Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve 1942

and the Battle of the Barents Sea

Here's hoping that you all are enjoying a happier, healthier, and, above, all, WARMER runup to 2013 than the guys were at the fringe of the Arctic on this day seventy years ago!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Defining the Problem


We at Milpub recently had a 134-comment thread on the Newtown shooting tragedy; after 134 comments it is clear that we are neither able to define the problem nor are we even able to agree if there is a problem.

Ranger hearkens back to 1973, when he commanded the 3rd Army Marksmanship Training Unit. It became apparent to him at that time that the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA) was transforming itself and its magazine, The Rifleman, into a Right-wing mouthpiece for the Republican party.  The magazine shifted its focus in the 1970's from the shooting sports and gun collecting to political matters.  Soon, the agenda became aligned with the Christian Right, an affiliation which has been maintained through today.

This far-Right stance was adopted after Nixon's 1968 Presidential election politicized and radicalized a fraught nation with his law enforcement emphasis.  This focus was a thinly-veiled racial agenda since being tough on crime meant being tough on black criminals.  The nation was riven, Right and Left; the divisiveness continues today, hence the problem agreeing upon the "gun issue".

Ranger will try for a definition by asking the questions:

  • Do we have a gun problem?  Of the 300 million guns estimated to be in private hands, perhaps 30 million are "kill your neighbor" guns.  Let us assume that the 270 million collector and curio firearms are not the problem. (These guns are still regulated the same as the neighbor-killing guns.)  Therefore, is the problem with the weapon itself, or its maintenance? 
  • Do we actually have a "gun storage" problem?  Should we require legally-acquired firearms and ammunition to be properly secured away from casual contact?  Would this reduce the number of tragic random shooting episodes?
  • Should we allow firearms in households where a member is adjudicated criminally insane, or even mentally defective?  Should these homes be subjected to special regulations?  Who will define the status of the mentally defective?  Can a person be a head case yet still adjudicated non-violent and not a danger to himself or others?
  • What sorts of mental disability would invalidate one's gun rights?  Should soldiers suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) be denied gun ownership?  What about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)?
  • Should safe handling courses and hunter safety courses be required before firearm possession?  If so, who will teach the courses and create the program?  

Well, it is a start. These are the sorts of issues that we should discuss, and probably even enact into law before considering more Draconian measures like weapons bans, magazine restrictions and all of the other initiatives being bandied about by the anti-gun lobby.

If we pass laws that require education and safe handling, to include safe storage and this does not work to mitigate the spree killings that have our public up in arms, then it will be time to consider tightening up the requirements of ownership even further.  But short of these initial efforts it seems injudicious to pass by the simplest controls which have proven effective in countries like Canada and Germany.

Doing other than this is similar to starting a presumptive war without first exhausting all diplomatic possibilities in order to avoid the ultimate conflict.

We should contemplate all possible solutions before jumping headlong into a needless battle.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gunning for It

They're talking about things of which
they don't have the slightest understanding, anyway.
It's only because of their stupidity
that they're able to be so sure of themselves 
--The Trial, Kafka 

We didn't love freedom enough 
--The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) has spawned myths that have been sewn into our gun culture.

We were told that being alert would alleviate our fear and neutralize the threat, a threat left largely undefined.  The first reaction to the 9-11-01 attacks was to place National Guard riflemen in the airports of America to create a simulacrum safety net against the "bad guys".

From this image issued a cornucopia of terrorist TV and movie depictions of terrorists bearing old fashioned AK's and semi-auto pistols being ferreted out from behind every bush by brave Jack Bauers.  The problem with this media-driven bravado was that it did not address the actual threat.

The closest we came to suffering this sort of threat was the inside the wire shooting by Major Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood, an event which was entirely predictable and avoidable (as were the World Trade Center attacks themselves if anyone had connected the dots.)  Terrorism was not the problem, but rather a failure of leadership.

The collective insanity of our national reaction to a containable terror threat has led to a warped perception that our safety is enhanced by firearms, a hyperbolic idea beaten into our consciousness at all levels.

The United States has not seen a significant firearms-related terrorist event and we will not because such an attack would lack the drama demanded by the terrorists.  Terror must be significant and, well, terrifying.  It is unlikely that terrorists will ever engage in shootouts in the Homeland.

We confuse the low-intensity conflict in far-flung reaches of the earth like Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Israel, Philippines, Mexico, Columbia, et. al. with U.S. concerns at home, leading us to the false conclusion that this will happen in America.  Being so misled allows the proliferation of government security excesses and the militarization of our civilian security and law enforcement agencies.  While this does not make us safer, it does make us less free.

Imagine what our unemployment rates would look like if the people employed by the current U.S. security apparatus, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- as though we were Britain during the Blitz -- were not padding about in para-pornographic airport pursuits.  How many people are employed in nebulous security functions that provide no protection from any actual threat.  Security and Prisons are the only growth industries in America.

The entire system is like a metastasized cancer -- it is systemic, but we do not see it because we are in the tumor.

We fail to see the fiscal cliff that is based upon security, defense and intelligence activities that have little or any rational basis for their existence.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Whatever You Celebrate

Warmest Holiday Wishes from me and the Mrs for whatever you and yours may observe at this time of the year.  An old year is coming to a close, and a new one will begin.  While that has happened millions (or only thousands, if you are so disposed) of times before, the camaraderie we share is precious, and may it grow in the years to come.  And may each of you and your families and friends see good health and good fortune every day.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tragedy in America

I think that the behavior of America in the wake of the massacre/tragedy/terrorist attack/mass shooting has been utterly disgraceful.  Without batting an eye, America has turned a very sad personal event for a school community into a national three-ring media circus.  Complete with commander-in-chief pronouncement and hand-wringing snake-oil salesmen.  

In the past week, I have heard that America needs to ban assault rifles, ban expanded magazines, ban .223 rifles that look like assault rifles, expand mental health services, lock up crazies, treat crazies, deal with crazies, and a bunch of other pronouncements.  You know what?  I'm sick of this exploitation.  The fact is that NONE of these things would have prevented this incident.  Only a complete change in American society, the likes of which should not be engaged in during a terrible trauma, could change this scenario in anything like a predictable way.  

None of what's currently being discussed would have a reasonable chance of preventing an adult from killing another adult, stealing that person's guns and attacking a seemingly randomly chosen school.  No ticky-tac gun law would affect these events.  Additionally, no amount of attention from school counselors or mental health professionals can reasonably assure us that bad things or crazy people will not happen in America.  Only a complete change in the society and culture could do so, and no matter how interesting it might be to seize on this moment to affect a profound change, it would be unwise to do so like this.  Just consider the evil that has been wrought by the tragedy of 9/11.  Can we be assured that our immediate plans to make changes to make us all 'more secure' will not end up causing different/worse problems?  

Just for a second, let's actually look at ways we, as a society could handle this.  Knowing the events that transpired, could we have kept some or more of those kids alive?  Absolutely.  Schools could revisit the 'Duck and Cover' days and perhaps work in drills to help improve safety.  Are there ways to improve the physical security of schools?  Can we plan for these events and prepare defenses?  I'm not talking, suspending kids for twitter threats or butter knifes, but actual planning on how to defend a school from a mass murderer.  What are the cops going to do?  What about the teachers/teachers union?  We don't need all teachers carrying, but one who is trained and capable (think air marshall for schools) of handling such a dangerous eventuality might decrease the dangers posed by a mass murderer.  I'm just spitballing here, but I've heard exactly 0 about any sorts of solutions that would prevent the actual occurrence of this event.  I'd like to hear more.

What happened was wrong and its sickening to think that it'd happen in America, but what's happening now, where the media is feasting on this carcass and all the gun-control and mental health nuts are out in force is making me sick.  It's not right.  Let these parents and community grieve in peace.  Don't turn their personal tragedy into a way to rally support for your personal cause.  It's basic ethics.  I'm also pretty sure that the last political figure to try that was Mitt Romney when an Ambassador got killed in some dubious setting.  It was wrong then and its wrong now.  I don't care how right you think you are, if you are using pictures of crying children fleeing a building to rally support for anything other than helping those kids and their families and community, it's not appropriate.  

I support laws that will keep guns out of the hands of crazy or criminally inclined people.  I think keeping certain types of guns out of the conventional market makes sense, but let's not confuse these issues.  Gun control would not save these kids.
I think America has a duty to take care of the mentally handicapped and provide for services that reduce their harm to themselves and others.  But in the same way, greater spending on mental health would not have saved these kids.
I also think that America's culture glorifies violence in a way that makes some individuals believe that an orgy of violence is an acceptable and cool way to go out.  That should change, but it cannot be that this would save these kids.
And this event is about the kids that died.

Wait a while, let's make decisions like adults when the pain subsides and we can act responsibly and with longer term goals and horizons in mind.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Not Very Pret-y

Let me qualify this post in several ways; first, I am not a huge Tom Ricks fan - I find that his default setting is way too often "stenographer for guys with cool guns" - and, second, that Ricks himself states in the article that his information appears preliminary and fragmentary.

That said, back in November Ricks posted this article to his blog, his lead being that the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker) was reamed in an Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) collection report for its performance at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in October 2012.
I am also not familiar with JMRC, but I am guessing from both its designation as a Readiness Center, and the exercise that the 2CR participated in, that it is the USAEUR equivalent of the National Training Center (NTC), where maneuver units are evaluated for their ability to perform their core tasks to Army standard.

The original CALL document is worth a glimpse for the unsurprising conclusion that 2CR's conventional warfighting skills have...shall we say, slipped a trifle in the past decade they've spent chasing raggedy-assed muj around the less-paved parts of southwest Asia?
What is most dispiriting to me as a sergeant, though, are some of the first observations that CALL team made of 2CR. This wasn't some sort of minor slippage of high-speed mad supertrooper skilz we're talking about here. Some of total fails on the 10- and 20- level tasks the evaluators dinged 2CR elements for included:

- Priorities of work for occupying a position are not established or adhered to.
- Sleeping areas established prior to preparation of fighting positions.
- Vehicles, fighting positions, CP’s, and tents not camouflaged.
- Field sanitation standards not enforced, Soldiers defecating randomly on top of the ground in unit positions.
- Range cards not prepared or inaccurate.
- Lack of uniform and personal hygiene standards.
- A lack of small unit leadership and on the spot corrections.

Read the CALL document; trust me, things get worse at the higher levels. It sounds like resupply, troop discipline, planning and training, medevac, commo, and TOC operations (among others) were fucked up like a football bat. These guys sound completely ate up, and if you read the whole thing it sounds like the 2ACR is a really effed-up unit.

But what it's NOT?

What if the problem with the higher-level tasks isn't the unit but, rather, what it's been training to do and doing for the past decade.

Here's the commander of the JMRC as quoted by Ricks:
"...the actions reflective of Soldiers who have operated in a COIN only environment over the past several years, and a training environment designed to challenge leaders at multiple levels."
Emphasis mine.


I'm willing to cut these guys some slack on the higher-level tasks. I can well understand that going from being coiffed in a FOB for a 12-month rotation to having to figure out how to work a jump TOC and retrans sites and ambulance transfer points doesn't happen overnight.

But, c'mon; stuff like priorities of work? Camo? Laying out the fartsacks before digging ranger graves? Casually shitting all over your positions like a herd of cows?

That ain't rocket science. That's a bunch of sergeants not doing their fucking jobs.

You've all heard me lament the damage done to my branch, the Field Artillery, by these pestiferous little wars we've been enjoying over the past ten years. Now this little bit of bad news makes me wonder - what ELSE the Army has been doing to itself while the Nation has been out Shopping for Victory and Supporting the Troops?

Shitting at random inside your own positions, boys?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Speaking Loudly and Carrying Nothing

A recent article in the New York Times, encapsulated quite nicely, my personal concern and confusion over the actions of President Obama.  In this article, the press noted the way in which the President's claims in the past had given way in the face of current events.  A previous declaration of that simply 'moving' chemical weapons was grounds for intervention has given way to 'using' chemical weapons as a pretext for intervention.

While the NYT seems to see this changing stance as an isolated incident of changing priorities, I believe that this represents an increasingly apparent flaw in President Obama's foreign policy.  Namely, his administration talks.  A lot.  About a lot of stuff that they have no control over.

His administration has issued a lot of opinions about a lot of things but acted only rarely.  Or rather, they rarely act in a decisive manner that will actually settle a matter.

In some ways, it represents, to me, the opposite of "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Obama's doctrine, especially in the Middle East, is heavy on lecture, heavy on speaking and light on stick.  For me, this is a lot better than him committing troops to another war, but it worries me in two ways.

Firstly, I don't actually know what Obama is doing for/in the name of our country.  Despite his rhetoric, I cannot seem to understand his moves/methods and he doesn't seem interested in explaining it to us.  I've seen a lot of liberals explaining what he's doing and a lot of conservatives complain about it, but apart from "we're going to focus more on Asia soon" I really don't know what America is planning to do next.  Intervene in Syria?  Who the hell knows?  There is a lot of tea leaf reading going on, but I fail to see how the ambiguity improves American interests or security.  That's on Obama.  If he feels he needs to take the country in certain direction foreign policywise, he should at least have the decency to explain what and why.  There are too many people explaining it for him these days; I don't want an interpretation of an opinion, I'd like to hear from his what the plan is.

I think the closest we got was when he committed the 'surge' to Afghanistan, but that was very heavy on ideals and tactics, and very light on 'what the hell are we doing?'  The President really needs to make it more clear.

Secondly, the more his red lines shift, the less anyone knows what to make of his pronouncements.  Its why you don't talk shit in ambiguous circumstances.  It amounts to a bluff.  And the more you talk about "I don't bluff," the more it can prod people to see if that's the case.  I'm worried that, like everyone else, President Obama does have red lines that will invite retaliation, but his tough talk makes it more and more ambiguous and increases the chance that those lines get crossed.  There is way too much speculation that his tough foreign policy is merely a reflection of a domestic political agenda for him to make legitimate use of force threats.  This is a problem that President Obama's administration has not addressed, and it is actually a very serious one.

So since everyone else seems interested in giving their two cents.  I don't think the President is interested in intervening in the Middle East at all, barring a nuclear explosion.  That's not likely to happen, so stay tuned for more of the same for the next couple of years.  Hopefully, the Syria mess will peter out of its own accord and the damage caused by the revolution there will moderate some of the Arab street so that the revolutions become more reform than actual revolution.

Here's the thing, though.  If things do not get better, but in fact become crazier or far worse, I have no idea what to expect from Obama.  That's bad.  And in my worst case forecasting, neither does he.

PF Khans

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Speaking of seapower...

Brief article in The Diplomat regarding differences between the USN and USAF regarding the employment of their respective forces outside of shooting war. The author's nut graf reads:
"The Navy has devoted substantial intellectual and material energy to developing “smart” and “soft” power tools for engaging with diplomatic partners, and has indeed made such engagement a critical element of its overall approach to maritime security. The Air Force has yet to develop a conception of “soft power” more complex than “friends make the exercise of hard power easier.”
But here's my thought; given the by-its-nature-ephemeral quality of airpower is there really any way for the USAF to develop an approach similar to that of the USN?

An armed vessel, like an armed man may on land, may physically occupy a space of ocean (and from there over the nearby land) and, through its sensors and weaponry, control access to and through that space. It may loiter there for long periods, providing a continuous presence and a potential deterrent to action merely BY that presence. This is, in a very real sense, the essence of "gunboat diplomacy"; the sight and the knowledge of an armed ship presents a dilemma to anyone who might need to dispute with that ship to accomplish their ends, whatever those ends might be.

This is true even if the warship is on a "soft" mission. It's simple physical present is impossible to ignore. What's big, gray, and dominates the harbor? A USN guided missile frigate delivering humanitarian supplies.

An aircraft - by the transitory nature of flight - is less intimidating. It's hard to imagine aircraft enforcing a physical restriction short of actually attacking something on the ground. And many potential recipients of the sort of warning the air assets are meant to convey lack the sensors to track the aircraft when not in sight, so the "gunboat" effect is markedly less.

A C-17 "raisin bomber" is smaller, less imposing, and its presence is easier to overlook. And add to that it is easier to destroy and located in a threat environment less amenable to characterization and control than the sea. So I suspect that the USAF sees a smaller upside and higher downside to such missions than the USN does to its "soft power" cruises.

So I'm not sure that this difference doesn't reflect on a difference in USAF/USN outlook so much as the physical difference between airpower and seapower, a difference that will perforce produce very different ways of thinking about force.

Update 12/6: Sven of the blog Defence & Freedom provides correction to my original post in his comment; "soft power" is supposed to be less about the "gunboat effect" than about using the capabilities of a military force to attract rather than deter people outside the force's own nation, and he provides some good examples.

But I would opine that, again, the nature of airpower still makes this a tricky problem. Warships are complex, expensive, and many nations or peoples don't have the wherewithal to construct or maintain them. So a navy may find that they can provide non-kinetic services to foreign states or groups that those groups both desperately need and can't afford, as well as being a more visible example of soft power and one that is less vulnerable to random threats.

Meanwhile there isn't all that much that a military aircraft can do that a civil one cannot, and the physical fact of flight means that the aircraft tend to come and go rather than loiter making an impression on people. It's the difference between the clouds and the sea; the sea remains, the clouds change, pass over, and are gone.

But Sven's points are good ones. Anyone - Andy, in particular, you are our USAF "insider" - have any insight into why this interservice mismatch?

Monday, December 3, 2012

What's Mandarin for "Avast, ye scurvy dogs"..?

Fallows has been doing some spadework on geopolitics in the South China Sea and the People's Republic of China/Hainan Island People's Congress' latest statements regarding what they see as their rights in the littoral they consider their "near abroad".

And this "abroad" is at least to my eye pretty broad:
Look at the size of the East-is-Red line on the map above: I don't see any real way that historical claim, international, or maritime law could be twisted to support that reach of "territorial waters". That seems to me to be a hell of an over-reach.

Much as I don't agree with the commonly-heard U.S. conservative trope that places the PRC in the military cross-hairs as "our next enemy" this announcement does seem to me to be an unpleasant sort of geopolitical overreach from the Hainan government and makes me wonder what the hell the PRC was thinking to let this leak out. If "hard cases make bad law" then "making broad statements potentially applicable to nearly-impossible-to-enforce-maritime-territorial-claims makes dangerous foreign policy".

IF taken to the territorial extreme this claim would seem to give any ambitious, aggressive, or just-plain-batshit-crazy PLAN commander a ready made casus belli.
Mind you, there does seem to be a strong strain of opinion that this announcement is NOT intended to genuinely apply to the areas around the Spratley Islands, for example, that while notionally under Hainan Island's "adminstration" are well outside the PRC's 12 or even it's 200-mile limit. The linked article above says conclusively:
"...the actions outlined above are all concern with Chinese territory or territorial waters – not the much larger maritime areas that press accounts have suggested."
In other words, using the map above to conclude that the PRC is saying it has the right to "...inspect, detain or expel foreign ships illegally entering waters..." less than 50 miles off the coast of Brunei, say, would be taking counsel from fear.

But I am watching to see what, if any, further explication of this statement comes from Hainan. Interesting times, perhaps?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Who’s on First?

New administration postings are to be coming soon.  Petraeus is already gone, Panetta wanting to retire to gather walnuts, Clinton to go and do who knows what, Eric Holder too maybe.  Who is to replace them?  Here are some strawmen nominations for you to throw monkey poop at:

For the CIA from my armchair perspective we do not need another general or admiral.  DOD already controls the lion share of the intelligence budget through NSA, NGA, NRO, DIA, and the various Armed Services activities - ONI, AFIS, INSCOM, etc.  We need to stop militarizing the CIA as we have done in the past.  Besides why appoint a high profile person to be DCIA, the head of CIA, whoever gets that title is no longer the DCI that leads and manages the entire intelligence community.  That job belongs to retired 3-star James Clapper the DNI.  So I am thinking why not Mike Morrell who is now acting-DCIA.  He is a thirty year man, mostly in analysis.  He does have three years overseas 2003 to 2006 that I would like to know more about where and what he was doing before I bless him unconditionally.  Is he on Armando Spataro’s list of 23 for example?  But Panetta depends on him so he can’t be all bad.  There has been too much turnover in the CIA directorship – let’s get some stability by vetting and appointing an insider.  No more tourists I say!

For ISAF, Obama has already made a good choice with Fighting Joe Dunford.  He will be OK and will even be blessed by the whackos in the Senate.  I hope he does as good a job of retrograde out of Afghanistan as he did with RCT-5 in the march to Baghdad.  His forward command post during that time was a single HMMWV with which he stayed with the leading unit on the way up.  May he be the last man out of Kabul in 2014.

CentCOM?  I don’t know if General Mattis is ready to leave but he has been there for over two years which seems to be more than other commanders there except for Abizaid who had the job for four.  Promote the Deputy, Admiral Harwood.  He is a former SEAL and he has a MA in International Relations and is also a graduate of an MIT Foreign Policy program.  CentCOM needs a more diplomatic command face.  Harwood was reportedly a Bush favorite so I have to ask if he has a clean slate with interrogation policy?  And hopefully he only did zero or a minimum number of emails to CentCOMs unofficial social secretary, Ms Kelley?  I don’t know the answers but at least put him thru the vetting process.

I am not smart on the State Department, but Rice is too much of an interventionist for my taste, a leftie neocon if you will.  The smart money seems to be on Kerry and he will probably face no oppo in the senate.  But back in Mass the Republican Playgirl model is waiting in the wings for another shot at the Senate.  I favor a woman, they have done a good job at State.   Are they more subtle? - or maybe less threatening? – or am I being sexist?  Jean Shaheen would be my first choice.  Second choice is my own soon-to-be ex-Governor Christine Gregoire who although she has little or no FP experience is one heck of a negotiator and deal maker.  They are both about five years younger than Kerry and that is not a job for an old guy like Kerry who is my age.  Or if Obama wants to play the Team of Rivals thing then go with Olympia Snowe or John Huntsman.

For DOD my choice would be a non-politician, someone from the business world.  Someone respected by both sides of the aisle that could make the cuts needed.  Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford comes to mind.  He has BS and MS in two engineering fields and an MS in Management from MIT.  And he was called somewhat of a financial miracle worker at bailing Ford out of ruin without taking government aid.   He used to work for Boeing years ago, but to my knowledge mainly worked in the Commercial Aircraft Division and not in selling military a/c to the pentagon.  Even so could he recuse himself for any acquisitions in which Boeing is bidding?

DOJ – I understand Napolitano wants the job (I am fine with Janet) which would leave DHS open.  I am fresh out of ideas.  I kind of favor breaking it up into its components, but we all know that will not happen soon.  So maybe give it to Admiral Papp the Coast Guard Commandant???  They are the largest component of DHS and the most important imho.

Feel free to put forward your own best bets.   And don’t feel bad about throwing that monkey stuff at my choices.  I hope to get a score of at least one correct when Obama makes his choices.  Or two, since Dunford has already been nominated.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Solitudinem faciunt

I have been pondering a "decisive battles" post on the final months of what is known as Eelam War IV, the conclusion of the long conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels.
While the conflict itself is horrific, the engagements between the rebels and the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) are potentially of interest to citizens of the nations currently engaged in suppressing rebellions in the Middle East, which as of this writing includes the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Israel in the occupied territories.

I thought that a look at the tactics and techniques that made the government forces successful and defeated the rebels might be useful for U.S. citizens pondering their own government's course in its wars and its support for the wars of its allies.

What I found was very revealing, but not about military tactics or techniques, but about nightmare and horror.

First, in researching Eelam War IV I discovered that the conflict may well be the most poorly documented recent major war outside the Russian campaigns against the Chechen rebels. The government of Sri Lanka did an exceptionally good job of preventing outside observers from getting any but the most haphazard notion of what went on in northern Sri Lanka in late 2008 and 2009.

For example, some sort of engagement at the village of Aanandapuram was fought in late March and early April, 2009. I had hoped to write up this engagement as the "decisive battle" for March 2013, given that it seems to have been the final act of the Tamil rebel forces as a conventional military outfit. But I quickly ran into the realization that providing any sort of militarily sensible account of the events of Aanandapuram was damn near impossible.

For one thing, I couldn't even come up with anything approaching an order of battle for either side.

Based on SLA sources we know that this combat included elements of the SLA 58 Division, 53 Division and something called "Task Force 8" (probably composed of SLA Special Operations units). But which of these units were engaged, and where? A Tiger website claims that "(t)he 4th, 6th,8th, 12th, 14th and 20th Gajabahu battalions, 5th Vijayabahu, 9th Gemunu Watch, 11th and 20th SL Light Infantry along with 1 special forces and 2 commando got into action" but offers no explanation of how these units were committed, or where, and what they did there.

SLA sources also tell us that the "Charles Anthony" Infantry Brigade of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or just "Tamil Tigers") was present, although in what condition or strength is unknown. The same sources mention that a number of senior LTTE leaders were killed there, including the commanders of the Jayanthan Infantry brigade, the Imran-Pandian, Maalathi, Sothia infantry regiments, the Kittu artillery unit, the Kutty Sri mortar unit. Whether these leaders were with their units, and whether these LTTE units still existed effectively as bodies of troops?

We have no idea.
The other side of the hill includes Tiger websites and press releases quoting Tiger-source material. But much of this is as oblique and opaque as the SLA press releases.

In an attempt to find some documentary evidence of the engagement I read The Cage by Gordon Weiss and was not helped. The 2011 work details Weiss' account of the slaughter of Tamil civilians during the last stages of Eelam War IV but has little about the military hows and whys.

And that, in turn, led me back to thinking about the recent fighting in Gaza, and the reality of suppressing rebellions that we here in the West don't like to think about.
Since 1945 we many of us - civilians and soldiers alike - believe or try to believe that there is a "humane" way of crushing rebellion. That civil wars and rebellion-suppression can be successfully fought along Geneva Convention lines.

We like to believe that there's a "plan" or a "strategy" that can end these rebellions with less bloodshed. Conditioned on our belief in technical means to political, economic, and even military ends, we like to think that if we just hit on the right "strategy" we can bring the rebels in out of the cold, make them sit down with their rivals, "work things out".

This has meant that U.S. policy, as well as the reputations of the U.S. military and its general officers in the recent wars in southwest Asia, largely rests or has rested on the ability to successfully implement "counterinsurgency" plans along these Western lines, which typically feature relative military restraint along with civil "nation building" or "hearts-and-minds" campaigns; call then what you will, the idea is to bring the rebels back into the "government" camp and to "pacify" the rebellious regions without exterminating the inhabitants.

The original example cited for this sort of CI success is typically the 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency. Now and then you get mentions of the British CI efforts in south Yemen, Oman, and Dhofar.

But...when you look hard at those successes you start to realize their "one-off" characteristics.

Malaya was the really special case; a rebel group composed nearly entirely of a racial minority group that then made a series of critical strategic mistakes. In my opinion the attempt to re-create Malaya led to a whole bunch of screw-ups in places like Vietnam; the success of Malaya was due less to the British Hannibals than the MRLA's Varros.

What you do see, looking around, is that the mechanics of suppressing rebellions hasn't changed all that much since Roman times. You kill everything moving and keep killing until they stop moving.

It has worked in Sri Lanka largely because, not in spite, of the fact that the Sri Lankan pledge of "Zero Civilian Casualties" was a sick joke.

The grievances of the Tamil minority that the Weiss book documents thoroughly were not slight or trivial. The decisions that led to the Tamil rebellion were not facile, and despite their atrocities the LTTE were not dilettantes or wannabes. The Tamil rebellion was desperate, and desperation was required to crush it.

There is a reason that Eelam War IV is so poorly documented; because it was an old-fashioned Roman-sort of civil war. In my opinion the Sri Lankan government and the SLA recognized the legitimacy of the Tamil rebels.

But they had no interest in accommodating those people; they were interested in keeping power for themselves. That meant not "pacifying" the rebel areas; it meant destroying them, destroying the rebels and all their people, in such a way that they would never again think that the chance of victory outweighed the costs of defeat.

"Shared" power tends to become separate powers over time; ask the Czechs and the Slovaks, the Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. The Sinhalese-majority Sri Lankan government had no interest in sharing power with the Tamil minority. It wanted to crush them, and crushing them meant - as it has always meant since Crassus' day - killing them in job lots.

And to kill to that degree meant keeping the press out. Without the cameras and reporters and the other busybodies of the lily-fingered West the SLA could get on with the business of crushing the rebellion with fire and steel.

Don't get me wrong; I don't like that.

Is it horrible? Yes.
Is it a war crime? Yes.
But it works.

And I know that. And I know that the record of the alternative - the Western hope that good roads and plasma TV will make the angry people happy again - has been iffy at best and disastrous at worst, if you can't change the fundamental problems they are angry about.


I guess that the only "lesson learned" I can come up with from the Battle of Aanandapuram is Tacitus' old lesson written over again in the letters of blood; Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
I wish I had a different story to tell. I wish I thought that there was a solution to the problems of Afghanistan or Israel short of endless war or brutal genocide.

But I don't.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fall 1942 - The Turning Point of the War in Europe

November 1942 provides us with one of those events in military history where we can say in retrospect, that it was from this particular point in time that everything started to unravel, in this case, go bust for Nazi Germany in World War II. While I would argue (and I think FD Chief agrees) the actual or "strategic" turning point was probably the June invasion of the USSR and then on December 11, 1941, the declaration of war against the US, Stalingrad provides us with the "operational" turning point. Since we have learned from our own (American since 2001) experience that in war the operational outcome can lag significantly behind the strategic outcome, this only proves the importance of this operational level and how hanging on operationally can influence to some extent the final result, although not to the point of reversing the strategic reality. Rather what seems to be the case is that the losing side loses only more, but at a greater cost to the victor.
My intent here is not to examine the Stalingrad campaign or analyze the operational decisions, but rather to put it within the strategic context of what Germany - or rather Hitler since he was calling all the shots - had to deal with seventy years ago.
On 19 November the Red Army launched an attack against the northern flank of German Army Group B (the German 6th Army, most of 4th Panzer Army and the Romanian 4th Army) that was engaged at Stalingrad and occupying almost all of the city and blocking river traffic along the Volga river. The next day Marshall Zhukov launched the southern wing of his double envelopment from the southern flank. On 23 November (the Germans say the afternoon of 22 November) the two spearheads met at Kalach trapping about 250,000 Axis troops. The Soviets staged a repeat of the meeting for a propaganda film (at 1:20-29).
Reading the German Oberkommando der Wehrmacht war diaries one gets something of the overwhelming character that Hitler's leadership/decisions had put the Germans in strategically. Besides the Eastern Front with its various Army Groups engaged, there were the Eastern Mediterrain, Libya, Tunisia, the Balkans, southern France (the occupation of Vichy), Finland, and the various air and naval operations to contend with.
One gets the impression that the Russian Front was not seen as a single theater, but rather as five separate fronts: Finland, Army Group North facing Leningrad, Army Group Center facing Moscow, Army Group B at Stalingrad, and Army Group A in the Caucasus. Thus each individual front competed individually with those in the West and keeping Italy in the war was Hitler's priority towards the end of 1942. This possible perspective regards only the operational decisions, not those involving logistics, production, genocides, and other matters that Hitler reserved for himself. That the situation with Army Group B was dangerous was recognized relatively early on with the 20 November order to establish Army Group Don from the staff of the 11th Army under the command of Field Marshall von Manstein to take command of Army Group B and other forces coming in. This headquarters was to be tasked with reestablishing the front on the Don/Volga. This distinction is important, it was not first to reestablish contact with Stalingrad, but to re-establish the front as it had existed prior to the Soviet offensive, it was assumed that those forces in Stalingrad would remain in place. A withdrawal from Stalingrad and the Volga was never seriously considered until it was too late. Manstein and his staff were at Vitebsk and due to the weather and rail conditions were unable to arrive in theater until 24 November.
It is also important to remember that the Germans were in the middle of a major troop movement regarding Tunisia. There the 5th Panzer Army was in the midst of being established with significant air assets having been earlier withdrawn from Russia. Movement of the 10th Panzer Division, the Hermann Göring Divison and other formations were underway. In fact on the 20th of November the 22nd Luftlande (Airborne) Division, another capable formation, finished its deployment to the island of Crete which was under no threat at all.
At this point it is important to consider what had led to the summer offensive in the East in the first place. First, the Germans considered the Russians to be on their last legs. The situation of the civilian population in the unoccupied areas of European Russia was known to be catastrophic (based on captured letters to Red Army soldiers). Much of the industrial potential had been seemingly neutralized, and finally the Red Army had suffered tremendous losses up to that point. It seemed from the German perspective unlikely that the Red Army would be able to reconstitute an effective fighting force under the stress of war given what remained. Second, while Moscow was the political center, the Caucasus and the Don/Volga area provided necessary resources. Seizing these resource centers would both considerably weaken the Red Army and strengthen the Wehrmacht at the same time, or so it was assumed.
And then there was the city of Stalingrad itself. On 9 November 1942 in Munich, Hitler had given a speech:
. . . I should say that for my enemies, not for our soldiers. For the speed with which our soldiers have now traversed territory is gigantic. Also what was traversed this year is vast and historically unique. Now I do not always do things just as the others want them done. I consider what the others probably believe, and then do the opposite on principle. So if Mr. Stalin expected that we would attack in the center, I did not want to attack in the center, not only because Mr. Stalin probably believed I would, but because I didn't care about it any more at all. But I wanted to come to the Volga, to a definite place, to a definite city. It accidentally bears the name of Stalin himself, but do not think that I went after it on that account. Indeed, it could have an altogether different name. But only because it is an important point, that is, there 30 million tons of traffic can be cut off, including about 9 million of oil shipments. There all the wheat pours in from those enormous territories of the Ukraine, of the Kuban territory, then to be transported to the North. There the manganese ore was forwarded. A gigantic terminal was there; I wanted to take it. And do you know, we're modest: that is, we have it; there are only a couple of very small places left there. Now the others say: Why aren't you fighting there? Because I don't want to make a second Verdun but would rather do it with very small shock units. Time plays no part here. No ships come up the Volga any more-that is the decisive thing. They have also reproached us, asking why it took us so long at Sevastopol? Because there, too, we did not want to cause an enormous mass murder. Blood is flowing as it is-more than enough. But Sevastopol fell into our hands, and the Crimea fell into our hands. We have reached goal after goal, stubbornly, persistently. And if the enemy, on his part, makes preparations to attack, don't think I want to forestall him there, but at the same moment we let him attack also. Because then defense still is less expensive. Then just let him attack; he'll bleed to death that way, and thus far we have always taken care of the situation anyhow. At any rate, the Russians are not at the Pyrenees or before Seville; that, you see, is the same distance as for us to be in Stalingrad today, or on the Terek, let us say;-but we are there; that can really not be disputed. That is a fact, after all. Naturally, when nothing else will do any more, they also say it's a mistake. Then they suddenly turn around and say: "It is absolutely a mistake for the Germans to have gone to Kirkenes, or to have gone to Narvik, or now perhaps to Stalingrad-what do they expect to do in Stalingrad? For Stalingrad is a capital mistake, a strategic mistake." We will just wait and see whether that was a strategic mistake.
I have a Wehrmacht city map of Stalingrad, dating from June 1942. On it, the city is long, but narrow, hugging the Volga. From the map it looks like it would be so easy to simply punch through to the river. The reality was otherwise, but even as the Red Army encircled the Germans at Stalingrad, they continued operations to capture the last Russian positions in the ruined city, that according to the war diaries . . .
This has been an interesting thread. I would like to thank all who commented, it is the sign of a capable audience when they are able to interact with the initial argument and expand on it considerably, adding many additional pieces to the vast mosaic. I think we are able to consistently achieve that on MilPub as shown by the many posts by various authors and corresponding dialectical commentary on this blog . . . we should keep on keeping on . . .
Four points to close with. First, we are talking about perhaps the most terrible military campaign in history. The geographical and human dimensions are almost beyond our comprehension; the scale of destruction, loss and tragedy are impossible to measure in numbers since the ripples are still touching Eastern Europe in various ways today.
Second, and this a repeat of an earlier argument, that being that we have an adequate description of the totalitarian nature (both specific to the Nazis and general regarding other totalitarian systems) of political movements. My post on Hermann Rauschning's The Revolution of Nihilism introduces the basic ideas. I blended in some of Hannah Arendt's ideas from her classic The Origins of Totalitarianism, but did not begin to do Arendt's thesis justice. It would take much more study, and probably a better mind than mine to achieve that. I consider this very important since following the basic concepts, I would argue that we see a resurgence of totalitarian thinking today in the US. This is particularly evident in our predilection to see violence as the preferred method of dealing with foreign policy issues.
Third, I mentioned a Clausewitzian connection. This is the concept of the Feldherr which influenced not only German, but Soviet, French and JFC Fuller as well. Professor Hew Strachan (who else?) has a great lecture which covers this topic:
So the Feldherr was a military genius who, because he was distinguished by more than his "will, brains, understanding, self-confidence, by something still higher than a longing for fame and honour," became a statesman. For Hesse, the role model was Frederick the Great. The challenge of the 1920s, after the Kaiser's abdication not least because of his failure to fulfil that role, was how to meet its demands in future. The German army had failed to understand Clausewitz before 1914 because it had read him in a narrowly military way, focusing on battle, not on war as a whole. Because Clausewitz saw war as a continuation of policy by other means, he also understood war, according to Adolf Leinveber, writing in 1926, as "an organic whole, from which the individual parts are not separable." Leinveber accepted that politicians had to give unity to war through policy and through the war plans that flowed from that policy. But what therefore followed-not only for Leinveber but also for many others-was that war required "a magnificent dis­tinguished head, a strong character." The Feldherr would unite the conduct of war and policy, so that he became a statesman without at the same time giving up the capacity to conduct war: "he embraces with a glance on the one hand all state issues, while on the other he is sufficiendy confident in his knowledge of what the means which lie in his control can do." p 389
The need for a Feldherr was seen by those representing the entire political spectrum in Germany, from liberals to monarchists. The French used Clausewitz after the war to further develop their concept of the Generalissimo and Fuller's approach to Grand Strategy is much more difficult to achieve without this position. In the USSR, Trotsky, Frunze and Svechin argued for the subordination of specialized and conventional (as opposed to partisan) military command to the political leadership residing in the leader of the Communist Party. Thus we see the position of both Hitler and Stalin - along with the totalitarian elements which in this case are separate but still obviously important - as being influenced by the experience of the First World War and this being common to both democratic and totalitarian governments.
Finally, there is something of the Liddell Hart notion of the "indirect approach" to Fall Blau, the German campaign in the summer of 1942. Hitler wished to bypass the political center of Moscow and instead seize the southern resources/stop movement along the Volga as a way to cripple the USSR. I don't think he actually expected to come to terms with Stalin, but rather to so weaken the Soviet government that they could be held off indefinitely.
It was not a question of time or strategy, but simply a "fact" as Hitler mentions in the linked speech. The Germans were on the Volga and the Terek and they would remain there, and the Feldherr as maker and shaper, "history's actor" had made it so. As I think the readers of this blog are aware, we have seen similar notions of arrogance and self-absorption, of ideologically-tainted wishes replacing strategic thought, of the conceit of violent and limited minds attempting to remake political existence in line with their own whims . . . let's hope this extreme example from the past acts as a caution to temper our own future.
Second Postscript:
Very interesting German soldiers's film from the times . . . Towards the end . . . Stalingrad and Fall Blau . . .

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gaza Redux, or

Didn't some guy in the USA get elected? First off, a short quote from the guy who won a 2nd term as president of the USA
“There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on from outside its borders,” Obama said Sunday in his first public comments on the fighting. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend its borders.”
Well, in his defense, it is difficult to see missiles clearly when one's own eye is packed full of them. Nearly 4 years ago to the day, Dec. 27, 2008, before the Brand New President of the USA could be sworn into Office, the Israeli gov't launched Cast Lead against the people of Gaza, for a 3 week period, with attacks by air, sea and land. Now, 4 years later, Hamas has missiles that can reach both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Is this progress?
But if Netanyahu and Barak are responsible for creating the immediate pretext for an attack on Gaza, they are also criminally negligent for failing to pursue an opportunity to secure a much longer truce with Hamas. We now know, thanks to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, that in the period leading up to Jabari’s execution Egypt had been working to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. Jabari was apparently eager to agree to it. Baskin, who was intimately involved in the talks, was a credible conduit between Israel and Hamas because he had played a key role last year in getting Jabari to sign off on a prisoner exchange that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin noted in the Haaretz newspaper that Jabari’s assassination “killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function.” The peace activist had already met Barak to alert him to the truce, but it seems the defence minister and Netanyahu had more pressing concerns than ending the tensions between Israel and Hamas. What could have been more important than finding a mechanism for saving lives, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Baskin offers a clue: “Those who made the decision must be judged by the voters, but to my regret they will get more votes because of this.” It seems Israel’s general election, due in January, was uppermost in the minds of Netanyahu and Barak.
More Progress,
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan described Israel on Monday as a "terrorist state" in carrying out its bombardment of Gaza, underlining hostility for Ankara's former ally since relations between them collapsed in 2010. . . . "Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza," Erdogan told a conference of the Eurasian Islamic Council in Istanbul. "For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts," he said. Ties between Israel and Turkey, once Israel's only Muslim ally, crumbled after Israeli marines stormed an aid ship in 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip. Nine Turks were killed in clashes with activists on board. . . .
towards the Stone Age, where some in Israel have threatened to send Gaza
There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.
This is progress?

Loss of allies among Muslims and more death for the Fish Barrel that is Gaza for poll points in an election? Assassination of a member of Hamas willing to talk about peace and getting along with their neighbors? And the US gov't bound hip and thigh to a regime like this?

Israel is set on a path to Self Destruction, and no, I don't want to see that.

What the whole world does see, however, is that for the 2nd time in 4 years, Gaza has suffered for political points. This is atrocity, it is genocide, death and terror launched against a helpless and oppressed population for frivolity.


(FDChief: N.B. Here's what I think you wanted for paragraphs, bb; let me know if you had different ideas...)