Friday, May 26, 2017

I Await Details of Ship Activities

Some have wondered why Trump hadn't yet carried out missions in the South China Sea. The United States Navy may have challenged China's claims to the waters of the South China Sea.

I have no idea if this is significant:

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Dewey traveled close to the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.

We sailed within 12 nautical miles of the artificial island. But that does not make it a freedom of navigation operation:

[Greg Poling of CSIS] said the key question was whether the U.S. warship had engaged in a real challenge to the Chinese claims by turning on radar or launching a helicopter or boat - actions not permitted in a territorial sea under international law.

Otherwise, critics say, the operation would have resembled what is known as "innocent passage" and could have reinforced rather than challenged China's claim to a territorial limit around the reef.

This author says that the "FONOPs" we have carried out since October 2015 have been innocent passage.

Is that what we just did? If we just sailed through doing nothing that a warship uniquely can do, it is just innocent passage which does not challenge Chinese claims.

If Dewey operated weapons systems while conducting that transit, it was a freedom of navigation operation that denies Chinese authority to control the waters sailed through.

So which one was it? Has Trump continued the Obama tradition of conducting phony FONOPs?

Seriously, "Aircraft Carrier" is Not a Synonym for "Sea Power"

China has a long way to go in building carrier strike groups and the skilled crews to operate them. But don't think this obstacle means China's efforts to challenge the United States Navy are futile.

Sure:

China will eventually become the world’s No 2 aircraft carrier power, trailing only the United States, but its carrier strike group air crews are still far below international standard, military experts say. ...

“It’s still a long way to go for Chinese carrier strike group crews to catch up their US counterparts,” [Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong] added.

But saying that China's long road to carrier proficiency means China can't challenge America and our allies for control of the seas (around China, anyway) gives too great a role to carriers in that mission.

UPDATE: Related information in a pre-publication update: No ship type lasts forever as the dominant weapon.

Killing the Enemy

In the Islamic Civil War for the heart and soul of how Islam should be defined--in the jihadi version or versions that can coexist with other religions--the ultimate victory has to come from within Islam itself.

But the jihadis and their Islamist brethren carry great weight in this civil war both from an appeal to "true" Islam and from the threat to kill those who even speak opposition to their jihad.

So Western help in killing the jihadis to lessen the physical jihadi threat is an important help for getting the civil war settled in a fashion that does not lead to planes flying into our buildings or trucks plowing through Western crowds.

Admitting we have an enemy as we have done in the review of the war does make it easier to wage war, as Secretary Mattis describes:

Two significant changes resulted from President Trump's review of our findings.

First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.

Secondly, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS. The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters. ...

The campaign designed end state remains the same; to destroy ISIS. But no longer will we have slowed decision cycles because Washington D.C. has to authorize tactical movements on the ground. I have absolute confidence as does the president, our commander in chief, in the commanders on the ground as he's proven by delegating this authority to me with the authority to further delegate it and they've carried it out aggressively.

One, the president shouldn't act as the theater, local, or even squad leader and pilot to make decisions on every tactical opportunity. That was a good change.

Second, I had noticed that the Iraqis seem to have cut off western Mosul unlike past battles for cities where Iraqis left an escape route for jihadis to flee rather than fight to the death.

I guess this is the general practice now. Good. I have little confidence in reforming jihadis. Killing them is safer for everyone.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Footprint So Light It Floats

America has a light footprint for the fight against jihadis in Africa. The AFRICOM Queen modularized auxiliary cruiser could expand the reach of American military power without any additional local footprint at all.

Strategypage looks at AFRICOM's approach to helping local governments fight jihadis in Africa:

Since 2007 the United States has created and expanded AFRICOM (Africa Command) to manage all the increasingly numerous American military operations in Africa. Since most of these operations involved special operations forces rather than conventional military forces AFRICOM released little detail on what was where. But in the last few years more of these details have emerged. As suspected most of the 40-50 AFRICOM “bases” detected are not bases in the traditional sense but merely temporary agreements to use existing civilian or military airbases or other facilities in African nations. These are usually countries where AFRICOM is providing assistance in dealing with Islamic terrorist activity or other security threats. As of 2016 there were about 46 of these AFRICOM facilities located in 24 African countries. About two-thirds of these facilities are considered temporary or “contingent” (there are arrangements to use an airbase or port facility if needed and on short notice). The permanent operations are bases or FOS (Forward Operating Sites) while the temporary sites are CSLs (cooperative security locations) where American and local forces operate together or CLs (contingency locations) where arrangements have been made for use if needed. About half the AFRICOM sites are CLs and not used by Americans on a regular basis.

I envisioned a modularized auxiliary cruiser as a power projection platform most useful around the long coastline of Africa. Which is why I called the proposed ship The AFRICOM Queen (a play on the Humphrey Bogart movie, The African Queen).

It could spend a long time on patrol, which is a major advantage for a command that normally only gets Navy ships for a short time while they transit to and from CENTCOM.

Such a platform could move ground and aerial assets around the continent to strike jihadis from unexpected directions; reinforce land sites and locations; or bolster American embassies or consulates under threat.

Mind you, much of Africa is too far from the coasts to make an afloat force relevant in those regions. I'd no more claim an afloat force in the Gulf of Mexico could intervene in Canada.

But as a supplement to expand the range of American power projection opportunities? Yes, this would work.

Iran is Our Biggest North Korea Problem

Far from being smart and pragmatic, thinking North Korea's odious regime can be reformed into a better regime seems to rely on magical Unicorns spreading sparkly poop across Pyongyang and infecting their leadership class with hopeful goodness. Getting rid of the Iranian mullah regime is the key to a successful North Korea policy.

Yeah, nice work if you can get it:

Our main argument is that a smart, practical foreign policy on North Korea must include cooperation with China, a controlled Russia, strong assurances to South Korea, the equities of Japan, robust domestic support in the United States and no direct military confrontation to achieve the political objective of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. [emphasis added]

Is that all a successful North Korea policy to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses rather than to his knees requires? Plus North Korea's cooperation, of course. A simple oversight, I'm sure.

I feel foolish not to have thought of this approach before. Especially the "equities" of Japan. I don't know what it means but it sounds awesome.

But really, there are more modifiers than policy in this policy description. And ponder that Russia is the wild card in their framework--not North Korea itself.

And one more thing. Why muddy the waters by pretending that the problem is denuclearizing the "Korean peninsula" when the nuclear problem lies solely north of the 38th parallel?

I remain convinced that our main problem with reacting to North Korea lies outside of North Korea in Iran.

Back when President Bush named the Axis of Evil, I felt the proper response to each was invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam, support for an Iranian revolution to overthrow of Iran's mullahs, and containment of North Korea until they collapsed--ideally before they get nukes.

We invaded Iraq. And you must admit that having an Iraq that fights rather than supports terrorism; doesn't slaughter their own Kurds; and which doesn't seek WMD or threaten to invade Kuwait and points south is a good thing.

But we never supported the people of Iran who polls show like America but don't like their government. Under Bush, the Democrats would have impeached the man for trying that.

And under Obama there was no interest in that solution given we sided with the mullahs when the people took to the streets in 2009 in support of real reform rather than accepting the rigged elections that perpetuate mullah rule; and given the horrible nuclear deal that shoveled money at Iran with only the fig leaf of delaying Iran's nuclear threshold a decade (assuming Iran does not cheat).

Ponder that President Obama looked the other way while the Iranian regime suppressed their people in order to pave the way for the monumentally stupid Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration truly believed that an Iranian ruler was "moderate" if he could avoid screaming "Death to America!" in English while a Western camera was pointed at him.

Unless the Iranian people somehow topple the regime, we're stuck with this aggressive nutball regime that wants nukes.

In my view, overthrowing Iran's mullahs was the necessary condition for supporting containment of North Korea. North Korea is awful, but I think they can be deterred from using nukes because their priority is regime survival.

As distasteful as accepting that regime is, the cost of war (and any narrow strike on nuclear targets could easily and rapidly expand to general war) would be monumental. I'm sorry that the North Korean people suffer under this approach, but somebody will and I'd rather it not be us or our allies. Life is rough, eh?

With a nutball Iranian regime that could very well buy nuclear technology from North Korea (or even complete nuclear weapons systems), containing North Korea just enables Iran to go nuclear.

When North Korea announces this, are they just letting a customer know that they are ready to take orders?

North Korea said on Monday it successfully tested what it called an intermediate-range ballistic missile, which met all technical requirements and could now be mass-produced, although U.S. officials and experts questioned the extent of its progress.

You must admit that the nuclear deal with Iran could result in Iran technically abiding fully with the terms of the agreement and also buying nuclear weapons from North Korea.

As long as Iran needs North Korea to get nukes, simply containing North Korea is a less than ideal solution.

Not to mock the authors too much. I do have great respect for SAMS. Maybe my imagination is insufficient to appreciate their policy proposal. Although in my own defense their presentation invited mockery. Yet I do think deterrence rather than use of force could be the policy of choice if North Korea has no nutball customers for their nukes.

And I do want to keep pressure on North Korea. Although I think regime (or state) collapse is the more likely goal rather than hoping that the regime will evolve into something less horrible. North Korea is clearly willing to impoverish and starve their people to remain in power. I think North Korea is wrong to believe nukes are necessary to deter invasion and so remain in power, but the North Korean elites apparently believe it very much.

South Korea evolved from a non-murderous authoritarian regime to a real democracy. North Korea has a long way to just reach South Korea's starting point. Is there really hope of going even part of the way down that route?

The only way to get to a North Korea policy that doesn't involve war to destroy North Korea's nuclear infrastructure is to destroy the mullah regime in Iran before it gets nuclear weapons. Do that and North Korean nukes are a bilateral deterrence issue rather than a proliferation issue.

This makes President's Trump to the Middle East very significant:

One speech cannot change Arab or Muslim perceptions of the president or the U.S. as an ally. Much will depend on the years and actions that follow. Words really matter, however, and especially in the Middle East. This time, the president used the right words to start rebuilding the foundations of America’s strategic partnerships in the Muslim world and Middle East, and to deal with truly urgent threats. This speech is the right beginning — in remarkably well-crafted terms — and it deserves bipartisan and expert respect.

Indeed, with a focus on defeating Iran that this trip highlights rather than the last administration's hope to befriend and neuter Iran, the deal may handcuff Iran's nuclear production ambitions long enough to defeat the mullahs.

And a friendly Iran would have a great effect on our Afghanistan dilemma, too.

That Will Be the Interesting Part

Yeah, this will be a sticky situation in Syria, no doubt:

So when you talk to particularly the folks who will be involved in the Raqqa operation, the post-Raqqa phase, unanimously nobody wants the Syrian regime to come back, regime symbols, regime military forces.

In terms of administrative services, teachers, hospitals, who pays those salaries, that is something where Syrians are going to have to work that out. We are not in the business of, as I said, nation-building operations. But as you, kind of, lift the lid over Syria, you see a lot of this happening in areas even where the opposition controls. Teacher salaries, basic worker salaries oftentimes paid by the government because it's a very centralized state. So these are things that have to be worked out, but what -- what they are unanimous about is no return of the regime.

We've had a lot of discussions with our allies. That's good. But I sincerely doubt that Assad or his Iranian and Hezbollah friends agree. They want Assad's authority restored to eastern Syria.

Funny enough, I'm sure the Russians are more willing to bend on this since it is Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah that want an overland route from Iran through Iraq and eastern Syria to Lebanon where Hezbollah operates as a sovereign entity. Russia really only cares about naval and air bases in western Syria.

Remember, our recent air strike on Iranian-organized forces near the Iraqi border was the logical result of fighting a parallel campaign against Assad's enemies.

Assad and his Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah partners fight non-jihadi rebels while we fight ISIL that has taken a lot of territory from Assad.

Eventually the people we support (and American and allied supporting forces) will come into conflict more and more with Assad's forces as ISIL loses territory and Assad tries to fill the vacuum.

When that happens, what is our objective?

UPDATE: Here we go:

The Syrian army said it had retaken a swathe of territory from Islamic State in southern Syria on Thursday in a rapid advance near areas held by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels at the border with Jordan and Iraq.

The Syrian government said earlier in May that it was a priority to recapture the sparsely populated region known as the Badia where U.S.-backed Syrian rebels seized a vast expanse of territory from Islamic State in March.

So do we stand by and let Syria gain the advantage of our campaign against ISIL while Assad focused on rebels in the west?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I'm Not Sure Why This is a Mystery

I don't understand why Russia-Chinese cooperation is so puzzling:

Bobo Lo's new Lowy Institute Paper on Russo-Chinese relations dazzles with the brilliance, clarity of thought, precision, and vigour we have come to expect from his work. This essay should be required reading for those who would seek to plumb the depths of this critical relationship and of Russian and Chinese foreign policies.

Lo is certainly right to say that the most dynamic factor in this relationship is the growing imbalance in aggregated power between Russia and China, whereby China is outstripping Russia in most if not all indices of power and capability. He argues that this dynamism and the consequences that ensue from it are placing the relationship under ever-increasing stress. Thus he sees it as a tactical rather than principled relationship or partnership, and dismisses, as do most writers, the idea of an actual alliance appearing anytime soon.

However, despite the many virtues and scintillating insights, the essay fails to answer why, if there is a power asymmetry (and most assuredly there is), the relationship has been a durable feature of world affairs for the last 25 years. Neither does his assessment explain why leaders like China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeatedly state that bilateral relations between them have reached 'a historic maximum', are stronger than they ever have been and are based on mutual interests and not external factors like a shared antipathy to the US. Certainly those statements are not just pro forma utterances or words spoken purely for purposes of politeness or domestic consumption. If the irritants and divergences in this relationship are as strong and widespread as Lo suggests, then its continuation is a mystery, as it would appear to be of decreasing utility or benefit to both states. [emphasis added]

I think the explanation for the enduring Russia-Chinese cooperation is pretty easy to explain by the power disparity.

Russia is desperate to avoid provoking Chinese anger to restore Chinese control of lost territories in the Far East. In many ways, Russian arms sales to China serve best Chinese air and naval power best used against America rather than land power that threatens Russia. Indeed, Russia's pointless and puzzling aggression against NATO serves to disguise what is effectively Russian appeasement of China.

China for its part still needs Russian weapons technology and would like a quiet, subservient, and cooperative Russia to facilitate overland trade routes to Europe to keep the economic growth that Chinese Communist Party monopoly of power requires to maintain legitimacy.

And a Russia worrying America in Europe and mucking up the Middle East distracts America from fully pivoting to the Asia-Pacific region.

I just don't see the mystery of why Russian-Chinese cooperation continues after 25 years despite potential friction points that have been suppressed so far.

When China either settles its military technology and economy or when Russia restores its Far Eastern military capabilities (or if American power and alliances decline dramatically for some reason), we will see the Russian-Chinese cooperation suffer under the friction of basic territorial, Central Asian dominance, and trade disputes.

Still, Blank is good. I'll have to ponder whether shared interests make more sense than a convergence of separate interests to explain the Russia-China relationship. I'll certainly read the Lo paper.

What Victory in Iraq Will Look Like (Again)

Secretary of Defense Mattis explains what victory over ISIL's caliphate in Iraq looks like:

You say, "What does it look like" -- I mean, "What will it look like when we say that we've got success?" I think what we'll see is the local security forces, police, that sort of organization can handle it. In other words, we drive them down to a point where the locals can handle that and it's no longer a trans-regional, transnational threat.

So you -- you've got to drive them down to a point that police can handle it. Police can't handle a force that's driving tanks and using artillery, or has thousands of fighters in mobile vehicles that allow them to range far and wide. So we've got to drive them down to a point that police elements can handle it.

That's it. Victory is not turning Iraq into Vermont with heated debates over bike paths.

Victory is reducing the ISIL threat to a police problem. This is what I have described as "atomizing" the enemy.

It was what I said we needed to do during the Iraq War (and we did it, but leaving in 2011 allowed the enemy to ramp up); and it is what I said we needed to do (again) to win after Mosul fell in 2014.

That is victory in this campaign. The fight against jihadis and Islamist ideology will go on, but ideally without the need of American air and artillery support.

Lead, Follow, or Get Pushed Out of the Way

If the Air Force doesn't become the Aerospace Force, someone else will do the job.

The Air Force doesn't want a separate Space Corps:

The U.S. Air Force is in the midst of a major strategic shift from seeing space as a “benign environment” to a “war-fighting domain” where adversaries could seek to start a war or engage in combat, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told lawmakers during a panel Monday.

Goldfein argued that the service’s focus should be on ensuring it can meld space operations with the rest of the war-fighting domains. The Air Force needs to figure out how it can apply its existing tactics, techniques and procedures in space instead of seeing it merely as an area from which to “report, sense and monitor.”

Which bureaucracy-wise is smart given that the independent Air Force evolved from the Army Air Corps. But the space mission needs to be done and if the Air Force doesn't do it, the Navy or Coast Guard--or an independent force right from the start--will do the job.

So the Air Force might want to get a sense of urgency about that "figuring out" process to get out of the "midst" and get a clear view of how to apply their mission and force structure to space.

Become the Aerospace Force. Soon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pucker Factor to Eleven

Is an American-led attack on North Korea imminent? Despite tensions and reasons to do something to keep North Korea from going nuclear, this hasn't been on my radar screen for near-term action.

Uh oh:

Speaking Monday to a rapt audience at the 2017 Strategic Investment Conference in Orlando, Friedman said that while it was unlikely the US would take action before President Donald Trump returns home at the weekend, North Korea's actions appeared to have "offered the US no alternative" to a clash.

According to Geopolitical Futures analysis, evidence is mounting that the enmity between the two is escalating to a point where war is inevitable.

Friedman said that on May 20, the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier and USS Ronald Reagan were both within striking distance of North Korea.

Additionally, more than 100 F-16 aircraft are conducting daily exercises in the area, a tactic that foreshadowed the beginning of Desert Storm in 1991.

F-35 aircraft have also been deployed to the area, and US government representatives are expected to brief Guam on civil defense, terrorism, and Korea on May 31.

All of these strategic moves telegraph one outcome — conflict.

How does this work out? I assume a successful war requires American and South Korean active participation. South Korea especially needs to be involved to advance into North Korea to seize artillery positions that threaten Seoul.

Does Friedman mean America will attack unilaterally?

Although I disagree with the claim that China can't deal with North Korea and only America can do the job. China may not be able to unleash an aerial campaign the way America can, but America can't send in ground troops as easily as China can.

China managed to push to Seoul against the American-led UN forces in Korea. If China wants to gather the forces, they can defeat the North Korean military that remains forward deployed in the south facing South Korea.

In an ideal world, America launches the air strike campaign and China launches the main invasion to take Pyongyang while South Korea's military makes a limited thrust north to establish a no-launch zone to protect Seoul while Japan helps with air and missile defenses and perhaps limited offensive strikes.

The American-South Korean division focused on WMD then makes the dash into a collapsing North Korea to neutralize key North Korean nuclear facilities.

I also disagree with the idea that failure to get a declaration of war means America isn't bound together to fight. We had that in 2002 for Iraq yet Democrats bailed on that war pretty rapidly when the going got rough.

Of course, if we really want to put pressure on China to deal with the problem or lose face seeing America tame their little pet psycho regime, our efforts to attack have to look real.

So I have no idea what is going on.

UPDATE: I see that it is clear that China and America have different objectives in Korea:

China said on Wednesday no one had the right to bring chaos to the Korean peninsula, a day after it pushed for full implementation of U.N. sanctions against neighboring North Korea for its missile and nuclear tests and called for dialogue.

China doesn't want chaos and America doesn't want North Korean nuclear weapons. That's quite a gap to bridge.

UPDATE: So Trump "lets slip" that we have two cruise missile subs near North Korea?

Who didn't assume we have 2 or 3 there? A month ago we visibly showed one of them (which I noted).

And if we want China to deal with North Korea before we have to, this is helpful.

Or it fits with preparing for war, of course.

Oh, and Trump didn't let it slip, he told it to a fellow head of state in private. Someone else let that information slip when they leaked the contents of the conversation.

UPDATE: Leaking is being done to harm Trump, and collateral damage to our allies and foreign policy be damned.

UPDATE: This doesn't sound like we are getting ready for imminent war:

"President Trump and Prime Minister Abe agreed their teams would cooperate to enhance sanctions on North Korea, including by identifying and sanctioning entities that support North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs," the White House said after the two men held a one-on-one meeting in Sicily.

Unless it is misdirection, of course.

Je Suis MOAB

The British have been targeted by ISIL jihadis:

Investigators hunted Tuesday for possible accomplices of the suicide bomber who attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 people and sparking a stampede of young concertgoers, some still wearing the American pop star's trademark kitten ears and holding pink balloons.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Monday night carnage, which counted children as young as 8 among its victims and left 59 people wounded. British police raided two sites in the northern English city and arrested a 23-year-old man at a third location.

Yes, the jihad struck a brave blow against little girls by blowing them up.

Whether this was planned or inspired from abroad matters nothing to the dead and their families.

I hope we don't descend into weepy passivity over yet another jihadi attack. Aren't we tired of that?

Aren't we sick of immediately worrying about the "backlash" against Moslems before the dead victims of jihadi rage have been identified and buried? Can we worry a bit more about the "lash" that hits first and regularly in our cities?

Certainly, Moslems are not guilty as a class for these monsters who kill in their name.

But let's get on with killing the jihadis whenever and wherever we find them. Don't shed a tear for their deaths.

This won't win the Islamic Civil War that counts Westerners as collateral damage in that fight, but it will slow them down. And if we kill enough, it will put the fear of death and failure into them rather than drawing them to fight the jihad for their personal glory to redeem their sorry lives.

UPDATE: On TV, Prime Minister May says troops will deploy to free up police for other work.

As has long been said, if you don't fight (and kill) jhadis "over there," we must fight them "over here." Scarce British troops will now stand guard over here.

UPDATE: The British are raising their threat level to the highest grade based on threats to the British people.

I think the British could use a new threat scale that focuses on what Britain will do to the jihadis.

UPDATE: Mark Steyn has thoughts:

All of us have gotten things wrong since 9/11. But few of us have gotten things as disastrously wrong as May and Merkel and Hollande and an entire generation of European political leaders who insist that remorseless incremental Islamization is both unstoppable and manageable. It is neither - and, for the sake of the dead of last night's carnage and for those of the next one, it is necessary to face that honestly. Theresa May's statement in Downing Street is said by my old friends at The Spectator to be "defiant", but what she is defying is not terrorism but reality. So too for all the exhausted accessories of defiance chic: candles, teddy bears, hashtags, the pitiful passive rote gestures that acknowledge atrocity without addressing it - like the Eloi in H G Wells' Time Machine, too evolved to resist the Morlocks.

Resist the killers. And kill them, of course. It's not the ultimate solution. But it is a necessary start.

UPDATE: More resistance to an actual enemy, please.

Heavy is Good

The Army wants to replenish ammunition stocks and upgrade armored brigades (20 in the active, reserve, and prepositioned equipment brigade sets):

The U.S. Army’s fiscal 2018 budget request funds a 1,018,000 total force and prioritizes munitions stockpiles and modernization of armored brigade combat teams.

We could use more heavy armored brigades, too.

Plus, our brigade combat teams should have actual armored cavalry battalions for their recon and surveillance element.

And restore our heavy armored cavalry regiments, as long as I'm wishing.

Remember the prepositioned "brigades" are just extra equipment for existing brigades in America so they don't have to move their organic equipment overseas in a crisis requiring rapid deployment.

Hard Work or Jamil al-Bond?

How have we defeated ISIL in their caliphate?

The United States has long sought to keep secret details of intelligence gathering but over years, or decades, details emerge that confirm suspicions of who was doing what, with what to accomplish specific tasks. In early 2017 it was confirmed (perhaps by accident) that much of the effort to take down ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) since it appeared in 2014 has been the work of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The 2017 revelations confirmed that JSOC had been responsible for most of the casualties ISIL had suffered so far. JSOC, using a combination of SOCOM (Special Operations Command) operators, similar forces from allies (both NATO and Arab as well as, unofficially, Israel) and a growing number of contractors (usually for SOCOM and other military personnel) were responsible for locating most of the 70,000 ISIL personnel killed so far. JSOC did a lot of the intel work using special equipment and techniques developed and used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2005.

Do read it all.

Or you can believe we rely on an agent who was slipped into ISIL who is radioing back vital information.

One or the other.

Analysis Paralysis in Action

It is nothing new for Russia to portray an invasion as a rescue mission in service of a "liberation" movement.

Fine. But so what?

During the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Russian government spent more than $19 million to fund 600 people to constantly comment on news articles, write blogs, and operate throughout social media.[4] They intended to sway public and international opinion, overwhelm the voices of dissidents online, and create an image of a population supportive of the annexation.

Russia set up a fake liberation army complete with ethnic Finnish troops to justify their 1939 invasion of Finland; and asserted that they weren't bombing Helsinki--just dropping dread to the starving masses of Finns. Finnish troops slaughtering Russian invaders for three months made that propaganda pointless.

Before February 2014 was over, it was obvious that Russia was invading Ukraine in Crimea:

It was obvious to me early on and far from the Crimea that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

It doesn't matter if an enemy denies invading as long as we don't go along with the fiction.

The immediate problem was that Ukraine was in chaos and nobody could order the already ineffective Ukrainian military into action (and what officers were sure of who was the legitimate authority, anyway?) during the time frame of the crisis before Russia took over the peninsula.

If Ukraine had even 20,000 effective troops at that time, Ukraine could have scattered the little green men and shot down any Russian transports trying land in Sevastopol.

And nobody would even remember 600 bloggers and Facebook posters peddling Russian lies.

More broadly, the problem wasn't that Russia lied about their role in the invasion but that the West went along with that lie.

This social media campaign is fascinating stuff, no doubt. But it is no new diabolical plot to numb the West into inactivity. We did that:

Good Lord people, Russian "hybrid warfare" is just Russian aggression that we pretend isn't happening. Sadly, there's nothing new or novel about that.

And we're still studying it to death! Am I on crazy pills?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Hunt for Red October

Democrats continue to hunt for Russians wearing Make America Great Again hats during the October campaign period who rigged the election for Trump. If Democrats actually learned to stand up against Russia, this wouldn't be so bad. But we know that is not the case.

Well that's nice (tip to Instapundit):

Democrat leaders at the convention used their time to deride President Donald Trump and beat the familiar drum of tying him to Russia, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Kamala Harris told the crowd that the president is putting “Russia first, America second.”

“The world, literally the world, is counting on all of you, counting on California to reject Trump’s deception and destructiveness,” Gavin Newsom, the California Lieutenant Governor, said.

The story focused on the leadership-led "F**k Trump" chant and deranged town hall protests, but I'm more interested in the faux outrage over Russia.

I've welcomed Democrats to the "oppose Russia" camp:

But hey, I'm an optimist. I welcome my Democratic brethren into the anti-Russian camp. You are late, but I welcome you. I bet if I still had that [anti-Soviet shirt I wore as a student] I could safely wear it again.

I'm sure Democrats will still be there when the going gets rough, right?

But we all know that Democratic embrace of putting Russia second is just a cudgel to beat Republicans that would be discarded in favor of cutting defense spending, appeasing the Russians, and excusing their actions as soon as (in their wet dreams) Trump is impeached and Elizabeth Warren takes the presidential oath of office under the approving gazes of Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Schumer.

Perhaps I'd believe the Democrats if they were chanting "F**k Russia" and organizing angry protests outside of Russia's embassy and consulates.

UPDATE: Wow! Who could imagine that telling the Russians to stop that wouldn't work?

Unclear on the Concept

It's like they never heard of the MOAB:

US intelligence believes ISIS is bringing together all of its experts on chemical weapons from Iraq and Syria into a new "chemical weapons cell," according to a US official.

The cell is comprised of chemical weapons specialists from Iraq and Syria who have not previously worked together, the official added. The new unit is being set up in an ISIS-controlled area in Syria within the Euphrates River Valley, between Mayadin, Syria and the town of al Qaim, just across the Iraqi border.

Really? You guys are concentrating? Because you can't dig deep enough. You know that, right?

Actually, I think we have different weapons designed to burn up chemical agents more than scatter them. And if the ISIL chemical cell is in a more desolate area, we might try those out.

Or I suppose we might try a different approach:

On May 16, the U.S. Army Second Infantry Division’s “Iron Rangers” regiment conducted a ship-to-shore assault and counter-weapons of mass destruction (WMD) exercise with the South Korean Navy.

Carrying out such a mission kind of requires a collapsing North Korean military, of course. But this is a skill set more broadly useful, eh? Even if done from land (like from Jordan?).

While that is a nice signal to North Korea, we have a global force so I don't assume a practice in one region means the experience is limited to that command.

That area the chemical cell has formed in is the new de facto ISIL capital as Raqqa gets closer to being assaulted by US-backed forces in Syria.

Like a China in a Bull Shop

China isn't cutting Japan any slack in the East China Sea as the North Korea nuclear issue advances toward a dangerous crisis. So now we know the ground rules.

Thanks China! Way to act like you care about resolving the North Korea issue as the most pressing security issue in the region!

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Thursday after four Chinese coastguard vessels entered what Japan considers its territorial waters near disputed East China Sea islets and a drone-like object flew near one ship, Japan said.

It was the first such flight near the islands witnessed by Japanese officials, although the incident took to 13 the number of intrusions this year by Chinese coastguard ships in the contested waters, Japan's coastguard said.

So let's get those freedom of navigation operations going in the South China Sea--real ones and not innocent passage dressed up like freedom of navigation operations.

And Japan should be prepared to emplace and use their own ground-based remotely manned weapons backed by aerial drones and smart mines to destroy Chinese unmanned drones trespassing in the Senkaku Islands.

Most importantly, because the North Korea nuclear issue isn't apparently a dire enough crisis to get China to pull back on pursuing other objectives in favor of a united front to stop North Korea, let's make the North Korea nuclear issue a problem China actually cares about:

So if China won't solve America's (and Japan's and South Korea's) North Korea problem because the problem isn't bad enough from China's point of view, perhaps we need to make a problem that China does care about.

We could quietly let it be known that America will be willing to help South Korea and Japan to each match North Korean nuclear weapons warhead for warhead to deter North Korea.

I suspect that the possibility that Japan and South Korea will have nuclear arms (and if they go nuclear, Vietnam and Taiwan and perhaps others will see a green light--or at least an opportunity to get lost in the outrage directed at Japan and South Korea--to go nuclear) would be important enough to get China interested in solving a nuclear proliferation problem among potential foes of China.

Or maybe less dramatically we can exploit this:

Levels of hunger not found in other parts of East Asia persist in North Korea, according to a report from two United Nations agencies.

The Food and Agricultural Organization and World Food Program's 2017 Global Report on Food Crisis states 17 percent of the North Korean population, or 4.4 million, are in a state of "crisis, emergency and famine," Voice of America reported Thursday.

Perhaps we should just blockade North Korea and let that hunger spread until North Koreans flood across the northern border into China looking for food.

What? Is that cold-hearted? Are we supposed to care more about North Koreans than Kim Jong-Un cares as he squeezes them to afford nukes? Maybe we care more about Americans, South Koreans, and Japanese who would be the targets of North Korean nuclear weapons.

China apparently feels it can throw its weight around as usual while counting on America, Japan, and South Korea to go along with whatever China does on the faint hope that China will deal with North Korea's nuclear threats.

But hey, at least now we know what China's priorities are.

UPDATE: China can just enjoy this:

Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp are working with Japanese partners on rival projects to develop new radars that will enhance Japan's shield against any North Korean missile strike, government and defense industry sources in Tokyo told Reuters.

As long as China won't stop North Korea, Japan has the perfect justification for building missile defenses. It is just a coincidence that it would be useful against China, too.

But what can China really say given that their little psycho pet nuclear threat really does justify missile defenses?

How much is China willing to endure to protect their little loose cannon on their border?

UPDATE: I see that it is clear that China and America have different objectives in Korea:

China said on Wednesday no one had the right to bring chaos to the Korean peninsula, a day after it pushed for full implementation of U.N. sanctions against neighboring North Korea for its missile and nuclear tests and called for dialogue.

China doesn't want chaos and America doesn't want North Korean nuclear weapons. That's quite a gap to bridge.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Weekend Data Dump

Let's save this advice: "'I'm trying to keep this apolitical but I can't help myself ... the principle that no one, no one in this country is above the law and we need a Justice Department, not an obstruction of justice department,' [Senator Elizabeth] Warren said." I guess this principle didn't apply when Obama's attorney general met Bill Clinton on her plane at an airport and, they said, only chatted about family and grandkids and whatnot. Nobody ever asked them if written or digital information changed hands, I'll note. So if Hillary Clinton does get charged over her off-the-books email system and mass purge of emails from her secretary of state days, I'll haul that quote out.

Well sure, God sides with the big battalions, and all that. But leadership is not irrelevant unless you don't care how high the body count gets and if you think your people will tolerate any level of losses.

Strategypage looks at the situations in reviving Colombia and collapsing Venezuela. I worry that Maduro will try to cope with looming collapse by going to war with the Netherlands in an effort to rally the people around a foreign threat.

The apple doesn't kill far from the tree, apparently. Ah, family businesses. Just a reminder that ISIL is not the entire world of jihadis who need to be killed. Al Qaeda is also still out there.

North Korea fired what appears to be a long-range missile with an artificially short arc, but one that landed fairly close (60 miles) from Russian territory. Why did North Korea do that? Is Russia fine with that? I'm not sure whether it would be more worrying from Moscow's point of view if the impact site was deliberate or accidental.

Well that's not good: Four Montreal airport screeners were found to have become radicalized (of the Islamist variety). So the re-screening checked out. What about anybody allowed to bypass screening?

As an aid to Democrats let me say that many Republicans don't actually like Trump. He received a smaller percentage of the primary vote than Sanders got in your primary (although I admit that in large measure that reflects the mostly 2-candidate race that you guys had--how much of that was due to Hillary-DNC collaboration you might ask), so that shows you he wasn't that popular among Republicans. But when Democrats turn the "resistance" dial to 11 on every little damn thing Trump does or says, you make it difficult for Republicans to join you in criticizing Trump. If you force a choice between Trump and your spittle-flecked ravings and black-clad rioters, the choice is easy every single time. Related thoughts that seem about right. I'll never be happy that we had the choice of a clown or a crook in 2016. But I can't be unhappy that we dodged the long history of corruption.

A mass ransomware infection has hit the world. Last year I discovered some version on my computer. Lord knows how it got there because I do not click on attachments or links from unknown (and confirmed) senders. But it never triggered. Apparently I'm not ransom-worthy. I suspect this one is state-sponsored for some purpose. Crooks would want to remain low key to encourage payment rather than freaking out the world with the scale and mobilizing intelligence agency and software company collaboration to battle the attack. (In a pre-publication update, North Korea seems behind this.)

About a week ago Syrian forces moved "toward" the Iraqi and Jordanian borders at Sabaa Biyar. The Syrians and militia allies occupied an area abandoned by ISIL as they contract to hold positions at Raqqa and points east. But towards the border is not at the border. The town is over 50 miles from the borders, FYI. For a second there, until I looked at a map, I thought this was pretty provocative move regarding Iraq and Jordan. It will be big news if Syrian forces attack American-backed militias that eject ISIL from Syrian territory, not occupying abandoned territory. (And after I write this section, pro-Syrian forces did move toward the border where Americans are and got bombed for their troubles on Thursday.)

If you wonder why jihadis, Russians, North Koreans, and probably even Canadians think America is easy to defeat.

Huh.

Wow! Eight years of hope and change were surprisingly ineffective, it seems.

Disorganized and splintered hatred is better than hatred with a territory and people to command and plunder.

Azerbaijan destroyed an Armenian Osa air defense vehicle in a disputed region that Armenia holds. Armenia hosts Russian troops.

This is why I think Republicans need a sense of urgency on enacting legislation while they have a slender Senate majority along with the House and Oval Office. Accidents, actuarial facts of life, or deranged assassins can upset the best-laid 18-month plan for legislation.

The Democrats are an eye tic away from going on about their precious bodily fluids. I wish they had been this determined to confront the Russians in the Cold War--or even just before our last presidential election.

I'll withhold judgment on maintaining the Iran nuclear deal to see if we can make Iran howl within the horrible deal (Obama gave away too much up front, remember, making ending the deal problematic on that score). But I suspect that we'd be better off ending the pretense of a deal that relies on Iran pretending not to have nuclear weapons ambitions and relies on America pretending to believe the Iranians.

I'm just going to have to accept that Peak Stupid isn't going to arrive in my lifetime. I'm not even sure how to respond to that complaint. Please keep in mind that I spent many years at the University of Michigan and live in Ann Arbor without being absorbed by the Borg Stupid. Although as one friend said of me, living here has had remarkably little effect on me. Nobody has ever accused me of being a conformist, I guess.

I'm not fully on board the idea that geography is destiny. But I'm sympathetic. Stratfor looks at the Middle East. If you fear President Trump, you might want to sign on for the view, however. So you know, I assumed interests would shape Trump's policies more than the reverse. And I will say that our foreign policy is easier with a friendly Iraq that fights rather than supports terrorism. Remember what we would have chosen if we hadn't destroyed the Saddam regime.

From the "Advice it Would Have Been Good to Give Eight Years Ago" files. So put down the pen and phone? It is good advice, mind you. Just oddly belated.

If the media-political complex is making America ungovernable, is that a bad thing if it leads to states picking up the slack on all the things that aren't national that the federal government gathered to itself over the last 90 years? And perhaps when the federal government is more restricted to truly national (and foreign) affairs, it will be able to govern as the stakes for control go down. I like having a republic. Direct democracy threatens to undermine rule of law as far as I'm concerned and just become a tyranny of the majority.

Is the UN-recognized Libyan government bringing Haftar into the government or just trying to de-fang him?

Despite being a person of the left, the new South Korean president sees South Korea and America working closely to stop North Korea. Sometimes reality narrows your options, eh?

American artillery has so far fired 6,000 rounds of smart ammo in support of Iraqi operations to take Mosul.

The Baltic states have learned a lesson from Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy by tying their electric grid to the EU just in case Russia is less than reliable. Now if only the EU would make itself less reliant on Russian energy. On the bright side, Russia's Kaliningrad exclave has electricity supply lines going through NATO territory.

The fight against ISIL in Iraq still goes on in western Anbar notwithstanding the focus on Mosul.

I see the nutjob left doesn't even want me to be able to measure when we approach Peak Stupid. I don't want to hear one more Goddamn thing about liberals being uniquely pro-science.

What will they think of next?

Rouhani won reelection as Iranian Nutball in Chief. Remember, in Iran a "moderate" is the candidate pre-screened by the nutball mullahs who doesn't randomly yell "Death to America!" in English while discussing recent rain patterns. In America, liberals are still more upset that Trump won.

I noted an article on Russia's use of 600 bloggers/social media posters and $19 million to persuade Crimeans that the Russian invaders were the good guys: "To accomplish this, social cyber attackers appealed to the pro-Russian population of Crimea by spreading rumors of hate and fear." Funny enough, the Russians are amateurs compared to what the Democrats have done here since the Trump election.

New York, where voter suppression is just okey dokey with the courts and which doesn't upset any liberals.

The planetary defense shield is up! Tip to Instapundit.

That's Quite the Dilemma Iran Has Now

I've written that I think the Iran nuclear deal is horrible. And that despite the benefits to Iran being front-loaded (nice job Obama and Kerry!), I'd rather cancel the deal than let it exist to encourage the West to pretend it is working and that Iran is contained.

But President Trump's virtual declaration of war on Iran puts the deal in a new light:

Donald Trump slammed Iran during his Saudi Arabia speech in Riyadh on Sunday.

In an address to 50 leaders from Muslim-majority countries, the president, said countries must unite to isolate Iran until the regime committed to becoming a “partner of peace.”

“From Lebanon to Iraq and Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region,” Trump said.

"For decades Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror; it’s a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room.

By rallying the Arab world (and to a far lesser degree, the broader Moslem world) to a fight to resist Iran, Iran has a problem with the deal existing--not the West.

If Iran abides by the deal, Iran gives Trump about a decade to defeat Iran during which Iran won't have nuclear weapons.

And if Iran cheats on the deal, we will presumably call Iran on that and justify harsher measures against Iran in the alliance against Iran.

Iran thought they'd shackled America with that nuclear deal. In one speech, Iran finds the handcuffs are on them.

Now that's Smart Diplomacy.

Keep the 2% NATO Measure

I don't buy the premise of this article criticizing the 2% of GDP defense spending goal for NATO states that the measure is the sole way of deciding whether NATO is capable of defending its borders and carrying out missions:

But for all its political appeal, the 2 percent figure is fatally flawed and does not accurately capture a state’s contributions to all of NATO’s core tasks. First, 2 percent is a rather arbitrary number. Before being first endorsed in 2006 by NATO’s defense ministers, the figure surfaced in response to declining defense spending after the end of the Cold War.

Oh come on! This is asking too much of the goal. It's just the freaking starting point.

NATO staffs surely look at what is purchased by that spending to see what it can do. No offense intended, but Britain spending 2% of GDP is going to have a far more effective military than Greece with 2%--even including Britain's nuclear forces. But just getting everyone to a floor of spending is a start to that analysis.

A new complicated measure that purports to encompass everything from spending to capabilities in one measure is pointless and will just invite further gaming of the system (as Germany would like to do) by states that don't want to meet the spending floor.

And such a measure would still be misleading. Greece, for example, meets the NATO minimum not because of a special commitment to NATO common defense but because their traditional enemy Turkey (a fellow NATO member) is their neighbor. Would a Greece that excels in the new proposed  measurement really be a more reliable NATO member or just digging in to face Turkey?

And if Greece failed in the new measure of NATO commitment, would Athens alter what they are doing one bit given their objective?

Sure, the spending floor is arbitrary. And flawed even. But it is a start. And if it seems necessary, NATO could suggest a 2.5% of GDP floor.

I don't think anybody argues that meeting the floor means NATO is good to go. It just means that everyone is meeting a minimum financial burden for collective defense.

Keep it simple. Keep the spending floor measure (and increase it when met--it isn't carved in stone). And let the NATO military staffs evaluate what their militaries can do with that spending without wasting time on PowerPoint presentations outlining a new and improved measure that reduces their analysis to a single number.

UPDATE: In a discussion of defense spending waste in Germany and their failure to appreciate a vital capability, there is this conclusion:

Germany is a modern, leading industrial power. There is no excuse for Germany not spending the political capital to allow for increased defense spending to the agreed upon 2% of GDP NATO spending goal.

Yes. Rather than look for reasons not to meet the goal or measures purported to more accurately achieve the objective of the goal, just meet the damn goal.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Let's Avoid Iraq War 3.0, Shall We?

A think tank report calls for up to 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq after ISIL is defeated as an organized state within Iraqi territory:

“My hope is the experience of 2014 may prove that … it may be worth paying a political price for keeping U.S. forces in the country,” Mr. Brands added, regarding acceptance of a prolonged American presence by Iraqis.

Iraqi Shia will likely remain split over support for the U.S. postwar mission, while Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds will embrace the deal, since they see American forces as a necessary “balance against Iranian influence,” Mr. Edelman added.

American forces will help the internal politics by helping to ensure that disagreements are resolved by politics and rule of law rather than by guns.

With American support for this, the leader of Iraq will feel far less pressure to fire effective military leaders and replace them with loyal leaders regardless of military competence.

Restraining Iranian influence and rolling it back will be important. If we are serious about opposing Iran's regional domination ambitions, we will retain a robust force to support Iraq.

And without our presence, will the Kurds and Sunnis of Anbar want to remain within Iraq? If they leave, natural allies to oppose Iran's influence in a portion of Iraq's Shia population will be lost.

Our continued military presence will also allow us to monitor the Iraqi officer corps to avoid the surprise of mid-2014 when we discovered that a politicized officer corps was unable to lead their troops to resist the ISIL uprising across the north (on top of the earlier failure to block the western uprising).

Remember, it can take a long time to reform the military of a defeated dictator:

The Bundeswehr has taken on a spring cleaning operation. Revelations that two soldiers had been planning a "false flag" terrorist attack in Germany - and to lay the blame on asylum seekers - led to wider questions firstly about the prevalence of neo-Nazis in the German military, and then about the way the Bundeswehr deals with connections to its Nazi-era forerunner: Adolf Hitler's Wehrmacht.

Let's remain in Iraq this time.

Or did we enjoy the Iraq War and Iraq War 2.0 so much that we are eager for Iraq War 3.0?

UPDATE: From Strategypage, after ISIL comes the Iranian threat.

Executive Summary: Just Shoot Them!

Make Russian invaders without unit insignia patches Little Green Dead Men and they'll be no problem at all.

Good grief:

The Pentagon is studying gray zone conflict — otherwise known as hybrid warfare — beginning with a focus on Russia and later moving on to study Iran and China, the acting assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told members of Congress.

What is to study? Russia got away with this tactic because Ukraine was in chaos with their military in no shape to respond and uncertain as to who was the lawful authority. Stop trying to make that very specific situation some grand theory that will run circles around us!

But you already know I think we are over-thinking this hybrid stuff.

It was obvious to me early on and far from the Crimea that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

It doesn't matter if an enemy denies invading as long as we don't go along with the fiction.

Just shoot the invaders.

Hell, enemy denial is a bonus! What will they do when we shoot the little green men? Complain we are killing their troops? Which they deny are there?

Talk about analysis paralysis.

Getting China's Attention

One of the problems with getting China to use their influence and power to solve our North Korea problem is that China has never minded rattling America, Japan, and South Korea by having their little pet psycho regime threaten us.

Chinese actors remain vital for North Korea's drive for  nuclear weapons:

A team of UN technical experts and sanctions investigators issued a report in early 2017 agreeing with South Korean allegations that North Korea was not only obtaining key components and manufacturing equipment via China but also prohibited raw materials and cooperation from Chinese banks and companies to pay suppliers and hide these activities from outside scrutiny. The Chinese government still denies knowledge of these activities but the latest evidence was so detailed and well documented that China did admit it must be acted on.

(China has had a role in keeping Iran's American-made F-14s in the air, too.)

Maybe offering trade concessions to China as the carrot to the threat to attack North Korea will work.

But I think we'd get China's more enthusiastic help if we make North Korea a problem China cares about:

So if China won't solve America's (and Japan's and South Korea's) North Korea problem because the problem isn't bad enough from China's point of view, perhaps we need to make a problem that China does care about.

We could quietly let it be known that America will be willing to help South Korea and Japan to each match North Korean nuclear weapons warhead for warhead to deter North Korea.

I suspect that the possibility that Japan and South Korea will have nuclear arms (and if they go nuclear, Vietnam and Taiwan and perhaps others will see a green light--or at least an opportunity to get lost in the outrage directed at Japan and South Korea--to go nuclear) would be important enough to get China interested in solving a nuclear proliferation problem among potential foes of China.

China doesn't think it is so bad to have North Korea pointing nukes at America, Japan, and South Korea?

Well maybe America won't think it is so bad to also have Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan pointing nukes at China.