Category Archives: Unconventional Warfare

A Bit of Cold War History

CIA SealOver at the CIA’s FOIA files, there’s a remarkable 1983 letter (.pdf) that more or less predicted the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, predicting the fall of the Soviet Union was a Cold War hobby of many people of many nationalities. Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik even wrote a book, Can the Soviet Union survive until 1984? Amalrik answered his question in the negative. He wasn’t so much wrong, as a few years ahead of the game.

A lot of people, especially among those with hands-on experience in the Soviet and slave-satellite system, predicted the fall of the USSR. But in the US intelligence community, those predictions were rare (and were resisted by the Soviet desk analysts). “Rare” is not the same thing as “nonexistent,” though, and today’s document is one of those rare exceptions.

This letter, from National Intelligence Council Vice-Chairman Herbert Meyer to the Director and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, was shocking in its prescience. He began by noting a marked uptick in violence and threats of violence in the late summer and fall of 1983: KAL 007, the Beirut bombings, the coup and US countercoup in Grenada, the now-forgotten Libyan invasion of Chad, terrorist murders of South Korean and Filipino politicians. Many of these events were aided, if not commanded, by the Soviet intelligence services.

He notes that the Soviet system was within decades of collapse, enumerates why, and points at some indicators of insecurity in the Kremlin:

Two Kremlin actions provide a good measure of Moscow’s domestic impotence. To boost the birthrate among Russian women — who average six abortions, according to recent, highly credible research — the Soviet Union has decided to offer Glory of Motherhood awards to women who bear large families. And to reform the world’s second-largest economy, Kremlin leaders last month ordered the execution, for corruption, of the poor devil who managed Gastronome Nº. 1, Moscow’s gourmet delicatessen. These feeble and pathetic actions are not those of a dynamic or even a healthy leadership responding to national emergency. They bring to mind neither Roosevelt in 1933 nor Reagan in 1981, but rather Nicholas II in 1910.

Meyer points out that Soviet officials who saw the possibility of Cold War victory slipping away — more likely fellows a few rungs down from the top, rather than the top-level leaders — might lose many of their inhibitions. Nevertheless, he considered the Cold War as good as won.

It has long been fashionable to view the Cold War as a permanent feature of global politics, when that will endure the next several generations at least. But it seems to me more likely that President Reagan was absolutely correct when he observed in his Notre Dame speech that the Soviet Union – “one of the histories saddest and most bizarre chapters” – Is entering its final pages. (We really should take up the President’s suggestion to begin planning for a post-Soviet world; the Soviet Union and its people won’t disappear from the planet, and we have not yet thought seriously about the sort of political and economic structure likely to emerge.) In short, the free world has outdistanced the Soviet Union economically, crushed it ideologically, and held it off politically. The only serious arena of competition left is military. From now on the Cold War will become more and more of a bare-knuckles street fight.

Some Insights into Drone Warfare

mq9 and JDAMsDeskbound managers, who have replaced leaders in most military operations these days, are extremely enthusiastic about drones. Combat leaders are somewhat less so, leading us to this:

Drones will not be late to briefings, start fights at happy hour, destroy Officers Clubs, attempt to seduce others’ dates, purchase huge watches, insult other military services, sing “O’Leary’s Balls,” dance on tables, yell “Show us your tits!” or do all of the other things that we know wins wars!

This quote is attributed to one “Ace” Jewell, CDR USN, Ret. about whom the source email says,  “Now about 88, Fighter Pilot in 3 wars and LSO extraordinaire.”

Those things he mentions do win wars. Do we need to explain why?

Zombie Headshots with Jerry Miculek

It’s amazing, but we can’t even keep up with all the gun stuff that’s coming out. So in order to get a post up that doesn’t require a ton of writing, we’re going to fob off another Jerry Miculek video on you. In this one, Jerry tries to reenact some of the script-driven trick shooting of the AMC series, The Walking Dead — using the same weapons some of the actors in the show use.

We have to confess, we watched The Walking Dead’s first two — or three? — seasons. The first season was fairly engaging, for a zombie flick, but the second season – or was it the third? – left us cold. The season that turned us off, whichever one it was, was one characterized by the former leader Rick spending all his time brooding, sighing, and generally acting morose. He looked like some escaped Royal Hospital for Overacting patient, emoting lugubriously amid his teethmarks on the scenery. The leader of a band of survivors in desperate times does not have the freedom to go moping about like the unwanted turkey-baster baby of Alanis Morissette and Sylvia Plath in a world without antidepressant meds. Who really cares about that? Not us, anyway.

We’re a little bemused by the whole zombie thing. Our best guess is, in the same way that Japanese monster movies of the 1950s were a distortion of the fear of nuclear war, that couldn’t  really be addressed by filmmakers at the time, the zombies are a decent proxy for Moslem terrorists, who Hollywood PC renders unusable as screen villains. It’s OK to whack zombies: they’re already dead, after all.

But we’re always in for some good killin’, or re-killin’ as the case may be.

And Jerry addresses a question that every shooter has to ask himself — are those running headshots even possible? Even Jerry, it seems can make a mistake, but when the Zombie Apocalypse strikes, he seems like a pretty good guy to have in your redoubt. He hits the walkers with AUG w/EoTech, “backwards-rotating” Colt Python, Mossberg 12-gauge pump, a Cold Steel Katana, and, naturally, a Barnett Crossbow. Laughing, naturally. Does he hit ‘em? Watch and see. (some good high-speed video, too).

It’s good to have him walk through the stage after shooting it, and explain what was going on.

Is it repeatable under stress? I dunno. They wasn’t attacking me. I was attacking them.

The coolest detail of all comes at the end: Jerry’s got a new reality show, Shootout Lane, in the works.  2nd Coolest detail? If you use the discount code JERRY10, you can save 10% on Zombie Industries targets (the ones in his zombie stage)., where the zombies are afraid of the humans – and that’s the way it should be.

(Hat tip: Guns Save Life. Thanks).

One Thing Tells You how the Bergdahl Investigation Went

mad-magazine-trading-private-bergdahlOne thing reveals the truth of what the Army discovered during its investigation of the alleged desertion of SGT Bowe Bergdahl: the Army won’t be releasing the report.

You may rest assured that if the report reflected well on Bergdahl, his unit, or the Army in general, the politicians-in-uniform at the Pentagon would have released, or at least leaked, the results by now. The absence of reporting means it’s bad news for one or more of those. Our informed guess is, it’s bad news for two of the three, but whenever it does finally come out, it will be spun to deflect most of the blame onto Bergdahl’s non-deserting comrades.

The Hill:

The Army has no plans to release the results of an investigation into Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture by the Taliban in 2009, a spokesman said Friday.

“We recognize the importance of the media and the public understanding of our investigative process, and look forward to future discussions on this issue. However, the Army’s priority is ensuring that our process is thorough, factually accurate, impartial, and legally correct,” Army spokesman Wayne Hall said in a statement.

via Army won’t release Bergdahl review | TheHill.

We’ve long suspected that Bergdahl deserted with some ill-formed or half-baked intent to collaborate, only to find that an infidel’s Taliban welcome — even a traitor’s — was less warm that Afghan hospitality usually tries to extend.

The swap for Bergdahl was a good deal for the Taliban. They got rid of a guy who was no use to them, and a hassle to feed and keep safe, and picked up five of their own guys who were in captivity. (From the Taliban point of view, it was a hostage rescue — their guys held hostage by us). It was a bad deal for the USA, unless you’re a closet Islamist or a peace-at-any-price white-flagger. Or Bowe Bergdahl’s mom, perhaps.

The Army, and Dahl, seemed to be trying very hard not to investigate Bergdahl.

This is not the first time. In the aftermath of the return of the Vietnam War, the military wanted nothing to do with prosecuting deserters and traitors among the prisoners, some of whom had gone over to the NVA for comforts or privileges or to get back at SROs in the camps. (SRO Ted Guy had brilliantly arranged for several loyal prisoners to infiltrate the Peace Committee, so the identities of the “ducks” or traitors were well known and there was a great deal of available evidence against them). The outrage of several of the loyal prisoners began to force the issue, and seven identified and named turncoats were selected for possible prosecution. Ted Guy filed charges, then another officer did likewise.

When it looked like a court-martial might actually happen, one of the guilty traitors, ex-Marine Abel Kavanaugh, spared the Corps a trial and shot himself in the left temple. Kavanaugh had made propaganda statements and broadcasts, and assisted the NVA in rooting out escape plans, in return for food and privileges. The Washington make-no-waves crowd was far more upset over this than they’d ever been about the torture and murders of prisoners. Then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird (the same DC crapweasel who thought the Son Tay Raiders deserved no more than the Army Commendation Medal(!), at the time the service’s lowest award), quickly pulled the plug on the court-martials of the remaining seven collaborators.

Abel was one of only two former POWs to commit suicide in the five years following their release (the other guy was not one of the 8 collaborators).

After the Korean War, many more Americans had collaborated (two hundred-odd out of ~7,000 taken captive, of whom some ~2,500 were murdered in captivity) but very few were put on trial (the Army alone court-martialed collaborators, 15 of them, one of whom had murdered at least three fellow prisoners).  The other services dealt with a few cases of similar misconduct administratively.

In any event, it was always, and remains, extremely unlikely that the military would prosecute a prisoner/collaborator, no matter how egregious his misconduct. After all, in 1954, the court-martials of the Korean War collaborarors were expremely controversial; in 1973, court-martials were too controversial even to try; the nation is no more united, nor interested in martial values in 2014 than it was forty or sixty years ago.

So the fix is in for Bergdahl, but they won’t go public until after the election.

Nobody Loves a Snitch (source, agent, informer, CI)….

spy vs spyNobody loves a snitch, not even the people they’re snitching to. But normally they take some precautions to keep the snitch from being whacked, kidnapped, or otherwise inconvenienced by the people he or she is snitching on.

The fundamental key to that is to keep the snitched-upon from knowing that their secrets are in play. Even if you despise, detest, or maybe at best don’t care an iota about your sources, you shouldn’t let them be burned, for the simple reason that it makes it a damned sight harder to recruit more sources.  This is true even if you’re a really outstanding recruiter (which is about as common as a solar eclipse, actually).

But the DEA apparently acts like they have informants to burn:

The court tells us what happened next: “In early 1995, DEA thwarted a plot to assassinate the Princess.” Then, in March of that year, a federal prosecutor informed a criminal defendant in Chicago — a defendant with connections to the cartels — that the Princess was a confidential informant. A few months later, “DEA in Rome, Italy, intercepted a conversation between drug traffickers that suggested the Princess’s cover had been compromised.”

You will not be surprised to learn that the agency sent her back anyway. And this time, her handler did not follow proper procedures for alerting the DEA’s people in Bogota that an informant was on the way.

Shortly after her arrival for that final trip, the Princess was kidnapped at gunpoint. She was held in a small hut for three and a half months, where she spent five days with a noose around her neck. Although the opinion of the Court of Claims says she was not physically abused, her interrogation became, in the words of the Princess’s own testimony, “a little bit I will say violent.” She was finally freed after an unnamed source paid a ransom of $350,000 “from his own funds.”

It gets better (? maybe “better” is the wrong word).

Ironically, the Princess was put at risk in part because the drug money she was supposed to be laundering was instead stolen by a supervisory agent, who later pleaded guilty to the theft of $760,000 and was sentenced to prison. But the Princess, pressed by the cartel on the whereabouts of their money, could hardly tell them that a fellow DEA employee had stolen it. So she made up a story instead — a story that was sufficiently weak that the cartel evidently began to suspect not that she was an undercover informant, but that she herself had stolen their money.

The country’s in the very best of hands, eh?

Again, you don’t reward and protect snitches because you like them. if you’re any kind of a decent human being, you probably don’t like them, because any snitch with the placement and access to be of any use to you is, at the barest of minima, one of your enemies. And the best placed snitch is someone who has endeared himself to your enemies by doing reprehensible things to your friends.

You reward and protect snitches because, repulsive though many of them are, you need them, and when the utility of this one is done you need another one, next. There are some agencies that get this (and open themselves up to charges of coddling their agents/sources/CIs). There are some agencies that, generally, don’t. These non-coddlers operate on the theory that a source is just another scumbag, and there’s always a fresh scumbag coming down the pike, usually with something you can use to get leverage over him.

But the word of how you treat these people does get out (criminals, and sources are usually criminals, have piss-poor opsec), and it’s just good business not to be That Guy who burns his sources.

Note: A Word about Definitions

The criminal investigation agencies tend to call human sources “informants” or “informers,” if they’re making some effort to protect the source’s identity, “confidential informants/ers”. They (usually) call their trained and sworn personnel “special agents.” Meanwhile, the intelligence agencies that conduct human source operations call their sources “agents” and the guys and gals that run the sources, “officers.” Meanwhile, since the Church Commission the military lawyers have been clutching their pearls about the idea that military personnel would run agents, so the service elements that you would expect to run agents never do any more. Nope, they run sources. Until they handover to another agency, when the terms used for the snitch and his handler may change.

That’s one tip for readers of spy novels — anybody who writes about a “CIA Agent” meaning an American professional CIA employee knows not whereof he speaks. The agents are the guys snitching out their country’s secrets to a COA officer. But since the mid-1970s, your friendly SF ODA 18F (who used to be called the intelligence sergeant before his job was renamed) no longer trains and certifies as an agent handler (which used to be the name of the course, run at since-defunct Ft. Holabird).  He might know a thing or two about sources, but good luck finding out from him.

ISIL: No fun being right

The author of this piece in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn, is one of a family of Irish Communist journalists; while they all have had a kind word for Stalin, Brezhnev, or Andropov, who from time to time enriched them, none of them has ever had a kind word for the United States, and that familial hostility permeates Patrick Cockburn’s copious writings about Iraq, which tend to exemplify prose fellatio of Muqtada al-Sadr much the way he father performed the figurative act for Uncle Joe, back in the day.

Yet, even with the this-guy-hates-us-so-much-he’s-cheering-ISIL discount applied, it’s hard to disagree with what Cockburn is saying in this case:

In the face of a likely Isis victory at Kobani, senior US officials have been trying to explain away the failure to save the Syrian Kurds in the town, probably Isis’s toughest opponents in Syria. “Our focus in Syria is in degrading the capacity of [Isis] at its core to project power, to command itself, to sustain itself, to resource itself,” said US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, in a typical piece of waffle designed to mask defeat. “The tragic reality is that in the course of doing that there are going to be places like Kobani where we may or may not be able to fight effectively.”

Unfortunately for the US, Kobani isn’t the only place air strikes are failing to stop Isis. In an offensive in Iraq launched on 2 October but little reported in the outside world, Isis has captured almost all the cities and towns it did not already hold in Anbar province, a vast area in western Iraq that makes up a quarter of the country. It has captured Hit, Kubaisa and Ramadi, the provincial capital, which it had long fought for. Other cities, towns and bases on or close to the Euphrates River west of Baghdad fell in a few days, often after little resistance by the Iraqi Army which showed itself to be as dysfunctional as in the past, even when backed by US air strikes.

via War against Isis: US strategy in tatters as militants march on – Comment – Voices – The Independent.

The failure, ultimately, is a failure of will: there is no will to win on the American side. Well, there is, but not at the policy-making level. Only at the policy-implementing level, where the people are wearing uniform collars, something that is never wrapped around the neck of anyone calling the shots in DC. (Well, except Chuck Hagel, who seems to be content playing Iscariot to the boys and girls in uniform. Or maybe that analogy is over the top, and who he’s playing is actually Macnamara. Which only puts Judas at one more remove, actually).

The many pale talents of the Obama “national security” team run together in our mind, so we  don’t remember whether Tony Blinken was the guy who was a speechwriting wunderkind, the guy who drove a campaign van, or the guy hired as a playmate for the Portuguese Water Dog. But whichever one he is, all he knows about Iraq is that he’s superior enough to be swollen with contempt for all you dumb clucks who went there.

Exercise for the reader: find the parvenu in strategic circles in World War II who is the most fitting analogue for Tony Blinken.

As far as ISIL’s ongoing victories in the face of the ineffective bombing being done with one eye on the media and one on the midterms (leaving none for the target, the enemy, or friendly forces), well, we predicted it but it isn’t fun being right in this case.

Ebola Update

The PDF report attached to this page is a recent Department of Homeland Security’s “Biosurveillance Event Report” on the current Ebola epidemic. It’s not on the DHS website but it’s kicking around; we got it through DOD channels.

(U) Ebola in West Africa-Biosurveillance Event Report (DHS-NBIC).pdf

This was not released to the public, but to state, local and tribal LE on 1 October, so it’s five days old.  In some ways it is either overcome by events, or deliberately misrepresenting them: for example, it does not note that the Dallas Ebola patient was an immigrant from Liberia. This may be because maintaining immigration West Africa is a higher priority for DHS than combating Ebola is. Why is West Africa important? We have no idea why its interests come above US interests at DHS, but we can explain why it’s important to the Ebola epidemic.

Here’s a graphic from the report:


One warning: these numbers are as good as you can get in places like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which have the infrastructure and reporting capability of, say, Detroit. Most everybody suspects these figures are wildly lowball.

Note well that this epidemic is there, not here. Yet. Despite the best efforts of DHS.

As you see, West Africa is the seat of the disease. And if West Africa is the seat, Monrovia, Liberia is the aperture one finds in the center of a seat:


Now you understand why most civilized countries are no longer admitting Liberian immigrants, at least until this contagion subsides. You’d have to ask Jeh Johnson why we still are.

DHS and Bio-D

If you look at the history of the DHS’s National Biosurveillance Integration Center, you quickly realize that its nominal mission, as briefed on many scores of slide decks…


… has nothing to do with its actual mission, which can be concisely stated as, “pry as many bio-defense dollars away from the real enemies, DOD and CTC, as possible, and do as little as possible with the money once we’ve got it.”

Is this a BW Attack?

No, absolutely not. One of the major fears we’ve had since the emergence of these viral hemmoraghic fevers is that somebody would weaponize them. The Soviets, for example, did work to weaponize Ebola, Marburg etc. at Biopreparat before the end of the USSR, and informed observers believe that modern Russia continues its Soviet-era offensive bioweapons program (and continues to export this technology to rogue states). But Ebola is pretty hard to handle (no vaccine, no cure, very deadly, the classic BioSafetyLevel IV pathogen) and nothing we’ve learned from sequencing its common strains hints that it can readily be weaponized. To be a bioweapon for a nation state, a pathogen needs to be selective, in that it has to target the enemy, and not friendlies. An apocalyptic-ideology terrorist group might not mind so much, but nation-states are nothing if not bent on survival.

But scientists and war-makers don’t need to weaponize a pathogen when natural selection is already working on it. Ebola’s very deadliness has, in the past, helped contain it to dark places on the Dark Continent. The old Ebola strains are not terribly good parasites: they kill their hosts before the hosts can pass the pathogen on. This emerging strain is less rapidly deadly, which is worse. It means it spreads more widely, more rapidly because sick patients have time to spew virus-loaded fluids all over their caretakers, loved ones, and objects that people will handle. So for the first time, Ebola has really broken out and infected — and killed — thousands.

Conclusion, In Which We Channel DHS Managers

Remember, we’d like to avoid transmission of Ebola insofar as possible, but not if it’s going to interfere with open borders vis-a-vis Liberia.

Some day, we’d like to list the greatest achievements of the Department of Homeland Security, but we don’t think the content management system will allow the posting of a blog post that short.

We weren’t the only ones to call the futility of anti-IS plans

"So Long, Mom, I'm off to drop the bomb, so don't wait up for me." (Actually F-15Es RTB after busting ISIL trucks. USAF photo).

“So Long, Mom, I’m off to drop the bomb, so don’t wait up for me.” (Actually F-15Es RTB after busting ISIL trucks in Syria, 23 Sep 14. USAF photo, SrA Matthew Bruch). Click to embiggen.

Angelo Codevilla, writing in The Federalist:

This indulgence so overwhelms our ruling class’s perception of reality that the recipes put forth by its several wings, little different from one another, are identical in the one essential respect: none of them involve any plans which, if carried out, would destroy the Islamic State, kill large numbers of the cut-throats, and discourage others from following in their footsteps. Hence, like the George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and for the same reasons, this exercise of our ruling class’s wisdom in foreign affairs will decrease respect for us while invigorating our enemies.

via Washington’s Ruling Class Is Fooling Itself About The Islamic State.

In order to win a war, you have to decide, commit, and act to win the war. You can’t “send a message.” You can’t “contain” an enemy who has reached the point of armed marauding. You need to reach down in your pockets and find the will to strike and destroy him, and bedamned to the collateral damage, and bedamned to any notion of proportionality and restraint. These guys need to know that when they take their wife-beatin’, Shia-shootin’, throat-cuttin’ show on the road the reviews are going to be critical — and kinetic, and so disproportional it shocks the conscience.

Then, they will be either deterred from doing it because they’re dead, or deterred from doing it because they’re so abjectly crushed, beaten, and terrified. The name of that end state is Victory. We used to know how to do that.

Now we (or the soi-disant Ruling Class, at least) don’t even know that we want to do that.

Meanwhile the Pentangle can’t even Launch a Website

We’d feel better about the DOD’s ability to launch a strike against the so-called Islamic state, if they were able to launch something smaller like a website. On October 3, RADM Jack Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, announced the launch of a “new”and “live”  DOD information website on the strikes against ISIL: But the URL isn’t new, isn’t live or isn’t correct; it redirects to a URL nearly a month old: (Click either link, you wind up behind Door #2). The map is updated every couple of days, when the Pentagon workers can fit the work in between diversity training, annual training on the favorite hobby-horse of the last 18 Chiefs of Staff or JCS Chairmen, and leaving early to beat the Metro rush. Currently the site boasts 334 strikes on, mostly, empty buildings, individual trucks and Land Rovers, and daytime positions struck by night whilst empty, and further claims that these strikes have “caused ISIL to change tactics.” — A rather modest claim, and one for which there is even more modest evidence. Kirby’s explanation of how they have changed tactics? “They’ve gotten better at concealment.” In other words, our ineffective pinpricks are already in the realm of diminishing returns.

And Yes, they’re Ineffective Pinpricks

Oct. 5th claims were that, in Iraq:

U.S. military forces used attack, bomber, fighter and helicopter aircraft to conduct six airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq.

Four strikes northeast of Fallujah struck two mortar teams, a large ISIL unit and two small ISIL units. One strike southeast of Hit destroyed two ISIL humvees. One strike northeast of Sinjar destroyed an ISIL Humvee.

And in Syria:

One strike northwest of Al Mayadin destroyed an ISIL bulldozer, two ISIL tanks and destroyed another ISIL vehicle. Two strikes northwest of Ar Raqqah struck a large ISIL unit and destroyed six ISIL firing positions.

Translation: we’re busting finger-countable numbers of dozers and trucks uncountable (and uncounted) sums of money, using $30k smart bombs from $65k/hour jets. And the translation of “destroyed firing positions” is “we blew up some holes in the ground.” In Iraq or Syria, who can tell the difference between ground blow’d up by an American jet and ground that’s just trashed by the inhabitants’ world-famous standards of hygiene and sanitation?

DOD Stimulus: Buy a $50k HMMWV. Spend $5k shipping it to Iraq (you could ship it for less, but Congress requires it to be handled by American union workers every step of the way). Pull out so that the Iraqis panic and ISIL gets it. Spend $200k mounting airstrikes to blow it up. Come back tomorrow for another HMMWV.

Extra geopolitical / econ bonus: 45¢ of every one of those dollars is either borrowed from China, or from your own grandkids through Fed sleight-of-hand.


Anatomy of a Friendly Fire Incident

This disaster, which took place on 9 June 2014, is a classic “chain of errors” mishap. Several players in this tragedy made critical mistakes and misjudgments. They misunderstood each other’s capabilities. If any one of the errors hadn’t happened, the friendlies wouldn’t have died. If the chain had only been broken at any point, they’d still be alive today. So there’s a lot to learn from this one.

But the chain built itself, link by link, and no one took action that would have broken any of the links. Even as the bombs whistled through the air from the B-1 that launched them, no one understood exactly where they were going to hit, or who occupied that ground. The result was a pair of powerful bombs landing directly on a small group of friendly soldiers, killing two Special Forces operators, one EOD man, two infantrymen, and an Afghan NCO.

All six men were killed instantly. One was practically vaporized. There were two men from 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group home-based at Ft. Campbell; two riflemen from 2/12 Infantry, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division; an EOD engineer; and an Afghan soldier/interpreter, Sergeant , Afghan National Army.

Who were these guys?

jason_mcdonaldBoth of the SF soldiers killed were weapons men. SSG Jason McDonald was 28. In his ten years in the Army, he’d managed to serve in the 3rd Ranger Battalion (earning his Tab at Ranger School) and conventional infantry before volunteering, selecting, and qualifying for SF.

He had been a rowback instructor at the Special Warfare Center and School before getting his dream assignment as a weapons man on an ODA. He wanted action, and 5th Group had it; he had multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan behind him. He was an indirect-fire ace who had mastered grenade launchers and mortar employment.

scott_studenmundSSG Scott Studenmund, 24, was a type that one sees in SF; call him a gentleman ranker. The Californian son of a successful high-tech entrepreneur (former CEO of EHarmony), he had dreamed all his life of serving as a Green Beret. He was called, and then he was chosen; let’s remember his name. Scott was an 18B and a trained sniper (SOTIC Course) and combat diver (considered the physically toughest course in SF). He was his parents’ only son and his sister’s only brother.

While the SF guys are “our” guys, the Special Operations Truths teach us that no SOF mission can be conducted without support from general-purpose forces, and three conventional Army soldiers died alongside their SF brothers; these others deserve memory as well. Justin Helton was not just an EOD tech from Fort Bragg, he was a young man (25) engaged to be married. CPL Justin Clouse, a rifleman, was from Washington state, a high school athlete and avid outdoorsman. His life plan included marrying his sweetheart after he left the Army. He was only 22. PVT Aaron Toppen was only 19, but mature for his age; like Studenmund, he had long dreamed of serving. Had he lived, no one would have been surprised to see him go to Selection, or to make the Army his career.

Finally, Sergeant Gulbuddin Ghulam Sakhi, 2nd Kandak, Afghan National Army, fought alongside his American friends, and died with our foes in his gunsights. His remains, due to the circumstances, were sent to the USA alongside the Americans’, and so he was not buried by sundown in accordance with his faith. Indeed, depending on how well the technicians do on identifying the remains, he may wind up interred with his fellow warriors in Arlington. That might be hard on his family, but it would do our illustrious dead no dishonor to have him in their ranks.

Things Like This have Happened Before

This may have been the single largest Friendly Fire incident of the war, but it’s not the only one by any means. Four Canadians were killed in April 2002, by F-16 pilots who had “fangs out”. Three Special Forces soldiers were killed in December, 2001 by a B-52-dropped JDAM mistakenly called on their own position by an enlisted tactical air controller, and one SF warrant officer and several Afghan irregulars were killed by an AC-130H crew that stayed on position despite nav systems failure, and that had lost awareness of their situation and both their own and the ground friendlies’ location.

How Did This Happen?

JDAM: Delivering 72 virgins since 2001. The smallest in this illustration is the GBU-38 kit attached to the Mk82 500-lb bomb.

JDAM: Delivering 72 virgins since 2001. The smallest in this illustration is the GBU-38 kit attached to the Mk82 500-lb bomb, the weapon employed in this case.

There is an official report, received by Air Force Magazine pursuant to a FOIA request. This report has been moderately redacted; but it’s quite possible to follow the action in the report. The redaction is fairly inept; for example, the redact which specific type of GBU was used, but a footnote reveals that it was a 500 pound coordinate-seeking bomb, ergo, probably, a GBU-38 JDAM, a Mk82 bomb with a GBU kit. And they redact the specific delay that was used on the bomb, but the footnote reveals that it was 5 milliseconds.

We meant to link to the report at Air Force Magazine, but they have stuck it behind a paywall. Here is the back-up copy from Weaponsman:


To make the long story, in the report, short: the ground element command did not have situational awareness on the location of all their people. The air element couldn’t really distinguish anybody on the ground, and the technology they used could not recognize the IR IFF patches and IR strobe lights used by the friendlies. (The aircrew was using a thermal-imaging pod, which “sees” heat, not light, not a FLIR pod, which “sees” light beyond the human visual range and would have seen the strobes and reflective patches. Everybody on the ground and in the air misunderstood this limitation of the targeting pod).

As a result, the aircrew were cleared to deliver ordnance on a specific position, which they did perfectly… on the small element of maneuvering Americans and their interpreter. All were killed instantly.

This was not the sort of mishap where you can point and say, “there is the error, or he is the bozo.” Everybody involved in the contact was doing the best, and all the holes in the swiss cheese of accident protection just lined up… and let the mishap through.

You may be sure that everybody in the SF community (and ground forces in general, because the same procedures are used by everybody), and everybody in the close air support community who delivers ordnance for them, has read this report and absorbed the lessons contained within. They will emerge from this more lethal to the enemy, and safer to friendlies.

Unfortunately, that kind of improvement sometimes comes on the bones of casualties. May they rest in peace, and may their survivors find some semblance of comfort in the knowledge that their deaths, tragic though they were, taught us things that will prevent many more mishaps in the future.

Sources & Contemporaneous Stories

Ahmed, Saeed, & Alsup, Dave. Retrieved from:

Kedney, Dan. Report: Friendly Fire Incident Kills 5 U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan. Time Magazine, 10 Jun 2014. Retrieved from:

Uncredited. Attrition: Friendly Fire Fades Away. Strategy Page, 23 Jun 14. Retrieved from:

Uncredited. Investigation report findings released. Washington, Air Combat Command, USAF. 14 Sep 2014. Retrieved from:

More Evidence the Unguided Air Strikes are Failing

We told you they would fail. Then we told you they did fail. Now everybody, it seems, is going, “Wowzers, these strikes have failed?” No kidding, Mr Holmes.

First, CNN interviewed an ISIL spokesman. Never one to let distance stand in the way of getting the anti-American propaganda out to the masses, the network famous for its founding by Mr Jane Fonda and its cradling of serial fabricator Peter Arnett’s meteoric career gave the microphone (via Skype) and outsourced its reporting to one Abu Tahla. (Exercise for the reader: go on CNN as a spokesman for a government agency or some other force of world civilization, as opposed to a force against. See if they will accommodate your desire to use a pseudonym).

We’ve been ready for this for some time. We know that our bases are known because they’re tracking us with radars and satellites, so we had backup locations.

We have revenues other than oil. We have other avenues, and our finances are not going to stop just because of oil losses.

They thought they knew everything. But thank God, they don’t know anything. And God willing, we will defeat the infidels.

They hit us in some areas, and we advance in others. If we are pushed back in Iraq, we advance in northern Syria. These strikes cannot stop us, our support or our fighters.

Now, that is enemy propaganda, to be sure (we did give you the trigger warning that it was on CNN, after all), but it doesn’t sound like propaganda from an outfit that’s getting its ass kicked. It doesn’t sound desperate, like, for instance, President Obama’s insistence that the Islamic State is not Islamic. (Flashback: “I’m a better _____ than my _____s” hubriscade; is he a better mullah than their mullahs? He seems to think so).

CNN also did a smidgen of actual reporting, although it doesn’t show up until after 11 grafs dedicated to helping the enemy get his message out. They interviewed an ISIL quitter, also under a pseudonym, Abu Omar. AO agrees with his former co-beheader Abu Tahla: the strikes were telegraphed in advance, so ISIL prepared, and the strikes hit nothing of consequence:

They almost entirely emptied out the headquarters. Some equipment they hid in civilian neighborhoods. Some they hid underground.

No word on whether the CNN reporter that took those notes, Arwa Damon, is a real person or another jihadi pseudonym.

But we would note that eyes on the ground would have observed the conversion of the HQ to a decoy. Eyes on drone screens half a world away, or looking at SIGINT plots, wouldn’t. (At the very best, SIGINT tells you where an emitter’s antenna is, wait, was).

Business Insider notes that the actions of ISIL speak for something closer to Abu Tahla’s dismissive words than the Air Force, Navy, and Obama Administration’s vain boasting about the air and drone attacks:

Concerningly, Abu Tahla’s remarks are echoed by the situation on the ground. Despite airstrikes, ISIS has advanced almost completely to the Turkish border in northern Syria. Only the Kurdish city of Kobane remains defiant to ISIS aggression, although the Kurds defending the city are thoroughly outgunned by the recent jihadist advance.

There is also concern that US and coalition airstrikes against ISIS are legitimizing the jihadists since there aren’t simultaneous efforts to remove Syrian President Bashar Hafez Assad from power. Prominent analyst Hassan Hassan, with the Delma Institute, notes that the airstrikes are doing little actual damage to the militants while increasing their standing as a resistance organization.

via CNN Interviews ISIS Fighter Who Calls Airstrikes Ineffective – Business Insider.

So let’s have a shufti at what other Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant propaganda has said.

Meet John Cantlie

John Cantlie (pronounced “Cantlee,” not “Can’t lie” — he’s a reporter after all), a British celebrity reporter held hostage by the terrorists, has appeared now in three videos as a “news reader” in orange beheading-suit, reading ISIL propaganda messages purporting to be “news releases” written in unerring, fluent, idiomatic English, presumably by Cantlie himself. (We won’t post hostage videos here, you’ll have to content yourself with a twitpic from some terror symp, but they’re not hard to find).

John Cantlie propaganda

Cantlie’s third video was in response to Obama’s vain, boasting speech and he didn’t say much about it that Obama’s American critics missed. Cantlie noted, as did just about everybody but Obama and his retinue, the typical boast about the greatness of American leadership, meaning, of course, himself. (Maybe we should go back and capitalize that H). And Cantlie noted that ISIL was ready for “Obama’s under-construction army.”

It was all disappointingly predictable; America is good, the Islamic State is bad; and they will be defeated using aircraft and a motley collection of fighters on the ground.

It’s hard to see how this hotch potch army with a long history of under-performing is going to be any form of credible infantry.

One of the more interesting details in Cantlie’s latest video is his explanation, familiar to students of the region, that ISIL does not consider the religious minorities that they murder “innocents,” but “worse than Americans”.

[T]he Shia are … apostates claiming to be Muslims while worshipping the dead.

Cantlie, who has undoubtedly been threatened off-camera, was captured in 2012 but escaped, and remained in Syria, only to be captured again a few months later. Now he’s got the story of his lifetime, but he may not be around to write it. Journalists who did not cooperate with their ISIL captors, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were beheaded; British aid worker David Haines has also been beheaded and another British aid worker, Alan Henning, has been identified as next up. For now, Cantlie signs off his videos: “Join me again, for the next program.”

The black background is in keeping with ISIL’s distinct visual style, but it is also meant to deny Allied intelligence agencies any information about his location. Extensive leaks from US intelligence agencies exposed how analysts have exploited details in earlier terrorist videos.

Sometimes the ISIL Propagandists Blow It

Now, ISIL is not always skilled at propaganda. They’ve released this video that purports to show a ineffictive strike on an artillery piece (Soviet M46 130mm gun, an excellent long-ranging piece that caused lots of trouble in the Vietnam war — Russia has always been great at artillery). The strike blows up the gun with a JDAM, but the enemy crew miraculously suffer no casualties.

Is it the protection of Allah? Don’t be silly; what it is, is an obvious fake. For one thing, a JDAM isn’t quite going to hit center of the gun barrel like that; for another, it’s not going to leave guys within 100 meters standing. But we don’t need to go to logic, we can see that  it’s a bad edit job on this video, or perhaps both are edits of an earlier parent video:

This video, in which the speaker identifies these guys as members of Jabhat al-Nusra (listen for it; the Al-Nusra Front is an Al-Qaeda affiliate that has fought both alongside and against ISIL) just shows an overloaded gun blowing, possibly being deliberately detonated. But then, this video appears to be propaganda, too, so who knows what it really means?

If you’re going to operate in the Middle East, get used to being lied to. These guys lie for advantage, and sometimes they lie even against their best interests because the habit is so deeply ingrained.

Heck, that’s why we don’t like ‘em. They’re just like our own politicians!

Guess What Happens Next?

So… what’s going to happen, if the unguided air strikes don’t work?

Guided air strikes. US, British, and Australian SOF are on the ground already.