ISIS Vulnerable?

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ISIS was once an insurgent guerrilla force.  But no longer.  ISIS is a conventional force. They have tanks, APCs, howitzers….  They can’t hide that aspect and remain a conventional force–they can move some small assets around, but not in numbers, and certainly not their heavier elements.

Seems to me that ISIS has left itself vulnerable to the same kinds of attacks that were used on Coalition forces–guerrilla style hit-and-run attacks, roadside ambushes. There is no deep security. Opposition would need only the ability to withdraw to the countryside and blend in, or, if unable to blend in, move far enough away with an ability to navigate the countryside (GPS?).

Look at the map above.  There are a number of choke points that could be used to make a nightmare of their need to support themselves, tactically and logistically.  Especially if a conventional force were to harass those “control zones” by way of distraction and harassment.

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Left Behind: Americans in Captivity

“We don’t leave people behind.”
–US President, Barack Obama.

On 31 Mar, Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi was driving with his friends to go to a Mexican restaurant and accidentally missed the last exit before the Mexican border. Without the ability to turn around before he crossed the border, he proceeded to the Mexican customs post, where he explained that he missed the exit before the crossing, and volunteered that he had three US legal guns in the vehicle. After that, Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi was arrested and charged with gun smuggling into Mexico.

Amir Hekmati, a 29-year-old Iranian-American who was born in Arizona and grew up in Michigan, said in a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that he has been held for more than two years on false charges of being a spy for the CIA. He said a televised “confession” he made in December 2011 was “obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement.”

Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent from Coral Springs, Fla., went missing during a business trip to Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. He was working on behalf of several large corporations as a private investigator researching a cigarette smuggling case. Initially, the U.S. suspected that a terrorist group was behind the kidnapping. U.S. intelligence officials have indicated they now believe Iran is behind Levinson’s captivity.

Saeed Abedini, 33, an American Christian pastor from Boise, Idaho, was arrested during a trip to Iran in the summer of 2012. He was sentenced earlier this year to eight years in prison on charges of attempting to undermine state security. His supporters say his “crime” was attempting to share his Christian faith.

Alan Gross, 64, is a U.S. government contractor serving a 15-year sentence for bringing banned communications equipment to Cuba. He was detained in 2009 while distributing computer equipment as part of a program by the U.S. Agency for International Development to increase Internet access on the island.

Kevin Sutay, a 26-year-old U.S. military veteran and New York native was taken captive on June 20 in Colombia’s volatile southeast by FARC rebels two days after arriving as a tourist. The group said Sutay’s capture was evidence of “the active participation on the ground of American military and mercenaries in counter-insurgency operations in which they appear under the euphemism of contractors.”

Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old naturalized American citizen with family living in Washington state, was arrested by North Korea in November 2012 while leading a group of tourists in the northeastern port city of Rason. Bae, described by relatives and friends as a devout Christian, was sentenced earlier this year to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified “hostile acts” against the state.

Caitlin Coleman, an American citizen who, along with her Canadian-born husband Josh, disappeared in Afghanistan in October 2012. Coleman was pregnant and would have had a child by the following January; if the infant survived, he or she would be considered an American citizen. The third missing citizen is Warren Weinstein, 72, a government contractor who was doing work in Pakistan when he was kidnapped in August 2011. It was unclear from government officials this week what the status of these Americans was or if active discussions were taking place to secure their release.

Yahia Ibrahim, 27, is a graduate of the school of medicine at Khartoum University and a lifelong Christian. Meriam met and married her naturalized American husband in Khartoum in 2012, and they have a 20-month old toddler son. Currently pregnant with their second child, Meriam was sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery by the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum, Sudan on May 11, 2014.

VA Culture–Gamesmanship and Oversight

In the VAs gaming culture, it seems clear that the “secret wait lists” were the result of decisions to expand VAs mandates, the resultant exacerbation of the backlog, and next resulting mandate to address the backlog. Employees faced with a mountain of work, high expectations, and poor management and oversight all converged to present the appearance of progress–possibly additionally motivated by the allure of monetary bonuses for making progress–without regard to the real world consequences.

Institutions are always ‘sociopathic’, that is, lacking in empathy. There is a process to be followed. Empathy in institutions only arises at the person-to-person level. That appears to me to have been incentivized out of the VA culture.

Texas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas to lose a BCT each.

An infantry brigade is about 3400 troops, currently. That said, we are not loosing 3400 troops–while some manpower will be lost, the actual cut here is in organizational structure. For example, an Infantry Brigade these days is composed of 6 battalions. By cutting a Brigade, they allow the Guard to create some number, fewer than or equal 6 battalions, elsewhere. That’s the Army 2020 plan–every brigade will get a new Infantry battalion, but they don’t want to change the overall number of troops in the Guard, so–cut three brigades and you can create up to 18 new battalions across the rest of the organization. (There are 20 Guard Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, if they cut 3, and stand up 17 battalions in each of the remaining, then they also cut overall end strength by one battalion, or about 500.) This also puts an IBCT at about 3900 troops.

Part of what’s going on though is deep cuts in defense spending. The Big Army wants to cut some amount of Guard and Reserve force structure in order to preserve Active Duty force structure. There’s a debate about how much–Governors and Congresscritters don’t like Guard cuts in particular. And the overhead per troop in the Guard (or Reserves) is about 1/3 what it is active duty. (So you could actually save all the money you need to by reducing the Active Component and increasing the Reserve Components and end up with the same size or even larger force overall–but Big Army doesn’t like to talk about that.)

It gets more convoluted with Guard troops, too. Those are State resources. So if Oklahoma lost the 45th Infantry BCT. That IS a 3400 troop loss to Oklahoma, because those freed up battalions would go to other states–say KS, LA, MO, WI, and IA each, get plussed up by one Infantry battalion. With the Army Reserve, those are federal resources and it all comes out in the wash, as it does in the Active Component.

The plan, as I understand it now, is to disband three National Guard IBCTs. One in Pennsylvania (2/28th IBCT), one in Arkansas (39th IBCT), and one in Texas (unsure–either the 56th or the 72nd IBCT). The PA unit choice is a bit cagey. It won’t impact Pennsylvania alone, as it’s units are not all located in that state; one Infantry battalions is in New York, it’s Cavalry Squadron is in Ohio.

But Arkansas and Texas appear to take the full hit. Texas is home to four brigade sized units (2 IBCTS, a Battlefield Surveillance Brigade and a Combat Aviation Brigade, and could reasonably be expected to absorb the hit, especially with one of the battalions staying in the state. Arkansas, on the other hand, is reduced to fewer than 4,000 troops statewide from just over 7,000.

And we still haven’t really addressed what the Army wants to do to meet budget restraints. Looking just at end strength, Big Army wants to cut 20,000 troops from the National Guard (after other cuts have gone into effect already). The same budgetary effect could be achieved by cutting ~6,500 active troops. This is like cutting 5 Guard brigades instead of 2 Active ones.

Even if you aren’t convinced by the numbers, the next consideration with the Guard is where these cuts will come from–which states? The Active Component has a formula for deciding which units are to be deactivated which takes into account lineage and history, combat time, and prestige. None of that is considered with Guard units. They threw us a bone in 1968 with the deactivation of many Divisional headquarters, by transferring lineage, honors and identity to one of the succeeding Brigades in that process. That’s why there is, today, a 45th Infantry Brigade (and, 30th, 27th, 39th, 41st…). The decisions as to where to cut could be extremely painful depending on how that decision is made.

Related> Paging Dr. Abrams: Why we need a commission on the structure of the Army.

Starting a New Job. Things I Failed to Plan For.

I started a new job a couple of weeks ago. Since it’s been almost exactly 13 years since I last had a new job with a new employer, there were some things I’d forgotten about.

One was that I have no idea where my old Social Security Card is. I simply haven’t needed it. I used to carry it in my wallet, but my wife pointed out a few years ago that you really aren’t supposed to do that. So I put it somewhere safe. Very safe, as it turns out.

I found myself at the Social Security Administration office very early in the morning to request a replacement. While I did have to arrive two hours before the doors opened (as I figured) to ensure being at the head of the very long line, I have to hand it to the folks at that office–it was orderly, and quick. The receipt was enough to keep from being dismissed from the new job. Yikes.

Health insurance was another thing. For all the talk around the ACA and such, my wife and I still find ourselves uninsured until the beginning of next month. Yeah, we could have used COBRA to extend the old policy, but the cost is astronomic, and this should only be three weeks. We had to make a few adjustments, regarding existing appointments, but we’ll be okay.

That hasn’t kept some folks from worrying on our behalf about being denied for pre-existing conditions…. Just in case anyone reading this might have a question, it didn’t work that way before the ACA was passed either.

Another factor in turning down COBRA; we wouldn’t have had the money anyway, even if it were affordable. The last pay check was only for one week and it takes some time to get into payroll at the new job. We have reserve cash and we’ll make it just fine, but COBRA would have broke the bank forthwith.

So the lawn is getting tall. It was drill weekend two weeks ago, and this past weekend I got the mower out for the first time this Spring. Second year in a row and the mower won’t start. Damned ethanol. I’ve sent the EPA an e-mail asking who I send the small engine repair bill to since it’s their policy that prevents me getting real gasoline. We’ll see.

So yesterday I mowed. My mower still doesn’t work, and I can’t budget for repairing it at the moment. When we bought the house, I was deploying to Afghanistan for the first time. My wife lived in the house for a year before I did–we closed the day before I reported for mobilization. She bought a reel mower, you know the old fashioned push type that has no engine. Its been hanging in the garage ever since.

Some lessons learned on manual mowing. Rake the yard well before you start. The smallest twig will bind the blades. After you rake, walk the yard and pick out any twigs you can see. Then rake it again, this time with the purpose of raking in the opposite direction you intend to mow. You are still going to have to cover every inch at least twice, and if the grass is long (mine was), you’ll still have lots of whiskers standing up when you are done. The spin trimmer is electric, thank God.

Perfect Choice for HHS Secretary; Continuity Assured

The nomination of Sylvia Matthews Burwell, lately the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to be Kathleen Sebelius’ successor as Secretary of Health and Human Services is a great choice.

With Burwell’s track record, its an inspired choice, really.  It shows a determination to maintain continuity in the position.

She was intimately involved in the efforts to make the government “shutdown” as painful as possible.  This shows that she is just as unquestioning and loyal as Sebelius was.

And if you are concerned about competence and management, worry no longer.  While she has not been at OMB for quite a year, she did absolutely nothing to reverse the failure of the President to produce a budget recommendation on time.  Late for 6 years running and Dead on Arrival in the House, just as the rest–so quality is obviously a key concern as well.

Truth, Justice, and …

The relationship between science and Truth is, or should be roughly analogous to the relationship between law and Justice.  Truth and justice are, in human terms, imperfectly attainable goals.  As a result humans have developed processes, science and law, the adherence to which results in, we hope, as near an approximation of the desired goal as possible. Trouble ensues when the process is given equal standing with the desired product.  Science IS Truth.  Law IS Justice.  This leads us down all manner of dangerous roads.

Neil Degrasse Tyson has said, “That’s the good thing about science: It’s true whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works.”  This is a fundamentally backward statement. Law and science are only useful to the extent that they continue to work.  When they cease to work, we can look at the result in either of two ways; what it True or Just has changed, or that science or law must change to accommodate what we now know to be True or Just.

Here’s an example.  We all know that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  But how would an unaided, earthbound observer know that?  If the Sun really did revolve around the Earth, in what way would it look different?  The answer is that it is not observably different. The Heliocentric model devised by Copernicus was actually more complex than the old Copernican model.  It was superior in only one aspect; that it more accurately described the length of a solar year.  It would take better measurements, more discoveries, and other perspectives to fully explain, for example, retrograde movement of the planets. And that’s the key.  The Truth appears to have changed.  In reality, it was science that changed, bowing to a new theory that simply worked better than the old one. There’s nothing wrong with believing that the Earth is flat.  But when you approach the edge of it, you might come up against the need to devise a new theory when your prediction fails.  But that’s an issue for that individual.

There IS a problem when you are so convicted of your version of a Scientific Truth that you seek to halt debate, crush dissent, mock “deniers,” and persecute sceptics.  Those should be greater impetus to further testing, better experiments, more detailed or precise measurements, more inclusive hypotheses; that is, an escalation of science.  But when Science IS Truth, we no longer have a need for science, for we have already arrived at an unalterable, unquestionable result.  Science is no longer science, but that other great human search for Truth: Religion.  It’s results are Dogma and not to be questioned.

And most often, these ideological strongpoints exist today in those scientific propositions that are least testable.  Neither Evolution nor Anthropogenic Climate Change can be tested by experiment.  They cannot be viewed in a lab.  I am not arguing for or against either proposition.  I am arguing that the argument on neither can be considered closed. Contrary to Dr. Tyson, truth, in human terms, is what works and science is only that process to find what works, or to eliminate what does not.  Believing only enters into the proposition that far, and the results of that process are only as good as the last theory and may change with the next one.

Related and Funny:  There are No Such Things as Scientists, by Frank J.

War and Civilization

And yet, long-term history also gives us cause for optimism. We have not managed to wish war out of existence, but that is because it cannot be done. We have, however, been extremely good at responding to changing incentives in the game of death. For most of our time on earth, we have been aggressive, violent animals, because aggression and violence have paid off. But in the 10,000 years since we invented productive war, we have evolved culturally to become less violent—because that pays off even better.
Ian Morris writing in The Atlantic

Mr. Morris’ point is about how war has been a net positive in human history, a thesis that I have long embraced. But this paragraph leads me to change the subject a little. Decreasing aggressiveness and violence as a net positive is, I believe a fallacy. We’d be better off to be more aggressive and more violent in the prosecution of wars once begun.

Robert E. Lee famously observed that it was a good thing that war was a terrible as it was. But we have managed, in the intervening century and a half, to civilize the waging of war, W.T. Sherman notwithstanding. The result has, perhaps, not been exactly what Lee told us it would be, that we would come to enjoy war, but we have certainly learned to live with it, even viewing it as normal.
In the US context, somewhere between the Soldier engaged in a firefight and the President, there is a rapidly declining sense of ruthlessness. The trigger-puller has no choice, given a desire to live. His leaders, at some remove from the survival imperative, somewhere lose their aggressiveness and considerations aside from achieving victory and accomplishing strategic goals take precedence. So much so that the result is a willingness to keep putting warrior’s lives on the line in the furtherance of “something else,” where that something is anything other than martial success.

And the general public, the least aggressive and violent participants in any question other than the decision to go to war, is okay with that.

In some ways then, we need to be more barbaric as a society, especially where, contrary to Mr. Morris’ point above, our opponents are not as “culturally evolved” and so retain that aggressive nature, because, confronted with an opponent like us, that pays off better still.

Inequality is good.

Natural inequality, the differences between people in all manner of personal attributes and their individuality, is as much a function of freedom as equality before the law.

Were it not for inequality, there would be either no survival or no society.  Assuming that all were universally competent in all things, people would have no need of each other, and with out that competence, some external force would arise to exploit those areas lacking.

Instead, all people are endowed from birth with different potentials and talents.  In this way there are needs that some people have that can only be fulfilled by interaction with others.  And that doesn’t account for material differences which may limit or enhance the activities of humans, but they are no different.

Dealing with inequality, that is attempting to have needs fulfilled which any given individual is unable to do on his or her own, is the basis of society.  It is the motive that brings us together.  There are two basic ways that people can use, and have used, to achieve this, by the institution of either slavery or trade.  Only one of these is capable of producing, preserving, and perpetuating freedom.

Boost the Signal. Squelch the Noise. Information is Power.