Friday, June 17, 2016

Some ideas cannot be killed and yet are too stupid to die.

Apparently there's a nutty little cluster of fuck buried in the U.S. State Department (from CNN via Pierce):
"More than 50 State Department officials signed an internal memo protesting U.S. policy in Syria, calling for targeted U.S. military strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and urging regime change as the only way to defeat ISIS.
The cable says that U.S. policy in the Middle East has been "overwhelmed" by the continuing violence in Syria. It calls for a "judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process."

The memo calls on the U.S. to create a stronger partnership with moderate rebel forces to battle both Assad's forces and ISIS, which would change the tide of the conflict against the regime and "increase the chances for peace by sending a clear signal to the regime and its backers that there will be no military solution to the conflict."

It also warns that as the regime "continues to bomb and starve" Syria's Sunni population, the U.S. will lose potential allies among Syria's Sunni population to fight ISIS. Moreover, it says, U.S. failure to stop the regime's abuses "undermines both morally and materially the unity of the anti-Daesh coalition" and "will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh, even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield."
It''s hard to tell where to start with this ridiculous level of horseshit.

Maybe here: "judicious use of standoff and air weapons"..? Judicious? How the holy fuck do you use a cruise missile "judiciously"? Tack a get-well card to the nose? Ensure that it has a jihadi-seeking sensor in the guidance package? Who the hell thinks this? State has seen a damn sight of war since 2001. It's been fifteen years of nonstop bombing and shelling and killing-wogs-in-kinetic-ways in the Middle East. Have these people learned nothing from all that so-far-prodigiously-unproductive bombing, shelling, and killing..?


If you can show me a "judicious" way of throwing high explosive long distances I will carry your rucksack from here to the Halls ofMontezuma and kiss your ass when we get there. about this one; "moderate rebel forces"? Moderate based on what metric? 50% less headcutting? 100% How many of their raggedy-ass "fighters" have read Atlas Shrugged? Where are these paragons of virtue? Can anybody find me someone, anyone, who is "moderate" in the damn cesspit of ruin and merciless hatred that used to be "Syria"? Can anybody tell me why I should trust ANYone there to tell the truth about their "moderation"? I mean, any State Middle East hand to believes any local between the strandline of the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf who boasts of their "moderate" credentials should have their fucking head examined.

According to CNN, "The 51 officials who signed the memo are mostly from the rank and file of the department, many of them career officers in the foreign service who have been involved in Syria policy over the past several years either in Washington or overseas." which, frankly, tells me a hell of a lot about why our "Syria policy" has been as fucked up as a football bat.

One thing I will give the last Adminstration credit for; in general it has resisted sticking this country's head further into the Middle Eastern tarbaby. I have often wondered why it has insisted in sticking to the ones it is already attached to. But this idiotic memo is perhaps a good reminder of why it's so hard to stop being stupid.

Because there's always people in critical positions who think that their contrarian idea is contrary because it's too clever for everyone else to recognize how clever it is and not because everyone else realizes it's completely moronic.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Whose Souls Cry Out, and Who is Awakened?

--Nuclear Future, Paresh Nath (UAE)

The tragedy is not that things are broken.
The tragedy is that things are not mended again.
--Cry, the Beloved Country,
Alan Paton

  The West's post-Holocaust pledge that genocide
 would never again be tolerated proved to be hollow,
and for all the fine sentiments inspired,
by the memory of Auschwitz,
the problem remains that denouncing evil
is a far cry from doing good
--We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow
We Will Be Killed With Our Families,
Phillip Gourevitch

Bellum ominum contra omnes
 --Thomas Hobbes

President Obama recently laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in the presence of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His disingenuous proclamation played well to the crowd, but was so much well-scripted fluff. He said Hiroshima was,

 “the start of our own moral awakening”. We come to mourn the dead. Their souls speak to us, they ask us to look inward, take stock of who we are.”

So let's talk about morals and some dead, of the recent variety. When the United States handed Saddam Hussein over to the new Shia-led government, they set on him like a pack of hyenas, snapping his neck with a rough cow rope in a mosh pit of celebration after an amateur show trial.

The U.S. Celebrated in the carnage and joined in the morbid ebullience, despite the fact that Hussein had done nothing to the U.S. to warrant such bloodlust. What had he done that our friends the Saudis or Egyptians do not?

Ditto the grotesque murder of Libyan President Muommar Qaddafi. Our sociopathic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gleefully acknowledged his death-by-mob in the street on commercial television. Her delusions of grandeur were exposed with her petty, "We came, we same, he died."  

And yet life for Libya and its people -- just as for Iraqis post-Saddam -- has grown exponentially worse since Qaddafi was deposed. What, exactly, does the U.S. have to crow about, and what moral direction can it provide?

But to the Japanese empire circa August, 1945. Hirohito was the divine emperor of an operation in which Koreans were used as labor and sex slaves. U.S. and British Prisoners of War were tortured, murdered and used for bayonet practice. Japanese medical officers used U.S. P.O.W.'s in chemical and biological research. The litany of terror goes on (even ignoring the fact that the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the war.)

The point is: the Emperor was a war criminal of the highest order, and yet the U.S. never bothered to treat him as such. [He reigned until his death in 1989.]

What has changed from 1945 to 2016? Do our recent actions speak of a "moral awakening"? 

Are we listening to the voices of the newly-dead which we have created, and what do we see when we "take stock of who we are"?

Friday, June 3, 2016

General Marshall and the Tree Army

Thanks to FastEddie for sending me down the path to this post when he postulated on the previous post about the relationship between the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the Corps of Engineers. 

The boys and men of the CCC were not lumberjacks like the Spruce Division or the 20th Engineers.  They were first envisioned as re-foresters (hence the moniker).   
But they also built bridges, fire lookout towers, buildings, truck & foot trails, minor roads & landing fields, and public camps & picnic grounds.  They fought forest & range fires and in Gillette Wyoming they extinguished many subterranean coal fires that had been burning for years.  They did surveying, erosion & flood control, rodent & mosquito control, plus dug wells, and installed telephone poles & thousands of miles of phone line.  They stocked fish, and improved streams, ponds & lakes, built minor dams, and rehabilitated grazing on rangelands.  They even carved a Greek style amphitheater out of solid rock at Mount Tamalpais State Park, California.

When the CCC was proposed by FDR, the Labor Department was to recruit poor unmarried youths betwixt 18 and 25 whose families were on the dole (that 'one-third of the nation' during the great depression that were 'ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished').  The Army was to operate the camps and do some non-military training.  The Interior and Agriculture Departments were to supervise the work.  Harry Hopkins, a previous social worker and FDRs go-to-guy, ramrodded it.  The minority in Congress laughed at it and gave it the moniker of Roosevelt’s Tree Army.  Some called them Soil Soldiers because of their erosion remediation work in the dust bowl.
Bluebloods in the Army bureaucracy in DC were initially against the CCC when FDR proposed it.  Their job was training soldiers to fight. They did not want their officers instructing basic hygiene and a modified form of Army discipline to young men on welfare, or what they considered poor white trash that had only rarely seen soap and never seen toilet paper, and also the blacks, Indians and sons of ghetto immigrants that were volunteering for the CCC.

Bit one Lieutenant Colonel (acting full bird) at Fort Screven in Georgia by the name of George Catlett Marshall thought it a good concept.  He was one of the first to throw himself into the additional duty of setting up seventeen CCC camps in South Carolina and northern Georgia.  Later when transferred to Fort Moultrie as Commander of the full 8th Infantry he set up an additional fifteen CCC camps, staffed them, and supervised the mobilization of the volunteer youth that would fill those camps.  He had them trained and he established remedial education programs, athletic programs and expanded health care services.  He sent most of his regimental officers off to run the camps and ran his regiment with First Sergeants.  

My guess is that Marshall was intrigued with FDRs intent for extremely rapid activation of the CCC as he (Marshall) still remembered the slow mobilization of the AEF in WW1. It had taken a full year after the AEF was formed before American fighting units arrived in France.  The big Army caught on and established thousands of CCC camps across the country.  Those camps never became militaristic.  The CCC did however give experience to many Army junior officers in how to rapidly mobilize for war.  And the camp life benefited the CCC men who in 42 went into the Army as they were offered enlistment as Corporals or in some cases Sergeants.

Later when Marshall was Commander of the 5th Brigade (3rd Division) at Vancouver Barracks Washington, he was responsible for 35 CCC camps in southern Washington and Oregon.  He spent much of his time on the road inspecting those camps.  After one inspection tour in 1937 he was quoted as saying the following regarding his officer’s efforts at remedial education:
“This matter of schooling, outside of the forestry, soil conservation, or other work of the companies, is in my opinion the most important phase of the CCC program at the present time.  The work in the wood, on the trails, or otherwise, is the justification for the camps; but their primary purpose is to fit young men, now out of employment, to become more valuable and self-supporting citizens. On every side it has become glaringly apparent during the past two years of business revival, that hereafter the unskilled man will have a desperately hard time succeeding, much harder than ever before.”

The great majority of the work of the CCC came under the authority and guidance of the Department of Agriculture, and then secondly the Department of Interior.  However, the Army Corps of Engineers did control some of the largest projects of the CCC.  For example in Vermont the Winooski River often flooded killing over 120 people in 1927.  So the Corps of Engineers supervised the CCC in building three major dams on the river and its tributaries.  In Upstate New York the frequently flooded Walkill River ran through a large and rich agricultural valley in the Appalachians formerly known as the ‘Drowned Lands’.  There The Corps supervised the CCC in digging channels and building levees instead of dams.  In addition there was forestry and conservation work done on military reservations and funds had gone towards construction of CCC barracks on military posts which were later put to use as Army barracks when the war started.

Marshall is most fondly remembered for the Marshall Plan, for his leadership as Army Chief of Staff in WW2, and for his Benning Revolution at the Army Infantry School.  Doesn't his foresight and leadership on the CCC program and in making the Big Army see the potential benefits also deserve  credit?


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Largest regiment in the Army

Spent some time Friday helping place flags on veteran's graves at a local cemetery for Memorial Day.  Hope we found all of them.  We used to get angry calls from widows that we forgot their husband's grave or family members that we did not put a flag next to grandpa.  But then we typically found that those graves we missed did not have a VA headstone or plaque or were not engraved with mention of their service.  We try to keep up with those unmarked ones.

Many graves were from WW1, one was of a private who had served with the 20th Engineers.  That was a regiment that at the time had over 500 officers and 30,000 men, bigger than any reinforced division that I ever heard of (although most of that 30K never made it to France prior to the Armistice).  Primarily made up of lumberjacks and sawmill workers in 49 Engineer Companies (Forestry), it also included 12 road and bridge companies, 36 engineer service companies, plus railroad and quartermaster units. Many of the officers in the Forestry Companies were recruited from the US Forestry Service.

After Pershing's advance HQ, they were the first American unit in France. Many came from here in the the great NW states of Washington and Oregon, but it was the only unit in WW1 that included men from every state in the union.  Their casualties were not that large for such a big unit: 95 died when the USS Tuscania was torpedoed by a U-Boat, and at least two that we know of were KIA in the Argonne Forest.  But it provided huge benefits for the war effort, not just for the AEF but also for Brit, French, and Canadian allies.  Some served in direct support of US infantry divisions. The forestry units harvested French timber for the war effort: bridge timbers, buttress sets for saps, bomb proofing, bunkers, shoring for trenches, railroad ties, 50 and 100 foot tall pilings for piers and bridges, logs for corduroy roads, poles/stakes for barbed wire support poles, duckboards, and millions of cords of fuelwood - all the sinews of war - or at the time that timber was itself considered a munition.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Collateral Damage

Back in October our barkeep P.F. Khans asked: "...Who is Responsible for the Hospital Bombing?" about the then-current speculation over the U.S. armed forces actions during a bombardment of a Doctors Without Borders (Medicins san Frontiers, or MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

One of the persistent questions was how could the U.S. and U.S.-advised Afghan forces have targeted what was a very distinctive hospital compound, one that should have been recognizable even from the air as a no-fire zone.

The U.S. higher responsible for the area of operations, Central Command (CENTCOM) released its report in April, and it contains some information on how this could have happened. From the blog Lawfare:
"Two mishaps that were clearly not criminal in nature occurred early on in the night mission, and those mistakes paved the way for the tragedy to follow in Kunduz. First, the attacking aircraft—an AC-130U with extensive firepower on board—took off early because of a report of U.S. troops being attacked. Due to the haste of the aircraft’s departure, there was no time to upload the “No-Strike List” (NSL) to the aircraft’s computers.
This question came up repeatedly in the original discussion. In his post, PF said:
"There's a Fire Direction Chief (sorry FDChief) that's got an AFATDS computer which should have had all hospitals/other sensitive areas restricted, so that you are warned if you are shooting there. Someone has to manually enter that data, was that data input into the system? Was the hospital in this AFATDS computer?

I don't see a reason that it wouldn't/shouldn't have been. I get that an AC-130 gunship may have to cover a lot of territory, but it's the 14th year of the war. Someone has managed this data. Someone spent a boring deployment porting this data to all the systems. This should have been done by now, that hospital didn't spring up when the Taliban attacked.

So if that wasn't there, the FDC is in trouble.
If it was there and the FDC overruled it without higher approval, the FDC is in trouble."
In the comments section I noted that the USAF didn't use the U.S. Army FA fire direction system, but that while
"...(a)ir fires are neither controlled nor coordinated thru the FA direct support elements. That includes the firing battery and battalion FDCs as well as both the FO elements attached to the maneuver platoons and the FSEs at the maneuver company and battalion HQs. The FSEs may liase w USAF control teams to clear potential CAS target areas of friendly forces but have no role in CAS missions beyond that. So the responsibility for CAS mission direction would be on the USAF FACP (forward air control party - at least that was the term when I was still in ten years ago...). The FAC should have, as has been noted above, been advised of NFAs ("no fire areas") as well as RFZs ("restricted fire zones") established by the maneuver commander."
Well, it turns out that the control party - which consisted of U.S. Army Special Forces troops - had more problems than just missing overlays. The Lawfare article goes on to report:
"Second, well before the attack on the MSF facility began, the U.S. aircraft’s satellite radio—its data link—failed. While the aircraft still had radio contact with ground forces, it could not send or receive emails or upload data, such as the NSL. Special Operations forces on the ground wanted to target a prison overrun by the Taliban, formerly run by the Afghan government’s National Directorate of Security (NDS). However, because of the lack of a data upload capacity and imprecise descriptions at both ends of communications, the aircraft crew mistook the MSF facility for the former NDS prison."
To make matters worse, the commander of the maneuver forces was working with a combat controller - or, more specifically, a "joint terminal attack controller" or JTAC (since a combat controller is a USAF-specific occupational specialty and the JTAC may be from any service branch...). The report says that the aggressive maneuver commander and the cherry JTAC turned out to be a combination lethal for the patients and staff of the MSF hospital:
"...ground forces informed the crew that the intended target had an “arch-shaped gate.” While this description matched many buildings in the area, the crew took it as a match for the MSF facility. The ground force commander (GFC) did not seek clarification, and had no independent visual ability to confirm the crew’s judgment. In other words, the GFC and the aircraft crew were actually labeling entirely different structures as being one and the same. (T)he (air)crew repeatedly asked the GFC to confirm that the intended target was a “large t-shape building.” The GFC (or his inexperienced subordinate, the...JTAC...confirmed this description, which matched many buildings in the vicinity. Unfortunately, the crew and the GFC were still unknowingly talking about two different buildings: the crew “had eyes” on the MSF facility, which was marked with MSF emblems but not the more familiar red cross or red crescent symbols used globally to label medical sites, while the GFC believed that the crew was describing the intended target: the NDS prison held by the Taliban. The JTAC did not help matters with instructions such as “soften the target,” which did not correspond to the situation the crew was viewing in real time."
And the maneuver commander seems to have been a real wild man:
"This communications failure was compounded by the inappropriately aggressive posture of the GFC, whom the military report described as having “willfully violated” the ROE. The US ROE restricted the use of air power, except in response to a hostile act by the Taliban directed at U.S. forces. However, the GFC ordered the attack on the MSF facility although the GFC “could not have reasonably believed” that the attack was justified by an ongoing hostile act. While the GFC asserted to military investigators that he saw what he believed to be an attack on a friendly military convoy, the Centcom report viewed that assertion as inconsistent with other sources, including aircraft video, radio transcripts, and tracking data. Moreover, the military’s report indicated that the GFC, because of distance from the convoy, could not have had the line of sight that he claimed. In sum, even an attack on the “right” target—the NDS facility—would not have been a response to hostile fires, as the ROE required. Because of the GFC’s aggressive posture and the mutual misidentification of the MSF facility as the “right” NDS target, the attack commenced."
Once the bombardment started the commo problems interfered again;
"Shortly after the attack started, MSF representatives contacted U.S. commands, imploring them to stop the fires. However, the communications failure and the ground-air misunderstandings severely impeded a timely U.S. response. About 12 minutes into the attack, personnel at the U.S. Special Operations Task Force inquired about the coordinates of the target being engaged. Two minutes later, U.S. personnel contacted the crew and sought to confirm that the attack had not harmed the MSF facility. The crew stated that the MSF facility hadn’t been touched, reporting that the only structures affected were the “T-shaped building” or adjacent structures, which the GFC had earlier mistakenly identified as the NDS prison, although in reality the crew was still describing the MSF hospital. It took several more minutes to ascertain that the building being attacked was in fact the MSF facility. Once that awful realization took hold, the attack ceased."

The military’s report details the errors that dogged each step in this appalling episode. Not unlike the critical moments of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, missteps and misunderstandings at several junctures paved the way for an unspeakable tragedy.
In other words; war.

The usual suspects are saying the usual things. "Conservatives" are draping themselves in yellow ribbons, "liberals" in loathing of the licentious soldiery and distrust of the "official story". Regardless of opinion, the business is done, now, except for in the grave, or the twisted bodies of the injured, or the anger of the survivors and families.

My original point in the comments stands; that regardless of whether this was a deliberate attack or a mistake, the failure of the U.S. command authority in Afghanistan to quickly and publicly discipline the individuals involved sent a clear message that Afghan lives didn't matter, not as much as American servicepeople's lives, or even of their careers.

When suppressing rebellions there is a tried and true method. Unfortunately, it is also unspeakably savage, the Roman Way - make a silence and call it peace.

The West wants and hopes that hearts and minds can be won, that the "Afridis where they run" can be wooed rather than butchered, that there is a kinder, gentler way to suppress revolts. Unfortunately, to do that the suppressor's troops have to be held to a standard that admits no such lethal errors as these, and that every drop of blood spilled with the sword is payed for with a drop of blood drawn by the lash.

We choose not to lash ourselves, and therefore should not be surprised that our means and methods are not embraced by those we slash.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pushing string

According to Bob Bateman in April the U.S. Army reinforced the forces deployed to Iraq.
This element included advisors - about two companies worth - that will work down to battalion level as well as pushing forward a troop-sized attack helicopter (AH-64) unit and a FA unit of unknown size equipped with M-142 medium artillery rocket systems (so-called "HIMARS") to engage Islamic State forces directly.

Bateman says that this is a good idea tactically; battalion-level assvice will help the Iraqi "Army" operate more effectively, and the fire support elements will, too.

He's not so sure whether this is as good an idea at echelons above reality:
"This decision to allow American trainers to operate at lower levels may well put more Americans in more danger, but at the same time, it also capitalizes on our forces' real strengths and directly helps the Iraqis succeed on the ground. The political wisdom of this decision is another thing entirely." (emphasis mine)
I'll go further than that; this is the military equivalent of pushing on a fucking string.

I don't see the "Iraqi Army" as having a military problem killing raggedy-assed Islamic State gomers. Hell, back in Saddam's day they had a fine old time slaughtering Shia militiamen and Kurdish rebels. The thug-armies of Third World despotisms are usually terrific at slaughtering their own people and local rebellious groups. Ask any Sri Lankan, can't, they're mostly all dead.

The "Iraqi Army" has a problem because "Iraq" is a political fiction. There is no "Iraq" worth fighting and dying for, nothing that a man or woman could point to as worthy of that great a sacrifice. There are factions in Iraq, certainly, but the whole point of fighting for a faction is to get the largesse that faction dispenses as a reward for loyalty, and you have to be alive to get that.

The "Iraqi Army" doesn't have trouble against the Islamic State because the "Iraqi Army" has trouble executing simple fire-and-maneuver actions, or because it can't effectively call for supporting fire, the sorts of things that U.S. Army advisors could help it learn.

Well, it probably does have trouble, but that's not why it doesn't do well against the IS fighters.

The "Iraqi Army" has trouble against the Islamic State because "Iraq" is a goddamn fiction and a dumpster-fire of a failed state. The "Iraqi Army" is a shitshow of corruption and patronage like any number of Third World failed-state "armies" where officers pocket soldiers' pay and factional loyalty is more important than technical or tactical proficiency.

I'm not going to tell you that technical and tactical proficiency don't matter. Hell yes, they do. But when it comes down to bloody war "the moral is to the physical as three is to one" as a former military savant once wrote. There is no moral center to Iraq anymore; not even the evil sort of anti-morality that comes with fighting for a rapacious thug like Saddam Hussein.

So, short of re-invading and taking over this ridiculous attempt to make a desert in Sunnistan and call it peace is there any likelihood that trying to add bullets to the jello that is the "Iraqi Army" will provide even a medium-term solution to the sociopolitical problems of Mesopotamia?

Hell, no.

But it'll make the idiot rubes think their political "leaders" are "doing something about ISIS" and the cost is a handful of millions and maybe a couple of throwaway GIs or five, so it's all good, right?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Khalsa shall rule!

"In a decision by the U.S. Army Thursday, Capt. Simratpal Singh, a decorated Sikh-American officer and combat veteran, has received a long-term religious accommodation to serve with long hair, a beard, and turban in accordance with his Sikh faith."

But the turban has to be digital camo, I see.

Interesting, in that given the Sikh tradition of military service and the U.S. Army's need for warm bodies I'd have thought this one would be pretty much a slam dunk a long time ago.

But, then again, peacetime armies tend to be kinda anal about uniform regulations. Frankly, I'd have loved to see AR 670-1 updated to include something like this as Sikh dress blue headgear:

Ain't gonna happen, sadly.

Anyway, consider this an open thread about the minutiae of military dress.