrats that acting against Iraq “would suck the oxygen” out of the anti-terror campaign. He denigrates Rice, snidely observing that “she had had difficulties” keeping up with what Bush was doing. When the president over-rules him, Powell complains that he thought he had a “deal” – as if cabinet members bargain with their president rather than taking orders from him.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 17 02:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2002 November 14 Thursday
Why Generals Got Their Way For More Troops

The plan has shifted toward a more mobile force:

The Brookings Institution recently conducted a "war game" to test how a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq might unfold, assuming the use of 300,000 U.S. troops - and found that even with that many troops, their hands would be full.

Those troops would be needed not merely to conduct the invasion and topple Hussein, but to contain the threat of a weapons of mass destruction attack on Iraq's neighbors, intervene in fighting that might occur between Turkey and the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq and begin the process of restoring order in Iraq after Hussein falls, said Kenneth Pollack, a former member of President Bill Clinton's National Security Council.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 14 08:31 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 10 Sunday
US May Lack Sufficient Number Of Air Bases Against Iraq

The Financial Times of London reports that the lack of access to Saudi air bases will pose a considerable problem for the full deployment of US air power:

However, the vast number of combat aircraft and support aircraft would require at least 15 airfields, and possibly as many as 20, according to estimates prepared for the House armed services committee by Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Without help from Saudi Arabia, which has 31 long paved runways, the US would be forced to cobble together help from other Gulf states, where airfields are less developed and poorly stocked. According to Mr O'Hanlon's estimates, even with four to six aircraft carriers and complete access to bases in Turkey and Kuwait, such a large force would need at least a dozen more fields, leading the US to rely on small emirates such as Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Michael O'Hanlon's testimony to the US House Armed Services Committee on October 2, 2002, entitled "War Against Saddam's Regime: Winnable But No Cakewalk", appears to the source of the comments in the Financial Times article referenced above. You can read O'Hanlon's testimony on the US House Of Representatives site here or on the Brookings Institute site here.

O'Hanlon thinks the urban settings that will be the scene of some of the Iraqi fighting limit the extent to which air power can be used:

Trends in military technology development and recent American battlefield victories suggest to some that the United States' high-technology edge will make the deployment of a large invasion force unnecessary. Indeed, laser- and satellite-guided bombs, as well as new reconnaissance and communications systems like JSTARS aircraft and Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles demonstrated enormous potential in the Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan. But two other conflicts from recent history also need to be kept in mind: the U.S. military campaign in Somalia in 1992-1993 and the war against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. In both cases, difficult battlefield terrain and conditions—the urban setting of Mogadishu, the forested settings of Kosovo—limited enormously what high technology could do.

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon that was so effective against the entrenched Taliban forces would be difficult to use against Iraqi armor deployed in urban settings, since it could cause so much collateral damage to civilians that its use might be severely limited. Laser-guided bombs could be more effective, at least in good weather, but they require forward target designators and even they could not be used against individual soldiers carrying small arms. If U.S. aircraft tried to spot targets on their own, they would have to fly low over Iraqi cities, risking losses from Iraq's anti-aircraft artillery and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. When coalition aircraft flew low in the first three days of Desert Storm, the result was 27 aircraft damaged or destroyed—one-third of their losses for the entire war.

I'm skeptical of the claim that there will not be enough air bases. The US has been building up airbases in the small Gulf states and even in the Caucasus region. The US will have as many or more aircraft carriers as it had for Desert Storm and some of the carrier-based aircraft will carry more bombs per mission (in particular the Super Hornet). The USAF will have forward positioned B1, B2, and B52 bombers at Diego Garcia (so much shorter round-trips per mission and hence many more missions per aircraft), and it will have much more accurate bombs. At the same time, it has had plenty of time to degrade Iraqi anti-aircraft defenses.

O'Hanlon argues that deterrence alone may not restrain Saddam:

Deterrence could fail in the future nonetheless, at least in a limited way. In particular, if Saddam had a nuclear weapon, he would still almost surely be deterred from directly attacking the United States or its NATO allies. But he might take greater risks in the Middle East and Persian Gulf in the belief that his new weapon effectively guaranteed his regime's survival, making U.S.-led intervention to thwart his regional ambitions less likely except in the most extreme of circumstances.

What might Saddam do under such circumstances? Perhaps he would seize the oil field on his border with Kuwait that was the purported original cause of the 1990 Iraq-Kuwait crisis. Or he might violate the safe haven in his country's Kurd region and seek to reestablish brutal Ba'ath party rule over that minority population. He might escalate his support for anti-Israeli terrorism, stoking radicals and suicide bombers and trying to provoke Israel into an overreaction. Given his propensity for miscalculation, he might think he could get away with actions that we would in fact find unacceptable, causing a failure of deterrence and a much greater risk of war. In a worst case, on his deathbed he might decide to attack Israel with nuclear weapons for purposes of simple vengeance, and to ensure his mark upon Arab history books.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 10 04:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 09 Saturday
James Taranto Sees February 2003 Iraq War Start

Using the text of the UN resolution as his guide he sees Feb. 11, 2003 as the day by which the inspectors will have to have reported back in some manner to the Security Council.

The resolution instructs the inspectors "to resume inspections no later than 45 days following adoption of this resolution and to update the Council 60 days thereafter"--that is, by Feb. 11. Presumably everything will be in place by then for the bombs to start falling the next day.

You can read the full text of the UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq here.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 09 12:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
War Preparations Suggest January War Start

This article has lots of other indicators of preparations for war. Among those indicators is bridging equipment that is en route for crossing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. But the point at which the carriers will reach a peak number seems like a pretty good indicator to watch:

The USS Lincoln aircraft carrier and its naval battle group is in the Gulf, and the USS Washington is in the Mediterranean. The USS Constellation battle group, with 75 aircraft and 8,000 sailors, left San Diego earlier this month, four months ahead of schedule, bound for the North Arabian sea.

Another aircraft carrier, the USS Truman, completed its final preparatory exercises last week, and is taking on provisions at its base in Virginia.

On the other side of the country, the USS Vinson aircraft carrier and is being prepared for departure from its base in Washington state some time in December.

In San Diego the USS Nimitz is also due for deployment, and the carrier based in Japan, the USS Kitty Hawk, has left harbour for exercises at an undisclosed location.

Update: Bradley Graham writing in the Washington Post reports there is not yet a decision to reach a readiness peak at a particilar point in time:

Additionally, the Pentagon is expected to scratch plans to extend the tours of two aircraft carriers -- the Abraham Lincoln and the George Washington -- that have been within striking distance of Iraq, allowing them to sail back to the United States after the arrival soon of replacement carriers -- the Constellation and the Harry Truman. In Kuwait, a fresh brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division already has started rolling in to relieve a brigade that has been training there for nearly six months. And the Air Force also is counting on rotating some of its warplanes in and out of the region.

Harriers are freeing carriers from Afghanistan duty:

The United States has moved Marine Corps attack jets to Afghanistan, the military said Wednesday, replacing carrier-based warplanes in the Arabian Sea that have moved closer to Iraq.

While a delay caused by inspections creates weather problems it allows more equipment to be put into place:

Goure added that a long inspections process would allow US officials to finish putting its equipment and personnel in place. Equally important is that a strong UN resolution gives greater multilateral support for any potential US military effort if Baghdad fails to comply.

This article has a long list of equipment already moved or being moved into the theatre.

-- U.S. heavy B-2 bombers, which fired opening salvos in last two U.S. wars, are to be moved to the British-held Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and Fairford, England, the first time they will be based overseas rather than at Whiteman Air Force Base in central Missouri. Timing of the move has not been announced. The radar-evading aircraft can carry 40,000 pounds (18,180 kg) of bombs, including 5,000-pound (2,273 kg) "bunker buster" bombs that can burrow up to 30 feet (nine metres) into rock or reinforced concrete.

The New York Times (free registration required) has a lengthy report on Iraq war planning.

The plan, approved in recent weeks by Mr. Bush well before the Security Council's unanimous vote on Friday to disarm Iraq, calls for massing 200,000 to 250,000 troops for attack by air, land and sea. The offensive would probably begin with a "rolling start" of substantially fewer forces, Pentagon and military officials say.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 09 12:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 05 Tuesday
US Carrier Count In Gulf Will Rise In December

War hasn't seemed likely up till now for the simple reason that a lot of the logistics weren't yet in place. It was claimed that the air base in Qatar wouldn't be fully completed until December for instance. Now there is another piece that is coming into place: aircraft carrier deployment. The Abraham Lincoln now has the F/A-18E Super Hornet and so it carries a bigger punch:

The Lincoln is the only aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, but more are expected to arrive. The Constellation and the Harry S. Truman are scheduled to leave ports in the United States and could reach the gulf by December. The George Washington is in the Mediterranean, but could quickly reach the Persian Gulf.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 05 07:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 30 Wednesday
FrontPage: Israeli Commandos In Iraq Hunting Scuds

The article doesn't makt clear whether they are currently just trying to identify or to actually destroy Scud missile bases right now.

An Israeli commando force is hunting for Scud missiles in western Iraq as America shows increasing signs of losing patience with the failure of the United Nations to reach agreement over action against Saddam Hussein.

Unit 262, Israel's equivalent of the SAS, is on a mission to foil any pre-emptive attack by Iraq on Israel that would undermine US war preparations.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 30 01:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 25 Friday
Jim Hoagland: 8 Weeks Till Ready To Attack Iraq

Jim Hoagland also describes the real meaning of the UN negotiations with Russia and France:

The Pentagon is now within eight weeks of being ready to launch a sustained military campaign to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein and destroy his weapons of horror. The time has arrived for President Bush and his aides to cast in iron the war aims that will guide and justify this campaign and to state them clearly to the nation and the world.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 25 01:45 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 25 Wednesday
US Military developing new tactics for Baghdad fighting

This article presents one of the more plausible explanations for why the US hasn't attacked Iraq yet. In urban warfare the rule of thumb with traditional fighting tactics is to expect 30% casualty rates:

Instead of moving in easy-to-target columns of troops around a city, Sullivan proposes having squads advance in random, snaking patterns in hopes of outflanking any potential ambushes.

Planners also are working on a small unmanned reconnaissance plane and a wheeled robot that can investigate dangerous areas without risk to the troop

By Randall Parker    2002 September 25 11:28 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 24 Tuesday
Tom Holsinger: Good Morning, Baghdad!

Tom Holsinger explores how impersonators of Iraqi leaders and Iraqi newscasters could be used to sow confusion and force tough choices:

We need not confine ourselves to the Saddam Show either. Iraqi officials might experience the thrill of watching themselves declare a rebellion against Saddam on national television. Iraqi news announcers might suddenly start telling the truth. Hollywood at war can make failure to immediately rebel against Saddam outright suicidal for many important Iraqis once the U.S. invasion starts, and might even win without firing a shot by inspiring the real assassination of Saddam. The confusion, fratricide and surrenders these impersonations inspire would at least materially aid American conquest.

Low trust bureaucratic states are extremely vulnerable to electronic psychological warfare using this emerging technology. The 2002 Iraq campaign will likely be its proving ground.

By Randall Parker    2002 September 24 01:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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