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January 31, 2008

The Definition of "Jihad"

Hint: It isn't "peaceful inner struggle", like some apologists try and tell us.

I had my own experience with this "nicer" definition. Shortly after Sept 11 2001, I went to a church where they had invited two Muslims, a man and his wife, to come and speak. The purpose behind the invitation was noble; like many well-meaning people they were afraid that a backlash against Muslims might develop in the wake of the terrorist attack. Indeed, I had thoughts along those lines too for a time. As such, these two Muslims were there to explain their faith, which after all was something not many of us were familiar with at the time. Anyway, one of the things that the two insisted on was that the proper definion of jihad was "peaceful inner struggle", something that one did to purify oneself before God. They asserted that any definition of it as "war" was from ancient times. Even then I knew they were blowing smoke, but of course was too polite (like everyone else) to say so at the time.

In case you need proof that jihad really means something along the lines of "war against the infidels, the invaluable MEMRI has this immaculately researched piece:

The Arabic word jihad has gained wide currency in the media worldwide. Since the 1990s, various countries around the world have seen numerous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims calling themselves "jihad fighters" - the most deadly of them being the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. But what exactly is this concept of jihad, which has so much impact on life in the world today?

The Meaning of the Word Jihad

Let us begin with the meaning of the word jihad as it is understood by the "ordinary" contemporary speaker of Arabic (and also by Muslims who are not Arabs) - I refer to the meaning of the word in "common parlance," to use a British legal term, or in what the Jewish sages called "the language of ordinary people." In the language of ordinary people, jihad means war against the enemies of Islam. Since this interpretation often arouses controversy or objection among academic experts, I present here a word-for-word translation of what is said about the concept of jihad in a standard 11th grade textbook used in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority:

"Jihad is the Islamic term equivalent to the word 'war' among other nations. The difference is that jihad is [war] for the sake of noble and exalted goals, and for the sake of Allah… whereas other nations' wars are wars of evil for the sake of occupying land and seizing natural resources, and for other materialistic goals and base aspirations."

It should be noted that the literal meaning of the word jihad is not "war." Jihad is the nominalized form of the verb jahada, which means "to strive," "to exert oneself." The textbook from which the quote is taken presents this etymological information, but what it stresses - and what is relevant to this investigation - is the accepted meaning of the word in Muslim culture and history, and, of course, its accepted meaning today. [

The Place of Jihad in the Muslim World View

To properly understand the place of jihad in the Muslim world view, it is important to keep in mind that Islam has been, from its very beginning, not only a religion but a political community - the nation of Islam (ummat al-Islam). Muhammad was not merely a prophet communicating the word of God, but a political leader and military commander. Hence, any victory by the army of a Muslim state over non-Muslims is perceived as a victory for Islam itself. According to Islam, Allah promised the Muslims victory and superiority over all other religions worldwide. ...

ust as humanity is divided into two - into believers and infidels - the world itself is also divided into the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam), namely the region under Muslim rule, and the abode of war (dar al-harb), referring to all lands not yet under Muslim rule, which must be conquered by the sword, i.e., through jihad.

However, jihad, important though it is, is not regarded as a personal obligation (fard 'ain) incumbent upon each and every Muslim. In this, it differs from the "five pillars of Islam" - the declaration of faith (shahada), prayer, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca, and the payment of zakat (alms tax) - which are personal obligations of every individual believer. According to the shari'a, jihad is a collective duty (fard kifaya) of the Muslim nation, or community, as a whole. It is the Muslim ruler who decides when and against whom to declare jihad. When a Muslim ruler declares jihad, it becomes a personal obligation for those whom he orders to take part in the war.

There is only one situation in which jihad becomes a personal obligation of each and every Muslim even without an order from the Muslim leadership - namely when non-Muslims attack Muslims or invade a Muslim country. Bin Laden and the adherents of extremist Islam claim that this is the situation today: Islam is under attack, both physically and ideologically. The infidels - Christians and Jews - are invading the lands of Islam: Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, they maintain that waging jihad has become a personal obligation incumbent upon all Muslims, wherever they may be.

Be sure and read the whole thing for historical background and documentation (the piece is heavily footnoted)


Jihadi Terminology

Posted by Tom at 9:14 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 29, 2008

The Florida Primary

At 10:30 PM EST, both CNN and Fox are reporting that McCain and Clinton have won Florida

The Republicans

36% McCain
31% Romney
15% Guiliani
13% Huckabee
3% Paul

What I'd say to each of them:

John McCain: Congratulations on your victory. Half of me loves you, and half irritates me. When it comes to Iraq and foreign policy you stand tall. When it comes to many domestic issues I cringe. You alienate conservatives so much I suspect that if you win the nomination half the time I'll cheering you and half the time cursing you. Ditto if you win the White House. You also seem to have a temper, which you better learn to keep under control, especially if you win the nomination and go up against Barack Obama. You'll come off as old and cranky against a guy who's new and fresh.

Mitt Romney: You are the one I'll vote for if you survive long enough for the Virginia primary on Feb 12. You are right on all the issues, and I believe your reasons for changing what you did are sincere. You are the most knowledgeable of all the GOP leaders, and can hit the "competence" ball out of the park. You're well spoken without any personal blemishes. Yet you seem to have trouble connecting with voters. Rich Lowry wrote about this in the January 28 print edition of National Review (digital subscription required). You just need to warm up to people personally instead of immediately leaping into the technicalities. The good news is that this is easily curable, the bad news is that it might be too late. I certainly hope you can pull it off on Super Tuesday.

Rudy Giuliani: You've got a lot of strengths and in many ways would make a fine president. That you cleaned up New York City alone puts you head and shoulders above most politicians, never mind your leadership on and after 9-11. However, you needed to make a strong showing in Florida, and you didn't. It's looking like your strategy of waiting for the late primaries didn't work.

Mike Huckabee: Hopefully you've figured out by now that being the "Christian candidate" isn't enough to get you the nomination. Heck, many evangelicals, myself included, aren't comfortable with you.

Ron Paul: You're in this for the same reason that Dennis Kucinich is; because you believe so strongly in your cause that you just want to make a point. I can respect that. Your supporters, though, are an embarrassment.

The Democrats

50% Clinton
33% Obama
15% Edwards

What I'd say to each of them:

Hillary Clinton: So you won. Was it worth it? You and your husband have disgraced yourselves once again. Democrats are just now figuring out that you'll do and say anything to win, something we on the right have known for 15 years.

Barack Obama: You're an awfully nice guy, sincere, and decent man. Too bad you have to go up against the Clinton machine. They're trying to drag you down into the mud with them. Don't take the bait. You're only 47, so if you lose this time you can run again in 4, 8, or even 16 years.

John Edwards: Sorry, but I think you're a phony and the worst of the bunch. Your advocacy of using Memorial Day as an opportunity to spread your "end the war" gospel was beyond disgraceful.

Dennis Kucinich: Are you still in this race? Your website indicates that you are yet I can't find you in any election results. Are you really below 1%?

Lastly, CNN, I think, has the best guide to the primary process.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 28, 2008

Afghanistan Update - Whither Waziristan?

There may be some good news across the border, for the government of Pakistan may be getting ready to start a major new offensive into South Waziristan, the lawless area of that country where so many al Qaeda and Taliban are holed up. Stanley Kurtz reports that it's all terribly complicated, though, because of the significant sympathy for the Taliban and al Qaeda in the government, and indeed thoughout Pakistani society. On the one hand Musharraf wants to defeat the terrorists, but on the other if he is too blatant about military operations he could lose control of his country. Unfortunatly, too many here in the United States do not seem to have an appreciation for the percariousness of Musharraf's rule. Kurtz concludes by noting that

The recent meetings between Adm. William Fallon, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, and the head of Pakistan’s army fit nicely into this picture. America would like to take on the Taliban in its home base in Pakistan before the Taliban’s spring offensive in Afghanistan begins. Musharraf’s political weakness may actually have created precisely the conditions we need to see a serious offensive in Waziristan. Musharraf is trying to prove to us that we need him, and that he can deliver. The Pakistani army’s successful assault on Swat was clearly a confidence builder, and even the Anbar tribal strategy is seeing a kind of revival in a Pakistani context.

Key to defeating our enemy will be ridding them of a sanctuary. The entire situation in Pakistan is impossible and there are no easy answers. Let's look at a few maps

This first one is a general map of the region


This next one focuses on the Wazirisan area of Pakistan


And in this last one we see Tora Bora pinpointed. This, of course, was where Osama bin Laden was likely hiding for a time before fleeing into Pakistan.


As I think we all know by now, the Taliban and al Qaeda have a de facto sanctuary in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. Given enough time, determination, and resources, we can eventually get Afghanistan to the point where it can adequately defend itself against cross-border infiltration by the above. But it would be a whole lot easier of we could deny our enemy their sanctuary.

The problem is that this area of Pakistan has never been effectively governed. When Pakistan was formed in 1948, the government essentially did a deal with the local tribes; we'll let you alone, and in return you don't declare indepenence or harbor those who try and overthrow our government. This worked up until al Qaeda and the Taliban fled to the region, where they found sanctuary. When the government of Pakistan tried to go in and get them it was defeated. On Sept 5, 2006, the Pakistani government signed the Waziristan Accords with the tribes in which the government effectively cried uncle.

The United States cannot simply "go in" and get the Taliban and al Qaeda in Waziristan. There are three primary reasons why this is so.

One is simply that Pakistan will explode if we attack their country. Osama bin Laden is popular, even if people don't necessarily want to be ruled by him. Even since the rulf of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-88), radical madrassas have injected Islamist beliefs into the population to the point where the West in general and the United States in particular are unpopular, and radical Islam is favored. Look again at the maps; if Pakistan falls we can't even get to Afghanistan anymore. Peopl, like Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, who suggest that we should attack into Pakistan, need to consider this likely consequence.

Second is logistics. The region is vast and hard to get to. Road networks are spotty and rail largely nonesistent and certainly unreliable. We can't even get to Afghanistan without going through Pakistan, and there is simply no way that the latter will allow our transit if they think it is to attack their own country. Further, getting enough troops to the Waziristan region to do enough good is logistically impossible. Remember, troops must be supplied and supported. Parachuting them in is all very cool, but unless they are properly supported we'll have another Operation Market Garden on our hands.

Third, even if we sent troops to Waziristan it's not likely they'd find Osama bin Laden. They could do some damage to al Qaeda and the Taliban, but would suffer many cansualties themselves. Would all those who insist that we "get bin Laden" continue their support in the face of mounting casualties? The civilian population would suffer, all of which would be highlighted in the media.

This is not to say that there is nothing we can do. We can supply the Pakistanis with intelligence and other forms of support so that they might be more effective in future invasions. Simply giving them moral support will count.

The second thing we can do is probably what we're doing now; trying to buy off the tribes. This would not be done with Special Forces, but black ops, more like the Vietnam era SOG teams than anything else.

Either way, there are no good options for dealing with this situation. Winning in Afghanistan is going to take years, if not decades, of determined effort. It will be hard and there will be many bad days. Afghanistan is not even as coherent a country as Iraq, so getting it's government and army off the ground are even more difficult. Our "allies" in Europe and Canada are showing signs of wanting out. We'll likely have to fight this with reduced assistance before long. Whether we can stick it out will determine whether the terrorists get their country back.

Posted by Tom at 8:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 26, 2008

Afghanistan Update - Our Allies

Let's first set the stage with a quick primer on organization.

CENTCOM is the overall US command for the area, and has responsibility for the region. Adm William Fallon commands CENTCOM, and reporting to him are Gen Petraeus of MNF-Iraq. The structure in Afghanistan is a bit more complex than that in Iraq:

There are two separate Allied operations in Afghanistan right now. There is Operation Enduring Freedom, led by the Americans with British participation. And there is the International Security Assistance Force, which is a NATO operation and manned mainly by Europeans and Canadians....Operation Enduring Freedom ... has a more robust mandate and stronger rules of engagement.

Here's the website for ISAF, and here's the one for OEF. Here's more on the differences between the two, from the Australian News article (via The Belmont Club) that was quoted above:

ISAF has a long list of Taliban personnel it is prepared to target. These are the so-called high-value targets. However, at times the restrictions on its rules of engagement are ridiculous. If ISAF coalition forces discover a house with two Taliban high-value targets, and four other Taliban fighters who are not on the list of ISAF approved targets, it cannot attack the house. This is not a scenario of protecting civilians but of protecting Taliban targets who are just not specifically on the list. ...

Most European nations that do deploy in Afghanistan do so in the much more relatively peaceful north , rather than the violent south where the Australians are.

That's not encouraging.

Earlier this week I discussed the situation with regards to Canada, and how the public up north was souring on the war. Today we'll cover some of our other allies

There's a brief history of OEF on their website, and it's worth quoting from it a bit just so we have the organization straight

Combined Joint Task Force-82 (CJTF-82) is a U.S.-led subordinate command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). CJTF-82 serves as both the National Command Element for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, reporting directly to the U.S. Central Command commander, and as ISAF’s Regional Command – East.

CJTF-82 is headquartered at Bagram Airfield.

The 82nd Airborne Division has been leading this effort since February 2007.

The ISAF website identifies 39 countries that are participating in some way:

NATO Countries (26) Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada , Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States

Non-NATO Countries (13)
Albania, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Finland, The Former Yoguslav
Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, and Jordan

The number of troops from each country is not listed, and I do not have time to search the website of each country individually. If anyone has that information please leave it and a link in a comment.

On with the Story

First up; the Gates controversy. From The Belmont Club last week

When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accused NATO forces in Afghanistan as being untrained and unready to conduct counterinsurgency warfare it set off a spasm of transatlantic recrimination. British conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer called Gates' comments "bloody outrageous". But Gate's remarks were a subsidiary part of a much larger accusation that he made before the House Armed Services Committee in December, 2007 which tellingly evoked not outrage but silence. "I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements -- about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters, and three infantry battalions -- Gates voiced "frustration" at "our allies not being able to step up to the plate." Gates was baldly accusing the NATO allies of reneging on their commitments. To make the criticism even more stinging, these statements coincided with an announcement the US was about to send 3,200 Marines to cover the 7,500 man shortfall in the NATO deployments. The answer to that criticism wasn't outrage but rationalization. The NATO troops, the European allies countered, were bearing the brunt of the fighting against the al-Qaeda/Taliban forces. Bill Roggio looked at the validity of the British claim.

Long story short: Roggio didn't buy it. But follow the link and judge for yourself.

The LA Times has additional information on the committments of our allies. In a story titled" Going It Alone Because We Have To"

The tragedy is that he had to rob Peter to pay Paul because Britain can't maintain 7,000 troops in Iraq and 7,000 in Afghanistan.... Look at Afghanistan, where NATO is always having trouble dredging up an extra helicopter or another infantry battalion to throw into the fray. The British and Canadians are doing more than their share; their willingness to fight hard and take casualties sets them apart from most NATO countries, which prefer to send troops to safe parts of Afghanistan rather than to the front lines in the south and east. But 5,500 British and 2,500 Canadian soldiers can cover only so much ground, even with another 1,500 Brits thrown in. As usual, the United States, with more than 27,000 troops in Afghanistan, is left to carry the lion's share of the burden.

Meanwhile, over at The Corner, John Hood links to a story that shows European public opinion turning against the war in Afghanistan

[F]our years into NATO's mission - the alliance took over ISAF in 2003 - mounting troop and civilian casualties, the latter often caused by airstrikes used when soldiers have been lacking, are turning public opinion.

A survey in Canada in August showed that solid majorities of people in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy thought the ISAF-mission was a failure, while almost one in two Canadians agreed.

A poll in Germany, which has lost more than 20 troops since 2002, found that almost two out of every three people want the government to withdraw its 3,000 troops, even though they are deployed in relatively stable areas.

The Netherlands, which one official said is "punching above its weight class," is expected to renew in coming weeks the mandate of some 1,500 Dutch troops deployed in the southern province of Oruzgan.

Surveys suggest the majority of Dutch people are against an extension.

Responding to this story, Mark Steyn made the obvious but still worth quoting observation:

John, that story on the Nato mission in Afghanistan is very dispiriting. This, after all, is supposed to be "the good war," not like illegal blood-for-oil Iraq. Yet countries that steered clear of Bush's Mesopotamian adventure have no stomach even for a mission with impeccable multilateral bonafides. The Canadians have been taking casualties at a higher rate than the U.S., U.K. or any other nation, but they've also been doing a tough job very well of which their countrymen should be proud. But they're not, not really. Huge numbers of the Canadian public don't support the mission, don't think it's worth it, and want it ended. And so do the Brits and Europeans and most other members of the Nato "alliance."

That's how it would go here, too. When Democrats complain that Iraq is a distraction from the real war in Afghanistan, it's worth remembering that's just a shell game. If America pulled out of Mesopotamia and devoted its attentions to the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan would become the new Democrat-media quagmire in nothing flat.

But the bigger lesson is that most western nations have signaled to the world they have no stomach for any fight. And it's not just the Taliban and al-Qaeda who draw their conclusions from that, but the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans and all kinds of other folks.

This in turn leads to Jonathan Forman's discussion of the "Information Battle Space" last May in National Review. Although it's 8 months old, his observations are still relevant. Forman reviews several stories that had recently appeared in the Western press, all of them critical of European soldiers, accusing them of various atrocities. All were shown to be false, or at least highly questionable.

For the most part, Taliban claims are assumed to be true. Statements by Coalition spokesmen, on the other hand, are a different matter. Such officials are said to make “claims,” and they are essentially assumed to be propagandists, if not flat out liars, by many correspondents....

The critical part though is nearer the beginning of the piece

Make no mistake, the Taliban and their allies, like the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, know perfectly well that they don’t have to defeat the Coalition militarily; all they have to do is undermine the political will of the Western electorates.

It looks like they're succeeding in reducing the will of our allies.

Next up: Whither Waziristan?

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 24, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest

(Tomorrow or Saturday I'll resume my series of updates on Afghanistan)

Maj.Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North ( also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, spoke via satellite on Tuesday to reporters at the Pentagon. MG Hertling provided an update on Operation Iron Harvest, which is his part of Operation Phantom Phoenix. Phantom Phoenix is the Corps level operation which is takign place across the entire country. MG Hertling reports to Lt.Gen Ray Odierno, who in turn reports to Gen Petraeus.

The transcript can be found here.

Following are what I found to be the most important parts of the briefing. MG Hertling explains why we are succeeding this time where the failed in the past:

GEN. HERTLING:...Some who aren't familiar with this fighting might ask, "Is all this making a difference?" I'll answer that by giving you a few vignettes. I walked through the town of Himbis (ph), which is in the center of the Breadbasket area, with several coalition force soldiers on the second day of our operations, the day after many were reporting that AQI had fled. Townspeople were hesitant in leaving their homes, and when they did, they were asking us if it was safe to come out. When we assured them it was, they began relating stories of all the murders and intimidation from the terrorists that had been in their area. I walked through that same town last Saturday, and shops were again open, people were walking freely through the town, and many people who I saw on the first day again stopped to talk to me. A few days ago, in another town in this area, a town called Shirin (ph), a young cavalry leader introduced me to a 12-year-old Iraqi girl who was brave enough to provide a list and a sketch map to Iraqi soldiers, and that list and sketch map showed the names and hiding places of terrorists who were still in the area and who had harassed her and killed two of her brothers. ...

Q: General, it's Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. How would you assess the strength of al Qaeda in your area now after those 40 operations that you mentioned as opposed to before? In other words, how much damage do you think you've done over all to them?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, that's a great question, and what I'll you is I think that the terrorists that have been in that area unimpeded for the last several months and in some cases years have done significant damage not only to the infrastructure of the town, but also to the psyche of the various people that lived in the area. They had developed safe havens and caches. Some of them were very well formed. They weren't hasty positions or hasty cache sites. These were ones that have been in place for a very long time.

So what I'll tell you is just the increase in expanding security has caused significant damage to them -- the capture and kill. We're seeing reflections in human intelligence as well as from other intelligence that we're getting that's saying they are still looking for a place to hide, and that's what we're attempting to do.

You know, what's interesting, Pauline, I think a year ago we were often reacting to al Qaeda and what they were going to do next. Now I think the tables have turned a little bit, and they are attempting to react where we're going to go next and that's a critical difference. So I think in, specifically the bread basket area, I've seen it with my own eyes, and things are safer; the people are coming out. I talked to a group of town's people this afternoon, and they were very hopeful of things getting going again. In some of the other provinces that we've also been conducting operations -- in Salahuddin here, south of Samarra and north of Baiji, in the deserts where al Qaeda has attempted to gain footholds, we've continued to pursue them. In Mosul, we still have a very -- Mosul and the rest of Nineveh's province we still have a very tough fight to go. In Kirkuk, things are improving significantly.

Q: General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Can you expand a little bit about what you just said about terrorists seeming to anticipate where you are heading next as opposed to where -- you chasing them to where you think they're going next? What does that mean in terms of a change?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I hope I didn't -- I hope I didn't say that. If I did, that's not what I meant. What I said was we are continuing to pursue terrorists. They are going to some places. We know where they're going oftentimes. We're continuing to collect intelligence to find out their trails and where they're leading us. So they're not anticipating at all where we're pursuing them. And in fact, I guess what I would say to you is they are trying to get away or find new safe havens, and every time they think they have them, we attack there.

Q: From these various operations over the years, we've seen that the terrorists have kind of squeezed out, moved up north. Now they seem, you know, obviously to be in your area. With these operations, do you see them kind of collecting in another area, or do you think this is maybe the final stand for al Qaeda?

GEN. HERTLING: I would never use the term "final stands." I think we're going to have to continue to pursue these individuals wherever they go. Whenever you think -- or whenever you feel comfortable that you've eliminated them in one area, they tend to reemerge. So this is a continuous pursuit operation, and we'll never say that we've completed pursuing them, because they may always come back.

What I would suggest to you, though, is in the past there has been that squeezing, or I've heard it call the whack-a-mole, where you hit them one place and they show up somewhere else. But that was during the time when I don't think the security forces were large enough to actually contain them and continue to pursue them in areas where they thought we couldn't go.

The difference today is, I think, especially in the northern area, where we are, we have a very capable and continually expanding Iraqi security forces. I have working next to all of our soldiers four different Iraqi divisions, and they're growing in size and capacity every day. So I think that's what's making a difference.

In the past, the northern areas have been somewhat of an economy- of-force zone, to use the military term. We've had just enough forces to do a very little bit of the operation. Well, now we also have four Iraqi army divisions alongside of us, and where we can't be, they can be. And in many cases we're conducting operations with them. So it's continuing to improve the situation on the ground in all the communities.

Q: General, this is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. Can you tell me what it is you're doing to hold this territory that you've retaken from al Qaeda?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I sure can. Again, the difference this time as opposed to in the past, where coalition forces would go in, clear an area and then move on to the next area and leave the last area for al Qaeda or any other extremist to come in and retake, the difference this time is we are doing it in conjunction with Iraqi security forces, specifically the Iraqi army initially.

The reasons that Iron Harvest is working, then, is that 1) there are more U.S. forces, and 2) there are more Iraqi forces. As a result of this 3) we are receiving more intelligence from the population, as was evidenced ih MG Hertling's opening remarks.

As a result we are not playing "whack a mole" anymore. AQI can run but they can't hide.

I suppose that hard-core leftists who are determined to think that the surge isn't working can retreat into "Hertling is a liar" and "the media are his lapdogs", but such criticism isn't serious.

More serious is what will happen when we leave. The "surge" is just that; a temporary increase in troops. Hertling points out that not only are there more Iraqis in uniform, but they're doing a better job, too. Good enough, but we recall MG Fil's Dec 17 briefing in which he stressed that "The progress that we've made thus far is fragile and not guaranteed."

This is where the Concerned Local Citizens come in. Anyone who's been following Iraq knows that this is a key part of our strategy. Securing Iraq is going to take more than uniformed army and police forces. Here are a few exchanges on the CLCs, and then I'll explain why they're so important:

Q: Gordon Lubold with the Christian Science Monitor. To go back to concerned local citizens, can you give me an idea of, in your area, how many you have again, and how many you think could be transitioned over to the ISF? GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I can. That's -- and that's a good question. We have just under 15,000 by my last count. It's about 1,400 or -- excuse me -- 14,900 and something. ...

Q: Hi, General, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Just one follow-up on Gordon's question. Last week General Odierno mentioned that there were several somewhat isolated incidents where the CLCs were infiltrated.... Have you seen any instances of that in your area? ...

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, Courtney, it's good to hear you. There are certainly infiltrators within all of the Iraqi security forces, and there are some within the concerned local citizens. As I've stated before, though, in each case of someone joining a CLC group, they are vetted through the biometric system; you know where they live as they sign up for this. You have their fingerprints and all the things that are associated with biometrics. So if there is, in fact, an infiltrator, we can follow up on that if they do some type of criminal act.

Receiving good intelligence ("tips") from the population is important, but we must secure their participlation in the war as well. In a battle between insurgents and a counterinsurgency (COIN) force, the population wants to sit on the fence. The COIN force must get them off of that fence. "Getting the people to like is" will NOT work, because when COIN force is not around the insurgents will return and intimidate the people into submission.

The way you defeat insurgents is to win the "hearts and minds" of the people. However, this term is usually misunderstood and does not mean what most people think it does:

Counterinsurgency: FM 3024 / MCWP 3.33.5 defines the true meaning of the phrase hearts and minds as the two components in building trusted networks in the conduct of COIN operations:
"Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.

You can see the relevance. The CLCs represent "getting the population off the fence" I mentioned earlier. A larger Iraqi Army means more citizens are committed to the cause. To be sure, infiltrators can be a problem and some will join the army only for a AOR are "coming around". The key is to make it stick.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2008

Afghanistan Update - Who's Winning?

In the wake of their being squeezed out of Iraq, al Qaeda has been "redeploying" assets to Afghanistan. To help counter this, the United States is sending 3,000 additional Marines. Even so, the troops we already have there inflicted a significant defeat on them and their allies, the Taliban, last month.

It's devilishly hard to know who's winning in Afghanistan, because individual battles may prove illusory. At the end of October Michael Yon wrote a pessimistic piece in which he said point blank that "there are many indicators that the Afghan campaign is at this date a complete failure." He discussed many reasons for his conclusion, not the least of which was the ever-increasing drug trade. "Approximately half of Afghanistan’s economy is based on opium", and much of the profit goes to the Taliban and al Qaeda. As with Central America, it's hard to stop at the supply end. And, indeed, this years opium crop was the largest ever.

Eradicating the poppy crop isn't easy as it it sounds. It might not even be desirable, at least in the short run. While some in the Bush Administration are apparently bent on destroying it, others point out that

Poppy eradication is a double-edged sword. Afghanistan provides nine out of every ten grams of heroin sold on the streets of Britain, and officials are determined to stamp out poppy growth. Yet a successful campaign would leave many unemployed as potential recruits for the Taleban. Afghans, ever the pragmatists, have devised their own solution. “We leave some fields without destroying the poppy so everyone is happy . . . otherwise they will go and support the Taleban,” said Aminullah, 21, a policeman with the eradication force in Helmand. "

Yon also points out that although "there is a widespread notion that Afghanistan is safer for our troops than Iraq... Coalition and NATO combat deaths in Afghanistan are per capita nearly identical to those in Iraq."

But then again, there are other credible reports that suggest just the opposite

Back in August Ann Marlowe had a piece in the Wall Street Journal subtitled "Don't believe the naysayers. Afghanistan is doing as well as anyone has a right to expect." She concluded that "on my eighth trip to Afghanistan (last month) I saw that the trend lines are up, not down."

Christian Lowe reported in The Weekly Standard in November that while the fighting was up in Afghanistan, the battles were very one-sided, with the Taliban taking huge losses. While Michael Yon, in his piece linked to above, ominously quoted retired Gen Barry McCaffrey's 2006 report which said that the Taliban were massing in larger formations to attack, Lowe cites an American officer with a different perspective

"In this type of war, when you mass against forces like us . . . without firepower, we're able to destroy them quite easily and we've shown that over the last six to seven months," said Col. Thomas McGrath, the American commander in charge of training Afghan security forces near Kandahar. "They're bringing in cohorts of young men who really don't know any better and it's been a colossal failure for them."

I'm not sure whether to put this next one in the "good news" or "bad news" column, but the U.S. Army has - finally - decided to establish a counterinsurgency school in Afghanistan. Better late than never, I suppose.

So who's winning? I don't know. Noone probably does, and we won't know for a long time. As Lt Col David Kilcullen (one-time senior counterinsurgency advisor to Gen Petraeus) said on the Charlie Rose show, "there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years."

In other words, we just have to stick it out. Fighting smart is important, but just being there is half the battle. As such, in my next update on Afghanistan I'll discuss the participation of our allies.

Posted by Tom at 7:34 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 22, 2008

Afghanistan Update - Canada

I've been ignoring Afghanistan for too long. Over the next few days I'm going to try and pst some of the articles on that war that I've been saving.

Today's Washington Times has a story about Canadian troops in Afghanistan. There is much in the story that is interesting, but this stuck out at me

...like many of the NATO allies fighting in Afghanistan, they find themselves in a two-front public-relations war — struggling for the cooperation of the Afghans as well as the support of a skeptical public at home. And in such a war, perceptions are as important as territory and body counts.

The soldiers charged with defeating insurgents and restoring calm in Zhari District, just 21 miles west of Kandahar, say privately that their jobs have been made much more difficult by aggressive American military tactics.

The "hot-trigger" U.S. troops, they say, created unnecessary tension with the local populations whose support is essential to progress in the war on terror.

Equally damaging, they say, the Americans' indiscriminate use of air power and aggressive interrogation techniques that have eroded support for the mission among Canadian voters and taxpayers.

Poll after poll shows support for Afghan combat is dwindling in Canada, as it is in other countries that have taken significant casualties. Canadians account for more than one-third of the 220 NATO troops who have been killed since 2002 in the United Nations-endorsed action.

Ok ok, so the Canadians think they can do it better. Whatever. My hat is off to the Canadian troops who are there and who have served. If our commanders and their commanders want to argue about the best way to go about doing things that's fine with me. That's not the interesting part.

It's the part that I highlighted that gets me. I though that Afghanistan was the war that "our allies" were all supposed to support,.

Here are some recent polls of Canadians that I found doing a quick google search:

CBC News


We're not at the critical point yet, but you can see the trend. bty, Canada has 2,000 troops in Afghanistan. Even though their population is much smaller than ours, at just over 33 million, 2,000 is not a huge number.

Strategic Counsel polls

Forty-seven per cent of Canadians want our troops brought back from Afghanistan as soon as possible.... In Quebec, 57 per cent want the mission to end right away.

The poll showed that only 17 per cent of Canadians want troops to continue in their combat role and 31 per cent said Canadians should remain in Kandahar but turn over the combat role to another NATO country.

We're talking about Afghanistan, not Iraq, if you need reminding.


In your view, is the Canadian mission in Afghanistan:

___________________Apr. 2007_____Feb. 2007

A) A peace mission_____31%__________29%

B) A war mission_______57%__________53%

C) Not sure____________12%__________18%

Apparently it's a subject of great debate whether what we (or they) are doing in Afghanistan constitutes war fighting or peacekeeping. The Canadian public, you see, will support "peacekeeping", but is opposed to war missions.

Angus Reid Global Monitor

67% of those asked believe the number of casualties suffered by Canadian troops is unacceptably high, even with whatever progress has been made in rebuilding the war-torn country.

That is a five-point rise from a poll taken a little over a month ago.

Only 25% of respondents said the number of killed and wounded was acceptable.

Bruce Anderson, the CEO of Decima Research, says Canadians are clearly becoming more doubtful about whether progress is being made, in light of the deaths of 66 soldiers and one diplomat.

What in the world is going on here?

Poor Leadership: Another finding of the Angus-Reid poll cited above is that "61 per cent of respondents believe the Conservative government has not effectively explained the mission in Afghanistan." The Canadian public has obviously not bought into the notion that they need to fight in Afghanistan, not just stand around like "peacekeepers". This somewhat mirrors that situation in the U.S. with regard to Iraq. Conservative critics, including me, have said time and again that the Bush Administration has done a miserable job at explaining the stakes in Iraq. It looks like we have a similar situation in Afghanistan.

Ignorance as to the Threat: Most people in Canada and Europe, I think think that the only threat is from outright terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. Even here, though, they tend to think that if they only lay low they can avoid attack themselves. "It's an American problem because of their arrogant foreign policy" seems to be the attitude. As I have demonstrated, however, the entire West is in grave danger.

Unrealistic Expectations: As counter-insurgency expert Lt Col David Kilcullen said a few months ago "There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years." People are still thinking in terms of conventional wars.

Pacifism Peacekeeping missions are fine when appropriate. But there is also a time for fighting. Too many Canadians seem to have degenerated into a moral smugness whereby they believe that peacekeeping missions are so morally superior that's all they will do.

What It's Not: I'm just going to preempt a criticism that often comes from the left: "It's George Bush's fault! If he hadn't invaded Iraq, hadn't been so arrogant..." This argument treats Canadians, and others, as if they were little children. It says that they are unable to reason, and that we must pat them on the head, smile, and say "now be a good Canadian and help us out".

To be sure, President Bush could make the case for Afghanistan better. No doubt Candians and others really do need the eduction about radical Islam Walid Phares is always talking about.

Some will say that without Iraq we'd be concentrating on Afghanistan, but I don't think so. Frankly I think the anti-Iraq crowd would just as soon ignore Afghanistan too, so as to get on with their objective of putting us all under the rule of the EPA. I think that most Democrats just want the whole "War on Terror" to go away.

Am I being too hard on the Canadians? Maybe, but I don't think so. Mind you I am eternally thankful for what Canada has done. I just fear that sooner or later we're going to shoulder more of the burden of Afghanistan too.

Posted by Tom at 8:29 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 20, 2008

Book Review - Come On, People!

On the 17th of May, 2004, Bill Cosby delivered a speech to the NAACP on the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education that rocked the Black community, and indeed the country at large. Known as the "Pound Cake speech", he pointed out negative social trends within the Black community, and said point blank that "we cannot blame white people."

In the speech, he focused on the high crime rate, lack of parenting, "50 percent drop out rate", bad English, focus on multimillionaire sports figures that "can’t write a paragraph", and other social pathologies that plague the black community. Cosby was later criticized for his remarks, but refused to back down.

Come On, People! On the Path from Victims to Victors is the book that resulted from this speech. To write it, Cosby teamed up with Dr Alvin Pousssaint, who is a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Cosby draws the readers, and my guess is that most of the writing was done by him. Dr. Pousssaint leads intellectual weight to the book, so that when they write "studies show that..." you can be sure they are not blowing smoke.

The book is written in a casual, easy-to-read style. It is unfootnoted (although there is an excellent bibliography at the end), as it is meant to be more a call to action than an academic treatise.

What Cosby and Poussaint do not do in the book is prove through a mass of statistics and academic data that the black community is in trouble. This is taken as a given. Nor do they spend their time relating the history of black people in America, and how we got to our current situation. Rather, this is more of a self-help book than anything.

Cosby and Poussaint do not deny that racism plays a role in America today. To do so would be unfactual, and they would lose all credibility. But neither do they dwell on it. Racism gets a few lines here and there, but their message is clear: Most of our ills are not the result of racism, and are things that we can and need to set right ourselves.

The intended audience for Come on, People! are the very people that they are trying to help; black people who are caught in a cycle of poverty and violence. They are also trying to reach black community leaders who can turn things around.

As such, much of the book consists of common-sense advice for black people. There are chapters on prenatal care, parenting, eating properly, managing your finances, how to get a good education and use it to seek gainful employment, and much more. Here is a small sample taken at random:

Go to a doctor early and often for prenatal care

Don't let your kids watch too much TV

Be a good role model for your children

Proper English is a must

Slow down on the fast food

If you're going to have children, get married and stay married

Stop charging anything you don't absolutely need

Whatever you do, graduate from high school

Community colleges have many great courses that can lead directly to a job

Walk away from a fight

Shield your kids from what's on the Internet

The best way to avoid diabetes is to keep your weight under control.

Intersperced throughout the book are "call outs"; most of which are brief stories of black people who faced overwhelming odds yet made it. Others are those of successful black professionals who have useful advice. All are valuable and interesting.

The overwhelming message is that values matter. Come On, People! reminds me as nothing so much as Laura Ingraham's Power to the People, in which she discussed various social ills that are the result of bad value values.

Cosby and Poussaint are all about advancement through education. Unlike too many elies, who obsess over how many CEOs or professional football coaches are black, they look to action that will help the average black person. High profile black success stories in sports and entertainment world are simply not meaningful to the average person, as the chances that he or she will achieve such fame and riches are slim. As such, their advice, as illustrated in the above list, is designed to move people toward obtaining basic degrees at average colleges (they especially stress community colleges) that lead to concrete careers.

I'm not quite sure how much Cosby's message has resonated within the black community, as surely he has faced much resistance from elites for refusing to blame everything on white racism. Yet he and co-author Poussiant are not alone in their quest. For example, NPR Senior Correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams, a black man with impeccable liberal credentials, wrote Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure that are Undermining Black America, and What We can Do About It in 2006, and between the three of them perhaps they can turn the debate around.

Cosby, Poussiant, Williams, and for that matter Ingraham, have picked up on the fact that there is only so much the government can do. Ending blatant racism was good and a must, but clearly this isn't enough to truely liberate black people. Create all the enterprise zones you want, Jack Kemp, but until you change values and attitudes you're whistling dixie.

To me, the question is not whether Come On, People! is a useful book. It is. The question is how to get it into the hands of the people who need it the most. I suspect that many or even most of the people who buy it are people like me; white guys who live comfortably in the suburbs. I'd buy a hundred books and donate them to a black church uptown if I thought they'd hand them out, but such an act would be seen as condescending, I suppose.

Much of the solution, then, is going to have to come from within the black community itself. But there are things that we can do also, like stop buying "gansta rap" music, and cleaning up our own culture. Because ultimately we're all in this together.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 19, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 17 January 2008 - LTG Ray Odierno

Lt.Gen Ray Odierno, Commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, spoke with reporters Thursday at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq. Odierno is in Baghdad, and is linked via teleconference. Odierno is in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq, and the divisional commanders report to him. He in turn reports to Gen Petraeus, commander of MNF-Iraq (III Corps). My understanding is that his main duty is to impliment the "surge", or true counterinsurgency strategy, drafted by Gen Petraeus and others.

LTG Odierno will be replaced in February by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin. Three divisional commanders are being replaced too. From what I can tell is simply part of normal rotations. Odierno took command of III Corps in December of 2006, at about the same time Petraeus was promoted.

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

The transcript can be found here.

How effective was Odierno? Retired General Barry McCaffrey described him as "a national treasure." General Austin will certainly have his work cut out for him.

The most important part of Odierno's briefing, I think, is where he summarized the deteriorating situation at the end of 2006, and the success of the "surge" strategy:

Slide, please.


Shown on this chart is our assessment of al Qaeda in Iraq when we assumed the mission in early December of 2006, with dark red showing where they operated and light red showing their transit routes. At that time, Iraq was caught in a cycle of bloodshed under the dark cloud of al Qaeda. Entrenched in numerous urban safe havens across Iraq to include the entire western Euphrates River Valley, from Baghdad to the Syrian border, al Qaeda's venomous influence was spiraling sectarian violence out of control. They claim Ramadi as the AQI capital and even had a parade down its main street.

In a December 2006 raid, we captured the map shown in the lower right portion of the slide. It clearly depicted al Qaeda's strategy for the total and unyielding dominance of Baghdad, assuming that control of Iraq's capital and its millions of citizens would give them free rein to export their twisted ideology and terror. Indeed al Qaeda did operate with impunity in several areas surrounding the capital that we call the Baghdad belts, and using these sanctuaries to introduce accelerants of violence. This strategy was similar to the way in which Saddam Hussein employed Republican Guard forces to control the city.

With large segments of the population under the vicious grip of al Qaeda and with escalating violence threatening to tear apart Iraq, a shift in strategy was necessary.

Next slide, please.


Last year at this time the first brigade of the surge had begun operations in Baghdad. The surge would ultimately include four additional brigades, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a division headquarters, a combat aviation brigade and two Marine infantry battalions all in place by mid-June of 2007. These additional forces would allow us to go into areas we had not been for a long time, eliminate safe havens, and retain the gains of our clearing operations.

Not waiting for the surge to be completed, we established the Baghdad Operational Command, under Iraqi General Abboud, and initiated Operation Fard al-Qanun, a joint Iraqi/coalition effort to secure Baghdad that also included a surge of Iraqi forces into the capital. Harnessing the synergy of the Iraqi army, national police and local police with coalition combat forces and joint security stations and combat outposts, we maintained 24-hour presence in the same neighborhoods where Iraqis live, work and sleep.

By reversing and reducing the cycle of terror through tough fighting and immeasurable sacrifice, coalition and Iraqi security force were able to earn the trust and cooperation of Baghdad citizens. While acknowledging the risks, coalition force in Anbar seized upon Iraqi discontent with al Qaeda's brutality, and planted the seeds for what is now a burgeoning bottom-up reconciliation effort that is rejecting extremism. In June, with the full surge in place, we initiated Operation Phantom Thunder, a corps-level offensive operation focused on the Baghdad Belts to defeat al Qaeda and extremists, deny enemy sanctuary, and interdict their command and control and logistics capabilities. With Phantom Thunder's success at disrupting the enemy, we launched Operation Phantom Strike in August to intensify pursuit of al Qaeda and extremists.

Slide, please.


Shown on this chart is our assessment of al Qaeda in Iraq as of December 2007. Although the group remains a dangerous threat, its capabilities have been diminished. Al Qaeda has been pushed out of urban centers like Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Baqubah, and forced into isolated rural areas. Many of their top leaders have been eliminated, and finding qualified replacements is increasingly difficult for them. Al Qaeda's external funding and logistics are also suffering, and their foreign leadership has done nothing to endear themselves with the proud Iraqi people. The population's growing rejection of extremism denies them the passive support they need to maintain safe havens. Concerned local citizens under the control of Iraq and coalition forces are assisting efforts to maintain security in their neighborhoods, while simultaneously pointing out IEDs, caches and other nefarious behavior. ...

Next slide, please.


Ten days ago, Multinational Corps-Iraq initiated Operation Phantom Phoenix to continue our relentless pursuit of extremists and to exploit the progress achieved over the past seven months. Phantom Phoenix is an open-ended offensive operation employing coalition and Iraqi conventional forces as well as our Special Operation Forces. As shown on the chart, it is focused at the division and brigade level to further degrade al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists in those areas where they are trying to re-establish support zones and command nodes. Over the coming weeks, you will hear my commanders talk to you about operations like Iron Harvest, Marne Thunderbolt and what they are doing in their operating environments in support of Phantom Phoenix.

It is also important to note that Phantom Phoenix has a significant non-lethal component. Increased security will not in and of itself turn an area. It also requires the delivery of essential services, economic development and improved governance. It is what the Iraqi people want and what they deserve.

Next slide, please.


Shown on this chart are operational results from the first 17 days of Operation Phantom Phoenix, including the first week of shaping operations that began on New Year's Day prior to our first major ground assault. Many of these results were facilitated by tips from local nationals. As soon as they have confidence that friendly forces are there to stay, the locals are quick to cooperate. This is done by the establishment of joint security stations, which is an important part of Phantom Phoenix, and it sends a clear message to local population and any remaining enemy fighters.

With that, I'd like to briefly summarize security trends from 2007.

Next slide.


This first chart shows the monthly attack tolls for 2007. It consists of coalition force, Iraqi security force, civilians and infrastructure attacks and also includes found and cleared IEDs.

June 2007, with over 6,000 attacks, represents the highest monthly total of the war. That is the same month that the surge was fully operational, when we started Operation Phantom Thunder. Since then, attacks have been reduced by 60 percent. The attack levels we are experiencing now are about the same as early 2005 and in some points of 2004.

Next slide.


This chart represents IED explosions across all of Iraq. IEDs continue to be the extremist weapon of choice and come in various forms -- vehicle-borne, roadside, house-borne and deep buried, to name a few. In June, there were almost 1,700 IED explosions, but that was reduced to well under 700 by December.

There were several reasons for this reduction, among them: getting to the left of the boom and attacking the entire IED network; better integration of sensor-to-shooter techniques by our manned and unmanned assets; improved quality of tips and intelligence from local citizens; easier detection of IEDs due to hasty emplacement resulting from pressure put on the enemy; and overwatch of key areas by concerned local citizens.

Next slide, please.


We will never forget those that gave their lives fighting for the ideals of freedom, not the loved ones they left behind. Their sacrifices are not in vain, and it's because of them that we enjoy justice and liberty. Although we closed the year with increasing casualty trends, we are determined to drive it to zero. The months of April through June saw some of our toughest and heaviest fighting of the war as we went into strongholds to rout out -- to root out the enemy.

With al Qaeda and other extremists significantly degraded and with criminals apprehended, our casualty rates dropped. December 2007 was the second-lowest combat death toll of the war, going back to May of 2003.

Our wounded-in-action rates follow a similar trend, but are not shown on this chart.

Inevitably, there will be some tough days and challenges ahead, but we remain totally committed to lowering our casualty trends. Nothing is more important than our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and our prayers remain with those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Slide, please.


This chart tracks all Iraqi civilian deaths nationwide attributed to violence and incorporates both coalition and host nation reporting. While the significant drop in monthly deaths is encouraging, our aim is to continue driving it down further. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the improving security situation and our focus on predicting -- on protecting the population. It also speaks to reduced levels of ethnosectarian violence that gripped Iraq at the beginning of 2007.

Next slide.


This chart depicts the density of deaths in the 10 Baghdad security districts attributed to ethnosectarian violence, to include car bombs.

From January to December of 2007, ethnosectarian attacks and deaths decreased over 90 percent in the Baghdad security districts.

As I travel Baghdad and meet with local citizens, it's apparent to me at the grass-roots level that sectarianism is in fact waning. Their concerns nowadays stem from a lack of essential services, slow economic growth and uneven local governance. Although these are important issues that must be addressed, it is a heartening trend to see a population that increasingly identifies itself as "Iraqi" ahead of ethnic and sectarian stratification.

Next slide.


This is my final chart and shows another positive trend of the overall security situation. It represents arms, ammunition, explosives removed from the battlefield before terrorists and extremists could use it against innocent women and children, or against coalition and Iraqi security forces. The box at the bottom of the chart shows the comparison between 2006 and 2007.

I attribute the significant increase over the previous year to several factors: gaining the trust of the local population, who then provided accurate and timely information; going into enemy safe havens with our surge forces; an improved Iraqi security force that are out doing their job on a daily basis. This all tracks itself back to us being among the population 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Next came the Q & A with reporters. Be sure and watch the video and read the transcript for the whole thing.

Odierno's objective at this briefing was to show that our forces made tremendous progress during 2007. Interestingly, the reporters didn't take issue with this assessment. Anti-war types will claim, I suppose, that this "proves" that the media is really right-wing and in the pocket of the neocons. I rather think that it shows that the more responsible members of the press have been convinced themselves that our "surge" strategy has been successful.

At the end of his briefing LtGen Odierno told the story of one of our heroes in Iraq, and while I realize this post is getting rather long, this part is worth quoting in it's entirety.

In 2007, Staff Sergeant Kenneth Thomas, Jr., of the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, was participating in a boat patrol on the Tigris River near Falahat, Iraq. The four boats in the patrol began to take fire from more than 70 fighters massed on both sides of the river. Sergeant Thomas returned fire with the machine gun mounted on his boat, disabling an enemy machine gun nest and killing one insurgent. The hail of enemy bullets was relentless and eventually forced Thomas's boat ashore.


The position on the river bank left Sergeant Thomas and his team of five soldiers exposed to hostile fire, so he ran up the steep bank and used his wire cutters to make a hole in a fence that was separating him and his group from a safer position. However the fence carried 220-volt electric current, and each cut Sergeant Thomas made provided him with an excruciating shock. By the time Sergeant Thomas finished cutting the hole in the fence, his wire cutters were starting to melt and his gloves were burning.

Because of his uncommon valor, Sergeant Thomas's team was able to crawl through the hole in the fence and reach the cover of a nearby house. There, they established a fighting position on the roof and killed three insurgents before the enemy broke contact. For his actions Staff Sergeant Kenneth Thomas was awarded the Silver Star, our military's third-highest honor for heroism.

The courage of our fighting men and women in this conflict is nothing short of phenomenal. To serve in their ranks is an experience that both is humbling and inspirational.

Our warriors are absolutely selfless, and their hard work, courage and determination has brought about improvements across Iraq that many thought impossible just a year ago.

But what defines our soldiers and Marines is not just valor, but their unwavering compassion for the Iraqi people. This picture of Sergeant Thomas says it all. These are the future leaders of our country and the heroes of their generation.

The next time you think about events in Iraq, I ask that you remember heroes like Staff Sergeant Kenneth Thomas, Jr., and the thousands of others who are on the ground every day contributing to this important endeavor.

Thank you so much again for allowing me to talk to you today. I enjoyed it very much.

Posted by Tom at 2:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 12, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 09 January 2008 - Operation Phantom Phoenix

Major General Kevin Bergner, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman, and Major General Mark Hertling, Multi-National Division-North Commander, spoke with reporters Wednesday in Baghdad. The purpose was to provide an update on Operation Iron Harvest, which is a suboperation to Phantom Phoenix, which was launched the day before.

Phantom Phoenix is a nationwide operation, and Iron Harvest is MG Hertling's part. The purpose of Iron Harvest is to clear Diyala Province or insurgents. According to Bill Roggio, AQI had "established a new "haven" in the region", thus the need for the operations.

This and over videos can be seen at DODvClips.

MG Bergner is, I believe, spokesman for MNF-Iraq.

MG Hertling commands Multi-National Division - North, Task Force Iron. MND-North is is headquartered by the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division.

If I have it right, both MG Bergner and MG Hertling report to Lt Gen Ray Odierno, commander of MNC-Iraq, the day-to-day operational commander in Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen Petraeus, overall commander of MNF-Iraq. Petraeus, in turn, reports to Adm Fallon, commander of CENTCOM.

Here are what I found to be some of the more important parts of the briefing, but be sure and watch the whole thing.

(note that what follows is topical, and is not necessarily arranged in chronological order)

Why Operations Phantom Phoenix and Iron Harvest?

Q Hi. Mark [unintelligible], Time Magazine. Just following up, could you maybe offer your own assessment as to why things are so persistently violent in Diyala Province given the steady build up of U.S. forces? And secondly, could you share your thinking on why you needed to launch this operation now?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah. Diyala Province specifically, as Governor Ra'ad reminds me every time I see him, is a little Iraq. It has all the problems and challenges in this province that all of Iraq has in terms of culture, tribal affiliations, religions, and just overall dynamics. It also was a province that didn't see a lot of forces ensuring stability over the long haul. There would be forces that would go in and
then come out just because it was an econ -- all of Northern Iraq has been an economy of force region over the last several years. So I think that may be part of it; that there wasn't the stable security that we're trying to establish now with the Iraqi Army. As well as the fact that the Iraqi Army division that's standing up in this particular province is one of the newer ones. So as General Salem gets his feet on the ground and continues to build his organization-which he's doing by the way, he's building another brigade in the next several months-I think that will provide security as well as some increases in police forces in that particular province as well.

Q And the second question: why now?

GEN. HERTLING: Why now? Because we can. Baghdad is more secure. Anbar is more secure. And we can focus a little bit on -- we're pursuing. That's
what we're doing. Why now? Because the other places are more secure and the enemy has moved into these provinces more.

Concerned Local Citizens

GEN. HERTLING: You have all reported on instances of intimidation of the population...and a variety of brutal and barbaric acts against civilians who are attempting to secure stability. You all and we are calling them the CLCs, the concerned local citizens....

Q May I just ask you -- I wanted to get some figures; how many CLCs do you figure there are in Kirkuk? How many in Diyala altogether at this

GEN. HERTLING: In my four provinces, we have a total of 15,000.
Actually it's 14,094. And I could break it down a little bit more. I can talk to you later on because we've got a list by province and what it is.

Last night, we were able to get six IEDs off the road only because of tips from concerned local citizens in Kirkuk. That's because the police force is very good and the Army is very active.

The Shia-dominated national government is worried that these CLCs will become an alternative power structure. But from what I can tell the CLCs are vital to the "awakening" and our counterinsurgency strategy. As such, we're going to have to find a way to integrate them into the new gov't so that both sides are satisfied.

I think that the CLCs are evidence of the "bottom up" rebuilding of Iraq. Anti-war types in Washington are concerned with national benchmarks. While the national benchmarks are not completely unfounded, I think that if we can build local communities and civil societies from the ground up we'll achieve success.

Muqtada al-Sadr


We also welcome the recent commitment by al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr calling for the continued compliance with his pledge of honor to halt attacks and outreach from him with other Iraqi leaders to expand the peace. The Sadr Trends compliance with this pledge of honor is improving the conditions for national reconciliation and security for all Iraqis. It also continues to allow coalition and Iraqi security forces to increase the pressure on al-Qaeda terrorists. Though bands of criminals are seeking to tarnish Sadr's pledge of honor, the coalition forces will continue to show restraint against the faithful followers who fulfill his commitment. The criminals who do not honor his pledge and who terrorize Iraqi citizens, assassinate Iraqi officials, and turn further towards Iranian support for extremists will not be shown the same restraint as they dishonor the pledge made by al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr.

Some say that we should have killed al-Sadr early on. Maybe so, and I believe we had cause to do so. But our opportunity for that has passed, so unless we have direct evidence of criminal actions, perhaps it is best if we deal with him politically.

Preparing the Battlefield

GEN. HERTLING: As I was talking to you here last month, we were in the early stages of gathering intelligence and setting forces, both U.S. and Iraqi, for operation Iron Harvest which Kevin just mentioned. We began collection efforts in key areas to find out how al-Qaeda in Iraq is operating in the northern region, specifically in Diyala Province although we're conducting operations in all four of the provinces where we have soldiers. Coalition forces and Iraqi security forces conducted several intelligence-driven operations over the last several weeks which resulted in [a] significant amount of information we are now using to continue to attack AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq).

Here is Gen Hertling's press briefing on Nov 19. I cannot find any for December, but I think this is the one he's referring to.

"Spectacular Events"

GEN HERTLING:As many of you reported recently, while we have seen a reduction in the number of attacks in most of the areas of Iraq and to a lesser degree in Northern Iraq, there has been a marked increase in AQI activity in Diyala Province in the form of high profile, spectacular events. This does not mean an increase of attacks, but it does mean an increase in these kinds of high-profile events....So, while the number of attacks are actually down throughout Iraq and in our area as well, these spectacular events and individual acts of intimidations are designed to incite fear in the population. ...

Q I'm Debbie Block, Voice of America Radio and TV. Would you please explain what you mean by spectacular events? That could mean a lot of
things. ...

GEN. HERTLING: A spectacular event is when a woman with a suicide vest, an individual, goes up to a group of people and blows themself up. And it immediately becomes newsworthy because of the uniqueness and by-I hate to use the word to describe it-but by the spectacular event that it is. A large truck filled with explosives blowing up a bridge when nothing else has happened in the area for months. When the people who are trying to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq will go after a specific target with all their might to not only affect that target, but also get a splash on the news or in media outlets so it appears that things are still reeling from violence which in many cases they are not. But because of one event, it appears this is happening everywhere. So that's what I would categorize as a spectacular event. Something that happens once or twice and it leaves a mark on an entire area or an entire province that things are out of control.

I think these spectacular attacks of suicide bombers and suicide vests are, in fact, going to be AQI's Achilles' heel. They're going to continue to kill innocent people. And that, in fact, is what's generated the concerned local citizens in the first place and it's sort of a reverse counterintuitive logic. They're trying to intimidate people to join them by killing them and it's causing more people to go against them.

Whether we on the right like it or not the media is going to make a big deal of out these high-profile attacks. We have to live with the world as it is, so reducing these types of attacks has to be a priority. AQI is all too aware of the role the media plays in this war for us to do otherwise. As for whether these types of attacks help or hurt AQI, I think it works both directions. On the one hand, they make us look impotent. This in turn drives the anti-war crowd here at home to demand an immediate pullout. On the other hand, Gen Hertling is probably right in that it also drives ordinary Iraqis to take action to defend themselves. Our objective is to channel that action into legal operations, such as Concerned Local Citizens groups, police, and Iraqi Army functions.

Determining Success

GEN HERTLING:While we will continue to pursue extremists, we know we won't measure the success of this operation by the kinetic affects over the next few weeks. Instead, success will be found in the weeks and months after this operation is complete as citizens see improved security and economic advancements. I just came from the town of Sherween where I talked to several of the local citizens who are already beginning to see the affects of al-Qaeda leaving their area and it was a significant emotional event for me.

Q Could you give us a little bit of detail on the civilian projects
that go along with these operations?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, that's a great question. Thanks for asking that. As we complete kinetic operations, one of the things that we try to do is follow up immediately with joint security stations which are the stations in the middle of key areas where there has been violence in the past. It will have both coalition -- will have all coalition forces, Iraqi security forces, Iraqi police, and the concerned local citizens in the center parts of town to ensure security stays -- remains. What we're doing in Diyala as a follow on to that is rapidly pushing money back into the area to improve the destruction of living quarters, of houses, of mosques. ...If I could add one more thing to that though. I mean one of the things that is critical to our operations is the linkages with the PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

Q ...How can you measure your success? ...

GEN. HERTLING: My belief is that as long as we're pursuing them and they haven't set up stakes, we're in great shape. We're continuing to pursue al-Qaeda throughout the width and depth of the battle space. What's very different now though is with what's occurred over the last couple of years, as you well know, is the stand up of the Iraqi security forces.

Q Is that how you're going to measure your success?

GEN. HERTLING: I think we're going to measure our success in a couple of -- and if I were to show you the ways we measure our success in terms of decreased attacks, reduction in IEDs, less small arms fire, all the normal kinetic things are one area. But the other thing is the improvement, and this is where the PRTs help, the improvement in the economy. The improvement in the local government. Some things that you see now that you wouldn't have expected a year ago in terms of how governors are talking to the central government, how businesses are beginning to stand up. The momentum is there. We just have to continue to help it and help the Iraqi people maintain security.

GEN. BERGNER: And that's really the point that I'd just echo for General Hertling is it's about population security. You have to go into these areas, you have to go re-establish local security so that the population feels that. And it gives rise to things like concerned local citizens, the courage to help protect their own community. It enables the further expansion of the Iraqi security forces into those areas. And all of those are the precursors, obviously, to the kinds of economic development, return of the rule of law, reconstruction activities that the Iraqi people need very much. And so in the process of pursuing al-Qaeda, you are expanding population security into these communities.

Contrary to what we constantly hear from the left, those of us who want to pursue victory in Iraq know that it cannot be achieved by kinetic effects only. But in order for political reconciliation to take place there must be security. Phantom Phoenix is designed to provide that security.

Problems Within AQI

GEN HERTLING:We've got some very interesting reflections about AQI leadership in ISI and Mosul in terms of them running out of money and doing things like kidnapping and intimidations and murders for hire that's trying to get them money. And we've also seen some reflections that the lower level fighters are very upset with their leaders for two reasons. Number one that they are taking some of the money they're supposed to use to pay them, those fighters, and leaving the country with it. And number two, the number of people that have been captured in Ninawa Province, specifically in and around Mosul, have been telling about the disorganization and naming other names within AQI which has allowed us to continue to target others.

I think we tend to concentrate on our own problems and failures and forget that the enemy is beset with them too. AQI has simply not succeeded in its goal of chasing us out of Iraq and establishing a base for their caliphate. On the contrary, we have ramped up our forces to deny them sanctuary. Whether in the long run it will be successful only time will tell.

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January 10, 2008

No Betrayals, Please

As with Richard Fernandez, author of Belmont Club, this paragraph from Michael Yon's latest also struck me as particulary

We now have a large number of American and British officers who can pick up a phone from Washington or London and call an Iraqi officer that he knows well—an Iraqi he has fought along side of—and talk. Same with untold numbers of Sheiks and government officials, most of whom do not deserve the caricatural disdain they get most often from pundits who have never set foot in Iraq. British and American forces have a personal relationship with Iraqi leaders of many stripes. The long-term intangible implications of the betrayal of that trust through the precipitous withdrawal of our troops could be enormous, because they would be the certain first casualties of renewed violence, and selling out the Iraqis who are making an honest-go would make the Bay of Pigs sell-out seem inconsequential. The United States and Great Britain would hang their heads in shame for a century.

If we leave Iraq precipitiously the Iraqis will never foreive us. Read Yon's entire piece. Fernandez has this to say about it

Why is fighting a counter-insurgency hard? Because it requires creating a human infrastructure, which in turn requires time and most importantly, exposure. There is probably no idea more destructive to conducting a good counterinsurgency than the idea of a military campaign based on a prescheduled "exit strategy" following a battles in which no casualties will be allowed. Any realistic effort which fits those constraints must realistically resemble one of the cruise missile bombardments so popular with Washington in the 1990s, which is why they were preferred to start with.

A truly sanitized, rubber gloved, politically correct war can never have produced the cameraderie in arms which Yon describes as having risen between American officers and former al-Qaeda. In one sense, the kinds of wars the Left will allow a national military to engage in (if there are any) are of the sort where everything is fundamentally as phoney and plastic as a United Nations conference. A nonwar, both bloodless and useless at the same time. An event in which there are no years; nor sweat, nor tears. Diplomacy conducted by military theater. Just a programmed experience and a private plane ticket home.

But the history of war through the ages has never resembled that; and ultimately there's no way to fight a counterinsurgency without becoming involved in the fate of a country. This is the real cost of all wars that "free men" rather than enslave them. Becoming involved is fraught with danger. But victory has its price.

We're deeply involved with Iraq's people, whether the anti-war crowd likes it or not. Contrary to what they say, to pick up and leave would entail tremendous consequences, all of them bad ones.

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January 9, 2008

The New Hampshire Primary

From Fox, here's how it turned out


37% McCain
32% Romney
11% Huckabee
9% Giuliani
8% Paul
1% Thompson

What I'd say to each of them:

John McCain: This is a big boost to your campaign, of that there is no doubt. But New Hampshire voters are mavericks like you are, and this does not prove you can win over mainstream Republican voters. Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina will determine whether you have staying power. I can live with you as our candidate, although I have reservations.

Mitt Romney: My favorite. You've spent a ton of money for two silver medals. You need to win in Michigan, but I think can stay alive if you get another second there, as long as it's a close one, and preferably if it's not McCain who wins (unfortunately, though, it looks like he will). If you do come in second, though, however, is fine as long as you win at least two of the next three states; Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida. If you can do that then you'll look good going into Super Tuesday.

Mike Huckabee: If you fail to win Michigan, Nevada, or South Carolina, then we'll know that Iowa was a fluke. My guessing is that you won't be in the race for long.

Rudy Giuliani: If your "late primary" strategy pays off, we'll all say you're clever as a fox. Of course, if it doesn't we'll be saying you're dumb as a rock.

Ron Paul: You're not going to win, and you must know it. At this point I can only assume that you're just in it to make a point. You'll probably get 5 - 10% in each primary, which I guess is enough to convince you to soldier on. What you really need to do is tell your supporters to cool it. They're an embarrassment.

Fred Thompson: It's got to be embarrasing to finish behind Ron Paul. I'll give you one more primary, but if you can't finish strong in Michigan it's time to get out.

Duncan Hunter: It's time to get out. You're a great congressman, but it's just too difficult to run from the House. Please go back to doing what you do best.


39% Clinton
36% Obama
17% Edwards
5% Richardson
1% Kucinich

What I'd say to each of them:

Hillary Clinton: Whew, that was a relief, wasn't it? After Iowa you could see your political life flashing before your eyes. Now you've eaked out a victory, however narrowly. Nevertheless, it's painfully obvious that this isn't going to be the cakewalk you'd assumed. You made it through the granite state because you finally appear human. Those manufactured tears didn't hurt, either. My question is; when are you going to unleash all that dirt you've been gathering about Obama?

Barack Obama: You didn't lose by much, and Hillary is still scared of you (truth be told, so am I). You've got much of the Democrat establishment against you, but if you win or at least do well in Nevada, and win either South Carolina or Florida, you're in excellent shape for Super Tuesday. Your message is mostly yourself, and the compressed primarys this time are good news for you because most people won't take time to really examine your record or positions. astly, are you ready to get hit by the full force of the Clinton machine?

John Edwards: Despite your apparent strong finish in Iowa and New Hampshire, this race is between Obama and Hillary. You'll always hit the high teens or maybe higher, but you're not going to win a single primary. You really should get out, but I know you won't.

Bill Richardson: Smart decision to get out of the race.

Dennis Kucinich: You've had fun, but now it's time to get out.

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January 8, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 07 January 2008 - Col Charles Flynn

Col Charles Flynn, Commander of the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, speaks via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq. I am not quite sure where they fit into the MNF-Iraq force structure.

Col Flynn is in Iraq, and is linked via teleconference to the briefing room at the Pentagon.

(The URL for this video is at http://www.dodvclips.mil/?fr_story=FRdamp237911&rf=bm)

Given the confrontation between Iranian gunboats and three U.S. Navy ships yesterday in the Straight of Hormuz, I thought the best place to start was with the exchange about Iranian interference in Iraq.

Q (Courtney Kube from NBC News) Beyond the U.S. efforts and the Iraqi security force efforts to reduce the EFPs, do you see any indications, any early indications, that one of the reasons the EFPs have been reduced in the area is because of Iran's stopping the supply of these weapons, any kind of Iran involvement in this in a positive way?

COL. FLYNN: Yeah, I think that since the talks in September, there has been what would appear to be a reduction in lethal flow of the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator) and other ordnance or munitions that have been used in attacks. At the same time, as I mentioned, there are influences and elements, particularly in Southern Iraq, where they're going to continue to try to foment unrest and use some of their malign influences to try to disrupt our operations, and those really of the Iraqi security forces, namely the police and the army.

It seems speculation on Col Flynns part to link a reduction of EFPs with the talks, but if true then they were worthwhile. And those of us on the right who wondered at their usefulness may have been wrong.

The other important exchange was about the Concerned Local Citizens groups, which have been the topic of much discussion recently. Gen McCaffrey stressed their importance them in his report last month. Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and First Cavalry Division, discussed them in his Dec 17 press briefing. Major General Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North and the 1st Armored Division, discussed them in his Nov 19 press briefing.

Q Sir, Gordon Lubold with the Christian Science Monitor. I wonder if you could talk a little bit, if you haven't already, about the concerned local citizens in your area. What kind of numbers do you have? What's the breakdown, Shi'a-Sunni? I missed, maybe, before, the composition. And what kind of activity do you see them conducting, any operations against them that you've seen so far?

COL. FLYNN: The program that I mentioned in my remarks was a Community Transportation Initiative Teams; it's really not part of the concerned local citizen program, although it is like that. It's more a civil-military outreach program and really an employment program. It does engage the tribes through the tribal sheikhs. We have over 12 tribes involved in that. It essentially goes from the area on Tampa northeast of Diwaniyah and goes all the way south to the Kuwait border and then down to Camp Bucca just east of Basra.

And it's really been a fantastic program. It has employed over 250 employees, and they get paid to do essentially roadwork. And they're out there every day. They're working hard. Their members are engaged in reporting information. In fact, just yesterday we had one of the teams identified an IED that was in fact later discovered to be an EFP. They saw it on the side of the road. They called the local police. The local police called and went over to our Joint Security Station. They went out together, cordoned the area off, and they were able to recover the EFP so we could get the -- you know, exploit the information that we get from those attack sites.

So to me -- and there's been a number of those that have occurred. So to me that's really the most positive part of this, is that it's an employment opportunity, the tribes are involved, and they are working with us to reduce attacks on the highways. And that's not just attacks against Iraqi security -- or coalition forces, but also against Iraqi highway police, oil pipeline security forces and, of course, Iraqi army elements that move on those roads.

Q Do you have also more traditional concerned local citizens manning checkpoints and that kind of thing, and how many of those do you have in your --

COL. FLYNN: No, I don't have those in our area. I know they're in the Qadisiyah province when we're on MSR-Tampa, but I believe those are being executed and implemented by the Georgian brigade that operate up there. We do most of our work here with the Australian battle group and the Romanian battalion, as I mentioned in my statement.

We're making progress, slowly burt surely.

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January 7, 2008

Why did the Iranians Threaten U.S. Navy Ships?

Earlier this morning this was reported by Reuters

Five Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats harassed and provoked three U.S. Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, CNN reported.

The CNN report on Monday, citing unidentified U.S. officials, said the Iranian vessels came within 200 yards (metres) of the U.S. ships and that after a threatening radio communication, U.S. sailors manned their ships' guns and were very close to opening fire.

Agence France Presse has details

Armed Iranian speedboats swarmed three US warships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, radioing a threat to blow them up and sending tensions flaring ahead of President George W. Bush's trip to the Mideast, US officials said Monday.

"I'm coming at you and you will blow up in a couple of minutes," a Defense Department official quoted the radio transmission as saying.

Crew aboard two of the five speedboats also dumped floating boxes into the path of one of the vessels during the incident Sunday morning, but it passed them without incident, officials said.

At 6:23 PM ET the AP had still more, with a bit of analysis

No shots were fired an an Iranian official in Tehran said the incident amounted to "something normal."

Bush administration officials complained that the Iranian actions amounted to a dangerous provocation, but one private analyst said the Iranians may have believed they were acting defensively in a narrow waterway that is heavily trafficked by commercial ships, including oil vessels.

The three U.S. warships -- cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham -- were headed into the Persian Gulf through the Straits of Hormuz on what the U.S. Navy called a routine passage inside international waters when they were approached by five small high-speed vessels believed to be from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.

The Iranians "maneuvered aggressively" in the direction of the U.S. ships, said Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the Gulf and is based at nearby Bahrain. The U.S. ship commanders took a series of steps toward firing on the boats, which approached to within 500 yards, but the Iranians suddenly fled back toward their shore, Cosgriff said.

Cosgriff was not precise about the U.S. ships' location but indicated they were about three miles outside Iran's territorial waters, which extend 12 miles from its shores, headed in a westerly direction after having passed the narrowest point in the straits.

At one point the U.S. ships received a threatening radio call from the Iranians, "to the effect that they were closing (on) our ships and that the ships would explode -- the U.S. ships would explode," Cosgriff said.

"Subsequently, two of these boats were observed dropping objects in the water, generally in the path of the final ship in the formation, the USS Ingraham," he added. "These objects were white, box-like objects that floated. And, obviously, the ship passed by them safely."

The boxes were not retrieved, so U.S. officials do not know whether they posed an actual threat. Cosgriff the U.S. ship commanders were moving through a standard series of actions -- including radio calls to the Iranians that went unheeded -- but did not reach the point of firing warning shots.

What was the Iranian motivation?

First, we need to be careful because initial reports can be wrong. It is possible that our warships surprised the Iranians and they acted the way they did out of fear. Unlikely, but possible.

Did last November's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 20071203) embolden the Iranians?
It might be that they are simply emboldened, and think that President Bush has been so weakened that they can get away with provoking us. Like with petty tyrants and schoolyard bullies alike, this sort of thing makes them feel big and tough. They think they can show the region that they're not intimidated by the American colossus. Last March, it will be recalled, they seized 15 British sailors and Royal Marines in an act that provoked a lot of analysis but no real certainty as to their intent.

But if one engages in "mirror image" thinking, surely the Iranians would lie low. The NIE gave them the cover they needed to restart their nuclear weapons program, and the last thing they need is to start something that might disrupt it. After all, once they get nuclear weapons then they'll be the dominate power in the gulf, and with that they can pursue their goal of creating a regional Imamate.

Further, the last time they tangled with our navy was in 1988, and they got their heads handed to them.

What to make of it, then? Steve Schippert, writing at The Tank, thinks that much of it could be about oil:

First, in a quote attributed to an unnamed official in the latest New York Times article on the incident, is the possibility of an Iranian probe, testing reactions and observable procedures for future reference. "Whether they're just testing us to learn about our procedures, or actually trying to initiate an incident, we don't know," the Times quoted him as saying.

Second, and more importantly from a strategic view rather than tactical, is the Iranian leveraging of crisis and instability in the manipulation of sky-high crude oil prices, the only boost that exists in the Iranian economy.

Oil is flirting with $100 per barrel. Its average price in December dropped to just over $88 per barrel from over $92 average for the month of November. Incidents like this weekend's serve to remind the global oil market of how fragile the supply route is, thus maintaining premium price for Iran's only significant export and only significant source of revenue

Continuing in this vein at Threatswatch, he makes the Clausewitzian point that

The Iranian Oil Weapon is not the act of blocking the Strait of Hormuz nor the removal of Iranian oil from world markets, which is economic suicide for an immensely struggling Iranian economy. The Iranian Oil Weapon is the threat of this, manifest in actions such as the naval harassment this weekend, and the clear economic advantage the resulting tensions provide via increased market price for exported crude oil and natural gas.

On the other hand, it might simply be that the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. This might not have been an operation sanctioned by Tehran; or at least by everyone in Tehran. StrategyPage, in an article that happened to come out today but is not directly about the situation at hand, explains

Who runs Iran? No one in particular, it turns out. Over the past two years, the senior cleric, Ali Khamenei, has tried to solve the corruption problem by ordering most state owned companies to be privatized (sold off to investors). Khamenei, who has enormous civil and religious power, was ignored. ...

The various cleric controlled bureaucracies keep themselves out of trouble with each other by following a "live-and-let-live" policy. So one faction can support terrorist attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, while another insists that the government is doing no such thing.

Bottom line, no one is in charge of the national government, and the senior government officials have the maintenance of their personal wealth and power as their primary goals. All in the name of Allah, of course.

All these motives and more are possible. It's also possible that we'll just never find out.

Update: Tuesday Jan 8

Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, gave a press briefing yesterday on the incident. Adm Cosgriff reports to Adm Fallon, who is commander of Central Command.

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

Here are the important parts

With respect to the encounter yesterday morning local time in the Strait of Hormuz, I think the facts are known to many of you. USS Port Royal, USS Hopper, USS Ingraham were in bound the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz routine transit.

In the early hours of the morning, daylight hours of the morning, they were encountered by five total small high-speed craft that we assessed to belong the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy. The five boats approached the formation on the formation's starboard bow in international waters slightly inside the gulf from the apex of the strait, broke into two groups, one to one side of the formation, one to the other. The groups maneuvered aggressively in the direction of the U.S. ships. They were called on radio; they were -- ships' whistles were sounded, those sorts of things, to draw attention to the fact that their maneuvers were a cause of concern to the commanding officers.

At one point during this encounter, we received a radio -- the ships received a radio call that was threatening in nature, to the effect that they were closing our ships and that the ships might -- the ships would explode, the U.S. ships would explode. Subsequently, two of these boats were observed dropping objects in the water, generally in the path of the final ship in the formation, the USS Ingraham. These objects were white box-like objects that floated, and obviously the ship passed by them safely.

The encounter continued, with the boats maneuvering close to stern and after -- under 30 minutes total, they returned in the direction from whence they came, to the north, back towards Iranian territorial waters.

So I would reiterate it was a transit passage in international waters incidental to a routine inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. ships were clearly marked, at daylight, decent visibility. The behavior of the Iranian ships was, in my estimation, unnecessary, without due regard for safety of navigation and unduly provocative in the sense of the aggregate of their maneuvers, the radio call and the dropping of objects in the water.

I'd like to report that the training of our ships as they came in was more than satisfactory. They stepped through the procedures carefully, with good discipline, with due regard for all the factors, while at the same time taking the reasonable precautions to place their ships in conditions of readiness consistent with the environment in which they were entering. So I was very proud of their performance and the training they received.

Q Admiral, this is Bob Burns from AP. Could you tell us how frequently in the recent past have Iranian National Guard -- or Republican Guard vessels intercepted U.S. ships in that area, and exactly how close were the U.S. ships to the Iranian territorial waters?

ADM. COSGRIFF: I'll answer the last first. We were at least 15 miles from Iranian-recognized land, so outside the 12-mile territorial waters, in international waters.

We routinely encounter Iranian navy and Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships on our operation in the gulf, including in and around the Strait of Hormuz. In fact, this group had passed an Iranian navy ship earlier in its transit and exchanged quite correct radio communication with that Iranian ship, and indeed had communicated again correctly with some Iranian shore stations and, for that matter, Omani shore stations, again following the procedures that we teach them to follow. So encounters with warships, of either the Revolutionary Guard navy or the regular navy, are not unusual.

Q Admiral, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters. Can you characterize how serious this incident was from your point of view?

Following off of Bob's question, have you known an incident as serious as this since you took command here?

ADM. COSGRIFF: Well, this particular body of water, no; this is more serious because of the aggregate of the actions, the coordinated movement of the ships, the boats, the aggressive maneuvering, the more or less simultaneous radio communication, the dropping of objects. So these are -- in my unnecessarily provocative -- in international waters incidental to a routine transit of a(n) internationally recognized strait. So yes, it's more serious than we have seen, but to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their navy regularly. For the most part, those interactions are correct. We are familiar with their presence, they're familiar with ours. So I think in the time I've been here I've seen things that are a concern, and then there's periods of time -- long periods of time where there's not as much going on.

Update: Jan 12

Reading this post, I realize that I forgot to state the obvious; that the Iranians were probably just testing our reaction in case they do decide to attack our ships. Given their lack of large warships or modern attack aircraft, they've decided that "swarm" attacks by small boats might work. As such, they need to gather intelligence to determine our rules of engagement so that they can search for weaknesses.

Update II Jan 12:

Malcolm Nance, writing at Small Wars Journal, sort of agrees with what I just wrote, but adds a new twist

Given all the factors and the evidence by both the US Navy and Iranian video, this was a simple harassment and surveillance mission carried out by the IRGC on US Navy vessels as the opportunity arose. The boxes thrown into the water were most likely ammunition packaging as they prepared to be engaged and engage the US ships. For reasons I am sworn to secrecy over I can assure you that Iranian high speed boats do not warn on bridge-to-bridge radio that they are making a suicide attack. No terrorist would. ...

The risk here is that the White House and Pentagon staffers may have a political scenario in their head that will always explains routine incidents such as these in a hostile, dangerous light. As tensions and rhetoric escalates they may fall victim to "scenario fulfillment" (the same group think that the crew of the USS Vincennes experienced in their tragic gunbattle) where the desire to attack the Iranians, who are acting out their role as "evil", is aided by the ease of which Iranian activities, however mundane can be seen as belligerent. To the hawks in the administration, the Iranians want to start a war because they are "Islamofacists" who seek nuclear weapons and the destruction of Israel - so of course they are trying to provoke us.

Well...maybe. True enough that we should be aware of self-fulfilling prophesies. But just because you're paranoid of the Islamo-fascists doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

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January 5, 2008

Book Review - To Set The Record Straight

Let me say up front that I never delved into the details of the John Kerry/Swift Boat controversy that erupted during the 2004 presidential campaign. I've read neither Douglas Brinkley's Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War, or John O'Neill's Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. The latter book was hugely controversial, as a quick look at the Amazon reviews shows. Out of a total of 3,142 reviews to date:

5 star: 56% (1,774)
4 star: 5% (174)
3 star: 1% (59)
2 star: 1% (35)
1 star: 35% (1,100)

There's obviously a contest between right and left going on, and many of the attacks are ad hominem

So when I received To Set The Record Straight (not available, interestingly, at Amazon) at a Christmas Party, I realized I would be reading it without the full background. My coverage of the 2004 election on this blog, and my opposition to Senator Kerry, was issues based and had little to do with the swift boat controversy.

To Set The Record Straight is by Scott Swett and Tim Ziegler, with a forward by John O'Neill. It is essentially the story behind how the Swift Vets came together, their role in the 2004 campaign, and the writing of Unfit for Command. Swett created and managed Swiftvets.com and WinterSoldier.com during the 2004 campaign, and Ziegler handled media operations.

Because I haven't read Brinkley or O'Neill's books, have not and will not delve into the details of what happened with John Kerry in Vietnam, I'm not going to go into any detail on any of it. My guess is that Kerry was not in Cambodia for Christmas of 1968, as he says. He probably exaggerated other things he did, and Brinkley bought into it.

But my main bone of contention with Kerry isn't over what he did or did not do in Vietnam. It's about what he did afterwards.

John Kerry betrayed the United States by participating in the "Winter Soldier" charade in which he and others told lie after lie about American "atrocities" in Vietnam. He was deeply involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and was present at their November 12-15 1971 meetings in Kansas City in which they discussed assassinating several pro-war US Senators. More from DiscoverTheNetworks

When Kerry returned from combat, he in fact became a key figure in the early-1970s, anti-America, pro-Hanoi crowd of protesters personified most visibly by Jane Fonda. Like so many of those protesters, Kerry publicly maligned American soldiers, and went on to become a prominent organizer for one of America's most radical appeasement groups, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). He developed close ties with celebrated activists like Ms. Fonda and Ramsey Clark, the radical Attorney General who served under President Lyndon Johnson. He supported a document known as the "People's Peace Treaty," which was reportedly composed in Communist East Germany and contained nine points - all of them extracted from a list of Viet Cong conditions for ending the war. By frequently participating in VVAW demonstrations, Kerry marched alongside many revolutionary Communists.

For these reasons alone the Swift Vets had every right and duty to organize to oppose him as president.

As such, what motivated John O'Neill, Admiral Roy Hoffman (ret) and the others at first was Kerry's actions after he returned from Vietnam. They remembered with bitterness his infamous testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 22, 1971

I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. ...

They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

It has since been shown that virtually all of the charges brought against American soldiers, sailors, airman and marines at the "winter soldier" investigation was a lie.

The main charge against O'Neill and his fellow Swift Vets was that they were attacking Kerry for political advantage. There are two problems with this: One, even if they were it does not address the issue of what John Kerry did or did not due. Either John Kerry lied about his record in Vietnam or he didn't. Either he betrayed his country when he got back or he didn't. The motives of his attackers do not change the facts.

Two, Kerry is the one who made his service in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign. He essentially said "I am qualified to be president because of my military service in Vietnam". As such, it was only reasonable that his record them be up for examination. That Kerry seemed indignant that anyone would have the temerity to question his record speaks to his own arrogance and haughtyness. Not a wonder he lost the election.

In the end, To Set The Record Straight is an interesting book but not one I would have bought on my own, since the 2004 election is over and I don't usually believe in fighting past battles. It was very interesting as a piece of history, and I am glad that I had a chance to read it.

Posted by Tom at 10:36 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 3, 2008

The Hawkeye Caukeye

At 7:30am EST Friday, the latest from Fox


93 percent of precincts reporting

34% Huckabee
25% Romney
13% Thompson
13% McCain
10% Paul
3 % Guiliani
1 % Hunter

In brief, my take on each:

Mike Huckabee: If Huckabee wins the nomination we can kiss the election goodbye. He's "too Christian", or at least perceived that way, and his "compassionate" stances seem like the path to big government spending. I also don't trust him on foreign policy. Being good on the social issues isn't good enough.

Mitt Romney: My favorite, though I'll admit that it would be hard for him to get elected. I was happy to see that the editors of National Review endorsed him. I think that his conversion on social issues is sincere, but I won't blame you if you think otherwise. He's got executive experience that noone can match, even Giuliani. He's right on all of the other issues, too. I think that his speech last month on faith and values was right on the money. It should have cleared up any "Mormon" isues.

Fred Thompson: Nice guy, and right on all of the issues. No executive experience, and early misteps by his campaign show it. His problem is that he just doesn't stir excitement, and whether anyone likes it or not, this counts. Nevertheless, he's tied with McCain as my #2 choice.

John McCain: I never thought I'd say it, but McCain is tied for my #2 with Thompson. I can't think of anyone better on foreign policy and military issues, he'd be a fiscal hawk, and good on social issues too. Immigration and McCain-Feingold are obvious problems, as is the lack of executive experience. It also seems that at times he's gone out of his way to annoy conservatives. All this said, from the polls I've seen he has the best chance of any of the GOP candidates, I think, of winning the general.

Ron Paul: A nut. His supporters are worse.

Rudy Giuliani: In October I wrote a piece called "Rudy Can't Win", and I don't see any reason to change that assessment. He's good on foreign policy and fiscal matters, but I don't trust him on the social issues, and worst of all, his personal life is full of problems. He's my #3 choice (remember there's a tie for #2).

Duncan Hunter: Great guy, but not going anywhere. You just can't win by running from the House.

The good news from the GOP side is that the Iowa caucuses are overrated in terms of their importance in propelling a candidate to the nomination. New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida, are far better barometers of how a candidate will ultimately do. Wyoming and Nevada, probably don't count as much, though. "Super Tuesday", is, of course, the untimate test, especially since this one (Feb 5) will be the largest yet. In short, Iowa doesn't provide much momentum, as the real primaries do.


100 percent of the precincts reporting:

38% Obama
30% Edwards
29% Clinton
2 % Richardson
1 % Biden
0 % Dodd
0 % Kucinich

Barack Obama: Obama is an awfully nice guy, and comes across as genuine, as I think he is. He's the only one of the Democrats that I can imagine having a real conversation with. Too bad he's completely wrong on all of the issues.

John Edwards: The worse of the bunch. His class warfare rhetoric is just about hate speech, and his foreign policy prescriptions make the other Democrats look like hawks.

Hillary Clinton: Oddly, perhaps, she's the Democrat I would vote for if Ron Paul magically got the GOP nomination and no viable third party candidate appeared. Sure, she's manipulative and everything she does is calculated. I don't think she's honest (we never did get a satisfactory answer as to how she made $100.000 on those cattle futures). And of course she'd socialize the country in a way no one else would. Nevertheless, if some pipsqueek dictator like Kim iL Sung of Ahmadinejad got out of line, she'd nuke them off the face of the earth. And that's got to count for something.

Posted by Tom at 11:00 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 2, 2008

Flexible Fuel Vehicles: A New Way to Energy Independence?

In my search for something to help us break free of Middle Eastern oil, I've run across something worth considering: Flexible Fuel Vehicles. From an editorial by Cliff May over at National Review

We are financing a war against ourselves," writes Robert Zubrin, nuclear engineer and author of a new book responding to the distressing fact that Americans and Europeans are sending trillions of dollars to militant Islamists whose goal is our destruction.

But in his new book, Energy Victory, Dr. Zubrin does not just complain. He proposes a way to break free of dependence on a resource controlled by those who have declared themselves our mortal enemies. The technology already exists. It's not expensive. All that is lacking is for voters to make this a priority -- and to communicate that to the political class.

Right now, 97 percent of the cars on America's roads run on gasoline. Only three percent are Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) -- automobiles that can be powered by either gasoline or alcohol fuels, or any mixture of the two. The additional cost to make a new car an FFV is only about $100 per vehicle

The "war against ourselves" he refers to is emphatically not just against al Qaeda. It is against what Walid Phares calls "the jihad" against the West. While primarily a "War of Ideas", he says, there are also military and economic aspects. The military aspect is being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The economic part is our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, in particular, that of the Saudi Wahhabists, who make up one of three branches of the jihad, and who are using the money we send them to undermine us.

Continuing on with May's piece:

For the sake of individual security, the government mandates that all cars have seat belts. For the sake of national security, Dr. Zubrin proposes, the government should mandate that all new cars be FFVs.

In three years, the change would put 50 million FFVs on the road. The free market would then mobilize to do what it does best: Entrepreneurs would compete to produce alternative, non-petroleum fuels for these potential customers.

Dr. Zubrin expects those fuels to be made from alcohol: ethanol and methanol. Ethanol is made from agricultural products, from plants of all kinds. Methanol can be made from biomass -- even biodegradable garbage -- as well as from natural gas or coal.

Ethanol can be produced right now for $1.50 a gallon; methanol for 93 cents a gallon. Dr. Zubrin expects the first generation of alternative fuels would be high alcohol-to-gasoline mixtures. These would provide better mileage while still dramatically reducing dependence on petroleum.

The key is you'd be free to choose: You could buy gasoline as you do now or you could buy fuels made mostly of alcohol, giving less money -- and hence less power -- to Iranian mullahs, Saudi clerics, and Venezuelan despots.

That's the gist of it; read the whole thing for details.

Robert Zubrin's website for the book has some additional information. Here's how it says we should get started

Zubrin's plan is straightforward and practical. He argues that if Congress passed a law requiring that all new cars sold in the USA be flex-fueled -- that is, able to run on any combination of gasoline or alcohol fuels -- this one action would destroy the monopoly that the oil cartel has maintained on the globe's transportation fuel supply, opening it up to competition from alcohol fuels produced by farmers worldwide. According to Zubrin's estimates, within three years of enactment, such a regulation would put 50 million cars on the road in the USA capable of running on high-alcohol fuels, and at least an equal number overseas.

What I like best is that the plan doesn't directly force you to buy or use alternative fuels. My big question is how much more FFV's would cost. If consumers have to spend a significant amount of money on them, this takes money from other sectors of the economy and thus has a cascading effect that would be economically harmful. But if the cost is only marginally more, then the economic effect would be negligible.

Frank Gaffney, writing in the Washington Times last month, also likes the Zubrin's FFV's

If every car sold in America were a Flexible Fuel Vehicle, within three years, 50 million cars here would be able to run on alcohol instead of gasoline. Perhaps another 100 million to 150 million such cars sold elsewhere would have that option. With that sort of potential demand, at current prices for gasoline (nearly $3 per gallon), ethanol (at comparable energy values as much as $2.25 per gallon) and methanol (at comparable energy density, $1.70 per gallon), the free market would provide these (and perhaps other) alternative fuels in large quantities.

Particularly important, such demand would far exceed the ethanol that could be supplied by American corn farmers. They should, therefore, be willing to allow importation of ethanol from other sources without the current tariff that amounts to a crippling $29 per barrel surcharge. With roughly 100 countries around the world enjoying climates that could allow them to grow sugar cane or other biomass they could use to power their own vehicles and help power ours, the world would cease to be dependent on oil-exporting nations, most of whom wish us ill.

I'm not wedded to this or any other proposal.

My bottom line is that as a national security imperative it would be good if we could lessen the amount of money we pay to other countries for oil, especially since as Frank Gaffney says most of them wish us ill. Every dollar we send them is one more that they use to undermine us. Let's find a way to change this. If drilling in the U.S. will do it, then let's go for that. I just think we should explore options.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack