At the current NATO summit, countries' troop contributions to the effort in Afghanistan has been a hot topic. Last week's FP List "Who's Left in Afghanistan?" listed the top five and bottom five countries in terms of the number of troops they had committed to Afghanistan. At the time, the top five were the United States (29,000 troops), Britain (7,800), Germany (3,210), Italy (2,880), and Canada (2,500), while the bottom five were Singapore (2 troops), Austria (2, sometimes 3), Ireland (7), Luxembourg (9), and Iceland (13*).
But these numbers can be somewhat misleading when it comes to determining who is pulling their weight, given that, for example, the U.S. population is about 1,000 times that of Iceland. So, another measure would be troop contributions relative to military-age population (defined as those between 20 and 39 years old**). When expressed this way, using updated troop numbers, it's tiny Denmark that comes out on top!
The Top 5 (troops per 1,000 people 20-39 years old):
The Bottom 5 (troops per 1,000 people 20-39 years old):
Yet another way to crunch the numbers would be to look at troop fatalities relative to the military-age population. (Just the top five, and not the bottom five, are listed here because there are several countries with zero fatalities.) Sadly for Denmark, it's at the top again:
The Top 5 (troop fatalities per 1,000 people 20-39 years old):
The U.S. Air Force mistakenly sent Taiwan electrical fuses involved with triggering nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missles, the Pentagon just announced.
Seven months ago, the Air Force accidentally flew nuclear-armed cruise missiles across the United States.
As Britney Spears would put it: Oops, they did it again.
As Mark Leon Goldberg notes, Mark Helprin's call for a strategic bombing campaign against the Sudanese regime (or at least the threat of one) is bizarrely out of touch with present realities on the ground in Darfur:
Ever since the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2005, the conflict has proliferated from the government and janjaweed vs three distinct rebel groups to a conflict that pits a panoply of over 15 rebel groups fighting the government, former janjaweed, each other, and sometimes humanitarian workers and peacekeepers. Some of the janjaweed have joined the regular Sudanese armed forces, some have joined the rebels.
We like to impose a narrative of "good guys" vs. "bad guys" in such situations, but sometimes there are only bad guys vs. bad guys -- and the innocent people caught in the middle.
Critics of Republican presidential nominee John McCain often point to his inconsistent stance on military intervention as a sign that he is not the straight-talking maverick he presents himself to be. An examination of McCain's stances on intervention, however, reveals not mixed signals but a steady transformation of worldview. The young Vietnam vet who once vocally opposed military overreach has become the elder statesman who passionately advocates the need for military action. Here's a look at the stances McCain has taken on some of the major U.S. military operations of the past few decades.
Stance: As a freshman congressman, John McCain broke with President Ronald Reagan and most of his party to oppose invoking the War Powers Act to extend the deployment of U.S. peacekeepers in Lebanon.
Statement: "The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place." Sept. 29, 1983
Iraq (Operation Desert Storm)
Stance: McCain worried about the prospect of an extended deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq and hoped to limit the U.S. action to a bombing campaign.
Statement: "If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.'' Aug. 19, 1990
Stance: After a failed operation that led to the death of 19 U.S. soldiers, McCain proposed cutting off funding to the U.S. mission in Somalia in order to force the Clinton administration to bring the troops home. He later wrote that he regretted this stance.
Statement: "I'll tell you what can erode our prestige Mr. President. I'll tell you what can erode our viability as a world superpower, and that is if we emesh ourselves in a drawn-out situation, which entails the loss of American lives, more debacles like the one we saw with the failed mission to captured Adid's lieutenants using American forces and that then will be what hurts our prestige." Oct. 14, 1993
Stance: Like most congressional leaders at the time, McCain opposed sending U.S. troops to Haiti in 1994 to assist the return of exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide back in power.
Statement: "I don't think our vital national security interests are at stake... In Haiti, there is a military government we don't like. But there are other governments around the world that aren't democratic that we don't like. Are we supposed to invade those countries, too?" July 10, 1994
Stance: McCain initially strongly opposed intervention in Bosnia, but after the signing of the Dayton accords in 1995, he changed his stance and cosponsored a resolution supporting the U.S. peacekeeping mission.
Statements: "If we find ourselves involved in a conflict in which American casualties mount, in which there is no end in sight, in which we take sides in a foreign civil war, in which American fighting men and women have great difficulty distinguishing between friend and foe, then I suggest that American support for military involvement would rapidly evaporate." April 23, 1993
"Our troops are going to Bosnia. Congress should do everything in our power to insure that our mission is truly clear, limited and achievable, that it has the greatest chance for success with the least risk to the lives of our young men and women. The resolution that the majority leader and I have offered does not ask senators to support the decision to deploy. It asks that you support the deployment after the decision had been made. It asks you further to condition your support on some important commitments by the President." Dec. 13, 1995
Stance: McCain not only favored the use of force to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but pressed the Clinton administration to send ground troops into Serbia.
Statement: "If we lose this war, the entire country and the world will suffer the consequences. Yes, the President would leave office with yet another mark against him. But he will not suffer that indignity alone. We will all be less secure. We will all be dishonored.'' May 9, 1999
Stance: McCain strongly supported the U.S. operation to defeat the Taliban and attempt to capture Osama bin Laden.
Statement: "[W]hat we need to understand is that we may have to put large numbers of troops into Afghanistan for a period of time, not a long period of time, but for a period of time, in order to effectively wipe out these terrorists' nests and track down Mr. bin Laden. In other words, it's going to take a very big effort, and probably casualties will be involved, and it won't be accomplished through air power alone." Dec. 28, 2001
Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom)
Stance: McCain has been among the most vocal supporters of the initial invasion of Iraq and last year's troop surge. His stance on these issues has largely defined his presidential run.
Statement: "Only an obdurate refusal to face unpleasant facts -- in this case, that a tyrant who survives only by the constant use of violence is not going to be coerced into good behavior by nonviolent means -- could allow one to believe that we have rushed to war... Our armed forces will fight for peace in Iraq -- a peace built on more secure foundations than are found today in the Middle East. Even more important, they will fight for the two human conditions of even greater value than peace: liberty and justice. Some of our soldiers will perish in this just cause. May God bless them and may humanity honor their sacrifice." March 12, 2003
As FP recently explored in the Military Index, the U.S. Army last year had a shortage of 3,000 captains and majors, a number expected to double by 2010. Behind these statistics are folks like 26-year-old Army Capt. Kirkner Bailey of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Mosul, who says:
I have served my time; I've done two tours in Iraq. For the past three years of my life I have either been in Iraq or training to go to Iraq. I just know that there is more to life than this war, and my girlfriend, Shannon, and I are interested in finding out what that is. I can't speak to trends. But 8 of my 10 friends who are captains are leaving the Army."
When people talk about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are hollowing out of the military, this is what they mean. The trend is particularly scary when you consider that officers like Captain Bailey have tremendous amounts of combat experience and the Army is counting on them to be the next generation of leaders.
The LA Times has the latest on the Pentagon debate over troops levels in Iraq:
In the short run, supporters of [Gen. David] Petraeus would like to see about 140,000 troops, including 15 combat brigades, remain in Iraq through the end of the Bush administration.
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their advisors favor a faster drawdown. Some are pushing for a reduction to 12 brigades or fewer by January 2009, which would amount to approximately 120,000 troops, depending on the configuration of forces.
That's the big debate that supposedly got Admiral Fallon fired? Twenty thousand troops? As of now, there are about 158,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq, and that number is slated to come down to 140,000 in July. So, Petraeus is essentially asking for no further troop withdrawals before the next president takes office.
The troop-levels debate raises some of the same questions posed by Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria in his latest column: Has the surge succeeded in creating lasting, sustainable security or not? Are Iraq's sectarian groups reaching a self-stabilizing balance of power or not? So far, the answer would appear to be no, but I think Petraeus would say the political conversation in Washington was always unrealistic on this scrore. Winning a counterinsurgency war takes years, not months. The more basic question, though, is one that is above Petraeus's pay grade: Is it worth it? To put it another way, does it make strategic sense for the United States to stay in Iraq for another five to 10 years, looking at the expected payoff vs. the expected costs? I strongly doubt it.
It looks like White House spokesperson Dana Perino has come down with a case of the Charlotte Allens. I just sighed a sad sigh last year when Dana all but bragged about not knowing what the Cuban Missile Crisis was ("It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure..."). But now she's telling people that she just doesn't get missiles and defense because she's a girl:
Some of the terms I just don't know, I haven’t grown up knowing. The type of missiles that are out there: patriots and scuds and cruise missiles and tomahawk missiles. And I think that men just by osmosis understand all of these things, and they're things that I really have to work at — to know the difference between a carrier and a destroyer, and what it means when one of those is being launched to a certain area. [my emphasis]
Dana, please stop. Seriously.
Nine people were killed in small village in Chechnya last night in an hourlong gunfight between separatist rebels and the police.
The violence is something of an anomaly in the troubled region, which has been relatively stable in recent years under the authoritarian rule of ex-rebel Ramzan Kadyrov (shown at right with Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev), though the number of rebel attacks in neighboring Russian provinces has increased.
Does last night's violence indicate that Chechnya's fragile stability, one of the Putin administration's main accomplishments, is coming undone just in time for his successor to inherit the mess? I asked Jonas Bernstein, senior research associate at the Jamestown Foundation and Russian defense expert, if the attacks could be in any way connected to the transfer of power in Moscow:
This does seem to be a deliberate uptick on the part of the rebels. My guess is that the rebels may be trying to send a message to the new administration that, 'We're still here.'
Russia has maintained order in Chechnya largely by arming Kadyrov and his fellow ex-rebels, an approach not unlike the U.S.'s "Anbar awakening" strategy in Iraq. According to Reuters, Russian military analysts now worry that they may have created a force they can't control if Kadyrov's loyalties shift. Kadyrov is a staunch Putinist (he even delivered a dubious 99.5 percent voter turnout for the ruling party in parliamentary elections), but could he turn against his bosses in Moscow with Medvedev in power? Bernstein doesn't see this as likely. In fact, Kadyrov is probably quite satisfied with Putin's choice:
If anything, the victory of the Medvedev faction within the Kremlin is actually to the benefit of Kadyrov. It's the harder-line, so-called siloviki, who have always been suspicious of Kadyrov... because he's a former rebel from the first war. So in that sense, depending on how things play out in Moscow, it may actually be to his benefit.
Of course, the Chechen conflict never really went away. For the most part, it simply seeped over into neighboring provinces. It would be a tragic irony if the same conflict that helped Putin consolidate his power at the beginning of his presidency re-emerged just at its end.
Canada's forces in southern Afghanistan are getting a boost from the U.S. Marine Corps:
Roughly 1,100 of the 3,200 U.S. marines due in Afghanistan have already arrived for what's scheduled to be a seven-month tour in the war-ravaged country, where they are expected to buttress badly stretched Canadian resources. "I think everyone has embraced us, the Canadians in particular," Col. Peter Petronzio, the unit's commanding officer, said Monday.
The deployment is a stop-gap to bolster the Canadians, who have been battling insurgents and insisted on help as a condition of extending their deployment. After Germany, Spain, and several other NATO states refused (again) to send troops south, the U.S. offered a Marine unit. For the next seven months, the North Americans will be fighting shoulder to shoulder in the province. Hell, if the Mexicans chip in a brigade, Kandahar could join NAFTA.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have threatened to burn down cellular towers throughout Afghanistan unless the main wireless companies shut down service between 5 p.m. and 3 a.m. each night. Why? Taliban commanders are convinced that coalition forces are using the cell networks to track their fighters. (They don't seem to understand that while coalition forces might use the Afghan mobile networks for some intel, they certainly aren't dependent on them. Thank you, spy satellites.)
And now they've made good on their threat. In a country that is nearly wholly reliant on wireless communications (for lack of any land-line infrastructure), the main mobile networks (all privately run) have begun switching off service at night after attacks on 10 cell towers, the latest on Tuesday night. Score this round for the Taliban.
I can only hope that the frustration of not being able to make calls past dusk will inspire public condemnation of the men who forced the blackout. But then again, the government vowed to help the private sector stand up to Taliban pressure. And that unsuccessful stand hardly inspires confidence.
Does Adm. William J. Fallon's resignation mean the United States is closer to a war with Iran? The White House has called that suggestion "just ridiculous." But it's still what everyone seems to be asking today. Over at the Washington Post, Dan Froomkin concludes, "It's still not really beyond Bush and Cheney to order a full-scale preemptive attack on Iran." Meanwhile, Terry Atlas at U.S. News offers up "6 Signs the U.S. May Be Headed for War In Iran." And on Capitol Hill, Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel said he was, "very concerned to see [Fallon] go."
Given the military realities at the moment, Froomkin's suggestion that "full-scale" war against Iran is possible seems a little off to me. When Foreign Policy recently surveyed more than 3,400 retired and active duty officers at the highest levels of command, 80 percent told us that it was "unreasonable" to believe that, given current deployments, the U.S. could engage in another major combat operation at this time. And the officers put America's preparedness for war against Iran at just 4.5 on a 10-point scale, where 10 meant the U.S. was fully prepared for such a mission.
Atlas's "6 Signs" taken as a whole and in the context of regional events don't worry me too much. Still, Fallon's departure may point to trouble, particularly in light a just-released assessment by the Israeli intelligence community, summarized today in a piece by TNR's Yossi Klein Halevi:
According to a just-released strategic assessment by the Israeli intelligence community, 2008 will be the 'Year of Iran.' The Lebanese government, warns the assessment, could collapse in the coming months, allowing Hezbollah to take power. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Hamas are considering a coordinated rocket assault on Israeli population centers, almost all of which are within rocket range of either group. And, according to the strategic assessment, sometime within the coming year, or by early 2009 at the latest,
With Dick Cheney departing for the Middle East next week, this assessment is worrisome. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently said that the Israelis would not consider unilateral action against Iran. But they would likely leap at the chance to conduct coordinated strikes with the U.S. And Cheney's ear is reportedly sympathetic to the argument that diplomacy with Iran is futile. "Full-scale" war with Iran is probably militarily out at this stage, but strikes conducted by air and sea -- with the Navy taking the lead -- are still a very real possibility before the Bush administration is through. And that does make Admiral Fallon's departure worthy of concern.
Boy, would I like to learn more about why CENTCOM commander Adm. William J. Fallon just tendered his resignation:
Fallon claimed ongoing misperceptions about differences between his ideas and U.S. policy are making it too difficult for him to operate, Gates said, agreeing. He added that the differences are not extreme, but the misperception had become too great.
"I don't know whether he was misinterpreted or whether people attributed views to him that were not his views, but clearly there was a concern," Gates said.
The misperceptions relate to an article published last week in Esquire magazine that portrayed Fallon as opposed to President Bush's Iran policy. It described Fallon as a lone voice against taking military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
"I think this is a cumulative kind of thing," Gates countered. "It isn't the result of any one article or any one issue."
[I]n my mind, Fallon represents the last CENTCOM boss likely to enjoy a serious freedom of action, given the unique set of circumstances (Rice focused on Israel-PA, Petraeus running the show in Iraq, and so Fallon is the man on the rest of the region just as the Bush admin winds down and just as Russia, India and China are ramping up their interests/presence).
In short, Fallon has an opportunity to navigate his own course (with support this time from SECDEF Gates) in a way that no future CENTCOM boss may enjoy.
I guess that statement is no longer operative.
UPDATE: Barnett comments:
I reported the story as I found it, because I thought it was crucial for readers to understand this officer and his thinking within the context of his incredibly important and high-profile position.
As readers of my blog know, I have expressed a lot of admiration for the admiral over the years. In my 18 years of working for and with military commands, I have met few with the same capacity for strategic vision. I wish him well on whatever he chooses to do next.
Australia is suffering from an acute shortage of manpower, according to Australian defense minister Joel Fitzgibbon. He says, "the service suffering most is the navy, where retention and recruitment has become a real crisis." So why is the Australian Navy in such dire straits? The Financial Times explains:
Chinese demand for commodities has triggered a crisis in the Australian navy, whose submarine fleet is suffering from a critical crew shortage as skilled technicians are lured into higher-paying jobs by the booming mining industry.
Western Australia, in particular, is attracting workers from the Navy to work in the mining industry. Fitzgibbon says that mining companies even "hover around" West Australian naval bases hoping to recruit technicians, whose skill sets are easily transferable to mining. Wage discrepancies favoring mining can be in the tens of thousands of dollars a year, leaving the Navy unable to compete for talented workers on financial grounds.
Australia has recently spent $10 billion dollars on bolstering the navy, upgrading its fleet of advanced destroyers and warships. Last year, the Australian Navy engaged in war games with the United States, Japan, and India in a "Quadrilateral Initiative" to improve their strategic partnership and bolster regional security. Many analysts believed that this initiative and Australia's naval investment were, ironically, targeted at containing a rising China. I guess the Chinese stumbled upon their own way of striking back.
Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's chief spokesman, tried to connect some dots this morning that have been bugging me since last week. If, as Clinton likes to suggest, Barack Obama has not met the "national security threshold," why is her campaign hinting that he would make such a good vice president -- someone who might someday have to step in as commander in chief?
Senator Clinton will not choose any candidate who has not at the time of choosing passed the national security threshold. But we have a long way to go until Denver, and [choosing Obama is] not something she's prepared to rule out at this point."
Come again? Wolfson must think it's possible to accumulate foreign-policy know-how in dog years. Politically speaking, I suppose a lot can happen between now and August 25. But this formulation will be lost on anyone who thinks seriously about international affairs. How exactly are Obama's qualifications to be commander in chief going to change radically over the next 24 weeks? By campaigning in Puerto Rico?
The Pentagon has banned Google Earth teams from making detailed street-level video maps of U.S. military bases.... Michael Kucharek, spokesman for U.S. Northern Command, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the decision was made after crews were allowed access to at least one base. He said military officials were concerned that allowing the 360-degree, street-level video could provide sensitive information to potential adversaries and endanger base personnel."
Um, no duh. Considering that Google Earth is a favorite tool of terrorist groups -- including the Palestinian al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which uses it to target and kill Israeli civilians -- this strikes me as a pretty common sense decision.
And it begs the question: Who the heck allowed a team from Google Earth, presumably carrying all sorts of video and mapping equipment, access to a U.S. military base in the first place?
Hugo Chávez's former defense minister, Raúl Baduel, had harsh words this week for his old boss, who sent Venezuelan troops to the Colombian border over the weekend in response to Colombia's military incursion in Ecuador:
This is a desperate attempt by President Chávez to use the military for political and personal ends, making them participants in an action whose consequences could be disastrous."
In other words, Baduel is accusing Chávez of fomenting an international crisis in order to distract from his domestic political problems. It's a significant move, coming from someone whose personal and professional relationship with the Venezuelan president spans 35 years, culminating with Baduel's resignation from the defense ministry in 2007. Baduel is a legendary revolutionary figure in Venezuela, best known for defending Hugo Chávez during the April 2002 coup attempt, and for his fierce loyalty to the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement that Chávez founded in the 1980s. But as Chávez tried to push through constitutional reforms late last year, Baduel began distancing himself from the president, citing his moral and ethical obligation to point out the harm Chávez would do to Venezuela if he succeeded in centralizing executive power and socializing the economy.
It's good that somebody is calling Chávez to account, because most in the region seem distracted by the accusations being hurled back and forth between Colombia and Ecuador. Colombia claims to have found evidence linking Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), whose leader Raul Reyes was killed in this weekend's raid. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe says that Venezuela has been funding FARC and has pledged to take Chávez to international court for funding genocide. And although Peru's president, Alan García, suggested that Chavez should butt out of the diplomatic row between Ecuador and Colombia, he is also urging Uribe to apologize and avoid setting a bad precedent for sovereignty. As Passport reader joeljournal noted on Monday, though, some would say that propping up a terrorist group in your neighbor's country isn't such a great precedent to set either.
The U.S. Air Force has rolled out new slick ads as part of its effort to defeat its most deeply entrenched foes: the Army and the Navy. Each of the three services usually gets about a third of the defense pie each year, regardless of the changing threat environment. That's Pentagon politics. But with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taking a huge toll on the Army, the other services have had to fight to stay relevant. I've transcribed several of the videos the Air Force is using as part of its campaign, "A Changing World," below. Here's one of the first clips:
This building [the Pentagon] will be attacked 3 million times today. Who is going to protect it? Meet Staff Sergeant Lee Jones, Air Force Cyber Command, a member of America's only cyber command, protecting us from millions of cyber threats every day. It takes Air Force technology to defend America in a changing world.
Video #2, on "air dominance":
To see how fast our world is changing, you only have to turn on the nightly news. New rogue leaders are emerging. Conflicts are erupting. Sudden disasters are striking our neighbors around the globe. The need for immediate, decisive response is greater than ever. In an uncertain world, how can we keep an upper hand? The U.S. Air Force is answering the call at twice the speed of sound. No modern war has been won without air dominance, so our ability to respond quickly and with precision accuracy to threats is key to our national defense. With our unmanned surveillance aircraft, we can feed critical information to ground troops and keep a watchful eye on enemies who hide among innocent. Our air power allows us to lead among nations by delivering literally tons of relief when our neighbors need it most. In an increasingly volatile world, air dominance is essential to America's strength. Thanks to the U.S. Air Force, our reach can truly span the globe. It takes Air Force power to defend America in a changing world.
Video #3, on "space dominance":
If you had to predict where the next war might be waged, would you pick someplace like here [mountainous terrain], here [rolling farmland], or here [space]? The world has changed. As more and more countries develop a presence in outer space, the possibility of a space battle is no longer science fiction. America has over 300 satellites in orbit. The question is, how will we protect our assets in space that we rely on here at home? Our new world requires new solutions. Meet U.S. Air Force space command. This elite force is America's eye in the sky, keeping watch over our interests high above the ground. The U.S. Air Force has long been a leader in space innovation. In fact, we invented GPS, the global positioning system. It's no exaggeration to say, the technology we're developing today will help shape the future. It takes Air Force vision to defend America in a changing world.
Video #4, on "cyber dominance," which we wrote about here:
You used to need an army to wage a war. Today, all you need is an Internet connection. Because we're more connected, we're also more vulnerable to new threats than ever. As a nation, how can we defend ourselves on a virtual battlefield? Welcome to Air Force Cyber Command, the only military unit of its kind. The U.S. Air Force developed an elite force that now defends us from 3 million cyber threats every day. Our national security is only as solid as our ability to see further and change faster than our enemies. It takes Air Force technology to defend America in a changing world.
I'm a pretty reliable critic of the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East, but I can usually see the logic behind them. I have to admit, though, that the decision to send the U.S.S. Cole to the Lebanese coast has stumped me. U.S. officials say their intent is to bolster the embattled Lebanese government, force a long-delayed decision on a new president, and show Syria that America means business. But what is a missile destroyer supposed to actually do in this situation? Shoot at Hezbollah? The only things this boneheaded move will accomplish are to remind the Lebanese of 1983, when U.S. warships ineffectually shelled the Chouf mountains, and embarrass Prime Minister Fouad Seniora's government. The Syrians know this well, and they will use this incident to their advantage.
It's the starkest example I've yet seen of trying to use the U.S. military to solve a political problem. The good news is that Lebanon doesn't matter as much as many people seem to think it does, so any damage done here will be limited.
The Hamas rocket apparatus seems to be gaining ground, as the Israeli city of Ashkelon was hit regularly over the weekend by longer-range weapons for the first time ever. Previously, a few rockets reached the city's outskirts, but now residents find themselves living within a newly defined battle zone. Sderot, a common target of rockets, has a population of roughly 20,000. Ashkelon is a larger city with roughly 120,000 people and has infrastructure of strategic value. The city's mayor, Roni Mahatzri, had this to say about the attack:
This is a state of war, I know no other definition for it... If it lasts a week or two, we can handle that, but we have no intention of allowing this to become part of our daily routine."
Israel struck back hard at Gaza beginning Wednesday of last week. Then on Saturday, airstrikes and ground operations aimed at stopping the rockets led to the worst single-day violence in years.
It looks like Hamas is achieving its aim of derailing the Middle East peace process. The peace talks have been suspended until a ceasefire can be negotiated, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has volunteered to broker. With Hamas hailing Israel's troop withdrawal from Gaza as a victory, rockets and retribution may finally be taking over from negotiations and diplomatic niceties. Two sides can sit at a table, but when one of them has a murderously out-of-control brother, there's not much hope for a productive conversation any time soon.
Over the weekend, both Ecuador and Venezuela sent troops to their borders with Colombia after Colombian President Álvaro Uribe ordered raids on suspected terrorist targets across the Ecudorian border, killing a rebel leader. The standoff between the three nations also featured some pretty harsh rhetoric from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who dubbed U.S.-backed Colombia, "the Israel of Latin America" and said Uribe is "a criminal, not only a liar, he is a mafioso, a paramilitary leading a terrorist state." Chávez has long been a supporter of Ecudorian President Rafael Correa and his government's left-leaning approach.
Over the past few months, Chávez has increasingly inserted himself into Colombia's ongoing problem with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the leftist guerilla group that has been trying to overthrow the Colombian government for decades. In February, hundreds of thousands if not millions marched against FARC in protests worldwide. Yet Chávez insists there is international pressure on the Colombian government to negotiate with FARC, and that he is just the man to broker the peace. He has had some success in recent months in negotiating the release of a handful of FARC hostages, but the number released pales in comparison to the estimated thousands held by the rebel group.
Such incursions are becoming increasingly common in a post-9/11 era of asymmetric warfare, wherein a guerilla enemy can take advantage of its small size and knowledge of terrain to slip across sovereign boundaries. Turkey recently ventured into northern Iraq in pursuit of the militant group Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the United States has carried out missile strikes in Pakistan and today in Somalia for similar reasons. And although Chávez may have been understandably unnerved by this practice occurring in his backyard, he may want to think twice about bringing his region to the brink of war over a quick and limited military incursion.
Hillary Clinton has co-sponsored new legislation to ban the use of private military contractors in Iraq. This came just a day after the publication of an article by The Nation's Jeremy Scahill in which a senior advisor to Barack Obama said that the candidate "won't rule out" the use of PMCs. Given how integral PMCs have become to U.S. operations at this point, Obama's reservations about a blanket ban make some sense. Still, he can't relish the idea of being on the "pro-Blackwater" side of this issue.
Hat tip: Danger Room
Turkey has withdrawn its troops from Iraq today according to a statement from the army's General Staff:
"It was determined that the aims set at the start of the operation had been achieved," the General Staff said in a statement. "Our units returned to their bases (in Turkey) on the morning of February 29."
Turkey claims it killed 240 P.K.K. rebels during the eight day operation and suffered 27 casualties of its own. The P.K.K, meanwhile, says that it has killed 130 Turkish troops and is also claiming victory:
"Because of the fierce battles between the PKK and the Turkish forces, the Turkish forces have withdrawn," said Ahmed Danees, the PKK's foreign relations spokesman in northern Iraq.
It's fairly clear that neither side scored a decisive blow and this conflict isn't anywhere near to a resolution. Still, Turkey's ground invasion didn't lead to the region-wide catastrophe that many had feared. That, at least, is cause for relief.
In October, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sabre-rattling about sending Turkish troops across the Iraqi border to attack Kurdish P.K.K. rebels, many feared that such an incursion would provoke a major regional conflagration of some sort. Writing for ForeignPolicy.com in July, Amb. Morton Abramowitz said that the United States must act quickly to diffuse a situation "that threatens to explode into violence, destabilize northern Iraq, and further embitter relations between the United States and Turkey."
Well, Turkish troops have now been operating in Iraq for a week and it seems as if said destabilization has yet to occur. The Iraqi government has publicly condemned the operation and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has urged the Turks to keep it as short as possible. Judging from the statement of Erdogan's senior foreign policy adviser in Baghdad yesterday, though, the Turks seem in no particular hurry to leave.
I don't mean to appear indifferent to the violence in Kurdistan, which has claimed hundreds of lives already, but if Iraq is descending (faster) into chaos as a result of the Turkish invasion, then the media is not covering it. It's possible that a major confrontation is brewing and we're all just ignoring it out of Iraq fatigue, but as the Guardian reports today, according to an anonymous Turkish government source, the Turks may actually have the secret consent of Iraq's president and prime minister to launch the invasion.
I spoke today with Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Nabi Sensoy, who acknowledged that members of his government had been in contact with their Iraqi counterparts prior to the invasion:
What I know is that the Turkish government and the president, before the operation got started, got in touch with the Iraqi authorities and also the U.S. administration. I know that our president called President Talabani and our prime minister called Prime Minister Maliki. So they were informed about our intentions.
Sensoy described the P.K.K. as "by far the deadliest terrorist organization in the world" and said that Turkey's military was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and avoid destabilizing Iraq. In fact, he believes the operation will be beneficial to the Iraqis in the long run:
Some people fear that this will upset the so-called relative stability in the North. What is relative stability for some is a source of instability for Turkey... This will not hurt stability in this region. In fact, if we are successful, this will eliminate the threat of the P.K.K. and be helpful to the stability of Iraq. That's what we're trying to do in Iraq. Our main goal is to preserve the independence, territorial integrity, and unity of that country.
So far, at least, Turkey's ground operation does seem limited in scale. And for all its bluster, Baghdad will probably tolerate it because, frankly, there's not a whole lot they can do in response. It would still be unwise, however, for the Turks to overstay their welcome too long. Major civilian casualties could provoke Kurdish unrest and might change the equation significantly. Turkey's military should know from the U.S. example that the longer its operation in Iraq lasts, the more likely it is that the most dire predictions will come true.
When FP recently surveyed more than 3,400 retired and active duty military officers holding the rank of major or above, 60 percent told us that they believe the U.S. military today is weaker than it was five years ago at the start of the Iraq war. Asked why, a majority told us they believe it is due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the pace of troop deployments those missions require.
It is not uncommon for Marine Corps units, in particular, to serve two, three, or even four deployments to Iraq. But yesterday, something unique happened. The 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (3/4) based at Twentynine Palms, California, reportedly became the first Marine Corps unit to be deployed to Iraq a record five times.
There's been much ado about how, even though these repeated deployments are taking their toll on units and families, there is a bright side. Repeated deployments are also helping to develop the most combat-experienced force in decades. But, interestingly, the 3/4's deployment suggests that, while that may be true within the higher echelons of the officer corps, it does not necessarily hold true at the grunt level. In an interview featured on the front page of Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, Col. William Vistead, the 3/4's commanding officer, estimates that 60 percent of his men will be going to Iraq for the first time. In other words, grunts are serving their four years and getting out. The same is happening within the junior and mid-level officer ranks. And there's no bright side to that.
The U.S. Army is paying Disney $800,000 to turn frowns upside down at Walter Reed Hospital. Can it be long before Disney is helping to win hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan, too?
Via FP contributor Benjamin H. Friedman, now with the Cato Institute, an astonishing gambit by the U.S. Air Force:
This week’s Air Force Times reports that the Air Force wants an extra $59 million of your tax dollars next year to pay for a campaign to win tens of billions more of your tax dollars.
You see, the Air Force's research shows that the American public does not appreciate the Air Force as much as the Air Force thinks it should. Air Force generals worry that Americans may conclude that our current wars, which are relatively low-tech, ground power-centric affairs, are a reasonable basis for making procurement decisions. That conclusion may produce budgets that favor the ground forces, thwarting the Air Force’s plan to become the service that runs future wars. And the administration has already refused the Air Force an extra $20 billion for its annual budget.
So the defense budget submitted recently to Congress would more than double the Air Force’s advertising spending to insure that the public doesn’t figure out that platforms like the F-22 are white elephants.
For the first time ever, the United States will use a ship-based missile to take out a satellite. In the next day or two, the world will witness a modified weapons capability that will have significant policy implications. But it's the "how" story behind the scenes that has Russia sweating.
The spy satellite malfunctioned hours after reaching orbit in December 2006. When re-entry became imminent beginning in January of this year, the U.S. Navy got busy computer coding. The Navy can now outfit a standard missile (SM-3) that was designed for intercepting other missiles with a new brain that gives it the ability to target spacecraft. In this instance, the missiles will come from an Aegis cruiser, but ground-based missiles like the ones the United States wants to put in Poland can be larger and have farther range.
Theresa Hitchens, director of the space security program at the Center for Defense Information, noted the comments of General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said in a press conference that it took the Navy three weeks to reconfigure the new targeting software. The implication? Hitchens told me:
If [the United States] wanted to develop that type of software (that could be downloaded into the missiles that would be placed in Poland), we could in a very short period of time. So I understand why the Russians might be pretty nervous about this."
A little software change, in other words, could end up posing a big threat to strategic spacecraft in the future. General Cartwright insisted this new capability will be executed on a "one-time reversible basis." But there's no way the U.S. military would throw away the keys to a new generation of missiles. The Russians would probably prefer that this Pandora's box not be opened, but once it is, all space-faring countries are going to have a new threat to worry about.
Anyone in the D.C. area yesterday evening can tell you that there was some kind of incredibly slippery, impossible-to-detect robo-ice on the ground -- the perfect conditions for major falls and car accidents. The freezing rain caused so much havoc in neighboring Maryland that a judge allowed the polls for the presidential primary to stay open there until 9:30 p.m., 90 minutes after they were due to close. I saw plenty of people slipping and sliding on my walk home, which made my own fall only slightly less embarrassing.
Even the man in charge of the world's most powerful military wasn't immune to the perils of robo-ice. Pentagon chief Bob Gates slipped on the ice outside his D.C. home last night and fractured his right shoulder. He's apparently back at work, though he's not attending this morning's Senate hearing on the mammoth defense budget. He -- and his ego -- are no doubt feeling a little bruised.
This past weekend, 40 Qassam rockets fell on
Sderot's mayor stepped up the pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to act, saying,
Sderot's mayor stepped up the pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to act, saying,"It's got to be a direct war -- killing Mr. Haniya, killing his deputy, killing all his staff, his house, his government house." (That would be the first time a Seven Questions interview subject was assassinated.) But Olmert, who seems to have become more level-headed since his widely criticized attempt to neutralize Hezbollah in
The shadow of Winograd is apparent, yet it sounds like expanded action is likely against
The Russians are shocked, shocked (!) that yesterday's bomber run caused such a stir:
Russia expressed surprise on Tuesday that the United States had scrambled fighter jets at the weekend to intercept strategic Russian bombers, one of which flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Pacific.
Four U.S. F/A-18 fighters were launched after Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers flying south of Japan were detected turning towards the Nimitz aircraft carrier and its escort, a U.S. defense official said.
One of the Russian bombers flew over the deck of the Nimitz, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. fighters escorted the Russian bombers out of the area. [...]
We are surprised by all the clamor this raised," RIA news agency quoted Russian Air Force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky as saying.
A Russian bomber last flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier in July 2004, when a Bear flew over the USS Kitty Hawk in the Sea of Japan, the official said.
Via e-mail, NightWatch editor John McCreary comments:
The Russians are rebuilding and revalidating their data base on US and allied response times and procedures. In an earlier period, the US naval fighters would not have been scrambled to catch the Russians, they would have been shooting first and asking questions later.
The Russian Bear bomber was in position to bomb the aircraft carrier before the fighters were scrambled, according the news accounts. A lot of taxpayers'investment were at risk because a ship commander was apparently asleep at the helm. No doubt there is more to the story, but the Navy readiness and rapid reaction response does not look good in the press. If there is another interpretation of what happened, the Navy needs to put it into the public domain.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.