Archive for May, 2009

The Times appears to have scored a scoop today, reporting that “more than 20,000” Tamil civilians were killed during the final weeks of the Sri Lankan Army’s push into the Jaffna Peninsula. I have my doubts; as often with the Times, the story is too vaguely sourced to be completely convincing. Still, let’s not forget there were 100,000 people packed onto a flat, sandy promontory, with no shelter from the fighting and no way to treat the wounded. Even if 1,000 civilians were not killed every day, the human toll is staggering.

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Andrew Exum has lunched with Gen. George Casey, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and came away with interesting stuff, such as:

Gen. Casey said repeatedly — and stressed repeatedly that this was his own estimate and not policy — that he thought the U.S. Army would be engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least the next decade.

Read it all.

Incidentally, it turns out the little wanker¹ Ralph Peters was also in attendance and, true to form, ventured to ask Casey whether he thinks COIN is causing younger officers to “lose their killer instinct.” Jeez, is there no place safe from this menace?

¹ Try as I might, I haven’t been able to come up with a better epithet for a guy who advocates the killing of journalists on the battlefield. ‘Crazy man’, for example, would bestow upon him an aura of creative wildness he doesn’t deserve.

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Wiser men have already tagged this (here and here), but one more time won’t hurt: if you haven’t already read it, go check out McKiernan advisor Paul Farnan’s spirited defense of his erstwhile boss in WaPo:

This struggle is not about killing insurgents. We have killed more insurgents than we can count over the past seven years and have moved no closer to victory by doing so. This struggle is about the Afghan population. Afghans must believe that their government will provide them greater security and opportunity for prosperity than the insurgency will. We are not naive; we know that military operations must continue and that some people must be killed — but under McKiernan a more holistic approach to winning the peace has been our focus. These are the ‘conventional’ tactics he has been employing.

At least one diehard McChrystal fan has regrets:

[…] I do know this: as excited as I was and am to see a real sense of urgency about Afghanistan, and as excited I was to see a certain ruthlessness in President Obama, Secretary Gates, and General Petraeus, I also have a tinge of sadness: General McKiernan was hard done by, and I think the U.S. Army officer corps and most commenters recognize that unless he was guilty of some kind of insubordination we do not know about, then his relief could have been handled in classier way by all parties.

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“The Tigers’ legacy remains intact”, warns Mia Bloom:

Their perfection of suicide bombings, their recruitment of women and children, their innovation in IEDs, have been emulated by other terrorist groups worldwide, from al-Qaeda to Hezbollah. Though they considered themselves superior to jihadi terrorists — who regularly target civilians — the Tigers opened the door to terrorism as a strategy of liberation and resistance to an unwanted government or occupying force. And they reached a standard of deadly efficiency envied by U.S. enemies and terrorists around the globe.

How true.

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“Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media”, writes Ralph Peters in The Journal of International Security Affairs.

Since Peters himself is very much a representative of “the partisan media”, I can’t help but wonder how the good colonel himself would fare in such a violent situation. As far as I know, he has never seen a shot fired in anger, unlike the combat correspondents he so despises.

[h/t Josh.]

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It’s funny, but it never crossed my mind that David McKiernan was a lousy general. Indeed, I thought he was one the most outstanding officers in the U.S. Army. And even though I keep myself pretty well informed about the war in Afghanistan, I never realised that the campaign was run so badly as to warrant a spectacularly humiliating, career-busting kick in the ass for the commander in Kabul. And yet, surely this must be the case — why else would the Secretary of Defense publicly sack McKiernan? I mean, he wouldn’t do it, say, because all else has failed, right?

A whole bunch of swooning profiles have been written on Stanley McChrystal, and by all means, admire the guy as much as you like, but there’s one little thing you ought to keep in mind: In addition to American troops, McChrystal will be commanding tens of thousands of soldiers, with varying degrees of experience, training and stamina, from — wait for it — 41 countries. As ISAF commander, he will have to deal with a ragtag international force most of which won’t deploy into combat. He will have under his command not only Americans under constant fire in the Korengal but also Poles and Germans and Finns and Swedes who for political reasons won’t join the fight. He might be an American hero, but last I checked, this isn’t only America’s war.

“The Pope” will have other problems, too. For starters, he will have to order his subordinates to start spelling the name of the country right: it’s not Iraq, it’s A-F-G-H-A-N-I-S-T-A-N. Seriously, listening to all the self-proclaimed experts now voicing their opinions on Afghanistan, you’d think they’re still in Baghdad, circa 2007. The surge was great and all, but if you want to get to know your current AO, you need to stop sounding like a dork muttering his ex-girlfriend’s name in his sleep. (Hint: There’s no sectarian civil war in Afghanistan, so looking at civilian casualties as a metric is a waste of time.)

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I strongly advise anyone feeling giddy about the turn of events in Sri Lanka to hold on to the champagne a little longer — a few decades, to be more precise. The government may have crushed the LTTE, but that will not bring peace. It will simply silence the guns until a new generation of Tamil insurgents grows up to carry on the struggle.

It’s worth remembering that, incredible as it may sound, this all started over language in the 50s. That it spawned a 26-year war and one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups and turned a fledgling democracy into a police state can be squarely blamed on politicians on both sides. Today, there is even less chance for a military solution to the problem than there was in th early 80s when the first bombs went off. The grievances of the 50s were but minor niggles compared to the bitterness felt by the Tamils after years of killing and neglect. And if you believe the Colombo government is about to waste its newly acquired political capital by addressing the losers’ issues, you’re in for a nasty surprise.

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I’m still knee-deep in my next Iraq piece, so this is a quick one:

Anyone who thinks Obama is wrong to block the release of some 2,000 additional prisoner abuse photographs should ask himself two questions:

  1. Are the photos new?
  2. Do they help in prosecuting those responsible?

If the answer to either question is ‘yes’, then by all means, go ahead and spread them out for all to see. If the answer to both is ‘no’, however, you need to ask yourself another question: How exactly would it be a “blow to transparency and accountability” if a bunch of gratuitous snapshots were not published?

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This morning’s Reuters piece on Mosul and whether U.S. forces will pull out of Iraqi cities by July 1 is an example of what happens to journalism when reporters are too thin on the ground.

Take the lead, for example:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq said on Friday that U.S. combat forces could be able to leave the violence-torn city of Mosul by a June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat brigades from Iraqi cities.

I have to assume that David Morgan, who wrote the story, has never been to Mosul. Had he visited the city, he would know that FOB Marez, to which U.S. troops will supposedly withdraw from their COPs, is actually within city limits, and if American units have to “commute to work” after June 30, it isn’t all that far, contrary to what the story suggests.

Then there’s this:

About 20 percent of U.S. forces, who are not considered combat troops, would remain in the cities after July 1 to advise and support Iraqi security forces.

Yeah, right. Talk to any PAO in Baghdad and he will freely admit that Americans will stay in Baghdad’s central districts even after July 1, albeit in FOBs that will be “downgraded” into JSSs. For example, the company from the 82nd Airborne that currently mans JSS Babil will simply relocate to Zafraniya. Over the following months they will slowly pull out further away from the city centre, but even then it won’t be all the way to super-bases like Liberty, but rather to the outer suburbs.

To say that these forces will be about 20 percent of American troops in Iraq is probably correct, but it’s misleading, since the number of actual trigger-pullers has never exceeded that percentage. That they are “not considered combat troops” is another chunk of spin that the reporter should’ve challenged. Whatever they are “considered” is not what they actually are, which is combat troops. In other words, the above doesn’t mean that 80 percent of American troops now in Baghdad will withdraw.

And this is what really gets my goat:

[…] Odierno warned that Iraq will likely see residual violence from ‘insurgent elements’ for up to 15 years.

To call 140 Iraqis killed in two days “residual violence” is not only supremely arrogant, it’s irresponsible. It suggests that once the Americans leave, whatever bloodshed happens will not be noteworthy, it will just be 15 years of another forgotten war.

[UPDATE: Bloggers don’t get it either.]

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I’ve run this piece-of-crap blog now for a year, so let’s celebrate with a new photo. Pictured is the Doura oil refinery as seen from JSS Babil across the river in Karrada.

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