Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Manbij - OPSEC fail, or just "forget it, Jake, it's Syria"..?

Lots of bloviation about the bomb assassination of a bunch of Kurdish "Manbij Military Council" militiamen and four of the U.S. liaison team meeting with them at a kebab shop in the Kurdish-held Syrian town, most of it pearl-clutching about whether "...this means the Islamic State isn't really defeated!!!"

That's not my question. No, duh, the IS isn't "defeated". They're pissed-off Sunni tribesmen. So long as the governments in Baghdad and Damascus are Shiite in some form the zero-sum politics of the Fertile Crescent means that pissed-off Sunni tribesmen are going to be killing people. You can't "defeat" that without killing ALL the Sunni tribesmen, or giving the Sunni tribesmen alternatives to killing people, and that fucking ship has sailed.

No. My question is; how the hell does some Islamic State bomb squad get the intel on where and when this meeting is being held in time to get their fall guy there in time to blow everybody to hell? Is there some sort of IS pizza-delivery bomb taxi squad sitting by the phones, vests on, ready to burn rubber to where one of their spies has just called in a big meet between the YPG and the gringos? Is Manbij that porous, that IS guys can drift in and set up bomb-making and bomb-delivery units just where-ever, and that their guys can spot juicy targets and hit them at a moment's notice?

Or is the MMC OPSEC so damn poor that the IS guys knew about this a couple of days in advance?

Frankly, IMO all this does is make the case for grabbing a hat. If the only people in Syria trusted enough to embed GIs with can't do a better job of securing their own territory then it can't be done. We got the hell out of Iraq for the simple reason that we couldn't get the place down to civil levels of violence without Roman methods. This suggests that the northeastern corner of Syria is likely to be just as impossible.

No, boys. The Islamic State is never going to "be defeated" if by that you mean that they will be unable to kill people. If that's your endstate the U.S. might as well make Syria the fifty-first goddamn state, because we're going to be there forever.


  1. " the hell does some Islamic State bomb squad get the intel on where and when this meeting is being held..."

    Probably got the scoop from the Turkish Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı or MİT. The Manbij Miliary Council includes the Turkmen Seljuq Brigade, and a few of those Turkmen undoubtedly feel a bit closer to their distant cousins in Turkey than they are to their fellow Syrians. This was just a friendly little nudge from Erdogan to Hair Furor to speed it up.

    And what source do you have that says the meeting was "...between the YPG and the gringos? The MMC is predominately Arab and Turkmen with just a sprinkling of Circassians and Kurds. I would venture that if the GIs were meeting the YPG, then no human IED would have got in.

  2. If this was a Turkish op, tho, it is perfectly designed to blowback. All that pearl-clutching I mentioned? A hell of a lot was mocking Pencey-boy for giving some oration the same day boasting how "we've defeated the dusky IS savages!". This gives the national security gurus a perfect excuse to slow-walk withdrawal, since Trump gives a shit and is all raging since a wimmin slapped his fee-fee over the SOTU and is paying zero attention to anything else.

    I tend to agree this was tipped to the IS gomers by someone, and it could well have been someone with a link to the MIT. But, if so, and if they think this will push Trump out the door sooner, I think they screwed up.

  3. Reports are still muddled, as typical right after any type of calamity. Some are saying it was a patrol that just happened to be passing the restaurant. But that sounds fishy as the four Americans killed were said to be two GIs, a DOD civilian, and a contractor. If true, that sounds more like a meet with local tribal chiefs instead of a patrol.

    Perhaps I am too hard on Erdogan. Or was it a rogue op by Turkish Gray Wolves - or by one of the FSA groups within the MMC pi$$ed off at the GIs for leaving - or engineered by Assad - or maybe the tribal leaders at the meet were the target?

    fee-fee??? You are slipping Chief.

  4. 24 hours after the deadly blast in Manbij in which four Americans and 9 to 15(?) Syrian civilians were killed, there is still no message or condemnation by Cadet Bone Spurs.

  5. I didn't even think of this before, but now you've got me thinking all LeCarre and I'm wondering if this isn't a YPG op designed to keep the GIs in place?

    And the "patrol" bullshit? Yeahnope. Two GIs, a DoD civilian, and a "contractor" (read; probably-a-three-letter-agency-guy)? That's no random patrol. First, why patrol? Manbij is secured. And second, the composition. This was some sort of meetup. That's why my question on OPSEC, since a medium-level meet would require some security if it was in public and this obviously failed...

    1. YPG? No way! they are looking to Damascus and Moscow

  6. And as for I said; Orange Foolius is stomping around the West Wing raging about the SOTU. He's not paying attention to this any more than he does to anything that 1) doesn't make him money, or 2) doesn't enrage and energize his CHUDs.

  7. Speaking of OPSEC failures. The Hair Furor dropped the dime on the House Speaker's trip to a war zone. As second in the United States presidential line of succession, she deserves as much secrecy as Trump or Pence do when traveling to potential terrorist terrain.

    And it was not just Granny Pelosi going, several other politicians were also going, including Republicans.

    1. SOTU. He's bull-goose raging looney over her trolling him on the SOTU. He wants his teevee time to shart out Steve Miller's opus to Dhimmicrat Shutdown Treason and she's not giving it to him, so, nyah! I'm rubber, you're glue...

      It's like being ruled by a particularly dim six-year-old.

  8. The Navy Chief was an Arabic linguist. The DIA guy was an Ops Support Specialist, you can get an idea of what his role was from this job vacancy announcement:

    The third person was Army SF and the fourth was some kind of contractor.

    All this points to in a rather obvious direction - that these were individuals involved in what was likely a tactical intelligence unit operating in support of US SF personnel in Syria.

    I read earlier today that this was a restaurant frequented by Americans in what was thought to be a relatively safe city. So once ISIS was able to penetrate local security, finding a target like that would be easy.

    In many ways this reminds me of the attempted al Shabaab suicide bombing in Djibouti in May 2014 (I was there at the time). That wasn't an OPSEC failure, but a failure to detect the penetration of an enemy tactical operation into a secured area.

    1. Andy - Thanks for the info. I had also heard that the Qasr al-Umaraa restaurant was often frequented by Americans.

    2. Predictability is a common ailment.
      The French sent drones down the very same route during the Kosovo War, and the Americans did so with cruise missiles and F-117s. Eventually, the Yugoslavs got the right kind of AD in place to spring the trap (repeatedly so with the unmanned targets). And all this despite obscene efforts during mission planning.

      Routine and predictability are very difficult to avoid in years-long missions.

    3. As Andy notes and Sven points out, very much yes-this; one of the first things I remember my first Vietnam-vet platoon sergeant pointing out is that your worst enemy is your own laziness. You take the exact same route and a smart enemy will booby-trap or mine it and kill you on the cheap. You use the same RON position, or stop to take breaks at the same place on the patrol route and you should expect to get ambushed.

      Sounds like this was another of the same. points out the hellish difficulty of trying to "fight" these sorts of civil wars, reminiscent of the "Brinks Hotel" bombing in 1964 that reminded MAC-V that there was no "secure areas" in the RVN.

  9. Two women interpreters?

    I understand Ms Taher. But what was Chief Kent doing there. It seems to my admittedly old school mind that she would have been better employed sitting at a SIGINT site instead of interpreter scut work in Manbij. We have such a scarcity of Arab linguists. But I suppose SOF in Syria pulled priority.

    1. I think you're right, which leads me to believe there is a tactical sigint site there.

    2. A mobile one perhaps.

      "Several officials told CNN the Pentagon is still assembling details of the mission, and what exactly took the team to that location at that time. But if the military's broad description of the event as a "local engagement" is accurate, it indicates the team was potentially meeting with a sensitive source to gather intelligence or may have even been using electronic equipment to conduct eavesdropping and electronic intercept missions."

    3. Hey Mike, thanks for sharing that.

      This is a good example of why the DC press and the "officials" in the Pentagon don't know their own asshole from a hole in the ground. The portion you quoted makes not sense and is very very likely completely wrong.

      To me it's quite obvious this wasn't a "mission." You don't do eavesdropping and sigint in a restaurant frequented by Americans in a supposedly safe zone.

      These were four people having a meal, maybe they are coworkers after their shift or maybe the SF and DIA security guy were taking the ladies out to see the local sights. (That's my bet, but who knows).

      The long and short of it is this wasn't any kind of patrol/mission. Tactical sigint isn't done is restaurants, it's done is secure facilities. And the CTIC is not trained for that kind of work, not to mention she's be somewhat out of place as a beautiful white, red-haired woman in the ME.

      I'd bet my stripes these were probably four people on the same shift, who worked together, who were getting a little respite from the Groundhog Day drudgery of deployed life in the sandbox.

    4. You may well be right Andy.

      In any case, I wish I had met a beautiful, red-headed, woman Navy Chief when I graduated from Pollywog to Shellback on a float back 50 years ago. Sadly the only CPOs I met then were all men and uglier than my Great-Uncle Dinty, and one of them, the royal baby looked like a Buddha-bellied Popeye.

  10. I'm not sure it's all that easy the why of the event, much less how it fits into the larger picture.
    Random events of opportunity in war, or in our case, misfortune defies logic, reason, and rationality.

    Maybe it was OPSEC fuckup, maybe it was a spy who was following the Americans, maybe it was the Russians looking for a little payback, maybe it was the Turk's who are done with America's shit, or maybe it was Syrian government backed anti-whatever who saw an opportunity and took it.

    What we do know is that that area of the world is shit-show of epic proportions, and Turkey want's us gone so they can prosecute their Whack-a-Kurd and secure their border because they're afraid of a resurgent Kurdisatn. Russia wants us gone so they can finally murder anyone and everyone who isn't on board with a Russo-Syrian country, and Iran wants us gone because lets face it...we're still the great Satan to them.

    Personally, I was against involvement, I was against boots on the ground, and I was against supplying forces (short of the Kurds) "supplies."

    But done is done, and abandoning Syria willy-nilly, uprooting and bugging out is not a good way of leaving a hot environment where we provided a base of support to our Kurdish allies...and yes they are, the Kurd's are our allies.

    But the only one's who are going to benefit from us leaving is Turkey and Russia.

    1. I think the problem is that there's really no "win" for the US here. Sticking around means a steady trickle of these sorts of pointless deaths and injuries. Leaving means peril - or worse - for the Syrian Kurds.

      So if there was a hope for a better outcome I'd say hang on and work for it. But I don't see where the US has any levers to get that better outcome. If there's no good option, you have to go with the least-worst, and that, to me, means getting the US bodies out of harm's way. That still sucks...but this is always going to suck. The dominoes knocked down by the 2003 invasion insured that.

    2. Sheerakhan -

      And reputedly, Turkey is also one of our allies. Or was, at least prior to Erdogan. But they are still in NATO, although I think they should have been dumped long ago. And they are still a member in the International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve to defeat ISIS (although there is some prima facie evidence out there that Erdogan's security apparat either facilitated or ignored ISIS cross border ops into Syria:

      Both the West and Russia have been working on Erdogan. The West to keep Turkey in NATO, which is why we have politely ignored their latest round of ethnic cleansing in both Afrin and in southeastern Turkey. Russia to break Turkey out of the NATO pack, which is why they politely ignored Turkish aggression and funding of anti-Assad jihadis, the shooting down of a Russian warplane, and the murder of the Russian Ambassador by a Turkish cop.

    3. Chief, you're right, there is no win there.
      I don't what alter Foggy Bottom was praying at, but it wasn't at the alter of "You should really look into the history of the region before committing!"

      Alas, there's a right way, and a wrong way...I have no idea what the right way is, but I sure know unassing Syria ASAP is the wrong way.

      Totally agree, there is some shenanigan's going on with Erdogan's intel services...I think Pakistan in regard's to the Taliban is a pattern we should recognize with Erdogan's security services...which one is "interfacing" is unknown to me, but oil is a cash product that pays for itself.

  11. Vehicle based IED hits an SDF convoy in the town of Shaddadi. US sources deny any casualties. Turks say two Americans killed or wounded. ISIS says five killed. SDF says attack only caused material damage.

    1. WTF? I want to believe that the timing is pure coincidence. Because otherwise conspiracy-theory-me would be wondering qui bono if the Trumpkins notional reason for grabbing a hat ("Daesh is beaten!") was being hammered on by these attacks? There's a bagatelle of folks who'd like to keep the targets...sorry, Americans...around longer.

    2. Despite Cadet Bone-Spurs and Pom-Poms proclamations, Daesh is NOT beaten.

      But I have a bit of paranoia myself, wondering which folks tipped off ISIS on this convoy and the restaurant earlier. But my saner self says that their sleeper cells never needed a tipoff. They have eyes and ears.

    3. Well...yes and no.

      The physical entity calling itself the "Islamic State" is effectively done for. The IS cadres have no significant territories under their military control, so in the traditional sense of Westphalian state conflict they're "beaten"; no more conventional military force will produce any value.

      As an animating force for individual or small-group Sunni violence, no, they're not. The threat of these sort of ambush and sapper/kamikaze attacks remains and will remain, short of 1) a political solution to Sunni grievances, or 2) genocide.

      I think the problem is more political than functional. The Trumpkins are on record as SAYING that Daesh is done for. That's how they can deflect
      attacks from their blood thirsty Krauthemmerian/neocon wing and get the hell out of Dodge.

      These attacks are pointless militarily, and don't begin to make a case for continued formed, conventional US soldiers in-country. But...they make it LOOK like the Trumpkins are either liars or fools or both on the conditions in Syria and seem to bolster the counterargument for getting out...

      So, just like you, my paranoia kicks in as I think "Okay...who wins if the GIs stay put..?" and the list of actors is a paragraph long and includes notional"allies"...

    4. The self-styled Islamic State never had 'exclusive sovereignty' over land they occupied. Ergo they never met the definition of a Westphalian State in neither the traditional sense nor the modern sense prescribed in the UN Charter.

      And although conventional military force is not needed to find sleeper cells living quietly in Raqqa or Mosul, you need militarily trained door kickers to arrest them. Especially those in caves or walled compounds. Something like the way Mexico uses their military to go after the cartels.

      And there are many of those Daesh cells still in Syria and Iraq. Plus in at least 18 other countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Sinai, the Yemen, Somalia, Somalia, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Cameroon, and ther northern Caucasus in Russia (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria).

      And sadly we, the good old U.S. of A. created this monster, or at least Bush Jr and his Deadeye Dick partner in crime created it with their bolluxed up invasion and post-invasion occupation of Iraq.

      PS - You and I both need to be careful of our paranoia. I tend to blame everything on Erdogan, you seem to be thinking in this case that it may be the Kurdos or their Arab & Assyrian allies in the SDF. If we don't watch it we may end up as bad as the Qanoners or Mr Conspiracy Alex Jones.

    5. Add Morrocco to that list of countries (~19 now) where Daesh cells are active:

    6. My impression is that Daesh is similar to AQ in "franchising"; got a bunch of local Sunnis with a collective case of the red ass at the world in general? Welcome to Daesh! The problem comes when the Western publics are sold this collection of local franchises as the Global Islamic Conspiracy. We the People got our dumbasses burned and wreaked a ton of global havoc conflating every local resistance/independence/anticolonial group with the Comintern. Were making the same damn dumb mistake now w these local jihadi groups...

      IMO one of the most dangerous parts of playing these neocolonial games in the Middle East is the US agencies don't seem to have a real grasp of the complex politics and social relationships within and between these various groups. We seem to get played...a LOT.

    7. The SDF today took Baghuz Fawqani and Al-Shajlah. The Daeshis now only control the single village of al-Marashidah, about nine square kilometers including fields and marshland (a bit over 2000 acres).

      Other than that there are some diehards in the Badiya with the snakes, scorpions, and camel spiders. Plus a few holed up in towns and vills hidden and protected by family.

      There is some speculation that the IED that exploded in Latakia two days ago was done by Daesh. Latakia is in the heart of Syria's Alawites, the religion of Assad and much of the Syrian Armed Forces leadership. IMO probably not Daesh but some other group.

  12. School district in Nashville Tennessee will vote today on whether to add Kurdish language to be added to the list of languages taught for high school credit.

    Approximately 1100 Kurdi-American students are enrolled in Nashville schools. And at least 15,000 Kurds live in Little Kurdistan in Nashville's southside. A small number of them are hiding from ICE under the same Trump policy that targets braceros. But the vast majority of them are legal immigrants from the 1970s and 1990s, and well assimilated.

    No hint on which version of the Kurdish dialects will be taught, but it may be Kurmanji (northern Kurdish) as that is the most widespread. Although Sorani (central Kurdish) is supposedly more literary in the written form.