12 September 2014

Anniversary: One of 9-11's Most Stunning Moments

One of the most stunning achievements of 9-11 was how fast the air traffic control system put everyone on the ground. The "before" picture is around 0930 or so, with about 10,000 planes in the air nationwide. 60 minutes later, there were about 150 (the "after" picture), and most of them were circling runways waiting for other planes to clear so they could land.

11 September 2014

Anniversary 9/11

This op-ed originally ran in The State newspaper in Columbia, SC on 9/17/03.

Watching and listening to the media coverage of September 11th is pretty painful for me, but probably not for the reason you're thinking. It's a reminder of a world-changing event that causes the nation to pause and reflect on our burdens and sacrifices. As for myself? I just get mad, and I'll tell you why.
A random sampling of what was on the morning TV shows on the 11th. NBC and ABC remembering their own broadcasts of the footage as events unfolded in New York, interspersed with shots of the children at Ground Zero. CNN covering the same Ground Zero, with less discussion of what they were doing that day. MSNBC had Imus talking about 9-11 with Tom Brokaw, and Fox News had their talking heads going over the sacrifices of New York and the heroism of Todd Beamer. Local news radio observed the moment of silence at 8:46, when the plane hit the first tower; they also observed a moment for the second plane.
What didn't you hear? What didn't you see? What was never mentioned?
That's right. The Pentagon. No discussion of the sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines who lost their lives at the Pentagon. None, zip, zero, zilch.
I should expect this, though. It's been going on since September 11. Every mention of terrorism in the media today starts with Oklahoma City, and might mention the USS Cole and the embassies in Africa, on their way to talking about "Ground Zero" and the "World Trade Center Attacks." Even the vocabulary with which we discuss 9-11 is colored by our genuflections toward New York. Todd Beamer's name is nationally known because he led the charge to the cockpit on the fourth plane. What do we call the attack on the Pentagon? Who were the heroes of Washington, DC?
America has turned a blind eye toward the victims of terrorism not associated with New York City and Oklahoma City. Is there an annual memorial for the marines who died in Beirut? What about the Achillie Lauro hijacking? The TWA flight where a Navy SEAL's body was unceremoniously dumped on the tarmac in the Middle East? The Rome and Vienna Christmas airport massacres? The Berlin nightclub bombing? The bombing of the military exchange in Frankfurt? Lockerbie, Scotland?
We don't discuss the tragic American victims of terror that didn't happen on our own soil.  It's almost as if they aren't worthy of recognition, or memorialization because their deaths happened over there. The worst ones are the military victims, especially the victims of the Pentagon on 9-11. The attitude seems to be "they are the military, that's their job." As if they signed up to walk around with targets on their backs.
When baseball resumed play in 2001, John Franco led the New York Mets onto the field with an "FDNY" cap on; the entire team wore either "FDNY" or "NYPD" caps. Who took the field wearing military headgear? Who made a public, televised statement of support for the families of the dead at the Pentagon?
September 11 is frustrating and tragic for everyone. But it is especially frustrating and tragic when 25% of the attack is dismissed by the coverage, the memorials, the general discourse, for reasons unknown, but seemingly related to the career choices of the victim.

05 September 2014

New World Record for Longest Sniper Kill

There's been a new world record set for the longest sniper kill, in Afghanistan

According to a report in the Telegraph newspaper there has been a new record set for the longest kill shot in Afghanistan.

GPS aids supposedly "measured the distance the bullet traveled at 2815 meters", beating the previous record of 2475 meters for a confirmed kill.

The shot was taken by a commando sniper team in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

“Through binoculars at a distance invisible to the naked eye they spotted a group of Taliban. The soldiers having means of identifying targets went through a process of obtaining verification and permission to engage. Two marksmen using Barrett M82A1 50 caliber rifles simultaneously fired. The bullets were six seconds in the air. One killed the Taliban commander. It is not known for certain which sniper fired the fatal shot. While there have been no triumphant press releases, in the tight global Special Forces sniper community the shot is much discussed, because it seems certain to be a world record”

Previous record was discussed here

03 September 2014

Ukraine 9/2: We've Seen This Movie Before

The Russians are following a familiar 'playbook'. And why not - it works!

Last weekend, for the first time, President Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of "statehood" for eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting against government forces.

While the Kremlin said Putin's comments were misinterpreted, "the choice of words were not by chance," said Fyodor Lukyanov, chief editor of Russia in Global Affairs.

Russia had previously only called for the region -- where Russian-speakers predominate -- to have more authority in a federal system.

Even that was a non-starter, but now that the rebels are pushing Ukrainian forces back, Moscow "is acting in a different manner," said Lukyanov.

Signs have multiplied in the past week that Russian forces are directly involved in the conflict, helping rebel forces stage a rapid counter-offensive that has thrown back government troops.

NATO says Russia has over a 1,000 soldiers deployed in Ukraine, a charge Moscow denies despite reports of secret funerals near military bases and wounded clogging up hospitals.

"Russia is saying to Kiev: 'We proposed a deal (on federalisation) and you didn't want it. Now, the offer has changed," said Lukyanov.

The offer is a familiar one.

In a bid to support Rusisan-speakers and maintain its influence in the region during the 1990s Moscow supported separatist movements in the Transdniestr region of Moldova and the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia even stationed peacekeepers or troops in those areas which had unilaterally declared independence, and briefly fought a war with Georgia in 2008 after Tbilisi sent its soldiers into South Ossetia.

30 August 2014

Ukraine 8/30: "Concern:?

So apparently the EU has raised their threat level.

European Union foreign ministers have expressed "deep concern" at Russia's "aggression against Ukraine", as the bloc's leaders prepare to consider new sanctions on the Russian government.

Speaking after the ministerial meeting in Milan, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Aston urged Russia to "withdraw its forces from Ukraine".

EU leaders are arriving in Brussels to consider their response to the crisis.

Russia denies that its forces are backing rebels in eastern Ukraine.

But Baroness Ashton said there was "deep concern" over "direct aggression by Russian forces". She called on Russia to stop the flow of arms, equipment and personnel into Ukraine.

It's not just concern, it's deep concern.

18 August 2014

Ukraine 8/18: Uh-Huh, Suuuuuure

An "aid" convoy, huh? Like the one containing BTRs? Like the one with fresh white paint and Red Cross symbols that the ICRC said they had absolutely no knowledge of? One wonders what sort of "deal" was reached on this "aid" convoy.

Russia's foreign minister says full agreement has been reached on the delivery of Russian humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine after talks in Berlin.

But Sergei Lavrov said no deal had been reached on achieving a ceasefire.

He was speaking after talks with the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Germany and France on Sunday.

A huge Russian aid convoy is parked near the border, awaiting inspection. The Red Cross wants security guarantees before the lorries can enter Ukraine.

Almost 270 lorries are outside the Russian town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, near a border post held by pro-Russian rebels.

Western leaders have voiced concern that the convoy could be used as a cover for supplying military equipment to the separatists.

Dammit, People Aren't Paying Attention To Me Anymore - Say Something Stupid!

There is no way that ASSange is going to leave Ecuador embassy in London 'soon'. It's just that no one is paying attention to him now that Snowden is out there.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Monday he would "soon" leave Ecuador's embassy in London but his organisation played down the comment, saying he would not depart until there was an agreement with Britain's government.

Assange, who sought asylum in the embassy two years ago, told a press conference: "I can confirm I will be leaving the embassy soon."

He's not going anywhere, especially not now that everyone's been alerted to the possibility. But they are going to be looking over the walls of the embassy to see what he's doing, and back to breathlessly reporting on his every move.

17 August 2014

The Newer Model Army

The British Army is reinventing himself again.

Reservists can work well. Lieutenant Colonel Graham Johnson, commanding officer of a medical regiment in Afghanistan, said part-timers make up 10% of his unit. “The military offer a lot of leadership skills and development at the lower level,” he explains. “And we benefit from their clinical competence.” But with infantry the situation is trickier. There are too few reservists, and many are unable to drop their civilian jobs at short notice. Regular commanders calling on their reservists could receive fewer than they need.

The army has advertised heavily for reservists, and increased the bounties paid to regular soldiers leaving the army who join the part-timers. But Britain lacks the legal and cultural apparatus to sustain a large reserve. In America part-time soldiers who fail to show up face serious sanctions; employers keep reservists’ jobs open. By contrast the British Territorial Army, recently renamed the “Army Reserve”, has been a more amateur affair, regarded by some as a drinking club. One London-based reservist, who has completed an Afghanistan tour, wryly said his bosses regard him as comparable to a maternity risk.

A recent survey showed that only 42% of regular soldiers who had worked with reservists saw them as professional. Even fewer thought they were well integrated. “The army know they have to be seen to make the arrangement with the reserves work, although privately they doubt that it will”, says Professor Michael Clarke, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think-tank.

The reforms could also create fissures among full-time soldiers. Under the plans, the army will be split into “reactive” and “adaptive” forces. The reactive side’s job is conventional fighting, though it will have fewer tanks than formerly. The adaptive force will sit at lower readiness. It will train foreign troops, something “the British military has done ever since the early days of empire”, says General Sir Peter Wall, the current chief of the general staff.

Because the reactive force will be first to deploy to a major crisis, the new system risks creating a two-tier army. The problem is potentially acute in the Royal Armoured Corps, operators of Britain’s tanks. Regiments there will be permanently streamed to the reactive or adaptive forces, with fewer opportunities to cross-post soldiers than in larger infantry outfits with feet in both camps. Adding this fuel to the existing rivalries between regiments is a risk.

But the most obvious change to the armed forces is a straightforward one: Britain will probably not be engaged in a major foreign war in the near future. That may hamper recruiting. It will also divide those entitled to wear operational-services medals and those who are not. This is why officers are keen to get whatever residual action they can. “There were very competent guys who I went through training with who were just unfortunate, they didn’t go to the right place at the right time and they didn’t get an operational tour,” says Lieutenant Hill. Still, he knows his billet is more comfortable than his predecessors endured. He regrets the fact that, since he is based in Camp Bastion rather than an austere forward base, he can go to a shop and eat an ice cream.