Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bin Laden the Comic Book

The Washington Post reports that Captain (Ret.) Dale Dye has written a comic book version of the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, titled "Code Name: Geronimo."

In case Dye's name isn't familiar, he is a bad ass.  Name a great modern war movie (i.e. "Platoon," "Saving Private Ryan") and there's a good chance he was the military consultant for it.

Am I worried about the competition for my book?  No, because Dye's comic only can whet the appetite for more stories about manhunts/raids such as the one that killed bin Laden, and my book contains nearly a dozen such missions.  Second, he is specifically aiming for a younger audience, and I've already retold all the strategic manhunts in my book as children's stories to my five-year-old, and trust me, it is tough to sanitize them appropriately.  Finally, I would never put myself up against Dye -- even at 66 years old, I'm pretty sure he could probably still kick my a**.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 29, 1927: "If words were bullets . . ."

U.S. Marine Captain Gilbert Hatfield waited two days until June 27 to renew his correspondence with Sandino. “Dear General,” Hatfield wrote:

Since there seems to be no opportunity to meet you on the field of battle, it has occurred to me that . . . you might be willing to come in and talk with me, Your safety both coming and leaving us is guaranteed, and you may bring a reasonable number of men as a bodyguard, say 25, to insure your safety while on the road. . . . Hoping that you are a patriot and not a robber, and that you will talk to me soon, I am,

Sandino replied on the 29th, again escalating the war of words. He said he would not come in for a conference and fall like a dove deceived by “a few grains of rice at the door of a trap.” Instead, he invited the Marines to come and get him. “I will allow you to come for the conference that you want, and I will also allow you to come with a guard of 500 men.” But when “you come to my mountains,” Sandino warned, “make your wills beforehand.” Until then, the Nicaraguan concluded, “I remain your most obedient servant, who ardently desires to put you in a handsome tomb with beautiful bouquets of flowers.”

“If words were bullets and phrases were soldiers,” Hatfield replied, “you would be a field marshal instead of a mule thief.” He suggested Sandino wire him again “when you have something more than the ravings of a conceited maniac.”

Bin Laden "The Cranky Old Uncle" of Al Qa'ida?

McClatchy reports that Osama bin Laden was no longer running al-Qa'ida at the time of his death, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

According to the report, "bin Laden was out of touch with the younger generation of Al Qaida commanders, and they often didn't follow his advice during the years he was in hiding in northern Pakistan."

One U.S. official said: "He was like the cranky old uncle that people weren't listening to.  The younger guys had never worked directly with him.  They did not take everything he said as right."

This is not in the least bit surprising.  One of my book's key findings is that the success/failure of strategic manhunts rarely corresponds with the achievement of the strategic objectives that triggered the hunt in the first place.  As I noted in my Weekly Standard piece last month: "The reason for the disparity between the outcome of a manhunt and the achievement of our objective is simple: Pursuing an individual and forcing him to go to ground renders him strategically ineffective and creates space for other actors to step to the fore."  Thus, McClatchy notes in the case of al-Qa'ida, "The computer records [discovered in Abbottabad] also lend credence to long-held beliefs that bin Laden's longtime deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri . . . had been much more involved and important to the group's operations than bin Laden had been in the last several years."

This is an important finding, however, because it suggests that even with bin Laden dead, the war against al-Qa'ida will continue.  Again, in the Weekly Standard piece I argued: "From a strategic standpoint, the successful targeting of an individual is usually less important than the successful targeting of the network that either supports him or will carry on the struggle in his absence."  Consequently, it is imperative for the United States to continue to target al-Qa'ida's key subordinate leaders, and to attack the organization with the equivalent of a counterinsurgency strategy by which we target its finances, fight for Muslim "hearts and minds," and work to eliminate its potential sanctuaries.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Meanwhile, in Pakistan . . .

Two stories from last week that shed light on the problem of hunting for al-Qa'ida in Pakistan.

First, a new Pew survey shows a majority of Pakistanis disapproved of the Abbottabad raid and think bin Laden's death was a bad thing. The first is easy to explain, as even Pakistanis who were ambivalent about bin Laden could oppose the violation of Pakistani sovereignty the raid represented.  More puzzling, I think, is the latter result, in which 55% saw the terror mastermind's death as a bad thing. Although 46% of Pakistanis reported "having confidence" in bin Laden according to a 2003 Pew Research survey, by 2010 this number had dropped to 18%.  Again, there is a simple explanation for this, i.e. bin Laden was not particularly popular with Pakistanis anymore, but their pride resented the Americans invading their territory to kill him.  But the question at the heart of these polls is important, as a key factor in whether strategic manhunts are successful or not is the popularity of the targeted individual with the local population from which HUMINT and indigenous forces can be drawn.

Second, and somewhat relatedly, the New York Times reported on Thursday that U.S. intelligence analysis of bin Laden courier Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's cell phone contained several numbers connected to a Pakistani militant group, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen.  On the one hand, this is a little less significant than it first seems: it doesn't establish direct contact between bin Laden and Harakat, and even if it did, Harakat and al-Qa'ida have been allied for a long time.  On the other hand, this is important in that it would suggest how bin Laden could have moved from Afghanistan to Abbottabad without ever raising the attention of Pakistani authorities (assuming they were looking for him, of course . . . Harakat was founded with the assistance of Pakistan's ISI in the 1980s, its leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil has long been one of bin Laden's Pakistani BFF's and lives openly on the outskirts of Islamabad), or necessarily enjoying widespread popularity across Afghanistan.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 25, 1927: Gilbert Hatfield's New Pen Pal

Ocotal, the capital of Nicaragua’s Nueva Segoiva department, sits 2,000 feet up a broad valley, less than 20 miles from the Honduran border. In the summer of 1927 it was the northernmost outpost for the U.S. forces deployed on the peacekeeping mission to the tiny Central American republic. Although such an isolated garrison could be a lonely place, Captain Gilbert D. Hatfield, United States Marines Corps, had a pen pal. Although he had only recently occupied the Nicaraguan garrison town of Ocotal with 40 Marines and 60 Nicaraguan guardsmen, Hatfield had attracted the attention of the most prominent local citizen: General Augusto C. Sandino.

On June 25 Sandino wired Hatfield that he had arrived in nearby San Fernando with his insurgent forces, and asked: “Shall I wait here for you or shall I go to you?”

Hatfield wrote back the same day. “I am giving you the idea of coming here, assuring you that we shall not run away. . . . I thank you for your letter, and trusting that you will soon come and salute me personally. I am yours respectfully, G.D. Hatfield, Capt., USMC.”
Sandino replied by sending Hatfield a crudely drawn cartoon of a guerrilla brandishing a machete over the neck of a prostate marine.

Thus began one of the more remarkable correspondences in U.S. military history.

Captain Gilbert Hatfield and his Marines at Ocotal, July 1927

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 23, 1885: The Capture of Chihuahua's Family

At about 9AM, June 23, 1885, Captain Emmett Crawford’s scouts found Chihuahua’s camp* in the Bavispe Mountains northeast of Opunto. The leader of his scouts deemed it impossible to surround the camp without being seen, thus making it impossible to capture any of the hostiles. Once the scouts moved into the best position possible, they opened fire. As with previous engagements during the Geronimo Campaign, rather than hold their position to defend their supplies, the Apache fled, escaping with their women and children through several deep canyons that joined near the camp. The scouts pursued them as quickly as the rough terrain would allow, and for several miles a running battle continued between the scouts and the fleeing braves. Although all eight warriors of the hostile band escaped – along with four boys and three women – Crawford’s scouts returned to camp with 15 women and children captured, including Chihuahua’s entire family.

*Chihuahua and his followers had briefly separated from Geronimo, partly out of anger that Geronimo had lied to get them to flee San Carlos, partly because it was harder for the Cavalry to track multiple, smaller bands than all 120 escaped Chiricahua together.


"Whitey" Bulger Captured

Okay, so technically this isn't a "strategic manhunt," given that no military forces were involved whatsoever.  (There was a foreign component, however, as the last credible sighting of Bulger before this was in London in 2002).  But, still, it is pretty incredible, that after 14 years, the FBI finally caught notorious Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger.

The 81-year old gangster, who was the basis for Jack Nicholson's character in "The Departed," was arrested near Santa Monica, CA.  The article I've linked to is a bit cursory, but for anybody who has ever lived in Boston, I'm sure this will be a fascinating story as the details emerge.  (Bulger was a monster, but an eminently interesting monster).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 21, 1916: The Battle of Corrizal

Shortly after General Trevino's threatening telegram, Pershing received reports that a Carrancista army was assembling a force of 10,000 men at Villa Ahumada, about 70 miles east of Dublan. Fearing for his lines of communication, Pershing summoned Captain Charles T. Boyd, commander of Troop C, 10th Cavalry. Boyd had served as the General’s adjutant in the Philippines and was considered reliable. Pershing ordered Boyd: “Take your troops and reconnoiter in the direction of Ahumada and obtain as much information as you can regarding forces there.” He further cautioned: “This is a reconnaissance only and you will not be expected to fight. In fact, I want you to avoid a fight if possible.” Similar orders were given to Captain Lewis S. Morey of Troop K, 10th Cavalry.

The two troops, totaling 76 soldiers, converged at a ranch 12 miles west of Carrizal on the evening of June 20. The combined forces set out for Villa Ahumada early the next morning with Boyd in command. As they approached Carrizal, a Mexican messenger emerged to warn that the Americans would be attacked if they attempted to go through Carrizal. General Felix Gomez personally came out to offer to telegraph his superiors to request permission for the Americans to enter the town.

Boyd refused.

Captain Charles T. Boyd
Boyd was determined to ride straight through Carrizal to Villa Ahamuda despite Pershing’s orders, the Mexicans’ warnings, and the advice of the other U.S. officers to simply bypass the town. Perhaps he thought audacity would cow the Mexicans. Perhaps he thought any armed resistance would be easily overcome. Perhaps he thought a successful skirmish would bring a promotion and fame as it had for Lieutenant George S. Patton. Whatever Boyd’s reasons, he ordered his men to charge the Mexicans who had entrenched themselves in an irrigation ditch to the west and south of Carrizal. Although the Buffalo Soldiers fought valiantly, killing 40 and wounding 30 Carrancistas, their small force was easily outflanked and cut down by machine gun fire. Fourteen Americans – including Boyd – were killed, 12 were wounded, and 24 were captured.

Bin Laden as Donald Trump?

At least, that was my initial thought when I saw this Daily Telegraph headline: Osama bin Laden a 'ranting chief executive'.  But the article actually raises more questions than it answers. 

Although the Obama Administration claims that not only was bin Laden the "strategic, symbolic heart and soul of" al-Qa'ida, "he was also very active in terms of operations and that is a very important understanding of what he was doing as well as what the rest of the leadership was focused on," the Telegraph's reporters conclude "it was unclear if anyone was listening to the missives he sent to senior commanders."

I tend to lean toward the latter view, although I don't think the truth will be apparent for some time as we see whether al-Qa'ida evolves or is crippled by bin Laden's killing, or until the day comes (if ever) when the intelligence captured in the Abbottabad raid is declassified and released publically.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Not Again . . .

This ain't good.  The AP reports that Pakistan has been caught tipping off targeted militants again.

Although the story is excruciatingly thin on details at this point, Kim Dozier is generally considered one of the most reliable, best-sourced reporters on intelligence issues. 

Daniel Byman's "A High Price"

Gabriel Schoenfeld reviews Daniel Byman's new history of Israeli counterterrorism efforts, "A High Price," in the Wall Street Journal's Saturday book review section.  Although Schoenfeld says Byman's work is a "meticulously researched historical narrative" and "offers a fascinating account of Israel's techniques for recruiting informants in hostile territory and its evolving efforts to make its interrogation practices conform to the strictures of international law," he points out a flaw that plagues much of the social scientific work on counterterrorism:
Mr. Byman's judgment from the sidelines is both unduly harsh and contradictory. Throughout the decades of its existence, Israel has faced enemies determined to wipe it out and willing to use the most brutal attacks on civilians to accomplish that end. If Israel has not devised a strategy to solve its terrorist problem "once and for all," that fact owes far more to the incorrigible character of its neighborhood than to the lack of a "long-term plan."

In fact, the pursuit of just such a once-and-for-all long-term plan led to one of Israel's worst strategic debacles: its invitation to Yasser Arafat, under the Oslo Accords, to take power in the West Bank in 1994. Instead of getting peace, Israel found itself embroiled with a neighbor waging a double game of talking and killing.
American academics tend to underestimate the power of ideology or religion as terrorist motivations, I think, largely because of how cheaply most Americans (especially university professors) tend to hold their own beliefs.  Say what you will about an al-Qa'ida or Hamas activist, but they genuinely believe that what they are doing is for some greater good, and it is hard to push somebody with such strong beliefs off a particular course of action once decided upon.  Consequently, quantitative studies that purport to show that targeted killings or some other counterterror policy do not reduce attacks in the long run almost always fail to consider the counterfactual of what would have happened had the State not attempted offensive countermeasures at all.

Nevertheless, I look forward to reading Byman's book in the near future, and will write my own review when I do.

Osama's Off the Hook

The Wall Street Journal reports that charges against Osama bin Laden stemming from the August 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya have been formally dropped.

Yes, I know, this is just a legal formality, but the headline still reads funny the first time you see it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ayman in Charge

Yesterday al-Qa'ida announced Ayman al-Zawahiri would succeed Osama bin Laden as the terrorist organization's top target . . . er, leader.

No surprise here, although it does raise a question of whether the reports last month that Saif al-Adel was named "interim leader" of al-Qa'ida were based on faulty sources or genuinely reflect a rift within the network.  If it is a rift, it is not based upon nationality, since al-Adel is Egyptian as well.  Instead, it may reflect al-Zawahiri's notorious lack of charisma and allegedly off-putting personality.

Today in Manhunting History -- June 17, 1993: The Raid on Aideed's Compound

After the AC-130 attacks from June 12-14, Mogadishu was quiet on June 15 and 16. But at 1:30AM on June 17, AC-130s began striking weapons storage sites and knocking out selected roadblocks in southern Mogadishu. The PSYOPS teams’ speakers warned anyone around Aideed’s compound to drop their weapons, raise their arms, and walk to the main road. “Evacuate immediately, these buildings will be destroyed in 10 minutes . . . You have five minutes to evacuate immediately, immediately . . .” This announcement was followed by warning shots from a 40mm cannon. Approximately 30-40 people left Aideed’s compound before 105mm guns fired at targets in the area of the warlord’s house.

Aideed was finally being directly targeted.

At 4AM hundreds of Pakistani, Moroccan, Italian, and French troops lined up for the ground assault, supported by U.S. liaison officers and American attack helicopters. A tight cordon was in place by 5:45AM, and two Pakistani infantry battalions kicked in the gates and assaulted the housing complexes of Aideed, Ato, and Jess. The international forces conducted a house-to-house search of Aideed’s compound. Although reporters later found the pink earplugs he used to block the previous nights’ PSYOPS’ broadcasts, the warlord had slipped away. Local legend had Aideed escaping under the UN troops’ noses on a donkey cart, wrapped up in a sheet like a corpse.

As the Pakistanis cleared the objective, however, the Moroccans began to take fire on the outer perimeter, engaging in a four hour firefight complicated by the Somali use of women and children to shield the militiamen. Just before 10:30AM, a recoilless rifle shell disabled the Moroccan command vehicle and killed the regimental commander. It took until 6:30PM to finish clearing all the shattered target buildings. In the end, the operation only managed to damage Aideed’s house at the cost of five UN troops killed and 46 wounded, and at least 100 Somalis killed.

One senior Clinton administration official who participated in the President’s decision to mount the attacks acknowledged “We didn’t plan to kill him, but the president knew that if something fell on Aideed and killed him, no tears would be shed.” Failing to achieve this, the Administration chose to portray the operations as a success nevertheless. Jonathan Howe proclaimed a “tremendous victory,” and President Clinton declared: “The military back of Aideed has been broken.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

More Bad News from Pakistan

Two stories hit the papers recently that, well, don't exactly make Pakistan look good.

First, on Tuesday The New York Times reported that the ISI has arrested some of the Pakistani informants who provided informatin to the CIA in the months leading up to the Abbottabad raid that killed bin Laden, including a Pakistani Army major who supposedly copied the license plates of cars visiting Bin Laden's compounds.

Second, the Associated Press reported yesterday that Hassan Ghul, the al-Qa'ida courier arrested by Kurdish forces in January 2004 carrying a message from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to Ayman al-Zawahiri and  who provided key information during interrogation that led U.S. intelligence to Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti - the courier that led to bin Laden - was released by the ISI and is now back with al-Qa'ida.*

Note to Pakistan: In the wake of bin Laden being discovered 30 miles from Islamabad, barely a kilometer from one of your most prestigious military headquarters, this is not the way to convince the United States of your sincerity as a strategic partner in the war against terrorism.

* Incidentally, do you think things might be a bit awkward for Hassan Ghul at whatever safe house he is hiding in now?  Imagine the scene the day after bin Laden was killed:
"Brothers, I have terrible news!  The infidel Americans have killed Father Osama!"
[Gasps and murmurs throughout the room]
"How did the Zionist pigs find him?"
"They say that interrogations revealed the existence of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and they tracked him back to Abbottabad!"
[More gasps and chatter]
"But who would ever be so foolish as to give those filthy dogs information about al-Kuwaiti?!?"
[Hassan Ghul, a sheepish look on his face, slowly edges towards the door of the room . . .]

Today in Manhunting History -- June 16, 2003: Saddam's Shadow Captured

As the nascent insurgency coalesced in increasing attacks against coalition forces and Iraqi civilians in the summer of 2003, graffiti praising Saddam began to emerge in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, bearing messages such as “Saddam is still our leader” and “Saddam the hero will be back.” CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid acknowledged: “It’s important even to know if he’s alive or dead; and if he’s alive, it’s important either to capture or kill him.” Ambassador Jerry Bremer agreed: “It is important to kill Saddam or capture him because his continued uncertain state has allowed people to play on that uncertainty and make the argument that, in some fashion, the Ba’athists would come back.” This sentiment was perhaps best expressed by an old Bedouin near Tikrit, who warned soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division that “Unless you catch Saddam and show his head to the people, they won’t believe he is gone. This will not end.”

An apparent breakthrough in the hunt for Saddam occurred on June 16, when U.S. forces captured Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti. Al-Tikriti, sometimes called “Saddam’s Shadow,” was the dictator’s personal secretary, and as the ace of diamonds on the deck of cards, the fourth-most wanted man in Iraq behind Saddam and his sons. Although the Associated Press declared “Captured Iraqi May Know Fate of Saddam,” al-Tikriti told interrogators he and Saddam’s sons had separated from the dictator in April after Saddam became convinced they could survive longer apart.

"Saddam's Shadow" captured June 16, 2003

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 15, 1916: Carranza Orders Opposition to Pershing

On June 15, Mexican President Venustio Carranza ordered his commander in Chihuahua, General Jacinto B. Trevino, to keep U.S. troops from moving any direction except north, even if it led to an armed confrontation. The next day Trevino warned Pershing: “I have orders from my Government to prevent, by the use of arms, new invasions of my country by American forces and also to prevent the American forces that are in this state from moving to the south, east or west of the places they now occupy.”

Pershing replied that same day that his government had not issued orders about the deployment of his troops; he would position them according to sound military tactics. Although Pershing was not intimidated, the increasing tensions and rumors of war dried up his human intelligence as potential sources feared retribution.

Brigadier General John "Black Jack" Pershing, leading the Punitive Expedition

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 12, 1993: Attack on Radio Mogadishu

For a month prior to the June 5 ambush of Pakistani peacekeepers, Radio Mogadishu – also known as “Radio Aideed” – had launch a no-holds barred propaganda campaign against UNOSOM II, accusing the UN of “imperialist designs” and “colonization” and calling upon Somalis to defend their sovereignty. After the massacre of 24 Pakistanis, Radio Mogadishu declared the firefights a victory for the Somali people.

At 4AM on June 12, a “steady, ominous buzz” was audible in the sky over Mogadishu. A distant pop was quickly followed by a deep thud – pa-Daa, pa-Daa, pa-Daa – again and again. American AC-130 Spectre gunships fired 10 rounds at Radio Mogadishu and some of the SNA’s weapons cantonments. The attack ended almost as quickly as it began, an orange glow from fires illuminating the city as the buzz of the gunships faded away.

As dawn broke over Mogadishu, Somalis woke to find Radio Aideed destroyed.

Over the next two nights the AC-130s attacked Aideed’s headquarters and the workshop where the SNA’s financier – Osman Ato – converted stolen cars into battle wagons. At Aideed’s residence, American PSYOPS units used mobile speakers similar to those that taunted Noriega to blast Aideed’s house with the sounds of helicopter rotors, tank engines, and machine gunfire in an attempt to intimidate the warlord.

Osama bin Laden, Sex Machine?

Cue the James Brown, and thank the Lord for the British media.

The Daily Mail reports the recollections of Osama bin Laden's first wife Najwa -- who divorced bin Laden before 9/11 -- and his son Omar regarding the terrorist mastermind's . . . umm, prowess?  (He did father ten children with Najwa, after all).  Read the whole thing for details about . . . er, "sleeping time."

Given that the SEALs supposedly found herbal viagra (he did have three wives living with him) and a pornography collection amongst bin Laden's possessions during the Abbottabad raid, one with think that bin Laden would have had better things to do with his time than plan mass murder.

If the cave is a-rocking, don't come a-knocking!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pakistani "Cooperation"

To lighten the mood after noting this week's medical drama, I was going to post this brilliant satire from The Onion: "Pakistani Intelligence Announces Its Full Cooperation With U.S. Forces During Upcoming Top Secret June 12 Drone Strike on Al-Qaeda at 5:23 AM Near Small Town of Razmani in North Waziristan."

Then, sadly, the Washington Post reported this morning that twice in recent weeks, the U.S. provided Pakistan with the specific locations of insurgent bomb-making factories, only to see the militants learn their cover had been blown and disappear before the sites were raided by Pakistani forces.  Although it is not clear whether these were intentional tip-offs by someone within Pakistan's ISI or merely poor operational security, the fact that these were Haqqani Network and al-Qa'ida factories means these were valuable opportunities lost.

Suddenly, the satire looks somewhat prophetic.

UPDATE: According to Time magazine, CIA Director Leon Panetta actually confronted the Pakistanis with satellite surveillance imagery showing the militants evacuating the IED factories in the 24 hours after the intelligence was shared.   Again, it isn't clear whether the leak was intentional or inadvertent, but, yeah, this doesn't look good.

Fazul Abdullah Muhammed Killed

Reuters reports that Fazul Abdullah Muhammed, al-Qa'ida's leader in East Africa and one of the planners of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was killed Wednesday by Somali forces.

Bill Roggio has more details over at The Long War Journal, including Fazul's bio, rap sheet, and pictures.  Although he was directly targeted several times by U.S. forces, and had several narrow escapes, Fazul was apparently killed by TFG (Transitional Federal Government) forces at a checkpoint.

Although the details are still sketchy at this point, this appears to confirm the advantage of having capable (and reliable) indigenous forces when targeting individuals.*

(Of course, it is not really clear whether the TFG is capable or not, but they do possess advantages over U.S. forces with regards to local intelligence that enabled them to realize something was out of place at the checkpoint).

A wanted poster of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Commander of al-Qa'ida in East Africa, killed Wednesday by Somali forces

Today in Manhunting History -- June 11: Into Mexico

Upon learning of Geronimo’s escape, General George Crook set in motion a three-tiered strategy to track down Geronimo. First, 100 scouts under First Lieutenants Charles B. Gatewood and James Parker were sent eastward to patrol the Mogollon and Black Mountains, after which they were to report to Fort Apache.

Once it was clear there were no Chiricahuas lagging behind north of the border, Crook intended to seal the border to catch any renegades trying to return to the United States. From the Rio Grande almost to the mouth of the Colorado River, Crook placed elements of the 10th Cavalry – the famed “Buffalo Soldiers” – at all known watering holes and points of entry. Each troop was accompanied by five Apache scouts who rode out daily to search for signs of the fugitives. Behind this skirmish line Crook posted units at key points along the Southern Pacific Railroad to act as a mobile reserve in case any Chiricahuas broached the defensive line and reentered Arizona Territory. Altogether, roughly 3,000 soldiers, three-quarters of them cavalry, patrolled the border region. To monitor the campaign, Crook moved his own headquarters forward to Fort Bowie in strategic Apache Pass at the northern end of the Chiricahua Mountains.

General George Crook, Commander of the Department of Arizona

Finally, acting under the provisions of the July 1882 agreement between the United States and Mexico that allowed the troops of one country to cross into the other “if in close pursuit of a band of savage Indians,” he deployed two columns south of the border. The first, a combined force of 92 scouts and Troop A of the 6th Cavalry under Captain Emmet Crawford, was to go down the western flank of the Sierra Madres in Sonora province. This force would be paralleled on the eastern flank in Chihuahua by a troop of the 4th Cavalry under Major Wirt Davis.

On June 11, Crook ordered Crawford’s command to enter Mexico, to be followed a month later by Major Davis’s expedition.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Heap o' Posts Below

My apologies for the light posting over the past few days.  I had a family medical emergency to deal with that kept me in the hospital and away from a computer for a couple of days.  To make up for it, please find five new posts below, with a normal posting schedule (if such a thing exists) to resume next week.



P.S. Incidentally, I've been to combat hospitals in Baghdad and Kandahar, but nothing can compete with a pediatric ER and operating/recovery room for sheer heartbreak.

Is NATO Targeting Qaddafi?

CNN seems to think so, according to Anderson Cooper's interview of Fran Townsend, which explicitly includes the label "Breaking News: NATO Now Targeting Qaddafi," even if the accompanying text has been revised to de-emphasize this point.

But this looks like a legal justification for strikes that have targeted those Qaddafi compounds co-located with command centers to date rather than an explicit declaration of policy.  A quote from one unnamed military officer in NATO conducting an informal conversation with a CNN subject matter expert does not constitute the policy of a 28-nation alliance, no matter how much CNN's producers might want it to be.

AP: "Bin Laden Documents Sharpen US Aim"

Another interesting report by Kimberly Dozier on the trove of intelligence documents secured by the Navy SEALs in the raid that killed bin Laden. 

Although investigators have found sequences of numbers that may represent bank accounts or phone numbers of al-Qa'ida operatives, the biggest insight gained from bin Laden's computer files (thus far) is the communications between bin Laden and his followers and "the light they shed on the personalities of known al-Qaida operatives and what drives the various terrorist commanders who corresponded with bin Laden." 

Unless there is something Dozier's sources can't reveal, to me this indicates bin Laden was less involved in al-Qa'ida's operations than previously suggested, and that as with previous strategic manhunts, his death will not end the al-Qa'ida threat absent the continuation of a comprehensive campaign against the terrorist network.

It is worth remembering that in the weeks following Saddam’s capture, U.S. forces obtained the best intelligence they had seen in months. Along with the money and guns, Task Force 121 found a briefcase with Saddam that contained a letter from a Baghdad insurgent leader. The message included the minutes from a meeting of a number of resistance leaders who came together in the capital. These documents provided targets for further raids in the ensuing days, and within a week these raids had netted over 200 wanted personnel.  Yet, although these raids reduced U.S. casualties in Iraq for a month, they did little to stem the growing insurgent tide.

Let Them Eat Cupcakes

An interesting piece in the Telegraph last week [ed. Oops, I'm not sure how I forgot to hit "publish" on this one] on a successful hacking operation by MI6 to disrupt al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's online propaganda efforts by replacing Inspire magazine's bombmaking recipes with cupcake recipes.

Photo: AP/ALAMY, via the Telegraph

Although this will hopefully make it more difficult for "lone-wolf" terrorists to obtain bomb-making expertise, do we really want AQAP to have access to "The Best Cupcakes in America"?  Are there no state secrets anymore?  And what does it say about the decline of the British Empire that they have to use American cupcake recipes rather than "The Best Cupcakes in the UK"?

(In all seriousness, this is an inexpensive and brilliant way to win the information operations campaign against al-Qa'ida.  Although the lid has already been blown off Pandora's Box with regards to home-crafted bombs and WMD, anything that makes the extremists look ridiculous to their targeted audience is an operational victory for the West).

More on the Drone Wars

Two recent pieces of interest on the question of drone strikes.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Security Council debated a slowdown in Predator strikes last Thursday, June 2.  Unfortunately, the story has disappeared behind the WSJ's firewall, but a key advocate of the slowdown was U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter supported by "top military officers and other State Department officials."  In addition to the diplomatic concerns prompted by the recent increases in U.S.-Pakistani tensions, the article quotes Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, commander of Pakistani forces in the tribal areas, as saying that drone strikes are making it harder to win allies among tribal leaders: "It's a negative thing in my area of responsibility.  It causes instability and impinges on my relationship with the local people." 

Conversely, CIA Director (and soon-to-be Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta "made the case for maintaining the current program . . . arguing that it remains the U.S.'s best weapon against al Qaeda and its allies." 

On Tuesday, Foreign posted an essay by Charli Carpenter and Lina Shaikhouni correcting four common misperceptions about drones:
  1. Drones are not "killer robots";
  2. Drones do not make war easy and game-like, and therefore likelier;
  3. It is unclear whether drone strikes kill too many civilians; and
  4. Drones themselves do not violate the International Law of Armed Conflict.
Although Carpenter and Shaihknouni do not directly address either the Defense Science Board's concerns about over reliance on drones for intelligence or the "Coindinistas" objection (articulated by counterinsurgency experts David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum in May 2009), it is a useful primer on some key questions regarding the use of drones.

On the Legality of Targeted Killings

Professor Kenneth Anderson writes in the Weekly Standard defending the legality of targeted killing campaigns such as those conducted by the United States against al-Qa'ida leaders in Pakistan (and Yemen and Somalia), and arguing that the Obama Administration should publicly explain the legal basis of such strikes in order to ensure their international legitimacy.  Anderson has written at length and persuasively on this topic from his regular perch at The Volokh Conspiracy.

However, I also think my friend David Bosco makes a valid point in his Foreign Policy blog, The Multilateralist, that explicitly stating the legal rationale might backfire diplomatically, as it would inherently require publicly declaring some states incapable of governing themselves.  This public shaming/embarrassment could undermine precisely the types of counter terror programs on which we want to partner with these states, as it calls into question that regime's very legitimacy. 

Additionally, having a strong rationale under international law hardly assures international support for U.S. military action.  Technically speaking, Saddam Hussein was found to be in violation of the terms of the 1991 cease fire agreement ending the first Gulf War 17 times, making Operation Iraqi Freedom legally legitimate as the renewal of hostilities initiated under Security Council Resolution 678.  But the subsequent liberation of Iraq was perceived as illegitimate throughout much of the world. 

Anderson acknowledges that "the international law community will never be satisfied," but thinks that if the Administration merely demonstrates "that it has a considered, plausible view of the law, whether shared by the critics or not" it "will achieve public legitimacy."  I am not really sure which public legitimacy Anderson is referring to here, but it seems that the American public already overwhelmingly believes these attacks to be legitimate.

Either way, I think David is correct that the Administration will continue to remain vague and evasive on this topic.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 9, 1993: Howe Requests Delta Force

After the June 5 massacre of the Pakistanis the head of UNOSOM II, retired U.S. Admiral Jonathan Howe, declared Muhammad Farah Aideed “a menace to public safety” and a “killer.”  President Bill Clinton and his advisors agreed with Howe that the ambush demanded a strong response lest UNOSOM II lose all credibility.
On June 9, Howe requested a team of 50 Delta Force operators to snatch Aideed.  (This was ironic, given that when Howe was a deputy to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William Crowe, he had vigorously opposed proposals for a similar operation against Manuel Noriega).  UNOSOM II’s Commander, Turkish Lieutenant General Cervik Bir, and its Deputy Commander, U.S. Army Major General Thomas Montgomery, both supported the request, and Howe advised the Clinton administration that the probability of U.S. special operations forces capturing Aideed at 90 percent.  (A CENTCOM intelligence assessment team traveled to Mogadishu in June 1993 and reported the capture of Aideed was “viable and feasible.”  In private, however, team members described the task as “extremely ugly . . . with numerous potential points of failure.”) 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell resisted Powell’s request, and Secretary of Defense Les Aspin rejected the idea.  Even if Aideed could be found, Aspin thought an already skeptical public would consider Delta’s deployment to be a dangerous escalation.  Consequently, Howe would have to try to catch Aideed with the conventional forces already in place. 

Retired Admiral Jonathan Howe, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Somalia

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 8, 1885: Massacre at Guadelope Canyon

On June 8, a company of the 4th Cavalry taking part in the pursuit of Geronimo was camped in Guadalupe Canyon when a courier arrived with news that the Apaches were heading in the direction of Cloverdale and Skeleton Canyon, and with instructions to proceed at once to intercept them. A nine-man detail was left behind to guard the camp and supply train. With the officers departed, the discipline of the remaining soldiers dissipated, and they withdrew the picket on an adjacent hill that provided a commanding view of the area.

At noon, as lunch was being served, the soldiers “were surprised by a thundering volley from the hills nearby.” Sergeant Neihaus, the detail's NCO, was immediately felled by a bullet in his forehead as he ate his biscuit and bacon. A soldier who came upon the scene later described what he found: “Poor old Sergeant Neihaus was propped up against a tree, the scalp ripped off his head, and two or three chunks of bacon gripped tight between his teeth – a gory, grinning satyr of what had been a kindly, lovable man. Moriarty, a recruit, lay on his back with his abdomen slashed open and bunches of hay stuck in the cuts.”

In all, the Apache killed five soldiers and made off with two horses and five mules, along with the camp stores the soldiers were guarding.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 7, 2006: The Death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

A week after Rahman had evaded the U.S. drone attempting to tail him, another Predator picked him up at his mosque late in the afternoon of June 7, getting into the blue sedan. The drone followed him as he made his way northeast out of Baghdad, staying on the highway for about 40 minutes into Diyala province. Near Baqubah, the car turned onto a minor road and pulled up to a white, two-story farmhouse at the edge of a date palm forest in the village of Hibhib. No other buildings were nearby. Rahman opened the passenger door, exited the sedan, and walked inside the house, trailed by his driver. As the Task Force officers watched through the Predator camera, a man wearing a black dishsasha walked from the house to the edge of the paved road. The man looked to his right, then to his left, before walking back inside.

Everybody was certain it was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A 2004 wanted poster of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
 As the Predator tracked Rahman, a Task Force assault team sat in a helicopter on the tarmac at Balad. The moment Zarqawi’s location was revealed they were airborne, en route to Hibhib. Yet the Task Force commander decided not to wait for the shooters to get into position. With no heavy concentration of Coalition troops in the area, it would take time to muster a ground assault comparable to those that snagged Saddam and his sons. Moreover, a large ground force would likely be seen by Zarqawi’s lookouts, who would subsequently warn the Jordanian. Even if a force could cordon off the farmhouse, storming the structure would likely result in a firefight, and the resulting confusion might allow Zarqawi yet another opportunity to slip away. Consequently, the commander decided to call in an airstrike.

Two Air Force F-16Cs who had spent the day conducting aerial reconnaissance for roadside bombs were quickly located. The pilots were told only that the target was “high value.” Although one of the planes was hooked up to a refueling plane, the second jet was ordered to peel off and fly solo for the mission, something “that is not done in the Air Force,” underlining the urgency of the mission.

In Balad, Task Force members waited, watching the farmhouse on a grainy black-and-white video. Suddenly, the screen grew dark, and billows of gray smoke emerged in four directions around the house, “in the shape of a cross.” At 6:12PM the jet dropped the first laser-guided 500-pound bomb, creating a blast so large villagers said the earth shook. About two minutes later, before the smoke had cleared, a second blast produced a smaller, more contained plume of white smoke. Both bombs hit the target, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble and twisted metal in a grove of splintered palm trees. Other than a pair of thin foam mattresses and a small carton of pineapple juice, little else inside the house was intact.

Several local Iraqi men raced to the sound of the explosions and pulled Zarqawi from the rubble, unaware the man they were trying to rescue was the most wanted man in Iraq. As they dragged him from the ruins, an ambulance and Iraqi forces arrived. The Task Force operators arrived at about 6:40PM, fast-roping from Black Hawk helicopters. They took the stretcher which lay Zarqawi upon and placed it on the ground. Because of numerous reports that Zarqawi slept in a suicide belt, they tore off his dishsasha. But despite his declaration that he “would rather blow [him]self up and die as a martyr – and kill a few Americans along the way” than be captured, it turned out the vicious killer was wearing nothing but boxer shorts under his robes.

Zarqawi spat blood and drifted in and out consciousness. When he realized American soldiers were standing over him, he attempted to roll off the stretcher and escape. The operators re-secured him and tried to save his life. Although he had no external injuries except for a few cuts, his breathing was labored and shallow, his lungs collapsed from the concussive blast waves of the airstrike. Finally, at 7:04PM, his breath faded and his pulse gave out, his last sight an American soldier.

Abu Musab Zarqawi after the airstrike that successfully ended the strategic manhunt.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 6, 1993: Somalia's Most Wanted

Although Muhamed Farah Aideed denied ordering the June 5 attack against the Pakistani peacekeepers, and asked for an inquiry, Radio Mogadishu declared the firefights a victory for the Somali people. “Brothers and sisters,” Aideed proclaimed, “I congratulate you today on the way you have defended with your lives your homes, religion, and your country . . . they [UNOSOM II] are directly responsible for the events that happened today.”

Muhamed Farah Aideed

Within 24 hours U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright and the Pakistani envoy presented a draft resolution to the Security Council placing responsibility for the attacks on Aideed and demanding his arrest. The other council members balked at explicitly personalizing the mission, however, so the final version of UNSCR 837 instead authorized UNOSOM II to take “all necessary measures against all those responsible for the armed attacks.” Nevertheless, from June 6 on the UN’s mission in Somalia was dominated by the strategic manhunt for Aideed.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Today in Manhunting History -- June 5, 1993: Welcome to Hell

When UNOSOM II began on May 4, it adopted an expanded mission of “peace enforcement” in which warlords could be compelled to disarm. Mohamed Farah Aideed recognized that the UN’s plan would weaken his military power and political base, and thus began a vicious, no-holds-barred propaganda campaign on Radio Mogadishu. “Radio Aideed,” as it was known, accused the UN of “imperialist designs” and “colonization” and called upon Somalis to defend their sovereignty. Shootings and rock-throwing confrontations increased around Mogadishu, and UNOSOM II began taking casualties. A CIA assessment around this time deemed Aideed “a threat to peace,” and UNOSOM II’s commander, Turkish Lieutenant General Cervik Bir, decided he had seen enough and decided to respond.

On June 4, UNOSOM II notified Aideed’s interior minister, Abdi Hassan Awale, that various SNA weapons sites were to be inspected the next morning. “This is unacceptable,” Awale replied to the messenger. “This means war.”

The next day, after inspecting the arms cache co-located with Aideed’s radio station, a company-sized Pakistani force was ambushed while returning to their battalion’s camp at Mogadishu’s sports stadium. Another Pakistani unit protecting a food distribution center was slaughtered after one soldier, trying to calm a growing mob, was pulled into the crowd and dismembered. Twenty-four Pakistanis were killed in the attacks, and another 56 were wounded. Ten of the dead were castrated and their eyes gouged out, while others were disemboweled and skinned.

When the Quick Reaction Force from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division advanced to cover the Pakistani retreat, they saw nearby ruins with fresh graffiti declaring: “WELCOME TO HELL.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

This One Is Big

If true, this is a big win against al-Qa'ida.

The Long War Journal is reporting that Ilyas Kashmiri was killed yesterday in a Predator strike in South Waziristan.  Although Bill Roggio's U.S. intelligence sources couldn't confirm he was killed, a spokesman for Harkat-ul Jihad Islami told Pakistan's Dawn that Kashmiri was killed.  Kashmiri was considered one of al-Qa'ida's most effective operational commanders and a possible successor to bin Lade.

As I noted before, bin Laden's death by itself is not likely to cripple or defeat al-Qa'ida.  But the killing of experienced, competent subordinate commanders like Kashmiri is an important step towards that goal.

(And yes, this news makes the headline of the post below look really inopportune.  But please remember that was in reference to drones as an intelligence tool in counterinsurgency rather than as a weapon in a targeted killing campaign).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Less Drones, Please

An interesting story two days ago (yes, yes, it's been a busy week . . .) by Eli Lake of the Washington Times on a report by the Defense Science Board urging the military to rely less on drones for intelligence, and more on open-source collection. 

The report notes that although technology helps pinpoint and kill enemy combatants and to detect cellphone conversations on the battlefield, it has created "a crisis in processing, exploitation, an dissemination" of the information.  Indeed, General James Cartwright, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs, noted last year that the data from a single sensor ball on a predator drone required 19 analysts to process, and that more sophisticated drones soon available would increase that number nearly tenfold!

Consequently, the Defense Science Board recommended the Pentagon devote more resources to developing expertise in anthropology, sociology, and human-terrain mapping.  Although this study was specifically looking at the problem of intelligence in counterinsurgencies, I think the finding also applies to the problem of strategic manhunts as well.

Today in Manhunting History -- June 3, 2003: Searching for Saddam

As U.S. ground forces began probing Baghdad’s defenses on April 7, an intelligence source reported seeing Saddam in the affluent Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour, where he allegedly visited a popular restaurant. The source claimed to have seen Saddam entering a nearby building for a meeting with his intelligence service. Two B-1B bombers already airborne were diverted to Baghdad, where they dropped four tons of bombs on the supposed meeting place. Communications chatter picked up by the NSA suggested Saddam had been killed, and Pentagon officials telephoned CIA headquarters and heard analysts proclaim: “We got ‘em.”

Whereas Saddam’s fate remained uncertain, his army melted away under the irresistible force of the 1st MEF and V Corps’ offensive. By April 9, U.S. troops had seized Baghdad, and the enormous statue of Saddam looming over Firdos Square was pulled down in a tangible symbol of the fall of Saddam’s dictatorship. The U.S. intelligence community was split over whether or not Saddam was killed in the Mansur bombing. On April 18 an Abu Dhabi television network broadcast a videotape – allegedly made on April 9 – showing Saddam surrounded by supporters in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad. Yet once again, U.S. intelligence officials could not determine the film’s date or authenticity.

Abu Dhabi's video purporting to show Saddam in Adhamiya district, Baghdad, two days after the CIA declared "We got 'em" in the Mansour attack
U.S. forces began to concentrate on rounding up the high-ranking officials from the deposed regime’s leadership before they could flee the country. A deck of playing cards bearing the pictures of the top 55 “most wanted” members of the “Black List” was distributed to American soldiers, with Saddam depicted as the ace of spades. The search was led by Task Force 20, a secret joint special operations unit that included members of Delta Force, Navy SEALs, and the British Special Air and Boat Services. By May 1, when President Bush proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, 15 of the men on the cards had surrendered or been captured. Seizure missions continued through the spring, and coalition troops netted another 12 top fugitives in May, including one of Saddam’s sons-in-law.

Despite the euphoria of liberation and the tentative signs of progress following the initial looting of Baghdad, ordinary Iraqis were plagued by a sense of growing unease and disbelief. As the nascent insurgency began to coalesce in increasing attacks against coalition forces and Iraqi civilians, graffiti praising Saddam began to emerge in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, bearing messages such as “Saddam is still our leader” and “Saddam the hero will be back.” General John Abizaid – General Franks’ replacement as CENTCOM commander – acknowledged: “It’s important even to know if he’s alive or dead; and if he’s alive, it’s important either to capture or kill him.” Ambassador Bremer agreed: “It is important to kill Saddam or capture him because his continued uncertain state has allowed people to play on that uncertainty and make the argument that, in some fashion, the Ba’athists would come back.” This sentiment was perhaps best expressed by an old Bedouin near Tikrit, who warned soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division that “Unless you catch Saddam and show his head to the people, they won’t believe he is gone. This will not end.”

Military engineers began excavating the site of the Mansur bombing on June 3 to try to find traces of Saddam’s DNA, but the search came up empty.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ranger to be Awarded Medal of Honor

Yesterday it was announced that SFC Leroy A. Petry will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism during a raid to capture a high-value target in Paktia province, Afghanistan. 

Petry was serving with D/2-75th Rangers on May 26, 2008, when despite already having been shot through both legs, he picked up a live grenade and threw it away from his fellow Rangers, losing his hand in the process, but saving the lives of four other Rangers.

Petry is only the second living soldier to win the Medal of Honor since Vietnam, the other being Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta.

Congratulations, SFC Petry, and thank you for your service and bravery!

Sergeant First Class Leroy A. Petry, American Hero