No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Military

Quartered Safe Out Here (updated)

With all the brickbats being thrown at President Biden in recent days over the Afghanistan catastrophe I’d been meaning to write something about the other guilty parties in this gigantic FUBAR.

The Pentagon and Intelligence agencies, or more precisely the people who lead them.

There is obviously a bit of a meltdown going on within the Biden Administration as members of his government, in this case the State Department and the Pentagon, openly contradicted the President over claims he had made in recent press conferences, sometimes just hours after he made them. It’s extraordinary and I cannot recall seeing anything like it.

They’ve also found themselves on the back foot with their previously friendly MSM, with even the likes of the NYT, CNN and MSNBC going at them hard for once (it won’t last). But in this war of words have been sources from the military and intelligence agencies contradicting the claims that Biden was just telling people what they had told him. These sources have made it quite clear that Biden has been lying over the last couple of months about the situation in Afghanistan.

But I’m not so sure that we should believe them any more than we should believe Biden and his team. In a situation like this everybody is covering their backsides, and it’s hard to reconcile some of these arguments with what the military and intelligence people were saying themselves in public not long ago.

“On Bagram, Bagram is not necessary tactically operationally for what we’re gonna try to do here with Afghanistan – consolidate on Kabul, in support of their government.” – General Mark Milley

Now there is evidence that it’s not just outside critics of the Pentagon that have issues with the leadership but also the rank and file.

In an extraordinary video that has gone viral, a US Marine with multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan over a period of 17 years, Lt. Colonel Stuart Scheller, decided to openly risk the loss of his career, pension and who knows what else, by demanding that his own chain of command take responsibility for their failures.

It did not take long for the entirely expected hammer to fall. By 2:30pm that same day, he had been “relieved for cause based on a lack of trust and confidence”. He himself states that that is entirely right and proper.

This is what a hero looks like. This is what Speaking Truth To Power actually is. What courage that took, knowing what it would cost him. He accepted what he knew was coming.

But the followup also shows the deep anger and upset among the Marine Corps and I would bet across the entire US military.

==========================

UPDATE: I completely forgot how this is backed up by a post I made a few days ago, that time quoting an anonymous US Army General Officer known to the Law professor who put his comments up, Afghan Veterans: one American view. His attitude is far harsher than Scheller’s:

DoD must be halved. There are too many flag officers, too many agencies, departments, and directorates.

Let us not forget the intelligence agencies... And when its reorganization is done, if the overall size of the nation’s intelligence apparatus is a quarter of what it is now, that still is too large.

==========================

So Scheller is not alone. They can cashier him, but if they don’t listen to what he is saying, there will be more speaking out and/or they will lose more good people.

Instead it is people like this that need to go. Now.

Back in July I wrote on General Milley’s absurd, ignorant and damaging comments about his own military with the focus that he and his political master, Secretary of Defense Austin, were bringing on uncovering “extremists” and “White Rage” in the ranks. Perhaps if they’d been focusing more on actual military things like planning an orderly withdrawal, this disaster could have been avoided.

At a minimum, if they disagreed with the political decisions they should have resigned. But the US military leadership is now stuffed to the gills with people like this; politicians in all but name who play politics in public.

At the same time the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) has informed active duty and retired service members that they weren’t allowed to criticise Joe Biden or any of the senior government leadership, as The Daily Wire reported.

I don’t recall this happening during Trump’s time, when the air was filled with (safely) retired officers criticising him in very strong, one would say, abusive terms. Even recently the DOD itself acted politically in going after Tucker Carlson on their own website.

As another former combat veteran said, even as he agreed that when he served he would have also relieved Scheller of command for this:

But the standard has changed. The leadership changed it. The rule is now uniformed military can do politics. So I would give him a medal.

I found a partial transcript of what Scheller said:

“People are upset because their senior leaders let them down and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, ‘we messed this up.’

If an O-5 battalion commander has the simplest live fire incident, EO complaint. Boom. Fired. But we have a secretary of defense that testified to Congress in May that the Afghan National Security Forces could withstand the Taliban advance. We have Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs — who the commandant is a member of that — who’s supposed to advise on military policy. We have a Marine combatant commander. All of these people are supposed to advise.

And I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever, but I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say, “Hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone.” Did anyone do that? And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, “We completely messed this up?” [….]

But what I’ll say is, from my position, potentially all those people did die in vain if we don’t have senior leaders that own up and raise their hand and say ‘we did not do this well in the end,’” he said. “Without that we just keep repeating the same mistakes. This amalgamation of the economic/corporate/political/higher-military-ranks are not holding up their end of the bargain.

I want to say this very strongly: I have been fighting for 17 years. I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders ‘I demand accountability.’”

Written by Tom Hunter

August 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Military, US Politics, USA

Tagged with ,

Afghan Veterans: one British view (updated)

Tom Tugendhat is a Conservative MP in the British Parliament.

He is also a veteran of the Afghanistan War (2001-2021).

His speech to the House the other day is sobering and sombre, rich with pathos and sorrow, even though I cannot agree with the overall thrust of his argument:

He starts by talking about the impact of recent events on him and his fellow Afghan veterans, as they see their sacrifices churned into the dust, with himself feeling “anger, and grief and rage”, as well as “the feeling of abandonment“:

“I’ve watched good men go into the earth, taking with them a part of me, a part of all of us.”

I cannot but help think of how Vietnam veterans dealt with this?

But it is the following that got me, where he is clearly talking not of the Americans beside whom he fought but of other comrades in arms:

That connection links us also to our European partners, to our European neighbours, and to our international friends.

And so it is with great sadness that I now criticise one of them. Because I was never prouder than when I was decorated by the 82nd Airborne after the capture of Musa Qala. It was a huge privilege. A huge privilege to be recognised by such an extraordinary unit in combat.

To see their commander in chief call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran … shameful.

Those who have never fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have.

The Afghan Army suffered some 60,000 deaths over the last twenty years, plus god knows how many casualties fighting against the Taliban and other such groups.

But the next statement delivers a clear message and somewhat disturbing one, based partly on that shameful assessment by President Biden, but undoubtedly on deeper things than just that:

“We can set out a vision, clearly articulate it, for reinvigorating our European Nato partners, to make sure that we are not dependent on a single ally, on the decision of a single leader, that we can work together with Japan and Australia, France and Germany, with partners large and small and make sure we hold the line together.”

The message is that the USA can no longer be depended upon and that Europe, perhaps with other like-minded nations around the world, must draw closer together.

If a sober, Conservative, America-friendly MP is drawing that conclusion, what must others be thinking?

But sadly, despite his sacrifices, courage, intelligence, decency, together with his earnestness about such international and multinational efforts, I think such plans will come to naught. He is talking as if the globalist world of economics, trade and immigration spawned in the wake of the end of the end of the Cold War, the world carried forward by Clinton through Bush to Obama, still exists in the same way. It does not.

It has been broken by too many economic losses in the heartlands of America, too much debt, and in Europe, too many multicultural clashes. Too many vast failures like the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, Iraq, and now this. Dashed hopes for the liberalisation of not just Afghanistan and Iraq but China also. We are not at The End of History, and the Last Man has turned out to be a rather primitive man; the same sort of man who has impelled empires for three thousand years.

He finishes the speech with a terrible image, and a hope that this is not the future:

“It is the image of a man whose name I never knew, carrying a child who had died hours earlier, carrying this child into our fire base and begging for help.

There was nothing we could do.

It was over.

This is what defeat looks like when you no longer have the choice of how to help.”

Without the USA leading, I very much doubt that Mr Tugendhat’s vision of helping can be anything more than an electronic League of Nations, and probably unwanted by those it thinks it can help. The European nations are already suffering low birthrates and despite solid economies in many cases their militaries are pitiful, with only France and Britain being solid, and then by only a low bar.

UPDATE:

I guess I should have read up on what the rest of the British Parliament had to say:

MPs from all sides of the Commons were forceful in their criticism. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said: “The US is, of course, an important ally, but to overlook the fighting of the Afghan troops and forces, and the fact that they have been at the forefront of that fighting in recent years, is wrong.”

Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “The American decision to withdraw was not just a mistake – it was an avoidable mistake, from President Trump’s flawed deal with the Taliban to President Biden’s decision to proceed, and to proceed in such a disastrous way.”

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, called Mr Biden’s remarks about Afghan soldiers “some of the most shameful comments ever from an American president”.

Since the days of Reagan I’ve grown used to hearing the British Left condemn American Presidents, usually Republican ones.

But I cannot recall such wide and deep condemnation from across the board in the British Parliament. I stand to be corrected but I think it is unprecedented.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 20, 2021 at 10:21 am

Afghan Veterans: one American view

In another post I’ve referred to the views expressed by a British Afghan veteran, now an MP, Afghan Veterans: one British view.

Now there are these comments made by an American Army veteran of the same war, courtesy of the Instapundit blog where the founder of the blog introduces it as:

THOUGHTS ON AFGHANISTAN, from a senior military officer with whom I am acquainted:

Click to read the whole thing but here are some key quotes from it:

I ask that you not use my name. I am a currently serving General Officer and what I have to say is highly critical of our current military leadership. But it must be said.

I don’t blame President Biden for the catastrophe in Afghanistan. It was the right decision to leave, the proof of which is how quickly the country collapsed without US support. Twenty years of training and equipping the Afghan army and all that they were capable of was a few hours of delay in a country the size of Texas. As for his predecessor, the only blame I place on President Trump was that he didn’t withdraw sooner.

We should blame President Bush, not for the decision to attack into Afghanistan following 9-11, but for his decision to “shift the goalposts” and attempt to reform Afghanistan society. That was a fool’s errand any student of history would have recognized. And yes, we should place blame on President Obama for his decision to double down on failure when he “surged” in Afghanistan, rather than to withdraw.

Of course in 2008 it was essential that the Democrats play The Bad War (Iraq) against The Good War (Afghanistan), in order to retain credibility with Democrat voters still feeling the pain of the 9/11 attacks.

He does hold Biden directly responsible for the way the withdrawal has been conducted, correctly in my view, but it is the Military Brass into which he tears:

Afghanistan was worse than Vietnam in another respect: the military’s leaders of the Vietnam era had no precedent to dissuade them from a disastrous path. Today’s military leadership has the precedent of not just Vietnam, but also Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. That much obtuseness must be punished and removed from the system.

General Milley must resign. Not only is he the Chairman of the Joint Staff, prior to that he was the Chief of Staff of the Army. While all services share the blame, the Army is the land domain proponent. The 20 years of failure in Afghanistan is an Army failure. Scores of other generals also deserve a thorough evaluation; many of them are complicit in the lies to protect a decades-long failed strategy.

Secretary of Defense Austin also must be fired. The recently retired Army general and former CENTCOM commander was, and still is, part of the culture that is impervious to the fact that 20 years of trying it their way did not work.

He discusses how the military has been warped by two decades of fighting wars against insurgents. If the complaint early on was that a Cold War military did not know how to fight the likes of the Taliban, the opposite is now the case:

The Army today could not win a major war.

recent open-source studies conclude that the US military already is unable to defend against …. a Russian incursion in the Baltics or a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Yet, winning a major war is the number one reason why an Army exists. It will take a generation to break bad habits, to think in terms of closing with and destroying the enemy versus winning hearts and minds. Keane sees raw numbers (and ignores the stark evidence that there was no progress over 20 years) and thinks that America’s Army can sustain that level of commitment. It cannot, and the opportunity cost to the culture of the force is much too great. Ignore him. Ignore Petraeus, McMaster, Stavridis, and the rest of their ilk.

I would like to think that the US Navy could win a major war, as well as the US Air Force, but in saying that I feel like those people who so recently talked of how an Afghan army of 300,000 could not lose to the vastly smaller, less well-equipped Taliban, and of course you would have to be a fool to ignore the fact that China is rapidly building a Navy.

He has a concise set of recommendations, starting with resources…

DoD must be halved. There are too many flag officers, too many agencies, departments, and directorates. It is the only secretariat with independent but supposedly subordinate secretaries. There are too many Geographic Component Commands—each led by a 4-star virtual proconsul whose budget dwarfs what the Department of State spends in their regions.

Unreformed, DoD is an inscrutable labyrinth which invites fraud, waste, and abuse. The excess attracts unscrupulous camp followers. Amazon did not choose Crystal City to locate its new headquarters because of low rents and ease of transportation access for its 25,000 employees. It chose the Arlington, Virginia neighborhood because it is two blocks from the Pentagon. That building controls the distribution of three-quarters of a trillion dollars every year. Most of it is wasted.

Of the ten richest counties in America, seven lie around Washington D.C. It is not a source of great mineral wealth or industry. It is not Silicon Valley. Given that it is a place that produces only paper and hot air there can be no other conclusion that it is the wealth of corruption.

He has legal recommendations also:

Congress must reevaluate the authorities contained within Sections 12301 through 12304 of Title X. The president has too much latitude to, on his own authority, mobilize tens or even hundreds of thousands of Guardsmen and Reservists without congressional approval. It must be the policy of the United States that we do not place our service members in harm’s way without first making the case to the American people. This also means ending the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force as well as strengthening Congress’ role in the War Powers Act such that, absent an actual declaration of war, there can be no war.

I doubt any Congress has the stomach to take back those powers, and I cannot see any President encouraging them to do so.

He doesn’t let other parts of the US Federal government off the hook either:

Let us not forget the intelligence agencies. They reported that Kabul was at risk of falling in as little as 90 days. That report was from last Thursday! The capital fell in less than 90 hours. Failure must be punished. And punishment in a bureaucracy means mass firings and a smaller budget—not more money so that they might be better the next time. Congress must consolidate and collapse our intelligence agencies. And when its reorganization is done, if the overall size of the nation’s intelligence apparatus is a quarter of what it is now, that still is too large.

Harsh. But we are now in a time of harshness. I agree with much of it.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 20, 2021 at 8:00 am

Posted in Britain, Military, US Politics, USA

Tagged with ,

Afghanistan: “Who goes? And who gets left behind?”

I vividly recall the fall of Saigon in 1975 as the ARVN collapsed and the North Vietnamese swept into South Vietnam in a perfectly conventional military attack, complete with tanks, a far cry from two decades of guerilla warfare.

It was the first “current affairs news” that I ever took notice of. But then the images were unforgettable: ARVN pilots escaping with their families using any helicopter they could get their hands on, landing on any US warship with deck space; American sailors pushing the machines over the side to make room for more; other choppers landing in the sea.

The best documentary of this event is the 2014 PBS special, Last Days in Vietnam. A terrifying, heartbreaking, gripping movie that you will not regret watching. The title of this post is a quote from one of the Americans involved in that evacuation.

I don’t think we’re going to see anything quite like that from Afghanistan. The cartoon above is actually from 2009, when hopes were high that newly elected President Barack Obama would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan since, after all, eight years was surely enough.

A decade later hopes were also high that President Trump would withdraw from that benighted tribal land, but like Bush and Obama, he allowed himself to be convinced by the State Department and the Pentagon that the USA needed to stay a while longer, lest the Afghanistan Army and government collapsed.

If they were likely to collapse after almost two decades of American training and about $1 trillion of invested effort and resources, then what difference was another four years going to make? Even a decade ago these sorts of arguments had begun to have uncanny similarities to South Vietnam circa 1973-75.

There was also a nasty little pressure campaign launched by insiders in the Intelligence and Military, to the effect that dreaded Russians were paying bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops. It was total shite and obviously so from the start, given that the Taliban were only too happy to do that job for free. But it was designed to mesh perfectly with the Trump-Russia delusion; if Trump pulled out from Afghanistan it could only be because he was doing what the Russians wanted. How much that campaign played in Trump’s decision to respect the Pentagon’s wishes is not known.

Finally, earlier this year President Biden directed the US to leave, they have almost completely done so, and the Vietnam scenario that so many foresaw has begun. You’re going to soon see – probably in less than a month – similar cartoons to the one above, judging by these sorts of news headlines:

Afghan president appeals for help as Taliban close in on capital

US Embassy in Kabul directs staff to destroy sensitive documents as many diplomats prepare for evacuation

To get a picture of the acceleration of this destruction I present you with the Washington Post’s exposition of the predictions from the Best and The Brightest on August 11:

The Biden administration is preparing for Afghanistan’s capital to fall far sooner than feared only weeks ago, as a rapid disintegration of security has prompted the revision of an already stark intelligence assessment predicting Kabul could be overrunwithin six to 12 months of the U.S. military departing, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

By August 13 there’d been an update:

A new U.S. intelligence assessment has indicated Kabul could be overrun within 30 to 90 days.

Now:

It’s stuff like this that causes me to have some sympathy for President Biden when he said this weeks ago:

“The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Biden is as stupid a President as the US has ever had; bag of rocks dumb even before he grew senile, which is why he allowed himself to mouth that advice given to him by the same agencies that failed to predict the fall of the Shah of Iran, the collapse of the Eastern European Communist Bloc, and the 9/11 attacks.

By contrast many ordinary people, across the ideological and political spectrum around the world, without access to the “intelligence” and lacking PhD’s in Foreign Policy, have predicted this collapse for years now.

As such we should not let those “experts” off the hook and yet we have. Almost two years ago the Washington Post, – for once doing some real investigative journalism – and in yet another eerie echo of Vietnam, published The Afghanistan Papers, which detailed the failures of the US in that country and the lies that had been told to President’s Bush, Obama and Trump about the progress being made in Afghanistan and that the war was still worth fighting.

The papers were based on a series of massive internal investigations done by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), created in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone. But the agency ended up going much further than that with a project called “Lessons Learned” that ran through 2015:

The Lessons Learned staff interviewed more than 600 people with firsthand experience in the war. Most were Americans, but SIGAR analysts also traveled to London, Brussels and Berlin to interview NATO allies. In addition, they interviewed about 20 Afghan officials, discussing reconstruction and development programs.

The reports were packed with bureaucratic language, but it was the interviews, with 90% of the people promised anonymity, that hit hard. Only a few were prepared to go on the record. Here are just two:

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced thateverything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

Is it any wonder that the WaPo had to spend three years, including two lawsuits filed against SIGAR, to get access to such information:

Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.

Yet the radioactive fallout from these reports inside the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and other US Federal government institutions dealing with Afghanistan, has been non-existent.

That should not be a surprise given that the information fell upon the deaf ears of the American public, who apparently didn’t give a shit.

Certainly there was, and remains, an element of wishful thinking from those who listened to such lies, as president Bush demonstrated just the other day with these comments.

“It’s unbelievable how that society changed from the brutality of the Taliban, and all of a sudden — sadly — I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm. I’m sad. Laura and I spent a lot of time with Afghan women, and they’re scared. And I think about all the interpreters and people that helped not only U.S. troops but NATO troops, and it seems like they’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people. And it breaks my heart.”

My feelings on Bush are summed up by a couple of comments:

I don’t care how George Bush feels about Afghan girls. Did any members of the Bush family die or suffer catastrophic injury to protect those girls. How many U.S. men and women was he willing to sacrifice so that he didn’t feel bad about the plight of Afghan girls?”

“Bush can spare us all the sob stories. He had eight years to establish the conditions for success in Afghanistan, and he didn’t….for eight years he let the CIA and State Department continually screw up and fail in their missions without any consequences, beginning with 9/11. 

Let me make it quite clear that I supported the initial invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In fact I saw no choice but to take out the Al Qaeda base camps, and if that meant the Taliban government fell then too bad.

That was done in a matter of months, but when I began to read stories about the likes of Bush and “Pottery Barn” Powell (“You break it. You buy it”) talking about setting up a democratic government there and building a “civil society” I absolutely disagreed.

Afghanistan is and always has been less a nation than a place of warring tribes. The idea of turning it into even an approximation of a civil society, even by the low standard of various Gulf States, seemed crazy to me. Were these people not aware of the history of Britain in two 19th century wars there, plus the USSR in the 1980’s? Here’s Churchill writing in his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, of the different policy options for Britain in the 1890’s:

The “Full steam ahead” method would be undoubtedly the most desirable.  This is the military view.  Mobilise, it is urged, a nice field force, and operate at leisure in the frontier valleys, until they are as safe a Hyde Park.  Nor need this course necessarily involve the extermination of the inhabitants.  Military rule is the best rule suited to the character and comprehension of the tribesmen.  They will soon recognize the futility of resistance, and will gradually welcome the increase of wealth and comfort that will follow a stable government.

Only one real objection has been advanced against this plan. But it is a crushing one, and it constitutes the most serious argument against the whole “Forward Policy.”  It is this: we have neither the troops nor the money to carry it out.

If they had not read Churchill – and I recall that he was all the rage with the Bush Whitehouse – surely they had read Kipling’s war poetry:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
and go to your gawd like a soldier.

The likes of Bush claimed that they were aware of such history. Not just Bush but Obama-loving voices like David Brooks in the NYT, writing of spreading progressive values, because:

“at their core the liberal powers radiate a set of vital ideals — not just democracy and capitalism, but also feminism, multiculturalism, human rights, egalitarianism, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the dream of racial justice.”

FFS!. Insane. Quite utterly insane, and now here is the result of that insanity staring us in the face.

Having said that, and even holding Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump responsible for what they failed to do in Afghanistan, there’s no question that Biden has fucked this up badly.

For a start, he announced the order to withdraw in Spring – right at the start of the annual fighting season, when the Taliban are always gearing up to fight. Had he waited until Winter the Afghanistan government and military would have had six months to prepare to fight on their own.

In other “Lessons Not Learned”, according to the Wall Street Journal article:

“… about 5,000 civilians and military personnel are based at the embassy and Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

What the hell are 5,000 people still doing at the American embassy and airport offices? Can they be extracted? Apparently Biden has sent some 5000 US Marines and soldiers back in for that reason. Will they be able to extract the even greater numbers of Afghanis who helped the USA for years? There are more than 18,000 of them still in the country. They could have, and should have, been evacuated starting back in May. How hard can that be: you land planes, put people in them, and fly them out?

Finally, Biden has been reduced to pitiful displays of “diplomacy” and “military actions”:

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. diplomat who negotiated a withdrawal deal with the Taliban last year, is back in Doha, Qatar, desperately trying to cobble together some kind of face-saving agreement for the Afghan government that would allow them to leave the country aliveKhalilzad will press for “a reduction of violence and ceasefire and a commitment not to recognize a government imposed by force,” and will urge the “Taliban to stop their military offensive.”
  • American B-52H bombers are understood to be conducting an attack on the largest Afghan air force base in order to destroy the aircraft based there. They don’t want A-29B & AC-208B attack aircraft remain in hands of Taliban.”
  • Press Secretary Jen Psaki: “The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community.”
  • State Department spokesman Ned Price:  “If this violence continues, if the Taliban continues down this path, we are likely to see a prolonged, protracted period of violence, of instability, and that is not in anyone’s interest.”

FFS! Like the North Vietnamese in 1975, the Taliban’s only interest is in victory.

In this Biden is unified with the equally useless and pathetic creatures of NATO and the EU, who have threatened the Taliban with “isolation” if they seize power.

You have to laugh or you’d cry.

Over on the US Powerline blog, Paul Mirengoff, made the following statement:

“Great nations don’t betray entire populations or the sacrifices of their own servicemen.”

Oh yes they do, Paul. They have always done so, and you as a former Vietnam War protestor should know that better than most. All we can hope for now is something less than a bloodbath. The following woo is not encouraging.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 15, 2021 at 5:36 pm

The undergraduate NRO

A couple of decades ago I read a SF story that had – as basically a throwaway commentary – a section on the future of private-sector Earth Observation satellites and national military security.

The concept was that in this future the planet was surrounded by so many such satellites generating vast quantities of imagery, that millions of people had taken up the hobby of scanning through the stuff looking for things that interested them, and that this included large numbers of people who simply loved looking to see what national militaries were up to around the globe.

The upshot was that in this future, national military forces found themselves more hemmed in than they had been in the days of military spying by the likes of the National Reconnaissance Office and their famous series of “KeyHole” spy satellites (plus whatever they have today).

That future is here now.

News recently broke that the Chinese were building new ICBM launch sites, adding to their nuclear arsenal for the first time in decades. While that was important news I just assumed that it had been discovered via the usual means of spy satellites and other intelligence gathering.

Not exactly:

The silos were spotted by Decker Eveleth, an undergrad at Reed College. He spent weeks poking around on satellite imagery until he happened upon the silos’ distinctive inflatable dome coverings. (Which, in turn, has led some people to describe them as “bouncy houses of death.”)

The reason he had something to “poke around” in was exactly as that old SF story described:

Planet Labs, however, created a new kind of small, low-cost imaging satellite and put up so many of them that it can take multiple pictures of every spot on Earth, every day. In this case, Planet had years’ worth of pictures of the area in question, and Eveleth was ready, willing and able to scour them pixel-by-pixel.

Moroever, once he had spotted this, he was able to get more detail:

Eveleth contacted Planet to see if they could use a larger breed of their satellites to take even higher-resolution pictures of the area with the domes. Planet could.

Lewis and Eveleth were able to log in to Planet’s service and see not just the domes but also trenches, for communications cables, leading out from underground facilities where the military likely has its launch operations. 

Naturally the Chinese denied the story, claiming it was a wind farm, until further evidence from Lewis and others shut down that propaganda. The US State Department said such a development was “concerning”. That comment made me wonder if they, the NRO and the US military and government already knew about this – given their spying capabilities and general interest in monitoring China’s military, you’d think they would – but had chosen to say nothing?

There’s more detail at the link, including a reference to New Zealand’s very own Rocket Lab company and the micro-satellite launches it has been doing. That last, in turn, brought me to this article; Rocket Lab launches secret payload from New Zealand:

After waiting out high winds, Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron rocket launched a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from New Zealand, halfway around the world from the U.S. spy satellite agency’s headquarters.

That is just the latest of several such launches, which probably makes the Mahia peninsula a military target, as Paul Buchanan pointed out a couple of years ago in very interesting article on that subject, Launching Into Trouble?:

If the contract to deliver military payloads is solely and exclusively with the US, then Rocket Lab has painted a target on Launch Complex 1 in the event that the US becomes embroiled in a large-scale conflict with a major power. Even if it allows nations other than the US to launch military payloads on Electron boosters, Rocket Lab has made the Mahia Peninsula a target whether or not weapons satellites are launched from there. After all, the main use of smallsats is for surveillance, tracking, mapping and telecommunications, all of which are essential for the successful prosecution of contemporary wars. So even if smallsats launched from the Mahia Peninsula do not carry weapons on them, the site becomes a potential target.

In fact he questioned whether this was even legal under the Space Laws written up to allow RocketLabs to operate in the first place (New Zealand had no such laws because…. well, we’re NZ).

The question is whether there is a legal basis to permit or prohibit foreign military satellites, especially weaponised satellites, being launched from NZ soil with NZ technologies. I am unsure if that is the case one way or another and have heard of no parliamentary or ministerial discussion of the matter.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 20, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Brave? More like fracking suicidal

Written by Tom Hunter

May 28, 2021 at 4:25 pm

Be All You Can Be

This is the latest recruiting advertisement for the US Army – the story of “Emma”. I assume the cartoons are an attempt to connect with the “youf” of today who have grown up in a world of Pixar animation across movies, video games, manga and so forth.

The young woman is in charge of a Patriot missile battery, a big brother version of Israel’s Iron Dome system that has been so successful at shooting down incoming Hamas rockets.

Which is all very well but no military can play pure defense; at some stage it must go on offense or the threat will keep returning. But that’s more aggressive and bloody than the clean, cold-blooded activity of shooting down a missile with another missile. So while “Emma” could have been shown as a bomber pilot dropping JDAMS on some American enemy – or more likely nowadays piloting a Predator drone against Jihadists from a continent away – I doubt that such military action rending the flesh and bone of The Other would be as politically and ideologically acceptable to her two mums.

I appreciate what the US Army thinks it’s doing with this advert: appealing to what it thinks is the zeitgeist of our times, with endless protesting for equality and love linked to the argument that having done so as a teenager the US Army is just the place to continue the fight to put those things into practice.

But I can’t see “War is Love” making it as a recruiting slogan. Sooner or later Emma may face some hard questions from her parents about what she thinks she’s doing for the USA.

I also wonder if things like this will be referred to by future historians of the USA in the same manner in which they identify the employment of barbarians in the legions as a marker for the start of the decline of the Roman empire.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 26, 2021 at 10:46 am

Posted in US Politics, USA

Tagged with

Embrace The Suck

Embrace the Suck is a book written several years ago by a Marine combat vet, Colonel Austin Bay, and it is a collection of many of the expressions used by today’s US troops. An update on the WWII world of FUBAR if you will.

I was reminded of this collection of modern US military lingo during the recent kerfuffle about some of Trump’s claimed statements; the “suckers and losers” story from The Atlantic, that rose and fell in just 48 hours.

And that story was simply a replay of one that appeared briefly a few months ago, (more on that in a bit).

THE SIGAR REPORT

First is the actually interesting stuff: a report published by the Special Inspector General – Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). What he had to say was not pleasant, Afghan war plagued by ‘mendacity’ and lies:

“There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue . . . mendacity and hubris,” John F. Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”

As an example, Sopko said U.S. officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they “knew the data was bad.”

The testimony was merely a followup to what had been reported in December 2019, with the WaPo’s Afghanistan Papers:

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

I can’t say I’m surprised. As much as I supported the US invasion of Afghanistan to target and destroy Al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors, the idea that the US could achieve a repeat of post-WWII Germany and Japan was always a nonsense. They had built developed economies and even created some decent civil institutions, before diving into Fascism and Militarism. But Afghanistan managed only a small amount of development, including girls wearing Western clothing in Kabul by the 1970’s, and that was crushed by the Communist takeover in 1978, followed by forty years of tribal and civil war.

After eighteen years the government continues to be corrupt and it’s systemic and endemic to the tribes and political classes of the nation. Worse yet, the US has clearly failed at the core task of taking out the Taliban or building a solid government that could contain or take out the Taliban after the US leaves. The US is failing now by propping up a kleptocracy that has no desire to change. So it’s time to leave, and that’s been Trump’s goal all along.

But apparently it’s not the goal of the US military and intelligence agencies. And their response speaks volumes. Because the blame could be spread over three Administrations and perhaps because it might even aid Trump, the reports barely made any impact in the MSM or public arenas. The WaPo did a good job looking at these reports, but there was little follow-up from them or anybody else.

The military and intelligence chappies, together with some GOP and Democrat politicians who were already angered by Trump’s troop withdrawals from Syria, decided to do some classic bureaucratic shit-stirring.

“DOPES AND BABIES”

First up in January was an article from the very same Washington Post, based on a newly published book, A Very Stable Genius, about a meeting that took place July 20, 2017:

‘I wouldn’t go to war with you people,‘ Trump told the assembled brass…. ‘You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.

For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called ‘locker room talk,’ this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked…

The meeting soon ended and Trump walked out…. Standing in the hall with a small cluster of people he trusted, Tillerson finally let down his guard. ‘He’s a fucking moron‘.

The shrieks and howls of outrage from 2017 were brought back with this article, and of course Trump’s enemies once again gloried in Tillerson’s remark that had been reported even back then. So I appreciated the following comments from this blog post by US law professor Ann Althouse, a 70 year old 60’s survivor who voted for Obama twice and Hillary in the last election, but who refuses to fall into the OrangeManBad insanity:

Ironically, it makes the people Trump called “dopes and babies” look like dopes and babies. Why should their feelings be coddled? 

The “sacred space” was “the Tank” at the Pentagon… 

Trump brought his own boardroom style. He got elected offering that. I see no reason why he should be expected to change to a style of “reverence and decorum” because that’s what others in the room are used to and feel comfortable with. Why should those people be facilitated in their comfort and established old ways? During the Vietnam War era, we would have reacted with derision at expectations like that.

And there were also some choice comments about these people from some retired military folk who regularly comment on her blog:

This is the standard reaction to Trump: He can’t say that! How DARE he say that – to us.

There would not be a member of the US military who has not been chewed out by a superior officer at some stage in their careers, and those are usually a lot harsher than what Trump dished out.

I was outside a room where a 3 star general made a 1 star general stand at attention while he chewed his ass for something… This was during a training exercise in 1987. So, whatever. Generals getting their asses chewed and expecting to get chewed if they displease the CINC should be normal.

After serving under incompetent 1 star and 3 star douchebags who got people killed and enabled the command culture that brought us the Abu Ghraib scandal, like BG Karpinski and LTG Sanchez, I have zero illusions about assuming flag level competence.

The people Trump got stuck into are the ones saying that after 19 years thousands of US troops should remain in Afghanistan: “dopes” is the least unkind thing I could say about that – and so would 90% of the Left were they not so determined to take Trump down.

As to the admirals in the room, since 2012 the US Navy has had not one but three destroyers, among the most nimble warships in the fleet, collide with slow moving merchant vessels. Yeah, there’s something wrong there with basic Navy seamanship.

This helps to explain the reports of all the meetings Trump had in the White House with large numbers of enlisted combat veterans ONLY, no officers allowed. 

Suffice to say this was yet another attack on Trump and his relationship with the military that went nowhere fast.

RUSSIAN BOUNTIES

In June the same crowd tried again, this time over Afghanistan, led by the usual suspects of the New York Times…

American officials said the Russian plot to pay bounties to Taliban fighters came into focus over the past several months after intelligence analysts and Special Operations forces put together key pieces of evidence…

… and the WaPo:

The intelligence was passed up from the U.S. Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March, the people said.

How exciting: Russia again and Trump betraying the USA and the troops. The Democrats and their Democrat Operatives With Bylines were soon screaming for investigations, Congressional sessions and “questions that demand answers“. Some of CNN’s stuff made it sound like Trump should fly to Moscow to punch Putin in the face. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, started banging his everlasting Russia drum.

But note the sourcing. As with the recent “anonymous sources” for The Atlantic, the NYT used the bland “American officials” while the WaPo went with “people said“, which we know is the highest level of classification. Not “with knowledge”; not “high ranking”; not “within the Intelligence Community”. Hell, not even “current.” 

And although it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that Russian intelligence, probably the GRU, could be involved in some such activity – the 1980’s CIA and Stinger missiles comes to mind – the story didn’t make sense, for several reasons:

  • Why would the Taliban need financial incentives to kill American soldiers in the first place? They already hate them.
  • What would such bounty killings obtain for Putin specifically? Getting the US out – when Trump had long signalled his intention to do so anyway?
  • Why would Putin risk feeding money to these people when the risk of exposure and blowback would be so high for so little reward?

In any case the now predictable process of narrative collapse duly happened when the story got knocked down in 24 hours as the NSC did “due diligence” back through their files and found no such “intelligence assessment” described in media reporting, but only raw, unverified data. No wonder it didn’t make the President’s brief!

Things got even funnier a few days later when The Federalist unloaded on old gopher cheeks, Schiff Learned Of Russian ‘Bounty’ Intelligence In February, Withheld Information From Congress, And Took No Action:

Adam Schiff’s top aides were briefed on Russia bounty suspicions. In February. In Afghanistan. Schiff didn’t think it was significant enough to alert colleagues on Intel committee, held no hearings, told no one, did nothing.

It was a MSM-Intelligence Community (IC) beat-up along the same lines as all the others, and it showed several things:

  • That one of Trump’s super-powers is that he’s managed to get the Left and Democrats to support the CIA, the rest of the IC and the Pentagon.
  • Anything that connects Trump with Russia is seen as a win for the media and the Democrats. They’ve been pushing Trump as a Russian agent for years and are not going give up now with an election fast approaching, so it was time to recycle the narrative.
  • The leakers from within the IC know that and played to it. Here’s another example with this CNN report. Tiresome.
  • The Pentagon and CIA are resistant to the Afghan peace plan being hammered out between the various parties to the conflict that could see all US troops out of that country by May of 2021.
  • Clearly that “Pentagon report”, like the leaks about Russian bounties, is designed to spike such a plan. What better way to make Trump the bad guy in any withdrawal than to claim that if we leave Afghanistan, we are helping the Russians? You couldn’t script it better. It’s all so transparent and so Beltway.
  • These attacks also serve as a wedge between one of Trump’s most supportive voter segments, i.e. military members.
  • It’s not working, The frontline troops like the guy; aside from having their back in dealing with bad guys he also sticks it to the “Perfumed Princes” at flag level – the same sort of people who have repeatedly lumbered their troops with shit ROE’s and situations where they can’t win but only die.

THE END GAME

Trump has upset a lot of apple carts within the IC and the Foreign Policy community, meaning the State Department. He’s done various things that they have advised against for years: moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem; ignoring the Palestinians as being key to Middle East peace; scrapping the Iranian nuclear deal; withdrawing from Syria; publicly sticking it to NATO partners over their military spending, and so forth.

And now with Afghanistan. However it’s way past time for the US troops to go home, even knowing that the American-backed government will almost immediately collapse, that the Taliban will go back on all of their promises and that the country will return to how it’s always been.

But the way the internal military, intelligence and foreign policy organs have dealt with this is actually now a far greater concern because it represents an internal threat that is far beyond the humorous manipulations of Sir Humphrey. Way back in early 2017, the Democrat Senate Leader, Chuck Schumer, delivered a casual and prophetic warning for Trump during an interview:

“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

Schumer made this comment almost with a shrug of the shoulders, as if such a thing should just be lived with. But it should disturb even those who hate Trump that the USA has reached the point where the civilian Commander In Chief will not only be disobeyed in matters of Foreign and Military policy but actively undermined, and in ways that try to destroy him politically. It is actually a manifestation of what President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address to the nation in 1961.

That is one “suck” that should not be embraced.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 17, 2020 at 12:01 am

Bugger that for a game of soldiers

Having failed to defeat Trump in the 2016 election, failed to destroy him with the Russia-collusion hoax, failed with impeachment, failed with multiple other attacks and now hoping that crushing the economy to deal with a cold virus, it seems the Democrats have decided to throw the kitchen sink in as well by aiding and abetting riots and looting across the USA and then accusing the President of extreme militaristic reactions.

Fortunately it turns out the Trump’s mouthing off about sending Federal troops into Democrat cities – those places where systemic racism exists after decades of Democrat rule – was enough to scare Democrat Governors and mayors into actually doing something, rather than just telling their police forces to back off.

However, were he to do so it would not be without precedent.

Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1957

In 1957 the state of Arkansas refused to honor a federal court order to integrate their public school system stemming from the Brown decision. Eisenhower demanded that Arkansas governor Orval Faubus obey the court order. When Faubus balked, the president placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal control and sent in the 101st Airborne Division. They escorted and protected nine black students’ entry to Little Rock Central High School, an all-white public school, marking the first time since the Reconstruction Era the federal government had used federal troops in the South to enforce the U. S. Constitution. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to Eisenhower to thank him for his actions, writing “The overwhelming majority of southerners, Negro and white, stand firmly behind your resolute action to restore law and order in Little Rock”.

JFK – 1963 (Ole’ Miss Riots)

President Kennedy reluctantly called in reinforcements in the middle of the night under the command of Brigadier General Charles Billingslea, Commanding general of the United States Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. He ordered in U.S. Army military police from the 503rd, 716th, and 720th Military Police Battalions—which had previously been readied for deployment under cover of the nuclear war Exercise Spade Fork—the 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry Division, the 31st Helicopter Company, and the federalized Mississippi National Guard. 

LBJ – 1967

In Detroit in 1967, Governor George Romney sent in 7,400 national guard troops to quell fire bombings, looting, and attacks on businesses and on police. Johnson finally sent in federal troops with tanks and machine guns. Detroit continued to burn for three more days until finally 43 were dead, 2,250 were injured, 4,000 were arrested; property damage ranged into the hundreds of millions.

George H W Bush – 1992

On the fourth day, 3,500 federal troops — 2,000 soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division from Fort Ord and 1,500 Marines of the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton — arrived to reinforce the National Guardsmen already in the city. The Marine Corps contingent included the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, commanded by John F. Kelly. It was the first significant military occupation of Los Angeles by federal troops since the 1894 Pullman Strike,[96] and also the first federal military intervention in an American city to quell a civil disorder since the 1968 King assassination riots.

Sadly, even if Federal troops were sent in, it wouldn’t end systemic racism in places like NYC, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Chicago and so forth.

To do that people will have to overthrow the Democrat rule of such cities where they have been basically a one-party state for decades. I guess Democrat voters actually like systemic racism, which is at least consistent with their party’s history since it was created.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 6, 2020 at 9:57 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , , ,

A Laboratory of Human Endurance

 

US Army Ranger School students

I came across an interesting article the other day from a website that seems to be an eclectic mix of information from camping and mountain biking to gardening; basically anything to do with getting Outside.

This particular article involved a former US Army Ranger going back to Ranger School to embed as a reporter with a class of trainees. It’s a fascinating look at how humans can cope, and be trained to cope, with enduring in the face of adversity, which seems like a pretty good message for us in the here and now. And it may be appropriate for ANZAC day also:

Starting in 2006, I spent 13 violent months serving as an infantry officer in Iraq. Thankfully, I rarely revisit that experience while I sleep. But hardly a month goes by when I don’t wake up with a jolt, my heart racing. Each dream is different, but the basic plot is the same: I have to go back to Army Ranger School, which I graduated from in 2004.

That’s telling! The training was worse than combat? Well, not quite of course as nobody is shooting at you, but still.

Ranger trainees in the Mountain Phase

He embeds with 363 officers and soldiers who spend two months going through three types of training called Benning Phase, Mountain Phase and Swamp Phase.

It’s important to note that none of these candidates are raw recruits; they all have solid military experience and in some cases actual combat experience.

And even so, a good chunk of each class fails and has to “recycle”; repeat the course after a break to rest and recuperate. And by recuperate he means more than just catching up on sleep from the ordeal.

The students will be sleep-deprived, often getting only two or three hours’ rest on rugged terrain, with little more than a poncho to shield them from the elements. They’ll be perpetually hungry, their daily field diet of two MREs providing only 2,500 calories, a fraction of the estimated 5,000 they’ll burn lugging 90-pound rucks up and down mountains. By graduation day, many will have lost 20 pounds or more, their gaunt faces sometimes shocking family and friends who attend.

People have died in training, though none since 1995. But even in this class several students have a close call:

Ranger candidate Hilary Thomas 

 

By now the sky has grown dark, unleashing a ferocious downpour of rain and hail. Then a bolt hits terrifyingly close, and word finally comes to “drop your shit and get down the mountain.” Minutes later, [Hillary] Thomas is on the ground, unable to push herself up. Her right arm isn’t working. Nearby a student is screaming “I can’t feel my legs!” while another struggles to lift an RI into a fireman’s carry. As it turns out, several students have been struck by lightning.

The author himself says that the competitive drive he’d had in sports was almost broken by his Ranger School experience.

Establishing an overnight patrol base is a miserable process that can take hours, at a time when you’re desperate for sleep. The students must perform countless tasks, such as positioning their equipment to best fight off an enemy attack, drawing “sector sketches” that assign fields of fire, and cleaning weapons. Many are virtually catatonic while doing these chores.

It sounds hellish, so why would anybody do it? Obviously some just want to become Rangers while others think it will help with being promoted to higher responsibilities in other parts of the US Army. But there’s more to it than that; they want to test themselves, and in ways beyond physical endurance:

An individual’s true nature emerges at these times, because survival instincts can trump even the most resolute intentions to help the platoon. Captain Alec Schaffer, an RI, tells me that Ranger School happens between midnight and 3 A.M.,” because every part of you wants to close your eyes and get warm and shut down, but you can’t. The paradox is that the conditions bring out the survival instinct to go into a shell—not act, think, or solve problems—but the only way to graduate is to do the opposite.”

At one point a group organises an “ambush” on one of the instructors and its success causes the students to seemingly forget how tired, hungry and cold they are: the physical impact of boosting morale. And the students truly have to understand what teamwork means, far beyond the bullshit that usually surrounds that word in civilian environments:

With each passing day, the mental stress will increase on those who aren’t yet sure they’ll move on to Swamp Phase. Most students I talk to agree that the psychological difficulties of the course eclipse the physical demands.

And that includes blind peer reviews, including perhaps the most important question of all:

If someone is ranked low by enough of their peers, he or she can be forced to recycle or be dropped outright. (One soldier who failed to advance past Fort Benning had 15 of 15 squad mates say they wouldn’t enter combat with him.)

The article is not just a description of the process but also of some the students, their backgrounds and aspirations, that really make you want to see them all succeed. It’s a long article but easy to read and well worth it.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 25, 2020 at 12:21 am

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with ,