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.

11 August 2014

Darwin? Schadenfreude? Belly Laugh? You Decide

NOT the Duffel Blog: Suicide Bomb Trainer in Iraq Accidentally Blows Up His Class. The New York Times reports:

If there were such a thing, it would probably be rule No. 1 in the teaching manual for instructors of aspiring suicide bombers: Don’t give lessons with live explosives.

In what represented a cautionary tale for terrorist teachers, and a cause of dark humor for ordinary Iraqis, a commander at a secluded terrorist training camp north of Baghdad unwittingly used a belt packed with explosives while conducting a demonstration early Monday for a group of militants, killing himself and 21 other members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, army and police officials said.

Iraqi citizens have long been accustomed to daily attacks on public markets, mosques, funerals and even children’s soccer games, so they saw the story of the fumbling militants as a dark — and delicious — kind of poetic justice, especially coming amid a protracted surge of violence led by the terrorist group, including a rise in suicide bombings.

Just last week a suicide bomber struck a popular falafel shop near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here, killing several people. On Monday evening Raad Hashim, working the counter at a liquor store near the site of the attack, burst out laughing when he heard the news.

“This is so funny,” Mr. Hashim said. “It shows how stupid they are, those dogs and sons of dogs.”

More seriously, he said, “it also gives me pain, as I remember all the innocent people that were killed here.”

Maybe We Should Be Listening To More Outliers

We already sent MacGregor packing, and then reorganized the Army along 90% of his suggestions. We blew off Shinseki, who said we didn't have even half as many troops as were needed to secure Iraq. And then Flynn mouthed off saying that we were sorely lacking the needed intel in Afghanistan. And he was kicked to the curb. Well, Flynn also noted that ISIS was about to take over half of Iraq, and we ignored him again. Shame on the US military for reflexively closing ranks around the 'easy' ideas and leaving the tough ones from smart people to wither and die in the cold, before we realize (usually too late) that they were right.

Days before the takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul by the militant group calling itself the Islamic State, U.S. intelligence analysts were sharply divided over whether the group would seize the city, according to people familiar with the debate.

U.S. officials saw initial indications the group might seek to take Mosul and urged Iraqi action, to no avail. But on the day of the June 10 takeover, U.S. officials played down its significance. "Obviously, this has got our attention in Mosul, but it doesn't change the calculus," said Rear. Adm. John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

Although U.S. spy agencies have monitored and warned about the Islamic State over the past year, they often have underestimated the group's ability to make rapid operational gains, U.S. officials said. That was the case a week ago when militants launched a dramatic and successful offensive in Iraq's Kurdish region.

The offensive prompted President Barack Obama to authorize an airstrike campaign. The president acknowledged Saturday that U.S. spies and policy makers had underestimated the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL. "There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates, and I think the expectations of policy makers both in and outside of Iraq," he said.

The inability of U.S. spy agencies to provide details about the timing of Islamic State offensives or their likelihood of success has touched off debate among U.S. national-security officials about whether intelligence on the group has been adequate.

The struggle to understand the capabilities of the group reflects the difficulty of collecting detailed intelligence on its internal planning. "Collection is tough," one senior U.S. official acknowledged.

That is the challenge facing intelligence officials and the U.S. military as American warplanes launch waves of airstrikes. The success of the strikes may depend in part on how well the U.S. is able to read the group.

A decline in U.S. spy resources after the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq in 2011 has limited American intelligence capability in the region. In some cases, intelligence officials have been frustrated by the Obama administration's reluctance to get more involved in Iraq and Syria, current and former U.S. officials said.

Intelligence officials say that while they can assess a situation, they can't predict outcomes. "The will to fight is inherently difficult to assess," said Jeff Anchukaitis, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "Analysts must make assessments based on perceptions of command and control, leadership abilities, quality of experience and discipline under fire—none of which can be understood with certainty until the first shots are fired."

There have been indications along the way that Islamic State militants would move to control swaths of Iraq. But intelligence officers and policy makers have been slow to conclude the group would realize those ambitions—and quickly.

In late 2013 or early 2014, militants from the group that came to call itself the Islamic State held meetings with other Sunni groups to plot a major Iraqi offensive, the current and former U.S. officials said. The plan was to use Syria as a launchpad.

But the militants acknowledged they couldn't mount the offensive alone. They enlisted the help of others to plan operations to control parts of western and central Iraq, including a Baathist group operating out of Syria called Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi.

That group, known by the acronym JRTN, is believed led by a former top aide to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is probably in Syria. JRTN and other groups such as the Islamic Army of Iraq have added to the manpower and capabilities of the Islamic State militants.

In their annual intelligence briefings to Congress early this year, officials focused primarily on a different part of the Syrian threat—that posed by foreign fighters traveling to Syria and the potential for Syria to become another al Qaeda safe haven.

Gen. Michael Flynn, Defense Intelligence Agency Director at the time, warned lawmakers that the group now calling itself the Islamic State "probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014." Whether they would succeed, he said, depended on how much local support they could muster and how well the Iraqi forces fought them off.

The first signs that the Islamic State was executing an Iraq plan came when the militants, working with the allied Sunni groups in Iraq, launched offensives on Ramadi and Fallujah. Although the Iraqi government was able to take those cities back, the move was a warning.

"When there were the ISIS efforts in Ramadi and Fallujah, it started to look pretty serious," said Seth Jones of the Rand Corp. think tank, who recently wrote a report on the rise of Islamic extremist groups. "The U.S. underestimated the capabilities and didn't quite understand what was going on with ISIS and these groups, particularly the ability to leverage weapons, fighters, and areas they controlled in Syria."

In the days before the June 10 takeover of Mosul, analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency and others were studying the capabilities of Islamic State militants and what their future moves might be. There was significant disagreement over whether the group would be capable of taking Mosul, according to a person familiar with the debate. One intelligence official noted, however, that even the Islamic State itself didn't know how successful it would be.

There were indications then that militants were moving forces from Syria into Iraq, staging them in western Mosul. Brett McGurk, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Iraq told Congress last month that these indications prompted U.S. officials on June 7 to warn the Iraqis and recommend they deploy Kurdish Peshmerga militia forces to stave off the militants.

Instead, the Iraqis sent other forces, despite U.S. warnings that they wouldn't arrive in time. The Islamic State militants moved into Tikrit, north of Baghdad, a day later.

The Islamic State's rapid takeover of Mosul prompted the U.S. to step up intelligence collection, the senior U.S. official said, ramping up surveillance coverage of the group and establishing a joint-operations center so U.S. and Iraqi forces could more quickly share intelligence.

U.S. efforts provided better warnings a week ago when the militants began advancing on Erbil, capital of the Kurdish semiautonomous region.

Nonetheless, the U.S. was once again caught off guard by the effectiveness of militants and their ability to defeat the Peshmerga, seen as the most capable of Iraqi forces.

Days before the latest push by the Sunni militants, a senior defense official said that U.S. intelligence agencies had failed to properly warn about the potency of the Islamic State militants.

"There have been tactical failures, like the rise of ISIS," said the official.

Other officials, including Gen. Flynn, now say that throughout the Islamic State's intensifying offensive, the U.S. has consistently failed to predict their next moves.

"We underestimated the strength, the cohesion and the leadership of ISIL," Gen. Flynn said in an interview shortly before he stepped down Friday as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The group has grown stronger, better armed, and wealthier over the course of the year, he said.

An intelligence official said that spy agencies have been tracking the Islamic State fighters and their predecessor groups for years and have chronicled their rise in detail, as well as the weakness of Iraqi forces.

"This wasn't a U.S. intelligence failure," the official said. "It was an Iraqi military failure. The job of the intelligence community is to warn. We did that. If there was a surprise, it was in just how quickly Iraqi forces initially disintegrated when the shooting started."

DoD Releases "Update on Humanitarian Assistance Operations Near Sinjar, Iraq"

Update on Humanitarian Assistance Operations Near Sinjar, Iraq

Tonight, the U.S. military conducted another successful airdrop of food and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Mount Sinjar, Iraq.
This airdrop was conducted from multiple airbases within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and as with last night, included one C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft that together dropped a total of 72 bundles of supplies. The cargo aircraft were escorted by two F/A-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush.
The C-17 dropped some 40 container delivery system bundles of meals ready to eat and was complemented by a C-130 loaded with an additional 16 bundles totaling 28,224 meals. In addition, one C-130 dropped 16 bundles totaling 1,522 gallons of fresh drinking water.
To date, in coordination with the government of Iraq, U.S. military aircraft have delivered 36,224 meals and 6,822 gallons of fresh drinking water, providing much-needed aid to Iraqis who urgently require emergency assistance.
The United States military will continue to work with the Department of State as well as international partners including the Government of Iraq, the United Nations, and non-government organizations to assess the need for additional humanitarian operations in Iraq going forward.