Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"As God is My Witness..."

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the definitive account of that classic WKRP in Cincinnati episode about the holiday Turkey drop that didn't go as planned.  From The Classic TV History Blog.

And you can watch the episode's final scenes--and Mr. Carlson's immortal line, here.  


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Out of Control

In the film version of The Hunt for Red October, the late Senator (and actor) Fred Thompson was perfectly cast as Rear Admiral Joshua Painter, commander of the USS Enterprise battle group.  Painter is a man who understands a situation that is spiraling out of control.   

Anyone who has seen the movie or read the book knows the plot:  Red October, an advanced Russian ballistic missile sub, is heading west across the Atlantic, its crew attempting to defect.  In pursuit is much of the Soviet fleet.  The Enterprise is sailing east to head off the Russians, and tensions have reached a fever pitch.  Painter rushes to the flight deck to witness an emergency landing by an F-14, damaged in a mid-air brush with a Russian bomber.  As the Tomcat crashes onto the deck, Admiral Painter warns that things may get much worse:

Watching events unfold along the Turkish border this morning, you can't help but wonder if real flag officers are having similar thoughts.  Within a matter of minutes, a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian SU-24 Fencer after it entered the country's airspace, and ignored 10 warnings to turn back.  The two-man crew ejected from the jet, but were shot as they descended in their parachutes by Turkish rebels operating along the border.    

Then, the Russians dispatched a search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter to pick up the downed airmen.  But members of the Free Syrian Army--a rebel group backed by the U.S.--shot down the chopper, reportedly using an American-made TOW missile.  At least one member of the helicopter crew was killed.

Needless to say, Vladimir Putin is more than a little ticked off, referring to Turkey as "accomplices of terrorists."  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the shoot down a "stab in the back."  A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said the incident would have "the gravest of consequences." Putin said the SU-24 fell in Syrian territory and did not represent a threat to Turkey.

But Ankara disagrees, claiming the jet violated its airspace repeatedly in a matter of a few minutes.  But the incursions were brief--a fact acknowledged by a U.S. military official in Baghdad.  If confirmed, it suggests the Fencer was flying along the Syrian-Turkish border, passing through the airspace of both countries above a national boundary that zigs and zags across rugged terrain.  

The flight profile suggests the jet might have been a SU-24MR, designated Fencer E by NATO.  The MR variant is a tactical reconnaissance platform, capable of carrying a wide variety of sensors.  Similar to the long-retired USAF F-111, the Fencer is a fast, swing-wing tactical bomber/interdiction or recce aircraft.  But against F-16s carrying AMRAAM, it was badly outmatched.

Today's incident marked the second time in less than three months that Turkish fighters have downed a Russian-made jet along the Syrian border.  Ankara has aggressively defended its airspace and is clearly itching for a fight; the nation's Islamist Prime Minister, Recep Erdo─čan, is an arch-foe of Syrian dictator Bashir Assad and by extension, the Russian government that is propping him up.  Erdogan has accused Damascus and Moscow of bombing Syria's ethnic Turkmen population, which is concentrated in the border region.  Turkey has also launched frequent airstrikes against Kurdish groups in Syria that oppose the Ankara government.

In response to this morning's incident, Russia announced the guided missile cruiser Moskva will be stationed in Syrian waters.  Equipped with the naval variant of the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile system, the Moskva can provide a defensive umbrella that extends into southern Turkey.  "All targets representing a potential threat will be destroyed," a Russian spokesman vowed.  It doesn't take a military expert to understand that Russia will be gunning for Turkish jets that come within range of the Moskva.

Meanwhile, the U.S. finds itself stuck squarely in the middle of a rapidly deteriorating situation.  American inaction in Syria provided an opening for Mr. Putin, who deployed tactical aircraft and ground advisers in support of the Assad regime.  Now, in light of today's combat losses--and the recent downing of a Russian jetliner by ISIS over the Sinai Peninsula--the Russian leader has a mandate for wider action.  And the possibility of Americans winding up in the cross-hairs is not unreasonable.  Many in Moscow are blaming the U.S. for the casualties incurred by the rescue crew, whose helicopter was downed by a group we're backing, with weapons we supplied.

And on the other side, Erdogan expects NATO to back him, if Turkey becomes involved in a conflict with Russia.  Remember Article V of the Atlantic Charter?  An attack against any NATO member is an attack against the entire alliance?  That seminal clause could draw the U.S. (and its allies) into larger conflict on NATO's southern frontier, though others suggest the alliance would fall apart before that happens.  At an emergency meeting that followed today's shoot down, representatives of other NATO countries asked the Turks why they just didn't escort the Russian jet out of their airspace.  At this point, there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for rescuing Erdogan if the Russian come after him. 

But there is the matter of American military personnel and aircraft currently operating from bases in Turkey.  USAF F-15s, AC-130s, tankers, intelligence platforms and other assets are operating in the region and could find themselves in the cross-fire.  Just how would we respond if attacked or provoked by Putin's forces?  If recent history is any indication, President Obama and his national security advisers will hope that tensions ease and avoid implementing anything approaching a strategy.

As the fictional Admiral Painter observed in Red October, "the Russians don't take a dump without a plan."  It's a safe bet that Mr. Putin has examined a number of options in the wake of today's events and will offer a carefully calibrated military response.  At the same time, his counterpart in Washington will offer the usual blather and try to muddle through.  It's the only card Mr. Obama knows how to play.

Later reports indicate that one of the Fencer's crew members managed to escape and was rescued by Syrian commandos 12 hours later.  And quite predictably, Russia has mounted a series of airstrikes in the area where the jet went down and anti-Assad rebels killed the other crew member, along with a Russian Marine who was part of the initial rescue force.  Russian naval vessels in the Med have also launched cruise missile strikes in the area.  

Moscow has also announced plans to deploy the advanced S-400 air defense system to Syria.  Arrival of that system (along with the SA-N-6 on the Moskva) will give Russia over-lapping coverage of the eastern Mediterranean; much of Lebanon, portions of western and northern Syria, and of course, southern Turkey.  It's only a matter of time before the S-400 or the cruiser engages aircraft along the Turkish-Syrian border.  What happens when the Russians manage to knock down one of Turkey's F-16s, and Ankara responds with a volley of HARMs?  Or, how does Washington respond if one of our jets is targeted?  Again, it's easy to envision how this situation could easily spiral out of control, in the absence of U.S. leadership.

Russia also says it will begin escorting Fencers and other attack or recce aircraft on their missions along the border.  This virtually guarantees a showdown between Turkish F-16s and Russian SU-30/34 Flankers; the outcome of that battle will be decided by tactical skill and surprisingly, the edge may belong with Ankara, for a couple of reasons.

First, Turkish Air Force has hosted Anatolian Eagle (AE) exercises for more than a decade.
AE is their version of Red Flag, and most of Turkey's NATO partners have participated, along with the air forces of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Pakistan and even China.  Anatolian Eagle (along with other NATO exercises) has sharpened the tactical abilities of the TAF. 

Secondly, Russian tactics have always been tied to ground or airborne controllers who guide the pilot through the intercept.  Russian pilots are less proficient when they lose that guidance (say, in a jamming environment).  Additionally, most Russian fighter pilots have never participated in any complex, free-flowing tactical engagement or exercise (such as Red Flag or AE), making them more dependent on radar controllers.  However, that is not to say the Russian Air Force contingent in Syria can't bloody Turkey's nose.  Pilots and units deployed to the Middle East were hand-picked and they are more than capable of setting a tactical trap for the Turks.                     



Monday, November 23, 2015

The Lawyers' War

It was hailed as a great success--more evidence that ISIS is being contained and destroyed, as President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials have insisted.

Barely a week ago, in the first major U.S. airstrike since the Paris terror attacks, USAF A-10s and an AC-130 gunship decimated a convoy of 100 ISIS tanker trucks in Syria, a move aimed at cutting off the terror's group primary funding source--oil sold illegally on the energy black market.  As DoD Buzz reported: 
“In the first wave of U.S. airstrikes since the Paris attacks, A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft and AC-130 gunships raked a convoy of more than 100 ISIS oil tanker trucks in Syria in a stepped-up effort to cut off a main source of terror funding, the Pentagon said Monday …
The oil convoy attack and the carrier deployment signaled the U.S. intent to intensify airstrikes while increasing efforts to share intelligence with allies in the aftermath of the Paris carnage last Friday that killed at least 129, but President Obama insisted that there would be no fundamental changes in strategy …
‘ISIL is stealing oil from the people of Iraq and Syria’ at a rate estimated by the Treasury Department at $1 million daily, [Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis] said. By hitting ISIS-controlled oil facilities and distribution networks, ‘We’re disrupting a significant source of funding’ for terror activities, he said.”
A few days later, the real truth emerged, and as a certain, former NFL quarterback might say, it ain't pretty.

For starters, it was revealed that we avoided targeting ISIS tank trucks until last week.  The reason?  Someone in the Obama Administration decided the truck drivers are civilians and therefore, not combatants.  Never mind the trucks were hauling oil for terrorists, an enterprise that earns ISIS an estimated $3 million a day selling oil.  There is also the very likely possibility that the drivers are being paid by ISIS (at a minimum), and some of them are probably members of the group.  Hardly a bunch of innocents.

Yet, in its determination to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, Team Obama actually sent a warning to the drivers before the first bombs fell.  As Bridget Johnson at PJM reported, the U.S. dropped leaflets before the attack, giving drivers almost an hour to abandon their vehicles:

"In Al-Bukamal, we destroyed 116 tanker trucks, which we believe will reduce ISIL's ability to transport its stolen oil products," [Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve] Warren said. "This is our first strike against tanker trucks, and to minimize risks to civilians, we conducted a leaflet drop prior to the strike. We did a show of force, by -- we had aircraft essentially buzz the trucks at low altitude."

The leaflets, which fluttered to the ground about 45 minutes before the strikes, simply said: "Get out of your trucks now, and run away from them. Warning: airstrikes are coming. Oil trucks will be destroyed. Get away from your oil trucks immediately. Do not risk your life."

"We combine these leaflet drops with very low altitude passes of some of our attack aviation, which sends a very powerful message," the colonel added.

He said the decision to drop warnings came after they "assessed that these trucks, while although they are being used for operations that support ISIL, the truck drivers, themselves, probably not members of ISIL; they're probably just civilians."

Just like those Syrian refugees pose no security threat to the countries taking them in.  

To be fair, the U.S. has always tried to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties.  But the "air campaign" that's unfolded in the skies over Syria and Iraq reflects that policy taken to an illogical extreme.  About the time the Pentagon was declaring victory over those abandoned tanker trucks, the Washington Free Beacon revealed another troubling fact: administration officials block up to75% of all strikes against ISIS because of concerns about hitting civilians.  California Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said the policy aided the terror group's march across Iraq and Syria over the past year.  

Quite a change from World War II, when heavy bombers from the Army Air Corps' 8th and 15th Air Forces pounded industrial targets in Nazi-occupied Europe on an almost-daily basis.  There was no effort to hit the plants when the workers were off-duty, and no rain of leaflets telling them to flee their posts ahead of a planned attack.  Then as now, enemy factories, communications networks, and transportation systems were viewed as legitimate targets.  But somewhere along the way, we decided that civilians supporting the enemy effort should be spared.  

Ironically, we've been down this path before.  Back in the mid-90s, your humble correspondent was an aircrew member, assigned to an Air Force battle management squadron.  We supported the NATO/U.N. mission in Bosnia from its earliest days; our job was to coordinate air support for peacekeeping troops on the ground.  More often that not, it was an exercise in frustration.  Local bad guys--Serb, Croats and Muslims--would sometimes open fire at allied troops on the ground.  That would bring a call for air support.

Here's how the system was supposed to work: the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) taking fire--or attached to the unit under attack--would radio a request for close air support to our aircraft.  We would relay the request to NATO's Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Vicenza, Italy, which was in charge of the air campaign.  At that point, the CAOC was supposed to approve the request, and we would direct available air assets to support the unit under fire.  

But remember, the U.N. had its thumb in the Bosnia mission as well.  Beyond the CAOC, the support request was then routed to the senior United Nations official in Zagreb, Croatia, then on to New York.  Once approved by some grandee at U.N. Headquarters, the request made its way back down the chain, through Zagreb, back to the CAOC, on to the airborne C2 element and finally to the A-10s, F-16s, Harriers, F/A-18s or whatever asset was assigned to support the folks on the ground.  

Originally, the U.N. approval was (supposedly) required for only the first CAS request; after that, the decision would be made within the military chain.  Nice theory, but in practice, the U.N. didn't want to relinquish control.  So, for much of the Bosnia mission, any request for air support still had to go through the United Nations chain.  On multiple occasions, fighters orbited overhead for more than 30 minutes while the request for CAS was considered.  By the time approval was granted, the shooting had stopped and the local thugs faded back into the countryside.  

One day, the bureaucratic nightmare became too much.  The sector patrolled by troops from Denmark was around Tuzla, the same place where Hillary Clinton claimed she came under sniper fire.  But unlike Mrs. Clinton, the Danes had been taking actual fire from the Serbs and were determined to neutralize the threat, once and for all.  On October 25, 1994, the Danish TACP reported that elements of the Nordic battalion was moving into action against the Serbs.  One of our controllers asked if they were requesting CAS.

No, the Danes told us.  We'll handle it.  

That got a lot of attention in the back end of our airplane.  The Danish TACP couldn't clear NATO fighters onto the Serb position without approval up the chain.  So, how did the plan to deal with the Serbs?  

We got the answer in short order.  Our crew capsule was equipped with a crude e-mail system that allowed us to communicate without using the intercom.  'They're bring up tanks" the controller team told us.  

In the early days of the Bosnia mission, Denmark was the only country that sent tanks as part of its military contingent.  Not light tanks or armored cars, but Leopard I main battle tanks.  As I recall, the Danes sent three Leopards to deal with the problem.  Along the way, they were engaged by a Russian-built T-55, operated by Serb forces.  It was quickly knocked out, along with a recoilless rifle.
Once in position, the Danish tanks pounded the Serbian position.  Officially, the Leopards fired a total of 21 rounds from their 105 mm main guns.  But a few years later, I heard a different version of events during a presentation from U.S. Navy Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, who was commander of NATO forces in Bosnia in 1994.

According to Admiral Smith, one of the Leopards, commanded by a female tanker, expended all of its 105mm ammunition against the Serb position. Smith later met with the tank crews and asked the young officer why she had fired so many rounds during that engagement.  

"Because," she said, "that was all I had."  

An important lesson, worth remembering amid our current cluster in the Middle East.  There are times when unwavering, over-whelming force is required, with the realization that bombs sometimes go astray and collateral damage occurs.  It may be hard to transpose the lessons of a tactical engagement in Bosnia to an air campaign in Syria, but in warfare, it's sometimes necessary to put the JAGs (and politicians) on a leash and relentlessly pound your enemy.  Especially when you're fighting savages who long for the good ol' days of the 7th Century and understand nothing but the business end of a JDAM or SDB.  

By the way, the Serbs stayed quiet around Tuzla for many weeks after that October engagement.  Few lessons are as clear--or brutal--as a 105 round landing in your sniper's nest.   

We could do the same thing in the so-called caliphate.  Level Raqqa and establish kill box ops throughout ISIS controlled territory.  Destroy anything on the roads that looks like an oil tanker, and take out the well heads and support infrastructure as well.  Such facilities have (reportedly) been added to the target list, but they went untouched for more than a year, giving ISIS millions to fund its operations around the globe.  

Sadly, we're still fighting the lawyers' war, led by the barrister-in-chief.  And we will pay a price for his folly.

The Pentagon has subsequently revealed that U.S. warplanes "ran out of ammunition" during the Syria engagement, allowing some of the tank trucks (and drivers) to escape.  That explanation seems a little fishy, particularly when you consider that A-10s and an AC-130 gunship carried out the strike.  Each A-10 carries over 1,000 rounds for its 30mm gun, which can make mincemeat of ground targets (including tank), and they have 12 wing hard points to carry munitions.  The AC-130 carries roughly 100 rounds of 105 mm ammunition for its main gun; even more for the 25 or 40mm chain gun that is also mounted on the gunship.  

Maybe a better question is how many aircraft actually participated in the raid.  In recent months, the U.S. has maintained a single A-10 squadron in the region to support operations against ISIS, typically totaling 12-18 aircraft.  Compare that to Desert Storm, when hundreds of A-10s were deployed to the Middle East, and unleashed against Saddam's ground forces on a daily basis.  We even established a FOB near the Kuwaiti border, to Hog drivers could land, debrief, refuel, rearm and get an intel update before re-joining the battle.  It was a very efficient--and lethal--operation. 

 By comparison, descriptions of last week's tank truck turkey shoot suggest that no more than 4 A-10s were employed, and they had to fly long distances just to reach the target area.  AC-130s operate at night, and their tactics call for neutralizing a target in less than five minutes, to minimize exposure to the aircraft and crew.  By the standards of Desert Storm and Allied Force, last week's attack against ISIS oil trucks was little more than a token blow.                                        


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Flood the Zone

At this hour, the city of Brussels is on lock-down.  Residents are being told to stay indoors and the U.S. Embassy has advised Americans to shelter in place.  Subways are closed, along with most shops and businesses.  Belgian troops have been deployed in the city for the first time since World War II, all in response to what the nation's prime minister described as "precise" information on a pending terrorist attack, similar to the one in Paris on 13 November.  

From the AP:  

Belgium's national Crisis Center had raised its terrorism alert for the Brussels region to Level 4, which indicates a "serious and immediate threat." Belgium's special security Cabinet held an emergency meeting Saturday morning.

Brussels was home to the suspected organizer of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and Belgium has filed charges of "participation in terrorist attacks and participation in the activities of a terrorist organization" against three suspects relating to the Paris attacks.

At least one Paris attacker, Salah Abdeslam, crossed into Belgium the morning after the attacks. A Paris police official and the Paris prosecutor's office said Saturday they had no firm information on Abdeslam's whereabouts, including whether he was in the Brussels area.

But fears of a looming attack go well beyond the Belgian border.  Across much of Europe and the United States, security has been tightened; analysts are pouring over data and law enforcement and counter-terrorism teams are on heightened alert, assuming (correctly) that Islamic terrorists are preparing to strike again.  

Yet, there is also a foreboding that security forces are running well behind their foes, and window for preemptive action is rapidly closing. The measures taken in Brussels are extraordinary and quite necessary, yet they also reflect clear gaps in the intelligence database.  If authorities were reasonably sure of the cell's whereabouts and possible attack timeline, it's a given that police and military counter-terrorism units would have already raided those locations.  

Indeed, Belgian and French authorities conducted hundreds of raids over the past eight days, attempting to locate individuals involved with the Paris attack and prevent strikes at other locations, including Brussels.  So far, scores of suspects have been arrested, but officials have not been able to locate Abdeslam (and others) who may be preparing for the next attack.  

On our side of the Atlantic, preparations are less urgent, but security has been heightened in a number of locations, including Washington, D.C. and New York City.  In recent days, ISIS has threatened attacks against Times Square and the White House.  Those claims may be nothing more than idle boasts, but given the group's recent string of operational successes (the Paris attacks; bombings against Hizballah enclaves in Beirut and the downing of a Russian jetliner of the Sinai), such threats must be taken seriously.  

Unfortunately, American security forces face the same challenge as their European counterparts.  With ISIS leapfrogging outside of their traditional sphere of operations, the group is clearly a trans-national threat, with its sights firmly focused on the United States.  There is a broad consensus within intelligence and law enforcement that a major ISIS attack--on American soil--is only a matter of time

Earlier this week, Morten Storm, a former Al Qadia operative-turned-CIA-double agent predicted a terrorist stirke in the CONUS "within two weeks."  He theorized that cells in Europe and the U.S. are about to be discovered (in wake of the massive manhunt after Paris)  and "need to do as much damage while they still can."  The timeline suggested by Mr. Storm pushes the attack window into the start of the Christmas shopping season.  A successful strike during that period could devastate the American economy; many small businesses depend on strong Christmas sales to generate a profit for the year.  Multiple attacks against shopping malls or big-box retailers could keep millions of Americans home for the holidays, and jeopardize the future of many retail outlets. 

How has ISIS managed this feat?  Western indifference and moral cowardice played a decisive role (more on that in a moment), but the terror group never lost sight of it strategic goals--nor missed an opportunity to influence and shape regional events for its own benefits.  

In Europe, it was simply a matter of flooding the zone, manipulating the exodus of "refugees" from Syria and inserting ISIS fighters into their ranks.  The danger signs were clearly there; immigration officials in Greece, the Balkans and Hungary (who first dealt with the flood of migrants) warned that the refugee  "population" had relatively few women and children, while military-age males represented up to 77% of those streaming across the borders.  In recent days, we have learned that two of the terrorists behind the Paris attacks crossed into Greece less than two months ago, posing as refugees.  Lebanon's education minister estimated earlier this week that "two percent" of the refugees are terrorists operatives, so the math is fairly easy.  If the Obama Administration makes good on its vow to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, upwards of 200 could be terrorists.  It is worth remembering that the carnage in Paris was unleashed by roughly a dozen operatives.  How many Americans could 100 terrorists kill?  Or even 50?  

And there are plenty of indications that the ISIS wave has already reached American shores.  FBI Director James Comey has stated that the bureau has more than 1,000  ISIS-related investigations in progress across the country.  Mr. Comey has not disclosed the number representing "lone wolf" type threats (often from self-radicalized individuals) and those that might be connected to more complex attacks, like those in Paris or yesterday's strike on a western hotel in Mali, which killed 27 people.  The Mali attack was carried out by an Al Qaida affiliate, which may be trying to demonstrate that group's continued relevance in the Age of ISIS.

Closer to home, the FBI Director isn't the only one claiming that ISIS is already here.  A Syrian community leader in New York claims the group is currently operating from American soil. And earlier this week, federal agents arrested eight Syrian nationals trying to cross our porous southern border, though officials at the Department of Homeland Security refused to confirm that claim.  The arrests along the border were followed by reports that five Syrian nationals had been detained after entering Honduras with fake Greek passports. The Syrians were reportedly en route to the United States when they were detained by Honduran authorities.  

Meanwhile, President Obama appears unfazed by it all, sticking with plans to bring at least 10,000 Syrians to the U.S. this year, with larger numbers in 2016 and beyond.  Predicatbly, Mr. Obama has ridiculed Republicans and others who oppose his aslyum program, accusing them of "being afraid of widows and orphans."  

Predictably, Obama and his minions would provide straight answers on how many refugees are being resettled in individual communities, and the demography of the asylum seekers.  But if Europe is any indication, the vast majority of the migrants are young men, not women and children.  Young men who, in many cases, fit the general profile of someone who has fought for ISIS overseas, sympathizes with the group, or is a Middle East-born operative dispatched to infiltrate the U.S. or Europe while posing as a refugee. 

And, as we've learned in recent days, identifying and tracking potential terrorists has become more difficult, as ISIS employs more sophisticated encryption systems, and uses gaming consoles and similar systems that create discreet, temporary networks that area difficult to detect and penetrate for surveillance purposes.  These techniques are a major reason that NSA, GCHQ and the SIGINT division of French Intelligence (DGSE) failed to detect potential electronic warning signs before the attack.  

With more terrorists going "dark," security forces must fall back on less sophisticated methods, including old-fashioned gumshoe surveillance.  But once again, our capabilities are limited.  Without reliable SIGINT, it is more difficult to deploy surveillance assets in the right locations at the right time.  Additionally, it has been difficult for intelligence and security forces (particularly in Europe) to penetrate Muslim communities, often referred to as "no go" zones.  

Making matters more difficult, physical surveillance assets are often limited.  Fran Townsend, a former Homeland Security Adviser for President George W. Bush, recently told an interviewer that federal agents can maintain full-time surveillance on 60-70 people on any given day.  Compare that total to the number of active ISIS investigations in the U.S., and the size of our problem becomes even more clear.   

If these reports are accurate, then ISIS probably has enough assets in place to carry out a major attack in the U.S., likely following the Paris and/or Mumbai models.  The group makes no secret of its desire to strike our homeland and an attempted attack is probably just days away.  We are certainly not alone in this prediction and we sincerely hope we are wrong.  But all signs point to a coming attack against the United States, and sooner rather than later.        



Friday, November 13, 2015

The Breakout

ISIS has long vowed to expand its operations beyond Iraq and the Levant, and they are well on their way to accomplishing that goal, with horrific results.

As we write this, Paris is reeling from a string of deadly terrorist attacks at the city's main soccer stadium, a concert hall and a sidewalk cafe.  Sky News reports at 120 people were killed, mainly at the music venue.  So far, ISIS has not officially claimed responsibility, but one of the surviving terrorists told French police that he was recruited for the operation by the terror group.

The carnage in France comes on the heels of this week's attacks in Beirut and the recent downing of a Russian jetliner over the Sinai Peninsula.  ISIS is suspected in both attacks, which underscore the group's growing capabilities outside its original operating areas.

At first, there was a certain tendency among so-called "experts" to downplay the significance of the earlier strikes.  The Russian flight originated from Sharm el Sheik, the Egyptian resort on the Red Sea where security had been questioned before the Metrojet A320 went down, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.   That was followed by the bombings in Beirut, which some suggested were a renewal of the long-standing conflict between the Sunni terrorists of ISIS and Shia of Hezbollah, and a sign that ISIS is under "pressure" from its simultaneous conflicts with Iran, Russian, the U.S. and its western partners and Hezbollah.

Such claims seem laughable in light of tonight's terrorist rampage in France.  The attack was complex, well-planned and expertly coordinated--a blended strike similar to the one that occurred in Mumbai, India in 2008.  More than 160 people died in that attack; the death toll in Paris may likely be higher.  Carrying out that type of assault required at least two dozen operatives, along with a large support network of safe houses, logisticians, drivers, financiers and others.

Apparently, there were no advance indications that an attack was imminent.  As one analyst bitterly noted, "they read Snowden," underscoring how terrorists learned about NSA surveillance techniques from his massive disclosure of sensitive intelligence.  The signals intelligence branch of the DGSE uses similar measures, so the counter-measures applied to NSA can be used against a variety of western SIGINT organizations.

In the hours following the Paris attacks, there was predictable chatter among terrorists and their sympathizers.  One message, quoted by Fox News, left little doubt as to ISIS's ultimate goal.  "American blood is the sweetest," one terrorist tweeted, "and we will taste it soon."  There was also a reference to terrorists in cars, an obvious reference to VBIED attacks.

While security was reportedly increased in New York City and Washington, D.C., Americans officials said late Friday night there was "no known threat" to the CONUS at this time.  A few hours earlier, President Obama told ABC News that ISIS had been "contained."

Meanwhile, the FBI says more than 1,000 ISIS-related investigations are underway in the U.S.  In the coming days, expect to see the usual, strange dichotomy that often occurs at times like these.  Officially, we will be told that "everything is being done" to deter a possible attack, while privately, other sources will warn that the nation remains highly vulnerable, with genuine fears that ISIS teams are in place and will strike very, very soon.

In this environment, that latter scenario is probably closer to the truth.  We are two weeks from Black Friday, and the start of the Christmas shopping season.  Attacks during the holiday period, when stores, airports and other public places are jammed, has always represented a nightmare scenario for federal, state and local law enforcement.

This may well be the year the nightmare comes true.  Far from being "contained," ISIS has staged a spectacular "breakout," and the threat (in all likelihood) is already here.


During Saturday night's Democratic candidate presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said she supports plans to bring up to 65,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S., despite the fact that the FBI (and other law enforcement agencies) have warned there is no way to properly vet those individuals. 
Tellingly, Mrs. Clinton made the remarks after French authorities announced that two of the terrorists involved in Friday's attacks entered Europe through the recent waves of migrants that have made their way from the Middle East.  She also refused to say the U.S. is at war with radical Islam.  Go figure.


Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Eagles Have Landed

While much of the nation was focused on Ben Carson's West Point kerfuffle--or the weekend round of college and pro football games--our military involvement in Syria took a rather unusual turn.

With little media fanfare (save a few blogs), the U.S. deployed at least six F-15C Eagles to Incirlik AB, to help protect Turkish airspace from possible intruders.  At first blush, the move hardly seems significant.  In recent months, the Air Force has dispatched a number of fighters to bases near the Syrian border, attempting to show American support for a key NATO ally and deter potential violations by Russian and Syrian pilots supporting the regime of dictator Bashir al-Assad.

To date, most of the NATO and U.S. aircraft operating from southern Turkey have been multi-role jets like the F-16C/D and the F-15E Strike Eagle, capable of striking ground targets or patrolling the skies along the Syrian border.

But the F-15s that landed in Turkey today have a single mission: ensure air superiority by challenging adversary fighters.  And, since ISIS doesn't have an Air Force, it seems abundantly clear that the F-15Cs have been dispatched to deal with Russian and Syrian MiGs and Sukhoi fighters that stray into Turkish territory.  Unlike U.S. and Turkish F-16s--which can transition from air-to-ground to air-to-air at the flick of the switch--the F-15Cs are designed solely for blasting enemy fighters out of the sky.

So why is the Obama Administration, which famously avoids confrontation with its adversaries, suddenly upping the ante along the Turkish border?  Did the Commander-in-Chief acquire that "spine of steel" that Joe Biden talked about back in 2008?  Is he actually trying to send a message to Vladimir Putin and Bashir Assad?

A closer review suggests the answers to those questions is a resounding "no."  First, consider the size of the deployment: a total of six F-15s, plus support personnel.  In today's undersized Air Force, that's less than half a squadron, a force that is incapable of round-the-clock operations over southern Turkey or northern Syria.  F-15s typically operate in a four-ship "Eagle wall," so sending a half-dozen gives you the ability to generate two-four sorties a day, assuming the squadron (normally based at RAF Lakenheath in Great Britain) sent along enough pilots, mechanics and support specialists to sustain that modest operations tempo.  By comparison, the 1st Fighter Wing sent 48 F-15s to Saudi Arabia in the early days of Operation Desert Shield and other Eagle units sent similar, squadron-sized packages.  Round-the-clock operations commenced almost immediately and continued through Desert Storm.  Flash forward 25 years and six F-15s isn't a token force, but it's pretty darn close.

There's also the matter of the ROE imposed on the Eagle detachment by Mr. Obama and NATO.  Aircrews operating along the Turkey-Syria border have the inherent right of self defense, or at least that's the policy being employed by the Turkish Air Force.  A few weeks ago, a TAF F-16 shot down a MiG-29 Fulcrum that violated its airspace, after a series of provocations by Russian and Syrian aircraft.  We can only hope that our pilots have the similar latitude.

It's also worth noting that F-15s are most effective on the offensive, running fighter sweeps ahead of the strike package. By some indications, the F-15Cs will escort strike aircraft on missions against ISIS targets, but it's difficult to envision them being employed in an aggressive manner.   In fact, it's more likely the Eagles will be employed in barrier combat air patrols (BARCAPs) along the border; their first mission will be defending Turkish airspace, with the escort mission representing a secondary tasking.

Actually, that operational scheme would make sense if USAF F-22s are fully engaged over Syria.  The Air Force has hinted that Raptors are flying missions as long as 12 hours in hostile airspace, escorting strike packages, providing electronic combat support and collecting intelligence information.  The F-22s could dominate the skies over Syria and Iraq, and quickly dispatch any adversary fighters that mount a challenge.  But there is little information about the rules of engagement the Raptors are operating under; it would not be surprising to learn they are restrictive in nature.

To be fair, no one wants a shooting war with Russia.  But the feckless policies of the Obama Administration gave Mr. Putin an entry point, and the Kremlin leader is fully exploiting that opportunity.  Lest anyone forget, Russia's announcement that it was commencing air operations was accompanied by a directive that U.S. and NATO aircraft leave Syrian airspace.  So far, Washington and its European allies have ignored that order.  But they've also been careful to set up coordination lines with Moscow and it was reported last month that American aircraft were directed away from Russian fighters, to avoid a potential showdown.

With Russia's air campaign now into its second month, Putin is still calling the shots, and our air offensive is more about symbolism and staying out of the Russians' way.  That strategy may take on added significance in the days and weeks ahead.  Many expect Putin will sharply increase his air offensive in retaliation for ISIS downing that Russian jetliner with a bomb.  Some analysts believe that Moscow will deploy more tactical airframes to the region and even send TU-95 Bear strategic bombers on round-robin missions between Russia and Syria.  As the pace and intensity of Russian operations increase, the potential for straying into Turkish airspace will increase, as will prospects for an inadvertent confrontation between Russia's aircraft and our own.

At that point, perhaps Mr. Obama will declare a safety stand-down or something very similar.  Or maybe he'll send the F-15s back to Lakenheath, as a gesture of our goodwill.  


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Audiences Nix Rather Pix

Like most conservatives, I must confess to a bit of schadenfreude over the utter failure of Truth.

Based on box office receipts, audiences have completely rejected the Robert Redford drama, which is based on Dan Rather's failed (and fraudulent) "expose" of George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.  According to Box Office Mojo, Truth has grossed barely $1 million since its limited opening in mid-October and fared poorly in its first weekend of wide release.  On its current trajectory, the film won't even recoup its modest marketing budget, let alone production costs.

And better yet, some of the reviews have been scathing.  From The Atlantic, not exactly a house organ of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy:

"..Late in the movie Truth, the former 60 Minutes Wednesday producer Mary Mapes (played by Cate Blanchett) offers a Big Speech about the state of journalism, decrying the fact that all that people want to read or watch on television these days is “conspiracy theories.” The irony apparently lost on her (or at least on the writer-director James Vanderbilt) is that she makes this charge while she herself is in the midst of presenting a conspiracy theory. 


The film concerns 60 Minutes’s 2004 pre-election reporting on George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. Two documents central to the news program’s contention that Bush was granted preferential treatment were subsequently revealed to be almost certainly fraudulent. This error ultimately resulted in the retirement from CBS of Dan Rather (played here with likable understatement by Robert Redford) and the firing of Mapes and others. It’s in the midst of her “conspiracy theory” speech that Mapes suggests that the fraudulent documents were a cunning ploy by pro-Bush forces—immaculately sophisticated in some respects, but childishly certain to be recognized as fake in others—intended to discredit further reporting into his military record. Could this be true? Stranger things have happened, I suppose. But it’s pretty much the definition of a conspiracy theory.

This is, alas, of a piece with Truth, one of the worst films about journalism (and there have been plenty of bad ones) to come down the pike in a long while. The movie loudly, hectoringly stresses the importance of always “asking questions”—my notes include, among others, the lines “Questions help us get to the truth,” “You stop asking questions, that’s when the American people lose,” and “You’re supposed to question everything, that’s your job”—and yet the very quality it celebrates in its protagonist is that she never questions whether or not her reporting might have been wrong. This is a film in which acknowledging error is treated as some terrible surrender and betrayal of trust; in actual journalism, it’s considered a moral obligation—one that, sadly, most people in the field have had some experience with, in one capacity or another.

Similar thoughts from The Oregonian, another MSM outlet that should not be confused with say, National Review:

"The less obvious reason is "Truth" wants to be a movie like "All the President's Men" or the upcoming "Spotlight" that shows journalists fighting powerful interests in pursuit of a story that could change history. They lost -- but it wasn't their fault. It was the Internet -- those pesky bloggers distracting everyone with their obsession with fonts and superscript -- or it was a conspiracy between Viacom and the White House, or both. The Bush administration was furious at Rather and Mapes for breaking the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, reporting that won a Peabody Award after they were gone from CBS, and wanted to get even.

But it was their fault. Rather, by all accounts, was detached, uninvolved in the reporting process until the end. Mapes and her team felt under competitive pressure and didn't do enough to verify the documents or their sources. The reporting was sloppy under any circumstances; on such a crucial piece, it is inexcusable."

Beyond the fatal flaws of the film (and its underlying "story") there are elementary questions that bear asking.  Namely, why would any studio--in this case, Sony--elect to spend millions on a film that is based on lies and bound to fail?  Why would Hollywood "A" list talent (led by Robert Redford as Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes) sign on to such a project?  And for that matter, why did a couple of publishing houses give Ms. Mapes hefty advances for the hard copy and paperback editions of her book, which serves as the basis for the film?  

The answers, of course, lie in the politics of the news business and the entertainment industry.  Needless to say, there aren't any conservatives on the creative team that gave us Truth, and I'm guessing registered Republicans are a closeted minority in the executive suite at Sony Pictures, which released the film.  For members of those groups, George W. Bush is still a target of opportunity; after all, he stole the 2000 presidential election from Al Gore; helped arrange the 9-11 attacks and used falsified intelligence to send us into Iraq.  Surely those rumors about Bush using family connections to join the Texas Air National Guard (and avoid service in Vietnam) must be true.  And if you believe all that, it only stands to reason that Mr. Bush would avoid fulfilling his ANG service obligations.  

Unfortunately, there isn't a speck of real evidence to back up the guard story.  Ms. Mapes reporteldy began pursuing the story in 1999, before Bush entered his first presidential primary.  There were tantalizing rumors but no documentation until she encountered Bill Burkett, a former Texas National Guard officer with an axe to grind against his superiors and the Bush family.  The "memos" that supposedly proved Bush had been AWOL from the ANG turned out to be crude fakes, created on a computer and easily replicated by anyone with a copy of Microsoft Word and a printer.  

After that, the story quickly fell apart, and the subsequent CBS investigation (headed by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and retired AP chairman Louis Bocardi) exposed just how shoddy the "reporting" had been.  Mapes was rightfully fired and Rather left the network as well, after working at CBS for 43 years.  He later spent millions suing his former employer, but the case was dismissed. 

So why perpetuate an obvious fiction--beyond the pathological hatred for Mr. Bush and his administration?  It's no secret the left is adept at re-writing history, or at least the popular interpretation of key events.  Making a movie out of Truth allows the media wing of the progressive movement to place a new spin on an embarrassing moment.  Instead of (rightly) focusing on the deficiencies in the original reporting, the new film takes a different tack: suggesting that Mapes and Rather were dismissed for asking the wrong questions about the wrong people at the wrong time. 

Clearly, movie audiences aren't buying this revisionist tripe, but dont' underestimate the film's long-term staying power.  It will become required viewing in journalism schools around the nation, with sympathetic professors suggesting that Redford, Blanchett and director James Vanderbilt actually "got it right."  In time, the "new" version of events will largely supplant the truth, making it easier for fraudulent journalists to try similar stunts in the future.  After all, Dan Rather himself suggested back in 2004 it was acceptable to use phony evidence "if the major thrust of the story was true."  That led to the infamous characterization of the ANG memos as "fake, but accurate." 

Following that line of logic, it's almost as important to have the final say on something, particularly if you can alter long-term perceptions and opinions.  As entertainment, Truth is an absolute bust (and deservedly so).  As an attempt to change perceptions among key, liberal constituencies, the jury is still out.  
ADDENDUM:  Despite poor reviews, Truth is actually being touted as an Oscar contender, with Redford and Blanchett has potential nominees.  Nothing like a gold statue (or two) to burnish the latest lie from Hollywood.