For Your Eyes Only Military News

AFGHANISTAN: The Lords Of Darkness Count The Days

May 14, 2012: The mass media is all over incidents of Afghan security forces killing NATO troops (on purpose or by accident), but the bigger story is being missed. While nearly 20 percent of NATO troop deaths of late were the result of Afghan troops or police, this is partly because NATO casualties are so low to begin with. The casualty rate among foreign troops is much lower than previous wars. This includes Vietnam, the recent fighting in Iraq and the Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Taliban are so desperate that they have relied on roadside bombs and paying large bonuses to encourage Afghan soldiers and police to attack foreign troops. But money motivated attacks are rare, most are due to the fact that Afghans are very violent to begin with and quick to anger when frustrated. This is the case when foreigners are not around and is worse when foreigners are present because of Afghan frustration at cultural conflicts. For example NATO trainers, advisors and troops insist that Afghans be disciplined and organized (cleaning their weapons, firing only when ordered to, not taking bribes and abusing civilians).

The Afghans resent this nagging. Most of the time that results in poor combat performance, which often includes firing weapons at the wrong time, accidentally hitting Afghan or NATO troops. This sort of thing is common in any poorly trained force and has been noted by foreign trainers for over a century (since modern firearms became available, and made friendly fire easier to happen.) Thus friendly fire incidents were often the result of poor discipline and sloppiness. More often, the victims are fellow Afghans and it’s not always clear if the shooting was deliberate or not. A lot of Afghans are tossed out of the security forces because of their inability to handle their weapons properly. It’s been more difficult to get rid of Afghan officers who cannot do the job, particularly higher ranking ones with political connections.

As bad as the Afghan soldiers and police are, when it comes to professionalism, the Taliban and drug gang gunmen are worse. These fellows are usually quickly slaughtered when they try to fight foreign troops directly. While Afghans are poor soldiers, they are not stupid, thus the resort to roadside bombs, suicide bombs and rewards for killing foreigners. The Taliban are out-matched by the foreign military technology. For example, attacks on NATO bases are rare because of the prolific use of security cameras and other sensors (and software that makes the surveillance even more effective.) The cameras are mounted on buildings, as well as towers and balloons (aerostats) which can see beyond the range of rockets, making it nearly impossible for the Taliban to use this weapon.

In short, the foreign troops have been very demoralizing for armed Afghans who yearn for the old days when such they were feared, not constantly hiding from a superior foreign opponent. This also goes to the heart of the battle between religious fundamentalists (who reject much of the modern world) and the majority of Afghans who believe all this new tech and ideas is just great.

The lords of darkness are more willing to kill and terrorize to encourage submission. In a more perfect world, this would enable the majority of Afghans to outnumber and outfight the bad guys. But the majority is beset by corruption and tribalism, ancient habits that make large scale cooperation difficult. Many in the government are in favor of more peace deals between the tribes (especially the Pushtun ones from the south, which produce nearly all the Taliban). Many Taliban see the wisdom in this, and that has caused growing infighting among Taliban factions. The drug gangs side with the old-school Taliban who, during the 1990s, were content to leave the drug gangs alone and just tax them.

One very obvious example of modernism and prosperity is the cell phone. Over half the population now has one (compared to none a decade ago) and 85 percent of the country has coverage. The Taliban hate cell phones, at least those in the hands of most Afghans. That’s because the Taliban have more enemies than friends among the general population and when the Taliban are out robbing, killing or terrorizing, too many people quietly call the police. This has resulted in major efforts by the Taliban to force the cell phone companies in some areas to shut down completely, or at least do so at night (when the Taliban prefer to do their dirty work.) These attacks against the cell phone providers make the Taliban even less popular. Most Afghans, given the choice between Taliban promises of spiritual salvation, and a cell phone, will take the smart phone nearly every time. This is why most of the terrorism and combat deaths in Afghanistan are civilians and over 80 percent of those civilians are killed by the Taliban.
Despite their growing unpopularity, the Taliban have launched a major school closing program in eastern Afghanistan (Ghazni province) in the last two weeks. Over a hundred schools have, under threat of attack, closed. But this is temporary, and a prelude to a major offensive against the local Taliban. When enough of the Taliban have been killed or chased out of the province, the popular (among most Afghans) schools will reopen. The Taliban are mainly upset that schools teach girls, and some of them allow boys and girls to be in the same classrooms.

The drug gangs are not only suffering from a growing number of raids, and the destruction of  labs (for converting opium into heroin) and stockpiles waiting to be smuggled into Pakistan, but also a crackdown on corruption in the banking system that allowed the gangs to get paid and then move a lot of that money to foreign bank accounts. Despite the ability to bribe and intimidate, the Taliban has not been able to reach enough people who run, or police, the international banking system. A lot of drug money still gets around, but a lot more gets caught, or has to take a lot more time, and pay additional bribes, to get where it is going. All this cuts drug gang profits, and means less money available for bribes and Taliban payroll.

Because of all these woes, the Taliban and drug gangs are depending even more on the departure of foreign troops in two years. That will take off a lot of pressure, and make it easier to bribe and intimidate Afghan security forces. While the Afghan soldiers and police are easier to kill, this is becoming more difficult. The Afghan soldiers, in particular, are becoming more professional and more expensive to bribe. Worse, the presence of foreign military advisors means that when an Afghan officer is bought, he often doesn’t stay bought. This is a tragic problem that gets little media attention.

The Taliban are having similar problems with Afghan journalists. While many of these reporters are on the drug gang payroll, or have been terrorized into compliance, many have not, or have ceased cooperating. So the Taliban and drug gangs have increased their attacks on the Afghan media. The journalists are openly calling on the government for more protection. This may imply less vigorous investigations into corruption at senior levels if some attention was paid to security for the media.

May 13, 2012: In Kabul, a professional assassin killed Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban commander, with one shot from a pistol with a silencer. Rahmani was helping the government and Taliban groups work out peace deals. The Afghan Taliban promptly denied they had anything to do with the death of the popular Rahmani. That, and the sophistication of the killing, indicates this was the work of the Pakistani ISI, which makes no secret of its displeasure with Taliban peace talks with the Afghan government. The ISI, and many Pakistani generals and politicians do not want the Afghan Taliban to go away, because the Taliban makes it easier to keep India (and foreign influence in general) out of Afghanistan. Pakistan considers Afghanistan a subordinate (to Pakistani needs) state. The Afghans disagree, but for the last thirty years, the Pakistanis have often had their way. While this subordination is popular in Pakistan, some of the side effects are not. For example, the Afghan drug trade (the major world producer of opium and heroin) has produced millions of addicts in Pakistan (and even more in Afghanistan’s other neighbors).

May 12, 2012: The long (over a year) international investigation into a major act of corruption, involving the Kabul Bank and the theft of nearly a billion dollars, has concluded that it was carried out with the help of auditors from the Pakistani branch of a Western accounting firm (PricewaterhouseCooper). The Pakistani auditors are considered criminally liable, and this is likely to turn into an international legal crises. Foreign aid donors have been increasingly angry at the blatant theft of foreign aid and the government corruption that abets it. The donor nations are demanding less stealing, or less aid. Some countries are unable to halt the stealing and corruption, and see their aid sharply cut.

May 5, 2012: An Afghan working for the Iranian Fars news agency has been arrested and accused of spying for Iran.

SOMALIA: Pirates And Lawyers Together At Last

May 14, 2012: Over a hundred Somali clan, religious and business leaders met in Mogadishu to approve a new constitution and finalize details of elections to be held by the end of the year. Al Shabaab is using persuasion, and terror, to try and influence men likely to be part of the new parliament. Meanwhile, the clan leaders are having a difficult time agreeing on the details of a new constitution.

Nearly a year of peace (and a lot less violence) in Mogadishu have improved confidence enough for people with money to invest in rebuilding the city. New construction can be seen all over the place. At the same time, two decades of unrest has resulted in two million Somalis taking refuge in Yemen, and even more in exile in Kenya and the West.

As more merchant ships travelling past Somalia adopt the use of armed guards, ships have been able to reduce their speed. This often pays for the guards, and then some, as reducing speed can shrink fuel costs on large ships by over $40,000 a day. This slowdown tempts more pirates to attack, but so far no attacks on ships with armed guards have succeeded. Without armed guards, travelling at top speed and zig-zagging made it difficult for pirate speed boats to get close enough to board. Pirates have never been able to board a large ship travelling at more than 33 kilometers an hour, and many large ships can do over 40 kilometers an hour and will do just that while in pirate waters. There are over a hundred security firms, most of them British, offering armed guards for the 40,000 merchant ships that transit pirate infested waters each year.

The use of armed guards remains quasi-legal because most maritime nations are unwilling to recognize the practice. These nations fear lawsuits if they actually acknowledge and regulate the use of armed guards.

Budget cuts have forced Britain to reduce its year-round participation in the anti-piracy patrol. There will be a British ship on hand only about half the year.

May 11, 2012:  In Mogadishu, several attacks, apparently with grenades, left several people wounded. These operations were amateurish and ineffective, indicating al Shabaab is having difficulty holding onto competent and dedicated people.

May 10, 2012:  For the first time in over a year, pirates seized an oil tanker. The attack took place off Oman, and the ship seized was carrying over $100 million worth of oil to Indonesia.

For the second time this year, the leader of al Qaeda (Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri) has released a video in which he urges al Shabaab terrorists to keep fighting, as guerillas if need be, despite recent defeats. After a string of setbacks in the last year, al Shabaab is much reduced in size and capabilities and is largely trying to defend what little territory it still holds.

Al Shabaab not only has fewer men, but less skilled ones at that. An example of that could be seen today in El Bur (Central Somalia) when three al Shabaab men died as a large mine they were planting in a dirt road went off because someone did not know what they were doing.

In the southwest Ethiopian troops killed 17 al Shabaab gunmen, and caused many more to flee. The al Shabaab men were setting up roadblocks and robbing supply trucks. The Ethiopians had received complaints from aid agencies and merchants about this and responded by sending out several units with orders to clear the roads and run down any al Shabaab groups they encountered.

May 8, 2012: In Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked peacekeepers at night, using mortars and machine-guns. Two rebels and seven civilians were killed. The AU peacekeepers suffered two wounded.

MORALE: China Develops Office Camouflage

May 14, 2012: The Chinese Air Force is getting a new camouflage uniform, one more suited to the urban (air base) environment most air force personnel operate in. This follows the introduction, five years ago, of a more conventional (for combat troops in rural settings) camouflage pattern uniforms. The new camo comes in two types; Summer and Winter. The Chinese Air Force seems to be following the U.S. Air Force in this matter.

The first version of the new U.S. Air Force camouflage uniform (or ABU, for Airman Battle Uniform) came out in 2003 and immediately raised a howl of protest from their security troops (who are nearly a numerous as infantry in the army). The camouflage pattern of the ABU was in blue and gray. It looked nice, in a hanger or office, but there was no camouflage effect. Taken aback, the air force brass backed up and came up with a new color scheme (green-gray-blue-tan) that worked better for the grunts. But the ABU designers made another error, by leaving off the extra pockets on the shirt. The army and marines had these extra pockets, and they were very useful when you were suiting up for battle. The air force brass disagreed, and the air force grunts are still grumbling about it.
Another source of complaint is the order to not put any patches on the ABU. The idea is that you spend a lot of time putting the patches on, and taking them off, when you transfer. But the grunts, who operate with soldiers and marines, like to have people know who they are. Unit pride and all that. The air force brass didn’t get it, and apparently felt that this ground combat stuff will soon be gone, and the air force can get all their people back to offices and hangars.
But some air force personnel are still in combat, and on the ground at that.

There, they have had problems with their new camouflage pattern uniforms. Two years ago air force personnel in Afghanistan were buying (or scrounging from kindly army supply sergeants) the new army MultiCam pattern uniforms.

That’s because the air forcecamouflage pattern was quite different. Thus when air force air controllers (who call in air strikes) move through the hills with army troops, it’s obvious from a distance who the air force personnel are. Actually, it makes all the troops more visible, because the MultiCam is pretty good at hiding those wearing it, but the difference between the air force camo and the MultiCam is so striking that the entire group of troops becomes more visible. The air force brass eventually got the message, and started buying MultiCam uniforms for air force troops operating in combat along with army troops.

The U.S. Air Force made several changes to their ABU over the last decade, and the Chinese are apparently trying to catch up.

ATTRITION: The Arab Spring Continues To Bleed

May 14, 2012: Tunisia has updated the casualty count for its revolution last year.  Actually, the Tunisian demonstrations began in December 2010 and the government was overthrown by mid-January. The final casualty count for that was 338 dead and 2,147 wounded. This was the first of the Arab Spring uprisings and the shortest and most successful. It was also, by far, the least bloody.

The “Arab Spring” uprisings led to the fall of several long time dictatorships, and a rush to reform (or give the appearance of such) by most other Arab governments. But this was not without cost, and it isn’t over (especially in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Algeria). Over 45,000 have died so far, and over a million people were wounded, imprisoned or driven from their homes. The financial cost, so far, has been over $140 billion. About half of that is the destruction of buildings and possessions, or lost GDP. These lost wages have been particularly difficult for populations that were poor to begin with. The rest of the cost was money wealthier monarchies and dictatorship that have spent money (sometimes borrowed) to placate their restless populations.
Tunisia was the briefest of these, with the smallest number of deaths.

Neighboring Libya had the highest body count. The new government there says it was at least 30,000, but could be much higher. There is still fatal violence in Libya.

The ongoing violence in Syria has left 11,000 dead so far. There is supposed to be a peace deal in Yemen, but the fighting continues, with over 2,000 dead. Similar situation in Egypt, where the violence, and killings, continues and the death toll is nearly 1,200 so far. There were a lot of demonstrations in Bahrain, but the government remains firmly in power. Same situation in Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco, where may still be major unrest.


May 14, 2012: Algeria has ordered two MEKO A200 class frigates from Germany. These 3,500 ton ships are armed with eight anti-ship missiles, 16 anti-aircraft missiles, four 324mm torpedo tubes, a 76mm gun, two 35mm and two 20mm autocannon as well as a helicopter. Crew size is 100 and it can stay at sea 21 days before needing refueling and resupply. Top speed is 50 kilometers an hour.

MEKO class ships are a mature and reliable design that is used for ships displacing from nearly 1,000 tons to nearly 4,000. The A200 types cost about $400 million each. This has caused some unrest in Algeria, where the corrupt government has spent little on social needs, despite billions in oil income.


May 14, 2012: Embargos (especially of weapons) and economic sanctions are popular weapons against rogue nations. Not as dangerous and costly as war, these actions sound much more impressive than they actually are. Yet despite the frequent failure of sanctions and embargos, there’s an unwritten international agreement by politicians and media to maintain that all is well.

It doesn’t take much effort to discover how ineffective sanctions and embargoes are. For example, in the last twelve years 26 arms embargoes did not prevent over two billion dollars’ worth of  weapons from getting through. Economic sanctions tended to hurt the many subjects of dictators and tyrants, rather than the few people responsible for the bad behavior in the first place. This usually allows the evil rulers under sanction to blame the nations trying to halt bad behavior for punishing innocent people with their sanctions.

Meanwhile, smugglers are able to get goodies and luxury items through to the evil dictator and his associates. You can see this being played out in places like North Korea, Burma, Iran and Cuba.
All this is caused more by a proliferation of media and the ability to report disasters in every corner of the world than by any desire to aid tyrants. Bad news is good for business if you are a publisher, and persuading countries to go to war against tyrants is even better. But most politicians have more sense than that, and resort to sanctions and embargoes instead. Most politicians and news editors know this stuff doesn’t work, but it makes for decent headlines and gets the politicians off the hook.


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