For Your Eyes Only Military News

POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS:  Rebels Rebel Against Each Other In Mali
Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

July 4, 2012: In the African state of Mali, the Tuareg tribal rebels (MNLA, Liberation Army of Azawad) that took control of the thinly populated, largely desert northern two-thirds of the country three months ago have been defeated by their smaller, but more fanatic, Islamic radical allies, the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). The success of the two groups in chasing the largely black African Mali army out of the north three months ago encouraged Ansar Dine to call for more Islamic radicals throughout the region to come join them. Meanwhile the MNLA found that their fighters were not as willing to die for the cause as their Ansar Dine allies were.

The MNLA, (Liberation Army of Azawad) represents the most militant and heavily armed Tuareg rebels, but they have not been able to stand up to its smaller, less well equipped ally Ansar Dine, an Islamic radical group containing many former (or current) al Qaeda members. Islamic terrorists from Algeria, Nigeria and other areas are coming to northern Mali to join Ansar Dine. The leader of Ansar Dine (Iyad Ag Ghali) is a local Tuareg tribal leader who has always been active in Tuareg separatism efforts, and is adept at playing Tuareg tribal politics. Ghali has always been seen as an opportunist, and now he is making a violent attempt to establish his own Tuareg religious dictatorship in northern Mali. Most Tuaregs oppose Islamic radicals, but support an independent Tuareg state. Ghali is playing on this division to keep the more numerous Tuareg from uniting and destroying Ansar Dine. If the northern Tuareg did unite, they could turn out over 50,000 armed and angry men, if only for a short period. Ansar Dine has only a few thousand armed men, and many of those are Tuaregs who recently joined.

A growing number of Tuareg see Ansar Dine as an invasion and this caused quarrels among MNLA leaders. Islamic terrorist control in the north was spotty at first, because they did not have as many followers (armed and unarmed) as the MNLA (who comprise most of the northern population). The north contains only about 12 percent of Mali’s 15 million people and is largely barren desert. The Islamic terror groups made themselves unpopular in the north by forcing everyone to obey strict (no tobacco, alcohol, music, video, shaved men and unveiled women) Islamic lifestyle rules. This ran into a lot of resistance, and Ansar Dine backed off, for the moment, from seizing all TVs and video games. Meanwhile, Ansar Dine makes no secret of its ultimate goal, turning all of Mali into an Islamic religious dictatorship.

The Islamic radicals also damaged some cultural sites that were seen as unclean by the Sunni Islamic conservatives within Ansar Dine. There were a few anti-Ansar Dine demonstrations, which were put down with gunfire and threats of more violence. Ansar Dine may be able to control most of the north for a while, but can they maintain that control for any length of time? Aware of their weakness, Ansar Dine has appealed to Islamic terrorists throughout the world to come to northern Mali (not easy to do). Because Islamic radicals are currently being defeated in most of the world (Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and so on), the Ansar Dine appeal is motivating a lot of Islamic terrorists to head for Mali. Will that be enough? ECOWAS is offering to make peace with Ansar Dine and MNLA if Ansar Dine will rid itself of known Islamic terrorists. This is something of a mad gambit, as the government in southern Mali will not agree to partition of their country, and Ansar Dine depends too much on the experienced Islamic terrorists in their ranks, who are the most deadly fighters and quick to kill anyone who opposes them. Then again, just the news that this sort of thing is under discussion causes some tension within Ansar Dine.
France has taken the lead in organizing international (and UN) backing for an armed intervention in northern Mali.  ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has organized a force of 3,300 peacekeepers (from Nigeria,

Niger and Senegal), but wants UN backing, and Western cash, before these troops are sent into Mali. The UN is discussing the matter and Western nations are willing to pay up if the UN approves of the operation. But there is doubt that these 3,300 troops and a thousand or so from Mali could defeat a nearly equal number of Tuareg and Ansar Dine fighters. The Tuareg and Islamic radicals are tough fighters. Many in the UN are seeking larger troop commitments before they OK an invasion in their name. One thing the UN has agreed on is not to recognize a partition of Mali.

The MNLA is now at war with Ansar Dine and is appealing to northerners (especially Tuareg) to work with them against the “foreign invaders” (Ansar Dine). Most civilians in the area have more urgent problems, like how to get food. The unrest in the north has disrupted the movement of food and other goods into the area. People are getting hungry and Ansar Dine is often preventing foreign food aid from reaching civilians. More and more people are fleeing the north. So far, over 300,000 have fled to the south or neighboring countries. Many more are planning to do so if the food situation does not improve.

In the southern third of Mali, where 88 percent of the population lives, life is also hard. The March army coup disrupted the economy and foreign aid. The coup leaders, and many of their armed followers, are still around and able to seize control again. In the north it is worse. In addition to the loss of foreign economic aid, the tourist business has also dried up, leaving thousands of northerners jobless.

Neighboring states, especially Algeria, as well as most nations in the West, fear that if Ansar Dine is left in control of northern Mali (even if subordinate to the Tuareg majority up there), the place will become a base for Islamic terrorist operations. This is what happened in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and Iraq, Yemen and Somalia in the last decade.

July 2, 2012: Ansar Dine announced that it had planted landmines around the city of Gao and are prepared to defeat any MNLA attempt to retake the place.

June 30, 2012:  Ansar Dine gunmen in Timbuktu (population 54,000), the oldest city in the north, began destroying the dozens of ancient tombs of Moslem clerics and scholars worshipped by Sufi Moslems. To conservative Sunni Moslems, Sufis are heretics and their shrines are to be destroyed whenever possible. The destruction of the tombs was condemned by many Moslem leaders worldwide, and the ICC (International Criminal Court) declared it a war crime. This did not discourage Ansar Dine, which threatened to destroy dozens of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu. So far they have not energetically followed through on this threat.

June 29, 2012: Ansar Dine  declared that it had expelled Tuareg (MNLA) gunmen from Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. MNLA admitted they lost control of the three cities, but insisted they still controlled 90 percent of northern Mali (which is mostly desert). The fighting between Ansar Dine and the MNLA has been escalating for weeks, and became more widespread in the last few days. The most intense fighting was outside Gao, the largest city (population 86,000) in the north. There were over a hundred casualties, and the MNLA men usually fled when they realized that the Ansar Dine  fighters would keep coming no matter what.

June 28, 2012:  Algerian al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar was reported killed in northern Mali while fighting for Ansar Dine against rebel Tuareg tribesmen. In Algeria Belmokhtar has earned the nickname “the untouchable” for his ability to escape many efforts to capture or kill him.

June 15, 2012: Ansar Dine and MNLA representatives arrived in Burkina Faso to hold peace talks with ECOWAS. These talks are not expected to go anywhere, but it was considered a useful way to keep in touch with the two rebel factions in the north. ECOWAS is meeting separately with the two groups, as Ansar Dine and MNLA have been increasingly at war with each other in northern Mali.
June 12, 2012:  MNLA and Ansar Dine gunmen fought near Timbuktu. MNLA efforts to assert authority over their Ansar Dine allies have failed and Ansar Dine is in turn fighting to show that it is the superior military power in the north.

June 11, 2012: The AU (African Union) has asked the UN for authorization to intervene in northern Mali.

June 8, 2012:  In the town of Kidal (population 25,000) in the northeast, MNLA and Ansar Dine gunmen began fighting each other after days of arguing how to handle civilians who are opposed to the Ansar Dine imposition of Islamic law.

May 26, 2012: MNLA and Ansar Dine agreed to an alliance so they can both jointly rule, and defend, the north. To achieve this compromise, Ansar Dine agreed to recognize the independent Tuareg state of Azawad in the northern two thirds of Mali. In return, the MNLA agreed to allow Ansar Dine to impose a “limited” form of Islamic law throughout Azawad. This agreement quickly fell apart as most people (Tuareg and southerners) in Azawad made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with any form of Islamic law. Ansar Dine responded by trying to impose even stricter forms of Islamic law, and the MNLA gunmen refused to let this happen to them or their families. This eventually led to fighting between groups of MNLA and Ansar Dine gunmen.

May 20, 2012: In the south, the army rebels officially returned power to the civilian government. But the coup leaders and their armed followers have not surrendered themselves or their weapons.

LOGISTICS: A Sorry Situation

July 4, 2012: Pakistan now agrees that it might allow NATO to again truck supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Pakistan had closed its border to this since last November because the U.S. would not say it was sorry that 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed when they fired on American troops. The U.S. refused to say it was sorry for what was considered an incident caused by Pakistani incompetence or deception.

The Pakistanis are also demanding at least $14 million in additional bribes a month in order to open the border. The U.S. Secretary of State said she was sorry about the Pakistani soldiers being killed, but said nothing about the additional bribes. The border is still closed. The U.S. was using the Pakistani route less and less even before the closure last November.

The U.S. admits that it costs nearly three times as much ($20,000) to move a container in via Central Asia, compared to going via Pakistani roads. Pakistan wants to take advantage of this by imposing an additional fee of $4,750 per cargo container. Most of this cash would go into the pockets of senior officials.

That comes to $14 million a month in bribes. The Pakistanis consider this a good deal because it is costing NATO $38 million a month in additional transportation costs because the Pakistani route is not available. Actually, the cost is $100 million a month, but the U.S. and NATO had been shifting most cargo to the more expensive northern route even before Pakistan closed its border. Containers brought in via the Pakistani route were increasingly subject to theft and damage, which caused a shift to the northern route. While more expensive to move stuff in via Central Asia, it was believed to be cheaper in the long run because of the losses incurred using the Pakistani route.

American politicians note that the U.S. has been giving Pakistan over $80 million a month in military aid, so that aid is being withheld and may be cancelled completely if Pakistan does not open the border. The Pakistanis are also aware that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will involve the shipment of over 100,000 containers (and half a billion dollars in loot for Pakistani leaders, not the Pakistani people). So far, NATO and the U.S. refuse to give in to these extortionate demands, which included the U.S. taking the blame for last November’s friendly fire incident that left 26 Pakistani soldiers dead. There is a long history of Pakistani troops firing across the border at NATO and Afghan forces. Giving the Pakistanis the apology they demand would be bad for NATO morale, as American and NATO troops are still facing a lack of cooperation from Pakistani forces along the Afghan border.

Over five years ago, NATO and the U.S. began negotiating agreements with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia to move all sorts of supplies and equipment over the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Three years ago nearly all land movement of supplies came in via Pakistan. But that changed after Pakistan closed its border to NATO supplies last November 26, because of a friendly fire incident on the Afghan border that left 24 Pakistani troops dead. The plan was always to completely replace Pakistan but that has happened sooner, rather than later. Now Pakistan has to worry about losing some of the transport business for Afghan civilian goods. That’s a major industry in Pakistan because nearly all (save air freight) cargo enters and leaves Afghanistan by truck. But now Afghanistan is building its first railroad system, connecting it with the Central Asian rail network terminal on the Uzbek border. Even with the longer distances, moving cargo would eventually be competitive coming and going via rail through Central Asia, compared to going via truck through Pakistan. The NDN makes for a fundamental change in Afghan-Pakistan relations. Now Afghanistan can look north for economic, cultural, and political alliances, rather than just with Pakistan and Iran, two countries that have not always been kind to Afghanistan.

SPACE OPERATIONS: Mentor And The Chinese Surprise

July 4, 2012: On June 29th the U.S. launched its sixth (since 1995) Mentor electronic reconnaissance satellite. These six ton birds deploy the largest antenna array (over 110 meters in diameter) ever used in a satellite. Details of how Mentor satellites operate is highly classified, but they are known to pick up a large number of electronic signals from ships, aircraft and ground stations, as well as other satellites. This data undergoes some processing on the Mentor satellite, is then encrypted and transmitted to American ground stations for further analysis.

Little is said about these satellites because, more than photo satellites, these electronic listening birds can potentially pick up anything (radar, radio, whatever) that is broadcast from anywhere. This is a alarming possibility for producers and users of military electronics. Not knowing exactly what those enemy satellites are picking up is very disturbing. China, for example, has launched Cyber War type hacking attacks on American companies involved with collecting and analyzing Mentor satellite data. If the Chinese have reached the Mentor database, it has made Chinese electronics much less likely to encounter unpleasant surprises in wartime.

LEADERSHIP:  Russia Cancels Conscription

July 4, 2012: The Russian Army leadership ism at last, in nearly complete agreement that fundamental reforms are needed. For the last two decades, traditionalists have been opposing adopting Western methods of recruiting, training and leading soldiers. But the old ways of using mostly conscripts, no real NCOs and lots of officers to supervise everything, have completely failed now that Russia is no longer a police state. Russia isn’t exactly a democracy either, but the army can no longer order the population to surrender their sons for two years of military service under brutal and unhealthy conditions. Growing opposition to military service has made it extremely difficult to get anyone for the military and troop quality has plummeted. Draft dodging has reached epidemic proportions and efforts to attract more highly paid volunteers have failed as well. The basic problem is the Soviet era tradition of senior troops brutalizing new recruits. Consider the impact of this sort of thing.

For example, a third of all recruits are hospitalized at some point during their service, because of injuries or malnutrition, all the result of the bullying and incompetent leadership. Ultimately, 20 percent of recruits are discharged early because of injuries or illnesses they have endured. This sort of thing gives Russian politicians nightmares about huge crowds of Russian mothers gathering in Red Square demanding justice for their mistreated sons. Something, everyone now agrees, has to be done. While it will be expensive to eliminate conscription, it has reached the point where all the alternatives are worse.

Currently the military has 220,000 officers and 200,000 “contract personnel” (higher paid volunteers, who fill most of the NCO slots). Thus most of the troops are conscripts and it’s getting harder and harder to find enough people to coerce into uniform. The armed forces needs over 600,000 conscripts a year, but can only obtained about 400,000, and that number is declining each year. Most of the missing troops were young men who were conscripted but never showed up. The barracks are thinly populated and the situation is becoming a major national scandal. So now it is generally agreed among the generals that conscription has to go, and better troop supervision (via competent sergeants) has to be established.

Russia’s military leaders have come to understand that the key problem has always been the lack of adequate troop supervision. In other words, Russia lacked good sergeants (NCOs/non-commissioned officers). This is because during the Soviet Union period (1921-91) the communists took away NCO’s responsibilities and duties and turned these tasks over to young officers. The officers were considered more trustworthy by the communist leadership.

There was one major flaw in that plan. Without NCOs no one was maintaining order and discipline in the barracks. The young lieutenants normally assigned to run a platoon had no experience handling troops and were often intimidated by bullies in the ranks. There were not enough more experienced, but higher ranking, officers to come and back the lieutenants up. While the threat of arrest and prison (or labor camps) prevented mutiny or complete anarchy, the stronger troops picked on the weaker ones, making military service extremely unpopular for all the wrong reasons. The conscripts didn’t mind serving their country but they did not like being bullied and exploited by gangs of slightly older soldiers.

For over a decade now the generals have tried to break this cycle of “hazing.”  Taking advice from their Western counterparts they sought to develop NCOs who could take charge of the barracks. They discovered that building an effective NCO corps from scratch is not easy. For one thing, the culture of hazing is very hard to extinguish. Many of the first “professional” (carefully selected, trained, and better paid) NCOs gave up and got out of the military as soon as they could. Facing down the gangs of bullies was more trouble than it was worth.

The latest reform effort is based on increasing the number of contract troops to 425,000 over the next four years and using a special six week training and selection program, to make sure the right people are signed up. The six week course is a series of training and testing sessions that determine if candidates can handle the stress of military life and possess enough maturity to avoid hazing and also help stop those who are still bullying their fellow soldiers.

These new contract soldiers are also selected on the basis of willingness to make a career of the military and eventually take on more responsibilities (becoming NCOs or technical specialists). To meet the goal of 425,000 contract soldiers the military will have to bring in 50,000 new contract soldiers a year. If that goal is achieved most of the enlisted troops would be contract troops and professional enough to eliminate the bullying among the conscripts. If that can be done, and most of these new volunteer soldiers do indeed renounce the culture of hazing, then the bullies will be a small minority, few enough for officers and existing NCOs to take care of. Over the next decade many of the new contract soldiers will rise in the NCO ranks, never having been polluted by the culture of hazing and ready to crack down on any junior troops who try to revive the bad old ways (and many will, having heard stories from older male relatives or their friends).

The biggest problem with keeping conscription is that the number of 18 year olds is rapidly declining each year. The latest crop of draftees was born after the Soviet Union dissolved. That was when the birth rate went south. Not so much because the Soviet Union was gone but more because of the economic depression (caused by decades of communist misrule) that precipitated the collapse of the communist government. The number of available draftees went from 1.5 million a year in the early 1990s, to 800,000 today. Less than half those potential conscripts are showing up and many have criminal records (or tendencies) that help sustain the abuse of new recruits that has made military service so unsavory.

With conscripts now in for only a year now, rather than two, the military is forced to take a lot of marginal (sickly, overweight, bad attitudes, drug users) recruits in order to keep the military and Ministry of Interior units up to strength. But this means that even elite airborne and commando units are using a lot of conscripts. Most of these young guys take a year to master the skills needed to be useful and then they are discharged. Few choose to remain in uniform and become career soldiers. That’s primarily because the Russian military is seen as a crippled institution and one not likely to get better any time soon. With so many of the troops now one year conscripts, an increasing number of the best officers and NCOs get tired of coping with all the alcoholics, drug users, and petty criminals that are taken in just to make quotas. With the exodus of the best leaders, and growing number of ill-trained and unreliable conscripts, the Russian military is more of a mirage than an effective combat (or even police) organization.

The government found that, even among the contract soldiers the old abuses lived on and that most of the best contract soldiers left when their contract was up. It was because of the brutality and lack of discipline in the barracks. The hazing is most frequently committed by troops who have been in six months or so against the new recruits. But this extends to a pattern of abuse and brutality by all senior enlisted troops against junior ones. It’s long been out of control. The abuse continues to increase because of the growing animosity against troops who are not ethnic Russians.

All this is in sharp contrast to the old days. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, it had five million troops in its armed forces. Now it’s less than one million in just Russia (which has about half the population of the Soviet Union but most of the territory). Although the Russian armed forces lost over 80 percent of its strength in the last 18 years a disproportionate number of officers remained. A decade ago the Russian military had about 1.2 million personnel (400,000 in the army itself, the rest in paramilitary units that are largely uniformed and armed like soldiers). But there were 355,000 officers in this force. That’s more than one in three. With all that some 40,000 officer positions were still vacant. The reorganization eliminated over half of them.

Russia has tried to change public attitudes towards the armed forces by publicizing all the new changes and programs. But word got around that most of these efforts failed. Blame that on the Internet. Polls constantly show that most military age men do not want to serve in the military and the main reason is the hazing and prison-like conditions in the barracks. The new generation of NCOs and better troop living conditions are meant to provide an atmosphere that will not scare away conscripts and volunteers.

The Russian military has other problems as well. Corruption investigators believe that about 20 percent of the military budget is lost to corruption and outright theft. So just spending more money on the military is not an easy fix either. Worse, many, if not most, Russian arms manufacturers are corrupt and incompetent. This has gotten so bad that many reform minded generals and admirals prefer to buy foreign weapons. This means paying more, but the quality is much higher and you get stuff on schedule. Getting the corrupt officers out of the military may prove more difficult than eliminating the young bullies.


July 4, 2012: A group of electronic navigation researchers at a Texas university demonstrated to government officials recently how some UAVs can have their operation disrupted via manipulating the GPS signals the aircraft navigation depends on. Using about a thousand dollars’ worth of electronics gear, the researchers demonstrated how the GPS signal manipulation enables one to, in effect, take control of a UAV.

The most vulnerable UAVs are the less expensive ones, that don’t use high-end, military grade communications and navigation systems. If nothing else, the Texas researchers have forced low-end UAV manufacturers to develop more robust (to interference and hijacking) control systems.

The U.S. military has long been working on this problem. Solutions are often hard to come by, For example, two years ago the U.S. Air Force discovered that, because of a flawed (and untested) software update, 86 military systems that use a GPS jamming feature, had their GPS service greatly degraded. A software patch was quickly developed and distributed. The incident was not unique. Upgrades, even though thoroughly tested, sometimes later prove to be flawed. This sort of thing isn’t new. In the early days of World War II, most American submarine torpedoes proved to be flawed, and it took months of increasingly vociferous complaints from sub captains to even get the navy to investigate the possibility of a problem (which was very real, and took a while to fix). Two decades later, a design flaw in an American SLBM (sea launched ballistic missile) warhead, rendered most of those weapons useless until fixed.

There are many similar examples, all over the world.

GPS is different, and not in a good way. GPS has become a vital component for U.S. combat forces, and several nations have developed and sell GPS jammers.

The U.S. Air Force has equipped its GPS weapons with electronic and software features that help overcome this jamming. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is developing an even more powerful anti-jamming system that also solves a more common problem; weak GPS signals. When a GPS guided weapon goes after a target in a canyon, the GPS signals are often so weak that the guidance system must revert to the backup (which is much less accurate.)

The solution is the RSN (The Robust Surface Navigation) system which uses math, statistics and modified antennae to take signals (GPS and non-GPS) and create accurate estimates to make up for the lost GPS data. If this substitute is judged, by the software, as more accurate than the backup system, it uses the RSN estimate, to maximize accuracy. Other signals can come from nearby aircraft, or navigation beacons set up on the ground. The RSN system would enable the U.S. to jam GPS signals in a combat zone where the enemy was using GPS guided weapons, but does not have RSN.
The lesson being learned is that you can’t have too many backups, and protection from unexpected failures. It’s Murphy’s Law. That things fail when you least expect it, and in the worst possible way. The Texas researchers have made it clear that you cannot take anything for granted when using GPS.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: