30 September 2009

Chapter XVI: Whether it is better to fear or love butt bombs...

The US Naval Institute’s blog carries a number of fascinating posts—some regard naval history, some regard the nature of 4GW and the OODA loop. And then, we have some which primarily regard the use of what the authors refer to as “butt bombs”.

A little background: A recent al Qaeda plot involved the attempted suicide bombing of Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism minister. The attacker hid the explosives not in a suicide vest, but rather, as some news sources refer to it, in his “anal cavity”. The attack was ultimately unsuccessful; with the attacker eliminating himself from the gene pool after a fellow al Qaeda operative sent him a text message, detonating the cell phone-triggered explosives, and left the counter-terrorism minister shaken, but not stirred. Al Qaeda must be running out of ideas—this was used in the last Batman movie, The Dark Knight—only without the bomb in someone’s ass. The Joker, as you will recall, detonates a bomb hidden inside someone’s chest cavity after being granted his phone call, facilitating his escape. (The guys at Defense and the National Interest have a great analysis of that movie’s application to 4GW.)

When we first heard about this, we responded with raucous laughter, and we even made a little song about the event. Seriously, the lyrics were “Let’s have some fun, this beat is sick/I wanna take a ride on a dynamite stick”. Okay, it’s not exactly that original, sue me.

Anyway, the USNI quotes Dr. Mike Waller of politicalwarfare.org on the potential IO spin we could potentially put on al Qaeda’s use of anal explosives:

Al Qaeda has flummoxed security experts with its new tactic of evading detection systems by hiding explosives and detonators inside the bodies of suicide bombers.

The method redefines what it is to be an “assassin.”

The new trick came to light last month in a Saudi palace when an Al Qaeda operative, claiming to want to surrender, exploded in a failed attempt to murder the Saudi prince in charge of counterterrorism operations. The terrorist stuffed a pound of explosives and a detonator up his behind (or perhaps one of his buddies did it for him) in order to foil bomb detectors.

What I’m about to propose is gross and disgusting and downright insensitive. But it’s culturally appropriate. And it’s a quick, inexpensive way to see if we can damage terrorist recruitment and neutralize this new and dangerous Al Qaeda murder tactic. So here goes.

Rather than get alarmed about lacking the technical means to detect such bomb smugglers, we should use Arab and Islamic (and generally universal, lowbrow, adolescent) cultural traits to make terrorists too ashamed and embarrassed to turn their bottoms into bombs. And to humiliate their supporters.

This tactic is begging for ridicule. Terrorists hate being ridiculed. Sexually repressed young men hate being ridiculed. Islamist extremists hate being ridiculed. Mockery stains their honor. Most terrorists are sexually repressed Islamist extremist young men.

Therefore, it’s time for the US and its allies, as well as the Saudis, to turn on the laughs by making fun of the butt-bombers. We can all think of ways to ridicule these weirdos in English – oh, the metaphors are just too plentiful and too crude to list here – and the Arabic language is likewise awash in backdoor humor. To say nothing of Pashto.

It does make for an interesting IO spin, to be certain. There’s nothing like ridiculing your enemies’ gross incompetence and maybe even nominating them for a Darwin Award—particularly when it involves something that’s so comically sexually humiliating. But is the author over-estimating the level of embarrassment involved by playing up the gay angle? After the collapse of the Taliban, the custom among Afghan warlords to have a young boy in their service commenced again. Indeed, I believe it was Peter Bergen who reported that, during the Afghan Civil War, two warlords fought a battle with tanks over who had the rights to a young boy. The custom seems to have mixed favor throughout the Muslim world, with nations such as Iran out-right banning gays, on one hand. On the other hand, T.E. Lawrence reported that the Hejaz chapter of MEMBLA seemed to be alive and well among some Bedouins, at least during World War One.

Nevertheless, relentless ridicule is a simple, effective way to de-legitimize al Qaeda, especially when combined with their ever-increasing unpopularity as a result of the massive collateral damage they create.

Focus: Create your own IO spin on the AnalBomber. Do it for NATO.

Web 2.0 and Work

Dave Dilegge at Small Wars Journal pointed out that the military's policies regarding Web 2.0 and social media seem to vary from service to service, with the US Marines and Navy blocking access to Small Wars Journal's discussion board (oddly enough, Dave Dilegge, Bill Nagle and Robert Haddick are all retired Marines).

The US Army, on the other hand, not only allows Soldiers to post on the SWJ message board, but also receives great feedback from these boards, with General Martin Dempsey and Brig. Gen. HR McMaster frequently soliciting the boards for advice.

Much has been written about the US military's reluctance to embrace social networking, but let's not be too harsh on the military--the corporate sector can be just as bad about blogging, as this article from Lifehack.org points out.

Focus: What does your work place think of your blog and Facebook? Do they know it exists? What would happen if they found your blog?

29 September 2009

MRAP Madness

Today's NY Daily News includes an article entitled "Soldiers Rap on MRAP", which documents many of the concerns some troops have regarding the off-road capabilities of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP.

We've covered this before in a previous post, which was inspired by an article in Small Wars Journal during which a Marine sergeant quipped that the MRAP was a behemoth of a vehicle which was only capable of driving on the paved road of Iraq--oddly enough, right where the enemy would put improvised explosive devices. The desire for force protection, once again, severely limits the mobility of American forces in Afghanistan--a crucial component of any military strategy. As the 10th Mountain Division Soldiers (from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team...my drinking buddies) note--it's no good to simply slap more armour on the vehicle when the enemy simply learns to make bigger bombs.

We've also brought up alternative means of transportation around the battlefields of Afghanistan (this article actually made the Early Bird--my how the military's standards have dropped ;) ), but it's worth repeating--is there a happy median between protection and maneuver?

28 September 2009

Links of the Day

Our first link is "A Modern War Reader", which is a counterinsurgency reading list posted by Jules Crittenden, but taken from JH Stuart. I think I am going to have to put together my own counterinsurgency/4GW reading list in the near future to compliment my "what's on my bookshelf" post which earned me an entry in the blog Omnivoracious, entitled "Lawrence and Lad Lit: A Helicopter Pilot's Bookshelf". In the meantime, though, I'll link to Jules Crittenden's COIN reading list, which features a great analysis of my favorite book about insurgency (and favorite book of all time), Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. Crittenden should be commended for noticing the difference between the 1926 and 1922 editions.

Bonus: For those of you who like seeing military bookshelves, check out Omnivoracious' post "The General's Bookshelf: What's Petraeus Reading?" for an analysis of Petraeus' latest book, courtesy of Tom Ricks.

The second great link of the day comes from the US Naval Institute's Blog, and it shows us how to be an OODA-Loopy successful commander.

War is economics by other means, part III

In a previous post, we discussed the difficulties which faced the fledgling Iraqi economy—one of the vital, yet underlooked, components of a secure Iraq. In that particular article, I noted that foreign investment in Iraq is minimal, that a good portion of the work force is part of the Iraqi police and Army (and thus, don't create revenue), and that oil prices have dropped considerably, which affects the amount of money available to fund the security forces (and thus, keep the insurgency at bay, and to employ potential insurgents in legitimate jobs).

Today's New York Times featured an article documenting some further issues with the Iraqi economy that are somewhat disturbing. During the era of Saddam Hussein, the Ba'ath Party owned the means of production and controlled the economy—the free market was completely non-existent. Although not as extreme today, Iraq's government exercises an extreme amount of control over the infant Iraqi economy. Some things just never change…

Next month the United States and Iraq will gather hundreds of officials and company executives for a two-day conference in Washington intended to send a message that after six years of war, Iraq is open for business, and not just in oil. Now more than ever before, Iraqi officials boast that a trickle of foreign investment — including the first new hotel in Baghdad since Saddam Hussein's government fell — is at last poised to be a flood.

The experience of the company here, though, shows that economic development and foreign investment face more obstacles than security alone.

The state-owned industries that dominate the country's economy — from oil fields to dairies to textile factories — are as bloated and inefficient as they were in Mr. Hussein's time, arguably more so. They are hobbled by corruption, still sporadic electricity and poor roads and bound by bureaucracy and central planning that leave them unable to compete with a flood of cheap imports from Iran, Turkey and beyond.

New legislation intended to regulate investments, land rights, taxes, financial services and consumer protections remains stalled in Parliament. The mere mention of the sort of privatization that swept Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union after the collapse of Communism is anathema to officials here.

"We are not after shock therapy," Sami al-Araji, the chairman of Iraq's national investment commission, said in an interview.

"We are after a gradual change from a centrally controlled economy to an open one."

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki publicly pressed Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. earlier this month about "the need for this conference to be a success."

Privately, though, American officials express concern that it will be little more than a political exercise before Mr. Maliki's re-election campaign unless the Iraqis do more to create a solid foundation for foreign investors willing to take a risk on the country's prospects.

27 September 2009

The only man crazier than Qadaffi: Ralph Peters

Spencer Ackerman is keen to point out that Ralph Peters is back to his old tricks in the New York Post.

In today's post at Attackerman, Ackerman notes that Peters is claiming that the rules of engagement in Afghanistan don't allow troops to unleash mass destruction upon the enemy. Now, you're probably about to note that in population-centric counterinsurgency, enemy body counts aren't important—it's better to secure the population, clear the area of insurgents, and build security forces and social services on top of these areas—basically separating the fish from the water, to reverse-engineer Maoist insurgency. You know—the "clear, hold, and build" we learned from David Galula.

Well, along comes Ralph Peters to claim that the only way to win is through brute force. Says Peters:

Over the decades, political correctness insinuated itself into the ranks of our "Washington player" generals and admirals. We now have four-stars who believe that improving our enemies' self-esteem is a crucial wartime goal.

And the Army published its disastrous Counterinsurgency Manual a few years back -- doctrine written by military intellectuals who, instead of listening to Infantry squad leaders, made a show of consulting "peace advocates" and "humanitarian workers."

The result was a manual based on a few heavily edited case studies "proving" that the key to success in fighting terrorists is to hand out soccer balls to worm-eaten children. The doctrine ignored the brutal lessons of 3,000 years of history -- because history isn't politically correct (it shows, relentlessly, that the only effective way to fight faith-fueled insurgents is with fire and sword).

The New York Times lavished praise on the manual. What does that tell you?

Bah, those draft-card burning hippie junior officers, peace activists, and humanitarian workers with their New York Times-endorsed Counterinsurgency Manual! What happened to credible news sources like the New York Post, the Fox News Channel, and the Weekly World News! (You know, the only news sources that will host Ralph Peters)

Anyway, I'm stealing Ackerman's thunder when I talk about this. I'll have to quote him directly.

And then, following one of Rumsfeld's famous rules, Peters decides to broaden his attack, going after the generation of theorist-practitioners who emerged from Iraq and Afghanistan determined to ensure that the U.S. would develop a counterinsurgency capability that would allow it to mitigate being thrust into such awful situations. You know. Pussies.

Exactly. Peters, who spent ten years as a military intelligence officer in Germany is once again calling out the current generation of military officers for "forgetting how to kill". Somehow he's under the impression that the military's killer instincts were much sharper in the early 90s, when our greatest challenge was dealing with a post-Oktoberfest hangover, and we had our tanks in Europe lined up to fight an enemy that didn't even exist anymore. Seriously, as much as Peters claims he supports the troops, he couldn't be any more alienated from the realities of the modern US military.

26 September 2009

Krazy Khadaffi Kaption Kontest!

Be sure to head over to Karaka Pend, a great foreign policy/milblog which is featuring somewhat of a caption contest from Qadaffi's latest UN speech.

"Excuse me, Sir, we're shutting down the club"--Karaka Pend

Add this to June's caption contest which featured Italian Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna's* shocked expression at Qadaffi's speech (or wardrobe) in Italy.

*--for those of you not well-versed in Italian politics, Mara Carfagna is basically an Italian Sarah Palin. Her qualificatons for office are somewhat dubious (an equal opportunities minister should probably not be anti-gay). However, she was a super-hot Italian fashion model.

25 September 2009

Strategy vs. Tactics

Apparently, I missed a huge COINdinista festival hosted by the US Marine Corps. Attendees included Thomas Ricks, Dave Dilegge, General Petraeus, Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Robert Haddick, and Spencer Ackerman (who posted about it at his blog, Attackerman).

(As an aside, I should mention that Dave Dilegge told me that there's great food and coffee at these functions. He even provided me with an in-depth analysis of who has the best snacks. Yes, this is what I have to look forward to.)

Anyway, since I can't partake in COINtoberfest, I have to settle for the milblogosphere, primarily, SWJ. They provided a link to an article in the New York Times, entitled The Afghan Imperative. This particular article caught my eye, as it represents someone who just doesn't get the debate. Quoth the author:

Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon's Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.

There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.

The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.

This is a straw man argument at its worst. The debate isn't between those who want to apply few troops to counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and those who want to surge. That's a tactical question. Rather, the debate is between those who want to continue nation-building and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, versus those who want to concentrate on a counter-terror campaign. The question is strategic—what are the national objectives, and how do we go about achieving them. If you believe that counterinsurgency against the Taliban is in our interests, then yes, you need more troops. However, if you feel that al Qaeda is the real enemy (and, I dare say, it is), then the question isn't about how to conduct counter-insurgency—it's about re-framing the strategic picture.

Bonus: This point wasn't lost on the editors who referenced this article in the comments section of Small Wars Journal. They were able to provide me with a link to Cato@Liberty for a more in-depth deconstruction of the aforementioned article.

Okay, more Qadaffi

You gotta love the smart-assery at Foreign Policy Online, home of the real foreign policy news. Want to hear the latest from the Qadaffi speech at the UN? Well, check out these pictures.

And don't forget to take a look at the executive summary of his speech, entitled "Qadaffi Time". (I guess like "Hammer Time". Because as Adam Elkus notes, Qadaffi is straight ballin')

  • Treki introduces Qaddafi as "king of kings" and "leader of the revolution" among a number of other titles. Delegates refusing to sit down. There's commotion in the room. It's a little unclear from here what's going on but Treki is trying in vain to gavel the session to order.
  • Qaddafi finally begins. Room still not quiet.
  • As representative of African Union (nations and traditional kingdoms) Qaddafi congratulates "our son" Obama. Ummm.... [ed. Note, Fox News was all over this comment, obviously trying to play up the Obama/terrorist rhetoric]
  • Doubles down comparing Security Council to Al Qaeda
  • Qaddafi gives shoutout to Silvio Berlusconi for apologizing for World War II crimes. Calls it a "glorious act." In the context of this speech, that's probably not a great thing for Berlusconi.
  • Now heaping praise on the "black, African, Kenyan" president of the United States [ed. Note—see, I told you all birthers were nutcases]
  • Good lord... Qaddafi now questioning the official record on the Kennedy assassination.
  • "Perhaps tomorrow we will have a fish flu."

Note: WOI fans may notice that I now have a "Qadaffi" tag dedicated to his outbursts.

24 September 2009

Contractor Question

In the military, we contract everything. Contractors cook our food and wash our clothes. Contractors do almost all of the teaching and flying at flight school, at least in the Army. In fact, it's a rare sight to actually see a flight school student at Fort Rucker among all the contractors and retirees in the area.

Contractors also serve as infantrymen in Blackwater (or Xe), and they perform maintenance on all of our vehicles. With contractors outnumbering Soldiers two to one at one point in Afghanistan, it's safe to say that almost everything is contractable these days.

So does that mean I can contract out making PowerPoint slides? Please?

23 September 2009

To the shores of Tripoli

I had almost forgotten that Qadaffi even existed, with the threat from Libya having not appeared since Libyan terrorists shot at Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Indeed, the Libyans are kind of an ankle-biting enemy that the US comes up against every now and then. Fortunately for us, soundly routing the Libyans every century or so is a wonderful American tradition that provides us with endless amusement.

After all, the first overseas victory of the US military was won by the Marine Corps, after their defeat of the Barbary Pirates on the "shores of Tripoli" in Libya, an act enshrined in the Marine Corps Hymn. Over a century later, US Navy F-14s patrolling in the International Waters in the Gulf of Sidra (Gulf of Sidra One, Gulf of Sidra Two) encountered Libyan MiG-23s Floggers and Su-22 Fitters, promptly shooting them down in aerial dogfights. The lopsided victories over the Libyan fighters in both of these encounters served as the basis for the movie "Top Gun"—a movie which has inspired a generation of military pilots in the US.

Today, bombing Libya isn't worth the price of a GPS-guided bomb, so we have to make do with just endlessly ridiculing Qadaffi's insane rants and ludicrous clothing. Ah, the good old days…

The News

Hardly anyone in Iraq is talking about the latest plan for Afghanistan, although it is clearly dominating the milblogosphere. I can't really say anything that hasn't been said already, so I'll have to pass you all on to the following, before I go back to making fun of Qadaffi.

Also, a bit of an admin note for all you WOI followers--the quality of posts will decline for the next week or two. But don't worry--soon I'll be back in the US and I'll have an inordinate amount of time (and bandwidth) for milblogging. This is good for you.

Anyway, a lot of Afghanistan links and quotes from around the milblogosphere. I have to say, with last week's Presidential interview, the leaked McChrystal report, and the Karzai's election fraud, I'm beginning to think we're about to see the end of the Afghanistan. Of course, I said that about Iraq a few years back, and here I am. Anyway, without further ado:

Andrew Exum

When the president decides on his strategy for Afghanistan (for real this time), he's going to make a lot of people unhappy. He might, if he decides to resource a counterinsurgency strategy and back a request for more troops, make his base and his own vice president upset. If he decides to consolidate gains in Afghanistan, downsize the footprint, and conduct a counter-terror campaign focused on Pakistan, meanwhile, he's going to make Republicans and the military leadership unhappy. The latter believe that only a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy will succeed in Afghanistan. But their job is to give their best military advice and to then leave the political decision up to the president, who should and will weigh a number of other factors into his decision. But again, once a decision has been made, everyone -- from the vice president to the military leadership (to 31-year old counterinsurgency bloggers?) -- needs to get onboard. Despite this report from Nancy, I get the sense that the military leadership will have an easier time executing the president's policy if their advice is ignored than the vice-president will if he doesnt get his way.

Tom Ricks

The New Yorker's George Packer and the Washington Post's Bob Woodward weigh in with complementary pieces that illuminate a lot of what is going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Packer's profile of aging diplo-wunderkind Richard Holbrooke is close to book length, and every word is worth reading. He plumbs three great mysteries: problems: the future of Afghanistan, the situation in Pakistan, and the size of Holbrooke's ego. He also offers up some wonderful asides. This one particularly struck me:

"Washington promotes tactical brilliance framed by strategic conformity -- the facility to outmaneuver one's counterpart in a discussion, without questioning fundamental assumptions."

Packer also touches on an issue of strategic process I was discussing last week, that the purpose of high-level meetings must be in part to find and explore differences of view. Holbrooke tells him:

"... you want open airing of views and opinions and suggestions upward, but once the policy's decided you want rigorous, disciplined implementation of it. And very often in the government the exact opposite happens. People sit in a room, they don't air their real differences a false and sloppy consensus papers over those underlying differences, and they go back to their offices and continue to work at cross purposes, even actively undermining each other. "

That strikes me as a pretty good summary of the Bush Administration's handling of Iraq, 2002-2006 -- but if other examples occur to readers, I would be interesting in hearing about it. I think this is a frequent problem in developing American strategy.

War is Boring

1) Tactics must back strategy to be effective. Whether or not to send more troops is a tactical debate, not a strategic one. The questions of "should we" and "where will they be/what will they do" is not nearly so important as "what do we hope they will achieve?" We have to define and prioritize U.S. interests in Afghanistan before we can think about things like troops numbers, COIN, equipment or outreach.

2) Pakistan should be a major concern, perhaps the major concern. The U.S. has lived with an unstable Afghanistan — even with an Al-Qaeda presence — for years, whereas Pakistan has only gained in strategic importance since the 1949 Partition. In terms of population, geographic location, economic effect and position in the community of nations, Pakistan is far, far more important than Afghanistan. Not to mention nuclear weapons.

5) The Taliban is not a monolithic force. Though coordinated, it is not under the sole command of a single person. The Quetta Shura group, Jalaludin Haqqani's network, those loyal to Mullah Omar — they are different groups, working together towards common aims. They are ethnically diverse but largely Afghan; many of the people planting bombs are young unemployed men from nearby villages.

6) The Taliban is not Al Qaeda. There is a great distinction between the two. Most American experts believe that Al Qaeda is almost completely nonexistent in Afghanistan, preferring the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. They may exchange resources and even money, but Al Qaeda is not considered responsible for attacks on the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Jamie Mcintyre

Marc Lynch

Middle East Institute

Try to avoid the "Obama versus the professional military" narrative. I think it's pretty clear what McChrystal is actually saying: the professional military has plenty of doubts about Afghanistan, too. But if our assignment is to assess what is needed to win it, this is our assessment. Whether that is a practical policy, whether the investments outweigh the potential risks, is a political decision; they've spelled out the military realities.

Don't trust the "failure is not an option" argument. No military man makes such arguments, at least not since the fall of Imperial Japanese militarism. Suicide in the name of a cause is not rational strategy. Some of the supporters of the war come close to that argument: we can't afford to lose. But if you also can't afford to win, you bleed unendingly, as we did in Vietnam and the Soviets did in Afghanistan. That's not what McChrystal is saying, and those who make such arguments are not supporting the careful analyses of the generals. They've watched the opening of Patton too many times. Patton really did give that speech, but he was being a cheerleader, not a strategist (and he was at least as good an actor as George C. Scott).

Sic Semper Tyrannis

William S. Lind

In a curious passage, the report says, on page 2-20,

The greater resources (ISAF requires) will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the new strategy. Conversely, inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced.

Here we encounter the report's most dangerous failing. It confuses the strategic and the operational levels of war. In fact, the report does not offer a new strategy, but a new operational-level plan. How the war is fought, i.e. by following classic counter-insurgency doctrine, is operational, not strategic.

America must find a new strategy, since the current strategy depends on an Afghan state that does not exist. But the report offers no new strategy. The passage on page 2-20 thus ends up saying, "If you don't give us more troops, we will fail. But you shouldn't give us more troops unless we adopt a new strategy, which we don't have. And even if you do give us the troops we want for the new strategy we haven't got, they will not be enough to achieve success." This reveals utter intellectual confusion.

The proper response of the White House, the Pentagon, and Congress to General McChrystal's report is, "Back to the drawing board, fellas."

Your Daily Qadaffi

Kings of War ran an excellent satire of Qadaffi's anti-Switzerland rant. Funny how the tiny economic powerhouse in the Alps bears many similarities to Afghanistan--mountainous terrain, an assault rifle in the home of every military-aged man, no common language from canton to canton, and they only just now joined the international community in the UN and allowed women to vote.

The analogy isn't lost on Kings of War, either--in honor of Qadaffi's sure-to-be ludicrous address to the UN today, they wrote the greatest satire of Qadaffi's latest tirade to date. I particularly like the allusion to Hannibal [Qadaffi] coming through the Alps. COINdinistas--take note of the insurgency tactics coming out of that particular nation.

Can Switzerland be broken up?

As Libya’s Gaddafi is getting ready to speak before the UN General Assembly, we thought it is time to consider that question more seriously. His foreign minister, after all, will preside the body for the next year. And Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, probably fed-up with all the diplomatic tact and boring dark suits, proposed tobreak up Switzerland, in case you missed it. The place is “a world mafia, not a state,” he said. A couple of months ago the German finance minister, Peer Steinbrück, had already proposed to send the cavalry to do away with the money-launderers in the Alps.

We Europeans, you will understand, take all things UN very seriously. Sure, Switzerland entered the UN in 2002. But that bunch of cantons never applied for EU membership. As a result it looks like a bird dropping on Europe’s neat map. Now Gaddafi proposed to “wipe it off.” Right. To break it up and give the French part to the French, the German part to the Germans, and that one Italian canton to the Italians. Sounds good, you might think (if you’re not Swiss or Italian).

So, can it be done? Our analysis: forget it.

The drag starts with the casus belli already. You need a reason for going to war, or at least it helps. At first glance, the “safe haven” trick might work: the Swiss live on inaccessible, landlocked mountains; many have long bushy beards; they hate foreigners; they don’t let their womenfolk vote (at least not until recently); every other village seems to have its own funny language; they quarrel amongst each other; everybody has a gun at home; and there’s a big supply of religious nuts. Problem is, there’re no terrorists.

OK, you could say they are a financial safe haven. After all they bunker loads of secret money. Germany tried to go down that road and had Switzerland put on an OECD black list for rogue states. Problem is, that won’t get you Article 5 and NATO support. So no invasion there.

Well, you’ll think, screw terrorism and NATO and do the WMD thing. Bern, Baghdad? Clearly they are messing with nuclear power plants. They have dodgy high-tech factories all over the place, surely some of them mobile. It should be easy to find tons of aluminum tubes. And they can ship all sorts of things to London in 45 minutes. Problem is — World War I, World War II — they never attacked anybody.

Good. So ignore the casus belli. Who needs that anyway? Think operational. But here the real headache only begins. You think insurgency is new? Recent field manuals? Swiss Wanderhackbauernharassed European powers well before Americans could start their own insurgency against the British. Back then. Erasmus of Rotterdam already called them “butchers” in the early 1500s (veluti carnifex quispiam ad lanienam precio emptus). Swiss officers have been publishing insurgency manuals since the 1950s. With a 450-years delay, you might think. Well, they might be slow, but they mean business (Der totale Widerstand).

Yeah, doctrine, you’ll say, history, pah — what counts is action. But here it gets even worse. Ever heard of the Réduit? Switzerland is probably the only country that has a national security strategy of insurgency. In the case of war, ruthless mountain warriors would harass the enemy in what they call Middle Earth, probably a deterrent hint to Mordor, and maintain their sovereignty in the Zentralraum, as the generals called it in 1940. The Swiss have the means to resist, such as fighter jets hidden in steep mountains walls, ready to swoop out, and they have the will to resist — after all tiny Switzerland deterred the Wehrmacht. Korengal will be a cakewalk against Appenzell.

So go ahead, Gaddafi, send Hannibal to the Alps. We’ll sit and watch the fun.

21 September 2009

Around the Milblogosphere…

Okay, it's the end of the deployment, and things are getting relatively busy. I won't go too in-depth into these links—but I feel obliged to pass some of these along to you.

  • Your "Universal Camouflage Pattern Sucks" link of the day brought to you by the Small Wars Council. Today we examine one of the interesting design features of the UCP—its lack of the color black, due to the fact that the designers claim that it is not found in nature. This post comes complete with a picture of a Soldier in a typical woodland environment which proves how grossly inaccurate this statement is.
  • Acolytes of John Boyd are familiar with using texts from Samurai fighters such as Miyamoto Musashi (A Book of Five Rings) in order to train their minds for battle and gain strategic insight. However, it hasn't become common place in the US military—until now (Time Magazine reports, courtesy of Jenna).
  • World Affairs Journal ran a recent article (featuring commentary from Col. Gian Gentile), entitled "The Birth of Modern Counterinsurgency", regarding the re-discovered art of counterinsurgency in the US military. Amazingly enough, it argues that the attention paid to counterinsurgency was even greater in the 1950s and 60s than it is today—particularly in light of Maoist-style insurgencies in Vietnam, China, Algeria, Greece, and other hot-spots throughout the world.
  • An article in Columbia Journalism Review entitled "Forgetting Iraq" discusses the near-disappearance of Iraq in the local news. It also brings up some interesting points about journalism in Iraq. Namely, that Public Affairs Officers (and to a lesser extent, many military officers) have trouble truly getting a lot of valuable human intelligence and news due to the extraordinary force protection measures they are forced to put up with. Journalists, on the other hand, aren't always subjected to as many force protection measures, and thus, can report on stories that the military's public affairs units can't.
  • Don't rely on pundits to tell you what General Stanley McChrystal will ask for in Afghanistan—read the McChrystal report (de-classified) for yourself. In the hustle, I haven't been able to read this yet, but it should be a valuable document.
  • Also check out a summary of President Obama's latest interview regarding Afghanistan with CNN's State of the Union. Some select quotes from the summary at DefenseLink:

The president acknowledged what he called "mission creep" in Afghanistan where the United States is tied up in missions there that are not directly tied to defeating al-Qaeda. He said there is a better chance of finding and killing bin Laden if the mission is refocused and the overarching strategy is bent on defeating al-Qaeda.

Any request for more troops will be weighed against this strategy, he said.

"There's a natural inclination to say if 'I get more then I can do more.' But right now the first question is 'Are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy," Obama said in an interview with CNN's State of the Union.

Before he commits any additional troops, Obama said he wants a new strategy in place. This will come as the administration weighs in the outcome of the Afghanistan election review, as well as a resource request expected from McChrystal in the next few weeks.

"If by sending young men and women into harm's way we are defeating al-Qaeda, and that can be shown to a skeptical audience, namely me … then we do what is required to keep the American people safe," the president said on ABC. "You don't make decisions about resources before you have the strategy right."

Wow, it's as if he's been reading Small Wars Journal! I particularly like how President Obama is concentrating on strategy first, and crafting the operational framework to match, instead of the other way around like a number of COINdinistas seem to be doing.

On CBS' Face the Nation, Obama said that rebuilding the government in Afghanistan, and working with the government of Pakistan, are both critical elements of securing Afghanistan, but at the core of the strategy should be efforts to "dismantle, defeat and destroy al-Qaeda."

"The only reason I send a single young man or woman in uniform anywhere in the world is because I think it's necessary to keep us safe," he said. "Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, and then we'll figure out how to resource it. We're not going to put the cart before the horse and just think that by sending more troops we're automatically going to make Americans safe."

Obama called the war in Afghanistan "complicated terrain," and he said any strategy would be reviewed every six months to ensure it was on the right track.

On NBC's Meet the Press, the president said he did not have a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but that he did not believe in an indefinite military presence in the country.

Obama said that any continued military efforts in Afghanistan should align with the overall national security interests of the United States.

"How does this advance America's national security interests? How does it make sure that al-Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe? That's the question that I am constantly asking because that's the primary threat that we went there to deal with," he said.

Systemic Operational Design, anyone?

If supporting the Afghan national government and helping build capacity for their army advances that strategy, then the United States will move forward, Obama said.

"But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way … sending a message that America is here for the duration. I think it's important that we match strategy to resources," Obama said.

This, my friends, is the beginnings of strategic thinking at work.

Out of touch?

I used to always think that being in Iraq gives one a unique perspective on the happenings in that country. I have to say, that's not entirely true. If you didn't catch it in my "Links of the Day" post, Columbia Journal Online hosted a great article on how out of touch Soldiers on Forward Operating Bases can be when compared to mainstream journalists—the massive force protection measures isolate many troops from the local population. Indeed, the best source of intelligence and analysis I get on Iraq comes not from the intel channels, but rather, from milbloggers and journalists.

How out of touch can one be on a FOB? Let's just say that the first I heard of this story was from my parents back in the US. (And this story has been confirmed at ArmyAirCrews.com)

Your WTF of the Day…

Today we discovered that a set of bags belonging to one of the replacement Soldiers got mis-routed. We were able to recover the bag, but we didn't know which Soldier they belonged to. The bags weren't marked with a name, so we dug through them to see if there was a uniform or something with a name tag which we could use to identify the contents.

Unfortunately, the new ACUs don't have name tags on them, since they rely on Velcro name-tapes and patches, so we had to ruffle through the contents to see if we could determine the Soldier's identity. Imagine our surprise when we opened up the assault pack:

So basically…we have cologne, a flamboyantly gay pimp hat, a powder blue studded belt with an "Independent" belt buckle, and a feminine-looking book called "Gargoyle". Oh, and we also have a string of really large beads (Hmmm...I wonder what those are for?) And to top it off, there's a Bill O'Reilly book. I always wondered what fueled O'Reilly's rampant homophobia...judging by his fans, I think I know...

I feel sorry for the guy's roommate.

19 September 2009

Yarr, the most amazin’ holiday o’ te year, matey!

That be right, ye scallywags, it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day! See ye scurvy pirates throughout hist'ry:

The Pirate Captain runs fer Cap'n of NC State University. (full story)

Search fer pirates and buried treasure!

Pirate songs!

Arrr, that be all the pirate news fer t'day, mateys, as there weren't any good blog posts t'day. Hoist the mizzenmast!

(Slow blog day, so sue me)

18 September 2009

What holiday is it this time?!

Today, as I strolled into the dining facility, I saw that—once again—the tables had American flags on them; and that red, white and blue decorations adorned the wall.

What holiday is it this time?

I thought back through the holidays. It couldn't be Labor Day…that was last week. Flag Day? June. The signing of the US Constitution was yesterday. I knew from the daily briefings that I should be careful, since today is actually a Muslim holiday known as "Qods Day", which is apparently International-Hate-on-Israel Day. (That's right, the Iranian Ayatollah actually dedicated a holiday, starting in 1979, to how much he couldn't stand Israel--wonders never cease.)

But as I ate lunch, I discovered that we had "Air Force Cake" (a really nice cake that is typically only found in Air Force facilities) in the dining facility to denote that it was…surprise…the Air Force's Birthday.

I have to say, I am always appreciative for our brethren in blue, particularly for the following:

  • Your insanely hot women who make joint task forces that much more enjoyable…
  • …Your swimming pools (yes, plural) at Joint Base Balad, which make maintenance "problems" there that much more bearable, and…
  • The propensity for your cargo aircraft to have maintenance "issues" in Landstuhl during Oktoberfest, making intercontinental strategic airlift that much more interesting.

Update: Thanks to Pat O, I now know that it's also National POW/MIA Remembrance Day.

Today’s “That Crazy New Media” Moment

I think that everyone in the Army got an e-mail today regarding "MI Space" (Military Intelligence Space), the new social networking tool for military intelligence. The e-mail even advertises an MI-Space Twitter page—which means that the Army really has embraced Web 2.0, down to the annoying spam e-mails asking for web traffic. Will they be asking me to check out their hot webcam pics next?

Anyway, I heard someone open his e-mail and exclaim "MI Space! Is this a joke e-mail?"

As he read a little further, he screamed "Twitter!? Have these guys ever heard of OPSEC?!"

Some get the New Media, some don't…

Great New Article

There are few things that can beat the awesome combination of a new article at Small Wars Journal written by both Adam Elkus
and Mark "Zenpundit" Safranski.

Well, except for Megan Fox in a Star Wars T-shirt…

Fan Mail

Now, I am truly an international man of mystery. The fine employees of Vifor Pharma, a pharmaceutical company in Zurich, Switzerland, have invoked my visage to complain about the coffee at work. Check this out:

"Even the US Army in Iraq gets better coffee than we do!"

To be fair, though, it was Camp Buehring in Kuwait, not Iraq. Anyway, looks like they put my picture up, appropriately, next to the Italian coffee maker:

Slightly different wording "Even the US Army gets better coffee in Iraq than we do here". This must mean my picture is in multiple places in the office.

17 September 2009

Army Camo Woes

I am beginning to think that the Army's selection of the current Universal Camouflage Pattern might be one of the most embarrassing scandals to hit the Army in recent years. In previous posts in this blog (located here and here), I've questioned the logic of picking a pattern which was proven to be the worst-performing of the patterns which made it to the final phase of testing. But who am I to question the decisions of Program Executive Office-Soldier ("PEO Soldier"), the organization which is responsible for equipping all Soldiers in the US Army? Surely they must have their reasoning, right? Well, as it turns out, the current commander of PEO Soldier, Brigadier General Peter Fuller, can't figure out why PEO Soldier picked such a bad uniform in the first place, either.

But how bad can it really be, you ask? Well, apart from anecdotal evidence from Soldiers who have used the thing in wooded terrain, jungle terrain, and pretty much anything outside of a gravel pit, a test by Army Natick Soldier Research has shown a number of patterns that out-perform the UCP by anywhere from 16 to 36%, including Multicam and a pattern used by the Jordanian military.

This is one of many reasons that I am happy to have never bought in to the whole UCP craze. I always bought my backpacks in Coyote Tan. I feel sorry for all those people who bought UCP-pattern backpacks and laptop cases, because they might soon become obsolete (and they'll stick out like a sore thumb, too).

One suggestion that the Army Times brings up is that the UCP might be used as a garrison uniform, while the Multicam is used in combat. This might not be a bad idea—after all, the military strives on challenging training. If you can survive sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of a forest in Fort Bragg in "foliage green" (actually grey), you can survive anything.

My only concern is that there's going to be protests from the recruiters, who showcase the UCP in everything. I suspect they like the pattern because the pixels make the Army seem like a network-centric 21st Century Army. Which is kind of amusing, since I haven't seen pixels that big since Pac-Man circa 1983.

Misc. thought—what's with the color of the Velcro on the sleeves of the uniform? Every uniform set seems to have a different color, including dark green, olive drab, silver and black.

Addendum: Thanks to Gulliver at Ink Spots for the link to previous posts on the UCP. (Yes, we are war nerds)

16 September 2009

Safety first?

Today, I had just grabbed dinner from the dining facility with the safety officer. We hopped into the pick-up truck that we used for lunch runs, and I put the truck in reverse. The ever-astute safety officer noted something out the right door.


"Don't pull out yet, Sir, there's someone to the right of you"


"Good catch", I remarked. "We ought to take our time. After all, as you are so keen to point out, there's no need to rush and have an accident in the last days of a deployment", invoking the epitome of safe behavior.


"Speak for yourself, Sir", said the safety officer, "You didn't take ice cream from the dining facility", he said as he held up a cup of ice cream, which was quickly melting in the desert heat.


"Point taken, I accept tactical risk", I said, putting the truck in reverse. Hey, everyone loves ice cream, right?

Links of the day…

Found some great links thanks to my Google Reader friends and my fellow bloggers:

  • This woman has talent (H/T Tasty Booze).
  • The big news in Israel is that Lt. Asaf Ramon of the Israeli Air Force perished in an F-16A crash. Lt. Ramon is the son of Colonel Ilan Ramon, the NASA astronaut and participant in Israel's daring 1981 raid on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak. Colonel Ramon perished in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up upon entry into Earth's atmosphere. Oddly enough, both Ramons were F-16A pilots—has Israel not purchased a new front-line fighter since then? (H/T Jenna)
  • Seems the Army might finally be doing something to replace the Universal Camoflauge Pattern (which I've talked about before here and here). A few articles today discuss two new patterns which are being tested in Afghanistan: Multicam, a commercial, "off-the-shelf" pattern used by Special Operations forces, and Universal Camoflauge Pattern-Delta. UCP-Delta, by far the ugliest pattern, haphazardly throws Coyote Tan pixels about. As bad as it looks, I can see this actually being the winner…after all, I think the Army is still fascinated with the whole pixilated "digital" look of its uniforms, thinking that they represent a more futuristic Army. H/T Pat O)
  • More on Star Wars and its application to Afghanistan: How do Stormtroopers view that fateful day when the Battle of Yavin occurred? A day when Rebel insurgents, such as Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles, and intergalactic pirates such as Han Solo and Chewbacca committed a senseless act of terror and destroyed the Death Star. (I just received word from Darth Cheney that this was to be re-christened the "Freedom Star"). (H/T Pat O)
  • Dave Dilegge takes us around the milblogophere in one post—from Tom Ricks to Zenpundit, and everyone in between. (He misses Jason Sigger and Adam Elkus, though, who always have great posts).

15 September 2009

Latest SWJ Article

When I'm not getting "punked" in elaborate practical jokes involving copious amounts of porn, I'm writing an article in Small Wars Journal about operational design in campaign planning in Afghanistan (features a reply from COINtra Colonel Gian Gentile). Check out some further words from Adam Elkus in Red Team Journal as well.


The eagerly-awaited US Customs inspection arrived—one of those signs that you are close to the end of the deployment. We stood in formation with all of our "Tuff boxes", filled with personal equipment, just waiting for the Customs inspectors to do their thing before we packed them in shipping containers prior to the trip home. Before the Customs inspectors walked through, however, they had to read some mandatory verbiage. The gist of it prohibited us from bringing certain things back to the US—weapons, war trophies, animals, fruit, camel spiders, bootleg DVDs, you name it. However, they got to the end of the Customs briefing and noted that there is one very important thing that is prohibited during the Customs inspection.

"No pornographic material, to include magazines, DVDs, or any material with exposed female breasts of genitalia for the purposes of depicting graphic sexual behavior. No sexual devices or devices used for sexual gratification."

Wait...what? No porn? War is hell...

To pass on an undeniable truth—most Soldiers probably have oodles of porn, despite the restrictions. I believe the original intent behind the "no porn" rule was to avoid offending the Muslim culture. However, as anyone who has walked the streets of some of these neighborhoods can attest, a number of the local residents have a bootleg collection of porn that make the two girls with the cup blush (the sad thing is, most of you know what I'm talking about).

I often questioned the logic of Customs searching for porn before equipment gets shipped back to the US, the home of the porn industry, but that's well above my pay grade. Nevertheless, the rule is the rule. I made certain to give my equipment one last check to ensure that I didn't have porn. I've become so desensitized to it recently, that I probably forgot some porn. I made sure to check my GQ magazines I picked up in Australia to ensure that there weren't any nip slips in the Megan Fox issue of GQ.

I had an errand to run as Customs began inspecting other Soldiers. I returned just in time to see the inspector stopped at my equipment.

"Is this your equipment, Sir?"

"Why yes it is"

"Can you explain these", he said, pointing to a lump of condoms mixed among my equipment.

"Wha-wha…", I stammered. My first reaction wasn't "Those aren't mine", but as a testament to my depravity, I could only answer, "I didn't think still I had those".

"Fortunately for you, condoms aren't necessarily illegal. But they're definitely…I…I don't know, Sir. War must not be hell for you. Let's move on", he said, opening a DVD case.

"What is this!?" he exclaimed, showing me a DVD of [insert porn title here] with a bottle of lubricant inside. (I write "insert porn title here" not because I have some sense of high moral objection to porn, but because I don't want the pervs to come out in force due to Google searches which bring them to this blog. Seriously, the traffic from the Megan Fox pictures is bad enough)

"What kind of sick freak are you, Sir?"

Great. I could try to deny that this was my porn, but knowing me, that wouldn't be believable.

"I need to consult my supervisor", said the inspector, leaving me to hold a DVD of [aforementioned porn title] in one hand and a bottle of lube in the other hand, much to the gawking dismay of everyone else.

Fortunately, I realized that I'd been "Punked", with a few props courtesy of the medics as well as the "Amnesty Box" which contained copious amounts of seized porn. (Unfortunately, I didn't get to keep the porn.) I can only imagine what the Customs inspectors will say when I try to pass through the Rolling Stone magazine with SWJ on the hot list but with Lady Gaga in the bubble bikini on the cover. Might just want to throw that one away now—after all, Lady Gaga might not even be a lady after all, so I can only imagine trying to explain my way out of that.

14 September 2009

Army Doctor Raises $1000 for Breast Cancer Research During 5K Run in Iraq

On Saturday morning, 12 September 2009, thousands of runners lined up in New York City for the Susan G. Komen "Race for the Cure", a 5-kilometer run designed to raise money for breast cancer prevention, awareness and treatment.

As the race kicked off in New York's Central Park at 9 AM Eastern Standard Time, Captain Erica Feola, a US Army flight surgeon for the 6th Squadron-6th Air Cavalry Regiment, began the race as well. Except Captain Feola was seven time zones ahead of the rest of the runners, running the 5-kilometer race within the confines of Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq.

A number of Captain Feola's friends and family volunteered to sponsor her; in fact, she raised over $500 through an application on her Facebook page. Additionally, Captain Feola amassed another $500 worth of donations after I posted an article on Small Wars Journal last month, for a total of just over $1000 (edit: as I have later found out, only a portion of that additional $500 came from SWJ).

This is yet another example of how the new media shapes nearly every facet of our daily lives.

Captain Feola and a few other Army officers braved a sandstorm and temperatures over 105° F (41° C) in order to participate in the race. They were clad in standard Army physical fitness uniforms, albeit with pink reflector belts in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (click picture to enlarge and note Capt. Feola's belt on the left).

Thanks to all in the SWJ community who helped to make this possible!

12 September 2009


The end of a deployment carries with it certain inherent risks. Verily, the last few days of a deployment can sometimes be the most dangerous ones, with complacency and "get-home-itis" setting in.

Trying to impress this point upon some Soldiers, I heard a leader say, "In the next few weeks, we face an incredible challenge ahead of us. Who can tell me what that challenge is"?

The answer he was begging was something along the lines of "complacency". Unfortunately, one Soldier wasn't thinking along those lines...

"US Customs", he replied, referring to the mandatory inspection of equipment returning to the US to ensure that no war trophies went home with us.

I smacked my forehead.

On a related note, I did wonder where that old Iraqi ZU-23 machine gun went...

*--No actual war trophies were taken during the making of this blog post. That I'm aware of. Seriously, don't take war trophies.

Wonders never cease

I've moved from my containerized housing unit into a tent, and I may be here for a few weeks. The good news is that wireless Internet works in the tent. War is hell.

11 September 2009

One Tuesday in September

(H/T SWJ for the picture. Caption reads "They came to destroy us, but only made us stronger")

As we're all aware, today is the 11th of September, a day which my generation remembers as vividly as my parents remember 22 November 1963 and my grandparents remember 7 December 1941. Across the world—in New York, Washington, and US bases spread throughout the globe, Americans paused in moments of reflection on that day eight years ago.

Eight years ago, I was a college senior and heard about the first aircraft striking the tower on the radio on my way to class. At first, I didn't pay it too much attention, thinking that it was simply a light aircraft—after all, a B-25 had struck the Empire State Building many years ago, and it was still standing. It wasn't until I saw a television shot of a Boeing jet lining up for a suicide run on the second tower that I knew something was amiss. The most striking thing about that day was the palpable sense of shock. While walking to class, I would often pass through NC State's "Free Expression Tunnel", which ran underneath a set of railroad tracks, separating the northern and southern parts of the main campus. On any given day, I would walk through the tunnel and wave to passers-by. The tunnel echoed the numerous conversations that students would have with one another as they walked to and from class. On the 11th of September, the Free Expression Tunnel was silent. Not a word. Hundreds of students from all walks of life and from all over the world scarcely uttered a sound as they walked about.

At a Memorial service today, we were reminded once again of the heroism of everyday Americans—men and women who woke up that morning never expecting to be a hero: the service members at the Pentagon, the passengers of United Flight 93, and the 400 emergency responders who perished during the collapse of the World Trade Center. We reflected on the unprecedented display of solidarity from people all over the world—from Moscow and Jordan, and from the German destroyer FGS Lutjens, which rendered honors to the USS Winston Churchill immediately following the attack.

But then, something happened. As an overhead projector displayed some of the unforgettable images of the day—smoke billowing from the towers and firefighters raising an American flag above the wreckage of the World Trade Center--the presentation immediately cut from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to Iraq. I guess the subliminal hint was that 9-11 and Iraq were somehow connected, which of course, they really aren't (unless you're Paul Wolfowitz).

Let's remember the day, let's remember the sacrifice and heroism of Americans from all walks of life, but let's not trivialize it by making connections that aren't there.

(Above all, don't buy Mr. Fouad Ajami's argument in today's WSJ which claims that, because the 9-11 hijackers were Arabs, the US needed to attack any Arab country, and Iraq did nicely)

On a lighter note…

Jamie McIntyre at The Line of Departure discusses another aspect of 9-11: the nutcase conspiracy theories that seem to be popular in various parts of the world.

On this somber anniversary, I am going to take the advantage of the fact that I now have my own blog to set the record straight on one event of eight years ago.

For years now a tiny snippet of my reporting from that day has been circulating around the Internet, and used – out of context — to buttress the malevolent arguments of some wacky conspiracy theorists who claim to believe September 11 was in "inside job."

Click on this excerpt
from YouTube to see how a the clip has been used to portray me as someone who was on the scene but yet saw no evidence a plane hit anywhere near the Pentagon. Listen carefully...

Now check out what I really said in this longer clip, which can also be found on YouTube. Here you see that I am answering a question from Judy Woodruff about an earlier, erroneous report that the plane may have crashed short of the Pentagon. No, I say, nothing NEAR the Pentagon only AT the pentagon.

This is a good cautionary tale about believing what you "see" on the internet. As I like to say, It's good to have an open mind, but if your mind is too open your brain can fall out.

On a plane trip from Dubai to Sydney (I know, my mid-tour leave was rough), I encountered a gentleman who swore up and down that 9-11 was a government conspiracy. Among the ludicrous claims:

  1. That some united Jewish organization called all the Jews and told them to stay home on 9-11.
  2. That, since one victim who crashed into the field in Pennsylvania was still receiving Social Security checks after he perished, this must prove that the victim is still alive somewhere and that there was a conspiracy. (No, I think this just proves the inefficiencies of the Social Security system)
  3. That, since if Boeing passenger jet crashed into the Pentagon, it should have left a jet-sized hole in the side of the Pentagon, instead of a small hole. (Maybe in Wile E. Coyote physics, you'd see a plane-shaped hole in the Pentagon, but in real physics—not likely)
  4. That the most elaborate conspiracy scheme in history was designed to precipitate a war against terrorists based in Afghanistan in order to seize oil…in Iraq.
  5. Somehow this fails to take into account the various admissions of Osama bin Laden that his group actually was responsible for 9-11.

    So, in honor of the nutcases, I give you the following links: The best rebuttal to the 9-11 Conspiracy, as well as the best parody of 9-11 Conspiracies over at The Best Page in the Universe.