A Remembrance Day slideshow using Mark Knopfler’s wonderful “Remembrance Day” song from the album Get Lucky (2009). The early part of the song conveys many British images, but I have added some very Canadian images also which fit with many of the lyrics. The theme and message is universal… ‘we will remember them’.
November 11, 2013
November 7, 2013
October 12, 2013
Strategy Page explains why Afghan soldiers will not be giving up the “spray and pray” combat style any time soon:
While Afghans admire the superior fighting ability of NATO troops, they have a difficult time adopting the equipment and techniques that make these foreigners more lethal and less vulnerable on the battlefield. The problem is that most Afghans are still basically tribal warriors at heart. In a battle even those with good shooting skills will fire wildly and move about with more spirit than sense. The average Afghan, brought up to follow the traditional warrior traditions, is not trained to carry out a lot of smart battlefield moves and is easily panicked. The Pushtun tribesmen of this part of the world have a tradition of fleeing a lost battle and not fighting to the last man. Thus, if you can make the Afghans think they are about to be surrounded by superior forces they will flee. U.S. and Afghan government forces not only have better training and leadership but also know these traditional tribal tactics and how best to exploit them.
The problem NATO trainers and advisors have is that too many Afghan troops and police will, under the stress of combat, revert back to their tribal ways. That means going head-to-head with the enemy for a shootout and maybe even some hand-to-hand action. The NATO advisors who accompany most Afghan battalions, to observe how well the training is used and advise on how to deal with problems, find that the Afghan commanders and NCOs have a hard time stopping their troops from going old school and often just go along with it. This despite the fact that the Afghan commanders are smart guys and are well aware of how much more effective the Western tactics are. But the Afghan commanders also realize that once most foreign troops are gone at the end of 2014, there may be no more NATO air support and it may take a while before the Afghan Air Force can provide much smart bomb capability. So it makes some sense to develop tactics that combine Western and Afghan methods. The NATO advisors are thinking short term while the Afghan commanders are taking the long view.
The decline of the traditional Afghan marksmanship dates back three decades. Back before the Russians showed up in 1979, the best weapon an Afghan could hope to have was a World War II, or World War I, era bolt action rifle. These weapons were eclipsed in the 1980s by a lot of free (for Afghans fighting the invading Russians) AK-47s and the RPG rocket launchers. The young guys took to the AK-37 and the thrill of emptying a 30 round magazine on full automatic. Not bad for a brief firefight and suddenly hardly anyone, except a few old timers, wanted to use the old bolt action rifle or learn how to hit anything with single shots. The RPG rocket launcher became the favored way to take out long-distance (up to 500 meters) targets. It was portable artillery for the tribal warrior and great fun for a warrior to use.
It was not noticed much outside of Afghanistan that this shift in weaponry brought to an end a long Afghan tradition of precision, long range shooting. Before the 1980s, this skill was treasured for both hunting and warfare. When doing neither, Afghan men played games centered on marksmanship. One, for example, involved a group of men chipping in and buying a goat. The animal was then tethered to a rock, often on a hill, and then the half dozen or so men moved several hundred meters away and drew lots to see who would fire in what order. The first man to drop the goat won it. Since Afghanistan was the poorest nation in Asia, ammo was expensive, and older men taught the young boys all the proper moves needed to get that first shot off accurately and make it count.
August 21, 2013
Dispatches from the front – “the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector”
Radley Balko on some of the interesting and revealing responses to his book Rise of the Warrior Cop:
Over the last several days, the popular online police magazine PoliceOne site has been rolling out a series of opinion pieces in response to my book. As you might expect, most of them are critical, although a couple have been thoughtful.
One essay by Sgt. Glenn French was particularly disturbing. French serves as commander of a SWAT team in Sterling Heights, Michigan. French doesn’t criticize me for arguing that too many police officers have adopted this battlefield mindset. Rather, he embraces the combat mentality, and encourages other cops to do the same. Referring to an article I wrote here at HuffPost, French writes:
“What would it take to dial back such excessive police measures?” the author wrote. “The obvious place to start would be ending the federal grants that encourage police forces to acquire gear that is more appropriate for the battlefield. Beyond that, it is crucial to change the culture of militarization in American law enforcement.”
We trainers have spent the past decade trying to ingrain in our students the concept that the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector.
Note the choice of words. Not neighborhood, but “sector.” Although I suppose such parsing isn’t even necessary when French just comes right out and declares America a battlefield. Note too that French isn’t even referring to SWAT teams, here. He’s suggesting that all cops be taught to view the streets and neighborhoods they patrol in this way.
French then tosses out some dubious statistics.
The fact is, more American police officers have died fighting crime in the United States over the past 12 years than American soldiers were killed in action at war in Afghanistan. According to ODMP.org, 1,831 cops have been killed in the line of duty since 2001. According to iCasualties.org, the number of our military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan is 1,789.
Cops on the beat are facing the same dangers on the streets as our brave soldiers do in war.
Even accepting French’s preposterous premise here, his numbers are wrong. The U.S. has lost 2,264 troops in Afghanistan, about 22 percent more than French claims. Moreover, more than half police officer deaths since 2001 were due to accidents (mostly car accidents), not felonious homicide. Additionally, depending on how you define the term, there are between 600,000 and 800,000 law enforcement officers working in the United States. We have about 65,000 troops in Afghanistan. So comparing overall fatalities is absurd. The rates of cops killed versus soldiers killed aren’t even close. And that’s not factoring in the soldiers who’ve come home without limbs. The dangers faced by cops and soldiers in Afghanistan aren’t remotely comparable.
July 18, 2013
A couple of days ago, I posted an item on the costs of removing military equipment from Afghanistan (that is, due to lack of direct port access, thousands of tons of gear have to be flown out at an eye-watering $14,000 per ton). The Washington Post had an article yesterday discussing the customs dispute between the US military and the Afghan government which is making the situation even more fraught:
An escalating dispute between the Afghan government and the United States over customs procedures has halted the flow of U.S. military equipment across Afghanistan’s borders, forcing commanders to rely more heavily on air transport, which has dramatically increased the cost of the drawdown, according to military officials.
The Afghan government is demanding that the U.S. military pay $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country that does not have a corresponding, validated customs form. The country’s customs agency says the American military has racked up $70 million in fines.
If left unresolved, the disagreement could inflate the price tag of the U.S. military drawdown by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars because of the higher cost of shipping by air — an unwelcome expenditure at a time when the Pentagon is scrambling to cope with steep congressionally mandated budget cuts and the White House is attempting to jump-start negotiations over a long-term security cooperation deal with Kabul.
The Afghan government’s demand for payment is part of a broader dispute over Kabul’s authority to tax entities from the United States, its chief benefactor. As the war economy that for years bankrolled Afghanistan’s political elite starts to deflate, the government is increasingly insisting that U.S. defense contractors pay business taxes and fines for a range of alleged violations.
H/T to Doug Mataconis who also wrote:
We invaded Afghanistan, arguably liberating them from the grip of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. We’ve spent ten years or so fighting to protect the government of Hamid Karzai from those same forces. And now they want to charge us to leave? Surely, this is a first, isn’t it? On the other hand, I can see a benefit here. If we knew going into a war that we’d have to pay money to get out at the end perhaps we’d be less willing to start it.
July 15, 2013
Strategy Page explains why billions of dollars in military equipment will be scrapped in Afghanistan:
It’s going to cost some $14 billion to deal with $26 billion worth of American equipment in Afghanistan. Half that cost will be for shipping gear out, but the other $7 billion will be the cost of equipment not worth shipping home and either destroyed or donated to the Afghans. About 78,000 tons of gear will be destroyed, including over 2,000 armored vehicles. Some has to be moved, given to the Afghan security forces, sold locally or destroyed. About 9,000 MRAPs will be sent back to the United States.
Unlike Iraq, where heavy stuff, like armored vehicles and trucks, could simply drive to a nearby port and put on a ship, Afghanistan has no ports. The nearest ones are in Pakistan and the road trip is expensive and dangerous because of the theft and the threat of attacks (by terrorists or gangsters seeking “protection” fees). So a lot more gear will be flown out of Afghanistan, which is quite expensive. The current plan calls for 28,000 vehicles and 20,000 shipping containers of gear are to be moved by the end of 2014.
The U.S. and NATO supplies coming in (or going out) via railroad from Western Europe, go through Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to Afghanistan. This approach costs $400 a ton to move material to or from Afghanistan, versus three times that to truck it in from Pakistani ports, or $14,000 a ton to fly stuff in, or $10,000 a ton if you just fly material in from a friendly (Persian Gulf) port. For example, $600,000 MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) cost $140,000 to fly in from the Gulf. Some 2,000 of these MRAPs in Afghanistan are no longer needed by the United States or the Afghan forces so are being cut up for scrap in Afghanistan.
April 6, 2013
In the Times Literary Supplement, Michael Howard is so impressed with Simpson’s book that he goes out on a limb to recommend it:
Some four decades ago, the TLS sent me a book to review by a young lecturer at Sandhurst entitled The Face of Battle. It impressed me so much that I described it as “one of the best half-dozen books on warfare to have appeared since the Second World War”. I wondered at the time if I had made a total fool of myself, but I need not have worried. The author, the late Sir John Keegan, proved to be one of the greatest military historians of his generation. It would be rash to put my money on such a dark horse again, but I shall. Emile Simpson’s War From the Ground Up is a work of such importance that it should be compulsory reading at every level in the military; from the most recently enlisted cadet to the Chief of the Defence Staff and, even more important, the members of the National Security Council who guide him.
Emile Simpson does not presume to show us how to conduct war, but he tells us how to think about it. He saw service in Afghanistan as a young officer in the Gurkhas, and his thinking is solidly rooted in that experience. Like Clausewitz 200 years earlier, Simpson found himself caught up in a campaign for whose conduct nothing in his training had prepared him; and like Clausewitz he realized that to understand why this was so he had to analyse the whole nature of war, from the top down as well as from the ground up. Afghanistan, he concluded, was only an extreme example of the transformation that war has undergone during his lifetime; and that itself is due to the transformation of the societies that fight it.
[. . .]
It is impossible to summarize Emile Simpson’s ideas without distorting them. His own style is so muscular and aphoristic that he can concentrate complex arguments into memorable sentences that will have a life of their own. His familiarity with the work of Aristotle and the history of the English Reformation enables him to explain the requirements of a strategic narrative as effectively as his experiences in Afghanistan illuminate his understanding of the relationship between operational requirements and political objectives. In short (and here I shall really go overboard) War From the Ground Up deserves to be seen as a coda to Clausewitz’s On War. But it has the advantage of being considerably shorter.
January 30, 2013
The optimistic folks at Business Insider assure us that the unexpectedly bad number for the US fourth quarter hides some good news:
People will be stunned to see that today’s GDP report went negative for Q4… the first negative print since The Great Recession.
But the report isn’t that bad. In fact it was arguably good.
For one thing, most of the collapse was due to a stunning fall in military spending. That’s not good for GDP, but it doesn’t reflect the real underlying strength of the economy.
And it’s mostly due to war drawdown. That’s a good thing for everyone!
January 28, 2013
In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente “celebrates” the recent announcement by the US government that American women will soon be allowed to take front-line combat jobs:
In a milestone for gender equality, the Pentagon is finally ending the combat ban for women – a ban that had become woefully obsolete. At last, women warriors will get the recognition and promotions they deserve. The brass ceiling has been shattered, and that’s good news for both women and the military.
But she admits that there are problems with the new rules:
But please, people. Let’s get real. Women cannot equal men in ground combat, the kind of dirty, brutal stuff that (fortunately) makes up a very minor part of modern military life, especially post-Afghanistan. It’s not that they can’t be trained to kill — they can. The issue is that the physical differences between men and women are very large, and on the battlefield, they really matter, and can’t be wished away. Men are better fighters because they are bigger and stronger and can endure far more physical punishment before they break down.
The average female soldier is “about five inches shorter than the male soldier, has half the upper body strength, lower aerobic capacity and 37 per cent less muscle mass,” Stephanie Gutmann, author of The Kinder, Gentler Military, wrote in the New Republic. “She cannot pee standing up … She tends, particularly if she is under the age of 30 (as are 60 per cent of military personnel) to get pregnant.”
And there’s the practical experience the Canadian army has accumulated:
Overall, women account for 14 per cent of all jobs in the Canadian Forces, a slightly lower percentage than in the U.S. As a result of a human-rights decision, front-line combat jobs were opened to women in 1989. Yet today, despite strenuous recruiting efforts, women hold just 2.4 per cent of these jobs. Their commanding officers praise their competence but treat them differently, by shielding them from combat. According to a Wall Street Journal report this week, the widespread impression among Canadian female soldiers — much to their frustration — is they are used “only sparingly.” Men serving next to women also exhibit a counterproductive battlefield trait: protectiveness. They want to carry women’s gear and keep them out of harm’s way. As one male soldier told the Journal, “That brother-sister protective thought was always in the back of your mind.”
When I was in the militia in the mid-1970s, our basic training was fully integrated: the girls did the same physical training and field exercises as the boys. Even in peacetime, it was quite obvious that the sections with girls in them were doing what they could to encourage the girls to pass the training (re-distributing their gear to the others in the section, and pairing the girls up with the biggest guys for the more physical duties like digging trenches, etc.). I can only imagine that the same thing goes on in actual combat conditions.
Fortunately, we didn’t have any of the girls drop out for pregnancy (it was a summer training course of just about two months duration), but the US military reported that over 10% of all women in combat zones (not in actual front-line combat) were evacuated from the combat zone due to pregnancy in 2008.
January 14, 2013
Strategy Page on the sad-but-predictable situation in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan recently announced that it would cancel the contract to buy and use 20 C-27A transports. The official reason was the inability of the Italian maintenance firm to keep the aircraft operational. The unofficial reason is the unwillingness of the Italians to pay as much in bribes as the Afghan commanders were demanding. Over half a billion dollars was being spent on buying and operating these aircraft and all the money was coming from the United States. Afghan government and air force officials were determined to grab as much of that cash as possible. That meant there was not enough money for the spare parts and tools needed to keep the C-27As flying. The Afghans can be self-destructive in so many ways, and letting these transports get away because not enough could be stolen from the contracts was another example of this.
More self-destructive behavior is expected. The Western donor nations are getting fed up with the increasingly aggressive Afghan corruption. Last year, as the Afghans asked for more military aid, the donor nations instead cut contributions. The Afghans were told that the aid would be reduced from $11 billion a year to $4.1 billion a year between 2012 and 2017. That would only change if, by some miracle, the Afghans managed to get their thieving ways under control. Currently, the Afghans will go to great lengths to get around donor auditors and anti-corruption measures. The C-27A was a case of everyone just giving up. Expect to see more cases like this.
January 13, 2013
In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins discusses the negative aspects of the drone war:
The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation. It is from drones and their certain proliferation. Nuclear bombs are useless weapons, playthings for the powerful or those aspiring to power. Drones are now sweeping the global arms market. There are some 10,000 said to be in service, of which a thousand are armed and mostly American. Some reports say they have killed more non-combatant civilians than died in 9/11.
I have not read one independent study of the current drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the horn of Africa that suggests these weapons serve any strategic purpose. Their “success” is expressed solely in body count, the number of so-called “al-Qaida-linked commanders” killed. If body count were victory, the Germans would have won Stalingrad and the Americans Vietnam.
Neither the legality nor the ethics of drone attacks bear examination. Last year’s exhaustive report by lawyers from Stanford and New York universities concluded that they were in many cases illegal, killed civilians, and were militarily counter-productive. Among the deaths were an estimated 176 children. Such slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled. Air forces enjoy such prestige that civilian deaths are excused as a price worth paying for not jeopardising pilots’ lives.
[. . .]
Since the drone war began in earnest in 2008, there has been no decline in Taliban or al-Qaida performance attributable to it. Any let-up in recruitment is merely awaiting Nato’s departure. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has called the attacks “in no way justifiable”. The Pakistan government, at whose territory they are increasingly directed, has withdrawn all permission.
The young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana protested in the New York Times of the carnage drones are wreaking on the politics of his country, erasing “years of progress and trust-building with tribes”. Yemenis now face al-Qaida recruiters waving pictures of drone-butchered women and children in their faces. Notional membership of al-Qaida in Yemen is reported to have grown by three times since 2009.
January 2, 2013
Strategy Page has the advance listing of places around the world where peacekeeping or peace-making may be required this year:
Planning for peacekeeping works a lot better if you have a good idea of where the next crises will occur. For 2013 there are several potential hotspots where diplomats can’t handle the mess and armed peacekeepers may be needed. In some cases, there might also be a call for more peacekeepers in an existing hotspot. That might happen in the eastern Congo, where the largest force of UN peacekeepers has been trying to calm things down for nearly a decade, but the violence just keeps going. There’s increasing hostility between Sudan and newly created South Sudan. There are some peacekeepers there, but, like Darfur (western Sudan) the violence never seems to stop.
There’s always been the possibility of large scale fighting between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s been more and more small scale violence on the border and growing threats from both countries. There is still a lot of tension between Pakistan and India, over Pakistani support for Islamic terrorists making attacks in India. Pakistan denies any responsibility, despite a growing mountain of evidence. Neither country would be very hospitable to peacekeepers.
And then there the developing mess in the Western Pacific off China, where Chinese claims to a lot of uninhabited rocks and reefs is causing a growing outrage from the neighbors. China keeps pushing and with all those armed ships and aircraft facing off, an accidently, or deliberate, shot is possible. China will also be a major player if North Korea finally does its political collapse. The North Korean economy has already tanked as has morale and living standards. If the government loses control China and South Korea have both made claims on responsibility for taking over and dealing with the mess.
December 8, 2012
Writing in the National Post, historian J.L. Granatstein discusses the rise and fall of the government’s “Canada First” defence policy:
No one who has followed the history of Canadian defence has any doubt that for their first four years in power the Harper Conservatives were the best government for the Canadian Forces since the 1950s St Laurent government. Coming into power at the beginning of 2006, the Tories supported the troops in Afghanistan with the equipment–Leopards, C17s, new C130J Hercules transports, Chinook helicopters, anti-mine vehicles– and personnel they needed, they extended the mission twice, they increased defence spending massively, and they even produced their Canada First Defence Strategy in 2008.
[. . .]
If Afghanistan was one blow to the government’s defence plans, the Canada First Defence Strategy was another. The CFDS, despite its name, was not a strategy so much as a list of promised equipment purchases. It did not try to lay down much of a rationale for the nation’s defence or indicate how the government envisioned the ways in which the Canadian Forces might be employed in the future. Instead it promised guaranteed growth in defence spending, proposed a modest increase in personnel strength, and promised a long list of equipment to be acquired–15 combat vessels, support ships, the F35 fighter, and a fleet of land combat vessels. In all, the government pledged to spend almost a half trillion dollars over the next twenty or so years.
And maybe it might have done so, the voters permitting. But the sharp recession of 2008 tossed all plans into the garbage bin, and deficit fighting, not defence spending, soon became the Tories driving force. Instead of the promised increases, there are cuts that are already north of ten percent of the DND budget. The Army has already reduced its training, and there will be more cutbacks everywhere.
The new equipment was necessary — and welcome — but Canadians don’t have the almost instinctive deference Americans sometimes demonstrate to the demands of the generals and admirals for ships, planes, and tanks. Canadians are proud of their armed forces, but will not support endless demands for military toys and don’t welcome the idea of sending in the troops when things go wrong overseas. A well-thought-out, well-articulated defence policy is needed sooner rather than later to outline exactly what the government intends the army, navy, and air force to do in pursuit of our national goals and in protection of Canada and Canadians.
November 22, 2012
Strategy Page looks at the changed — and increased — role of the sniper in modern US military doctrine:
In the last decade, American soldiers and marines have greatly increased their use of snipers and the success of this move spread to other countries. The more aggressive use of snipers in the last decade is one of many changes in ground combat. In that time, because of Iraq and Afghanistan, infantry tactics have changed considerably. This has largely gone unnoticed back home, unless you happen to know an old soldier or marine that remembers the old style of shooting. Put simply, the emphasis is on a lot fewer bullets fired and much more accurate shooting. Elite forces, like the Special Forces and SEALs, have always operated this way. But that’s because they had the skill, and opportunity to train frequently, to make it work. The army and marines have found that their troops can fight the same way with the help of some new weapons, equipment, and tactics, plus lots of combat experience and specialized training. This includes the use of new shooting simulators, which allows troops to fire a lot of virtual bullets in a realistic setting, without all the hassle and expense of going to a firing range.
One thing that helped, and that was developing for two decades, was the greater use of snipers. Currently, about ten percent of American infantry are trained and equipped as snipers. Commanders have found that filling the battlefield with two man (spotter and shooter) sniper teams not only provides more intelligence, but also a lot of precision firepower. Snipers are better at finding the enemy, and killing them with a minimum of noise and fuss. New rifle sights (both day and night types) have made all infantry capable of accurate, single shot, fire. With the emphasis on keeping civilian casualties down, and the tendency of the enemy to use civilians as human shields, lots of snipers, or infantrymen who can take an accurate shot at typical battle ranges (under 100 meters), are the best way to win without killing a lot of civilians.
November 21, 2012
Strategy Page has a bit of Canadian content now and again:
Canada has ordered upgrades for another of its 66 LAV III wheeled armored vehicles. These 66 will be equipped for reconnaissance as was its predecessor the LAV II Coyote. This vehicle went to Afghanistan a decade ago and proved enormously useful by doing long range surveillance of Taliban and al Qaeda suspects. The Coyote reconnaissance system mounted on a wheeled armored vehicle. The recon gear consists of a nine meter (30 foot) telescoping mast that contains a Doppler radar, laser rangefinder, thermal imaging sensor and video camera. The mast mounted sensors can see clearly out to 15 kilometers and identify targets (day or night) for artillery or air attack. The radar can spot targets out to 24 kilometers, but can only distinguish vehicle types (wheeled, tracked) beginning at about 12 kilometers.
[. . .]
The Coyote was originally conceived as an inexpensive replacement for air reconnaissance. But the ability of a Coyote vehicle to stay in one place and carefully track movements over a wide area for days, or weeks proved very useful for intelligence work. Five years ago Canada began a $5 billion to upgrade and expand its fleet of LAV III wheeled armored vehicles. Over the last decade, Canada has replaced its 1980s era MOWAG and older LAV II vehicles with the locally built LAV IIIs. Canada donated many of the older wheeled armored vehicles (mostly 11 ton Grizzly personnel carriers) to nations performing peacekeeping duties.