Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Calling a Marine a Murderer

A hat tip to Noah Shachtman, formerly of, who's now running the Danger Room national security blog over at One of his contributors, David Axe, came across this e-mail from former defense analyst Franklin Spinney, who (essentially) accuses a Marine fighter pilot of being a bloodthirsty murderer. Spinnery was commenting on a letter from the F/A-18 pilot (unidentified), who expressed great satisfaction at being able to kill the enemy during close air support missions. Spinney's comments, contained in an e-mail, are being circulated by the left-wing Center for Defense Information, which claims that they provide a "much needed and unvarnished perspective." David Axe calls Spinney's remarks "unfair," and I agree with him. But judge for youself; first, the Marine pilot's comments:

God, I do love killing these bastards. …

The other day, [names omitted] got three nice passes with the gun and rockets on some Muj in a little town called Karma, which is just northwest of Fallujah. I firmly believe they are implants from the “big city.” Looked as though they were in the process of trying to attack the Iraqi police
headquarters. I wonder why the insurgents would be attacking the Iraqi police. CNN says the [police] are ineffective. Funny, the “ineffective” [police] stood their ground and called in three strikes. Only one confirmed kill.

And, from that, Spinney concludes:

Here is a “warrior” who brags about killing for killing’s sake, but the people he kills are just spots on the ground that disappear in clouds of explosions. He describes the joy of war at a distance and sees nothing of its horrors. You won’t find any descriptions of blood, broken limbs, trauma or destruction in this email. You won’t even find reference to his own feelings of menace or fear – not to mention their noble counterweights courage and esprit – just braggadocio on the subject of killing. Of course, his targets are all insurgents: no sense of any human capacity for doubt on that point. … Hopefully, the man who wrote this ghastly thing is an aberration and not at all representative of the men and women in our military.

Get a grip, Mr. Spinney. I'm sure that Marine pilot has a clear understanding of the horrors of war. He--or she--probably has friends from ROTC, the Academy or The Basic School that are currently serving as platoon or company commanders in Iraq. That pilot probably knows Marines who have died on the ground, fighting a fanatical enemy so that others might be free. He understands that those "spots on the ground" are terrorists, hell-bent on killing Iraq policemen, U.S. Marines, innocent civilians or anyone else who won't submit to Sharia law. He understands that by killing the insurgents from above, fewer Americans--and Iraqis--will die on the ground.

A few years ago, one of my friends (an F-16 driver) visited a Marine Harrier squadron to coordinate an upcoming exercise. Along the main hallway of the squadron operations building, he noticed a life-sized poster of a Marine rifleman, in full combat gear. There was no caption or title on the poster, and none was required. The ultimate mission of that Harrier unit was to support Marines on the ground, and provide the air support needed to defeat the enemy.

I'd say that Hornet driver is anything but a murderer. He's a professional who takes pride in the fact that his skills--and his aircraft--can make a difference for the warriors on the ground. It's easy for Spinney and the CDI crowd to take shots from the safety and comfort of Washington, D.C., but then again, they wouldn't have much use for this man, either. He said similar things more than 60 years ago:

"We're not going to just shoot the sons-of-bitches, we're going to rip out their living Goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket. War is a bloody, killing business. You've got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt off your face and realize that instead of dirt it's the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you'll know what to do!"

The speaker was General George S. Patton.

If At First You Don't Succeed...

...just keep trying. That appears to be the mantra for North Korea's long-range ballistic missile program, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials.

Testifying before Congress yesterday, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that Pyongyang is still working on a missile capable of hitting the United States, despite last year's spectacular failure of its Tapeo Dong 2 (TD-2) system. Lieutenant General Michael Maples indicated North Korea is continuing development of the TD-2, and will eventually perfect the long-range missile, which could target portions of the CONUS.

"I believe they have the technical capability, as we saw by the Taepodong, but they have not successfully tested it yet," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Asked how long before North Korea would have a missile capable of reaching the United States, he said, "I would probably estimate it's not a matter of years."

General Maples also indicated that Pyongyang's continued proliferation of ballistic systems remains a concern, as evidenced by its development of new intermediate and short-range systems. The intermediate range missile, the BM-25, has already been sold to Iran, and the short-range missile could attract a number of potential customers, including Iran and Syria.

Similar concerns about North Korea were also voiced by the nation's Director of National Intelligence, retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who also testified before the committee yesterday. McConnell said that U.S. intelligence agencies are unable to verify Pyongyang's compliance with the recent nuclear agreement "at the level we'd like." Earlier this month, North Korea agreed to begin "disabling" its nuclear program, in exchange for energy and economic assistance.

Of course, monitoring North Korean compliance is an essential element of implementing and sustaining the agreement. After the 1994 "Agreed To Framework," North Korea simply took its nuclear program underground, conducting research and development work that went undetected for years, and culminated in last year's marginally successful nuclear test.


On a related note, Admiral McConnell testified that he expects Iran to develop nuclear weapons by 2015, and will be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile at that time. His comments suggest that the U.S. intelligence community is still taking the "long road" view of Iran's nuclear program, assessing that Tehran may be a decade away from getting the bomb. But, as we've wondered before, what happens to that timeline if North Korea "officially" gives up its nuclear program? There's a pretty good chance that those "unemployed" DPRK scientists and engineers could find their way to Iran, and accelerate that country's nuclear development efforts.

The 2015 estimate represents a "worst case" scenario for Iran, and a "best case" scenario for us. With outside assistance--and assuming no military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities--it is quite plausible that Iran could gain a nuclear capability much earlier, say in the 2009-2011 timeframe. It's a bit ironic that senior intelligence officers are forecasting an Iranian bomb in the middle of the next decade, while (at the same time) Washington is abuzz about potential U.S. strikes on Tehran's nuclear facilities, and movement of a second carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf Region. Still skitterish over pre-war Iraq intelligence assessments, intelligence chiefs are hesitant to go out on a limb in predicting Iran's nuclear capabilities. But obviously, that 2015 assessment isn't carved in stone, and operational planning and activities aren't bound by that estimate.

Another Story You Won't See in the MSM

The troop surge in Iraq appears to be working. Strategy page offers more insights, and explains why our recent successes don't make the headlines.

But Time says it's "too quiet" in Baghdad.

Hat tip: Curt at Flopping Aces.

Your Government Schools on Display

Tuesday is Idol night at the Spook household, a time I normally devote to the computer, running errands, or watching something else on the TV in the bedroom. However, Mrs. Spook, Miss K (our eldest daughter) and The Princess (our granddaughter) are loyal Idol viewers and whenever I pass through the den, they're ready to pass on the latest news from that dreadful pop singing competition. From what I can gather, the male contestants performed last night, and the favorite appears to be a Justin Timberlake clone from Virginia. Just what America needs.

But I digress. I returned to the den at the end of Idol last night, just in time to catch the latest Fox offering, a game show called Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? As its name implies, the show's premise is simple: adult contestants win money by answering questions drawn from elementary school textbooks. The adults compete against a "class" of fifth graders who answer the same questions. To make it easier for the grown-ups, they are allowed to select one of the fifth graders as their partner, and they can even "cheat" (up to three times in a game) by copying the kid's answer, or substituting it for their own.

I don't think Fox or the show's producers envisioned the show as an indictment of our government schools, but that's what it may prove to be. Consider the first contestant on the premier episode; a 40-year-old man named Seth, identified as a UCLA grad with a history degree, and a 3.0 undergraduate G.P.A. According to a brief blurb flashed on the screen, Seth later went to law school, although it's a bit frightening to think that he might have graduated and is actually a member of the bar. Based on his performance last night, I'd say that Seth isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, and that 3.0 at UCLA was apparently the result of grade inflation, not scholarship.

Here are two of the three questions Seth faced last night, before opting to take his winnings and "drop out of school." He managed to earn $5,000 by relying on the answers from his fifth grade partners; without them, Seth would have walked away without a dime.

1. In what month do we celebrate Columbus Day (Seth's answer: September)

2. Who was the first President to be impeached (Seth's answer: John Quincy Adams--and remember, the contestant has a degree in history).

The correct answers (for those who actually need them) are at the end of this post. For good measure, I'll even toss in a bonus "animal science" question, also posed on last night's show:

3. True or False: Polar bears often feed on penguins.

The second contestant, a 27-year-old computer consultant named Lakeisha, fared slightly better, correctly naming the "Mayflower" as the ship that carried the Pilgrims to the New World. However, she needed help in identifying what "REM" stands for (the sleep cycle, not the rock band). A clip from tonight's show suggests that she's also a little confused about the definition of a trapezoid.

I'm happy to report that none of the fifth graders on the show had any difficulty with these questions, although they're clearly very bright--and telegenic. The adults, on the other hand, give you plenty of reason for concern. Forget the old saw about "forgetting" much of what we learned in grade school with the passage of time. Most of the questions asked last night covered basic knowledge--stuff every American should know, or be able to reason out on their own. Clearly, the contestants on display last night aren't candidates for Mensa membership, but they're not mentally impaired, either. Distressingly, they are the same people who vote in Presidential elections, and accept An Inconvenient Truth as scientific gospel.

Moreover, the contestants I saw seem to fit a demographic profile (late Baby Boombers/Early Generation X) that endured some of the most disastrous experiments in public school education, and the shift from learning to indoctrination at the university level. Watching Seth and Lakeisha last night, you got to wonder if they ever learned this stuff, or spent more time in self-esteem classes, learning to feel good about themselves. Only in America are kids encouraged to be proud about how little they know, and as adults, display their ignorance on national TV.

And finally, the answers:

1. Columbus Day is celebrated in October.

2. Andrew Johnson was the first President to be impeached.

3. Polar Bears live in the Arctic region, while most penguins reside in Antarctica, Argentina and New Zealand--the opposite end of the earth, for those who rode the short bus. So the odds of a bear feasting on a penguin are approximately, zero.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Israel Prepares?

Next month, Israel will conduct its first-ever drill simulating a nuclear and chemical missile attack against its cities, according to the Army's Homefront Corps.

The planned exercise comes in the wake of last summer's war with Hizballah, which fired over than 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, killing more than 40 civilians. A spokesman for the national rescue services says the drill's main scenarios will simulate a massive rocket attack on Israeli cities, along with "conventional and non-conventional" missile strikes. Air raid sires will sound during the exercise, while rescue and medical personnel practice their responses to chemical and nuclear attacks.

While civil defense has always received a high priority in Israel, preparations for missile and rocket attacks have taken on additional urgency because of Hizballah's success in paralyzing portions of northern Israel during last year's month-long war, Iran's pursuit of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, and reports of a Syrian military build-up.

Last week, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Syrian units have moved closer to the armistice line on the Golan Heights in recent months, and Damascus is strengthening its military forces in a way that is "unprecedented in recent memory." According to the paper's respected defense correspondent, Zeev Schiff, Iran is providing funding for the build-up, allowing Syria to acquire advanced anti-tank weapons and anti-ship missiles, while expanding its arsenal of missiles and rockets. The head of Israel's military intelligence research division has also accused Damascus of preparing for renewed conflict, possibly using Hizballah as a proxy.

But Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, seemed to downplay the Syrian threat, telling military officials to "avoid making unnecessary comments" on Syria and asking officers to steer clear of a "war of words" with Damascus. Peretz has been widely criticized for his handling of last summer's war with Hizballah, and the comments by senior IDF officers--including the information provided to Zeev Schiff--may indicate a measure of dissent within the ranks, and concerns that the defense minister is not paying sufficient attention to the Syrian threat.

However, Mr. Peretz is correct in cautioning against "unnecessary comments" on Syria, particularly if those remarks exaggerate the potential threat from Damascus. As we've noted in this blog before, Syrian military readiness has suffered greatly over the past two decades, thanks to underfunding and reduced arms deliveries from Russia. And while the purchase of advanced anti-tank and anti-ship weapons would improve Syria's operational capabilities, they are not enough to overcome years of insufficient training, inadequate funding and operational neglect. Facing Syrian forces with better anti-armor and anti-ship missiles would make the fight a bit tougher, but it would not change the outcome of a conflict between Tel Aviv and Damascus. By most estimates, a conventional war between Israel and Syria would last less than a week, and result in a crushing defeat for Damascus.

Of course, Syria wants to avoid a conventional fight, and that's one reason they've invested in ballistic missiles, WMD, and their alliance with Tehran and Hizballah. Syrian President Bashir Assad believes that last summer's Lebanese War has provided a template for successfully battling the Israelis, using rockets to paralyze their civilian populations, while inflicting significant casualties on advancing IDF units. Simultaneously battling Hizballah in Lebanon and Syria along the Golan Heights, the Israelis could expect an even greater barrage of rockets and missiles, striking all major population centers, while Israeli ground units fight bloody battles on two fronts. Based on what he saw last summer, Assad believes the Israelis don't have the stomach for that type of fight, and believes that the threat of such a war could force Israel into another "land for peace" deal with Syria.

Of course, Syria has badly misjudged Israeli intentions in the past, resulting in bitter defeats for Damascus. And, even Bashir Assad understands that a Syrian chemical or biological attack against an Israeli target would invite retaliatory, nuclear strikes that would reduce his country to ruin--and there's little that Damascus, Hizballah, or their friends in Tehran can do about it. With an estimated 200 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, Israel has the ability to vaporize most of the key targets in Syria and Iran, with a few left over for Nasrallah and his boys in Lebanon.

But clearly, Syria sees an opportunity in the current situation, and is taking incremental steps to improve its military position. From their perspective, Israel's civilian and military leadership is in a state of flux. The IDF Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Dan Halutz, announced his retirement last month, after a government commission criticized his leadership during the war with Hizballah. His boss, defense minister Peretz, appears to be losing favor within the IDF, and the country's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is hamstrung by personal scandals and falling approval ratings. Increasingly, the current Israeli administration is taking on the appearance of a caretaker government--at one of the most critical junctures in the nation's history.

It would be nice to say that next month's nationwide drill reflects an Israel that recognizes a growing danger, and is preparing to meet those challenges at all levels of society. But meeting those challenges also requires a comprehensive strategy for dealing with Syria, Iran and Hizballah, and that's where the current government is sorely lacking. Civil defense exercises represent a necessary preparation for potential conflict, but without a viable, over-arching strategy, their value is diminished, suggesting a government that is (correctly) preparing for the worst, but without a clear plan for deterring--and defeating--the forces that would inflict mass pain and suffering on the Israeli populace.

Targeting Cheney

Let's begin by separating the wheat from the chaff: today's "assasination attempt" against Vice President Cheney in Afghanistan was that in name only. The suicide bomber who blew himself up at a security checkpoint on the perimeter of Bagram Airbase was never a threat to the Vice President, nor anyone else inside the sprawling facility. Taliban spokesmen have eagerly claimed that Cheney was the target, but even the most optimistic terrorist understood that a lone bomber would never penetrate multiple layers of base security, plus additional measures that were in place around Mr. Cheney. At least 12 people died in the attack (including a U.S. soldier) but the carnage could have been far worse, had the blast occurred inside the installation.

But that wasn't the point of today's attack. By mounting a suicide attack at the edge of Bagram during the Vice President's visit, the Taliban scored a minor propaganda coup for themselves, while creating a security embarassment for the U.S. military and the Afghan government. Over the next 24-48 hours, we will be bombarded with stories about the attack, which will be cited as further proof of a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Absent from that coverage will be the reminders that a single suicide bomber isn't much of a threat to a huge airbase (despite the casualties), and that the attack occurred in an area that is relatively accessible. According to one report, the blast targeted an area when vehicles and personnel pass through the first of three security checkpoints, before entering Bagram.

More disturbing is the fact that the Taliban apparently had some knowledge of Cheney's "unannounced" visit in advance, allowing them to plan and execute the attack. Some security experts believe the bombing indicates that the Taliban has penetrated the Afghan and/or Pakistani governments, which had advance knowledge of the Vice President's itinerary. However, there are also indications that the terrorists lacked key information about Mr. Cheney's travels, prompting them to mount a futile--but deadly attack--at Bagram, rather than targeting a more vulnerable segment of the Vice President's travels. More on that in a moment.

While concerns about terrorists penetrating Afghan and/or Pakistani security services are indeed valid, plans for today's bombing may have actually been "on the books" for quite a while. The Taliban (and their Al Qaida allies) know that Bagram is the entry point for any senior U.S. official visiting Afghanistan, and they've had ample opportunities to observe various aircraft associated with past VIP trips into Bagram. They are probably aware that some senior officials trade their "official" aircraft for a military transport for the Afghan leg of their journey. Media coverage of Mr. Cheney's recent stop in neighboring Pakistan, followed by the sudden arrival of a C-17 (with extremely tight security) at Bagram, may have confirmed that the Vice President was in town, putting attack plans into motion.

This AFP story details some of the security precautions associated with Cheney's trip, including his switch from Air Force Two to the C-17. But perhaps the most revealing item in the dispatch is a brief blurb about the Vice President's travels after leaving Bagram. From there, he flew to Kabul, then took a motorcade into the city for a brief meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Despite extensive security precautions, Mr. Cheney would have been more vulnerable in the motorcade than he was at Bagram, yet the bombing occurred at the base. That suggests that terrorist knowledge of Mr. Cheney's travel plans was far from complete.

Today's bombing is also a reminder that conditions in Afghanistan may grow worse if Pakistan continues its appeasement policies toward the terrorists, and allows them to reestablish operational bases on its side of the border. As Bill Roggio noted on 24 February, the Islamabad government is prepared to cede control of the Bajaur Tribal Area to the Taliban, part of a "peace deal" similar to last year's infamous accords in Waziristan. Bajaur is a key command-and-control center for the Taliban and Al Qaida; outright control of that region will enhance their ability to funnel fighters and logistical support across the border into Afghanistan's Kunar Province, and points beyond.

Mr. Cheney reportedly had some tough words for Pakistani President Musharraf during his visit, warning that Islamabad must secure its western territories. Unfortunately, that demand appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Musharraf appears intent on striking more deals with the terrorists, and that will create only more problems across the border. Afghanistan's future security is riding (to a large degree) on what happens in Pakistan's western region, and that's where the War on Terrorism is currently being lost. A suicide bombing outside Bagram during a Vice Presidential visit is good for grabbing headlines, but control of key border regions--and establishment of new operational bases and support networks--is aimed at a much more important goal, winning the war.

Still Not Ready for Launch

Yesterday, we noted the obvious contradictions in Iran's accounts of its recent rocket launch. At first, the director of the Iranian aerospace research center indicated that his country had successfully launched a "space rocket," suggesting that Tehran had gained the capability to put small payloads into orbit. That would represent a significant technological accomplishment, aiding Iran's efforts to develop long-range missiles and (eventually) multiple warheads for those delivery systems.

But Iran's original claim was quickly dashed. Just a few hours later, the deputy director of the aerospace research center stated that Iran had only lauched a "sounding rocket," used to collect atmospheric information. Obviously, there's quite a difference between a small research rocket and a full-sized space launch vehicle (SLV), so the "correction" was very telling. Despite recent boasts that it is about to attain a space launch capability, Iran still appears to be months --perhaps years--away from attaining that goal.

Now, there is even doubt about the sounding rocket claim. Pentagon sources tell AFP that U.S. Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) have no information on an Iranian rocket launch over the weekend. And, as one official noted, the odds of NORAD and SPACECOM missing an Iranian launch are virtually nil. The U.S. operates a constellation of Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites, designed to detect missile launches around the world, and instantly relay that information to command authorities.

DSP coverage is supplemented with other space-based sensors, most notably COBRA BRASS, which provides multi-spectral coverage of missile launches and similar events. Additionally, an RC-135 COBRA BALL aircraft is often deployed to a region in anticipation of major launch events, and one of these platforms may have been on station over the weekend, ready to monitor the Iranian event. Given the collective capabilities of DSP, COBRA BRASS, COBRA BALL and other sensors, it's extremely doubtful that we would have missed a launch in Iran, even if it was only a sounding rocket.

I will give AFP credit for at least trying to corroborate Iran's claims, and publishing U.S. information that clearly refutes them. As for the stenographers at the other MSM outlets, their refusal to follow-up on Tehran's original statements is both predictable and appalling. When it comes to Iranian military capabilities, most journalists will report whatever Tehran says, no matter how contradictory--or incorrect--they appear to be.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Predator Down

Here's another headline from Air Force Times, which (at first glance) appears troubling:

"Half of Predators fielded have been lost."

In recent testimony before Congress, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General T. Michael Moseley, reported that the service has lost "48 or 49" of the 90 Predator drones it has received. Even those with an aversion to math--your humble correspondent included--can figure out that the cumulative loss rate is better than 50%, far higher than any other airframe in the DoD inventory.

So the Predator program is a disaster, right? Each of these unmanned aerial vehicles cost roughly $1 million each. Add on the sensor package--which is also lost when a Predator goes down--and the price doubles. So, these UAV losses have cost the U.S. taxpayer almost $100 million in destroyed airframes and sensors.

But some elements are missing from the Times report. First, the paper neglects to mention that the Predator has been in operation for more than a decade. Divide the cumulative losses by the number of years in service, and the "average" number of Predator losses is about five a year.

Then, factor in the platform's combat service during that period. According to limited data from, at least four Predators were lost in Kosovo, and nine more crashed in the first year after 9-11. In other words, about 25% of the UAVs were lost in combat operations, in a relatively short span, encompassing the 88-day campaign of Operation Allied Force (1999), and first year of Enduring Freedom, which also coincided with the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

In support of combat operations in the Middle East, the number of flight hours logged by Predator is "off the charts." In 2005, a single Predator squadron, then based at Nellis AFB, NV, logged an amazing 27,000 flying hours, far more than any other Air Force flying unit. The Air Force has at least three operational Predator squadrons; all are busy in support of training and contingency missions around the world, and they log a lot of flying hours. As we've noted before, loss rates are typically calculated per 100,000 flying hours; using that barometer, the number of Predators lost is still above manned aircraft, but more "acceptable" in terms of hours flown, and the conditions that UAVs typically operate under.

As one Predator squadron commander observered, the platform's biggest problem is its popularity. Demand for UAV support from combat units--particularly ground forces--has increased geometrically over the past five years. That means more missions, more flying hours, and a greater strain on operators and maintenance personnel to keep Predators in the air. That strain is further compounded by weather and altitude conditions--particularly in Afghanistan, and the fact that the enemy fires on our UAVs, and he gets lucky from time-to-time. We've also lost Predators due to operational and mechanical problems, ranging from pilot error (flying an aircraft by remote control, from thousands of miles away is more difficult than you might think), to system failures--the same issues associated with manned aircraft.

Even in an era of $600 billion defense budgets, $100 million in lost UAVs is a major chunk of change. So, the Air Force carefully analyzes each Predator crash, learns from it, and incorporates those lessons into future operations. More importantly, a more detailed analysis of Predator's history reveals that the service, its "operational" customers and the taxpayer--have received a good deal of bang for their buck. By pushing the limits of system performance and operations, the Air Force has delivered a genuine, persistent ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capability for troops on the ground, resulting in the discovery of countless IEDs, weapons caches, terrorist movements and other details that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. That, in turn, has saved the lives of countless troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it's hard to put a price tag on that type of "savings."


Like the blind hog finding the proverbial acorn, the Times does somehow manage to highlight an important element of the UAV debate in its coverage. As General Moseley reminded that Congressional committee, the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly crowded with UAVs, operated by all the services. He is correct in advocating that all drones above 3700 feet be controlled by a single manager--the USAF. The Big Sky/Little Aircraft theory goes only so far, even in the (relatively) wide open spaces of the Middle East.

Another Empty Promise

A hat tip to Chapomatic, for linking to a great Michael Fumento piece in the 5 March issue of The Weekly Standard. Alert readers may recall that the Democrats have vowed--at various times--to "double" the size of our special forces, improving our ability to respond to the GWOT.

In his article, Fumento looks at the difficulties associated with keeping that promise. Expanding the ranks of SOF will, inevitably, mean compromising the quality demanded by our most elite military forces. For example, the Air Force's pararescue and combat controller traning programs have a washout rate of at least 60-70%. Of every 10 applicants who enter the pipeline, only three will ever earn the maroon beret of the PJs, or the scarlet beret awarded to combat controllers. The only way to increase the number of PJs or combat controllers is to lower the standards for those career fields. The same technique would be required for producing more Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Green Berets, and members of Marine Corps Force Recon. At that point, as Mr. Fumento observes, special ops becomes less "special" and combat capabilities inevitably suffer.

Somewhere on Capitol Hill, there may actually be a Democratic Congressman, Senator or staffer who understands that SOF are trained--and employed--to be force "multipliers," delivering combat capabilities and effects far in excess of their actual numbers. But you don't achieve those effects by watering down standards, or cutting corners on personnel quality. Predictably, the Democrats have yet to articulate a plan for actually doubling the ranks of our special operations forces. And it's probably just as well. As in most matters relating to national security, the Democrats are great at soundbites and slogans, but much more fuzzy on planning and specifics. We should only hope that Democratic vows to "double" our SOF units are nothing more than an empty promise.

Here's a message for Pelosi, Murtha and the other Dems who want to play politics with SOF. I was never an operator, and my involvement with SOF (during a 20-year military career) was limited. Bit I know that our existing system for recruiting and training SOF works extremely well. Leave it alone. Set your sights on more attainable goals, like securing that Boeing 757 for Ms. Pelosi's trips to the west coast.

In Case You Missed It..

There was an article well worth reading in Friday's Opinion Journal, from WSJ editorial board member Kimberly Strassel. Since the GOP returned him to a leadership position after last year's election debacle, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott has been on a crusade that Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer would certainly approve of.

Like thousands of Mississippians, Mr. Lott lost a home when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. And, because his insurance company has refused to pay up in a timely manner, Mr. Lott is going after the big insurers. He enlisted celebrated trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs in a high-profile lawsuit against his insurance company, State Farm. Mr. Scruggs, who made a fortune suing tobacco companies, also happens to be Trent Lott's brother-in-law. Lott also made a call to the head of an insurance industry lobbying group, vowing to use his next term to "bring down State Farm and the entire industry, through all means available to him," including legislation designed to harm property and casualty insurers.

The central issue in the Lott case is the same one facing many along the Gulf Coast. Standard property owner policies--like the one Senator Lott had on his waterfront home in Pascagoula--pay for wind damage, but not losses caused by flooding. Coverage for that type of water damage is provided through federally-subsidized flood insurance. Lott had a $350,000 flood insurance policy on his Pascagoula property, and presumably received full payment for damages. But apparently, that isn't enough for the Senator from Mississippi.

As a part-time resident of the Magnolia State (and property owner), I have great empathy for those who lost family members and homes in the storm. And, in some cases, I believe the insurance companies are playing fast-and-loose with policy holders, attempting to ascribe obvious wind damage to the storm surge, and shift their liabilities to the taxpayers.

But, as Ms. Strassel points out, Mr. Lott's crusade against big insurance looks more like a personal vendetta, and there's a real danger in that approach. A lethal combination of lawsuits and legislative action will likely force more insurers to quit writing policies in coastal areas, or get out of the business altogether. And what happens then? Senator Lott and his allies have a solution for that problem, too. Earlier this month, Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor (who also lost a house in the storm) introduced legislation that would expand federal flood insurance to cover other types of hurricane damage as well.

If that happens, taxpayers could easily wind up footing the entire bill for future storms, and remove any requirements for individual responsibility. That, in turn, will lead to more over-development in vulnerable coastal areas, and inevitable fraud and abuse when claims are actually filed. Under the Lott-Taylor plan, the cost for future hurricanes could make the tab for Katrina ($110 billion and counting) seem positively cheap.

Not Quite Ready for Launch

There was a bit of confusion in Iran over the weekend, regarding the status of that country's supposed space launch. At first, state-run media claimed that Iran had launched its first rocket capable of reaching space, suggesting that it had attained the capability to put payloads into orbit. But the Iranians quickly back-tracked on their initial statements, later reporting that they had actually launched a "sounding rocket," a relatively low-tech device used to gather atmospheric information.

What's interesting about these changing stories is that both came from Iranian officials supposedly "in the know." Early claims about the launch of a space rocket came from Mohsen Bahrami, head of Iran's aerospace research center. The revised account of the sounding rocket was attributed to Ali Akbar Golru, executive deputy of the same research organization--essentially, Bahrami's top assistant. It's the equivalent of the NASA administrator and his top deputy disagreeing over an event they likely witnessed.

So, what actually happened in Iran? There are several possibilities. First, Iran's intended space launch vehicle, a modified Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) and its payload, may not be ready for imminent launch, despite Tehran's claims to the contrary. Launch of the sounding rocket gave the Iranians a quick (and attainable) mechanism for claiming that one of their missiles had reached the lower levels of space. But, when they realized that the rocket's quick return to earth had been monitored by legitimate space powers, they quickly changed their story, to avoid a potential media debacle.

A second, less likely, scenario is that Iran attempted some sort of space launch (using a Shahab-3 vehicle), but it failed. The sounding rocket was also fired during the same launch window, providing a means for saving face and shifting attention away from an unsuccessful Shahab launch. Essentially a replica of North Korea's No Dong MRBM, the Shahab-3 has a checkered operational history, and chances for a successful space launch are probably middling, at best. However, if there was a Shahab-3 failure over the weekend, it would have almost certainly been detected by our space-based and air-breathing reconnaissance platforms. The absence of any "leaks" about a Shahab-3 failure (so far) tend to discount the possibility that Iran actually attempted a space launch this past weekend.

On the other hand, Iran's initial claims about launching a "space rocket" are consistent with other, recent boasts about its technological prowress. Last year, you may recall, Tehran stated that it had developed a "radar-evading" missile with "multiple warheads" and an ultra-high speed torpedo. Actually, the "stealthy" missile was nothing more than an existing model with a coat of radar-absorbing paint (that possibly peeled off in flight), and the "multiple" warheads were actually cluster weapons, a technology that's been used on battlefield missiles for decades. As for the torpedo, it was based on World War II-era technology, and follows a pre-determined path to its target. Changes in target speed, maneuvering and counter-measures are usually enough to defeat the high-speed torpedo.

If there wasn't a Shahab-3 space vehicle launch over the weekend, it suggests that the program has run into technical hurdles that will delay its first test. In the interim, Iran may send up a few more sounding rockets, gathering information that will be used in planning the space launch vehicle (SLV) test. But a sounding rocket isn't in the same league as an SLV. Propaganda claims aside, Tehran still has a ways to go in proving that it is capable of developing and testing a viable space launch platform--and putting a payload into orbit.

The Military Revolt?

Since late last year, a number of media outlets have echoed the notion that even military personnel are abandoning the Bush Administration and its security policies in the Middle East. The point to poll numbers which (ostensibly) show fewer member of the armed services supporting the War in Iraq, the establishment of anti-war groups within military ranks, and a supposed "revolt" by senior officers who either oppose the handling of the war, or its possible expansion, to include attacks on Iran. We've analyzed most of these reports, and found them lacking, to various degrees.

Consider the annual Military Times survey, published at the end of the year in the Gannett-owned papers which cover the various branches of the armed services (Air Force Times, Army Times, et al). According to the editors, this year's poll's indicated decreased support for Mr. Bush and the War in Iraq among military personnel. But, as we've noted in the past, there are potential problems with the survey and its results. For starters, the Times poll still uses a voluntary, mail-in survey--rather odd in an era of internet communications and global surveys. As we observed back in January, it seems a little odd that the papers can't conduct their own, scientific polls of troops in the field, given the fact that various organizations routinely survey the Iraqi public on various issues, under conditions that are more dangerous than those faced in military garrisons.

We also wondered how the Times managed to correct a major flaw in previous surveys--the relative under-representation of personnel who had actually deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, for example, only 48% of respondents had deployed to the war zone, but in the 2006 poll, that number jumped to 66%--an increase of 37%, using a mail-in survey. That raises obvious questions about how the Times managed to attract so many additional responses from combat veterans, given the fact that (a) the poll reflects the entire military and (b) relatively small numbers of Air Force and Navy personnel have actually deployed. Does that mean the Times gave more weight to surveys from Army or Marine personnel who have served time on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan? Editors at the Military Times haven't said whether that technique was used, but the polling methodology used--and vast changes in respondent demographics from year-to-year--are sufficient reason to question their results.

As for the recently-established "anti-war wing" of the U.S. military, we've written about their "cause" on several occasions, most recently last Friday. "Petition for Redress," is supposedly a grass-roots organization for military personnel who support a withdrawal from Iraq, and the group received "star" treatment on 60 Minutes last night. But in reality, "Petition" is nothing more than an astro-turf movement, a small group of military members serving as front personnel for a high-powered Washington public relations firm, and various well-heeled leftist groups that pay for the p.r. flacks. Predictably, there was no mention of the p.r. firm (Fenton Communications) during last night's segment, just an assurance from a petition signer that the movement is, indeed, grass roots:

"I'm certainly not liberal, and I doubt many of the members on this panel are liberal. It's not funded by any partisan organization. It's soldiers. It's service members. It's grass roots. It's us," says Lt. Kent Gneiting.

Okay, Lieutenant, then who's paying the retainer fee for Fenton Communications? Top-tier p.r. firms don't work for free, and I couldn't afford them with an annual income that's a bit higher than lieutenant's pay, so it's doubtful that Gneiting and his colleagues are actually footing the bill. Moreover, media groups that have profiled Petition for Redress are well aware of its ties with Fenton and its other left-wing clients ( and the Fourth Freedom Forum) that are likely paying the bills, yet never mention those relationships in their reporting. Surprise, surprise.

As further proof of a military revolt, the London Times claims that "up to five generals and admirals" are prepared to resign, if President Bush orders an attack against Iran. As John Hinderaker at Powerline observes, the headline is certainly more bold than the story that follows. And for good reason. Citing British defense and intelligence sources, the paper never gets around to naming the military leaders who would resign, and provides no clues to their actual rank, position or responsibilities. Why is that important? Well, for starters, there are over 1,000 flag officers in the U.S. armed services, with duties that encompass the full spectrum of military duties and responsibilities. If the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Commander of U.S. Central Command are prepared to resign over the Iran issue, that's one thing, but if the flag officers threatening to quit are in positions far outside the "combat chain," that's quite another. For the record, I have no idea who these unnamed generals or admirals might be, and quite frankly, I'm not sure the London Times does, either.

So, where does the military stand in terms of support for Mr. Bush and his war policies? Amid the steady drumbeat of bad news from Iraq, I have little doubt that support for the war--and the administration--have eroded. But there is virtually no evidence of a "military revolt," a theme which echoes in the Military Times poll, the 60 Minutes segment, and the story from the London Times. Indeed, if there was a revolt within the ranks, it would be reflected in re-enlistment rates among active duty personnel, particularly those for the Army and Marine Corps, which have borne the brunt of combat casualties. Both services met their goals for new recruits and reenlistments in 2006, suggesting that the majority of soldiers and Marines are willing to sign up (and sign up again), even if it means more deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. But that doesn't exactly support the "military revolt" theme, so good news about recruiting and reenlistment rates tends to get pushed to the back pages, or the latter segment of an evening newscast.

Of course, there are ways to determine just how strongly the military supports the War on Terror. Virtually all of the news organizations cited in this post have their own polling organizations, and it shouldn't be very hard to design a scientific, balanced survey that accurately reflects the the demographic and experience profiles of the armed services. So why haven't such polls been conducted? The answer--again--lies with the template and theme approach that shapes today's news coverage. A scientific survey of the nation's military might produce results that don't support the Military Times mail-in survey, or Lara Logan's little hit piece on 60 Minutes. So, the MSM will continue to cherry-pick its information, looking for those bits of information that fit a certain template, or support their latest theme.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Keep Talking?

In the twilight of his tenure at #10 Downing Street, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has stated publicly--for the first time--that it would be wrong to take military action against Iran. In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Blair indicated that he still prefers diplomacy for curtailing Tehran's nuclear ambitions:

“I can’t think that it would be right to take military action against Iran . . . What is important is to pursue the political, diplomatic channel. I think it is the only way that we are going to get a sensible solution to the Iranian issue.”

While Americans should applaud Mr. Blair's long-standing support for the War in Iraq, they should also understand that the Prime Minister is--to use a Thatcherism--going a bit wobbly on Iran. Three years of on-again/off-again talks between Iran and the EU-3 (Great Britian, France and Germany) have produced increased defiance from Tehran, and an accelerated nuclear program. We can only wonder what a few more rounds of "talks" might produce; relocation of North Korea's nuclear program to Iran; rapid development and testing of the mullah's first atomic weapons, and eventually, a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv. Yeah, that's the road to lasting peace.

Mr. Blair is correct in noting that a military operation against Iran would be difficult, with consequences that would extend far beyond the Middle East. But removing the military option from the table--as many in Europe have suggested--would do nothing but encourage Iran, and likely hasten Tehran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. What then? Mr. Blair hasn't said, and other European leaders are equally evasive. In fact, some politicians on the continent have suggested that we "learn to live" with an Iranian bomb, never mind the fact that those weapons will be aimed at Europe, and the technology gladly shared with terrorist groups.

The Blair approach might work if we had some assurance that short-term regime change was possible in Iran, and a new government seemed prepared to step back from the abyss. But, as we've noted in the past, the Iranian opposition is relatively weak, despite widespread opposition to the current government. Making matters worse, the U.S. has missed opportunities to support opposition groups in the past, allowing the theocrats to further suppress internal dissent. Short and medium-term prospects for regime change in Tehran are virtually nil. Even if Ahmadinejad is somehow forced out by the mullahs, his replacement won't be a Social Democrat. We'll be dealing with some sort of hardline government for years to come.

Which brings us back to the military option and Iran. While the current troop surge in Iraq poses no direct threat to Tehran, it certainly caught Iran's attention, particularly when we began rounding up members of the Quds Force that are training and supporting the terrorists. Iran's Supreme Leader reportedly said that "the cobra is standing on its tail," and his favorite proxy in Iraq, "Mookie" al-Sadr, suddenly found it necessary to take an extended vacation in Tehran. By comparison, three years of ignoring Iranian meddling in Iraq did nothing but embolden the regime in Tehran, and allow their operatives to kill more of our troops.

No one wants a war with Iran. But if the west is genuinely serious about halting Tehran's nuclear program, then all options must be on the table. As for the Europeans, let's just say we've been here before. Back in 1938, a certain madman in Germany was considered a "manageable" problem, and diplomacy remained the preferred option of the day. That approach lasted until the German panzers rolled into Poland, and members of the striped-pants set (and a certain Prime Minister) realized that they had been duped.

He's Ready for His Close-up, Mr. Fager

Over the past couple of months, we've written extensively about "Petition for Redress," the supposedly grass-roots campaign by junior military personnel to end our involvement in Iraq. More than 1,000 military members have reportedly signed the group's on-line petition, and they were featured prominently at a recent anti-war rally in Washington, D.C.

Now, Petition for Redress is heading for prime time, courtesy of CBS's "60 Minutes." Matt Drudge has posted (what appears to be) a network press release, touting the segment which will air on Sunday night. The story was reported by correspondent Lara Logan, who is--clearly--no friend of the U.S. military. Last year, Ms. Logan mounted an internet campaign to get the network to air her report on fighting along Baghdad's Haifa Street, a segment that CBS deemed "too graphic" for broadcast TV.

But, as Michelle Malkin--and others--pointed out, the story had more serious problems that images of dead bodies; video incorporated into Logan's report--which she claimed was "obtained by CBS News"--proved virtually identical to Al Qaida propaganda video of the same battle. Logan made no mention of how she obtained the video, or where it came from. As Ms. Malkin asked at the time: was Lara Logan an ignorant fool or a willing tool? Watch the videos, and draw your own conclusions. But, given that reputation, I'm highly suspicious of any military story reported by Lara Logan.

You should also be suspicious of Petition for Redress, as we've noted in the past. CBS will apparently depict the group's members as concerned and conscientious personnel, interviewed off-base and off-duty to prevent any conflict with their military duties. But in reality, the group is an astro-turf movement, backed by a high-powered public relations firm in D.C. (Fenton Communications), which promotes the anti-war organization and arranges media "opportunities." Funding for the P.R. effort appears to come from big-money leftist groups like and the Fourth Freedom Forum, which are also Fenton clients. According to the New York Sun, the Fourth Freedom Forum encouraged Fenton to hype the military group last October, just weeks after its inception. As we wondered a few weeks ago, how many other start-up organizations manage to secure the services of of top P.R. firm, barely a month after they launch?

Media outlets that have covered Petition for Redress are certainly aware of its relationship with Fenton Communications, but you won't see that in any of their reports. And, not surprisingly, you can expect that 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager will ignore that connection as well. On the other hand, you can certainly expect the network to present the group's founder, Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, as a young sailor of conviction and conscience. But, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that Petty Officer Hutto isn't your typical sailor. Thanks to some digging by the Sun and Greyhawk at the Mudville Gazette, we know that Hutto joined the Navy in 2004, only one year after participating in some well-publicized anti-war protests. He's also a college graduate who worked as a paid staffer for Amnesty International and other liberal groups before enlisting in the Navy. And, he's also accused the service of racism and discrimination in the not-too-distant past.

Call me a bit jaded and cynical, but the timing of Hutto's enlistment (and subsequent founding of the anti-war group) seems more than a bit convenient. It's difficult to imagine how someone leading an anti-war rally in 2003 would enlist in the Navy a year later, with the full knowledge that he might be called to participate in a conflict he so adamantly opposed. I don't think Hutto is the "Manchurian Sailor," some sort of plant by the radical left to stir up dissent within the ranks. However, I do believe that Hutto had a plan when he showed up at that recruiting office, and (following the Vietnam-era model) he's using military service to pad a resume and polish his activist credentials, angling for some sort of political career in the future. Can the publication of "Winter Sailor" be far behind?

As for me, I won't be watching that 60 Minutes segment on Sunday. I recommend that you skip it, too.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Exposing Another Journalistic Fraud

For journalists, there are few honors higher than winning a George Polk Award, named for the CBS Correspondent who was killed (under mysterious circumstances) while covering the Greek civil war in 1948. Mr. Polk joined the network after serving as a naval officer in the South Pacific during World War II, and there's some evidence to suggest that his service record helped him land a job at the network. Unfortunately, somewhere between Guadalcanal and CBS, Polk decided to embelish his military resume, eventually stating that he was a bomber and fighter pilot who shot down 11 (!) Japanese aircraft.

In reality, Polk was an aviation maintenance officer who never flew a combat mission; his claims about being a naval aviator and fighter ace were nothing more than an elaborate fiction, sustained first by Mr. Polk and later by his colleagues.

In the current issue of the Weekly Standard, World War II historian Richard B. Frank examines Polk's service records, and finds that the late journalist blatantly--and willingly--padded his military exploits, fabricating documents to support his claims, and wearing naval aviator wings on his uniform--despite the fact that he never qualified as a navy pilot. Frank's expose raises an obvious question: if Mr. Polk was willing to lie about his Navy service, did he also shade the truth in covering stories for CBS?

Equally telling is this little annecdote from Mr. Frank. After carefully researching and writing the Polk expose, he offered it to a number of MSM outlets, including the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Washington Post. All declined to publish it.

As Mr. Frank observes, honoring genuinely honest and crusading journalists in the name of George Polk is a travesty. So is the media's refusal to recognize that one of their icons, was (in many respects) little more than a liar and a fraud.

Hat tip: Powerline.

The NBA: It's Fannn-tastic

Truth be told, I lost interest in pro basketball about the time that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird retired. But the NBA has soldiered on, and last weekend, the league's top talent was on display in Las Vegas, part of the annual All-Star weekend. The actual game was emminently forgettable (as it always is), but the real action was apparently off the court. The event reportedly attracted quite a few luminaries from the hip-hop world, and they hardly on their best behavior.

Jason Whitlock, a sports columnist for AOL and the Kansas City Star has described All-Star Weekend as an unmitigated disaster. Mr. Whitlock is an African-American, so no one has stepped forward and called him a racist (at least, not yet).

But there is a certain sad truth (and irony) in Whitlock's observations about thuggish players (and their friends) who increasingly dominate the NBA. And, Commissioner David Stern seems quite willing to tolerate the bad behavior, as long as their are fannies in the seats, and the TV revenue keeps rolling in. You may recall that Mr. Stern spent much of last week disciplining former player Tim Hardaway over his inappropriate (and homophobic) remarks about gays. But he's been eerily quiet about the players, gangstas and other "friends of the league" who literally put Vegas under seige over the weekend--no mean feat.

Keep it up, Dave, and what's left of the NBA will continue to crumble. Ditto for the media lackeys at ABC and ESPN, who spent more time on the weekend's "Celebrity All-Star Game," than on the outlandish behavior generated by the league's visit to Vegas. Mr. Whitlock suggests moving All-Star Weekend overseas, to a place that is (hopefully) beyond the reach of the thugs, the hoes, the rappers, and everyone else who terrorized The Strip last weekend.

He's not kidding.

So, What to Do About It?

AP: Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment program instead of complying with a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze it.

As a public service, we offer some potential solutions for this problem, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force:

And, if that's not enough, there's always the "naval option."

Three years of "negotiation" with Iran have brought us to this point. It's about time to try a different means of persuasion.

A Thinking Enemy

Military officials now say a Black Hawk helicopter that made a "hard landing" near Baghdad on Wednesday was actually downed by hostile fire. None of the nine soldiers on board the chopper were seriously injured, and all were rescued by American ground forces.

With Wednesday's apparent shootdown, the U.S. has now lost eight helicopters to enemy fire over the past month, resulting in the deaths of 28 military personnel and civilians. At first, senior military officials suggested that many of the losses were the result of luck and coincidence. But in recent days, three American generals have indicated that more sophisticated weapons and tactics have played in some of the recent losses.

A recent AP story from Baghdad says it is unclear if terrorists have obtained more advanced air defense weapons, or they're simply using what they have in a more effective manner. The New York Times reported Sunday that in several shootdown incidents, enemy gunners employed multiple weapons systems against individual choppers, including shoulder-fired SAMs, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machineguns and unguided rockets--essentially creating a "wall of fire" that is more difficult for pilots to avoid, and increases the chances for an enemy "hit."

It's a classic air defense ambush technique, and variations of this tactic have been employed for years. In Vietnam, for example, enemy air defense crews often used their SA-2, radar-guided SAMs to force our aircraft into a lower altitude environment, where they became an easier target for anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), and in extreme cases, small arms fire. On some occasions, the North Vietnamese would create a "curtain" of fire for our aircraft to fly through, if they could determine the exact flight route that our fighters planned to follow.

Creating an ambush point is much easier if you know something about the operating patterns and flight routes of your adversary. I'm not saying that the terrorists are getting a copy of our Air Tasking Order (ATO), which lists most of the day's preplanned air sorties. But, if helicopters and/or fixed wing aircraft follow predictable flight routes and are more active at certain times of the day or night, finding the right spot for your spotters and gunners becomes a much less complicated task. Additionally, if any of our radio calls are passed "in the clear" (without encryption), it would be relatively simple for the enemy to monitor active frequencies and glean intelligence information. However, I don't put much stock in that latter possibility, since the military has been using encrypted or frequency-hopping radios for year, making it more difficult for adversaries to monitor our communications.

Additionally, even some of our counter-tactics can inadvertently aid the enemy. Another report from Baghdad suggests that many chopper pilots often follow rivers, reducing the possibility of a missile shot from directly beneath the aircraft. But following major rivers--like the Tigris--can also serve to "channel" aircraft, and help the terrorists locate potential ambush sites. That's one reason U.S. commanders have recently encouraged helicopter crews to be less "predictable" in their operations, making it harder for enemy gunners to target their aircraft.

And, despite our best efforts, on-board defensive systems are not perfect. In a recent Congressional hearing, Marine Corps Commandant General James Conway testified that the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, shot down on 7 February, had "not properly released its anti-missile defensive measures." The a number of potential reasons for that failure, ranging from system failure to aircraft maneuvering. Pilots are taught to execute specific defensive maneuvers if they detect a missile launch, but those maneuvers can also (in some cases) lessen the effect of on-board flares or jammers, designed to defeat the missile. I've watched video of the Sea Knight shootdown, and can't determine whether the chopper was maneuvering as the missile approached.

U.S. commanders say the apparent change in enemy tactics reflects a "thinking enemy," which is hardly surprising. Since the start of the Iraq War, terrorist have proved adept at modifying their employment techniques, to offset our advantages in numbers and technology. As we've noted before, there have been past spikes in helicopter losses, reflecting another adjustment in enemy tactics, followed by a corresponding drop in shootdowns, as we figure out what the enemy's up to, and make the necessary adjustments. The forgotten rejoinder to the "thinking enemy" assertion is that we're never idle, either. The latest wrinkle in the air defense war is a reminder that the enemy changed his tactics because our last round of counter-moves had been so successful.

Strategy Page recently provided an excellent summary of helicopter losses in Iraq, and put those numbers in a realistic context. Since the start of the conflict, the U.S. Army has lost a total of 30 helicopters, including the Black Hawk that crash-landed on Wednesday. During that same period, Army choppers have logged almost a million flying hours, producing a cumulative loss rate of roughly three helicopters per 100,000 flying hours. That remains a remarkably low tally, considering that the number of flight hours has almost doubled since 2004. But again, you won't find that in reporting from the AP, or the NYT.

Excuse Me, Mr. Fitzgerald...

You spent more than two years--and several million of our tax dollars--looking into the alleged "outing" of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Eventually, you indicted Vice President Cheney's former Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, on charges of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice. As for the original allegation--the deliberately revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative--well, that never happened, did it? Too bad Ms. Plame was out of the covert business when the "crime" occurred, and the statute of limitations had expired as well.

With the Libby case now in the hands of a federal jury, you've probably got some time on your hands, Mr. Fitzgerald, and perhaps you're searching for that next big case. Well, here it is. Better yet, it's a case of covert CIA operatives actually being outed by a media outlet, in this case, the Los Angeles Times.

What's that? Oh, we forgot. You don't prosecute journalists for discussing the identities of CIA employees. You bring them into court as star witnesses. Perhaps you can find the bureaucrat(s) who tipped the Times to this story, then invite their reporters--Mr. Drogin and Mr. Goetz--to testify against them.

Today's Reading Assignment

...from Edward Jay Epstein at Mr. Epstein, a noted investigative reporter whose career has spanned four decades, is working on a book about the 9-11 Commission, and he finds both their work and tactics lacking. For example, Epstein notes that the commission never root funding "source" for the attacks on America in 2001, and the panel never bothered to corroborate accounts of the pre-9-11 conspiracy, provided almost exclusively by captured terrorists Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi Binalshib. Both assert that the 9-11 attacks were a "contained" conspiracy, and offered no evidence that "lead" hijacker Mohammed Atta met with anyone else--or received outside assistance--during his extensive foreign travels before the plot unfolded.

But what if KSM and Binalshib lied to their CIA interrogators? Did the spy agency--and eventually, the 9-11 commissioners, ignore evidence of outside support for the hijackers, which facilitated the attacks that followed? In his OpinionJournal piece, Mr. Epstein points an accusatory finger at both the commissioners and the intelligence community, citing the work of Spain's top terror magistrate, Judge Baltazar Garzon. For years, Judge Garzon has been investigating the alleged ties between Al Qaida and a Spanish Islamist cell, and he produced an exhaustive report on that relationship almost four years ago. Garzon's report strongly refutes the 9-11 Commission's assertions regarding external support for the hijackers and their plot:

Mr. Garzon has produced a 697-page investigative report for Madrid's central court in September 2003, which charges that the Spanish cell--through its connections to Mohamed Atta's Hamburg cell and some of the pilots it recruited--helped plan, finance and support the 9/11 attacks.

In an interview, Mr. Garzon explained to me through an interpreter that the support of the Spanish cell began in the early days of the plot and continued up until the attack. He described evidence that ranged from video tapes that Spanish police had confiscated from the home of one of the Spanish conspirators, which methodically surveyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center from five different angles in the late 1990s, to a phone call intercepted by Spanish intelligence in August 2001 (at a time when the hijackers were buying tickets on the planes they planned to commandeer), in which an operative in London informed Yarkas that associates in "classes" had now "entered the aviation field," and were beheading "the bird." After drawing a diagram for me on a blackboard of how the Spanish cell connected to Atta's and Binalshibh's recruiters in Germany, he said it was "supporting the operation at every level."

For the record, the 9-11 Commission doesn't deny that Atta and Binalshibh traveled to Spain. Instead, they blithely accept statements from the captured terrorists that Binalshibh and Atta never met with anyone else during their trips to Spain. But once again, evidence compiled by Spanish authorities paints a different picture. Mr. Epstein notes that during the one week that Atta and Binalshibh were together in Spain, they literally dropped from sight for five days in July 2001. During that period, no credit card receipts, cell phone calls or hotel registrations can be traced to either terrorist, suggesting that the two men were probably sequestered in an Al Qaida-affiliated safe house. Judge Garzon believes that final planning for the 9-11 attacks was conducted in Spain, with the assistance of local terrorist facilitators.

But you won't see any of that in the 9-11 Commission Report, which describes Al Qaida as an isolated, almost monolithic organization. Not surprisingly, Mr. Epstein finds serious flaws in how the commission arrived at that conclusion, and the evidence used to support it:

"Yet if Mr. Garzon is correct about the Spanish connection to 9/11, it is not only the effectiveness of the CIA's interrogation of its al Qaeda prisoners that is called into question. The information from Binalshibh, KSM and other detainees was used to fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw, and those gaps concerned the contacts the 9/11 conspirators might have had with others wishing to harm America. By saying that no one else was involved--not in Spain, Iran, Hezbollah, Malaysia, Iraq, the Czech Republic or Pakistan--these detainees allowed the 9/11 Commission to complete its picture of al Qaeda as a solitary entity."

"Yet to come to its conclusion on this most fundamental issue, the commission was prohibited from seeing any of the detainees whose accounts it relied on. Nor was it allowed even to question the CIA interrogators to determine the way that information was obtained. The commission's joint chairmen themselves later acknowledged that they "had no way of evaluating the credibility of detainee information." So when Judge Garzon comes up with evidence that runs counter to detainees' claims, cracks begin to emerge in the entire picture."

And, for good measure, here's another fissue in the evidentary picture and the commission's resulting conclusions. U.S. intelligence agencies maintain relationships with virtually all of their western counterparts, including Spain. According to Judge Garza, Spanish security services began monitoring that particular Islamist cell in the mid-1990s. Someone needs to ask how much of the information developed in Spain was shared with the CIA, the National Security Agency, or other intelligence organizations. Congress--and the American public--have a right to know whether there a breakdown in the relationship, i.e., the Spainards didn't provide information on this particular cell and its ties to other, suspected terrorists. Or was it a case where Spain provided information on the group--and it was simply ignored.

This is not a call for the 9-11 Commission to be empaneled again. The focus and tone of their "report" suggests that the commission had little desire to investigate intelligence failures before the Bush Administration entered office. But Epstein's revelations from Spain provide another reminder of the commission's short-comings, and the political biases inherent in its inquiry. I'm looking forward to Epstein's book; it should be a useful footnote to the panel's "official" findings.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

So Long, Senior Airman Manhart

Back in January, we told you about Air Force Staff Sergeant Michelle Manhart, the former military training instructor (drill instructor for those of you in the other services) who ran into a bit of trouble after posing nude for Playboy. When her superiors learned of Sergeant Manhart's pending pictorial, they (correctly) relieved her of her duties, pending an investigation. At the time, Manhart opined that she had done nothing wrong. In fact, Sergeant Manhart suggested that by doffing her duds, she was somehow striking a blow for our civil liberties.

"Of what I did, nothing is wrong, so I didn't anticipate anything...I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't think it would be a major issue. I've been serving for 13 years, fighting for everyone rights. Why wouldn't I be able to stand up for my own rights and participate in the freedoms that make this country what it is?

That's right. Posing nude in a skin mag is one of our essential freedoms; in fact, I'm willing to bet that Sergeant Manhart thinks it should have been included in our Bill of Rights, if our founding fathers hadn't been such a bunch of prudes.

But I digress. The Air Force has completed its investigtion, and given Manhart the boot, well, sort of. A former member of the Iowa Air National Guard, Manhart has been removed from extended active duty status, and reduced in rank from Staff Sergeant (E-5), to Senior Airman (E-4). With that action, Manhart is again a member of the Iowa Guard, and has submitted her "resignation" from the guard, which is pending. A spokesman for the Iowa ANG told the Associated Press it had not yet received separation papers from the Air Force, and at this point, it did not have her duty status with the guard. A spokesman at Lackland AFB (where Manhart was stationed) said that it would be up to the guard to discharge her, given her original enlistment in the Iowa Guard.

I'm guessing that the ANG will make short work of this matter, and approve her resignation request. The only remaining question is whether Manhart's service will be classified as "honorable." An active duty member who pulled this sort of stunt would like receive a general or bad conduct discharge, but the guard has its own way of doing things, and at this point, they would probably prefer that their "problem" simply fade away.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd prefer that guard leadership take a stand in this matter, and reject Manhart's request for an honorable discharge. As we observed back in January, Manhart knew exactly what she was doing when she posed for Playboy. As a military training instructor (MTI), she was expected to set the example for airmen entering the service, and she failed miserably in that regard. Someone who willingly defied rules of conduct doesn't deserve an honorable discharge in our opinion--particularly when you consider Manhart's bid for Playboy stardom began about the time she reenlisted in the Air Force. In other words, Manhart gladly re-upped for another tour of duty (with full pay and benefits), while angling for a nude modeling gig that would almost certainly end her military career. Based on her contradictory choices, we couldn't decide if Manhart was cynical, stupid, or a little of both. We're still wondering.

As for the Air Force's most famous former MTI, Manhart says she's "disappointed" with the system. "They went to far with it," she told the AP. But she also informed the wire service that she has plans to "pursue anything that comes my way, whether it be in LA or New York or Hollywood."

Coming soon to a nudie bar or an X-rated film near you.

Doing It for Harry?

That's the latest--and ill-informed--speculation on Fleet Street, as Prime Minister Tony Blair annouces plans for a decrease in Britain's military presence in Iraq. According to Mr. Blair, the number of British troops in Iraq will be reduced from 7100 to 5500 over the next few months, as Iraqi forces assume a greater role in security operations. Still unclear is what impact--if any--the reduction will have on a scheduled deployment by Prince Harry's Blues and Royals Regiment. Harry, the third in line for the British throne, joined the regiment as a junior officer last year, after graduating from the military academy at Sandhurst.

Harry has made it clear that he wants to go to Iraq if his regiment is deployed, and will not accept any preferential treatment. The British MOD is reportedly concerned about the prince's personal safety, but given his desire to do his job--and the royal family's long record of combat service--I expect that Prince Harry will deploy, and he won't wind up behind a desk in Basra. Various descriptions of his duties indicate that Harry is the equivalent of a Scout platoon leader in the U.S. Army. In that role, he could wind up patrolling the southern border between Iran and Iraq in light tanks or other armored vehicles.

The next major British troop rotation to Iraq will occur in April, and quite frankly, I'd be surprised in the Blues and Royals aren't on the deployment schedule. Beyond Prince Harry's obvious desire to serve, I rather doubt that Tony Blair wants to be remembered as the Prime Minister who pulled strings to keep a royal out of a combat zone. That wouldn't sit very well with Labour constituency, and might jeopardize his party's chances for retaining power after Mr. Blair's retirement.

Besides, troop deployments are planned well in advance; units in the British Army (like their American counterparts) know when they're scheduled to deploy, their operating location, and how long the rotation will last. Soldiers assigned to the Blues and Royals have been preparing for their deployment for some time; at this juncture, it would make little sense to cancel their rotation, given Britain's plans to maintain a sizeable military presence in southern Iraq, and the need for trained troops to patrol that region.

The notion that Mr. Blair's troop reduction is somehow designed to keep Prince Harry out of harm's way is, quite frankly, absurd. But not quite as absurd as U.S. press reporting on the British troop reduction last night. Viewers watching CNN or MSNBC were probably convinced that every British solider was departing Iraq in the next month or so, leaving the U.S. to go it alone. What Wolf Blitzer and Company didn't tell you is that under Mr. Blair's plan, roughly 5% of the British Army will remain in Iraq, even after the drawdown. That's a significant contribution by any measure, and the continued British presence in the south allows the U.S. to concentrate on the most pressing military concern--securing Baghdad.

More Bad News for Airbus

British Airways elects to buy more Boeing 777s for its long-haul fleet, instead of Airbus A330s.

An airline spokesman described the decision as "very close," but that sounds like a bit of public relations puffery. Here's the bottom line: British Airways is looking to buy four additional jets for its long-distance routes, with options for another four aircraft. BA already owns/operates 43 Boeing 777s. It made absolutely no sense to create a separate maintenance, logistics, crew training and support structure to buy a handful of A330s. I'm guessing that Boeing didn't have to work very hard to land this contract.

As for Airbus, they recently took members of the media for a spin on their super-jumbo A380. As we've noted in the past, the A380 is a technical marvel, but it makes little sense for carriers in an era of deregulation, intense competition and high jet fuel prices. One recent report now suggests that the "break even" point for the A380 is 412 aircraft; in other words, Airbus has to sell at least that many super-jumbos to avoid losing money on the project. At one point, the European consotium suggested that it could break even with as few as 250 A380 sales. But continuing cost overruns--and fewer-than-expected-orders--means that Airbus must sell more planes to turn a profit.

The real question is whether Airbus's more viable programs--notably the A400 military transport--can generate enough revenue to offset near-term losses from the A380 and the more troubled A350 project. The A350 is supposed to be Airbus's answer to Boeing's 787 "Dreamliner," but its also behind schedule; potential customers have demanded major design changes and it has generated less than half the orders than Boeing has received for its new entry. Problems with the A380 and A350 may force European governments--and taxpayers--to increase the subsidies they provide to Airbus, to keep the company going so that its key airliner projects can eventually turn the corner.

That Hissing Sound You Hear... John Edwards' latest presidential bid, rapidly deflating after a pair of major blunders in only two weeks.

First came the blogger scandal. Like every other politician, the former North Carolina Senator decided (correctly) that he needed a major presence on the internet, complete with his own "campaign blog." Problem was, he hired a couple of "Kos Kids" to handle the blogging assignment. Unfortunately, no one at the campaign bothered to check their "previous" work (at other blogs), which included virulently anti-Christian and anti-Catholic posts. Remarkably, Edwards actually backed his bloggers (for a time), then wiser heads prevailed and the two bloggers submitted their "resignations" less than a week later. Obviously, the blame for those defamatory posts can't be blamed solely on the candidate, but the episode does suggest a campaign that lacks organization, focus, and control.

And, if that weren't bad enough, Edwards himself stepped in it a few days ago, in that bluest of blue precincts, Hollywood. Senator Edwards clearly wants--and needs--the support of Hollywood's liberal elite, and probably considers himself the rightful heir to those entertainment heavyweights who write big checks for Democratic candidates. Speaking at a reception in La-La land, Mr. Edwards, as you've probably heard, remarked that an Israeli raid on Iran's nuclear facilities was "perhaps" the greatest short-term threat to world peace. After that, writes Variety columnist Peter Bart, a "chill descended on the gathering, and the Edwards event was brought to a polite close."

Bart tries to make the case that support for Israel is no longer a prerequisite for the endorsement of the Hollywood left, and he may be right. But, judging from Bart's account, it didn't sound like the mavens of Tinsel Town were lining up to back Edwards after his assessment of the world scene. More importantly, the episode (again) exposes the former senator's grave deficiencies as a presidential contender. John Hinderaker at Powerline, diplomatically, describes Edwards as an "unserious" candidate, someone more concerned with his own celebrity and hob-nobbing with entertainment swells than making a serious run for the White House. I disagree; from what I can gather, Edwards appears genuinely serious. The problem, as Paul Mirengoff describes it, is abundantly clear: Mr. Edwards is too tone deaf to mount a serious campaign, and too stupid to serve as commander-in-chief.

I hope Mr. Edwards enjoys that 28,000 square-foot mansion that he's building back in North Carolina. With his presidential bid slowly imploding, it looks like he'll be off the campaign trail (and back in those new digs) much sooner than expected.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Follow-Up for Senator McCain

On the campaign trail in South Carolina Monday, Arizona Senator John McCain had some tough words for former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, calling him "one of the worst in history."

We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement _ that's the kindest word I can give you _ of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war," the Arizona senator told an overflow crowd of more than 800 at a retirement community near Hilton Head Island, S.C. "The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously."

McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, complained that Rumsfeld never put enough troops on the ground to succeed in Iraq.

Quite naturally, no one at the event--media or retirees--bothered to ask Senator McCain the logical, follow-up question:

Senator, two U.S. administrations--with the backing of Congress--cut six divisions from the U.S. Army between 1988 and 2000. The Marine Corps was cut as well. You were a member of the Senate during that period. What responsibility do you take for the defense cuts that left us with an undersized Army and Marine Corps, and unable to sustain the troop levels supposedly required in Iraq?

That's a question that should be asked of every Senator seeking the White House in '08, even Barrack Obama. True, Senator Obama wasn't in Washington when these troop reductions occurred, but we haven't seen him leading the charge to expand our ground forces, either.

Unfortunately, my travels don't take me to New Hampshire or Iowa, and my visits to the Palmetto State are limited. However, I would encourage any of our readers in those locales to pose my question to the various presidential aspirants. An undersized Army and Marine Corps was something that George W. Bush inherited--not something he created. And for that problem, the finger of blame can be pointed at lots of people, including some Senators who want to move into the Oval Office.

What the Beeb Doesn't Tell You

The BBC's "security correspondent," Frank Gardner, is reporting that U.S. contingency plans for striking Iran "extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country's military infrastructure." Mr. Gardner also claims that planners at U.S. Central Command "have already selected their target sets in Iran," a list that reportedly includes key nuclear facilities at Bushehr, Khondab (Arak), Esfahan and Natanz.

My response can be summed up in one word: Duh.

We've been down this road before, but I'll take another shot at "de-mystifying" the world of military planning. While stories like this one sound sensational (and they're useful in conveying a message to hostile regimes), much of the "planning" described in the BBC article is largely routine, and reflects a process that has been on-going for years.

Let's start with the targeting process. The days when air planners literally selected bombing targets a day or two before the mission have long since passed. Efforts to locate, identify, and analyze potential targets now begin years in advance. Military intelligence organizations catalogue these sites in voluminous documents called a Basic Encyclopedia (BE). There is at least one encyclopedia for each of our potential adversaries. Potential targets are listed by name and by a specific BE number (or, in the case of larger complexes, multiple BE numbers), allowing planners and analysts to gather (and access) information on those facilities.

Data on potential targets is compiled in individual folders, listed again by facility name and BE number. Target folders include (at a minimum) a description of the facility, imagery of the complex, a summary of defenses in the area, and a list of desired mean points of impact (DMPIs)--points that must be struck successfully to destroy the site, or inflict maximum damage. These folders are constantly updated; CENTCOM (like other combat commands) has a portion of its J-2 (intelligence) staff that does nothing but work the targeting problem. The goal is a targeting database that is accurate, current, and provides the widest array of potential options for campaign planners.

The overall process works something like this: the President and his senior advisers set overall strategy; the combatant command (in this case, CENTCOM), creates a military campaign plan that will meet the commander-in-chief's objectives. Operational planning for air, ground, naval and special forces elements is the responsibility of various component commanders in those areas. If a strike against Iran is based heavily on air and naval options, the day-to-day planning (and execution) authority will fall on the shoulders of U.S. Central Air Forces (USCENTAF) and the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the air and naval elements of CENTCOM. And, once again, these short-term plans and execution orders (say, the Air Tasking Order which outlines all air operations in the theater for a prescribed period) support the campaign plan and the overall political/military strategy.

At the risk of sounding redundant, let me emphasize again that this planning process is cumulative in nature; operational plans (OPlans) for the Iranian problem have existed for decades. These plans are constantly reviewed and updated to meet changing requirements. Thirty years ago, plans for Iran focused on countering a Russian invasion; today, the OPlans are aimed at more relevant issues, such as deterring Tehran's regional ambitions and WMD programs. But some of the same units and basing options that would have countered a Soviet invasion in the 1970s would also be used today, in countering new threats related to Iran.

Simply stated, the military simply doesn't have the time to build a new plan for every situation that arises, so relevant items from existing plans are "borrowed," shaped and modified to meet changing contingencies. That's why OPlans and basic encyclopedias are such vital tools; they provide the planning foundation for any military campaign, with the flexibilty to make changes (as required). Any potential attack against Iran will be the product of decades of research, analysis and planning, down to the target sets, number of aircraft and ships involved, and even the types of weapons that may be used.

Likewise, it's no surprise that a theoretical Iran campaign would include targets outside that country's nuclear program. There are a number of elements that support a weapons program--electrical grids, research complexes, transportation hubs and mining facilities, to name a few. Strikes against those targets would further impede a covert nuclear program, and slow the recovery of Tehran's overt efforts. Additionally, attacks against Iran's military facilities would also be required, to (a) minimize danger to allied military forces in the region, (b) help destabilize the regime in Tehran and (c) pave the way for follow-on strikes inside that country. Such requirements are one reason that Israel has been pressing for a U.S. military option, since they lack the forward basing and combat persistence needed for a sustained campaign against Iran.

As for the "triggers" for a potential attack (outlined in the BBC report), those seem fairly broad, although proving either scenario could be difficult. For example, there is ample, annecdotal evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but conclusive proof of that effort has not been obtained (or at least, publicly revealed). In the past, ircumstantial evidence might have been sufficient to launch military strikes, but in the aftermath of the Iraq WMD debacle, more concrete information is probably required. A similar level of proof is likely demanded for the "other" potential trigger: a high-casualty attack on U.S. forces in Iraq that could be linked directly to Iran. Recent media accounts suggest that there is considerable debate in Washington about Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq, and the involvement of senior officials in Tehran; given that disagreement, it might be difficult to obtain irrefutable evidence of Iranian complicity in a mass-casualty attack on U.S. troops in Iraq. In both cases, the level of proof required for military action may actually be higher than the media would suggest.

But such distinctions are lost on outlets like the "Beeb," who've been peddling this story (in one form or another) for months. By hinting that the targets have been selected (and even listing some of the high-profile nuclear sites), the MSM is suggesting that it's just a matter of weeks before the bombs start falling in Iran. And, for all we know, that may be true. But if we launch military strikes against that country, it will be the product of years of analysis and preparation, and not the result of some hastily-conceived planning effort.