Category Archives: Unconventional Warfare

Some Sense on Somali Pirates, from a Former Opponent of Theirs

This article about the Somali pirate seizure of a tanker appeared in a bit of an out-of-the-way place, but we were tipped to it — not least because the author is an old Ranger buddy with whom many a German beer was hoisted, back in the day.

“Those khat-chewing thugs are at it again,” I thought, recalling my maritime-security job almost 5 years ago off the east coast of Africa. Somali piracy, though, had seemed to have died off since then…

The online story elaborated: Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, Somali officials and piracy experts said Tuesday, in the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012. … The area where the hijacking occurred is overseen by the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. … It was not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are, but it may become one of the Trump administration’s first international tests.

The journalistically cautious “not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are” made me laugh. Intentions? Hijack then occupy (for as long as necessary) this non-US ship with grunt pirates while the clan’s CEO negotiates a high-dollar ransom of vessel, cargo, and crew—a big business deal via satphone from Mogadishu. It’s relatively easy money, too, if the targeted merchant vessel has no armed security personnel aboard.

We Americans are, I think, guilty of viewing too many world events through “It’s about US” lenses. Sure, it’s possible Somali pirates decided to test the new American president. After all, the US Navy has ships in the area….

Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS) often has worked for me—the simplest theory often is the right one. This week’s hijack probably wasn’t about Trump; rather, Somali pirates simply saw an opportunity to score, after a long dry spell, and acted. Maybe the maritime industry had let its guard down in the HRA. You can bet DVDs of the “Captain Phillips” movie have been passed around in coastal areas of Somalia; pirates in 2017 probably won’t make the mistakes—exploited by our Navy and its SEAL marksmen—others made in 2009.

You’ll be better informed about Somali pirates and countermeasures if you Read The Whole Thing™. It’s written by a guy who’s been in those very waters on private MARSEC missions, deterring those very pirates.

What would actually work for the pirates of the 21st Century is what worked for the pirates of the 17th and 18th Centuries: a good dose of hanging at the yardarm, along with a thorough bombardment of the towns and harbors that emit them.

Pirates still are hostis humanae generis and ought to be treated that way. You don’t break a malaria epidemic by negotiating with the mosquitoes.

 

How Does the Partition of Korea End?

North Korea has a large military but few other trappings of civilization.

We humans tend to believe that the life we experience today is “normal” and that it will go on like this indefinitely. Evolutionary psychologists probably have some pat explanation for this, but we don’t know what it is. We do know, however, that many things thought permanent were anything but.

In the late 1960s, a Soviet historian named Andrei Amalrik wrote a prescient essay: Will the Soviet Union survive until 1984? At the time, it seemed laughable, but the KGB didn’t think it was funny, and Amalrik did a couple of stints at the Kolyma concentration camp before being exiled to the Netherlands. He was dead by 1981, in a car crash that, although certainly convenient for the KGB, was probably just a car crash.

In 1984, grinning KGB goons told Scharansky, “It’s 1984, Amalrik’s dead, and we’re still here.” The eternal workers’ and peasants’ revolutionary state, like the thousand-year Reich that was modeled upon it, seemed destined to last forever.

Amalrik admitted that he had nothing in the way of evidence. Just observation and logic. And he said logic guaranteed that a state built on terror and oppression could not stand forever. As it happened he was off by only a few years, although he was thwarted in his desire to live to see “the end of… the Russian Imperial state.”

I have been hearing and reading a great deal about the so-called “liberalization” of Soviet society. This idea may be formulated as follows The situation is better now than it was ten years ago; therefore ten years from now it will be better still. I will attempt to show here why I disagree with this notion. I must emphasize that my essay is based not on scholarly research but only on observation. From an academic point of view, it may appear to be only empty chatter. But for Western students of the Soviet Union, at any rate, this discussion should have the same interest that a fish would have for an ichthyologist if it suddenly began to talk.

The fish had this to say about the long-term prospects of his fishbowl:

I have no doubt that this great Eastern Slav empire, created by Germans, Byzantines and Mongols, has entered the last decades of its existence. Just as the adoption of Christianity postponed the fall of the Roman Empire but did not prevent its inevitable end, so Marxist doctrine has delayed the break-up of the Russian Empire, the third Rome, but it does not possess the power to prevent it.

Carrying this analogy further, one can also assume that in Central Asia, for instance, there could survive for a long time a state that considered itself the successor of the Soviet Union, a state which combined traditional Communist ideology, phraseology and ritual with the traits of Oriental despotism, a kind of contemporary Byzantine Empire.

For all that Amalrik and other dissidents, exiles and refuseniks experienced the USSR as a nightmare regime, that was not the experience of most Soviets. Especially Russians. They lived their lives, they did their best, they loved their country and its culture and some of its institutions, and they cultivated a healthy sense of humor about the unloveable parts. Most of the fish loved the fishbowl. Many today are nostalgic for it, because it wasn’t all KGB guys with coshes and steel-toed shoes: it was a proud, strong nation, and for some Russians today the USSR with all its flaws has the same appeal as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy (with all its flaws!) had to generations of American southerners.

Yet it still came crashing down; Amalrik, almost alone of the tens of thousands of historians, economists, and other experts in the USSR, had it right.

An Army with a nation. Will fight for food.

Which brings us back to the starvation state, North Korea,

The division of a single nation into separate states is a force like the chemical bonds between atoms in a molecule. It is stable right up until the moment that it is not stable.

Then, the bonds break with a great release of energy, and reform in new ways.

In chemistry, this reaction is predictable with mathematical certainty. In statecraft, it is not.

What, then, are the beliefs and guiding ideas of this people with no religion or morality? They believe in their own national strength, which they demand that other peoples fear, and they are guided by a recognition of the strength of their own regime, of which they themselves are afraid. ….

Under this assessment it is not difficult to imagine what forms and directions popular discontent will take if the regime loses its hold. The horrors of the Russian revolutions of 1905-7 and 1917-20 would then look like idylls in comparison.

It should be noted, however, that there is another powerful factor which works against the chance of any kind of peaceful reconstruction and which is equally negative for all levels of society this is the extreme isolation in which the regime has placed both society and itself. This isolation has not only separated the regime from society, and all sectors of society from each other, but also put the country in extreme isolation from the rest of the world. This isolation has created for all from the bureaucratic elite to the lowest social levels an almost surrealistic picture of the world and of their place in it. Yet the longer this state of affairs helps to perpetuate the status quo, the more rapid and decisive will be its collapse when confrontation with reality becomes inevitable.

Amalrik, in that last paragraph, is predicting the exact sort of preference cascade that actually occurred in the USSR and Eastern Europe in 1989-92. As it happened, restraint by Soviet and particularly Russian leadership ensured that the transition was largely peaceful.

But Amalrik saw coming for the USSR what no one had seen coming for Rome:

Evidently, if “futurology” had existed in Imperial Rome, where, as we are told, people were already erecting six-story buildings and children’s merry-go-rounds were driven by steam, the fifth-century “futurologists” would have predicted for the following century the construction of twenty-story buildings and the industrial utilization of steam power.

As we now know, however, in the sixth century goats were grazing in the Forum just as they are doing now, beneath my window in this village.

The USSR, unlike North Korea, had many strengths in natural and human resources; there is a lot of ruin in a nation, and a lot more in a large and forward-looking nation than there is in a small, isolated and regressive land.

One wonders if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the world’s most backward and inbred absolute monarchy styles itself, can survive until 2024. And what terrors will be unleashed by its long-delayed expiration.

Amalrik’s essay is available online:

  1. http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/classes/amalrik1.html
  2. http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/classes/amalrik2.html

Anti-Military Congressmen Undermine Medical Training

Then-PV2 Ron Westervelt, 12th SFG(A), in team live tissue training, March 1967.

The Washington word for “galactically stupid idea” is bipartisan, and before us we have a bipartisan bill to undermine military medical training. This is because these two partisans who are apparently bi (NTTAWWT… oh, who are we kidding, everything is wrong with that, it’s just not any of our business) … anyway, these two bi partisans value the opinions of their friends in PETA (the overt wing of the ALF terrorist group) more than they value the lives of soldiers. Which is not surprising, because they’re Congressmen, not a caste one normally associates with concern for les races oprimées. Such as, say, grunts.

Live Tissue Training, with which we have firsthand experience, is irreplaceable and necessary — as long as DC bums like these two soldier-haters keep sending our people into harm’s way. Want an example? Special Forces medics last year drew on skills learned in LTT in a heroic effort to save two SF troopers gravely wounded by a Jordanian Air Force gate guard. Despite what autopsy determined later to be the irrecoverably mortal nature of the wounds, they kept one man alive for the hours it took to fixed-wing evacuate him to King Hussein hospital, where he unfortunately expired. Elsewhere, that skill saves real, precious lives. We’ve seen it, live in full five-sense surround. (The smells stay with you).

Back to our “let-em-OJT-that-med-$#!+” Congressmen:

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require the military to use only “human-based methods” to train service members to treat injuries sustained on the battlefield and end the use of “live tissue training,” in which troops stab or shoot pigs and goats to simulate the treatment of combat trauma, by Oct. 1, 2020.

Representative Hank Johnson’s military service was… uh, he doesn’t appear to have had any. He’s a lawyer, and a second (at least) generation payroll patriot; his father was a high-ranking bureaucrat and he grew up in DC. Representative Tom Marino? Another lawyer with no military service. He was in the chronological sweet spot for the Vietnam Era draft (H.S. grad, 1970), but somehow didn’t manage to wriggle into a uniform — he wriggled out of service, instead.

Johnson told the Washington Examiner he intends to raise the issue during debate on the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and hopes to use the must-pass bill as a vehicle to ban live-tissue training. He said simulators offer better combat training than live animals, are more humane and are ultimately more cost-effective.

“It may cost more for a simulator than for a live animal in terms of initial outlay, but you can only use that animal once, you can use the simulator repeatedly. So over the course of time, it’s better,” he said.

Before you give too much credence to what Johnson says, bear in mind he’s the brain-dead moron who didn’t want to add any more Marines in Guam, because too many Leathernecks might make the island capsize and sink. (And yeah, he’s a lawyer. We bet you’re glad this dimbulb isn’t your lawyer. Or maybe he was, and that’s why your ex got sole custody of the kids and dog, or you’re reading this in the Halfway House library after completing all your hard time).

The military already has transitioned many of its medical training courses to use human-based simulators, which advocates say are realistic and better prepare troops to handle combat injuries since the simulators have the same anatomy as a human.

“Advocates” — nameless “advocates,” like nameless “experts,” are a technique used by a dishonest journalist to inject his or her opinion into the story. The only “advocates” who say that are the tofu-burning weirdos and cat hoarders of PETA, and the snake-oil salesmen who sell these simulators.

You can write this down: if you ever have to do a cutdown on a bleeder for real, or even just treat for tension pneumothorax, you’d rather it wasn’t your first time doing it except on a computer screen.

But for some training, the military continues to use live goats and pigs that are anesthetized, injured, treated and then euthanized.

The Defense Department is not onboard with completely ending its use of animals in combat trauma medical training – at least not yet. Lt. Col. Roger Cabiness, a department spokesman, said the military is “actively working to refine, reduce, and, when appropriate, replace the use of live animals in medical education and training.”

This reporter, Jacqueline Klimas, like Johnson and Marino, literally values the animals expended in LTT — 8,500 pigs and goats per annum — more than a similar number of human souls. At least when the souls are those of soldiers.

What a despicable, dysfunctional, amoral human being!

Perhaps she could find some way to mortally wound herself, so that her local EMS can practice on her, and spare the live of one endangered caprine.

Or maybe we can replace goat lab with something that doesn’t take a precious life, like, say, journalist lab.

After all, if it saves just one goat, it’s worth it, right?

via The military kills 8,500 pigs and goats every year for medical training. A new bill would end that | Washington Examiner.

Special Forces Losses in Southeast Asia This Week, 6-12 Mar, 1957-75

Here’s another installment of our list of SF casualties, on the way to assisting the USA to the Silver Medal in the Southeast Asian War Games. The next couple of paragraphs, before the table, are the boilerplate that goes with this series of posts.

The list was a life’s work for retired Special Forces Command Sergeant Major Reginald Manning. Reg was beloved for his sharp mind and sense of humor; among other tours he survived one at what was probably the most-bombarded SF A-Camp in the Republic of Vietnam, Katum. (“Ka-BOOM” to its inmates). As a medic, some of Reg’s duties in the camp were not a joking matter, and that’s all we’re going to say about that.

There is a key to some of the mysterious abbreviations and codes, after the list.

May God have mercy on their souls, and long may America honor their sacrifices and hold their names high in memory.

Here is the key to the status codes for the Causes of Death or Missing in Action, and also a decoder for some of the common abbreviations:

Year

Mo.

Day

Rank

First

Last

Unit

Code

Nation, Location, Circumstances

1967

03

6

E-5 SGT

Howard B.

Carpenter

05B4S

KIA, BNR

Laos; B-50, FOB2, YD180036, Operation DAWES, 21k WNW of A Luoi

1967

03

6

E-4 SP4

Burt C.

Small, Jr

11B4S

MIA-PFD, died in captivity

SVN; A-108, Minh Long, Quang Ngai Prov., BS533587 8k north of camp

1967

03

6

E-6 SSG

Michael F.

Stearns

12B4S

KIA

SVN; A-108, Minh Long, Quang Ngai Prov., BS533587 8k north of camp, w/ Sanchez looking for SP4 Small

1967

03

6

E-8 MSG

Thomas J.

Sanchez

11F5S

KIA, DSC

SVN; A-108, Minh Long, Quang Ngai Prov., BS533587 8k north of camp, w/ Stearns looking for SP4 Small

1968

03

6

O-5 LTC

Robert

Lopez

31542

KIA, BNR (recovered 10/07/94)

SVN; CCN, FOB1, Phu Bai, YC456958, in CH-46 shootdown 4 km NE of Ta Bat, FOB C.O.

1969

03

6

O-3 CPT

John T.

McDonnell

31542

MIA-PFD, BNR, helicopter crash

SVN; w/ 77th Arty (ARA)/101st in AH1G #67-15845; ZC177968: had 2 prev tours w/ SF; one w/ A-321

1970

03

6

E-5 SGT

Walter B.

Foote

05B4S

KIA

SVN; A-413, Binh Thanh Thon, Kien Tuong Prov., w/ MSG W. D. Stephens

1970

03

6

E-8 MSG

Willie D.

Stephens

11F5S

KIA

SVN; A-413, Binh Thanh Thon, Kien Tuong Prov., w/ SGT Foote

1970

03

6

W-4 CW4

George E.

Railey

631A7

DNH, vehicle crash

SVN; C-2, ??where??, Pleiku Prov., jeep accident??

1970

03

6

E-7 SFC

James W.

Finzel

11B4S

DNH, drowned

SVN; CCN, RT Moccasin, drowned while at the beach at CCN

1968

03

7

E-5 SP5

Little J.

Jackson

91B4S

KIA, DOW

SVN; B-52, 5th Ranger Co. Advisor, YD558043 19k NE of A Luoi, Thua Thien Prov., Opn Samurai IV

1968

03

8

E-4 SP4

John M.

Tomkins

91B4S

KIA, DOW (WIA on 2/25/68)

SVN; A-109, Thoung Duc, Quang Nam Prov., convoy returning from Da Nang, w/ Beals

1969

03

8

E-6 SSG

James E.

Janka

11B4S

KIA

SVN; 1 MSFC, B-16, 11th MSF Co, Nung Company XO, at A-102, Tien Phuoc, Quang Tin Prov.

1969

03

8

O-4 MAJ

Peter L.

Gorvad

31542

KIA

SVN; w/ 1st Cav, Bn Cdr at LZ Grant northeast of Saigon

1966

03

9

E-7 SFC

Raymond

Allen

11C4S

KIA, DWM

SVN; 5 MSFC, A-503, at A-102, A Shau, Thua Thien Prov.

1966

03

9

E-6 SSG

Billie A.

Hall

91B4S

KIA, DSC

SVN; 5 MSFC, A-503, at A-102, A Shau, Thua Thien Prov., inside the perimeter

1966

03

9

E-5 SP5

Phillip T.

Stahl

91B2S

KIA, DWM, DSC

SVN; A-102, A Shau, Thua Thien Prov.

1967

03

9

E-8 MSG

Frank C.

Huff

11B4S

KIA, war accident

SVN; 2 MSFC, A-219, on BlackJack 23; 1st Platoon Leader; BR552875; bomb from friendly aircraft

1968

03

9

E-7 SFC

Dale R.

Karpenske

97D4P

DNH, accidental self destruction

SVN; 441MI, 1st SFG, OP-35, Bien Hoa Prov.

1969

03

9

E-6 SSG

Tim L.

Walters

11F4S

KIA, DWM (recovered 02/16/99)

Laos; CCN, Ops-32, XD524658, shotdown aboard O-2A 67-21425 40k NW west of A-101 (old) Lang Vei

1971

03

9

E-7 SFC

Merle E.

Loobey

11F40

KIA

SVN; Advisors, Kien Giang Prov

1966

03

10

E-5 SGT

James L.

Taylor

11B4S

KIA, DWM, BNR

SVN; 5 MSFC, A-503, at A-102, A Shau, Thua Thien Prov., YC485845, WIA in camp and died during E&E

1966

03

10

E-5 SGT

Owen F.

McCann

05B4S

KIA, DWM

SVN; A-102, A Shau, Thua Thien Prov.

1968

03

10

E-5 SGT

Warren C.

Lane

11B4S

KIA

SVN; w/ 11th LIB, Quang Ngai Prov.

1969

03

10

E-5 SGT

Allan D.

Mortensen

91B4S

KIA

SVN; 3 MSFC, B-36, Long Khanh Prov., CENTURIAN VI??

1970

03

10

E-4 SP4

Stephen A.

Spiers

91B4S

KIA, DOW

SVN; B-52, Recondo Plt, Phuoc Long Prov., Opn Sabre & Spurs, YT318768 13k SSE of A-344, Bunard

1968

03

12

E-7 SFC

Estel D.

Spakes

05B4S

KIA

SVN; A-109, Thoung Duc, Quang Nam Prov., his CIDG patrol was overrun


SVN SF KIA Status Codes:

BNR – Body Not Recovered. (Known to be dead, but his body was left behind).
DOW – Died of Wounds. (At some time subsequent to the wounding, days/weeks/months).
DNH – Died Non-Hostile. (Accident, disease. There’s a couple suicides among them).
DWM – Died While Missing. (Usually implies body recovered at a different time during the war).
KIA – Killed In Action.
MIA – Missing In Action.
PFD – Presumptive Finding of Death. (This was an administrative close-out of all remaining MIAs during the Carter Administration).

Common Abbreviations

A-XXX (digits). SF A-team and its associated A-camp and area.
AATTV – Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. Their soldiers integrated with SF in VN.
BSM, SS, DSC, MOH: Awards (Bronze Star, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, Medal of Honor).
CCC, CCN, CCS. Command and Control (Center, North and South). Covernames for the three command and support elements of the Special Operations Group cross-border war.
MGF – Mobile Guerrilla Force, indigenous personnel led directly by US.
MSFC – Mobile Strike Force Command, indigenous personnel led directly by US. Aka Mike Force.

We’ll cheerfully answer most other questions to the best of our ability in the comments. Note that (1) it’s Reg’s list, and we can’t ask him any more, and (2) it was Reg’s war, not ours, and all our information about SF in the Vietnam war is second hand from old leaders and teammates, or completely out of secondary sources.

Holocaust Humor

The second copy of the original manuscript, thought lost for decades.

It was 1938, and Germany and Austria had just merged, to the delight of most Germans… and Austrians. Among the undelighted were Austria’s Jewish minority, not only the out-of-the-frying-pan refugees from German persecution, but also the native Austrian Jews. Like the Jews of Germany, the Austrians considered themselves patriotic citizens and were highly assimilated into the national culture and well-represented in the professions.

They all knew that staying in Nazi Germany would be bad, although nobody knew how bad. While they tried to arrange emigration — something that required large bribes paid to various Nazi people and organizations — they reacted as men under terrible stress have always done, since time immemorial.

They joked about it.

Those of us who contemplated emigration were certainly not in any mood to laugh. And yet perhaps nothing encapsulates the tragedy of our situation–and also the world’s indifference to our fate–better than this little selection of anecdotes that did the rounds among Viennese would-be émigrés at that time. Gallows humour of the Emigration.

Three Jews, who are considering emigration, meet on a street-corner. ‘I’m going to England,’ says the first. ‘I’m going to America,’ says the second. ‘And I’m going to Australia,’ declares the third. ‘Such a long way!’ cries the first, in amazement. To which the one destined for Australia simply replies: ‘A long way from where?’

We didn’t quite get that, or find it funny. But the comedian can be forgiven a certain degree of performance anxiety. Underlying these emigration jokes is the cold fact that England, America, and Australia were not at all anxious to give immigration visas to threatened Jews, particularly as the Nazi regime would ensure that they were stripped of everything they owned in the emigration process, and arrived penniless and dependent.

On to the next joke. They get better (and bitter).

Four Jews, this time. The same old question about destination. The first replies: ‘China.’ The second: ‘New Zealand.’ The third: ‘Bolivia.’ ‘Well,’ says the fourth, ‘I’m staying here.’ The others look at him for a moment in silence. Finally one says, in a tone of admiration: ‘My God: that is adventurous!’

The poor fellow, of course, had no idea.

And finally: one Jew, who has walked his feet sore in the futile effort to get hold of some kind of visa, finally goes into a travel agency. ‘I must get out,’ he tells the man at the desk, in desperation. ‘But where to, where to? Can you give me any advice?’ The man fetches a globe. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘here you have all the countries in the world. You must be able to find something here.’

The Jew turns the sphere this way and that for a long time, shaking his head the whole time. Finally,  crestfallen, he puts it to one side. ‘Well,’ says the man behind the desk, ‘what have you found?’ ‘Oh, sir,’ says the Jew very diffidently, ‘you wouldn’t possibly have another globe, would you? There’s no room for me on this one.’

In this postwar memoir, hidden away for decades and only translated and published recently, the author quickly shifts from the black humor of 1938 to the black despair of retrospect:

To this day I cannot rid myself of a feeling of bitterness, when I think of the endless forest of red tape that was put in our way by most states at that time, as we begged for visas. With a little good will, it would have been possible to save everyone.

Meanwhile Goering–the stout, jovial Goering–had announced even in those days, in Vienna: ‘For Jews who are not able to leave, there are only two possibilities: to die of hunger or to be rooted out by fire and sword.’

 

The author of that was a newspaper man — until the Anschluß, which fired him — and Viennese man of culture and letters, Moriz Scheyer. It is telling that the only pre-1945 photograph of Scheyer to come down in his family is the one fastened to his press pass to the celebrated Vienna Opera.

Unlike so many of the wearily joking Austrian Jews of 1938, Scheyer survived to live free in France, but only after the swastikas were crushed, dynamited and burnt, along with many of the great cities of Europe, by the mighty forces of many nations. He wrote his memoir Ein Überlebender (“A Survivor”) while being concealed from the Nazis in the Convent of Labarde, Dordogne, and he revised the work — once — after his liberation.

The book recounts many close calls, narrow escapes, and dreadful discoveries. But the essence and despair of it is in a sentence you have already read, and we shall repeat:

It would have been possible to save everyone.

Had someone stood up to Hitler, over the Anschluß (unlikely), or over the Rhineland or Czechoslovakia, “everyone” who might have been saved might have been a very high number indeed, not a “mere” six millions. Certainly, had the West truly understood that the Austrian Jews were fated for the disposal that would be formalized four years later at Wannsee, they’d have done something, but the primitive barbarity of the Holocaust was sui generis in modern times.

As you see in the interactions today of great powers with small tyrants, there is always a reason not to act. And if you see the outcome of attempted interventions, there’s always a question as to whether it would have been better, as a net-net humanitarian matter, to let the situation be.

Scheyer’s book’s single manuscript came into the hands of his (ultimately British) stepson, Konrad Singer, who thought it too bitter to publish, and destroyed it. Only years later did Konrad’s son, Moriz Scheyer’s grandson, P.N. Singer, in a project to record family history, find a second copy, nearly forgotten in the attic of a relative. Singer translated and published Ein Überlebender in English, under the title Asylum. It is a remarkable story of survival — Scheyer, his wife Grete, and their longtime family nanny Sláva all survived together, thanks to the Sisters of the Convent among others — but it’s also a look at a remarkable time in history from a unique viewpoint, told by one of history’s unwilling participants.

Moritz Scheyer did not survive for many years after the war (P.N. Singer has been very helpful with an explanatory list of characters and an epilog in the book), but he died a free man in a free country, and that is something. The world is fortunate that he, and his remarkable and unique manuscript, survived.

This is a link to the Kindle edition of AsylumFrom that page you can find other editions, and it’s available cheap as a used book.

Latest Threat to Mullah World: Exploding Rocks

Ah, the Islamic Republic of Iran, where everyone except the nuclear physicists and rocket scientists is a product of several generations of first-cousin marriages.

Last year, a couple of their nuclear-weapons-base guards found a suspicious-looking rock adjacent to their voice and data cables. When they tried to handle it, it did a most unrocklike thing: it blew up.

Tentative conclusion: a foreign intelligence service’s bug just self-destructed.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops were inspecting data and telephone links to the Fordo nuclear facility in August when they found the rock, tried to move it and saw it explode, intelligence sources told the Sunday Times, according to Al Arabiya.

The ‘rock’ was able to intercept computer data from the facility, the newspaper reported on Sunday, citing those who surveyed parts of the device after the explosion.

They’re still a little bent out of shape about the whole “exploding” thing. Nothing’s supposed to explode unless the Supreme Leader says so, dammit.

(Idle question: is there a relationship between quality of governance in a nation, and presence of some dude, invariably dressed real funny, who styles himself “Supreme Leader”? And is that relationship inverse?)

The U.N. and western powers suspect Iran’s nuclear program is intended for the creation of weapons, but Iran insists it is for peaceful purposes.

Yeah, but their definition of “peaceful” is reenacting the Final Solution with hydrogen bombs.

The Fordo facility, near Qoms, is currently enriching uranium to a level close to the amount used in nuclear weapons, the Associated Press reports.

via Spy device disguised as rock reportedly explodes outside Iranian nuclear facility | Fox News.

They’re so keen on nuclear materials over there. Well, at the rate they’re going, they’re going to get plenty. Which is definitely going to be one of those, “Be careful what you ask for, because…” moments.

The Many Flavors of Strategic Reconnaissance

RT Asp, ready to go, 6 men. Top center is CPT Garry Robb, later Recon Co. Commander.

There’s combat reconnaissance, and there’s strategic reconnaissance.

What’s the difference, and why is one a SOF mission?

Combat reconnaissance is conducted locally by troops in contact or close to the battle area, in order to gather combat intelligence about the organization, disposition, and (ideally) intentions of the enemy. It is a standard infantry mission that every rifle unit from the fire team up can and does train on and conduct. Other branches also conduct combat reconnaissance — it;’s a major raison d’être for cavalry, and armor units often task-organize a reconnaissance element. It’s just good business. Reconnaissance elements try to be a stealthy as possible, without sacrificing mission accomplishment, and in the best cases conduct their reconnaissance covertly, undetected by the enemy. (This is very difficult to do. When the enemy’s  in range of your observations, you’re ipso facto in range of his).

Strategic reconnaissance is meant to winkle out the enemy’s organization, disposition, and (ideally) intentions from far beyond the battle area, including in his rear areas, safe areas or sanctuaries, and even his home bases and home nation. It often requires long and technical infiltrations (HALO, kayaks, scout swimming, crossing “impassible” mountains, SDVs). Some operations may be covert, some must be clandestine, and some may proceed under (in technical, tradecraft terms) cover. These technicalities are what pushes SR to SOF.

Strategic reconnaissance can be carried out, after a fashion, by aircraft, spacecraft, and drones, but so can tactical, combat reconnaissance. The initial use of aircraft in World War I was exclusively for combat intelligence, although both Germany and Britain evolved strategic aerial reconnaissance to support their early efforts at strategic bombing by the end of hostilities.

This RE. 8 was typical of Great War reconnaissance planes.

Some forms of reconnaissance, those involving your armed military personnel on, over, or under your enemy’s land, airspace or water, are violations of international law and present a potential casus belli. This type of strategic reconnaissance generally is kept on a short leash by national political authorities. For one example, during the Vietnam War, operations to penetrate North Vietnamese sanctuaries in nominally-neutral Cambodia and Laos — even reconnaissance operations — required National Command Authority (President/SECDEF) release, and in Laos, the longtime US Ambassador demanded to be notified of the insertion and extraction schedule and location of every reconnaissance team. Normally such high-ranking political officials do not concern themselves with the actions of six men led, usually, by a first- or second-enlistment sergeant; but when that sergeant is on a mission with high “International Incident” potential, all bets are off.

In the Vietnam War, one thing we did was determine the ground truth inside South Vietnam — something that the RVN would lie to each other about, never mind us longnoses — through a strategic process of area reconnaissance. The way this worked was to emplace Special Forces camps in all four military regions of South Vietnam, but especially in areas where enemy activity (combat or transit) was heavy. Each camp was manned by an A-Team, often some attachments, and a force of local combatants who were hired directly by SF, which got them higher pay than an ARVN draftee, arguably better leadership, and exemption from the RVN draft. Each team conducted reconnaissance around its camp and reported this ground truth back to Nha Trang, whence it went to RVN and US generals in Saigon and Cam Ranh Bay.

In the consolidation phase of the Afghanistan war, we did something similar, with teams sent to locations — the terminology for the locations varied, with safe house, team house, operating location and FOB all having a moment in the sun (here or there, now or then). The guys operating didn’t much care what home plate was called, as it was just a place to operate from and the unit was known by its callsign, wherever it was. (Use of 100% encrypted communications meant that awkward random callsigns could be dropped, and commanders could pick their callsigns, a temptation to grandiloquence that few commanders resisted).

Historically, there have been many brilliant reconnaissance operations that deserve deep study. One we have always admired for its practicality and daring was the Australian Coast Watchers in World War II. One-man (!) observation posts, defended and supported only by the loyalty of natives and relying on the jungle telegraph to stay ahead of Japanese patrols, kept the Allies informed of the travels of Japanese naval units and troopships, but also of the Achilles’s Heel of the Japanese Empire, merchant freighters and tankers. That information was put to work immediately to begin the long, hard work of strangling Japan.

(Interesting that earlier we wrote that it was a wartime adaptation, but actually, the site above reveals that Australian Naval Intelligence started a coast watcher network as early as 1919, and expanded it in 1935 in anticipation of hostilities. Good call).

It was a perfect example of a reconnaissance mode adapted to the enemy and the local conditions. Such a technique would not have worked as well against the Germans, given the much more built-up nature of Europe, and the deadly sophistication of Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst radio direction-finding and cryptanalysis. In Norway, similar coast-watching by agents of the government in exile or of separate British SIS or SOE networks found transmitting very hazardous, and were forced to adopt stringent transmission security measures. (They still were usually successful, as a group, in keeping London informed of the comings and goings of the Kriegsmarine, but at the cost of several individual radiomen),

It is likely that the Japanese broke the simple Playfair cipher used by the early Coastwatchers, if they collected enough ciphertext. The IJA and especially the IJN had sophisticated signals intelligence and cryptanalysis capabilities, and broke many Allied codes and ciphers. What the Japanese didn’t seem to have was a way to operationalize this codebreaking and use it to target the Coastwatchers. Those Coastwatchers who were rolled up (usually to be murdered by the Japanese) were usually betrayed by natives, or caught by dismounted patrols.

For a strategic reconnaissance element, fixed positions can be hazardous, but so can moving. That is one reason that good, effective SR teams tend to be small. Your chance of exposure increases exponentially with each additional man in your moving element, and exposure need not be directly to the enemy, to lead the enemy to you regardless.

Is One of the Special Operations Truths… False?

You may be familiar with the Special Operations Truths. Originally there were four; later, the fifth was added. They are:

  1. Humans are more important than hardware.
  2. Quality is better than quantity
  3. Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced
  4. Competent SOF cannot be created after emergencies occur.
  5. Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.

The history of the SOF Truths has been recounted in these pages in January, 2012.

We’re going to zero in on Number Four, which we’ve been thinking about for a while. And we’re wondering if it’s simply not true. 

Here is a partial list of United States SOF that were created in anticipation of some emergency, future, unspecified.

  1. Airborne Ranger Infantry Companies (1950)
  2. US Army Special Forces (1952). Although you can argue this was reactive to the Cold War.
  3. Navy SEa Air and Land Teams (SEALs, ~ 1961).
  4. 1st SFOD-D (~1977). Although you can argue this was reactive to ,the terrorist plague of the early 70s, the Israeli raid on Entebbe and the absence of any parallel US capability at the time.
  5. USMC Scout/Snipers (date of founding? He’p me out, hogs).
  6. Various small and secretive detachments with specific tasks if the Cold War went hot. (Det A / PSSE for example).

Here is a partial list of United States SOF that were created once the emergency was underway:

  1. Rogers’s Rangers (French & Indian War aka 7 Years’ War)
  2. Morgan’s Rifles (Revolution)
  3. All USA and CSA Sharpshooters and other SOF and quasi-SOF elements (Civil War)
  4. Ranger Battalions (WWII)
  5. OSS Jedburghs and Operational Groups (WWII)
  6. OSS Maritime Unit (WWII)
  7. Underwater Demolition Teams & forerunners (WWII)
  8. Ad hoc Filipino guerrillas (WWII)
  9. Alamo Scouts (WWII)
  10. Marine Raiders (early WWII)
  11. 1st Air Commandos (USAAF, WWII)
  12. MARS Task Force / Merrill’s Marauders (WWII)
  13. 1st Canadian-American Special Service Force (WWII)
  14. UNPIK (Korean War)
  15. LRRP / Ranger Companies (Vietnam)
  16. Recondo elements (VN)
  17. MAC-V SOG (VN)
  18. MIKE Force, MSF, MGF, ad-hoc combined units led by Special Forces (VN)
  19. Numerous small USAF “mobs for jobs” (VN)
  20. Task Force Ivory Coast / Son Tay Raiders (VN).

Here are units that were stood up in reaction to failures of ad-hoc units or improvised task forces:

  1. Special Operations Aviation Regiment and forerunners (US Army)
  2. JSOC, USSOCOM, and the whole constellation of star/flag commands created by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986.

We suspect an analysis of allied or competitor SOF history would demonstrate something similar. After all, among the things that define SOF are fitness for purpose and adaptability to situation.

Conclusion: it’s not only possible to create ad hoc units after the crisis is upon you, some legendary units were created that way. To be fair, it did take them one to two years of training to be combat effective, and it’s possible that the SOF Truth is just trying to jump-start that training ramp-up by having a force in being ante bellum, but that’s not what it says. 

It’s possible that our historical interests have led us astray, and we’re listing too many historic units in the “post crisis” side, and leaving out key elements in the “pre crisis” side. Commenters, what’s missing?

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Mosul Eye

If you’re looking for an eye on what’s happening in Iraq, on the front lines of the confusing civil war between Iraqi Shias and their Iranian terror-sponsoring allies, ISIL Sunnis and their Saudi terror-sponsoring allies, Iraqi Kurds and their lack of any real allies, and so many shape-shifting, allegiance-hopping, back-stabbing small factions that you can’t tell the players even with a program, we give you Mosul Eye.

It is a weblog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed, purportedly direct from the embattled northern Iraq town of Mosul (naturally). The author claims to be a historian resident in the city. There are some debates about the author’s actual identity, and certainly ISIL sympathizers including nominally-American functionaries of Moslem Brotherhood fronts have claimed that the site is an American or other foreign intelligence operation. That seems unlikely from the author’s Iraqi-flavored English, and from his criticisms of allied and specifically US forces (mostly for bombing areas he says are populated only by civilians). There are also a few “tells” that the author is, at least nominally, Sunni.

There is nothing specific about weapons here, but you will occasionally get updates from allied forces relayed through here, to the locals, but also updates from the locals relayed, perhaps, to the allied forces.

Updates are sometimes sporadic. Last Blog update at this writing was 2/26, but the Facebook and Twitter feeds are still regularly posting.

The Iraqi Civil War kicked off by the US invasion (and kicked into high gear by the 2011 US bugout) has been going on more than three times as long as the Spanish Civil War. No end to the suffering is imminent. One prays for the survival and success of the individual behind Mosul Eye, and the defeat of ISIL and other extremists.

An SF Brother Comes Home

Here is a video of one of the enoute Dignified Transfers of the remains of Special Forces Warrant Officer Shawn Thomas of 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. WO1 Thomas fell not in combat with an armed enemy, but in a motor vehicle accident in Niger, Africa, during a routine joint combined training/exercise deployment. That doesn’t make him any less dead, nor does it alter the grief of his wife, his friends and teammates, and, even, the crew and passengers of the plane that transported his remains.

We in the SF community are grateful to the aircrew, airline, and especially the passengers who showed such great respect, despite being inconvenienced.

Freedom isn’t free. In our eight or nine years of peacetime active duty, our Special Forces group lost men to electrocution, parachute mishaps, a Fulton STAR mishap, a skiing mishap, and even to entanglement in brush while crossing a stream swollen with snowmelt runoff. And, yes, motor vehicle accidents.  After going into the Reserves and Guard, we we less connected to the other battalions and companies in our Group, but we’d get word of fatal and serious accidents from time to time.

You can’t train for combat without some risky activities. And you can’t conduct risky activity indefinitely without rolling snake eyes some time.

In cases like this, where fallen service members are transported on commercial aircraft, it’s customary for the cockpit crew to hold the doors on the aircraft (with the exception of allowing an escort to debark) to allow the casket to be transferred with suitable dignity. As you can see in the video, the pallbearers — often from the decedent’s unit, and sometimes volunteers — and the mortuary personnel have a procedure for this and execute it with the maximum dignity to the memory of the fallen man, and the minimum inconvenience to other travelers.

Very occasionally, someone gets mouthy or disrespectful on the plane. You can’t eliminate a certain percentage of humanity being jerks. But it doesn’t happen much, because, after all, they’re already segregated — most of Hollywood and Congress flies by private jet.