November 24, 2015

Soviet military drinking in Afghanistan

Filed under: Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Galeotti on what happened when you combine the legendary appetite for alcohol of soldiers with the ramshackle repression of the Soviet system:

Soldiers love to drink. Russians love to drink. No wonder that Russian soldiers can be amongst the hardest-core boozers around. If anything, this was even more the case in Soviet times when the very difficulties of getting hold of booze acted as a spur to the ingenuity for which Russians are also rightly known. The same guys who could fix a tank engine with sticky tape or make the world’s toughest rifle were formidable and innovative in their quest for a drink.

Being assigned to the ground crew on a MiG-25 interceptor, for example, was a good gig. The supersonic fighter was nicknamed gastronom — delicatessen — because its nose-mounted radar and generator were cooled by more than 200 liters of water/methanol mix, which is a ghastly brew, but as a base not much more ghastly than the murderous samogon homebrew many Soviets turned to, especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-meant but ill-thought-through anti-alcohol campaign. The usual rule of thumb was a single shot a day. Any more, and your chances of going blind were good.

As it should now be clear to you, dear reader, Soviet soldiers were not that discriminating when sourcing their sauce. When I was interviewing veterans of the Soviet–Afghan War for my doctorate, many and horrifying were the accounts of parties fueled by aftershave, rosewater, and rubbing alcohol. The military hierarchy denied the enlisted men legal access to drink, yet fighting a high-stress and — in the early years, at least — officially unacknowledged war, they were nothing if not committed to the quest.

November 11, 2015

Mark Knopfler – “Remembrance Day”

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

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 6, 2015

Canada’s new Minister of National Defence

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the National Post, Adrian Humphreys provides a look at the new defence minister in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet:

Defence minister Harjit Sajjan

Many defence ministers pose for photos with military hardware, but few pull off the true badass combat stance as well as Harjit Singh Sajjan — draped in flak jacket and camouflage, gripping an assault rifle on an actual battlefield.

Sajjan was, until recently, a decorated Lieutenant-Colonel in the Armed Forces, the first Sikh Canadian to command an army regiment.

“Command breaks down barriers because no one looks at what you look like when the bullets are flying,” he said in 2011. “Having to carry your, you know, wounded soldiers off the battlefield, not just wounded, but the ones that have been killed and place them into a helicopter, nothing prepares you for that.”

Sajjan, sworn in Wednesday as Canada’s new Minister of National Defence, was, in military lingo, “a trigger puller.”

He was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and three times to Afghanistan, for which he was awarded one of the military’s highest recognitions, the Order of Military Merit, for reducing the Taliban’s influence in Kandahar Province.

“He has a taste for the reality of war and that’s very, very important,” said David Bercuson, director of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

“He will have seen the aftermath of the effect of war on some of our men and women, which is a major issue with veteran’s affairs,” said Bercuson.


He served as a reservist, and was deployed with the Canadian peacekeeping forces to Bosnia in 1996.

In 2006 he served in Afghanistan, playing a key intelligence advisory role to Brig.-Gen David Fraser in the successful Operation Medusa offensive against the Taliban. He returned to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011.

Rising to the rank of reserve lieutenant-colonel, he was named commander of the B.C. Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own), in 2012.

I’m pleased that Trudeau managed to find someone to fill this cabinet post who has actual military experience in the field (as opposed to a former general or admiral). I hope he can fight his political corner to get the Canadian Forces the updated equipment they so desperately need, even if the F-35 is not going to be part of the package (Trudeau explicitly promised to drop the F-35 purchase during the election).

November 4, 2015

The XM-25 “Punisher” isn’t dead yet

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Five years back, there were interesting reports about a prototype weapon that seemed to have an inside edge for getting into the hands of front-line troops in Afghanistan for specific bunker-busting and similar missions. Then it went silent. Recently, Strategy Page says it may be back in the running:

Two years after having its budget sharply cut in 2013 the U.S. Army XM25 grenade launcher is back on track and is now expected to enter service by 2017. It’s been a long road from concept to acceptance and mass production. The army began working on this type of weapon back in the 1990s as the OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) and that mutated into the XM25 (the “X” in XM25 designates a system that is still in development). Since then the similar South Korean K11 and Chinese ZH05 have appeared. The XM25 is the only one of three to have been tested extensively in combat but because of a misfire during a demonstration, budget cuts and some troops finding there were not really that many situations calling for the XM25, the system was thought to be cancelled (development funding was eliminated) in 2013. But the army managed to keep the project on life support. That was mainly because a lot of troops who got to use it in combat liked it a lot and even gave it a nickname; “punisher.”

The initial spectacular success and popularity of the XM25 grenade launchers in Afghanistan led the army to request that the weapon enter regular service as the M25 in 2014. But Congress, looking for ways to reduce military spending in 2013 cut all money for the M25. The army never gave up and managed to scrounge enough cash to build 1,100 of them. Currently the XM25 cost $35,000 each with the 25mm ammo going for $55 per round. Initially SOCOM (Special Operations Command) had some XM25s and some enthusiastic users but in 2013, with few American troops in combat there is not a lot of demand for a weapon like this. The resumption of counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan changed that led to more support for reviving the project.

When the first evaluation models of the XM25 arrived in Afghanistan in 2011 the weapon soon became much sought after by infantry troops. There were never more than a few dozen XM25s in Afghanistan and limited supplies of ammunition. Despite that the weapon quickly developed a formidable reputation. The Special Forces had priority on the weapon because it is very useful for special operations missions. The army planned to buy enough so that they could issue one per infantry squad. There are 27 squads in an infantry battalion.

September 16, 2015

The African migrants are not driven by demographic change

Filed under: Africa, Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Matt Ridley explains that demography does not explain the sudden influx of refugees from Africa to the European Union:

Even the most compassionate of European liberals must wonder at times whether this year’s migration crisis is just the beginning of a 21st-century surge of poor people that will overwhelm the rich countries of our continent. With African populations growing fastest, are we glimpsing a future in which the scenes we saw on the Macedonian border, or on Kos or in the seas around Sicily last week will seem tame?

I don’t think so. The current migration crisis is being driven by war and oppression, not demography. Almost two thirds of the migrants reaching Europe by boat this year are from three small countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are not even densely populated countries: their combined populations come to less than England’s, let alone Britain’s, and none of them is in the top 20 for population growth rates.

Well then, perhaps that is even more ominous. If these three relatively small countries can cause such turmoil, imagine what would happen if say the more populous countries in Africa fell into similar chaos. Today Africa’s population (north and sub-Saharan) is about 50 per cent larger than Europe’s (East and West). By 2050, when — according to United Nations estimates — Africa’s population will have more than doubled from 1.1 billion to about 2.4 billion people and Europe’s will have shrunk from 740 million to about 709 million, there will be more than three Africans for every European.

Actually, demography is a poor predictor of migration. Nowhere in the world are people leaving countries specifically because of population growth or density. The population density of Germany is five times as high as that of Afghanistan or Eritrea: unlike water, people often move up population gradients. Tiny Eritrea, with only five million people, is a hell-hole for purely political reasons. It has a totalitarian government that tries to make North Korea and the old East Germany look tame: it conscripts every 17-year-old into lifelong and total service of the state. No wonder 3 per cent of its people have already left.

April 13, 2015

QotD: The real man behind Kipling’s Man Who Would Be King

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, India, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is quite possible that Kipling based Daniel Dravot, the hero of The Man Who Would Be King, on Dr Harlan. He would surely have heard of the American, and there is a strong echo, in Dravot’s fictional Kafiristan adventure (published in 1895), of Harlan’s aspirations first to the throne of Afghanistan, and later successfully to the kingship of Ghor. as described in Gardner’s Memoirs (published in 1890); whether Harlan’s story was true is beside the point. Like many passages in his astonishing career, it lacks corroboration; on the other hand it was accepted, along with the rest, by such authorities as Major Pearse, who was Gardner’s editor, and the celebrated Dr Wolff.

Josiah Harlan (1799-1871) was born in Newlin Township, Pennsylvania, the son of a merchant whose family came from County Durham. He studied medicine, sailed as a supercargo to China, and after being jilted by his American fiancée, returned to the East, serving as surgeon with the British Army in Burma. He then wandered to Afghanistan, where he embarked on that career as diplomat, spy, mercenary soldier, and double (sometimes treble) agent which so enraged Colonel Gardner. The details are confused, but it seems that Harlan, after trying to take Dost Mohammed’s throne, and capturing a fortress, fell into the hands of Runjeet Singh. The Sikh maharaja, recognising a rascal of genius when he saw one sent him as envoy to Dost Mohammed; Harlan, travelling disguised as a dervish was also working to subvert Dost’s throne on behalf of Shah Sujah, the exiled Afghan king; not content with this, he ingratiated himself with Dost and became his agent in the Punjab — in effect, serving three masters against each other. Although as one contemporary remarks with masterly understatement, Harlan’s life was now somewhat complicated, he satisfied at least two of his employers: Shah Sujah made him a Companion of the Imperial Stirrup, and Runjeet gave him the government of three provinces which he administered until, it is said, the maharaja discovered that he was running a coining plant on the pretence of studying chemistry. Even then, Runjeet continued to use him as an agent, and it was Harlan who successfully suborned the Governor of Peshawar to betray the province to the Sikhs. He then took service with Dost Mohammed (whom he had just betrayed), and was sent with an expedition against the Prince of Kunduz; it was in this campaign that the patriotic doctor “surmounted the Indian Caucasus, and unfurled my country’s banner to the breeze under a salute of 26 guns … the star-spangled banner waved gracefully among the icy peaks.” What this accomplished is unclear but soon afterwards Harlan managed to obtain the throne of Ghor from its hereditary prince. This was in 1838; a year later he was acting as Dost’s negotiator with the British invaders at Kabul; Dost subsequently fled, and Harlan was last seen having breakfast with “Sekundar Burnes”, the British political agent.

Thus far Harlan’s story rests largely on a biographical sketch by the missionary Dr Joseph Wolff; they met briefly during Harlan’s governorship of Gujerat, but Wolff (who of course never had the advantage of reading the present packet of the Flashman Papers confesses that he knows nothing of the American after 1839. In fact, Harlan returned to the U.S. in 1841, married in 1849, raised Harlan’s Light Horse for the Union in the Civil War, was invalided out, and ended his days practising medicine in San Francisco; obviously he must have revisited the Punjab in the 1840s, when Flashman knew him. Of his appearance and character other contemporaries tell us little; Dr Wolff describes “a fine tall gentleman” given to whistling Yankee Doodle”, and found him affable and engaging. Gardner mentions meeting him at Gujerat in the 1830s, but speaks no ill of him at that time.

His biographer, Dr Joseph Wolff, D.D., LL.D (1795-1862), was a scholar, traveller, and linguist whose adventures were even more eccentric than Harlan’s. Known as “the Christian Dervish”, and “the Protestant Xavier”, he was born in Germany, the son of a Jewish rabbi, and during his “extraordinary nomadic career” converted to Christianity, was expelled from Rome for questioning Papal infallibility, scoured the Middle and Far East in search of the Lost Tribes of Israel, preached Christianity in Jerusalem, was shipwrecked in Cephalonia, captured by Central Asian slave-traders (who priced him at only £2.50, much to his annoyance), and walked 600 miles through Afghanistan “in a state of nudity”, according to the Dictionary of National Biography. He made a daring return to Afghanistan in search of the missing British agents, Stoddart and Connolly, and narrowly escaped death at the hands of their executioner. At other times Dr Wolff preached to the U.S. Congress, was a deacon in New Jersey, an Anglican priest in Ireland, and finally became vicar of a parish in Somerset. As Flashman has remarked, there were some odd fellows about in the earlies. (See Gardner; The Travels and Adventures of Dr. Wolff (1860); Dictionary of American Biography; D.N.B.)

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

April 2, 2015

QotD: Punjab and the Sikhs, 1845

Filed under: Britain, History, India, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

First of all, you must do as Sale bade me, and look at the map. In ’45 John Company held Bengal and the Carnatic and the east coast, more or less, and was lord of the land up to the Sutlej, the frontier beyond which lay the Five Rivers country of the Sikhs, the Punjab. But things weren’t settled then as they are now; we were still shoring up our borders, and that north-west frontier was the weak point, as it still is. That way invasion had always come, from Afghanistan, the vanguard of a Mohammedan tide, countless millions strong, stretching back as far as the Mediterranean. And Russia, We’d tried to sit down in Afghanistan, as you know, and got a bloody nose, and while that had been avenged since, we weren’t venturing that way again. So it remained a perpetual threat to India and ourselves — and all that lay between was Punjab and the Sikhs.

You know something of them: tall, splendid fellows with uncut hair and beards, proud and exclusive as Jews, and well disliked, as clannish, easily-recognised folk often are — the Muslims loathed them, the Hindoos distrusted then, and even today T. Atkins, while admiring them as stout fighters, would rather be brigaded with anyone else — excepting their cavalry, which you’d be glad of anywhere. For my money they were the most advanced people in India — well, they were only a sixth of the Punjab’s population, but they ruled the place, so there you are.

We’d made a treaty with these strong, clever, treacherous, civilised savages, respecting their independence north of the Sutlej while we ruled south of it. It was good business for both parties: they remained free and friends with John Company, and we had a tough, stable buffer between us and the wild tribes beyond the Khyber — let the Sikhs guard the passes, while we went about our business in India without the expense and trouble of having to deal with the Afghans ourselves. That’s worth bearing in mind when you hear talk of our “aggressive forward policy” in India: it simply wasn’t common sense for us to take over the Punjab — not while it was strong and united.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

February 4, 2015

QotD: The retreat from Kabul, 1842

Filed under: Asia, Britain, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

POSSIBLY there has been a greater shambles in the history of warfare than our withdrawal from Kabul; probably there has not. Even now, after a lifetime of consideration, I am at a loss for words to describe the superhuman stupidity, the truly monumental incompetence, the bland blindness to reason of Elphy Bey and his advisers. If you had taken the greatest military geniuses of the ages, placed them in command of our army, and asked them to ruin it utterly as speedily as possible, they could not — I mean it seriously — have done it as surely and swiftly as he did. And he believed he was doing his duty. The meanest sweeper in our train would have been a fitter commander.

Shelton was not told that we would march on the morning of the 6th January, until evening on the 5th. He laboured like a madman through the night, loading up the huge baggage train, assembling the troops within the cantonment in their order of march, and issuing orders for the conduct and disposal of the entire force. It is a few words on paper: as I remember it, there was a black night of drifting snow, with storm lanterns flickering, troops tramping unseen in the dark, a constant babble of voices, the neighing and whining of the great herd of baggage animals, the rumble of wagons, messengers dashing to and fro, great heaps of luggage piled high outside the houses, harassed officers demanding to know where such-and-such a regiment was stationed, and where so-and-so had gone, bugle calls ringing in the night wind, feet stamping, children crying, and on the lighted verandah of his office, Shelton, red-faced and dragging at his collar, with his staff scurrying about him while he tried to bring some order out of the inferno.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

January 24, 2015

QotD: General Elphinstone in Afghanistan, 1842

Filed under: Asia, Books, Britain, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

But looking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghten, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.

No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.

Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.

Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganized enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

November 29, 2014

Lorne Scots unveil two Cenotaph additions in Brampton and Georgetown

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

My old militia regiment was in the news recently:

Lorne Scots at Georgetown Cenotaph

The communities of Brampton and Georgetown paid a special tribute to veterans of Afghanistan during Remembrance Week, adding the 12-year mission to local cenotaphs dedicated to Canada’s war dead.

On the year that the Canadian mission in Afghanistan drew to a close, civic leaders in both communities determined that adding “Afghanistan,” beneath the names of Canada’s other major conflicts would be a fitting tribute.

In separate ceremonies during Remembrance Week, The Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment) were given the honour of unveiling the new additions to the cenotaphs at the Brampton War Memorial and the Georgetown War Memorial.

“We are honoured by our communities and their tributes, this is a fine way to honour the soldiers who fell or were wounded in Afghanistan,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Duane Hickson, Commanding Officer of the Lorne Scots and an Afghanistan veteran. “And it’s very fitting to be doing this during Remembrance Week.”

The Canadian Armed Forces first deployed to Afghanistan in October, 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The first Lorne Scot deployed in 2004, with the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, with the Regiment’s biggest contributions in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The final Lorne Scot returned in September 2013 as part of the final rotation of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

By the end of the mission, the Lorne Scots had deployed 46 soldiers and officers, nearly 25% of the unit, to Afghanistan, with the last soldier returning in 2013.

The Lorne Scots take pride in their role in their communities, participating in community events and parades every year, and represent them to the nation and on the world stage when they deploy abroad. LCol Hickson said the Regiment was honoured to be asked to take part in the unveiling and will continue to serve their nation and their communities.

November 11, 2014

Mark Knopfler – “Remembrance Day”

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:11

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’.

August 11, 2014

Canada’s Special Forces

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

CANSOFCOMbadgeLast month, I posted an item on the organization of the Canadian Army, but I didn’t include the Canadian special forces … partly because the special forces are Canada’s “fourth” branch of service and not organizationally part of the Canadian Army … and partly because I just plain forgot about them. Having just read a short article in the most recent Dorchester Review, I was reminded to include Canada’s special forces units (as much as we know about them, anyway). Special forces fall under their own service command, separate from the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force, known as the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), established in 2006.

The core unit of CANSOFCOM is the original Joint Task Force-2 (JTF2) which was formed in 1992-3 when the Canadian Forces took over the domestic counterterrorism role from the RCMP. When JTF2 was included in the new command, other units were established to support a wider range of missions and capabilities. CANSOFCOM is headed by a Brigadier General and composed of a headquarters and the following units:

Although the official web page for CANSOFCOM emphasizes its domestic role, Canadian special forces have also been involved in overseas operations beginning (so far as we know) with Afghanistan in 2001-2. Very little information about JTF2 missions in specific or CANSOFCOM in general has been released by the government, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. Joseph Jockel’s article in the Dorchester Review states:

The consequences of the successful deployment […] are clearer. JTF2 had been tested and admitted to the “international tier 1 counterterrorism community”, the other members being the special forces of the US, UK, and Australia. A good indication of this was that the US military planned to include Canadian special forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A year after Canada declined to go to Iraq, “the US government sends a démarche to Ottawa specifically requesting JTF2 deploy to Afghanistan for a second one-year commitment”. Ottawa “obliges relatively quickly to the US request for forces and CANSOF deploys for a second one-year commitment in the summer 2005”

The Wikipedia page has more:

Core tasks

CANSOFCOM’s core tasks are: to provide the Canadian Forces with a capacity to prevent and react to terrorism in all environments, to provide the CF with a capability to perform other missions as directed by the Government of Canada, such as direct action (DA), special reconnaissance (SR), defence diplomacy and military assistance (DDMA), as well as special humanitarian assistance (such as the evacuation of non-combatants).

Commanding officers

On September 12, 2005, Colonel David Barr was appointed the provisional commander of the CANSOFCOM. During his tenure as commander, Colonel Barr also deployed to Afghanistan as commander of the Canadian special operations task force in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Major-General D. Michael Day, OMM CD – Commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command 2007–2011

Brigadier-General D.W. Thompson, OMM MSC CD is the current commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, appointed in April 2011.

The current command chief warrant officer is Chief Warrant Officer John H. Graham, MSM CD.


With operational uniforms, all members of CANSOFCOM wear the tan beret, regardless of their environment (navy, army or air force), with the badge of their personnel branch or, in the case of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps and Royal Canadian Infantry Corps members, the badge of their former regiment. With ceremonial and service dress, navy members wear service caps with tan bands, army members wear tan berets and air force members wear blue wedge caps with a tan insert.

June 16, 2014

When “victory” isn’t an end-game option

Filed under: Government, Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:45

Clive Crook talks about the strengths and weaknesses of US foreign policy for Bloomberg View:

As Iraq unravels, a painful truth about U.S. politics and foreign policy is becoming more evident: The U.S. is very good in all-or-nothing situations, but all-or-nothing situations don’t often arise.

This is a country that can and will meet existential threats with unity of purpose and vast resources. In this regard, even now, it stands alone. Few threats rise to that level. Lesser dangers can still be serious, without commanding or justifying that kind of response. Precisely for that reason, they put greater stress on democratic politics, and U.S. politics seems ever less able to cope.


Cordesman’s advice on conducting “non-wars against non-terrorists” boils down to this: Lower your expectations and be patient. In many countries, that way of thinking is of necessity the default. In the U.S., it isn’t. Americans want victory, and they want it now. And if they can’t win, they ask, why get involved at all?

In the foreseeable future, there’ll be no victory against jihadism. That’s partly because it doesn’t pose enough of a threat to justify total war against it. Yet the idea that jihadism poses no threat to the U.S. and can simply be ignored is risible. The danger can’t be crushed; it can only be managed. This means confronting it intelligently and patiently — with allies wherever possible, and always measuring the (uncertain) benefits of action against the (uncertain) costs.

“Mission accomplished” illustrates what Cordesman calls the end-state fallacy — the idea that deep-seated conflicts can be brought neatly to an end. So does President Barack Obama’s remark on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011: “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”

Another fallacy is to organize policy around the idea that every conflict has a good side and a bad side. Foreign policy isn’t a morality play. Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan exemplify this second error. Perhaps, at the time, both men were better than the alternatives. Even if they were, they were bound to remain part of the problem.

H/T to Jonathan Rauch for the link.

June 9, 2014

The not-so-hidden racism in the Bergdahl release

Filed under: Humour, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:22

Nicole Mullen explains why you’re an awful racist if you don’t see the awful racism in the swap of five Taliban prisoners for US Army hero/deserter Bowe Bergdahl:

Treating politics like professional wrestling rivalries comes with its fair share of downfalls though, and this Bergdahl case is a perfect example of such shortcomings. As a leftist myself, I was quick to dismiss any notion of Bergdahl’s traitorous behavior, nor did I take exception to Obama’s decision to circumvent congressional approval when he released five terrorists from Gitmo. I simply read that a trade occurred, googled to find out how the right felt about it, and then blindly argued against every single point that they made. Is Bergdahl a deserter? Of course not, he’s a hero. What evidence do I have of that? None. Who cares? I’m right and you’re wrong.

But, this is where the breakdown occurs, because there’s something my fellow liberals are missing in all of this, and only part of it is to blame on fervent, unquestioning support of the president. It’s odd to me that in a whole industry of race obsessed blowhards collecting freelancing checks, I’m the only one who noticed how racist the Bergdahl trade was.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the president for his decision to rescue Bergdahl, but there’s something that the white left is afraid to talk about here. When Obama traded five men of color for one white man – he made a very clear statement about race. He let the entire world know that one white life is worth at least five brown ones, and that is incredibly fucked up and gross and problematic.

Think for a second – if Bush had made that trade, is there any doubt that we would be calling him out for how outrageously racist it was? If a white man had traded five brown men for one white man, we would be quick to see it for what it was – an affirmation of white privilege and power. But, because Obama is a man of color himself, it seems as if no one noticed.

I can only imagine the struggle Obama, a man of people of color, must have felt as he authorized that trade. He was betraying himself – the black part of himself – while simultaneously affirming the privilege and power structures inherent in the white part of himself. The courage it took to make that decision is remarkable, and again, I feel like he made the right choice, but we should really look at this situation and use it as a way to reflect on our cultural attitudes to the devaluation and reductive characterization of colorful men that we objectify through cisrace projections of cultural self-worth.

January 8, 2014

Tactical “lessons learned” from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:04

A couple of weeks back, Strategy Page posted some of the things that US and allied troops have had to learn from their experiences in combat since deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. These tactical tips and tricks include:

The list is long and often embarrassing. For example, in peacetime troops are taught to drive carefully, in order to avoid accidents. But in combat the safest form of driving is fast and, to peacetime sensibilities, reckless. Even if commanders seek to practice “combat driving” in peacetime they do so in the knowledge that after a few bad accidents orders will come down to not drive like that because it causes bad publicity.

It’s a somewhat similar situation with battlefield first aid. It’s difficult to provide many troops with realistic training, especially since it’s harder to train on pigs or goats with the animal welfare zealots constantly trying to sue you into training methods that will get more troops killed in combat.

Another bad habit armies tend to drift into during peacetime is using weapons for training less and less. These things are, after all dangerous and with all the safety precautions and restrictions it is understandable why firing practice is cut and cut until it’s a rare event. But once war breaks out you quickly appreciate why sending troops to the weapons range several times a week is one of those lifesaving things you need to do.


Along with learning how to drive like a madman, you have to practice hard so you can change tires like one as well. In combat you will often have to do this under fire, so you must learn to do it quickly. This does two things. First, you learn how long it takes, even when you are in a hurry. This can be a useful bit of information if you are under fire while changing the flat. Second, practicing it forces you to make sure the spare tire is in good shape, and can quickly be reached (along with any tools needed.)

Then you must learn how Mister Grenade can be your friend, even on the crowded streets of a city like Baghdad or Kandahar. If your vehicle has a glove compartment, re-label it as the “grenade compartment.” Carry one smoke, one fragmentation and one tear gas grenade. If you’re stuck in traffic and the situation outside it starting to look dicey, then drop a smoke grenade out the window and try to get moving. You MUST be moving if you drop the tear gas grenade, because you cannot drive through the tears. Most other drivers will give you a wide berth when they see the smoke or tear gas grenade go off. For those who keep coming, with evil intent, the fragmentation grenade may come in handy (it is good for getting at bad people hiding behind something.) Remember, when using grenades, do not touch the pin until the grenade is outside the window. Accidents happen, and having a smoke grenade go off in your vehicle will ruin your day, at the very least.

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