Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The incident observed at Tinker AFB could have likely been a dress rehearsal for a planned MANPAD attack against a military or civilian aircraft. The B-1, which is not based at Tinker, was probably a target of opportunity for the training session. With its size and IR signature, the B-1 provided a convenient substitute for E-3 AWACS aircraft (which are stationed at
Tinker), or civilian airliners that fly in and out of the nearby Will Rogers International Airport. Like most military aircraft, the E-3 and B-1 have defensive systems that provide some protection from shoulder-fired SAMs, but civil aircraft lack on-board countermeasures.
According to various intelligence estimates, there are literally tens of thousands of MANPAD SAMs missing from military arsenals around the world. They range from early model Russian SA-7s and U.S. Redeyes, to more advanced SA-16s (also produced by Russia) , as well as basic STINGER variants, given to Mujahedin rebels in Afghanistan during the 1980s. While many of these missiles have exceeded their shelf life, they are quite durable and remain a threat to civilian and military aircraft. In fact, their only serious liability as a terrorist weapon lies in how insurgents are trained to use them. I won't go into additional detail on that point; suffice it to say that MANPADS are a serious threat, one that demands serious attention.
The U.S. government has embarked on a crash program to develop an effective MANPAD counter-measures system for civilian aircraft, but such devices are years away from deployment. Until then, we can only hope that law enforcement proves adept at dealing with threats like those observed outside the perimeter at Tinker AFB.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Case in point: Pennsylvania's Democratic (are you surprised) Lieutenant Governor, Catherine Baker Knoll. Last week, Ms. Knoll "crashed" the funeral of a Pennsylvania Marine who recently died in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Joseph Goodrich. Lt Gov Knoll showed up at Sergeant Goodrich's funeral unannounced and turned the service into a political event, passing out her business card, and announcing that "our government is against the war."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been on this story from the start. Blackfive has a link to the original story, which appeared in the Saturday edition of that paper. Post-Gazette columnist Jack Kelly has additional thoughts in his blog regarding the political fallout from the incident. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell has already apologized for his Lt Gov's conduct, and is urging Ms. Knoll to send her own letter of apology.
And Democrats wonder why 75% of the nation's military personnel voted Republican in 2004.
Friday, July 22, 2005
A long-time friend (and former co-worker) forwarded a copy of a recent article from the publication, noting the serious loss of intel expertise among the upper ranks of the Air Force. According to Journal reporter Glenn W. Goodman, Jr., a total of 23 career intelligence Colonels will retire from the USAF this year, in part because they virtually no chance of reaching the general officer ranks.
Collectively, these Colonels represent some of the most experienced intelligence officers in the Air Force, with more than four centuries of experience in such vital areas as intel management, analysis, collections, and operations. As a group, they have demonstrated their expertise at the squadron, group, wing, numbered air force, joint and national levels. Based on their performance, some of these officers deserve promotion to brigadier general. But there's a glass ceiling in their way, as Goodman notes:
The facts speak for themselves: The Air Force has selected only one career intelligence officer for promotion to brigadier general since 2001. Following the retirements of two generals with intelligence backgrounds two months ago and another planned on Nov. 1, only three of the Air Force's 274 or so general officers will have come up through the ranks in intelligence-related positions. There has been a steady decline in the number of Air Force intelligence generals from a high of 14 in the early 1990s. The Air Force's personnel officer and finance officer branches even have more generals - five and four, respectively. The three top intelligence posts in the Air Force - each a general's billet - currently are held by "rated" officers (pilots), not by career intelligence officers...The practice of selecting colonels or generals with little or no intelligence experience to fill key Air Force intelligence-related positions began occurring about 1996; it has been one of the contributing factors to the lack of upward mobility for the service's intelligence colonels.
Why does this matter? At a time when the importance of intelligence has never been higher, the Air Force is entrusting leadership of its intel community to officers with virtually no experience in that profession. And, given the USAF's central role in developing and operating ISR platforms, the decisions made by these officers will have a lasting impact on the military's ability to provide timely, accurate intelligence for decades to come.
No one would accuse these newly-minted intel officers of incompetence. But some of the factors behind their appointment deserve serious scrutiny. During my own career, I was told that "General X (a former fighter pilot) can direct an intel function because he's been a consumer of intelligence for over 20 years." By that logic, I guess I was qualified to be an F-16 pilot because I've been watching them fly for at least that long. Fortunately, the Air Force never selected me to lead an F-16 wing, but there is little hesitation to put a pilot in charge of an intelligence function.
There are a number of factors at work here. First of all, there has been something of a "hostile" takeover of AF intel in recent years, with the absorption of the Air Intelligence Agency (AIA) and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), by Air Combat Command, which controls much of the Air Force's combat airpower. With a gradual reduction in fighter cockpits (in favor of unmanned aerial vehicles), and the growing importance of intel and information operations, fighter generals decided to exert their influence in those areas, by gaining control of key intelligence and IO organizations. Placing rated officers (mostly pilots) in key positions has allowed them to exert even greater influence and control. Officially, the Air Force claims this relationship improves support to warfighters, but it has potentially disasterous consequences, including fewer promotions for qualified intel officers, and entrusting key ISR decisions to officers who lack the proper background in those areas.
In fairness, the AF intel community is partly to blame for its own predicament. The service has always focused on developing its best and brightest, with little regard for the rest of its officer corps. Additionally, Air Force intelligence has a not-undeserved reputation for internal politics. One AF intel officer estimates that other officers have attempted to derail his career at least four times, and he's witnessed a dozen other examples of professional fratricide. But even the "golden" boys and girls who survive these machinations are now bumping up against a glass ceiling, and too much valuable expertise is walking out the door.
What's the solution? An end to the time-honored, "office politics as usual" approach, and more emphasis on developing (and promoting) future AF intel leaders--beyond the next crop of water-walkers. We could also use some mentorship from General Mike Hayden, the career AF intel officer now serving as Deputy Director of National Intelligence (DDNI). General Hayden, in some respects, has risen above the military food chain, but he still wears a blue suit, and I'm hoping he has a planned appointment with the next Air Force Chief of Staff. The growing leadership crisis in AF intelligence should be on their radar scope, and General Hayden needs to remind the chief that there won't be anymore Mike Haydens unless we do a better job of promoting deserving intelligence officers. If that doesn't happen, we will forfeit management of key intelligence functions to officers without the background or professional experience for the job.
Thanks to Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, we also know that Kennedy got more than a guided tour during his visit to Club Gitmo, as Rush Limbaugh calls it. Senator Kennedy also received some sharp comments from Massachusetts soldiers currently serving at Gitmo. Apparently, they're tired of the old drunk..er Senator Kennedy taking pot shots at their professionalism.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that exchange.
As The Wall Street Journal points out, there is already a model for dealing successfully with terrorism. The government of Israel has, over the past three years, reduced the number of suicide bombings and other attacks within its borders by roughly 90%. The Israeli methods wouldn't be applauded by the ACLU; large numbers of suspected terrorists have been rounded up and detained indefinitely; terrorist leaders have been assassinated by Israeli Air Force Apache helicopters--including one who was dispatched by a Hellfire missile while rolling along in his wheelchair. And, of course, there's that infamous security fence, so roundly criticized by everyone from the U.S. State Department to the so-called Palestinian leadership.
But it's tough to argue with success. Israeli citizens now ride city buses and eat at sidewalk cafes with less fear of being of being dispatched by homicide bombers. There has also been a noticeable change in the attitude of some Palestinian leaders, who now seem more willing to talk seriously with their Israeli counterparts.
Reading newspapers and "informed" analysis from the height of the Intifada, there was little support for the tactics eventually adopted by the Sharon government. The supposed experts stressed that the Israelis had to offer major territorial concessions and fast-track statehood to the Palestinians, in hopes of ending the violence.
Fortunately for the Israelis, their leaders didn't heed the advice of U.S. and European liberals. They offered territory to the Palestinians--as evidenced by the current Gaza pullout--but only after taking the steps required to crush the Intifada. Deciding that discretion is better than spending the rest of your life running from rotor blades, many Palestinians now seem willing to try Sharon's version of a peace plan.
Are the U.S. and its European allies willing to make similar, tough choices in their own war against terrorism? Even after the attacks in New York, Bali, Madrid and London, the jury is still out on that one. The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved an extension of key elements of the Patriot Act, but that measure faces some opposition in the Senate. In Britain, the Law Lords struck down a law that allowed the government to retain non-British terrorist detainees indefinitely, if they faced possible torture in their home countries. As the Journal notes, such rulings suggest that Britain plans to fight a 21st Century threat with 19th century laws. It is a design for failure.
As the Israeli leaders learned, defeating terrorism means making hard choices, and sticking by your guns once those decisions are made. So far, some of their counterparts in the west seem to prefer easlier choices, with the option for further waffling when the going gets tough.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
My first reaction is that today's attacks appear hastily planned and executed, a sharp contrast to the attacks of 7/7. The bombs may be similar to those used two weeks ago, but they inflicted less damage and casualties. British police reportedly arrested a number of suspects immediately after the attacks. With British authorities hot on the trail of London's Al-Qaida affiliate, today's strike may have been an effort to inflict more damage before police put the bombers completely out of business.
From today's edition of The Times, there's a chilling report that a senior Al-Qaida operative traveled to Britian in the months leading up to the attacks, and even selected the targets. He also chatted with the four homicide bombers on his mobile phone shortly before they blew themselves up on crowded subway trains and double-decker bus.
The Al-Qaida planner, Haroon Rashid Aswat, has emerged as the primary figure in Scotland Yard's investigation of the terror attacks. Aswat was arrested in Pakistan after the bombings, hiding in a madrassa (Islamic religious school), and posing as a businessman under an assumed name. He was carrying about $20,000 in cash and reportedly planned to slip across the border into Afghanistan.
Aswat hails from the same British town as one of the bombers and he was carrying a British passport at the time of his arrest. These details confirm original suspicions about the London attacks; the tube and bus bombings were home-grown affairs, planned and conducted by Muslim subjects of the crown.
Connecting the dots after any terrorist attack is always illuminating, offering new insights into the operational methods of the organization. The London bombings indicate Al-Qaida is still in something of a de-centralized operating mode, relying largely on home-grown radicals to do its deadly bidding. That suggests that Al-Qaida may still lack the capability to launch a 9-11-style "spectacular" operation, while retaining the ability to stage attacks on the scale of London or Madrid.
But the details emerging now are also disturbing, in a couple of respects. First, despite concerns about the ability of western intelligence to monitor cell phone conversations, Aswat felt comfortable enough to call his "team" shortly before they departed on their murderous errand. That suggests that Al-Qaida has sufficiently modified its procedures to allow some use of cell phones, with little fear of being caught. There is no evidence that western intelligence had any prior knowledge of the plot, including the conversations between Aswat and his fellow terrorists.
Security officials have also learned that Aswat spent time in America in 1999, attempting to set up an Al-Qaida training camp. Aswat ultimately decided against establishing a camp, because the designated site (in rural Oregon) lacked necessary facilities. However, Aswat and another Al-Qaida suspect did deliver a series of lectures at a Seattle mosque, expouding the radical teachings of their London-based mentor.
The FBI has begun new interviews with U.S.-based Al Qaida suspects, attempting to determine the full extent of Aswat's activities in America. When details about the aborted camp were first uncovered--and several suspects arrested--there was a general belief that a major terrorist attack had possibly been avoided. But in light of Aswat's role in the London bombings--and his time in the U.S.--there is new (and justifiable) concern about his American "legacy."
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Naturally, the MSM has been complicit in helping Senator Clinton re-cast herself. Today's USA Today wonders whether Mrs. Clinton could be elected Commander-in-Chief, then proceeds to answer the question, with glowing quotes about her recent work on the Senate Armed Services committee.
Has Mrs. Clinton changed? I've got my doubts. Afterall, she was an integral part of her husband's administration and its open disdain for the military, as chronicled in Lt Col Buzz Patterson's best-selling books, Dereliction of Duty and Reckless Disgregard. My assessment is also based on the eyewitness account of a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, who served in the Clinton White House as a mid-level NCO. "Chief X" as I'll call him, is one of the finest military leaders I've ever known; his reputation for honesty, integrity and professionalism are beyond reproach. In fact, he voluntarily left his job at the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) so he wouldn't have to serve under an administration he viewed as thoroughly corrupt in 1993, well before the first Clinton scandals erupted.
Chief X remembers Mrs. Clinton as someone with open contempt for the military. She was instrumental in directives that (temporarily) banned the wear of military uniforms in the White House, and sought to minimize the military's presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As the Chief recalls, military personnel were "treated worse than janitorial help" in the Clinton White House.
Sadly, a lot of Americans are eagerly buying the "new" Hillary, despite her past attitude toward the military and its members. Photo-ops and puff pieces won't go far with military voters, but that is not Mrs. Clinton's target audience. In an era when most American voters have no ties to the military, an effective PR campaign makes it easier to paper over her skimpy resume, and "sell" Senator Clinton as a suitable Commander-in-Chief.
Meanwhile, a team of CBS execs are reportedly huddled in Manhattan, trying to develop a new format for their tired (and woefully one-sided) Evening News. Having worked in the broadcast biz in my younger days, I imagine CBS has hired a group of consultants to help them redesign the broadcast. Here's a bit of free advice for the folks at Black Rock: trying presenting a fair, balanced broadcast for a change, and watch your ratings skyrocket.
Of course, no one with even half a brain expects that to happen. Liberalism and bias are far too ingrained at the House That Murrow Built. CBS is spending millions to remake the Evening News, but it's time and money wasted. The network's flagship newscast is in a death spiral, and without a culture change, it's headed for the ash heap of broadcasting.
Monday, July 18, 2005
NRO has a couple of excellent columns that provide the "rest of the story," predictably ignored by the MSM. Cliff May correctly notes that the first journalist to expose Ms. Plame as an agent with "Non-Official Cover" (NOC), was not Bob Novak, but David Corn, a columnist for the ultra-liberal The Nation. In the Novak column, published on July 14, 2003, Ms. Plame is referred to as "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." The first reference to her prior status as a NOC operative didn't come until two days later, when Corn published his piece in The Nation. Novak has maintained that no one ever told him of Ms. Plame's career as an undercover operative, and his column reflects that. In laymen's terms, everyone employed by the CIA is an operative, despite the fact that most agency personnel work outside NOC channels.
In a companion piece, Andrew McCarthy provides hard evidence that Plame's "cover" was blown by the CIA in the mid-1990s, almost a decade before she recommended her husband for that infamous trip to Africa. In fact, Bill Gertz of the Washington Times reported (about a year ago) that Ms. Plame's identity had been exposed not once, but twice. And, as McCarthy notes, the MSM has reached new heights of hypocrisy in stoking the Plame kerfuffle. When Cooper and Judith Miller of The New York Times were first threatened with jail for defying the subpoenas of the special prosecutor, attorneys for a number of MSM outlets filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. In the brief, the media organizations contended that Cooper and Miller should not be subject to sanctions because no crime had been committed in the Plame affair.
But when there's a chance to scalp Karl Rove--or other members of the Bush Administration --the MSM never lets the fact (or their own legal arguments) get in the way of the "gotcha" game. That means they'll try to sustain the scandal for as long as possible, hoping to build a public groundswell that will (ultimately) force Rove, Scooter Libby, or someone else to resign.
IMO, that's unlikely to happen. A more likely scenario is the eventual indictment of Joe Wilson (or a Democratic operative) for lying to the grand jury, and possibly, obstruction of justice. When that happens, the investigation--which the MSM and Washington Democrats clamored for--will become a "witch hunt," and Wilson will morph into a latter-day Alger Hiss (presumably after his stint in federal prison)
Saturday, July 16, 2005
I won't regurgitate the latest revelations from the Plame affair; suffiice it to say, it appears that no laws were broken when Mrs. Wilson's cover was "blown." In fact, her status as a CIA employee seems to have been widely known. Just yesterday, one of her former supervisors at the agency reported that Ms. Plame bragged about her work for the CIA to friends, neighbors, and anyone else who would listen.
Unfortunately, this non-scandal has diverted attention from a pressing security matter that truly deserves national attention. For more than a decade, Washington has been engaged in a "leak game," willingly disclosing classified information to support personal and political agendas.
Here's an excellent example, recounted in this blog earlier this year. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Democratic staffers openly discussed a reported secret spy satellite program called "Misty." I'll use the terms "reported" and "alleged" because I'm bound by the same non-disclosure agreements that Senator Byden and Congressional staffers also signed. By outing the alleged program, Wyden and his allies made it more difficult for the intelligence community to sustain the system, resulting in its potential cancellation.
As we noted at the time, the public disclosure of this program--assuming it exists--represents a grave breach of national security, and would allow our adversaries to gain better knowledge of our intelligence capabilities. And naturally, no one called for a suspension of Wyden's security clearance.
Better late than never, I say. If Washington were truly serious about protecting our secrets, then special prosecutors would be appointed to investigate these matters, and the offending parties would be punished. The Oregon Senator's public discussion of alleged covert satellite programs deserves official scrutiny, and until that matter is resolved, his security clearance should be suspended.
If you agree, contact Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. If he's truly serious about stopping leaks, he'd call for an investigation of Wyden and his staff. Instead, the politicians will remain preoccupied with the Plame non-scandal, while genuine secrets are willingly--and maliciously--disclosed.
Friday, July 15, 2005
BTW, the video was taken by the insurgents, who apparently hoped to record the death of an American soldier. Instead, they witnessed the very best qualities of our troops, as exemplified by a young combat medic. As for the character of the terrorists, listen to the sound track of the video clip. As they took tried to kill Private Tschiderer, you'll hear them chanting "Allah Akhbar" (God is Great), over and over again.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
As I soon discovered, the officer was an F-15 pilot, assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, Virginia. The 1st Wing is currently transitioning from the F-15 to the new, state-of-the-art F/A-22 Raptor, designed to maintain U.S. aerial dominance for the next 30 years.
When I mentioned the Raptor, it seemed to be a sore spot, and I soon discovered why. Turns out that the young Captain is assigned to the Langley squadron which will not covert to the F/A-22. His unit will continue flying the F-15 Eagle, considered the world's best air superiority fighter unti the advent of the F/A-22.
Langley's F-15 drivers often fly practice missions against the F/A-22, and I couldn't resist asking him what it's like to engage the Raptor in a mock dogfight. "It's very frustrating," he replied. "They kill us with an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) shot before we can even find them with our radar." As a result, F-15 pilots receive very little training in their engagements with the F/A-22. In some cases, the 1st Wing actually assigns other F-15s to fly with the Raptors. Once the F/A-22s have called their kills and jink out of the engagement, the F-15s continue the dogfight, providing more beneficial training to the Eagle pilots.
The captain's description of the unfair fight brought a smile to its face. Against one of the world's best air superiority fighters, flown by highly skilled pilots, the F/A-22 is re-writing the rules of aerial warfare, providing tactical capabilities that no other Air Force can match. Unfortunately, the F/A-22 is very expensive, and the USAF has been forced to reduce its planned purchase to 179 jets. That means fewer Raptors will be available for future conflicts against adversaries operating advanced, fourth-generation fighters, including Russian SU-27/30 variants, the French Rafale, the "Typhoon" Eurofighter, and Sweden's JAS-39 Grippen.
With much of our military strategy predicated on gaining (and maintaining) air dominace, the decision to buy fewer Raptors is disturbing. The F/A-22 may not play a significant role in the campaign against Iraqi insurgents, but it would play a critical role in major regional conflicts of the future, ensuring our ability to control the skies, and carry out a variety of critical missions, including close air support, interdiction and even maritime strike.
The frustration of that F-15 driver underscores the rationale for more F/A-22s. Further reductions in our planned Raptor inventory will undermine national security, and USAF leadership should start pushing for a larger purchase of these badly-needed aircraft.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman (one of the few Democrats who genuinely understands defense issues) is co-sponsoring the bill, dubbed the United States Army Relief Act. With on-going combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan--and the Army facing recruiting shortages in recent months--the bill is expected to attract some bi-partisan support.
But if you read a published account of the Clinton proposal, you'll find that an important question remains unanswered, namely why is the Army so short of soldiers? Must be the Rumsfeld transformation effort, right? Or the Bush Administration underfundng the Army.
Actually, the Army's current shortage of troops dates back to the mid-1990s, when the Clinton Administration eliminated four active duty Army divisions, well beyond troop reductions proposed by the Pentagon. Collectively, those divisions accounted for roughly 80,000 combat and support troops--the same number that would be added under the Clinton measure.
In other words, Senator Clinton's bill aims to correct the mistake made by her husband a decade ago. But you'll never hear that from the MSM.
Oh, and lest we forget, several media outlets are reporting that Ms. Plame apparently "outed" herself in the early 1990s, when she was still working undercover for the agency. During a "heavy make-out session" with her future husband, Ms. Plame reportedly told Wilson that she had a confession to make, then revealed the true nature of her employment with the CIA (her official cover was that of a State Department employee, assigned to a U.S. embassy in western Europe. Long before Robert Novak's column, Ms. Plame's identity as undercover operative was (apparently) one of the CIA's worst-kept secrets. In fact, a picture of Ms. Plame has appeared on Wilson's website for sometime, identifying her as the former ambassador's wife.
While the MSM keeps hinting that the Plame affair is something akin to Watergate, there is still no evidence of illegal activity by Mr. Rove, and I'm guessing he'll never face prosecution. But the media tempest will continue for a few more weeks, egged on by Congressional Democrats, eager to nail the Bush Administration for any offense, real or imagined.
According to the definition of Government Accountability Project (GAP), Mr. Rove appears to meet the definition of a whistle-blower, by refusing to condone wrong-doing in the workplace. What wrongdoing, you say? First of all, by recommending her husband for the Africa trip, Ms. Plame violated various nepotism statutes that govern federal service. And, secondly, you can make the case that Ambassador Wilson knowingly filed a false report on his Niger visit, since his "findings" have been clearly contradicted by later panels, including the British report, chaired by Lord Butler, which found ample evidence that Saddam had sought yellowcake uranium from African sources.
One final thought: why has Judith Miller refused to talk to the grand jury investigating the "leak" that exposed Ms. Plame? If Karl Rove was also her source, she is covered by the same release given to Mr. Cooper. She refuses to honor the release, claiming it was made under duress. But could it be that Ms. Miller and her employer, The New York Times, are attempting to protect other sources, perhaps the Wilsons themselves?
Friday, July 08, 2005
In his final paragarph, Steyn cautions that a continuation of current policies is tantamout to a death wish for the west. We should hope that such warnings are being heeded in western capitals, but I'm hardly optimistic. Almost four years after 9-11, our borders remain wide-open, the ACLU is demanding "justice" for the Gitmo detainees, and liberals are openly suggesting that our military presence in Iraq is the root cause of recent terrorist attacks.
After becoming Britain's Prime Minister in the dark days of 1940, Winston Churchill noted in his journal that he went home and had a restful sleep, because "someone who knew what had to be done was finally in charge." Six decades later, the current generation of western leaders--refusing to take the steps needed to ensure our security--look more like Chamberlains than Churchills.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
National Review's Aaron Mannes has a brief, but fascinating, essay on the terrorist network that has been building in Britain for some time. After France (yes, France) began cracking down on the Islamists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many began gravitating to Great Britain, where they found a much more permissive operating environment. Quoting terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, Mr. Mannes notes:
". . . British attempts to neutralize the infrastructure of Al Qaeda and related groups have been gravely inadequate. Without a doubt, London was Al Qaeda's spiritual hub in the Western world."
Those concerns were echoed by France's leading anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguierre. In an interview with the BBC barely a month ago, Bruguierre observed that British law enforcement and criminal courts lack key legal tools that are useful in fighting terrorism, such as the admission of wiretap information as evidence. The French judge also noted that suspected terrorists have traveled with ease (on false papers) between Britain and other European countries.
At this juncture, it is unclear if today's attacks were conducted by a "homegrown" British Al-Qaida cell, or the work of recently-arrived operatives. But judging from Mannes's essay, it seems clear that the Brits made many of the mistakes we made before 9-11, and still make today. In the interest of freedom and civil liberties, we tolerate the presence of those who may actually be planning to attack us.
During this time of tragedy, the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with our British allies. But in the aftermath of today's terrorist attacks, it will be interesting to see if how the Blair government deals with a terrorist infrastructure that was "tolerated" for so long....
First, we're now getting a rough timeline of when these events began to unfold. The battle between the four-man recce team and Taliban fighters began around dusk, local time. That's important, because it may explain (in part) why airpower was unable to respond effectively. As noted in a previous post, the Army's AH-64 Apache gunships have been used sparingly in night operations; calculating flight time to the target area, U.S. commanders may have determined that it would be "too dark" for the Apaches by the time they arrived.
On the other hand, U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships operate almost exclusively at night, but they typically don't begin working targets until night has fallen. Despite an impressive self-protection suite, the lumbering AC-130s are more vulnerable to ground fire during daylight operations. During the first Gulf War, the Air Force lost a gunship that tarried in a target area after sunrise, exposing it to Iraqi gunners that downed the aircraft with an SA-16 shoulder-fired SAM. Fourteen USAF crew members died in that incident.
AC-130s have operated extensively over both Afghainstan and Iraq, but (so far) military officials haven't said if one of the aircraft was airborne--or even on ground alert--when the SEAL element ran into trouble. Ditto for USAF A-10s. The "Warthog" is also capable of night operations, but we haven't heard anything about their status on the night in question.
I've also heard some grumbling from Army SF types (current and former) that the SEALs aren't as capable as Green Berets in conducting certain types of "overland" missions. As one retired Army SF senior NCO told me, [SEALs] aren't nearly as high speed on land as they are on the water." He also suggested that SEAL teams need more training in specific areas--including foreign language skills--to be as effective as their Green Beret counterparts. Is this an example of inter-service rivalries within the SF community, or a reflection actual training shortfalls? I don't know, and I'll leave that determination up to the experts.
Additionally--as noted in a previous post--I won't attempt to judge the tactical decisions made in Kunar Province last week But questions regarding air support for MH-47 still deserve an answer, as do issues involving the AH-64 in high-threat or nighttime environments. If you'd like to weigh in confidentially, send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Wesley Pruden, Editor-in-Chief of The Washington Times, has an excellent take on the rock world's latest exercise in foolishness. He notes that the real work on African poverty will be left up to world leaders (including President Bush, who seems quite willing to throw more money down the continent's many black holes) and the American taxpayer, who will wind up footing most of the bill. BTW, did you know that U.S. aid donations to Africa outstrip European "contributions" by a ratio of 15:1? And yet, "we're not doing enough" to help end poverty in Africa.
According to media reports, the rock stars who performed at various Live 8 venues received "goodie" bags worth up to $14,000 dollars each. So far, I haven't heard of any of these humanitarians who have donated the bags to African charities, or wrote them a check equivalent to the value of their goodies. I guess we're supposed to be impressed that Sir Paul McCartney and his ilk were kind enough to donate their talents to the cause. Besides, designer fragrances and state-of-the-art cellphones aren't much use to starving Africans...
At first, the number of circles seems surprising, even shocking--and that is clearly the intended effect. The Post is a predictably liberal outlet, and the map seems designed to reinforce the notion that many military members have died (needlessly) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But take a look at the map's legend. The red circles (indicating the greatest number of casualties) represent areas that have had up to 29 service members killed since October 2001. While those circles represent unspeakable tragedies for the families of the dead, they also reflect casualty totals that have been surprisingly low, thanks to improved tactics, advancements in protective gear, and quick access to life-saving medical care. I wonder if the Post would publish a similar map for World War II, Korea or Vietnam, which collectively killed more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel.
I can only imagine what the WWII map would look like. What sort of circle would be used to represent the casualties from Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment of the Virginia Army National Guard? The 116th was one of the first American regiments to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Of the 170 soldiers in the first assault wave, 91 died on D-Day; 21 of the dead were from the small town of Beford, Va (population 3,200), home of Alpha Company. It was the highest per-capita loss of any American community during World War II; nineteen of Bedford's soldiers died within 15 minutes of hitting the beach.
As the nation celebrates its birthday, it is appropriate to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in defense of our freedom. But a sensationalized map in a liberal rag does nothing to honor those fallen heroes.
Froggy Ruminations, a blog dedicated to the Naval Special Warfare Community, has excellent coverage of this tragedy, including a list of the SEALS who perished in the chopper crash, along with the eight-member Chinook crew, assigned to 3rd Btn, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, based at Hunter Army Airfield, GA. In the aftermath of this tragedy, there will be the inevitable second-guessing and finger-pointing, but as one of Froggy's contributors--a 17-year veteran of SEAL teams--notes:
I have learned many things in my years in the Teams, and I will share two with you. First, if you were not there, and I mean actually on site, you have no right to judge the actions of the troops in the field. The worst thing that can happen to a military man is to have his tactical decisions be questioned after the fact by people who simply were not there. When this takes place it will inevitably lead to finger pointing and remove any possibility of learning from what happened. And if we, as military men, do not learn from events both positive and negative, then we might as well draw swords and have us a good old fashioned knife fight.
Secondly, sometimes enough is enough. Even though I have no knowledge of what has taken place and what I assume is still taking place other than what I have read in the news, I can guarantee you that everything that can be done to effect a positive outcome is being done. It is still fashionable to mock the level of intelligence of military men and women, but this is simply not correct. We know our trade, we live our trade, and we damn sure look after our own.
Well said, Chief. I have no doubt that the hard lessons of this episode will be learned and internalized, to prevent this from happening again. I have the utmost respect for the SEALs and other SF operators who perform the supremely dangerous missions required to win the War on Terrorism. But, as a former Air Force aircrew member (with some experience supporting special ops) I believe there are a couple of questions worth asking now, specifically: (1) Where the hell was airpower when this was going down, and (2) Are some of our current close air support (CAS) platforms up to the task of supporting SOF operators in a high-threat environment.
Let's begin with the airpower issue. From what I understand, the MH-47, the special ops version of a Chinook transport helicopter, entered the firefight area on its own, attempting to insert the QRT to assist the beseigned recce element. That begs an immediate (and obvious) question: where were the Air Force A-10s, or Army AH-64 Apache gunships? Either platform might have proven useful in suppressing enemy fire, allowing the MH-47 to land and offload the QRT.
But here's where the waters get a little murky. From what I'm told, the AH-64 has not provided extensive support to SOF teams in Afghanistan, in part because of its vulnerability to ground fire. A retired SF senior NCO (with experience in both Afghanistan and Iraq) reports that eight AH-64s were grounded by hostile fire during Operation Annoconda--literally all of the Apaches apportioned to that battle--and have been used sparingly in support of SOF operations since that time. Additionally, he told me that AH-64s typically don't operate at night, the time of day when many SOF missions are conducted. That strikes me as highly ironic, since the "night-fighting" abilities of the Apache are supposedly one of its strong points.
Regarding the A-10, the U.S. entered combat in Afghanistan without any of its CAS aircraft in the neighborhood, relying instead on other aircraft--including B-52 and B-1 bombers--to provide support for SOF teams. When it became apparent the A-10 was needed, the Air Force began flying them on marathon, 6-8 hour missions from bases in the Persian Gulf. Later, A-10s were deployed in closer proximity to Afghan targets, but (to date) there has been no explanation as to why no A-10s were on station during last week's firefight.
I should note that there are plausible explanations for the apparent lack of aircover. SOF teams in the field that haven't been compromised don't want a lot of friendly aircraft buzzing overhead, to avoid giving away their position. Additionally, weather conditions can limit air support; poor visibility or other meterological factors may have prevented friendly CAS platforms from reaching the target area, or positively identifying enemy troops on the ground. And finally, the bad guys may have been in a close-quarters fight with the SEAL recce element, preventing our aircraft from engaging the enemy.
We may never know the full story of what transpired along the Afghan border last week. Given the nature of SF missions, that's appropriate. But our SF operators on the ground deserve timely, effective support from airpower elements . I am disturbed by reports that the AH-64 is too vulnerable to ground fire to provide that support in certain SF operational scenarios. I'd also like to know more about the status of A-10s at the time of the battle, and their ability to respond in a timely manner. From an outsider's perspective, it seems quite possible that timely effective air support could have made a difference in this engagement. Was it available? Was it enroute? Those questions remain unanswered.
I would like to hear from anyone with more detailed knowledge of this situation, in hopes of clarifying the issue. E-mail comments should be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org. A non-attribution policy will be applied to any observations and comments received.