Monday, October 24, 2016

Mosul offensive: ISIS militants fleeing to Syria, says tribal leader - CNN

...Sheikh Abdullah Alyawer, a tribal leader in the town of Rabia, on Iraq's border with Syria, told CNN Monday that dozens of ISIS militants and their families were fleeing the city each day, and crossing into Syria at Ba'aaj, an ISIS-controlled crossing point south of Sinjar.
The route was entirely along corridors under ISIS control, he said. Fleeing civilians with no affiliation to ISIS usually ended up in the Syrian town of al Houl, which is under Kurdish control, he said....

bth: so if not ISIS then destination is al Houl?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Turkish support 'crucial' in fight against Daesh - AA


Dr. Omar Ashour, senior lecturer in Middle East Politics and Security Studies at the U.K.’s University of Exeter, underlined that Turkey’s support to Syrian opposition forces was crucial in the fight against Daesh.
“The level of intelligence, military, security support given to the mainly pro-revolution armed opposition from Turkey is very crucial in limiting Daesh expansion in the north of Aleppo, Raqqah and elsewhere,” he said. ...

“The existence of Daesh is really a function of state collapse. People have glamorized them, exaggerated this trend. […] Daesh has grown when states have collapsed,” Sayyid said.
Ashour said a credible governing alternative to Daesh should be created in Syria to replace the terror group once it is expelled. ...

He also claimed the U.S.’ expectations of Turkey were basically about American interests which could diverge from Ankara's.
Meanwhile, Ashour claimed the U.S. mainly expected Turkey to go along with its plans in Syria.
“[The U.S.] is mainly empowering anyone who fights Daesh, including the YPG and PKK offshoot, while forgetting about [the] authoritarian regime in Syria, forgetting about the root causes of the crisis,” he said.
The academics also criticized the security policies of the U.S. on Syria. “The U.S. is not facing a terrorist campaign [which is] blowing up, killing both Turkish security officials and civilians, committed by the PKK,” Ashour said.
He added Turkey was also affected by the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad, the accompanying humanitarian crisis, security issues plus the nearly three million refugees who are under Ankara’s protection.
“And [the U.S.] has no interest in helping in this dimension. It focuses mainly Daesh,” he added....

-bth: interesting expression of the Turkish perspective on Syria and US policy for the region.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Pentagon Must Stop Abusing the War Budget - The National Interest

...The revelation was recently confirmed by Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col Eric Badger. Badger acknowledged that this year’s request for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account – the formal term for the war budget – contains $30 billion for “enduring requirements” that have always been funded whether or not the nation was at war....
Budget analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has noted that the Pentagon’s admission “directly contradicts what DOD submitted to Congress . . . DOD is effectively acknowledging that it misled Congress and the public in its budget submission."  The department’s FY2017 budget proposal did partially lift the veil on this practice by noting that $5.2 billion of its OCO request was for non-war costs.  But it ends up that the proper figure was six times that amount.  Given this reality, it is not surprising that organizations like the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have suggested that the Pentagon has been using the war budget as a “slush fund” to pay for all manner of items that don’t fit within its regular funding stream....

bth: DoD is deliberately gaming the budget. But on the other hand Congress has failed to pass a budget once again so it looks like DoD is using the contingency fund to handle new projects and their budget over runs.

Prominent Russian separatist commander killed in eastern Ukraine - Reuters

A prominent Russian separatist commander was assassinated in eastern Ukraine on Sunday evening, his allies said on Monday, accusing Ukrainian government forces of murdering him to try to destabilize an already fragile ceasefire.
Arseny Pavlov, a Russian national who went by the nom de guerre "Motorola", was blown up in the lift of his apartment building in Donetsk together with his bodyguard, according to Eduard Basurin, deputy defense minister in the government of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic.....

In a 2015 telephone interview with the Kyiv Post newspaper, a man who identified himself as Pavlov was recorded as saying he had murdered 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war. ...

bth: This wasn't the first attempt. There was another attempt on him in his car which injured him in August. Between rebel rivals and Ukrainian nationalists it is hard to say who got to him first.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Turkey Carries Out Major NATO Purge - Reuters

Turkey has fired hundreds of senior military staff serving at NATO in Europe and the United States following July’s coup attempt, documents show, broadening a purge to include some of the armed forces’ best-trained officials.
In a classified military dispatch seen by Reuters, 149 military envoys posted to the alliance’s headquarters and command centers in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain were ordered on Sept. 27 to return to Turkey within three days.
Most were dismissed from service on their arrival, arrested and imprisoned, according to a Turkish military official at NATO and two farewell letters sent by departing Turkish officials emailed to colleagues at NATO and seen by Reuters.
One of those letters wrote of a “witch-hunt” of senior air force commanders serving overseas....

But dismissed NATO soldiers say they were targeted because of their Western outlook and education in Europe and the United States. They believe that puts them at odds with Erdogan’s vision of an Islamic Turkey inspired by the Ottoman empire, unable to fit in with what they see as Turkey’s pious masses and a president forging a nation that will not be dictated to by foreigners.
One dismissed staff member, Colonel Aziz Erdogan, wrote: “The common denominator of these victims is that all of them have a ... Western educational background and secular mindset.” Erdogan, who is no relation of the president, made the comment in a letter entitled “Unfortunate Farewell” to colleagues at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Center of Gravity

The COG six-box grid as put forward by Dr Joe Strange is the standard tool employed by NATO and many other national militaries.
Figure 1: Centre of Gravity Analysis Matrix
However, the methodology to fill in the boxes is left to intuition and is certainly absent from the Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive (COPD).[vi]  Neither does the COPD tell us how this analysis can be used throughout the planning process. I have found the six-step methodology proposed by Dr Dale Eikmeier[vii] to be logical and productive, especially in group working:
  • Step 1: identify the organization’s desired ends or objectives.
  • Step 2: identify the possible “ways” or actions that can achieve the desired ends.  Select the ways that the organization is most likely to use to achieve its objectives, expressed as verbs.  Ways = critical capabilities.
  • Step 3: list the organization’s means available to execute these critical capabilities. 
  • Step 4: select the entity from the list of means that inherently possess the critical capability to achieve the end. This selection is the COG.  It is the doer of the action that achieves the ends.
  • Step 5:  from the remaining items on the means list; select those that are critical for execution of the critical capability.  These are the critical requirements. These critical requirements are supporting means that enable the COG, the supported entity to perform the critical capability.
  • Step 6: identify those critical requirements or components of the critical requirements that are vulnerable to adversary actions. 
  • Step 7: draw conclusions from the analysis to include a feel for what would happen over time, should these vulnerabilities be exploited.
This will help us fill-in the grid and explain/ justify our findings.  The team of experts we draw together need to have already conducted a thorough analysis of the subject area, including systems and systemic analysis (perhaps more on this on another occasion).  The methodology was tested against NATO’s well-established COG (cohesion of the Alliance)[viii] and that of Russia,[ix] as defined by several prominent scholars (centralised/ polarised power).  Whilst both test cases fully supported the COGs as defined, the stepped analysis revealed important insights for plan development. ...

bth; the source article is worth a read in full. It describes applications of this at tactical and strategic levels.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Is Syria about to go hungry?

See this article from Reuters regarding the Syrian government's inability to finance wheat purchases from Russia.

Main quotes:

"ABU DHABI/MOSCOW, Oct 5 Syria is looking to finance a 1 million tonne wheat purchase from political ally Russia in an attempt to fill its supply gap after war and poor rainfall nearly halved its local crop.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad was forced to tender this summer for an unprecedented 1.35 million tonnes of imported wheat from Russia to ensure supply of the flat loaves that are a staple for the Syrian people...."

Assad needs to finance about 1 million tonnes. Note in the statement below that they have agreed on the pricing but Syria cannot finance the purchases with the Russians of all people.

"We have received 16 offers and have presented several scenarios for funding and we are awaiting the approval of one of them in order to proceed," the Syrian government source said.
The financing of the deal could be through immediate payment or through various credit facility options, he said without elaborating.

It was not clear when a final decision would be made.
In Moscow, a source in Russia's Agriculture Ministry said his government would only provide 100,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian aid but the rest would have to be paid for...."

It goes on to say the wheat harvest is the lowest in 27 years.

"...Two Russian agriculture sources said Syria might only be able to pay for a total of 250,000 tonnes of wheat and not the whole quantity of one million tonnes for which Hoboob is tendering.
Syria has previously tapped frozen funds in foreign bank accounts to step up purchases of food stocks including wheat. It has also relied on Iranian credit lines.
Syria's economy has been hurt by a depletion of foreign reserves that were estimated at around $16-18 billion before the conflict...."

Now the Syrian government ran out of foreign reserves about May of this year and its currency then collapses. What I find unusual about this situation is that the Russian government is literally unwilling to provide 1 million tonnnes of wheat that they actually have produced and are ready to sell to Syria, but not without cash. One also has to wonder how such tonnage would be shipped.

Earlier this month the Syrian government vehemently denied that it had been importing contaminated wheat as reported by the government of Lebanon.

IED Drone Kills Kurdish Soldiers, French Commandos - Popular Science

On October 2nd, in Irbil, Iraq, a drone flown by ISIS injured two French paratroopers, who were supporting Kurdish forces. Two Peshmerga, or Kurdish soldiers, were killed in the blast, according to French newspaper Le Monde. The attack is possibly the first where a drone fitted with an improvised explosive device has inflicted casualties on troops from a Western nation.

bth: there is every reason to think this will be part of a long trend. Hezbollah has been using drones to drop grenades in Syria against rebels for months.  So to see ISIS using it as well is no surprise.  It is only a matter of time before drones are also used as a means of political assassination. Small low flying and quick drones are going to be very difficult to defend against. Laser tools for blinding, GPS spoofing and netting are obvious short term solutions, but that will not be enough.

¡El buque HSV-2 atacado con un misil CHINO en Yemen!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Black Market Kings of Damascus - The Atlantic

Excellent article out of the Atlantic on the black market in Syria.

"Syria is enduring its sixth year of war, and most people living in government-controlled areas like Damascus continue to suffer from a crippling economic crisis likely to linger long after the guns fall silent. A report released by The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA)  in 2015 estimated cumulative losses between 2011 and 2015 at about $260 billion, approximately 55 percent of what it was in 2011. By the end of this year, Syria’s economy will have shrunk 10-fold since the conflict began, according to people in Damascus....

Syria is enduring its sixth year of war, and most people living in government-controlled areas like Damascus continue to suffer from a crippling economic crisis likely to linger long after the guns fall silent. A report released by The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA)  in 2015 estimated cumulative losses between 2011 and 2015 at about $260 billion, approximately 55 percent of what it was in 2011. By the end of this year, Syria’s economy will have shrunk 10-fold since the conflict began, according to people in Damascus....

As Saghir pointed out, there is no incentive on either side for the war to stop: “What is happening now is going to be an absolute nightmare for years to come, as it is precisely this war economy that is driving the war.”

Some thoughts on forecasting

The link above from War on the Rocks has some key thoughts about military forecasting which are worth noting.

First, the author doesn't believe forecasting can go out more than 20 years. Some commentators in the article argue as little as two years.

Second, the author recommends focusing on only developed systems or emergent technologies and not science fiction.  Probably a practical suggestion, however, was the impact of the smart phone or the web in the last 20 years a forecastable event?

Third, the author suggests using a bounding approach where course corrections are made every few years.  This is good logic I think especially with a long term program, but in real life it is as likely that the plan will be tossed entirely and replaced.

Last a commentator on the article suggests that namely it is the application of new technology to traditional methods and goals. I think this has some justification. The author uses the reference to the blitzkrieg as an example.

If I had a real fault on military related forecasting is its utter inability to forecast the location and timing of the conflict itself. Was the second Iraq war forecastable? 911? The Syrian civil war?

My personal opinion is that forecasting beyond two years is very difficult as the scenarios change so quickly and people are adapting real-time to changing situations.  Long term computer programming always pushes mathematical trends toward extremes, but in real life people and complex systems adapt along the way. This kind of forecasting overshoot can be seen in environmental forecasting where variables have to be generalized and simulated. Also my observation is that large scale government programs seem to over promise and under deliver while small widespread technical innovations have huge global impacts - cell phones, smart phones, twitters, etc.