Monday, February 27, 2012

"Act of Valor" Wins Box Office War

As I predicted last November, the professional movie critics generally panned "Act of Valor," which only received a 30% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes (and only 20% amongst "Top Critics.")

Also, not surprisingly, the film has been much, much more popular with actual audiences, grossing $24.7 million and winning the box office race this weekend.

I think these numbers reflect the divide between America's masses and the "elites" represented by the film critics.  As I noted in my review, the movie:
is a much-needed break from Hollywood’s unbearably patronizing treatment of the U.S. military since 9/11, in which U.S. troops are alternately depicted as either marauders or as victims instead of heroes
Whereas critics think these depictions illustrate depth, I think the public rightly sees them as condescending and shuns such films versus movies that aren't afraid to depict our fighinting men (and women) as the heroes they are.

Drone Casualties Less Than Believed?

An interesting report by the Associated Press claiming that the number of civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan is much lower than claimed by Pakistani opponents of the campaign, as well as other media reporting, a subject I've discussed previously.
Although the AP's methodology is still somewhat inexact, they come up with the same figure for total casualties as reported by Pakistani intelligence.  Yet the AP reporters find that, excluding one attack that allegedly killed 38 civilians on March 17, 2011, Pakistani villagers interviewed say 90 percent of the victims of all other people killed were militants.  Conversely, the London-based "Bureau of Investigative Journalism" has claimed the percentage of militants killed is roughly 70 to 80 percent. 

Pakistan Tears Down Abbottabad Compound

Well, damn!!!  I was definitely planning on making a stop there on my next trip to Pakistan, but apparently Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound is no more. 

If the Pakistanis were smart they could have given the compound the full Disney treatment, wherein tourists were transported to the house via helicopter, holes suddenly appeared in walls as if they were blown clear, the sound of gunfire would be piped in the courtyard over loudspeakers, and then people would rush up to the top floor to be greeted by an animatronic bin Laden who ducks back into his room. 

You can't tell me that wouldn't have been a serious moneymaker!!!

Pakistani excavators demolish bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What Did Pakistan Know About Bin Laden?

Fresh on the heels of former ISI chief Ziauddin Butt's charge that former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf knew Osama bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, David Ignatius reports that the architect who worked on the Abbottabad compound was regularly employed by the ISI.  Ignatius goes on to propose an interesting set of questions regarding how bin Laden came to be living in Abbottabad in a large house one mile from Pakistan's premier military academy, to be investigated by a special civilian commission in Pakistan.

Separately, Jeffrey Goldberg comments in the Atlantic as to why the Pakistani military's commission examining this exact question has yet to determine an answer, suggesting the commission has devoted more time investigating Pakistanis accused of helping U.S. intelligence prepare for the SEALs' raid than finding out who was hiding bin Laden.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- February 20, 2005: Zarqawi's High-Speed Chase

Shortly after al-Qa'ida in Iraq's failed attempt to disrupt the first free Iraqi elections in January 2005, the Joint Special Operations Task Force learned that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would be travelling on a particular stretch of road alongside the Tigris between Fallujah and Ramadi on 20 February. Delta operators and Rangers set up an ambush and waited, but Zarqawi was late. Believing they had received another false lead, the operators began packing up when a vehicle blew through Delta’s roadblock and came bearing down on the checkpoint manned by the Rangers. The Ranger M240B machine-gunner had the SUV in his sights and requested permission to fire. But the lieutenant in charge hesitated, refusing clearance because he lacked positive identification of the vehicle’s occupants. The vehicle roared past the checkpoint with Zarqawi staring wildly out the window, clutching an American assault rifle.

The Delta operators quickly took off in hot pursuit while a Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle tracked the high-speed chase from above. Zarqawi was “shitting his pants,” one operator later recalled. “He was screaming at the driver. He knew he was caught.” With the Task Force operators about 30 seconds behind, Zarqawi’s driver pulled off the main highway and onto a secondary road. The Shadow’s camera showed the vehicle slowing down. An occupant jumped out and disappeared into a nearby field as the SUV sped off.  

Inside the command center, a split second decision had to be made: should the Shadow follow the vehicle or the runner? The officer in charge, likely reasoning that the truck could move faster than the man on foot, kept the UAV on the moving vehicle.

Unfortunately, Zarqawi was the runner. When the Delta operators caught the truck, they captured his driver, another terrorist, $100,000 in Euros, and his laptop. The hard drive contained everything from tactical information to Zarqawi’s photographs of himself, which he stored in the banally titled file “My Pictures.” But Zarqawi disappeared into the shadows once again.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the murderous leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, was in U.S. gunsights and nearly captured on this day in 2005.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- February 19, 1917: The Death of Frederick Funston

As pressure increased for America to enter World War I, Major General Frederick Funston -- hero of the hunt for Philippine insurgent leader Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901 -- emerged as the leading candidate to command the American Expeditionary Force.

On February 19, 1917, Secretary of War Baker threw a dinner party at his home with President Wilson as guest of honor. Major Douglas MacArthur, the son of Funston’s former commander in the Philippines, was on night watch duty for the General Staff. Peyton March, now a lieutenant colonel, was also on staff duty that night. At about 10PM, March brought MacArthur a telegram that both officers agreed was important enough to be delivered to Baker at once. MacArthur writes:

When I reached the Secretary’s home, the butler refused to let me enter, saying that he had orders to admit no one. The dining room looked out on the entrance hall and I could see it plainly. It was a gay party, with lights and laughter, the tinkle of glasses, the soft music from an alcove, the merry quips and jokes of a cosmopolitan group. I finally pushed by the butler and tried to attract the attention of the Secretary so I could report to him privately what had occurred. But the President saw me and sang out in the most jovial manner, “Come in, Major, and tell all of us the news. There are no secrets here.” There was a general clapping of hands at this, and I knew I was in for it. So clicked my heels together, saluted him, and barked in a drill-sergeant tone, “Sir, I regret to report that General Funston has just died.” Had the voice of doom spoken, the result could not have been different. The silence seemed like that of death itself. You could hear your own breathing. Then, I never saw such a scattering of guests in my life. It was a stampede.

Frederick S. Funston had survived the extremities of deserts, tundra, and jungles, multiple tropical diseases, and five wounds from enemy fire. While sitting in the lobby of the Saint Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, he heard an orchestra playing, and commented “How beautiful it all is,” when his own heart finally failed him at the age of 51. His body was the first to ever lay in state at the Alamo, before eventually being buried at the Presidio.

With Funston’s passing, “Black Jack” Pershing became the logical choice to command the American Expeditionary Force in France. He successfully led U.S. forces to victory in World War I, and was rewarded in 1919 with promotion to the artificial rank of six-star “General of the Armies,” a grade occupied only by himself and the posthumously promoted George Washington.

Major General Frederick Funston, 1865-1917

Friday, February 17, 2012

"The Americans are here, Our saviors are here, Let's dance!"

Alan Boswell of McClatchy has an interesting update on the U.S. special forces hunt for Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony that is worth a read.  The Green Berets are providing logistical support, bolstering intelligence sharing, and improving coordination amongst the four indigenous armies pursuing Kony and the LRA, making this manhunt similar to the hunt for Che Guevara.

Boswell notes "There are differing opinions among officials about whether killing or capturing Kony would be enough to end his movement."  Indeed, I would argue that we will not be successful in achieving our broader strategic (or in this case, humanitarian) objective unless we also take out the other senior leaders of the LRA at the same time.

Today in Manhunting History: February 17, 1909 -- The Death of Geronimo

After Geronimo's surrender to U.S. forces in September 1886, he and his band of Chiricahua Apaches were exiled first to Florida -- where the violent change in climate from the American Southwest caused an alarming number of deaths -- and later to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama, and finally, to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

During his time in limbo, however, Geronimo began the transformation from monster to legend. During the relocation to Fort Sill crowds gathered at whistle-stops to cheer the celebrated warrior. Geronimo responded with savvy pragmatism, selling his block-lettered autograph for 25 cents a copy. With special permission from the War Department, Geronimo was allowed to travel as a side-show attraction. He attended the Omaha and Buffalo expositions (and was at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 when President McKinley was assassinated) and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. He spent a year with a “Wild West” show, and cashed in on his reputation by selling souvenir bows and arrows, autographed pictures of himself, even the buttons off his coat. At the request of Theodore Roosevelt, Geronimo was brought to Washington to ride in the President’s inaugural parade of March 1905 along with chieftains from other tribes. As Geronimo galloped down Pennsylvania Avenue, people in the dense crowd hollered “Hooray for Geronimo!” and tossed their hats in the air.

In February 1909, the octogenarian Geronimo got drunk and fell off his horse while riding home, spending the night injured and lying in a cold rain. Consequently, on February 17, the warrior who had survived innumerable battles with the U.S. cavalry died in his bed from pneumonia, eulogized by at least one contemporary writer as “the Napoleon of the Indian race.”

Geronimo's final resting place at Fort Sill, OK.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Did Musharraf Hide bin Laden?

Bruce Riedel writes in The Daily Beast that a former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate has accused former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, of knowing that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad.

General Ziauddin Khawaja was director-general of the ISI from 1997 and in October 1999 was promoted to Chief of Staff of the Pakistani army, in which capacity he would have replaced General Musharraf.  Except . . . Musharraf apparently didn't take to well to being fired from the position, and launched the coup that overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and installed Musharraf as Pakistan's president until August 2007.  Not one to let bygones be bygones, one of his first orders of business was to throw Ziauddin in jail, where he spent the next two years in solitary confinement.  Amongst his initiatives as head of the ISI, Ziauddin formed a Pakistani commando team that the Clinton administration would fund in order to pursue bin Laden in Taliban-run Afghanistan, but the coup also meant the end of the unit. 

Ziauddin claims that another Pakistani intelligence officer, Brigadier General Ijaz Shah -- who is linked to other Pakistani-supported terrorists -- was responsible for setting up bin Laden in Abbottabad, ensuring his safety and keeping him hidden from the outside, and that Musharraf knew all about it and said nothing.

Ziauddin clearly has an ax to grind against Musharraf, but given what we know about Ijaz Shah they could be plausible.  Not only do we need to get to the bottom of these charges in order to target the remainder of al-Qa'ida's senior leadership, but also to determine our strategy towards Pakistan in light of Musharraf's stated desire to make a comeback in Pakistani politics. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Had Bin Laden Given Up?

The Daily Mail reports that Osama bin Laden told his children to live peacefully in the West where they would get a good education.  This is according to his brother-in-law Zakaria al-Sadah, whose sister was bin Laden's fifth wife, who also said bin Laden did not want his children and granchildren to follow the jihadist path.

Yeah, okay. I'm not saying this isn't true, but that it just seems really out of character for bin Laden, especially given that his sons have been considered possible heirs to his mantle of leadership within al-Qa'ida.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- February 11, 1999: "Osama will likely boogie to Baghdad"

During the Clinton administration's deliberations on whether or not to attack the hunting camp in Western Afghanistan where bin Laden was believed to be staying, Sandy Berger proposed a U-2 flight to recon the target. Richard Clarke, then the NSC's senior advisor for counterterrorism, opposed the plan. Clarke noted such a mission would require Pakistani approval, and “Pak’s intel is in bed with” bin Laden and would warn him that the United States was getting ready for a bombing attack. “Armed with that knowledge,” Clarke wrote, Osama “will likely boogie to Baghdad.”

Huh???  I thought it was only the crazy neocons of the Bush administration who suspected there might be some link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein!?! [Said facetiously, in case you could not tell . . . ]

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Stop 'Whining' About the Salad Bar!"

Off topic and on a lighter note, yesterday Josh Rogin reported on shortages in the U.S. embassy cafeteria in Baghdad.  Apparently, some State Department employees have been complaining to the New York Times about the decline in quality of the salad bar and the (horror!) rationing of chicken wings on Wings Night.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked: "Does the State Department consider, you know, not enough arugula to be a hardship in Iraq?"  Nuland replied that "it looked like some whining that was inappropriate."

I can relate.  While stationed in the International Zone in Baghdad in 2006-2007, I used to hear Foreign Service Officers complain about the food all the time, i.e. "This is the same chicken they used last night!" (Yeah, it's called leftovers, Kissinger!)  The IZ's dining facility was ridiculous by war zone standards (i.e. prime rib and lobster every Sunday), and it galled me to hear that kind of bitching considering what guys out at the Forward Operating Bases had to make do with.

Some things never change, I guess.

Abu Musab al-Suri Released?

This might be very bad.

A "prominent member" of an al-Qa'ida-linked web forum claims that rumors Abu Musab al Suri was released from a Syrian prison sometime last year are true.  The Syrian jihadist has been active with various extremist groups groups for three decades, including working as a military trainer at al-Qa'ida's notorius Darunta camp, before establishing his own camp near Kabul. It is believed that he trained terrorists in poisons and chemical weapons at both camps.

More importantly, he is a prominent al-Qa'ida strategist, who opposed the 9/11 attacks because he correctly predicted the Western backlash in response would significantly damage the terror network.  He is the preeminent theorist of "leaderless jihad," in which Muslims would establish decentralized cells that would acquire the tactical knowledge necessary to conduct attacks via the internet.  Such a "starfish" network would be more exponentially more difficult to defeat than al-Qa'ida's present hierarchical structure.

In 2004 the United States issued a $5 million reward for information leading to al Suri's capture.  He was subsequently captured in Quetta, Pakistan, in November 2005, transferred to U.S. custody, and eventually transferred to Syrian custody.

Abu Musab al Suri, the Clausewitz of "leaderless jihad."

Are the SEALs Overexposed?

The short answer is obviously "yes," if former SEAL officer Leif Babin's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed is generally representative of the SEAL community.

However, this question was raised more recently at a meeting of the National Defense Industrial Association, during which retired Lieutenant General James Vaught reportedly told SOCOM commander Admiral Bill McRaven:

"[I]f you keep publishing how you do this, the other guy's going to be there ready for you, and you're going to fly in and he's going to shoot down every damn helicopter and kill every one of your SEALs.  Now, watch it happen.  Mark my words.  Get the hell out of the media."

Overexposure of SEAL TTP's is certainly legitimate concern, and I have nothing but the highest respect for LTG (ret.) Vaught, who was the Delta Force commander during the failed mission to rescue the American hostages in Tehran in 1979, a.k.a. Operation Eagle Claw.  However, I also have supreme confidence that this consideration is front and center in Admiral McRaven's thinking and that he would never do anything to put special operators at risk. 

Ironically, Vaught reportedly said "Now back when my special operators extracted Saddam from the hole, we didn't say one damn word about it.  We turned him over to the local commander and told him to claim that his forces drug him out of the hole, and he did so.  And we just faded away and kept our mouth shut."  Umm, Sir, you were long-retired by 2003, and the actual commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force that captured Saddam was . . . then-Rear Admiral Bill McRaven!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Behind the Scenes of "Act of Valor"

Bloomberg Businessweek has an interesting piece that provides some background on the filming and production of "Act of Valor." Two anecdotes in particular caught my eye.  First, the action scenes apparently evolved in an almost improvised fashion as the SEALs starring in the film effectively became stunt coordinators as they applied their tactical knowledge to the plot.  Also, I hadn't realized that the project began in 2008 as part of a Naval Special Warfare effort to improve its recruitment, and that the timing of the filming/editing/distribution put it in place to capitalize on the post-Abbottabad SEAL-mania.  Talk about timing!

Debating the Drone Wars

Two pieces appeared last weekend raising questions about the U.S. global targeted killings campaign against al-Qa'ida and its affiliates.

In the Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus asks "Who Reviews the U.S. Kill List?", citing the lack of transparency regarding how the CIA selects targets for drone strikes.  Although I'm reasonably confident that virtually all such strikes are justified, it is not unreasonable to suggest there be greater pre-attack Congressional oversight when the government seeks to target an American citizen. 

On Sunday, the London Sunday Times published "Bureau of Investigative Journalism" (BIJ)'s claim that between 282-535 civilians have been killed by drone strikes during the Obama administration, including more than 60 children.  The BIJ also claims that at least ten times rescuers have been targeted in follow-on strikes, and that U.S. drones have struck funerals as well.

While potentially troubling, this report should be taken with a grain of salt.  Drone strikes occur in regions of Pakistan generally unaccessible to Western journalists, so these reports inevitably rely on unverifiable local sources who may have an incentive to boost the civilian casualty figures.  Even if journalists did have access to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the extremists targeted by these strikes do not wear uniforms, making it extremely difficult to differentiate between tribal fighters and civilians in the wake of an attack.  Moreover, senior leaders of these terror networks frequently surround themselves with civilians specifically in the hopes of deterring a U.S. strike.  In such a case, the laws of war place moral culpability for civilian casualties on the the targeted leader using them as shields rather than on the attacker.

To be sure, there undoubtedly have been collateral deaths as a result of our targeted killing campaign in the FATA.  Even if we accept the New America Foundation's lower estimate of 145-313 civilian deaths over the same time period as the BIJ report, it reasonable to say that roughly 300 civilians have been killed over this time.  Yet when one looks at the history of warfare or considers the number of civilians likely to be killed in a terrorist strike emanating from the FATA (i.e. the Tehrik-i-Taliban's attempted car bombing of Times Square in May 2010), 100 civilians killed per year -- although tragic for those families -- is not a particularly remarkable figure.

That being said, if rescuers or funerals are being intentionally targeted, this is problematic both from a legal and strategic perspective, as it risks exacerbating a backlash by Pakistanis not aligned with the terror networks whose cooperation is necessary for targeting certain groups.  But again, given that the reports are dependent upon "local researchers," there is absolutely no way to verify these claims.

Today in Manhunting History -- February 8, 1999: The Non-Attack on bin Laden's Hunting Camp

In February 1999, the CIA’s Afghan tribal agents reported that Osama bin Laden had travelled to an elaborate cluster of hunting camps – replete with elegant tents, a small fleet of Land Cruisers, and a plane parked nearby – in Western Afghanistan. The CIA’s confidence in the tribals’ reporting had increased and the collective feeling at the NSC (as recalled by Daniel Benjamin and Scott Simon) was “Bingo! It had to be bin Laden.” Because of the remote location, a missile strike would have less risk of collateral damage, and on February 8 the military began to prepare for a possible strike.  

Satellite reconnaissance confirmed the location and description of the largest camp, but it also revealed the plane was an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates, and the falconers included several UAE princes. Although the satellite photos provided enough detail that analysts could make out the falcons roosting on their poles, the location of bin Laden’s quarters could not be precisely determined. All the tribals could report was that bin Laden regularly visited the Emiratis from an adjacent camp, and that they expected him to be at the hunting camp for such a visit at least until midmorning on February 11.  

Without a picture of bin Laden standing outside his tent or the tracking team able to get close enough to the camp, neither the Islamabad station nor the Agency’s Counter Terrorism Center could provide a 100 percent guarantee of bin Laden’s location. Policymakers were paralyzed by the fear that a strike on the main camp would kill an Emirati prince or senior official, and by February 12 bin Laden had moved on.

The discovery of an official UAE aircraft led the proposed strike on Bin Laden's hunting camp to be aborted.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Today in Manhunting History: February 5 -- The Offensive Against Aguinaldo

Although the firefight of 4 February was a random occurrence, General Otis had spent the previous three months carefully developing a battle plan with his division commanders and Admiral Dewey. On the morning of 5 February he put this contingency plan into effect and ordered immediate offensive operations. The subsequent battle would be the biggest of the war, fought along a 16-mile front and involving all or part of 13 regiments and thousands of Filipinos. By the afternoon the Americans had overwhelmed the Filipino nationalist forces, taking all the disputed territory between the armies while suffering 238 casualties – of whom 44 were killed in action or died of their wounds – against an estimated 4,000 Filipino casualties.

The intensity of the American assault stunned Aguinaldo and his generals. Filipino morale had been soaring after the string of victories over demoralized Spanish forces – as well as the failure of U.S. forces to respond to numerous provocations. Five-hundred pound shells from Dewey’s guns crashed into the Filipino trenches. Unlike the Spaniards, the Americans were excellent shots, were aggressive, and moved fast. Aguinaldo sent envoys to Otis offering a truce and the creation of a neutral buffer between the two armies, to be followed by peace talks, but Otis simply replied: “The fighting, having once begun, must go on to the grim end.” 

Aguinaldo was quickly demonized by Americans. Secretary of War Elihu Root called him “an assassin” and “a Chinese half-breed.” Frank Millet wrote in Harper’s Weekly that “he has the keen cunning of the Chinaman, and the personal vanity and light mental caliber of the Filipino.” The New York Times declared that Aguinaldo was nothing but “a vain popinjay, wicked liar, and a perfectly incapable leader” whose men were “dupes, a foolish incredulous mob,” and that the “mischievous influence of this tricky little man must be broken.” Even Admiral Dewey, who had previously spoken fondly of the young Filipino, told anyone who would listen that Aguinaldo was only interested in “revenge, plunder, and pillage.”

Otis, whom one historian has aptly described as “the Philippine war’s answer to George McClellan, without the latter’s good looks,” was slow to pursue the battered Filipino forces, and allowed a month to pass before resuming the offensive. It wouldn't be until late March that he ordered Major General Arthur MacArthur’s division to attack along the railway line stretching north out of the capital to capture Malolos, 20 miles up the line. Otis believed that the north held the enemy’s center of gravity -- its army, its capital, and its commander-in-chief, Aguinaldo -- and was sure that the capture of this trinity would break the opposition.

MG Otis and staff at Malcanan Palace, Manilla

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- February 4, 1899: The Start of the Phillippine War

President William McKinley’s January 1899 proclamation to the Filipinos that America’s mission in the Philippines was “one of benevolent assimilation” was met with derision and ridicule. Within 24 hours every placard in Manila bearing McKinley’s message was torn down. Self-declared president of the Philippine Republic Emilio Aguinaldo responded by issuing a manifesto tantamount to a declaration of war. Aguinaldo directed his provincial commanders to stockpile rice and other supplies in preparation for war, encouraged local commanders to forcefully resist American demands, and instructed a fifth column of native commandos inside Manila to plan attacks against the Americans inside the capital. On 20 January the Philippine Congress voted Aguinaldo authority to declare war at any moment he saw fit. Shooting incidents occurred nightly, and on 3 February General Elwell S. Otis wrote to Admiral George Dewey: “There has been a great deal of friction along the lines the past two days, and we will be unable to tamely submit to the insulting conduct and threatening demonstrations of these insurgents much longer.

On Saturday night, 4 February, 1899 a silver moon hung brightly over Malolos, the temporary seat of the revolutionary government where much of the Philippine senior civilian and military leadership had gathered for a ball. Outside Manila, Private William Grayson of the 1st Nebraska Volunteers and a buddy manned an outpost overlooking the no-man’s-land near the confluence of the Pasig and San Juan Rivers. Around 8:30PM Grayson heard movement along the tiny dirt road in front of the advanced Nebraskan picket line. Twenty-three years old, thousands of miles away from his home in Beatrice, Nebraska, Grayson shouted, “Halt! Who comes there!”

A voice in the dark mockingly called back “Alto!” and four armed Filipinos appeared out of the shadows five yards away, advancing towards the Nebraskan line.

“Halt!” Grayson shouted again, and again he was ignored by the Filipinos. Under orders to assume any advancing Filipinos were hostile, Grayson and his companion raised their rifles and opened fire, their initial volley killing two men.

The other Filipinos ran back to their fortifications, yelling obscenities as they fled. Within minutes the entire Nebraskan line was ablaze as both sides reacted to the incident, firing blindly into the night. By midnight the fire had abated, with little damage suffered by either side.

The Philippine War had begun, and soon with it, the hunt for Emilio Aguinaldo.

Private William Grayson, 1st Nebraska Volunteers, standing on the spot where his shots initiated the Philippine War on February 4, 1899.

Friday, February 3, 2012

How SEAL Team Six Unwinds

Some Friday humor courtesy of The Onion.  Up until the last one, this is pretty funny.  Have a great weekend!

SEAL Team Six: Behind The Scenes

Last week, SEAL Team Six, the Navy strike force responsible for killing Osama bin Laden, rescued two humanitarian aid workers who'd been taken hostage by Somali pirates. With such a stressful line of work, the team needs a little down time now and then. Here's how the elite military squad unwinds:

  • Spending a nice relaxing day at the beach, completely undetected and unseen
  • Hanging curtains and catching up on HGTV, solely to get their testosterone down to safe, medically acceptable levels
  • Putting .50-caliber slugs in a tree inches above an unwitting neighbor's head while he naps in his hammock
  • Remembering how awesome it was to kick down that door and put a bullet through bin Laden's head
  • Getting their asses kicked by 12-year-olds while playing SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs online
  • A lot less swooping into places and more just strolling in and saying "hey"
  • Busting each other's chops, but in a way that doesn't end in death or paralysis
  • Staging Oscar Wilde comedies at the ultrasecret SEAL Repertory Theater
  • Ordering things online, waiting motionless in the bushes for days until the UPS guy comes
  • A little quality time with the family, playing some Russian roulette in the garage wearing nothing but underwear, thinking about all the horrible things they've seen and done.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Southeast Asia's Most Wanted Killed

According to this MSNBC report, the Philippine military announced a "U.S.-backed airstrike" has killed Zulkifi bin Hir, a.k.a, Marwan, a senior leader of the al-Qa'ida affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), who had a $5 million U.S. bounty on him.  Also allegedly killed in the strike were the leader of Abu Sayyaf, Umbra Jumdail, and another senior JI leader.

The Philippine air force dropped four-500 lbs. bombs in the attack on a militant camp near Parang on Jolo Island, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold, killing at least 15 including the three HVTs.  Marwan, a Malaysian, collaborated with Abu Sayyaf in bomb-making training, fundraising, and planning attacks against U.S. forces in the southern Philippines providing counterterrorism training to Philippine forces.

Details are still sketchy at this point, as the bodies were apparently removed from the area of operations by militants who survived the attack.  But if true, this is a nice score in an often over-looked theater in the Global War on Terrorism (or whatever we are supposed to call it these days). 

No Bin Laden Bounce?

Although I generally stay away from domestic politics on this blog, I've been asked in several interviews and talks about the domestic ramifications of strategic manhunts.  At, Scott Clement has an interesting analysis of the effect of strategic manhunts on Presidential popularity

Clement finds that successful strategic manhunts (i.e. bin Laden, Saddam, Noriega) only produce a temporary rise in approval for Presidents, which quickly dissipates as the public moves on to other issues.  The data also suggests that "Americans don't necessarily punish a president for failing to track down an archnemesis," citing George W. Bush being favored over John Kerry by more than 20 points in September 2004 when it came to trust on handling terrorism despite Senator Kerry's attempt to make Bush's failure to kill/capture Osama bin Laden a key theme of his presidential campaign.  (I would be interested to see what the data on Clinton towards the end of the failed Aideed manhunt was . . . )

In the end, although killing bin Laden may inoculate President Obama somewhat by making Americans feel safer from terrorism, Clement concludes that "The Harsh reality of taking down bogeymen is that once they've been removed from action, Americans may turn to judge the president on other issues.  As with Bush in 1992, Obama's 2012 fate hinges on how voters think he's handling the economy, not his vanquishing of America's most despised enemy."

Bin Laden Post-Mortem Photos Coming Soon?

The National Journal reports that in a brief responding to a lawsuit from Judicial Watch seeking "all photographs and/or video recordings" taking during SEAL Team Six's raid on Abbottabad, the Department of Justice concedes that some of the pictures are legally required to be disclosed and could be disclosed without "core" harm to national security.  (Or at least that's what the legal expert National Journal consulted says.  To be honest, it's all Greek to me).

But, honestly, would the release of images of Osama bin Laden with a bullet hole over his eye and caked in blood do anything besides satisfy some people's prurient curiousity?  Is this enough to override the potential harm it could do by offending Muslims worldwide? 

(And note, the question of giving offense obviously shouldn't be the driving determination of our behavior, i.e. defending Salman Rushdie's right to write The Satanic Verses or allowing newspapers to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad without fear of mindless retaliatory violence). 

But given that even al-Qa'ida concedes bin Laden was killed in the raid, I have a hard time seeing any strategic upside to the publication of these pictures as opposed to potential negative second/third-order effects.

Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts on this.

Apparently, The Onion's photo from May wasn't genuine.