For Your Eyes Only Military News

ALGERIA:  Give It Time

November 3, 2011: The few dozen families that run the country are confident that they have escaped the wrath of the Arab Spring uprisings. That’s only partially true, as most Algerians are unhappy with their government, but not quite angry enough to rebel. Give it time. That’s what Algeria’s a worried about.

October 30, 2011: Police arrested three al Qaeda members and accused them with taking part in the recent kidnapping of three European aid workers. The three captives are known to be alive, but no ransom demand has been made yet.

October 26, 2011: Algerian troops searching for three kidnapped aid workers in the southern desert, encountered four suspected al Qaeda members, and killed them in a gun battle. The three captives are believed to have been taken to Mali, although Mali denies this. However, it’s easier to hide captives in Mali than in Algeria (which is better policed.)

October 24, 2011: The government refused a Libyan request to return members of recently killed Libyan tyrant Moamar Kaddafi’s family. In late August, Kaddafi’s wife, daughter and two sons (along with all their children) arrived and were granted asylum. The Kaddafi family has been hidden away in a posh country estate and ordered to keep quiet. So far they have, but they appear headed for comfortable exile. But the Kaddafi’s will be a constant headache for the Algerian government, as the new Libyan government seeks to extradite and prosecute the Kaddafis, and seize stolen money they are living off.

October 23, 2011: At a Polisario refugee camp near the Moroccan border, three European aid workers were kidnapped, apparently with the help of some Polisario officials, by al Qaeda members. This may have something to do with the declining prospects of Polisario, which has been in bad shape since 1991. Back then, Morocco finally won its war with Polisario Front rebels, who were seeking independence for the Western Sahara (a region south of Morocco).

Polisario remained powerful in Mauritania, where the rebel group has official recognition and maintains several more refugee camps. Because Polisario was so well-subsidized by Algeria, back when Algeria was a radical state, Polisario still has enough diehards out there to keep lots of people in Western Sahara unhappy. This was known to provide recruits and sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. For two decades, the UN has been trying to work out a final peace deal between Polasario and Morocco. In the 1990s, Algeria cut off all support for Polasario. But that, and UN efforts to mediate the differences, have just not worked.  The contested area is largely desert with a population of less than 300,000. Logic would have it that the area is better off as a part of Morocco. But there are still thousands of locals who would rather fight for independence, than submit to Morocco. Some resistance is tribal and cultural, with the Moroccans seen as another bunch of alien invaders (the area was administered, until 1976, as a Spanish colony). If the fighting breaks out again, possibly inspired by Islamic radicals, it could go on for years, just as it does in many other parts of Africa, and the immediate neighborhood. Getting involved in the cocaine smuggling provides money, some of which goes got guns and vehicles, making the Polisario fighters more formidable. Mali and Mauritanian police are increasingly arresting members of the Polisario Front who are involved with a major drug smuggling operation (moving cocaine from Guinea-Bissau, where it is flown in from South America, to the Mediterranean coast). Polisario Front members have long been involved in smuggling and other illegal activities, but their involvement in moving cocaine is relatively recent. This implies cooperation with al Qaeda, which apparently has worked out deals Polisario.

October 21, 2011: In neighboring Mauritania, officials claim to have killed an al Qaeda leader, and several of his associates, in an air raid. Al Qaeda later denied this.

October 17, 2011: A roadside bomb 50 kilometers east of the capital went off and killed a civilian.

YEMEN: Starving For Peace

November 3, 2011: The ruling coalition is apparently ready to give up and allow a new collection of leaders to take over. This sort of deal has been announced several times this year, but the UN and members of the ruling party say that this time it’s true. Vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is supposed to replace president Saleh. This is the result of growing foreign pressure, and the inability of government forces to halt increasing internal opposition. As for Saleh giving up power, believe it when you see it.

There is a lot of pressure on Saleh, and not just from political rivals and unhappy tribes. There is growing anger among the population in general. The months of unrest have disrupted the economy (which was fragile to begin with.) There are growing shortages of food, fuel and all manner of goods. Most Yemenis tend to hold Saleh responsible for this. Saleh’s troops have become more unpopular as they have come to be more dependent on their artillery and warplanes, both of which tend to kill civilians more than the rebel gunmen they are aiming for.

Troops continue to skirmish with al Qaeda forces in the south. There are not a lot of al Qaeda fighters, but they are good at working the local and international media. This makes them appear more numerous and formidable than they actually are. Most al Qaeda fighters are in or around the southern city of Zinjibar, trying to maintain a presence there despite energetic government efforts to kill all Islamic terrorists in the area. Al Qaeda also has to worry about the increasingly active American UAVs, which track their activities, and occasionally fire missiles. These UAVs are based in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and are becoming a real problem for al Qaeda.

November 2, 2011: A new truce has been declared, in anticipation of a new peace deal that would allow president Saleh to withdraw from politics.

In the southern city of Taiz, troops fighting tribal rebels resulted in over a dozen government, rebel and civilian casualties. In the last week, fighting in Taiz has left at least eleven dead and over 40 wounded. The government has made a major effort to drive rebels out of the city, and has failed.

October 30, 2011: A rocket or mortar shell hit one of the air force warplanes based near the main airport outside the city. This set off several explosions, apparently destroying or damaging four military aircraft. This temporarily closed the nearby airport, forcing incoming flights to divert to the airport in the southern city of Aden.

October 29, 2011: In the south, police arrested five men suspected of being al Qaeda members involved in the recent assassination of a senior intelligence officer in the port city of Aden.

October 28, 2011: In the southern city of Aden, a car bomb killed a senior intelligence officer.

For the first time since January, the security forces allowed a peaceful protest to march across the capital without being attacked. This was seen as a friendly gesture.

October 27, 2011:  In the south, the inability of the government to defeat tribal militias and al Qaeda terrorist cells has made even pro-government tribes more favorably inclined towards dividing the country once more (into North Yemen and South Yemen).
October 26, 2011: Damage to a natural gas pipeline has been repaired and shipments have resumed. This is important because gas and oil are the major sources of revenue for the government.

PEACEKEEPING:  The Perfect Storm Of Terrorism

November 3, 2011: Islamic radicalism has done many things to Afghanistan, including eliminating all churches. The last church was torn down this year. This is all-too-typical of attitudes in Islamic nations, where it has become increasingly fashionable to be hostile towards, and persecute, non-Moslems. This intolerance is nothing new, and there’s no easy, or politically correct, way to deal with it.

Afghanistan never had a large non-Moslem (“Infidel”) population, but since the 1990s, the number has shrunk to nearly nothing. Over 99 percent of Afghans are Moslem, and a fifth of those are Shia. The Sunni majority are trying to exterminate the Shia as well, because Sunni conservatives consider the Shia heretics. Among the non-Moslem communities, there are believed to be about 5,000 Christians, 3,000 Sikhs, 400 Baha’is, a few hundred Zoroastrians, a hundred Hindus and one Jew. There are 10-20 Sikh and Hindu temples still active. Many Afghans consider it a religious duty to kill any Moslem who converts to another religion. Attacks on non-Moslems are common in Afghanistan. But it happens elsewhere as well.

Currently, you have Moslems killing Buddhists in Thailand, Jews everywhere, Baha’is in Iran and Christians in Egypt, Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan, Malaysia and elsewhere. This is not a sudden and unexpected outburst of Moslem violence against non-Moslems. It is normal, and at the root of Islamic terrorism. While this violent behavior represents only a small number of Moslems, it is a large minority (from a few percent of a population, to over half, according to opinion polls). Moreover, the majority of Moslems has not been willing, or able, to confront and suppress the Islamic radicals that not only spread death and destruction, but also besmirch all Moslems. This reveals a fundamental problem in the Islamic world, the belief that combining righteousness with murderous tactics, is often the road to power and spiritual salvation. Throughout history, when these tactics were applied to non-Moslems, they often failed. The non-Moslems were unfazed by the religious angle, and, especially in the last five hundred years, were better able to defeat Islamic violence with even greater violence. Thus, until quite recently, the Moslems fought among themselves, and left the infidels (non-Moslems) out. But after World War II, that began to change.

This new attitude towards infidels led to the “Green Line.” During the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, Christian and Moslem Arabs fought bitterly over political, cultural and, ultimately, religious differences. The capital, Beirut, was divided into Christian and Moslem sections by the Green Line. The name came from the fact that in this rubble filled no man’s land, only grass and weeds survived. And that the line on a ceasefire map was drawn in green. There have been a lot more Green Lines since then. Few realized it at the time, but this war was but the first of many between Christians and Moslems in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Many of the earliest Moslem converts were Christians. And many of the peoples Moslem armies unsuccessfully sought to conquer were Christian. The original Crusades, which modern Moslems portray as Western aggression, were actually a Western attempt to rescue Middle Eastern Christians from increasing Islamic persecution, terrorism and violence. Centuries of struggle between Islamic and Christian states eventually led to the defeat of the Moslem empires and nations. Islam as a political force was in decline for several centuries until the 1970s. Then things changed, and they continue to change. Fueled by oil wealth and access to Western weapons and technology, Islamic radicals saw new opportunities. Islam was again on the march, and few have noticed the many places where it was turning into religious war with Christians and other non-Moslems.

In Asia, we have a Green Line between India and Pakistan. Inside India, many Moslem communities remain, and feelings aren’t always neighborly. Indonesia and the Philippines suffer growing strife between Moslems and non-Moslems. Malaysia has fanatical Moslems persecuting more laid-back ones, and non-Moslems in general. China has a large Moslem community that generates an increasing amount of violence. Russia and America have formed a curious partnership to deal with Islamic-based terrorism coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in Chechnya, Russia faced Islamic-inspired violence all alone in the 1990s.

Africa has a rather dusty Green Line south of the semi-arid Sahel region. Many African nations are split by increasingly sensitive religious differences. The Moslems are in the north, Christians and animists in the south. Nigeria, Chad and Sudan are among the more violent hot spots at the moment. When the Moslem Somalis stop fighting each other they will return to raiding their Christian and animist neighbors to the south.

The Middle East still contains many non-Moslems. None have their own country, except for Israel. But Egypt contains over five million Copts, native Christians who did not convert to Islam. Similar small Christian communities exist throughout the Middle East, and growing hostility from Moslem neighbors causes many to migrate, or get killed.
Moslems also have turned their righteous wrath on dissident Moslem sects. The Druze and Alawites are considered by many Moslems as pagans pretending to be Moslems. Similarly, the Shias of Iran and neighboring areas are considered less orthodox, not just for their admitted differences, but because many Iranian adherents openly practice customs of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion. These differences are less frequently overlooked today. To survive, the many Druze have allied themselves with Israel, and most of the current Syrian leadership are Alawites who pretend to be more Shia, and Moslem, than they really are.

Even Europe has a Green Line. The Moslems in the Balkans (Albanians and Bosnians) have been a constant source of strife for the last decade. Moslem migrants in Europe face even more persecution because of all those Green Lines, and this makes it easier for radical groups to recruit and carry out their crusade against Christians. In many European cities with Moslem minorities, there are neighborhoods non-Moslems are advised to stay out of.

But the Green Lines are about more than religion. A lot of it is politics. One of the reasons Islam ran out of steam centuries ago was that the Moslem areas never embraced democracy, and intellectual progress. Until the 20th century, most Moslems lived as part of some foreign empire, under local totalitarian monarchs. The foreign empires are gone, but democracy has had a hard time taking hold. The dictatorships are still there. And the people are restless.

Radical Islam arose as an alternative to all the other forms of government that never seemed to work. In theory, establishing “Islamic Republics” would solve all problems. People could vote, but only Moslems in good standing could be candidates for office. A committee of Moslem holy men would have veto power over political decisions. Islamic law would be used. It was simple, and it makes sense to a lot of Moslems in nations ruled by thugs and thieves, especially if the people are largely uneducated and illiterate.

But Islamic Republics don’t work. The only one that has been established (not counting others that say they are but aren’t) is in Iran. The major problems were twofold. First, the radicals had too much power. Radical religious people are no fun, and you can’t argue with them because they are on a mission from God. Most people tire of this in short order. To speed this disillusionment, many of the once-poor and now-powerful religious leaders became corrupt. This eventually sends your popularity ratings straight to hell.

It will take a generation or so for everyone in the Moslem world to figure out where all this is going. This is already happening in Iran, where moderates are getting stronger every day, but everyone is trying to avoid another civil war. While the radicals are a minority, they are a determined bunch. The constant flow of Islamic radical propaganda does more than generate recruits and contributions in Moslem countries; it also energizes Moslem minorities (both migrants and converts) in Western countries to acts of terrorism. In the United States, you find several incidents each year where Moslems get arrested for attempting to carry out religious violence.

Radicals throughout the Moslem world continue to take advantage of dissatisfaction among the people and recruit terrorists and supporters. To help this process along they invoke the ancient grudges popular among many Moslems. Most of these legends involve Christians beating on Moslems. To most radicals it makes sense to get people agitated over faraway foreigners rather than some strongman nearby.

Most radicals lack the skills, money or ability to carry their struggle to far-off places. So most of the agitation takes place among Moslem populations. Any violent attitudes generated are easily directed at available non-Moslems. Thus we have all those Green Lines. But the more violence you have along those Green Lines, the more really fanatical fighters are developed. These are the people who are willing to travel to foreign lands and deal with non-believers, and kill them for the cause. We call it terrorism; the fanatics call it doing what has to be done; defending Islam with jihad.

Not surprisingly, Moslems get motivated to do something about Islamic radicalism when the violence comes to their neighborhoods. That’s why terror attacks in the West are so popular. The infidels are being attacked, without any risk to those living in Moslem countries. Iraq changed all that, and during the course of that war (2004-7) the popularity of Islamic terrorism, in Moslem countries, declined sharply because the terrorists were killing so many Moslems. That, in the end, is what has killed, for a while, most Islamic terrorism in Iraq. But this time around, it would be nice if the Moslem world got their act together and expunged this malevolent tendency once and for all.

Foreign peacekeepers have a particularly difficult time dealing with all this, even if they are Moslem. But local Moslems have a hard time controlling their own terrorists. That’s because Islam is a more aggressive religion than most.

While many religions believe they are the One True Faith, Islam has always been the most violent in trying to force their beliefs on others. This aggressive attitude is based on a strong sense of entitlement and righteousness that has survived to the present. Combine it with enthusiasm for suicidal tactics and disdain for your victims (even Moslem women and children) and you have perfect storm of terrorism.

THE WAY THINGS REALLY WORK:  Why Afghanistan Is Dangerous

November 3, 2011: So far this year, 19 NATO troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers or police. In the last two years, 45 NATO troops have died this way. This is not the usual accidental “friendly fire,” but deliberate attacks. While the Taliban likes to take credit for these killings, investigators usually discover that the killer acted because of stress or a dispute he was having with the foreigners. NATO troops have been warned about this sort of thing. Trainers, who work closely with armed Afghans all the time, and often have to correct or criticize them, are being trained to recognize the signs that an Afghan is about to go berserk. The NATO troops are also being trained to quickly employ their weapons, just in case they encounter an enraged and homicidal Afghan colleague or student.

Unfortunately, this sort of violence is common in Afghanistan. It is a warrior culture, and settling disputes with violence is much more common than in the West. There is also a lot more domestic violence, with medical aid workers shocked at the number of injured wives and children they are called on to treat. But there are also a lot of men with wounds, and a lot who suddenly disappear (local customs calls for burial by sunset). Even without the Taliban related violence, the murder rate is several times higher than found in the West.
For example, the murder rate in the Western hemisphere (about 8 per 100,000 people a year) is much higher than in Europe, where it is about 3-4. That is another example of the “frontier culture” effect. Middle Eastern nations have rates of between 5 and 10. The United States rate is about six per 100,000. There are other parts of the world that are more violent. Iraq has a murder rate in the 20s. That’s not a lot higher than it was under Saddam (10-20 a year), but less than a third of what it was several years ago. In Africa, especially Congo,

Sudan and South Africa, you find similar murder rates. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep accurate track of the murder rate, mostly from crime, but it’s over 50 per 100,000. It’s worse in places like Congo and Sudan, but the numbers there are only estimates by peacekeepers and relief workers. In southern Thailand, a terror campaign by Islamic radicals has caused a death rate of over 80 per 100,000. Historians have been able to find similar patterns of deadly violence in Medieval Europe (in those places where large quantities of church records, that track births and deaths, survived).

Afghanistan is a violent place, and always has been. The problem is that the continual violence makes it difficult to put the current fighting against the Taliban into context. The country has long been awash in weapons, and men eager to use them. Afghans has been known as good recruits for local conquerors for thousands of years. The several major invasions of India over the last thousand years saw lots of Afghans in the ranks of the conquering armies. In some cases, there were so many Afghans, that Indian records simply record the invaders as “Afghans.”

When not invading neighbors, Afghans practice on each other. Not a lot of accurate record keeping out there in the bush, but public health stats indicates an average life span in the 40s. There’s a lot of disease, accidents, and not much modern medicine. But there’s also much talk of murder. There are tribal feuds, lots of banditry, and even within families, there are murders and executions. The problem with tribal cultures is the difficulty controlling this kind of violence. In much of Afghanistan, it isn’t being controlled and, as always, the resulting deaths are not being reported either. Thus the civilian murder rate, excluding the Taliban, is probably over 10 per 100,000 year. Many of the Taliban related deaths would have occurred anyway, because the Taliban are basically a tribal rebellion by some of the Pushtun tribes that want to run the country (in the name of God, of course, as it has long been good PR to commit your atrocities while invoking a higher power.)

LEADERSHIP:  Computers Can Do Your Thinking Faster

November 3, 2011: Back in the 1970s, the Russians began working on the concept of computer assisted tactical planning. The Russians did some interesting theoretical work, but never had computers that were cheap, rugged, powerful and reliable enough to make these ideas work in practice. After the Cold War, the U.S. took up the challenge. It was in America that suitable computer technology was being created, and American military leaders were developing an unprecedented number of new ideas and technology. Now, workable computerized tactical planners are appearing.

One of these is MATE (Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments), a software system that can give a commander and his staff an optimized plan in less than ten seconds. MATE can then update the plan continuously as the situation changes. While commanders have made these decisions by themselves for thousands of years, they did it with available, and often fragmentary, information. But now there is a lot more data available. Most importantly, the data is getting back to the commander and his staff much more quickly. There are already tools available to analyze key types of data. For example, geospatial data (3-D maps with terrain analyzed for things like how easy vehicles move over it, and how much cover it provides troops) is already a standard tool for American commanders and their staffs.

Software like MATE not only incorporates all of this data, and does so continuously. More importantly, MATE was also able to test the system against recent battles to make sure that it works. This not only assures the developers that they have a reliable system, but gives commanders confidence in using it for the first time. MATE also presents findings in graphical format that the commander can quickly comprehend, and makes it possible for staff officers to drill down into the details, to better understand why MATE is recommending something that was not immediately obvious.

Actually, a commander and his staff could do the same thing MATE does, but it takes a lot longer doing it manually. So instead of waiting hours for all this analysis to be done, MATE gives you results in ten seconds. That makes an enormous difference, because the battlefield situation changes fast. In the time it takes to do a thorough analysis manually, the situation could change sufficiently to require a new analysis. MATE eliminate the problem, and gives commanders a powerful new decision making tool.

AIR TRANSPORT:  Argentina And Its Immortal C-130s

November 3, 2011: Argentina is refurbishing its five C-130H transports, upgrading and standardizing most of the equipment on the aircraft. Structural repairs will be made as needed. The purpose is to make the aircraft capable of serving another 25 years, as well as making all of them capable of flights to research stations in Antarctica. . Most of the Argentinian C-130Hs already have that many years on them. But based on actual experience, it’s reasonable to expect a well maintained C-130 to last 40-50 years. For example, since 2009, two U.S. Air Force C-130Es have retired after 47 years of service and over 30,000 hours in the air. These aircraft were but two of dozens of similar aircraft being pulled out of service, even though they have a few thousand hours left in them. These C-130s had undergone six or more refurbishments since they entered service in the 1960s. But these aircraft require more maintenance because of their age, which makes them more expensive to operate, and less available for service than newer models.

On average, C-130s last about 25 years, and about 20,000 hours in the air. But averages are just that, and some aircraft get lucky. If an aircraft has relatively few, “high stress” (heavy load, rough weather) flights, it will fly longer. The key component in C-130 longevity is the center wing box. This component takes the most punishment, and if it suffers corrosion, as well as enough stress to cause metal fatigue, it usually means the useful life of the aircraft is much shorter.

The C-130 has been in service 52 years. So far, nearly 2,300 have been built, and it is still in production. Most C-130s built are still in use, although that will change in the next decade as the large number built in the 1960s and early 70s retire. The most common four-engine military transport on the planet is the C-130. The most common version is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 is used by more than 50 countries.

SURFACE WARSHIPS:  Vietnam Gets The KGB Specials

November 3, 2011: Vietnam has received the last two of four Svetlyak class patrol boats from Russia. Vietnam received the first two of them nine years ago.

The Svetlyaks are 390 ton, 39.5 meter (154 foot) long warships armed with a 76.2mm (3 inch) cannon, one AK-630 six barrel 30mm autocannon and some SA-18 shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. The ship carries a crew of 28 and was designed in the early 1980s as a patrol ship for KGB (the Soviet era secret police). The KGB received the first one in 1988, but three years later the Soviet Union dissolved. Construction of the Svetlyaks continued, slowly and so far 26 have been built, mainly for the Russian Coast Guard.

The two additional Svetlyaks for Vietnam were delayed by supplier problems in Russia. Several key components were very late in arriving, and that delayed the completion of the ships.

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