Monday, December 31, 2007

Captain Renault is Shocked, Shocked!

As we observed in the hours following Benazir Bhutto's assassination, the collective actions of Pakistan's government--multiple explanations regarding the cause of her death; the curious failure to conduct an autopsy--suggested a regime that was disinterested in following legitimate leads, or fearful of where they might lead.

Now, security analysts in the U.S. and South Asia are suggesting that Bhutto's death was the work of mid and low-level Pakistani Army and Air Force officers, sympathetic to "ultra-conservative Islamists with ties to the jihadis." Looks like the trail of suspicion is leading back to the usual suspects, but that begs an obvious question: could that group successfully execute (and cover up) such a plot without the complicity of higher-ranking officials?

As noted in this UPI analysis by Claude Salhani, editor of the Middle East Times, junior military personnel have also been implicated in past attempts on the life of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. While some believe that the conspiracy to kill Musharraf extended into the upper echelons of the military and intelligence services, only lower-ranking officers were arrested and court-martialed. Investigations into the plots to kill Musharraf are "dead in the water" one source reports. No surprise there. Lower-ranking conspirators are sacrificed, while senior participants are free to plot again and again.

Within 24 hours of Ms Bhutto's death, officials in Islamabad were already blaming terrorists for the assassination, and declining offers of outside assistance. On its present course, the Bhutto probe may reach "cold case" status in record time.

Captain Renault from Casablanca would certainly understand.

Killer Chicks

We've occasionally chided Air Force Times for being late on a story, but we'll also give them credit for an interesting read on women who've flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. That story, which was recently posted on the paper's website, profiles female pilots, navigators and enlisted aircrew members who have demonstrated their mettle under fire--and killed lots of bad guys in the process.

One of the more memorable vignettes in writer Patrick Winn's account is that of Captain Allison Black, an AC-130H gunship navigator who participated in a key mission against Al Qaida and Taliban insurgents in November 2001, during the early phase of the Afghan campaign. During that engagement, she earned the nickname "Angel of Death" from a key U.S. ally. As Mr. Winn describes it:

Now the target was a smallish province along the northern border. Bearded American soldiers, relying on the Northern Alliance’s knowledge of local terrain and Taliban habits, were moving covertly through the surrounding hills on horseback.

For weeks, the Army detachment had lived with Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a hulking and prickly haired war veteran thrilled to watch American air power cripple his Taliban foes.

Just 16 hours after Black landed at Karshi-Kanabad Air Base in neighboring Uzbekistan, she had been shuttled to her first-ever combat mission. It was off to a choppy start. Although the crew had successfully destroyed a bank of rocket launchers and several Taliban trucks, they were forced to evade anti-aircraft fire that pelted the Spectre’s steel belly.

“All they needed was a high-caliber [anti-aircraft] system to present a problem,” Black said. “We were definitely on edge.”

Dented but intact, the gunship flew on. Operational Detachment Alpha 595, from the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group, lit up Black’s radio as her plane neared its encampment. With Dostum’s help, the troops had learned of a nearby safe house packed with more than 200 Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Black began to chart the course. When her voice crackled over the soldiers’ field radios, Dostum was delightedly incredulous. A woman? Sent to kill the Taliban? “He couldn’t believe it,” Black said. “He thought it was the funniest thing.”

The Spectre neared and its cannons erupted. Unaccustomed to the Gatling gun’s mechanized snarl, the fighters confused the airstrike with a ground assault. Militants scattered into the fields, seeking cover in ditches and vehicles, although Black could see their heat-signature silhouettes from her console by the cockpit.

Dostum, hidden with the Army detachment several miles away, said the Taliban also believed a high-powered laser pointer used by Spectre operators to identify ground targets — a “sparkle,” in Air Force spec ops speak — was a death ray that turned everything it touched to flames.

As the hailstorm of munitions continued, Dostum grabbed his walkie-talkie, switched to the Taliban’s unsecured frequency and relayed to them the sound of Black’s chatter coming through Army radio.
He used the female pilot’s voice to taunt them as they bled.

“He said, ‘America is so determined, they bring their women to kill the Taliban. You’re so pathetic,’” Black said. “‘It’s the angel of death raining fire upon you.’” After circling the safe house environs many times — striking militants after they’d regroup in threes and fours — the Spectre had just enough fuel to return to Uzbekistan. The crew had expended all of its ammunition: 400 rounds of 40mm cannon shot and 100 rounds of 105mm Howitzer rounds. Black contacted an incoming gunship sent to finish off the remaining militants with a fresh load of ammo.

Among the other "killer chicks," in his piece, Winn introduces us to Major Melissa May, an F-16 pilot who goes by the call sign SHOCK, an acronym for “Scarlet-Headed Ovulating Commie Killer”

The Grandaddy of Them All

A Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) simulator, mounted in a B-2 weapons trainer at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. The simulator is used to train munitions crews who will mount operational versions of the weapon in the B-2. MOP is the world's largest conventional weapon, designed for deeply-buried targets (USAF photo courtesy of Lt Col Bob Dulong)

Here's a little heads-up for Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadeinjad, Kim Jong-il and other tyrants who like to hide in caves and bunkers, supposedly beyond the reach of "conventional" bombs and similar weapons. The next time you climb into your favorite cavern or underground rumpus room, remember: you're not as safe as you might think.

That's because MOP--the USAF's Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP)--has taken another step toward reality.

A week before Christmas, a team at Whiteman AFB, Missouri (home of the B-2) loaded a 700-lb mock-up of the new bomb into a stealth bomber weapons load trainer. The mock-up is used by munitions crews that will load the real MOP into the B-2.

Needless to say, MOP will be the world's largest conventional weapon, and the photo at the top of this post gives you some idea of its massive size. But, in case you're wondering, here are the bomb's official numbers, from a Whiteman press release:

"The MOP is approximately 20.5 feet long, with a 31.5-inch diameter and a total weight of slightly less than 30,000 pounds. The weapon will carry over 5,300 pounds of explosive material and will deliver more than 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor, the BLU-109. It is designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding."

Work on MOP began in 2004, and integration with the B-2 has been underway since last summer. The stealth bomber will be able to carry two of the weapons, which are guided by GPS. While MOP has never been a "black" program (as far as we can tell) it wasn't widely publicized until this year, when the Russians announced they had developed a new bomb that was four times more powerful than the U.S. BLU-82, long regarded as the "ultimate" conventional weapon.

Russia claims their new weapon can be delivered from a TU-160 Blackjack bomber, but footage of its first test--conducted last summer--never showed the bomber (and the bomb) in the same frame. There is speculation that the Russian weapon (nicknamed the "Father of All Bombs") is an out-sized weapon, similar to the BLU-82, which can only be dropped from the cargo bay of a transport aircraft. Additionally, the Russian bomb does not appear to be a penetrating weapon, unlike the MOP, which is intended for deeply-buried targets.


Not quite this bad...but. Mike Ramirez weighs in on the F-15 stand down, with a cartoon that's bound to delight the F-16 community.

In Monday's edition of Investor's Business Daily, the great Michael Ramirez offers his take on the extended grounding of the Air Force's F-15 air superiority fighters. With much of the Eagle fleet on the ground, he suggests, the nation's air defenses (and the fighter that forms its backbone) are little more than junk. Ouch.

Fortunately, the air defense situation isn't quite that bad--at least, not yet. While more than 400 F-15s undergo safety inspections, Air National Guard (ANG) F-16s have been filling in at locations normally staffed by F-15 units. Vermont Air Guard F-16s, which normally sit alert at Langley AFB, VA are also pulling duty at Otis ANGB, Massachusetts. Vipers from the Illinois ANG are on alert in New Orleans; the California ANG is covering the entire west coast, and members of the Minnesota ANG got the best deal of all: with the Hawaii guard's F-15s grounded, F-16 pilots and support personnel from Duluth are now sitting alert near Honolulu.

So far, the additional duty hasn't created any excessive hardships for the ANG F-16 units, although the expanded alert commitment forced the California guard to borrow jets from units in Indiana and Arizona. A spokesman for NORAD told the Associated Press that air defenses have not been compromised, though "you're spreading resources a little thinner than we'd like." However, he insisted that "We can be anywhere at any time."

As the inspections of the Eagle fleet continue, ANG F-16s are expected to maintain their expanded air defense duties for several more weeks. And, given the rivalry that exists between the F-15 crowd and the Viper community, the Ramirez cartoon of a "junkyard Eagle" is bound to make its way onto a few F-16 squadron patches, complete with such mottoes as: "When the Other Guys Fall Apart...We're Still in the Fight," (or) "Defending You When Others Can't."

Still, the Ramirez jibe is tame compared to a legendary insult from the 48th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS), which handled the alert mission for years at Langley AFB. Long after Langley's 1st Fighter Wing had converted to the F-15, the 48th FIS was still flying 1960s-era F-106s and providing air defense for the entire mid-Atlantic coast region.

Mindful that his area of responsibility included Langley AFB, an enterprising 48th FIS commander decided his unit needed a new slogan, and had it painted across the doors of his alert "barn," in letters big enough to be seen by the F-15 jocks across the runway. It read:


That motto lasted all of one day. It created such a howl that the 48th FIS commander was directed to remove it by none other than the four-star general who ran Tactical Air Command (forerunner of Air Combat Command), also based at Langley. The general, who was a bit partial to the Eagle, didn't take kindly to such insults, especially from an air defense unit.

Ironically, the 48th FIS eventually converted to the F-15 and flew that aircraft until it was inactivated in 1991. Ironically, the Eagles from the 48th FIS were transferred to the Missouri ANG--the same unit which suffered the November F-15 crash that triggered the current stand down.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Round Up the Usual Suspects

Pakistan's first choice to lead the Bhutto investigation? (Claude Rains photo courtesy of

As Pakistan descends further into chaos, the Musharraf government says it knows who killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Unfortunately, the regime's actions since the assassination have undercut those claims.

Barely 24 hours after her death, there have been stunning revelations about how Bhutto died, and what wasn't done in the aftermath of Thursday's assassination. Both will only fuel suspicion about government complicity in the attack, which claimed the lives of the former prime minister and 20 others.

In one of the nation's first official statements on the assassination, Pakistan's Interior Minister, Hamid Nawaz, said Mrs. Bhutto died from head injuries, not bullet wounds as was originally reported. At least seven doctors at Rawalpindi General Hospital--where Bhutto was taken for treatment--reported that there were no bullet wounds on her body. Initial reports suggested that Mrs. Bhutto was shot in her neck and chest by an unknown gunman, who then blew himself up.

But, according to Mr. Nawaz, X-rays of the former prime minister did not reveal any bullets in her head, leading doctors to conclude that she was killed by shrapnel from the bomb:

“The report says she had head injuries – an irregular patch – and the X-ray doesn’t show any bullet in the head. So it was probably the shrapnel or any other thing has struck her in her said. That damaged her brain, causing it to ooze and her death. The report categorically says there’s no wound other than that,” Nawaz told a Pakistani news channel.

But that finding is not conclusive--at least by western standards--because no autopsy was performed (emphasis mine).

The doctors have submitted a report to the Pakistan government in which they say that no post-mortem was performed on Bhutto’s body and they had not received any instructions to perform one.


An autopsy was not carried out at the hospital "because the district administration and police had not requested the hospital authorities (for this)", the report said.

Admittedly, we're not experts in Pakistani post-mortem procedures. But, under the circumstances--the assassination of a former prime minister seeking a return to power--you'd think that an autopsy request would be automatic.

On the other hand, if any combination of (a) Pakistan's current leadership; (b) the nation's military or (c) it's primary intelligence organization (the ISI) had a hand in the assassination, then failing to order an autopsy would be a convenient mechanism for cooling the forensic trail. Under Islamic tradition, bodies of the deceased are not embalmed and burial usually occurs on the day of death, so decomposition begins quickly, and potential clues may be lost. Readers will note that no one in Islamabad is pressing for an exhumation of the body, either. In the meantime, the failure to conduct an autopsy can can be blamed on the "confusion" that followed the event, or some minor police functionary--take your pick.

In the aftermath of yesterday's tragedy, there was a widespread belief (some would say hope) that the Bhutto assassination was the work of Islamic terrorists. After all, President Musharraf has survived three attempts on his life since 2001; radicals had threatened to kill Mrs. Bhutto since her return to Pakistan in October, and the bombing of her campaign rally had all the trappings of an Al Qaida/Taliban operation.

But, more recent events suggest otherwise. A friend of the late prime minister received an e-mail from her last October (which he also forwarded to Wolf Blitzer of CNN). In the message, Bhutto complained about Musharraf's refusal to provide requested security measures, and said if she died, the Pakistani president would bear part of the blame. Bhutto's long-time U.S. friend (and lobbyist) Mark Siegel claims that Musharraf refused her request for Scotland Yard and the FBI to investigate the "suspicious" 18 October bombing of a rally in Karachi, marking her return from exile. More than 100 people died in that attack.

Two months later, Pakistan's failure to autopsy Mrs. Bhutto's body suggests a government that is disinterested in pursuing possible leads, fearful (or knowing) where they might lead. In an interview on yesterday's Sean Hannity radio program, Middle East analyst (and Pakistani native) Monsoor Ijaz--hardly a Bhutto ally--pressed the Musharraf regime to request outside assistance in the investigation. Without independent confirmation from the FBI and Scotland Yard, he warned, Musharraf could not present a credible case that Bhutto was killed by terrorists.

So far, Islamabad has made no request for assistance, concentrating (instead) on learning the identity of the bomber, and launching an investigation into the lack of an autopsy. Call us cynics, but we're betting that the bomber will be quickly linked to terrorists, and some Rawalpindi cop will be blamed for failing to order a post-mortem. It's a convenient touch that Captain Renault from Casablanca would appreciate.


Sure enough, Interior Minister Nawaz has already announced that "we have evidence that Al-Qaida and the Taliban" were behind the suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto. That may be true, but the government's handling of the case (so far) makes that narrative more difficult to accept. And thousands of Pakistanis appear equally unconvinced.

Not So Fast

Russian officials are dismissing Iran's recent claim that it will soon receive the state-of-the art S-300 air defense system. As Robert Wall of Aviation Week reports:

"...Moscow says that assertion is just not true. The S-300, which is considered the most sophisticated air defense system Russia is making available on the export market -- the more sophisticated S-400 appears mainly for domestic use, so far -- will not be delivered to Iran. In fact, a government agency involved in any such transfer says it is not even being considered."

As we noted in a previous post on this topic, stories about Iran acquiring the S-300 have been making the rounds for years. And, contrary to what Moscow is saying, there have been some serious negotiations on a possible purchase. However, the deal usually fell through because of the reported asking price ($300 million per battery), with additional charges for training and follow-on maintenance support.

Still, Iran's most recent claims about an S-300 deal seemed plausible, for a couple of reasons. First, the announcement came from the nation's defense minister, who referenced a contract that had already been signed. Secondly, Tehran recently completed its acquisition of the short-range SA-15 system; the S-300 (also known as the SA-20) would be a logical complement, providing long-range coverage against air, cruise missile and ballistic missile threats.

While it isn't in the same price range as the S-300, the SA-15 isn't cheap, either. Iran's decision to buy that latter system was an indication of serious gaps in the nation's air defense system, and Tehran's determination to fill them, even if it means paying big money for advanced equipment. And, with oil nearing $100 a barrel, financing an S-300 purchase would be easier for Iran and other potential Middle East customers.

Given the disconnect in statements from Tehran and Moscow, someone is obviously out of the loop, offering up another bit of disinformation, or they simply jumped the gun. For now, our money's on that third option. Iran clearly has an interest in the S-300 system, and Moscow's past deals with Cyprus and China underscore their willingness to sell to anyone who can meet the asking price.

But Moscow is also aware that confirmation of an SA-20 sale to Iran could further de-stabilize an already volatile region; the U.S. would pressure Russia to cancel the deal and pending delivery of the system might cause Israel to launch a preemptive strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities. That's one reason that Russia would prefer to keep an SA-20 deal quiet, and possibly conceal initial deliveries to Iran. There's too much "smoke" on this issue to completely dismiss prospects of a near-term SA-20 acquisition by Tehran.

True, recent claims about buying the system may be exaggerated, but there's no doubt that Iran recognizes existing weaknesses in its air defense network, and the need to correct them. The Iranians also understand that the S-300/SA-20--however pricey it may be--would go a long way towards improving its air defenses, and even deter potential attackers. As for Russia, an S-300 deal with Iran would represent a multi-billion ruble payday, and open the door for additional sales of the system. It's hard to walk away with that much money on the table.

At this point, it may be easy for Moscow to dismiss Iranian assertions about an S-300 sale. But Russia's standard "denial" is less-than-satisfactory. With Tehran eager to acquire an advanced, long-range SAM (and Moscow willing to deal), it's s fairly safe bet that the S-300 will wind up in Iran, and sooner, rather than later.

Better Late Than Never

Sometimes, the reporting staff at the Military Times newspapers resembles that proverbial blind hog. Every now and then, they stumble across a news "acorn," but in terms of enterprise reporting, they're often behind the pack.

Latest case in point: the F-22 Raptor's first intercept of Russian Bear H bombers, off the coast of Alaska in late November. We reported the incident more than a month ago; Air Force Times finally "discovered" the story yesterday, apparently because the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) issued a press release. Apparently, NORAD was preoccupied with its annual "Santa tracking" operation, and delayed announcing the landmark intercept until after the holidays.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the public affairs community, but then again, we've never held high expectations for that crowd. As for Air Force Times, you'd think they would have gotten wind of the intercept before that p.r. handout. Along with blogosphere coverage, the intercept has been discussed--at length--in on-line fighter aviation forums.

Oh, that's right, since blogs and internet forums aren't real journalism, professional reporters don't believe anything that's posted there. Better to wait for NORAD to crank out that press release and get the story from an "official" source.

Gannett, which bought the Times publications several years ago, likes to brag about their penetration of the military market. But, a closer reading of their on marketing brochure suggests otherwise. Their "paid subscriptions" for the four papers totals 240,000, barely seven percent of the U.S. military population (including dependents). And their weekly readership of 1 million represents only a third of the total armed forces audience.

Truth is, a lot of military members gave up on the Times years ago. Those former readers tend to fall into two different camps; one group claims the papers are too liberal in their coverage of military issues; the other believes that Times reporters miss too many stories, or rely on p.r. handouts to drive their coverage.

Like that NORAD handout on the F-22's first Bear intercept--a month after it occurred. As the public affairs crowd at Peterson AFB (and the folks at Air Forces Times) might say: better late than never.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Today's Reading Assignment

..from Andrew McCarthy at NRO's The Corner. Who killed Benazir Bhutto? The real Pakistan, he writes, a country where Osama bin Laden has at 46% approval rating. He compares the Pakistan of western fantasy, against the reality on the ground:

There is the Pakistan of our fantasy. The burgeoning democracy in whose vanguard are judges and lawyers and human rights activists using the “rule of law” as a cudgel to bring down a military junta. In the fantasy, Bhutto, an attractive, American-educated socialist whose prominent family made common cause with Soviets and whose tenures were rife with corruption, was somehow the second coming of James Madison.

The real Pakistan is a breeding ground of Islamic holy war where, for about half the population, the only thing more intolerable than Western democracy is the prospect of a faux democracy led by a woman — indeed, a product of feudal Pakistani privilege and secular Western breeding whose father, President Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, had been branded as an enemy of Islam by influential Muslim clerics in the early 1970s.

The real Pakistan is a place where the intelligence services are salted with Islamic fundamentalists: jihadist sympathizers who, during the 1980s, steered hundreds of millions in U.S. aid for the anti-Soviet mujahideen to the most anti-Western Afghan fighters — warlords like Gilbuddin Hekmatyar whose Arab allies included bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the stalwarts of today’s global jihad against America.

The real Pakistan is a place where the military, ineffective and half-hearted though it is in combating Islamic terror, is the thin line between today’s boiling pot and what tomorrow is more likely to be a jihadist nuclear power than a Western-style democracy.

In that real Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto’s murder is not shocking. There, it was a matter of when, not if.

Read the whole thing. To borrow a phrase, Mr. McCarthy speaks some rather inconvenient truths about a situation that is (typically) miscast by western elites.

Blowing Away the Threat

A vehicle-mounted Cyclone blower, used to expose trash and other debris that hide IEDs in Iraq; more than 100 are currently in service with U.S. forces in Iraq (Buffalo Turbine photo via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).

In the long struggle against IEDs in Iraq, it has often been said that there won't be a single, "magic bullet" solution that solves the problem, once and for all.

Instead, dealing with that threat has required a variety of tactics and technologies, incorporating everything from dismounted troops, to super-sized debris sweepers.

That's right, debris sweepers. The same devices used to blow away trash at football stadiums, race tracks, public parks and on city streets is now being employed to expose roadside bombs in Iraq, with considerable success.

A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel details the effort. A couple of years ago, with IED attacks on the rise, former soldiers working for an equipment manufacturer wondered why a modified blower couldn't be used to expose IEDs, which are often concealed beneath piles of trash and other debris.

Buffalo Turbine, a Springville, New York firm, stepped up to the challenge, producing a vehicle-mounted blower (aptly named the Cyclone) that could direct a powerful blast of air at roadside trash piles and other suspicious debris. Powered by Kohler engines (built in Wisconsin), the Cyclone can generate a hurricane-force torrent of air, reaching speeds of 180 mph. That force is more than sufficient to blow away trash or debris hiding IEDs, and sometimes, actually detonate the device.

According to the manufacturer, the Cyclone has uncovered "dozens" of IEDs in Iraq. The military has over 100 of the blowers in service and more are on the way. Countless lives have been saved by the Cyclone, and no soldiers have been injured while using the device. In fact, the vehicle-mounted blower has been so effective that Cyclones now lead many convoys in Iraq.

Development and deployment of the blower system reminds us that some of the best military innovations come from outside the R&D community. For a fraction of the billions spent (so far) on IED jammers and robots, the Cyclone has proven to be a highly effective counter-measure, using the same technology found in leaf blowers found at your hardware store.

The Cyclone story reminds us of another "low-tech" solution to a vexing military problem during World War II. As Allied forces advanced slowly through Normandy, armored units suffered horrendous losses from the thick "hedgerows" that bordered the region's many fields. Most of the hedgerows were too dense to simply punch through and rolling over the top exposed the tank's thin "belly" armor to enemy anti-tank fire.

The losses continued until a maintenance NCO developed a simple "hedge chopper" fashioned from scrap metal. Mounted on the front of a Sherman tank, the chopper allowed tank crews to slice through a hedgerow quickly, often surprising German defenders on the other side. Development of the chopper took a few hours, some scrap steel, a welding torch, and some old-fashioned American ingenuity. For his efforts, the Sergeant received the Distinguished Service Cross--and the gratitude of Sherman crews that no longer had to "climb over" hedgerows.

The Disaster Felt Round the World

We rarely agree with Michael Scheuer, the former CIA officer best known for his "second career" as a Bush Administration critic. But, reacting to the day's events in Pakistan, Mr. Scheuer summed it up nicely, describing the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as a "disaster" for her country, and her chief rival, President Pervez Musharraf. And, by extension, Mr. Musharraf's latest political disaster is an equal calamity for the United States.

For President Musharraf, the fallout from Bhutto's death will prove both immediate and long-lasting. In a nation where politics is often a blood sport, there were immediate charges that elements of Musharraf's government were behind the assassination. Mrs. Bhutto was killed in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, which houses a number of military and intelligence organizations. Witnesses said Bhutto was shot in the chest and neck as she left a campaign rally, moments before a homicide bomber detonated his device, killing 20 additional people. The carefully-executed attack, in the citadel of Pakistan's military, raised immediate charges of government complicity.

"Musharraf, you dog," chanted Bhutto supporters outside the hospital where former prime minister was taken after the attack, and later pronounced dead. Their chant captured the sentiments of millions of Pakistanis, who are blaming Musharraf and his allies for the assassination. Within hours of Bhutto's death, there were reports of violent protests between security forces and her supporters. Information posted at the Pakistani Spectator (and other South Asia blogs) suggest that angry mobs are burning shops and vehicles in Rawalpindi. Roads leading to the capital of Islamabad have reportedly been blocked by police.

Opponents of President Musharraf have legitimate reasons to be suspicious. Pakistan's military (which Musharraf headed until recently) engineered the coup that deposed the government of Bhutto's father in 1979. And Musharraf himself led a 1999 coup that resulted in the removal of another Prime Minister, Naviz Sharif. Just hours before Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Sharif survived an attack aimed at him. Early accounts suggested that gunfire directed toward Mr. Sharif came from a building controlled by Musharraf supporters.

While a government-sanctioned assassination cannot be ruled out (at this point), there is the more likely possibility that today's strikes were the work of Taliban and Al Qaida-backed terrorists. Attacks by those elements have been on the upswing in recent months, and the killing of Mrs. Bhutto (and the attempted assassination of Mr. Sharif) would satisfy a key terrorist goal: plunging Pakistan into chaos, and further undermining the authority of President Musharraf.

Indeed, today's murder of Benazir Bhutto--and the apparent assassination attempt against Naviz Sharif--will only reinforce public perceptions that Mr. Musharraf is unable to defend his nation against Islamic radicals. Violence that began in the western tribal areas (after Musharraf cut an ill-advised "peace deal" with pro-Taliban forces) spread rapidly to other areas, including Pakistan's major cities. Over the past two months, Islamic terrorists have demonstrated an ability to strike almost at will, staging a pair of high-profile bombings near Pakistani nuclear facilities, the most recent in early December.

Regardless of who carried out today's attacks, Mr. Musharraf will emerge as the loser, with the impact being felt across the political spectrum. Charges of government involvement in the Bhutto assassination will only galvanize the opposition, leading to more protests, unrest and violence only two weeks before scheduled Parliamentary elections. Factions more supportive of President Musharraf will (again) question his ability to deal with the dual threat posed by political upheaval and Islamic terrorism. In the span of a few seconds--the time required for two shots and that explosion--Musharraf's authority was dramatically reduced.

For the U.S., today's events are equally disastrous. In recent months, the Bush Administration has been attempting to walk a diplomatic tightrope, encouraging Pakistan's slow march toward democracy (or, what passes for democracy in that corner of the world), while maintaining support for President Musharraf, perpetually described as A Key Ally in the War on Terror.

That balancing act will prove even more difficult in the weeks to come; a strong backing for the Pakistani government will further inflame anti-U.S. sentiment in the region. On the other hand, abandoning Musharraf would be an even greater mistake, potentially opening the door for a coup, and the takeover of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal by Islamic radicals. Our problems are compounded by the time and effort invested in getting Mrs. Bhutton back into Pakistan and its political process. With her passing, who will fill the vaccum, and maintain her commitment to fighting corruption and the terrorists?

Clearly, the situation in Pakistan is going to get worse before it gets better. And, something else seems painfully clear as well: After a year of stinging defeats, Al Qaida is on the verge of scoring a major strategic victory as 2007 draws to a close. With a few shots and a homicide bombing in Rawalpindi, the terrorist organization (and its Taliban allies) have plunged Pakistan into political chaos, with consequences that reverberate far beyond that nation's borders.


ADDENDUM: While the death of Mrs. Bhutto and her supporters is a human tragedy, it would be a mistake to characterize the late Prime Minister as some sort of political savior or saint. As the Abu Muqawama blog observed:

The folks on NBC, though, are making it sound as if Bhutto was some brave liberal alternative to the Musharraf regime, swallowing hook, line, and sinker this narrative that Benazir Bhutto was some kind of Pakistani Aung San Suu Kyi.

Okay, folks, we all know she was eloquent, went to Harvard and Oxford and was a darling of the English-language media. But she was arguably the most corrupt woman in the history of South Asia. She was removed from office not once but twice on corruption charges. And ruthless? She killed her own brother in 1996.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Iran Upgrades

The AP reports from Tehran that Iran has concluded a deal to purchase the S-300 long-range air defense system from Russia. Iran's defense minister, Mostafa Najjar, said that the system will be "delivered to Iran on the basis of a contract signed in the past." The Iranian official did not say how many S-300 batteries had been purchased by Tehran, or when deliveries would actually begin.

Reports about Iran acquiring the S-300 have been making the rounds for years, and there have been past discussions on the subject between Tehran and Moscow. However, the deal usually fell apart over such matters as price and follow-on support. Not only is the S-300 exceptionally expensive--$300 million per battery--customers also have to pay more for service "after the sale." As we've noted in other posts, Iran likes to buy defense hardware on the cheap (whenever possible), and broke off past negotiations on the S-300.

If Najjar's claim is true, then Tehran apparently decided that the advanced SAM system was worth the asking price. What changed? Several factors. First, with world oil prices still above $80 a barrel, it's easier for Iran to buy expensive military systems. Secondly, Tehran is quite aware of deficiencies in its existing air defense network, and has been looking for a system that can defend against aircraft, cruise missile and ballistic missile targets--at extended ranges. And finally, Iran believes that deployment of a state-of-the-art SAM system could provide a deterrent against potential attacks, particularly those from an adversary (think Israel) with a limited long-range strike capability.

True, the S-300 alone might not dissuade the Israelis, but its presence would force Tel Aviv (and the IAF) to re-think their strategic calculus. With only a limited number of attack aircraft to mount an attack on Iran (and a handful of aerial tankers to support the operation), the Israelis would face a tough choice: would they be willing to risk their most sophisticated fighters (F-15I, F-16I) against nuclear facilities defended by the S-300?

Iran's expected deployment of the system around high-value targets would increase the risk faced by Israeli aircrews, while lessening their prospects for success. Unlike the U.S., Israel doesn't have hundreds of cruise missiles to saturate enemy defenses ahead of an air strike, further increasing the danger faced by IAF crews. The S-300 isn't unbeatable, but it's light years ahead of the aging I-HAWKs, SA-2s and SA-5s that currently defend Iran's airspace. Against the S-300, the relatively small Israeli strike package (probably no more than 24 aircraft) could face potential losses that could make the attack prohibitive.

The S-300 also poses potential problems for the U.S. Newer missiles associated with the system can engage stand-off targets at ranges of up to 200 km. If some of the batteries are posted along Iran's western coast, they could potentially threaten stand-off platforms like AWACS, J-STARs, RIVET JOINT and tanker aircraft, all vital to any U.S. air campaign. The system would also have some capabilities against smaller targets, including strike and reconnaissance drones.

So far, Moscow has refused comment on Iran's claims, suggesting (perhaps) that the deal hasn't been finalized. But Najjar is a senior member of the Iranian government, and clearly in a position to know about such matters. That means his remarks can't be dismissed out of hand (like prior reports of an Iranian S-300 purchase). If the reports prove accurate, Tehran has taken a major step towards upgrading its air defense system, and created new challenges for its regional foes.


ADDENDUM: If the recent SA-15 purchase is any indication, Iran could receive its first S-300 batteries within a year of the announcement. Full integration/deployment of the system will depend on a number of variables, including the training of Iranian crews and the "source" of Tehran's S-300 equipment. If Iranian personnel have already trained on the system--and Moscow makes deliveries out of existing inventories--then a 2008 arrival is quite possible. On the other hand, if Iranian crews have not received training (and Tehran wants "new" equipment fresh from the factory), first deliveries might not occur until sometime in 2009.

Readers will also note that one element of the AP story is wrong: the S-300 isn't really an "improvement" over the SA-15 (also known as the Tor-M1). The long-range system is designed to complement the SA-15, providing broad, area coverage, while the short-range SAM performs point defense of high-value targets. Together, the two systems will provide overlapping coverage against low, medium and high-altitude threats--potentially correcting a major deficiency in the Iranian air defense network.

Both the SA-15 and the S-300 (NATO designation: SA-20) are highly advanced systems. The real challenge for Iran will be integrating them into their archaic (and often chaotic) command and control network. Tehran has spent billions on an automated, Chinese-built C2 system, designed to bring some degree of coherence to air defense efforts. But results of that effort have been mixed. While the SA-15 and S-300 are capable of operating autonomously, they are more effective as part of an integrated air defense system (IADS). Without major improvements in Iranian command-and-control, the potential effectiveness of the new systems may be limited, or even result in fratricide incidents.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Airliner that Changed History

Chris Kjelgarrd of, looks back on a major milestone in aviation history--the first flight of the Boeing 707, which happened 50 years ago this past week.

As Mr. Kjelgarrd notes, the 707 wasn't the first commercial jetliner; that honor belongs to deHavilland Comet, which entered service in 1952. But a series of disastrous crashes caused it to be temporarily withdrawn from service and redesigned, correcting the structural problem that caused some aircraft to break up in flight. But the Comet never recovered from those early setbacks, creating an opening for other manufacturers, most notably Boeing and Douglas Aircraft.

The 707 was based on Boeing's highly successful 367-80 design for the U.S. military, which became the foundation for the KC-135 tanker, the RC-135 SIGINT aircraft, and the EC-135 airborne command post, among other aircraft. First flown in 1954, the "Dash 80" airframe was easily adaptable for passenger service, allowing Boeing engineers to quickly design--and build--a commercial model. While the military version and the passenger model appeared virtually identical, there were significant structural differences between the two aircraft.

On December 20, 1957, just after 12:00 noon Pacific Time, the prototype 707 took off on its maiden flight from Boeing field. The first flight lasted only seven minutes; bad weather descended on the area shortly after the Stratoliner's takeoff, forcing Boeing to curtail the event. However, conditions quickly improved, and the 707 returned to the skies later that day, spending 71 minutes aloft on its second flight. It was an auspicious beginning.

And, Boeing's timing couldn't have been better. With the Comet program still dogged by safety concerns--and the Douglas DC-8 still in development--the Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer gained an important leg up in the commercial aviation sector. The trickle of early orders quickly became a flood.

Over the next 20 years, Boeing would build and sell almost 900 Stratoliners to airlines and air cargo firms around the world. The 707 production line actually remained open until the early 1990s, with military customers buying smaller numbers of airframes. Some of those jets entered the Air Force inventory as AWACS platforms (E-3), or long-range communications aircraft for the U.S. Navy (E-6). With military purchases, Boeing built more than 1,000 707s, over a production run that spanned nearly four decades. The manufacturer also sold hundreds of "Dash 80" models that became the foundation for other military aircraft, making that "family" of aircraft the most successful in the history of aviation.

It's also worth noting that the 707 was developed on Boeing's dime, and it's success was hardly assured when the program began in the early 1950s. With Comet's early lead--and Douglas's long history in cargo and passenger aircraft--Boeing faced a significant challenge. The company's CEO, William Allen, literally gambled Boeing's future on the 707--and his bet paid off spectacularly.

That first flight of the 707 represented a seminal moment in aviation history, marking the transition from piston to jet engine aircraft in the airline and cargo business. But development of the Stratoliner is also a tribute to corporate innovation and daring, a willing to "bet it all" on a family of aircraft that would dominate aviation for the decades that followed.


ADDENDUM: The article also recalls a stunning moment in development of the Dash 80, which paved the way for the 707. During an early test flight of the military jet, Boeing test pilot Tex Johnson elected to perform a barrel roll with the Dash 80. The maneuver was perfectly safe, but the sight of a four-engine transport/tanker prototype performing the stunt proved impressive. Johnson's decision earned him a tongue-lashing from William Allen, who asked him what he was doing. "Selling airplanes," Johnson replied.

Friday, December 21, 2007

And Now There Are Two

The oldest surviving U.S. veteran of World War I has passed away, reports USA Today. J. Russell Coffey was 109 at the time of his death. With Mr. Coffey's passing, there are now only two living American veterans of the "War to End All Wars," including Frank Buckles, who was recently profiled in The New York Times.

Like Mr. Buckles, Coffey was a remarkable man. He was still in basic training when the war ended in 1918 and never served overseas. After the war, he enjoued a long career a teacher and college professor, eventually earning his Ph.D. Dr. Coffey was a member of the physical education faculty at Bowling Green University until 1969. He drove a car until the age of 104, and lived on his own until he reached 105. Coffey passed away at a retirement home in North Baltimore, Ohio.

Power Up

UPI reports that electrical production and distribution in Iraq has reached a post-war high:

Nationwide, average electricity not provided by private generators was 107,581 megawatt hours from September through November, according to the U.S. Defense Department's "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" report released Tuesday.

That's a 14 percent increase over the same time frame last year and included an all-time, post-2003 high of 125,000 megawatt hours on Oct. 12, 2007.

But this has only translated into an average of 15.1 hours of electricity per day across the country, with many provinces, including Baghdad, receiving less. Salah al-Din province, north of Baghdad, received the most average electricity with about 19.1 hours per day in November, according to the Pentagon report.

The use of private generators for a home or block is still prevalent, adding to the run on fuels that are in high demand but low supply in Iraq, a result of slow development of both the electricity and oil sectors.

While those numbers are certainly encouraging, there's an important element missing from this --and all other stories on efforts to rebuild the Iraqi power grid. There's a major reason that many areas of Iraq experience daily blackouts, and it's not the result of limited generating capacity, insurgent attacks, or an aging transmission network. Rather, it's the result of an important change in electrical distribution, instituted by U.S. and Iraqi authorities after the country was liberated.

Under that approach, electricity is distributed much more equitably across the country. During Saddam's reign, Baghdad and its environs received most of the nation's electrical supply, allowing the lights to stay on around the clock. Meanwhile, outlying areas received little power, sometimes only a couple of hours a day. With the new distribution scheme providing more electricity to those regions, Iraqis in urban areas have experienced more blackouts--something that was fairly rare when Saddam Hussein was in power.

Clearly, Iraq still has a way to go in modernizing its power grid and providing continuous electrical service to all areas. But describing the frequent blackouts as a result of the war or the U.S. occupation isn't fair, or accurate. In reality, those outages (partly) reflect a concerted effort to provide more electricity across Iraq. Now, it's a matter of building enough plants and transmission lines to provide round-the-clock service, and sustaining a security environment to protect the power grid.

The Friends of Ron Paul

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs has been digging deeper into the question of alleged ties between Neo-Nazis and the Ron Paul campaign, and what he discovered is anything but reassuring. In short, there is growing evidence of connections between white supremacist groups and the Paul campaign, yet the candidate and his handlers have largely refused to address--or repudiate those ties.

Yesterday, we reported that Dr. Paul had decided to keep a $500 campaign contribution from Don Black, leader of a known Neo-Nazi group called Stormfront. Black's vile racism and anti-Semitism is readily visible on his organization's website, and his leadership role in white supremacist circles is well-established. When Black made his donation, several commentators, ranging from columnist and radio host Michael Medved to the American Thinker's Andrew Walden, called on Dr. Paul to return the money, and reject the support he was receiving from racist groups.

A month after the controversy first errupted, a Paul spokesman announced that the campaign would not return the Stormfront leader's check, offering the pathetic excuse that accepting the money would give Black "$500 less to do whatever it is he does." The spokesman, Jesse Benton, also stressed Dr. Paul's "independence," though we'd argue that accepting a Neo-Nazi's campaign contribution is hardly a display of independence. That led us to suggest that Ron Paul may not be for sale, but he's certainly for rent, and by some of the most vile elements in our political system.

Now, Charles Johnson's research suggests even broader ties between racial hate groups and the Paul campaign. On a Neo-Nazi site called the Vanguard News Network, Mr. Johnson found this letter which claims the Texas Congressman is lying about his involvement with white supremacists. We'll second Mr. Johnson's admonition to take this "claim" with a grain of salt.

Ron Paul Lies About Lack Of Involvement With White Nationalists


I have kept quiet about the Ron Paul campaign for a while, because I didn’t see any need to say anything that would cause any trouble. However, reading the latest release from his campaign spokesman, I am compelled to tell the truth about Ron Paul’s extensive involvement in white nationalism.

Both Congressman Paul and his aides regularly meet with members of the Stormfront set, American Renaissance, the Institute for Historic Review, and others at the Tara Thai restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, usually on Wednesdays. This is part of a dinner that was originally organized by Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis and Joe Sobran, and has since been mostly taken over by the Council of Conservative Citizens.

I have attended these dinners, seen Paul and his aides there, and been invited to his offices in Washington to discuss policy.

For his spokesman to call white racialism a “small ideology” and claim white activists are “wasting their money” trying to influence Paul is ridiculous. Paul is a white nationalist of the Stormfront type who has always kept his racial views and his views about world Judaism quiet because of his political position.

I don’t know that it is necessarily good for Paul to “expose” this. However, he really is someone with extensive ties to white nationalism and for him to deny that in the belief he will be more respectable by denying it is outrageous — and I hate seeing people in the press who denounce racialism merely because they think it is not fashionable.

Bill White,

American National Socialist Workers Party

Still, there may be more to this than first believed. An alert LGF reader found a payment of $314.59 for the Tara Thai Restaurant among disbursements for the Paul campaign. That doesn't put Dr. Paul at the same table with Bill White, but it does raise questions about who he met with during dinners at that establishment.

And, it turns out that the candidate has actually met Neo-Nazi's face-to-face. Another LGF reader found--and lightened--this photo, from the Values Voter Presidential Candidate Debate in Fort Lauderdale on 17 September of this year: The man to Dr. Paul's immediate left is non other than Don Black. Standing next to Black is his son, Derek, who runs a white supremacist site for kids.

Presidential candidate Ron Paul (in striped tie), Neo-Nazi leader Don Black and Black's son Derek, at the Values Voter presidential candidate debate in Florida earlier this year (lightened photo posted by Zombie at LGF).

In fairness, we should note that presidential contenders have their photos taken with lots of people on a daily basis. It's impossible to vet everyone who wants a picture with their favorite candidate. But, as others have speculated, what are the odds that Mr. Black didn't mention his donation while the picture was snapped? That would certainly separate Black from the ranks of ordinary photo-seekers, and possibly prompt some sort of cursory check by the campaign. Indeed, we still don't know the extent of past contacts between the candidate and the white supremacist leader.

And, Dr. Paul and his supporters have remained largely silent on this issue, save their laughable effort to explain acceptance of Don Black's campaign contribution. Unfortunately for the candidate and his campaign, this issue won't quickly fade away. There are legitimate questions about Dr. Paul's ties to Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists--particularly those purported dinners in D.C.,--but so far, answers to those questions are in short supply.


ADDENDUM: While Ron Paul will not be the GOP standard-bearer next year, his links to the racist fringe should be a concern to all Republicans. As we noted in a previous post, the MSM and their friends in the Democratic Party have (essentially) ignored this story. There's reason to believe that both groups are merely "saving" the scandal, hoping to use it "down the road," in yet another attempt to paint Republicans as racist.

GOP front-runners should preempt those efforts, by raising the issue in an upcoming debate, and forcing Dr. Paul to go on record about his support from white supremacist groups. If they don't, the MSM and the Democrats will almost certainly raise the issue in the future, asking the nominee how he can "be a member of a party that includes the likes of Ron Paul and Don Black."

H/T: Kevin McCullough at

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More Time for Minot

As we detailed in late October, the 5th Bomb Wing (BMW) at Minot AFB, North Dakota faces a tough road in being recertified for its nuclear strike mission. The unit lost that certification in early September, after six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were inadvertently transferred from Minot to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana on a B-52 bomber. To regain its certification for nuclear operations, the unit will undergo a series of tough inspections, over a relatively brief period of time.

The first of those evaluations, an Initial Nuclear Surety Insepction (INSI) was completed yesterday, and the results appear to be a mixed bag for the B-52 wing. While the unit apparently passed the inspection, the Minot Daily News reports that the 5th BMW will be "given more time" to prepare for the follow-on Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI), originally scheduled to begin on 23 January. A new date for that evaluation has not been set.

No reason was given for the extension, but there are at least two possible explanations. First, while the wing earned a passing grade during the INSI, inspectors may have discovered lingering problems which could affect the outcome of the second evaluation. Delaying the NSI for several weeks would give the 5th BMW more time to resolve issues highlighted during the first inspection.

There is also reported concern about the frenetic pace of efforts to re-certify the unit. Originally, both the 5th BMW and its parent organization, Air Combat Command, hope to complete the process by late January, less than three months after the new wing commander (and other key personnel) arrived on base. However, a number of positions remain unfilled, and that was apparently a key factor in pushing back the NSI.

The wing's chief of public affairs, Major Laurie Arellano, confirmed that the delay would be helpful in addressing personnel concerns:

“Getting this mission perfected and recertified is the No. 1 priority of the command and the wing,” Arellano said. “We are taking a holistic look at the wing. That includes ensuring that we fill leadership positions that are currently vacant and build the teams necessary, with the leadership in place to oversee the long-term changes.”

“The inspectors have determined we need more time to make the necessary changes and allow us to accomplish long-term solutions, including filling critical leadership billets that are currently vacant,” Arellano said. “We are thankful we can take the time needed rather than being forced into an artificial timeline, so the NSI will be postponed until the wing and the command are confident the right people and processes are in place.”

Comments about "critical leadership" and "team building" are likely references to personnel who lost their certification to work with (or around) nuclear weapons after the transfer incident. The Air Force reported that at least 65 officers and airmen were stripped of their Personal Reliability Program (PRP) certification because of the mishap; most were assigned to Minot, and many were maintenance specialists who service and load nuclear weapons. Restoring those personnel to PRP status--and getting them ready for the NSI--represents a critical step in prepping the wing for its next nuclear evaluation.

In a commentary posted on the the unit's official website, the 5th BMW's new commander, Colonel Joel Westa, emphasized the importance of upcoming inspections, and expressed a desire for his troops to excel--under the toughest possible conditions:

I am praying for an arctic clipper to drop down out of Canada and blanket our base with mind-numbing cold during our upcoming inspections. Why? So the inspectors, after giving us our passing grade and going back to the warmth of their homes, will shake their heads in amazement as they tell stories of the four or five days they endured here at Minot. Wrapped in blankets, they will huddle with their families around their fireplaces. While a gentle breeze chills the 50 degree temperature, they'll tell their kids about Minot's defenders standing guard, crew chiefs launching aircraft, munitions loaders braving the elements while uploading pylons, convoys moving missiles to the field with precision on windswept roads, bomber crews on ladders in the wind doing a thorough preflight, great dining hall folks serving at all hours of the night, 5th Logistics Readiness Squadron Airmen keeping vehicles operating in Arctic conditions...well, you get the picture--I could go on and on.

In the interim, members of the 5th BMW are laboring through 12-14 hour shifts, six days a week. Morale is said to be mixed. While most airmen welcome the chance to get the unit back on track, there is the expected grumbling about having to work through the holidays, then "show their stuff" in the bitter cold that Colonel Westa is hoping for.


ADDENDUM: One thing's for sure: the bomb unit's NSI is not being delayed because of Minot's winter weather. The 5th BMW's sister unit, the 91st Strategic Missile Wing, will receive its nuclear surety inspection, on schedule, next month.

Not for Sale, But Apparently for Rent

A little over a month ago, we noted that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul had received contributions from a thoroughly despicable source--an avowed Neo-Nazi. What's more, the racist organization had established a link from its web site to that of the Paul campaign, making it easier for other Neo-Nazis to donate to the Texas Congressman.

More disturbingly, Andrew Walden at the American Thinker found a pattern of hate groups coalescing behind Dr. Paul. Walden discovered that the aforementioned Neo-Nazi group,, recently endorsed Paul for president, and learned that its leader, Don Black, personally donated $500 to the campaign. Additionally, Walden reported that one of Dr. Paul's top internet organizers in Tennessee is a Neo-Nazi leader named Will Williams. Better known as "White Will," Mr. Williams organized a discussion called "The Israel Factor Revisited" on the Ron Paul meet-up site, which used heavily by the campaign to organize supporters.

Mr. Walden found that Williams also provided a link from a white supremacist web page to that of Dr. Paul's "grassroot" fundraising effort. On that former site, "White Will" left no doubts about his racist and anti-Semitic beliefs, encouraging other Neo-Nazis to "game" YouTube and push a Paul video to the top of the rankings. As Williams wrote: "Everybody here can do this except BJB and his n----rberry." BJB stands for "Burn Jew, Burn." The same poster has an internet signature that reads "Nothin' says lovin' like a Jew in the oven."

Mr. Walden also uncovered endorsements for the Paul campaign from other, high-profile white supremacists. David Duke, the former KKK leader, has described Dr. Paul as
"our king" and his website touts the candidate's fund-raising efforts.

As we wrote last month, you'd think that Dr. Paul and his handlers would actively distance themselves from such vile and loathsome "supporters." But then again, you'd be wrong.

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is reporting that, after a month of "consideration," the Paul campaign has decided to keep Don Black's $500 donation. Spokesman Jesse Benton offered a laughable explanation for their decision:

"Dr. Paul stands for freedom, peace, prosperity and inalienable rights. If someone with small ideologies happens to contribute money to Ron, thinking he can influence Ron in any way, he's wasted his money," Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said. "Ron is going to take the money and try to spread the message of freedom."

"And that's $500 less that this guy has to do whatever it is that he does," Benton added.

Captain Ed isn't buying it--and neither should you:

Sorry, but that doesn't sell. It's one thing to get a donation from a neo-Nazi; after all, Paul didn't solicit it. It's another thing entirely to keep the money after its source becomes clear. Keeping the money makes it look like the campaign approves of the source, and that is a very, very bad message to send when one is bragging about the success of recent money-bomb events.

What kind of money will Ron Paul refuse? Drug money? Extortion rackets? Mob skim? Those are the questions people will want answered. Paul's response does not give confidence in the judgment of his campaign, and by extension its candidate.

Equally amazing is the MSM's treatment of this story. Aside from a brief AP article on 19 December, Congressmen Paul's racist supporters have received virtually no attention from the MSM. True, Dr. Paul isn't a factor in the polls, but we believe there's another reason for the media's "kid glove" treatment of the candidate on this issue. Having Paul around allows them to depict Republicans as kooks and extremists. If he accepts donations from Neo-Nazis and other racists, that's fine--as long as he stays in the campaign.

We agree with Ed Morrissey. Refusing to return money from a known racist speaks volumes about the candidate and his run for the White House. With Dr. Paul's recent success at internet fund-raising, you'd think he would be more selective about his donors and their beliefs. But apparently, that doesn't matter to the Congressman; money from hate-mongers is gladly and willingly accepted. We can only wonder how many other Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites chipped in during his latest campaign blitz.

Attempting to explain Don Black's contribution, spokesman Benton tried to stress Dr. Paul's independence--the only thing missing was the standard declaration that "our candidate isn't for sale." Still, taking money from a Neo-Nazi leader hardly inspires confidence. Dr. Paul may not be for sale, but he appears available for rent, and by the most repugnant elements within our society.

Hounds of Hell

A couple of days ago, Reuters reported on a strange dust-up between in Iraq between the private security firm Blackwater, and members of The New York Times' Baghdad bureau. "Blackwater killed our dog" the Times complained, reporting that one of the company's security specialists shot the animal before a U.S. diplomat visited the bureau last week. The American Embassy is reportedly investigating the incident (your tax dollars at work).

Responding to the charges, a Blackwater spokesperson told Reuters that the Times' dog (named Hentish) attacked one of the firm's bomb-sniffing dogs, during a security sweep of the compound. According to Blackwater's Anne Tyrrell:

"The K-9 handler made several unsuccessful attempts to get the dog to retreat, including placing himself between the dogs. When those efforts failed, the K-9 handler unfortunately was forced to use a pistol to protect the company's K-9 and himself," she said in an e-mail to Reuters.

And, there may be a bit more to this story than we first thought. Eason Jordan at the Huffington Post (literally) had some first-hand experience with the Times' compound dogs. Last spring, he suffered a serious bite from a dog named Scratch, who left three deep gashes in Jordan's hand, requiring treatment at a U.S. Army hospital in Baghdad.

After that, other dogs at the Times' bureau reportedly bit an Iraqi in the crotch, and attacked one of the paper's photographers in the chest. A Times correspondent told Mr. Jordan that the Baghdad compound has since been cleared of dogs.

As readers of this blog know, Mrs. Spook and Your Humble Correspondent are certified dog lovers, having owned everything from a miniature poodle to a Rottweiler. Our household currently includes two canines, a Catahoula Leopard (a.k.a. The World's Fattest Dog) and a recently acquired Chihuahua (it wasn't my idea). We deplore the senseless slaughter of any animal.

Yet, we also recognize that the Blackwater handler had a right to defend himself--and his dog--from attack. The Blackwater animal is a valuable asset in a city where hidden bombs are the preferred tools for killing. A certified bomb-sniffing dog is worth at least $18,000, the amount of money required to put the animal through weeks of intense training. Add in the cost of a kennel-equipped squad car or other vehicle to transport a working dog, and the price tag quickly soars past $40,000. In Baghdad, the cost of a K-9 explosives team is even higher.

Some would argue that Hentish was engaging in typical canine behavior by defending his home turf, and that makes us wonder: just who was responsible for the dog? If he was a bureau pet, didn't the NYT staffers have some obligation to keep their dogs under control? And where was Pinch Sulzberger in all of this? If he can provide "unrivaled bureau quarters" and "sumptuous food" in a war-torn city, you'd think he could fly in the "Dog Whisperer" for a few days of remedial canine behavior training.

Just for fun, check out the comments on Mr. Jordan's item at the Huffington Post. Guess who the left-wing nuts blame for the Blackwater incident? As you might have guessed, it isn't the late, lamented, sainted Hentish, or his NYT owners.

H/T: Sharon Weinberger at the Danger Room.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Today's Reading Assignment

Iraq by the numbers, from Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal. The first slide in Bill's article is an update of one we posted a few months ago. Note the continuing, dramatic decline in attacks.

Here's the latest slide, which includes data through 7 December of this year. Note the dramatic decline in all types of attacks since February of this year, and the commencement of the troop surge.

Wonder if Harry Reid's seen this one? Still, we must give the Senate Majority Leader--and his party--some credit for consistency. Mr. Reid and his colleagues would have been right at home in supporting George McClellan's "The War is Lost/Let's Negotiate platform of 1864, as William Katz observes.

H/T: Powerline.

Having it Both Ways

Wednesday's edition of USA Today has a long "cover story" on the Bush Administration's initial rejection of the strategy that's made Iraq safer. According to the paper, a number of experts (mostly outside the government) urged the administration to implement a counter-insurgency plan in Iraq, based on occupying--and holding--terrorist strongholds, and targeting the bomb-making networks behind spiraling IED attacks.

The USA Today article is based heavily on interviews with Peter Krepinevich, the West Point grad who now runs a Washington-based think tank, and Dr. Fredrick Kagan, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who later emerged as one of the architects of the current surge strategy. Krepinevich recommended a counter-insurgency approach in a speech to top Army generals in 2005, and a 2006 meeting with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff.

In both cases, the advice was rejected, and the administration continued to focus on training Iraqi security forces (as a prelude to an eventual U.S. withdrawal), and funding high-tech systems to deal with the IED threat. Ultimately, the failure of joint security operations, the slow pace of Iraqi training and rising U.S. casualties created a "perfect storm" that opened the door for the surge strategy, which has been a resounding success by any measure.

The policy decisions outlined in the USA Today article are anything but revelatory, and the fits-and-starts of the counter-IED fight have been detailed by other reporters, most notably Rick Atkinson of the Washington Post. So, there's little new in the story, other than the paper chastising the Bush Administration for refusing to pursue the surge strategy years earlier.

And, there's no slight irony in the paper's editorial slant. In early January, after Mr. Bush unveiled plans for the troop surge, USA Today dismissed its prospects for success.

For the sake of those soldiers, the war on terrorism and other U.S. interests in the world, it's important that the president's new approach succeeds where other plans have failed. But wanting it to work is not the same as having confidence that it will. A hard look at the facts suggests that the prospects for success are slim.


As is evident from the daily carnage, two previous pushes to secure the violence-ravaged city failed. Sectarian violence actually increased soon after the Phase I offensive began in July. It got worse through a Phase II infusion of 9,500 U.S. and Iraqi forces that began in August.

The significant difference for Phase III is a dramatic increase of 17,500 additional U.S. troops. Another important change: the Shiite militia-ridden section of Sadr City, a chief source of the stepped-up sectarian violence, will no longer be off-limits.

Whether that will be enough to make the critical difference and turn the war around is questionable. The first revision of the Army's counterinsurgency manual in 20 years, overseen by the new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, recommends a ratio of 20 soldiers to every 1,000 residents for any successful counterinsurgency operation. That would require about 120,000 troops in Baghdad, a city of six million.

The United States can't muster anywhere close to that number for an extended period without reinstituting the draft, a political non-starter. Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised 18 Iraqi Army and Police brigades, around 63,000 men. But in Phase II of the Battle for Baghdad, with a smaller surge of U.S. and Iraqi troops, many Iraqis simply didn't show up.


Another 4,000 new U.S. troops will be sent to Anbar province in the west, the center of the Sunni and al-Qaeda insurgency. Last September, Col. Pete Devlin, the senior intelligence official in Anbar, was reported as saying that the security situation in Anbar would continue to deteriorate without substantially more U.S. troops. It is unclear if 4,000 will be enough.

And, barely two months later, the paper was supporting efforts for a phased withdrawal:

So here's a suggestion: Trying to end the war instantly is futile, so zero in on ending it over the next year, which also happens to be the wiser course.


Much of the groundwork for this is already in place.

Bush has set benchmarks for the Iraqi government, including taking primary responsibility for security throughout Iraq by November. Further, commanders have suggested that they'll know if the surge is working by late summer.

Perhaps most important, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group has defined a compelling plan for redeployment and phased withdrawal of most troops by March 2008. Bush increasingly is adopting other aspects of the group's plan, and by fall, with an election looming and the surge's outcome clearer, it wouldn't be shocking if he adopted the rest.

By starting now to put in place plans for what will follow the surge, the United States would increase chances that it can exit on its own terms, not be driven by events.

In April, when members of Congress suggested that the surge was showing signs of progress, USA Today scoffed at the idea:

Legislators gush over ‘normal’ market, but their visit [in Baghdad] was hardly normal.


That helps explain why Americans were treated to a bizarre spectacle last weekend, when some of Bush's congressional allies went to Baghdad's largest open-air market, didn't get shot, and declared that was evidence the surge might be starting to work.

In comments that rival some of the war's other signature lines, such as "mission accomplished" and "bring it on," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said the Baghdad market was just "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime."

If so, visitors to Indiana might want to pack a little heat. Pence, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and their colleagues were wearing bulletproof vests, arrived in a convoy of armored vehicles and were protected by sharpshooters on rooftops, attack helicopters overhead and 100 heavily armed American troops on the ground.

Writing in May, the paper's editorial board warned that "if ominous trends continue, the already potent argument for a phased withdrawal will look overwhelming." Three months later, USA Today cautioned that "victory remained distant," citing recently-released reports from the intelligence community and Government Accountability Office, which cautioned that violence remained high in Iraq, and (in the case of the GAO analysis) questioned claims of military progress.

In fact, we didn't find a USA Today editorial that
touted the surge as a clear success until last week, when the publication observed that the revised strategy "holds the chance to seize the moment in Iraq." That (rather) reluctant admission came after months of increasingly upbeat reports from the war zone, many of them from military bloggers and other members of the new media.

Today's article--and that string of editorials--are another example of a MSM outlet that wants to have it both ways. Clearly, mistakes were made in our Iraq strategy, and there's plenty of blame to go around. What's missing from USA Today's coverage, both on the front page and in the editorial section, is that elusive thing called credit, for making a tough decision and seeing it through, with little regard for the political consequences.

Lest we forget, about this time last year, pundits of various stripes (including the paper's editorial writers) were calling for the U.S. to cut and run. Instead, Mr. Bush and his military advisers adopting a far riskier approach, sending more troops to Iraq and aiming their campaign at the heart of the insurgency. That strategy was widely ridiculed by Congressional Democrats and the MSM--"doomed to fail," as they put it.

At the end of 2006, the situation in Iraq is vastly improved, thanks to the heroic efforts of our troops, their commander and a commander-in-chief who rejected the counsel of so-called "wise men" like the Baker-Hamilton Commission and the USA Today editorial board. As a result, Iraq is a much different place than it was one year ago. It's nice to see the paper finally acknowledge our progress on the ground; it would be even better if they would give credit for that success to it's rightful authors, including Mr. Bush.

Shades of Tony McPeak

Anyone who served in the U.S. Air Force over the past 20 years experienced their share of unit reorganizations. Beginning in the early 1990s, the service initiated a series of efforts to restructure wing-level organizations. Among other things, the various schemes saw the resurrection of groups (as an intermediate-level organization, controlling operations, maintenance, or support squadrons), and the creation of new units that directed functions as diverse as weather and intelligence.

The mastermind of the reorganization effort was General Merrill "Tony" McPeak. As the Commander of Pacific Air Forces in the late 1980s, McPeak began tinkering with various reorganization concepts, including the so-called "Composite Wing," which melded diverse aircraft, missions and personnel into a single unit. When McPeak became the Air Force Chief of Staff in 1991 (after the unfortunate dismissal of General Mike Dugan), the experiment was expanded across the service.

General McPeak retired from active duty in 1994, but even today, Air Force veterans of that era still shudder at the changes he tried to impose. The truly unfortunate served in the afore-mentioned composite wings, which created maintenance, personnel and logistical nightmares. Wings that operated a single type of aircraft were also reorganized, with the addition of new groups to manage functionally-grouped squadrons, and enlarged squadrons that, in some cases, absorbed tasks and duties that were previously beyond their control.

Many of us recognized the "reorganization" for what it was--nothing more than a shell game, designed to preserve command billets for the pilot community. With force down-sizing after the Cold War, the Air Force lost both aircraft and units. Implementing new wing organizational structures allowed the service to retain commander's positions that would have otherwise been lost. Under one variant of the McPeak plan, virtually every wing in the Air Force was led by a brigadier general, despite the fact that Colonels had been filling those positions for years.

McPeak and his minions also had the bright idea of consolidating operations and maintenance functions under flying squadron commanders. Overnight, hundreds of enlisted airmen and maintenance officers were placed under the control of ops commanders who had little, if any, experience in managing aircraft repair, or the specialists who performed those tasks.

As you might expect, the "merger" of maintenance and ops created numerous headaches, and more than a few maintenance officers got passed over for promotion, usually because their boss --the flying squadron commander--favored aircrew personnel in the appraisal and selection process. But, directing a larger squadron certainly looked good on a commander's resume, so the marriage of ops and maintenance continued long after McPeak's departure.

Fortunately, sanity ultimately prevailed. Five years ago, then-Chief of Staff General John Jumper removed the maintainers from flying squadrons, and put them back into logistics units, where they belonged. By all accounts, the move was a success. With the demands of frequent exercises and deployments, flying squadrons commanders were happy to focus on operations, while maintenance personnel blended seamlessly into units dedicated to aircraft and component repair. The service had come full-circle on the issue of maintenance and ops integration, or so it seemed.

Not so fast. According to Air Force Times, thousands of flight-line maintenance personnel in fighter and CSAR (combat search-and-rescue) units will move back under operations squadrons next year, under a plan approved by the current Chief of Staff, General Mike Moseley. And, similar changes could come to all flying wings by 2009:

After months of discussions, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley gave the green light Dec. 7 to putting crew chiefs and weapons loaders back into fighter and combat search-and-rescue squadrons. The change, which will take effect between July and November. includes Guard and reserve wings.

Moseley also opened the door to moving crew chiefs from other types of aircraft, such as airlifters and bombers, out of maintenance squadrons and into flying squadrons.

Beyond flight-line maintenance, Moseley approved shifting logistics readiness squadrons and aerial port squadrons out of mission support groups and into a new version of a maintenance group called the “materiel group” by November. The move of the logistics and aerial port squadrons is Air Force-wide.


Driving much of the latest change is Moseley’s belief that squadrons should be organized at their home bases the same way they work while deployed.

“With focus on the mission, we can resource our squadrons with all the elements necessary to accomplish their mission and ensure a consistent structure at home and deployed,” Moseley told major command bosses in the Dec. 7 letter.

Moseley said he believes that if a fighter or combat search-and-rescue squadron commander is going to be responsible for meeting the daily demands of the air war, then the squadron commander also must control the maintenance of his squadron’s planes or helicopters.

“Aircraft maintenance is a vital element of a flying squadron’s mission, and the maintainers that directly support sortie generation belong in that chain of command,” Moseley said.

But Moseley's directive begs an essential question: is it necessary? By all accounts, the old system was working well. There have been no reports of sorties being lost because of the "dual chain" system. A retired maintenance Colonel--who spoke with the Times on the condition of anonymity--notes that the flying squadron commander and maintenance unit commander ultimately work for the same boss, the wing commander. Other experts note that, as a rule, flying squadron commanders have little expertise in functions they will soon assume responsibility for, including long-term maintenance planning.

For what it's worth, the earlier experiment with reorganized and composite wings was largely a bust. In the early 1990s, a GAO study concluded that the Air Force's composite wing concept had been poorly conceived, with virtually no advance analysis of potential problems, or cost benefits. Yet, the service plunged ahead with the experiment, largely at the insistence of General McPeak.

Two decades later, the plan to move flight line maintainers back into flying squadrons strikes us as an equally bad idea; a return to the dubious practices of the 1990s, with no proof that the latest "reorganization" will improve sortie generation rates, or any other benchmark of efficiency.

Somewhere, Tony McPeak must be smiling. And, in case you're wondering, the retired Chief of Staff is now serving as a senior advisor to the presidential campaign of Barrack Obama. Given General McPeak's history, we can only imagine what the Air Force would look like under an Obama administration.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Today's Reading Assignment

Brett Stephens of The Wall Street Journal looks back on the "Great White Fleet," the round-the-world cruise by 16 American warships in 1907 that signaled our arrival as a sea power. Mr. Stephens notes that the lessons of that historic voyage still resonate today, a century after the American battleships weighed anchor and set sail. As he writes:

Whatever the procurement problems or tactical issues, a supremely powerful Navy is not a luxury the U.S. can safely dispense with. In September, ships of the People's Liberation Army Navy made their first-ever port calls in Germany, France, Britain and Italy, and Chinese admirals are frequent guests on American warships. "The Chinese Great White Fleet is not too far off on the horizon," says a senior Navy official in a recent conversation.

China's current rise, like America's a century ago, is not something anyone can stop. It can be steered. Making sure our vision for the Navy stays true to Teddy Roosevelt's is one way of ensuring the Chinese don't make the mistake of steering it our way.