29 November 2010

Wikileaks: Shock and Yawn

Constantly on the run, Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange rarely sleeps in the same bed twice, accusing foreign intelligence services of unwarranted surveillance, as well as attempts to frame him for rape.  Assange’s accomplice in the latest string of intelligence coups, Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, faces up to fifty-two years in Federal prison for allegedly facilitating the largest leak in history.
Yet, neither Assange nor Manning have much to show for their troubles.  Despite Assange’s belief that his Wikileaks organization can unravel corruption and conspiracies, and Manning’s belief that classified US government documents contained “horrible things” that “belonged in the public domain”, these leaks have certainly fallen far short.  If anything, the series of Wikileaks releases over the past few months have done little more than to prove that America’s wars have been fought with incredible transparency, and that the US has exercised remarkable restraint, particularly with regards to Iran.  Indeed, Wikileaks’ latest release, for the most part, is little more than salacious political gossip.  What Assange and Manning have done is akin to a schoolyard tattle-tale publishing the diary of a bitchy teenage girl.    

Is this the work of a super-empowered individual, or Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls?

The Iraq and Afghan War Logs

In  May of 2010, Manning made contact with Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker notorious for gaining access to the New York Times, Yahoo, and Microsoft.  Sensing some sort of kindred spirit, Manning confided in Lamo, confessing to stealing a plethora of secret government files.   Manning told Lamo that the documents contained “awful things that belonged in the public domain”. 

Yet, while the field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan often contain raw accounts of brutal battles, there’s been scant talk of actual war crimes revealed in such documents.  Even Wikileaks’ “Collatteral Murder” video, surreptitiously edited to portray US forces in the most damning light, resulted in no adverse action against the United States, nor did it open up serious allegations of war crimes.  While brutal and tragic, the gun camera video shows the confusion and chaos of modern conflict, especially when enemies dress like civilians and mingle among the population.  Moreover, despite the Wikileaks’ cries of “Collateral Murder”, the video shows American forces rendering aid to children caught in the crossfire, evacuating them to a nearby hospital.

Access to nearly half a million field reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan revealed little wrongdoing on the part of the United States, either.  The lack of new information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the amazing transparency with which the wars have been prosecuted.  If anything, the largest shocks to come out of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs involve the participation of Pakistan in Afghanistan and Iran in Iraq.  The only “bastards” Mr. Assange may “crush” with these revelations are the scores of Iraqi and Afghan informants who sided with the US and its allies against groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Iraq.        

Diplomatic Drama

Wikileaks’ largest coup thus far are nearly 250,000 diplomatic “cables” transmitted through US State Department channels.  During online conversations with hacker Adrian Lamo, Manning supposedly felt a sense of disillusionment with the state of diplomatic affairs in the world as a result of these cables.  According to chat logs provided by Wired.com:
Manning:  i dont believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore… i only a plethora of states acting in self interest… with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless.  i mean, we’re better in some respects… we’re much more subtle… use a lot more words and legal techniques to legitimize everything.
Oh, please.  This is old news to anyone who’s so much as read the Cliff Notes to Machiavelli’s seminal (perhaps satirical?) work, The Prince

Nevertheless, despite Manning’s claims of wrongdoing, there have been few shocking revelations in the documents.  Sure, they contain candid—almost embarrassing—observations on world leaders, but let us be realistic.  The phrase “being diplomatic” itself has become synonymous with uttering niceties in the face of unsavory characters; and “using words and legal techniques to legitimize everything” is far better than relying on the principle of “might makes right”.

So what have we learned thus far?  Little of substance.  One source claimed that, for the British and the Americans, moaning about the French was “practically a national sport”.  Shocking.  Another cable, one which, according to my web counter, seems to be generating the most traffic, provided details on Qadaffi’s “voluptuous blonde” nurse.  Well, you know what they say about the Internet, right?

The most shocking element thus far involves the…diplomatic…method with which the US has handled Iran.  In fact, America’s concern over Iran pales in comparison with that of most Arab nations.  Kuwaiti officials expressed concern over suspicions of Iran’s involvement in Yemen, and King Abdullah urged US officials to attack Iran.   Jordanian officials even used the metaphor of an octopus with tentacles to describe Iran’s insidious reach.  An American diplomat summed up Jordan’s attitudes towards American engagement with Iran as “talk if you must, but don’t sell us out”.   Some cables even accuse North Korea of supplying Iran with ballistic missiles capable of striking Europe. 

Maybe there actually was something behind that whole “Axis of Evil” speech.

Yet, this release will still play into the fantasies and confirmation biases of those who believe that the US is preparing a vast, global conspiracy.    But, of course, they’ll be overlooking the vast majority of documents in which the United States isn’t out to harm the rest of the world. 

And, oh, by the way:  those who believe in a massive, diabolically brilliant US government will need to reconcile their belief with the fact that the largest intelligence coup in history was perpetrated by a 22-year old private, using the screen name “BradAss87”, and lip-synched to Lady Gaga while downloading scores of classified documents.

As it stands, Wikileaks is in trouble.  Manning was right about one thing:  Governments do tend to do what’s in their own interest.  Chris Albon, the administrator of Conflict Health, remarked grimly that the only secrets states care about are their own.  As such, Manning and Assange have exposed damning secrets in Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China. 

Mr. Assange might soon find out which nations really are as unscrupulous as he likes to claim the US is.  

If it's not one pet peeve, it's another...

It's only Monday afternoon, but I've already been irked by both Wikileaks and the creators of the Army's information management system, Army Knowledge Online.  A recent article in the Army Times quotes Gary Winkler, the Army's top AKO official:
AKO’s program office, which polls 20,000 users each week, reported 78 percent of users said they couldn’t live without AKO e-mail. Winkler did not know the ratio of positive to negative responses from recent polls, but said “a lot of it is positive, with suggestions for improvement.”
I'd wager this is because the poll only collects data from those who log in to AKO in the first place. The more tech-savvy of us are so frustrated that we avoid AKO like the plague, relying on Gmail for all of our work needs.  Gmail is fast, it works with nearly every electronic device, we can check it without a chip-enabled military ID card, and most importantly, it's not limited to a paltry 100 megabytes of data, as AKO is.  

Not to mention, the myriad of defense computer systems--AKO, the Defense Travel System, the Defense Finance Service's "MyPay", and others--all require separate passwords, each with over a dozen characters.  The Army's system is so atrocious that I gave up on checking my officer's record brief prior to my upcoming promotion board.  I figured since the promotion rate is close to 98%, it wasn't worth the hassle anyway.  

Previous AKO tirades:

AKO Rehab
The Only IT System That Makes AKO Look Good
Now if Only There Were an Application to Replace AKO
AKO Links of the Morning
Bring Your Cloud to Work in Iraq (1 Raindrop)
Rational Rejection of Security Advice (Good scholarly work)

28 November 2010

Wikileaks hardly undermines US policy

Let's look at the latest revelations, for which Bradley Manning faces 52 years in federal prison.  (This post will likely be updated several times)
  • Despite incessant pressure even from Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, the US has exercised a surprising amount of restraint against Iran.  Especially considering the border incidents between Iran and US forces in Iraq.  The rest of the world seems just as concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions as the US is.
  • Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's "frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest".  Say it isn't so.
  • The New York Times alludes to links between the Russian government and organized crime.  (Or maybe this is just the plot of most 1990s-era action movies...)
  • There are also allegations of inappropriate behavior within the British royal family.  (Has Wikileaks become The Sun?)
  • Iran is described by US sources as a "complete dictatorship".  Who would have thought?
  • Kim Jong-Il, the Dear Leader of North Korea, is believed to have experienced physical and psychological trauma as a result of his stroke.  (Awww, he's just ronery...)
  • Libyan leader Moammar Qadaffi is "just strange", according to one source.  Shocking.  
  • Jackpot!  Here's a State Department cable on Qadaffi's eccentricities.  According to the cable, Qadaffi likes Flamenco dancing.  (Bad mental image)  Not to mention, according to my web hits, Qadaffi's female Ukrainian nurse,  Alyna Kolotnytska, is clearly the most popular item in all of Wikileaks' latest releases.  Julian Assange, I can't hate you now.  You've truly done the world a service, though not quite the service you had in mind.  
  • The US State Dept. believes that the 2009 coup against Honduran President Zalaya was illegal, yet still somewhat understandable.
  • The US is concerned about Africa?  What the fuck?!
  • Russian President Medvedev plays "Robin" to Russian Prime Minister Putin's "Batman".  You know what this calls for?  
  • On a serious note, North Korea supplied Iran with long-range missiles.  Spencer Ackerman speculates that this might be the impetus behind Europe's recent defense shield.  
  • A 1966 cable indicates that the Argentine Navy's recent claims of "preferential jurisdiction" out to "200 meter isobar" does not include the Falkland Islands.  Whew, glad to know they won't be trying to invade and annex the Falklands or anything...
  • OMFG--US sold F-4E Phantoms to the Shah Iran in 1972.  Color me shocked.
Chris Albon sums up the ambivalence towards Wikileaks thusly:  "Want to turn the public against Wikileaks? Leak them Gmail's database. The only secrets people care about are their own."

He also produced a diplomatic cable, dated this morning:

Wikileaks: Qadaffi is balling out of control

Update:  Great, all the perverts are coming to this post looking for scandalous pictures.

I could have told you this.  According to the New York Times' latest article on Wikileaks:

Likewise, press reports detailed the unhappiness of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, when he was not permitted to set up his tent in Manhattan or to visit ground zero during a United Nations session last year.
But the cables add to the tale a touch of scandal and alarm. They describe the volatile Libyan leader as rarely without the companionship of “his senior Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” They reveal that Colonel Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. The American ambassador to Libya told Colonel Qaddafi’s son “that the Libyan government had chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique,” a cable reported to Washington.

Ahem, remember the Balling Out Of Control Center of Excellence, anyone?

This is going to revolutionize the world?

It looks as if readers in Basel, Switzerland, already have access to the latest Wikileaks coup, courtesy of Der Spiegel.  Some of the highlights (prepare to be shocked).

  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is likened to "Hitler" in US State Department correspondence.  Come on, it's not like Ahmadinejad is an anti-Semitic holocaust denier, right? 
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai is allegedly driven by "paranoia" (Note:  "Karzai paranoia" comes up with about 86,000 results in Google)
  • For the British and Americans, "moaning about the French is practically a sport".  (You don't say...)
This isn't so much a revolution in world affairs so much as it is the basic plot of the Lindsay Lohan movie "Mean Girls".  Let's just grow the fuck up.  We all--individuals and governments alike--need a few secrets here and there.  

Tanks in Helmand: Good idea, though with caveats

The gang at Small Wars Journal has been weighing in on the recent decision to deploy 14 M-1A1 Abrams tanks to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.  The clash of Titans in the comments section involves such minds as Major Neil "Cavguy" Smith, Major Mike Few, Dave Dilegge, and Frank Hoffman.  

Needless to say, the US Army can be somewhat passionate when it comes to tanks, and the armor corps in particular.  Thus, emotions ran high among the ex-tankers at Ink Spots, in an article entitled "Tanks in Helmand:  Great Idea or Greatest Idea?".

Some, such as Foreign Policy's Michael Waltz, have decried the use of tanks in counter-insurgency campaigns, while others sing their praises.  After all, no matter how skilled one is at negotiations and tribal shurgas, counterinsurgency will inevitably resemble the mailed fist more than it does the velvet glove at times.  In those instances, it never hurts to have an M-1 Abrams on your side.    

I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.  Waltz does bring up a very salient criticism of tanks, and of the US military's new line of armored vehicles in general.  Counterinsurgency efforts generally thrive on dismounted troops interacting with the population.  In fact, David Kilcullen has frequently noted that the "commute to war" approach provides counterinsurgents with little situational awareness.

These difficulties are compounded in Afghanistan, as armored vehicles such as the MRAP and M-1 Abrams are unable to traverse much of the rugged terrain.  Waltz' coverage of Afghanistan took him to a mountaintop village governed by the Mangal Tribe.  The Mangal's territory occupies a strategic blocking point which separates Pakistan from Khost Procince.  With US forces unable to reach the village by MRAP, the region has fallen victim to Taliban intimidation, control, and indoctrination.  For the past year and a half, the Taliban have used the area as a training camp, and manufacture scores of improvised explosive devices. 

Thus, as the counterinsurgency manual points out, paradoxically, "the more you protect your forces, the less secure they may be".  

Nevertheless, in an overall supporting role, tanks still pack quite a wallop, and might make insurgents think twice before attacking.  Their role in offensive operations is also unparalleled as well.  The Canadians and Danes have figured this out already, using their Leopards to great effect--the Canadians most notably so in Panjwali, Kandahar in 2006.

And while, ultimately, the best defense against roadside bombs involves attacking and disrupting those that plant the devices, these efforts are hardly foolproof.  Let's not give up the armor just yet.  

Thus, it's not the size of one's schwartz that counts in counterinsurgency.  It's how well one handles it.  Infantry-centric, yes.  But don't forget the tanks.

Addendum:  Rex Brynen did identify a puzzling statement in the original Washington Post article, though.  
Although military officials are apologetic [from tanks] in public, they maintain privately that the tactic has a benefit beyond the elimination of insurgent bombs. By making people travel to the district governor's office to submit a claim for damaged property, "in effect, you're connecting the government to the people," the senior officer said.
Oh, they'll make contact with some government, all right.  But my guess is that grievances won't be filed through the local Afghan government, but rather, the Taliban.

(I'm surprised the Great Satan's Girlfriend hasn't pontificated on the recent "Panzerfaust" in Helmand.  Courtney, I expect better out of you...)

27 November 2010

State Department leaks might not just harm the US

Update:  Small Wars Journal has the roundup, and Kings of War has the best analysis thus far.

Julian Assange and his ever-dwindling crew at Wikileaks are at it again.  Shortly after the arrest of Army intelligence analyst Pfc. Bradley Manning, Wired Magazine, largely responsible for breaking the Manning story, reported that the 22-year old currently in government custody had stolen some 260,000 "diplomatic cables".

What might such documents contain?  The chat logs between Bradley Manning and ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, who first reported Manning's activities to government officials, might reveal some clues.  In fact, judging by the logs, the State Department files might be the mother lode.  And it might not just be the US that gets its dirty laundry aired, either.  From the Lamo-Manning chat logs, dated 22 May 2010:

(1:45:00 PM) Lamo: what kind of scandal?
(1:45:16 PM) Manning: hundreds of them
(1:45:40 PM) Lamo: like what? I’m genuinely curious about details.
(1:46:01 PM) Manning: i dont know… theres so many… i dont have the original material anymore
(1:46:18 PM) Manning: uhmm… the Holy See and its position on the Vatican sex scandals
(1:46:26 PM) Lamo: play it by ear
(1:46:29 PM) Manning: the broiling one in Germany
(1:47:36 PM) Manning: im sorry, there’s so many… its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized
(1:48:20 PM) Manning: the scope is so broad… and yet the depth so rich
(1:48:50 PM) Lamo: give me some bona fides … yanno? any specifics.
(1:49:40 PM) Manning: this one was a test: Classified cable from US Embassy Reykjavik on Icesave dated 13 Jan 2010
(1:50:30 PM) Manning: the result of that one was that the icelandic ambassador to the US was recalled, and fired
(1:51:02 PM) Manning: thats just one cable…
(1:51:14 PM) Lamo: Anything unreleased?
(1:51:25 PM) Manning: i’d have to ask assange
(1:51:53 PM) Manning: i zerofilled the original
(1:51:54 PM) Lamo: why do you answer to him?
(1:52:29 PM) Manning: i dont… i just want the material out there… i dont want to be a part of it
(2:12:45 PM) Manning: I gathered more info when i questioned him whenever he was being tailed in Sweden by State Department officials… i was trying to figure out who was following him… and why… and he was telling me stories of other times he’s been followed… and they matched up with the ones he’s said publicly
(2:14:28 PM) Lamo: did that bear out? the surveillance?
(2:14:46 PM) Manning: based on the description he gave me, I assessed it was the Northern Europe Diplomatic Security Team… trying to figure out how he got the Reykjavik cable…

Manning's motivation?  Well, shattered naivety, for one.  Check out his chat logs from 25 May:

(02:26:01 PM) Manning: i dont believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore… i only a plethora of states acting in self interest… with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless
(02:26:18 PM) Manning: s/only/only see/
(02:26:47 PM) Lamo: the tm meant i was being facetious
(02:26:59 PM) Manning: gotchya
(02:27:47 PM) Manning: i mean, we’re better in some respects… we’re much more subtle… use a lot more words and legal techniques to legitimize everything
(02:28:00 PM) Manning: its better than disappearing in the middle of the night
(02:28:19 PM) Manning: but just because something is more subtle, doesn’t make it right
(02:29:04 PM) Manning: i guess im too idealistic
(02:31:02 PM) Manning: i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything
(02:35:46 PM) Manning: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
(02:35:46 PM) Lamo : I’m not here right now
(02:36:27 PM) Manning: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently
(02:37:37 PM) Manning: i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…
(02:38:12 PM) Lamo: That could happen in Colombia.
(02:38:21 PM) Lamo: Different cultures, dude.
(02:38:28 PM) Lamo: Life is cheaper.
(02:38:34 PM) Manning: oh im quite aware

So far we have alleged scandals in Germany, the Vatican, Iceland, and apparently, surveillance of Julian Assange in Sweden (though not necessarily a "honey trap" as some claim)--all of it "secret", not "top secret".

I wonder what the ultimate impact of such revelations might be.  The shocking insight that the Vatican's official stance towards sex scandals might be to downplay them?  Deny them?  Silence them?  Please, that's hardly newsworthy.  South Park has been lampooning this for years.  Alleged leaks regarding American concern over Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr are also old news.

What's next, is Wikileaks going to produce a document claiming that Pope Benedict XVI was in the Hitler Youth?  I mean, talk about ridiculous...

(Wait, he actually was in the Hitler Youth?)

Nevertheless, Wikileaks is never short of salacious, albeit frivolous, surprises.  I wonder what this next release might bring.

Addendum:  I've been reliably informed that you might want to start looking in to the Seychelles Islands, Mali, Ukraine, the Office of Military Cooperation-Yemen, Jundallah, Dagestan, and Balochistan, as well as the State Department's Intelligence Arm and Counter-Terrorism Office.

24 November 2010

Decision Points (A Totally Original Title)

After two weeks in Texas, my next order of business was deciding where to go over the Thanksgiving break.  I made decision the way I make all of my important decisions in life--by asking everyone on the Internet to decide for me.  (Apparently, I am not The Decider)

I got a wide range of responses.  Xavier Rauscher, my French ami, suggested Strasbourg, in Alsace-Lorraine Province in France.  Alsace-Lorraine, and particularly Verdun, has the scene of many battles between the French and the Germans, and, according to Barbara Tuchman, it was a land so beautiful it was worth fighting for.  

Others, such as Xavier's British friend Aaron Ellis, suggested a trip to the east, through Athens.  The British always like to go through Europe through Greece for some reason.  One of the Panda Hat twins suggested I go to Krakow in Poland, while others suggested I go to Prague, others suggested Budapest, while the northern option--through Denmark and the Netherlands--remained a distinct option.  

Thus, I was faced with quite a dilemma.  From Germany, do I go East or West.  Or even North.  (Your typical German dilemma, it seems) Of course, one of my Twitter followers came up with the astute observation:

"If you really wanted to act like the Germans, you'd go both East and West"

True, true, but my BMW can only go so fast, and I already got "blitzed" by a hidden camera, so I might want to watch my speed in the near future.  Thus, it's off to Alsace-Lorraine in France, to the battlefields near Verdun.  

Any suggestions?  

Boundless Cruelty

Photo from "Canadian Forces" on Facebook
It seems that a malicious practical joke--and I use the term "joke" very loosely--has made its way from the US into Canada.  The Montreal Gazette reports that families in Quebec are receiving phone calls from a sadistic caller informing them that their loved ones were killed in Afghanistan.

This isn't just a prank, either; it's often the prelude to a scam.  In 2008, a newspaper in Clarksville, TN, reported that two men in Army dress uniforms knocked on doors of spouses at Fort Campbell, home of the US Army's 101st Airborne Division.

Scammers, convincingly-dressed in military uniforms, can cause enough distress that victims might might divulge personal information, such as Social Security Numbers, frequently written on military paperwork.  Such information can be used for identity fraud.

The best way to stop this scam in its tracks is to educate family members.  A US Army news release from Fort Knox, not far from Fort Campbell, describes family members receiving training on the casualty notification process.  

Service members might easily spot a fraud in a dress uniform.  After all, a trained soldier can usually spot a uniform infraction a mile away.  Spouses, however, often have a harder time doing so, as many only see their loved ones in utility uniforms.  

Phony Casualty Notification Officers (CNOs) also steal cues from Hollywood movies; expressing condolences on behalf of the President of the United States, not the Secretary of the Army.  Other subtle clues might also give away a fraud; real CNOs always refer to the deceased service member by name, never using phrases such as "his remains will be transferred to Dover".  According to Army officials, such terminology dehumanizes the deceased service member.  

Most importantly, notifications are never made over the phone, neither in the US, nor in Canada. (Though advances in information technology makes the military's job far more difficult)

Both Canadian and US forces are working to educate families on the casualty notification process.  

23 November 2010

North Korea fires rocket artillery at South Korean island

Reports are coming in that North Korea has allegedly fired rocket artillery--some fifty two hundred rounds--at Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.  Rounds have apparently hit buildings on the South Korean island, and were met with a barrage from South Korea.

Steve Herman, of the Voice of America in Seoul, Korea, has said "this is getting quite serious".

Addendum:  The picture to the right is being touted as the aftermath of the North Korean attack.

More as this chaotic situation unfolds.

Update:  I have one report that the US has deployed a sub-launched Scan Eagle UAV to survey the damage. 

Update:  VOA reports that South Korea is mulling taking the incident straight to the UN.

Update:  Report that PACOM has established two Combined Joint Task Forces, CJTF 71-1 and CJTF 72-1.

Update:  I just got a message that says, "Things you should be Googling: USS JIMMY CARTER, Diego Garcia, Scan Eagle UAVs, SSGNs".

Dear Friends: I Quit

According to the Washington Post, around 40% of Taliban "defectors" are imposters.

KABUL - A man purporting to be one of the Taliban's most senior commanders convinced both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the NATO officials who flew him to Afghanistan's capital for meetings, but two senior Afghan officials now believe the man was a lowly shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta...
...The Afghans said they have not concluded what motivations the man was pursuing in taking the risk to claim he was a member of the Taliban's leadership council, the Quetta Shura, and in allowing himself to be escorted to Kabul to meet Karzai.
Some speculate that Pakistan's intelligence service might have sent the man to test the waters, to see what the Afghan government was offering. They also suggested this might have been a business opportunity, as senior insurgents potentially stand to make large sums of money if they defect.
"He could have been sent by the ISI," said one of the Afghan officials, referring to the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan's spy agency.
Mansour was said to have taken over as the No. 2 Taliban commander after Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested early this year by Pakistani officials. Afghan officials are convinced that the Pakistanis arrested Baradar because he had begun talking with the Afghan government about possible negotiations without their consent. Pakistan is widely suspected by U.S. and Afghan officials of harboring some insurgent leaders, including members of the Quetta Shura.
American officials pursuing lower-level Taliban defections have also struggled with identifying who they are dealing with. The senior NATO official said that about 40 percent of the time the men turning themselves over to the government may not be the Taliban fighters they claim to be, but rather are looking for money or protection or something else...
..."One would suspect that in our multibillion-dollar intel community there would be the means to differentiate between an authentic Quetta Shura emissary and a shopkeeper," ssaid a U.S. official in Kabul who did not know about the particulars of the Mullah Mansour case. "On the other hand, it doesn't surprise me in the slightest. It may have been Mullah Omar posing as a shopkeeper; I'm sure that our intel whizzes wouldn't have known."
Seriously?  The hell with this Army stuff, I could turn this into a serious career!  I mean, I could get either paid thousands of dollars to play make-believe with ISAF officials for a few hours, or, well, this:

I think I know which one I prefer...

22 November 2010

Epic Facepalm

General James Mattis once advised his Marines in Anbar Province that an America that worked with Stalin to defeat Hitler could certainly work with former insurgents to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq.  Similarly, the US has attempted the same approach in Afghanistan, choosing to work with more moderate elements of the Taliban instead of the hard-core extremists, in an attempt to further Afghanistan's the peace process.

Only, instead of working with Stalin to defeat Hitler, we've just been dealing with Crazy Ivan from down the street.  Reports the New York Times:

Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor
KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the repeated appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.
But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”
American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.
NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from across the border in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge.
The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.
The episode underscores the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders search for ways to bring the nine-year-old American-led war to an end. The leaders of the Taliban are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, possibly with the assistance of the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid.
Is this week over yet?

Update: Lauren Jenkins tweets thusly, "At least we weren't negotiating with terrorists"!

I facepalm more by 9 AM than most people facepalm all day...

Photo from Camilla Fuhr's "In the Sandbox"
By the time I had my second cup of coffee, I'd had enough facepalm for the week. 

According to multiple sources (New York Times, Al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN) Mark Sedwill, the former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and the NATO's ranking civilian advisor to Afghanistan has reported that children in Kabul are safer than in London, Glasgow, or New York.

I first received the link from exasperated Afghanitan experts somewhere around 8:30 this morning.  Camilla Fuhr, a freelance journalist who has traveled extensively with NATO troops in Afghanistan, summed it up best with three characters in her Twitter feed, "WTF".  Camilla's response beat out Kabul-based blogger Una Moore's "Um, no" and Michael Yon's "Things that make you go 'hmmmm'". 
Children may be safer growing up in Kabul than they are in London, Glasgow or New York, a Nato official has said.  Mark Sedwill said the Afghan capital, as a "city of villages", was better for youngsters than many Western cities, despite dangers posed by the conflict.  The senior civilian representative told CBBC's Newsround: "Most children can go about their lives in safety."
Don't believe the press?  Listen for yourself.  (Thanks, Ian)

Sedwill's comments are even more bizarre when comparing them to statements later in his speech, such as:
In Kabul and the other big cities actually there are very few of these bombs. The children are probably safer here than they would be in London, New York or Glasgow or many other cities.
So, aside from the trivial matter of bombs, then, Kabul is completely safe.  Thanks for clearing that up.  We should also exclude other trivial matters as high child mortality rates (largely due to preventable diseases), gun battles, and the occasional Taliban who decides to throw sulfuric acid in the faces of girls attending school.  That's just in Kabul alone, mind you.  This is what happens when we surround ourselves with concrete walls and build a Baghdad-style Green Zone in Kabul.  Public diplomacy FAIL.

(By the way, some cool dude said this was a bad idea about two years ago)

Wikileaks counteracts coffee

I'm going to need more coffee after viewing this one.

Thanks to RogueAdventurer, I happened upon Wikileaks' latest series of Tweets.

"Redefine the world"?  Sorry, but nearly unfettered access to the inner workings of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have hardly swayed public opinion.  The Afghan War Diary and the Iraq War logs have done little more than play into the public's pre-existing confirmation biases.

This may very well be the most ridiculous hype since the infamous "What is IT" campaign  which preceded the Segway.  Though it does raise the question as to what might be contained in the upcoming leak; my guess is that it might be over 260,000 US State Department diplomatic cables thought stolen by Bradley Manning.

I'm glad this is a short week for us Yanks, because I don't think I could handle this much facepalm.  I might be better off spending my time helping Doctrine Man find a new sidekick.  I think journalist Carl Prine might have the best idea for both a sidekick and a nemesis ever.

And in other news, Britain's Prince William might be having the best week ever.  Not only did he recently announce his engagement to Kate Middleton, but just hours after his announcement, he piloted his Sea King helicopter in a daring mountainside rescue of a stricken hiker.

19 November 2010

Most Awesome Week Ever

Ladies and Gentlemen, my goal in life is to beat Spencer Ackerman and Adam Weinstein to the weekly roundup punch. Modest goals, but goals nonetheless.

In this week's realm of awesomeness, I passed my check ride for the LUH-72A Lakota, thanks to the excellent instruction from the gang at American Eurocopter in Grand Prairie, Texas. Great pilots, and great instructors all.

However, Aitor from Ireland did raise an eyebrow at the US Army's habit of naming helicopters after Native American tribes. It's a curious tradition, dating back to the Korean War-era H-13 Sioux, featured in the television show M*A*S*H. The inspiration stems from Army Aviation's previous home in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where many Native American tribes eventually settled. The Army's custom became formalized in Army Regulation 70-28, published in 1969.

Though, it should be said, the Lakota are, quite possibly, one of the most notorious Native American tribes, infamous for defeating George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Even more surprising is that the Lakota helicopter, now manufactured by Eurocopter, previously known as the BK-117C2, was originally manufactured by Messerschmitt, which created some of the Luftwaffe's most fearsome fighter planes.

As Aitor astutely notes, not only will America defeat you in battle, but we will also market your name. Yay capitalism!

The biggest news this week was the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, who is the first living person to receive the medal since the Vietnam War. President Obama presented the medal to Staff Sgt. Giunta in a ceremony at the White house this week, calling Giunta "as humble as he is heroic". Yet, that didn't stop some from offering ill-conceived critiques; fortunately, Adam Weinstein, the Ink Spots crew and the Panda Hat Twins promptly shot such criticism down.

In other news, the US is deploying M-1 Abrams tanks to Afghanistan for the first time. (Just don't tell anyone we stole this idea from the Canadians and the Danes) Col. Gian Gentile and Mark Twain weighed in on counterinsurgency, Ackerman explored a super-secret insurgent hunting jet (with a built-in bar), and Caped Crusader Doctrine Man made the New York Times.

Yet, all was not entirely awesome. An F-22 Raptor, the most advanced fighter in the world, recently crashed in Alaska, with the pilot, Captain Jeffrey Haney, still reported missing. Ian Elliot also reports on one solider's sacrifice which has helped save dozens of lives. Plus, if this story doesn't make you tear up, you're simply not human.

And if this week in awesomeness seems somewhat sparse, consider I'm typing this up on an iPad. Yes, the iPad does have some limitations, especially if you're the sort of blogger that posts dozens of links within one blog post. Anyone know a good blogging app?

18 November 2010

F-22 Raptor crashes south of Denali National Park, Alaska. Search continues for pilot.

(Author's note: This should have posted last night, but the iPad's blogging software ia a little buggy)

Earlier today, reports indicated that an F-22 Raptor, the most advanced fighter jet in the world, crashed on a routine training flight. The wreckage of the stealth fighter plane, based in Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Alaska, were discovered around 10:15 local time (roughly 19:15 Greenwich Mean Time). Helicopters arriving on scene were unable to land or determine whether the pilot was near the crash site.

Fresh helicopter crews are resuming the search for the pilot, who would almost certainly be battling for his life against the elements. The region just south of the Denali National Park is ringed with mountain peaks, and is home to sub-zero temperatures.

More to follow as the search continues.

16 November 2010

President: Medal of Honor recipient as "humble as he is heroic".

President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in the US military, to Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta in a ceremony at the White House today. Staff Sgt. Giunta is the first living American to receive the award since the Vietnam War.

No words of mine are adequate for the occasion. I'll defer to Leo Shane of Stars and Stripes:

[Giunta] was honored for his bravery during his second deployment to Afghanistan, while serving as a rifle team leader with a company from the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in the Korengal Valley.

On Oct. 25, 2007, then-Spc. Giunta’s squad was ambushed by insurgents and two soldiers were cut off from the rest. In the initial moments of the firefight, Giunta ventured out into enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Minutes later, he sprinted through enemy fire to stop a pair of insurgents from abducting another wounded soldier.

Obama called Giunta “a soldier as humble as he is heroic” and drew laughs from the crowd when he broke from his prepared speech and remarked that “I really like this guy.”

The upbeat mood of the ceremony was a sharp contrast to the seven others held for heroes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all awarded their Medals of Honor posthumously.

Instead of presenting the medal in a wooden box to a set of mourning parents, Obama had to straighten the ribbon around Giunta’s neck after presenting it to him. Instead of polite applause, teammates of Giunta shouted “Hoo-ah” at every opportunity.

In Vicenza, Italy, where Giunta is stationed, about 100 soldiers and spouses gathered at the base entertainment complex to watch the live broadcast of the ceremony.

Sgt. Major Ruben Diaz, the battalion operations noncommissioned officer, said all of those gathered were excited to see one of their own honored with the country’s highest award for heroism.

“A lot of pride,” he said. “You could see it in this room.

“At any one time, you could be the leader. You have to be ready. Be prepared. It’s a lesson every senior NCO tries to get across. … Sal’s a good example.”

After the event Guinta took a more somber tone with his remarks, taking time to honor his two teammates killed that day: Spc. Hugo Mendoza and Sgt. Joshua Brennan, the man he saved from abduction.

“This is an incredible time, but it’s also kind of a bittersweet time. Because of this day, I lost two dear friends of mine,” he said. “I would give this back in a second to have those friends here with me now.

“There are so many others that are the unsung heroes of this war who will never come back to a handshake, or a hug from their families. We have to take the time to remember them.”

Obama also recognized the parents of Mendoza and Brennan, thanking them first during his speech and then privately after the ceremony.

In the weeks leading up to the White House event, Giunta frequently noted that he felt his actions were nothing extraordinary, but instead something any soldier would do. Obama challenged that idea in his praise.

“Your actions disrupted a devastating ambush before it could claim more lives,” Obama said, turning to his right to face Giunta. “Your courage prevented the capture of an American soldier and brought that soldier back to his family. You may believe that you don’t deserve this honor, but it was your fellow soldiers who recommended you for it.

“We’re all in your debt. And I’m proud to be your commander-in-chief.”

Two things marred the day, though. The first was that, instead of airing the awards ceremony, American television networks continued to air soap operas and "Real Housewives of Atlanta". Sorry, but Staff Sergeant Giunta's actions are reality television; and reality television worth watching.

But what really got on my nerves was a recent op-ed decrying the "feminization" of the Medal of Honor for actions such as (gasp) saving the lives of one's comrades, instead of killing the enemy. Fortunately, Adam Weinstein took the liberty of tearing that op-ed to shreds so I don't have to. Suffice to say that there are probably dozens of combat medics rolling in their graves over that op-ed.

14 November 2010

Eurocopter: The little things

The US Army's gotten a good deal out of the Eurocopter 145, redesignated as the LUH-72A Lakota. Nevertheless, my transition from the UH-60 Black Hawk to the Lakota has had a few bumps.

Of course, there are the obvious differences between the UH-60 and the LUH-72; the Lakota features a glass cockpit and skids, while the L-model Black Hawk still has old-fashioned "steam" gauges and wheeled landing gear.

But there are a few minor differences that take some getting used to. Fitting for a helicopter company that builds most of its products with a clockwise-rotating rotor system, the pilot's door handle rotates in the opposite direction as that of the Black Hawk, which is cause for some facepamingly-bad embarrassment.

(Mercifully, the LUH's main rotor system rotates in the "right" direction, so I don't have to bungle through putting in right pedal and right cyclic on takeoff)

There's also the curious design quirk of an engine throttle which works in the opposite direction as that of the Bell 206 JetRanger, the US Army's training aircraft during the initial stages of flight school. What has two thumbs and nearly shut down an engine instead of starting it? Oh yeah, this guy.

Full-Spectrum Operations = Facepalm?

According to Doctrine Man, this was inspired by someone who argued that Haiti, Somalia, and the Balkans were "counter-insurgency" operations.

Yet another moment of Facepalm.

13 November 2010

Grand Prairie, Texas

My time in Grand Prairie, Texas thus far reminds me of a quote--unsourced--generally attributed to General Philip Sheridan.

"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas"

If this is a quote behaving badly, please let me know.

11 November 2010

One final poem

Andrew Exum has a great collection of Veterans Day poems up at CNAS. However, there's one very important poem, from none other than legendary author Rudyard Kipling, which sums up the day:


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o'beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:

O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's ``Thank you, Mister Atkins,'' when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's ``Thank you, Mr. Atkins,'' when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy how's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints:
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind,"
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

There is some humor in Veteran's Day, though...

From Task Force Panda Hat co-commander Lauren Jenkins:

Too soon?

In Non-Missile-Over-LA-News...

Note: This blog will dedicate precisely zero text to the missile jet contrail found over LA the other day.

The big news, of course, is that a recent deficit reduction commission recommendeda slew of cuts to the Defense Department that is sure to have the American public up in arms.

Make no mistake, an ever-increasing deficit is surely as great a threat to American power as a non-existent Chinese aircraft carrier or non-existent Russian Pak-FA fighters. But where to cut, and how much? That's going to be the painful question we'll be asking of ourselves over the next few years. Suffice to say, Americans, as a rule prefer cutting spending for someone else's pet project, and, of course, don't want to pay any additional taxes to curb the deficit either.

We truly live in interesting times.

The Pentagon has been in the midst of its own "guns-vs-butter" debate, weighing major weapons system procurement against spending on the health and well-being of the all-volunteer force. It's a precarious debate. While cost overruns are frequently lampooned in the media--the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being one of the most notable as of late--few mention the cost overruns in the "butter" portion of the budget. The military's health care costs have doubled in the last ten years, and now take up roughly ten percent of the US military's budget, despite no increase in insurance premiums. With a fleet of ships and airplanes which are increasingly aging and shrinking, new weapons procurement, in some cases, will have to take precedence over "butter" issues.

But where? According to the study, F-35 production, like that of the F-22, will be capped, with F-16s and F/A-18s filling the gap. I can agree with this one--the aging fighter fleet needs replacement machines, though I suspect this might be filled with a combination of 5th Generation fighters, 4.5 Generation fighters, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Similarly, the Marine Corps' V-22 Ospreys, only now beginning to come into their own, will also be halted, with the venerable UH-60 Black Hawk filling the gap. There are also proposals to reduce the number of troops in Europe and Asia by 50,000; nearly one-third. With the end of the Cold War, the remaining garrisons in Europe are largely a relic of the past, though they do offer strategic movement, and offer a good opportunity to partner and train with fellow NATO nations. (Your existential question of the day: what is NATO, really?)

But perhaps one of the most shocking suggestions is freezing service member pay at its 2011 level for the next three years.

Okay, maybe I only oppose that one because it affects my personal pocketbook. Perhaps my commitment to deficit reduction only goes so far...

Armistice Day

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

"In Flanders Fields"
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

09 November 2010

Wikileaks and the New Media: A Tyranny of the Minority?

Larisa Breton and Adam Pearson, writing at Small Wars Journal had some interesting thoughts on Wikileaks' latest streak of intelligence coups.

It's not new that Wikileaks is dubious as a medium of true journalism--their selective editing of the 37-minute long Apache gun camera video, and their re-titling of the video as "Collateral Murder" are proof enough of that. What is, however, interesting is that the Internet has become a self-selecting media source. The breadth of diverse opinions on the Internet, empowered through blogs and social networking sites, does not give the everyday user a broad and balanced news viewpoint. In fact, as Breton and Pearson point out (and as Thomas Rid and Jamie McIntyre astutely note, the sheer volume of news media outlets available in the information age now allows users to select those news outlets which greatly coincide with their world views. Few of us like having our opinions challenged, thus, liberals might gravitate to the Huffington Post, while conservatives might migrate to Fox News. Thus, while the Apache gun camera footage might have been horrifying, it scarcely changed any opinions on the nature of the Iraq War.

Jon Stewart's recent "Rally to Restore Sanity" mocked the tendency of a small, albeit vociferous minority in American politics to control the national debate on many issues. Similarly, as Breton and Pearson note, a small, yet vociferous minority of Internet users, ideologically aligned with Julian Assange's anti-Western outlook, also controlled the Interenet debate in the wake of the "Collateral Murder" video. An internet personality, whom the authors refer to as "Bob", uploaded the same gun camera footage to Youtube, although with a slightly different twist. Whereas Wikileaks edited out several minutes of video, "Bob's" version remained intact, save for a handful of edits, in which he clearly highlights assault rifles and RPGs in the hands of insurgents, among whom the two "murdered" Reuters journalists were intermingled. "Bob" also highlighted the reporters' cameras, slung across their bodies not unlike rifles, providing much-needed context for the video. Yet, almost immediately, the video was flagged for violence in accordance with Youtube's guidelines; Breton and Pearson attribute the video takedown to Wikileaks' sympathizers. Thus, not only is the new media subject to a self-selecting confirmation bias, but the dialectic is also prone to hijacking by well-motivated, technically skilled factions.

It should also be noted that the authors refer to "horizontal structure"--allowing the democratic exchange of information throughout a movement--as an essential element in a social movement in the Web 2.0 world. Thus, with Julian Assange's more tyrannical control of the Wikileaks organization, it's small wonder the organization has seen massive defections, and, quite possibly, a Wikileaks spin-off organization.

The topic bears further examination; I felt the essay ended somewhat abruptly and had me wanting more. If I may say so, I think the authors would be great participants in MountainRunner's upcoming Wikileaks dialogue.

But Breton and Pearson need to do the world one favor before they discuss Web 2.0 in the future. Referring to Justin Beiber as an "international pop star"? You're lucky your topic was intriguing...

08 November 2010

Oh, and by the way...

That last post was composed entirely on my new iPad. Which is a lot tougher than it sounds, because the iPad is not a particularly good blogging platform. However, after the death of my laptop, an iPad does make for a decent laptop replacement, as well as a pretty cool device in and of itself.

In other news, my Tweeps and I will likely spend the entire day playing Fantasy Defense Department League, based on some of the upcoming vacancies reported in the New York Times.

This actually sounds like a good idea. I propose a #fantasydefenseleague hash tag on Twitter. My first pick: General Martin Dempsey for Army Chief of Staff, though that leaves General Odierno curiously unemployed. Perhaps General Odierno goes to US Central Command or to Afghanistan, and General Petraeus moves to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

Maybe General Petraeus and General Mattis merge, becoming a super-empowered MattisCat and General Petraeus Fact entity of their own. Watch out, al Qaeda...

07 November 2010

Hey Adam: This is court intrigue!

In our recent piece for Small Wars Journal, Adam Elkus and I (or rather, Elkus-Burke) alluded to the court intrigues of the past, often involving the press, between politicians and combatant commanders not unlike the recent scandal involving General Stanley McChrystal and Rolling Stone Magazine.

We noted that political infighting among generals and politicians, with mainstream media serving as the battlefield, is hardly new. As we were writing the piece, Adam astutely noted the example of General Ulysses S. Grant's frequent bouts with the press.

However, on my long trans-Atlantic flight yesterday, I encountered an even better example of court intrigue dating back to the American Revolution in Piers Mackesy's The War for America. It appears that the American colonists were greatly empowered due to the fact that senior British officers of the day were so drama-prone, they resembled not so much Wellington and Nelson, but rather, Lauren Conrad and Nicole "Snooki" Palozzi.

Oh yeah, I di-id.

"You spent months trying to sink Benedict Arnold's fleet of rowboats?"

This is no exaggeration, either. The Battle of Saratoga, seen as one of the most crucial battles of the American Revolution, was lost, in no small part, due to General Sir Guy Carleton's refusal to send any assistance from Canada south through Lake George and the Hudson River valley to General John Burgoyne.


Forces under General Carleton, pursuing Benedict Arnold (at the time one of us Yanks) delayed for months while constructing a fleet large enough to finally clear Arnold's ragtag boats from Lake Champlain. But as in so many insurgencies, while Carleton's forces were victorious, the insurgent army was allowed to escape and survive, keeping the flame of rebellion alive.

General Burgoyne, one of Carleton's rivals, seized the opportunity to wrest control of the American campaign from Carleton, relegating Carleton to a remote outpost in Canada. When Burgoyne's forces were being pressed by Colonial regulars and militiamen, Carleton selectively interpreted his instructions in such a manner that he would not be forced to assist Burgoyne, giving the Colonists one of the largest victories of the war. Unity of command, one of the all-important principles of war, was non-existent, not only in a physical sense (the lines of communication between Canada and New York were blocked by both terrain and the Colonists), but also in a political-military sense as well.

Carleton resigned his post after the fighting season, though, strangely enough, in response to a feud with Lord George Germain.

This, of course, pales in comparison to a feud between two naval officers, Admiral Augustus Keppel and Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, over blame for a less than satisfactory outcome during the Battle of Ushant. Both parties blasted one another in the press, and the tendency of senior naval officers to have significant influence in Parliament brought the feud into the political sphere.

When the dust had settled, Keppel was found guilty at a court-martial, and Palliser was the subject of a formal inquiry. Keppel's verdict sparked riots in London, and massive factional infighting among the ranks, leading to the resignation of several captains--including every naval division commander. One British officer, Admiral Sir Robert Harland, remarked that he refused to "serve with or command men high in rank who differ so much in opinion with me on the great points of naval discipline". Tensions were so high that the HMS Victory and HMS Formidable, flagships of Keppel and Palliser, were docked in separate berths, for fear of a confrontation between her crews.

Hey, this actually sounds like Fort Bragg in the 1970s...