Archive for December, 2015

ISIS atrocities, Libya feet first, a new President – here comes 2016

December 28, 2015


28 December 2015


2016 will be a sinister affair. That’s what they say in the darker alleys of Whitehall and across the river on the Albert Embankment.

The oil guys in the Middle East say ISIS is working up a nasty. Big hits in as many European capitals as they can manage on the same day. Make Paris look like a hooligan mugging. The Middle East oilmen having the most to lose and twice that to protect have been known to get it right.

They says something like this: four or five organisers with long placed hitters in seven or eight capitals. Museums are easy targets.  Metros have to be quick. Theatres.  Everyone dies in the third act. Yup.  There’s a lot of black humour out there. Why the third act? Security is sharper in Act I and Act 2.  Act 3 has a It Won’t Be Tonight feel.

On the wider screen for 2016, Libya is the hardest one to tackle. The factions are still spilling blood and revenge is easy done.  France and UK are all for getting in there with air support, intelligence gathering and special forces reconnaissance (SAS’s original role) and smart diplomacy i.e. soft and hard power operation.  Trouble is no one knows for certain where ISIS has got to in Libya and most importantly who is running it there.

In the Middle East proper there is every chance of a strong US-Russia partnership developing in Syria.  Give it a couple of months. Russia without a sign of Oooops-sorry! is intent on whacking as many anti-Assad rebels as possible before going the extra distance on some form of election.  Here’s something that is not going to change in 2016 unless Assad is taken down by his own people – palace revolutions will be a general feature through the world of British interests.

Moscow clearly believes that Assad is the best bet in Syria. A lot of people at State Department could copy that but it is never going to be official policy especially as in Moscow Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov could be running Putin.  Watch those two names next year.

Everything is tugging Washington (and the UK) into further involvement in the big places it has failed during the past decade. More troops and close air support in Iraq and Afghanistan has a ring of the military version of American Old Home Week.

The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of Pakistan – always has been. So watch for higher training programmes and arms supplies from Pakistan military to Taliban. Watch also for Taliban’s biggest enemy in Afghanistan in 2016: ISIS.

It is all heady stuff and somehow makes the UK-MOD headaches low budget stuff. But the work is underway to see how much of a battle group or an force projection the carrier programme could make.  One carrier means six or so frigate/destroyer escorts plus a couple of subsurface vessels.

In spite of promises paying for all this is a hard call.  But the toughie for all three services to be sorted in 2016 is manpower. A great tr-service fighting force emerging from the 2015 SDSR – but fewer and fewer people with on-going training programmes to “man” them.

The biggest event of 2016 will be on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November – when the US votes for a new President. On November 9 they will wake in every city anywhere you can name and ask Who Won? They should do.  The new incumbent will be the most important person in the whole world.

On present showing the presidential election will be the most racially influenced presidential election in decades. Latinos, Asian and Black America since Fergusson will pack a  punch this time.

Meanwhile the current tenant on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the 44th President, will be ending his term by going after ISIS in the biggest way he can: hopeless superpowerdom testing to destruction.

And that is almost it except for the little matter of the election of a new secretary general of the UN. Ban Ki-moon goes on December 31 2016.  Who get’s the job.  No one knows. My money – against all the odds called thus far – is on a Bulgarian, foreign minister Irina Bokova.  But what do I know?


Terrorists Don’t Sign Peace Agreements

December 16, 2015


16th December 2015


There are two things we have to understand about fighting terrorism:

A terrorist does not sign peace agreements

An insurgent wins if he does not lose

Take those two points on board then you can put the grand alliance announced in Riyadh this week in some perspective.

You will also get an idea why American led anti-IS policies have the finger prints of a whole lot of pretty dumb Washington analysts written all over them.

The announcement in Riyadh says this:   34 mainly Muslim nations have agreed to join a Middle East, Asian and African axis to fight terrorism.

The group is largely Sunni.  The three missing states from this agreement -Iran, Syria and Iraq – are largely Shia.

The only significance of the announcement is that Gulf States and others others accept that they must do what they should have done in October 2014 – take it upon themselves to destroy the threats from ISIS instead of waiting for the Americans to do it for them.

The military tone poem coming out of all this is that the Saudis understand what ISIS terrorism is all about but cannot do too much about it and the US-led lot do not understand ISIS and they too cannot do much about it.

Talking to American policy wonks it is sadly clear they do not understand that rebellion is a greater power than ever because the means of making rebellion attractive and successful has never been greater.

Until autumn 2014 and with ISIS advancements the average Arab never believed it was possible to change society into something different.  ISIS said we can and we have.

Moreover most at Riyadh understands what America and her allies like the UK do not understand: an insurgency wins if it does not lose. Unlike state to state warfare, a rebellion can slink away and therefore cannot be beaten.  It can be contained as post-World War II America attempted to contain emerging USSR.  But it need never be beaten as long as the will remains.

The further reason for  doubting coalition understanding of what they are into is their continuing belief in signing agreements. That is a very western way of doing things. Making the other side sign means you have won.  Terrorism has no political signature that obliges those coming later to observe such a signature.

Western nations sign as states. Terrorists have no such structure nor authority.

All this says that whatever the plans of Riyadh, of Washington, of Moscow or of any other state, terrorism cannot be beaten because a signature is not a symbol of having lost.

It is a hard thought to follow, but it is the only one to be understood if ISIS is to be contained, which it will have to be because it has nothing to lose and therefore will for ever win.


ISIS: Think The X-factor

December 5, 2015


5th December 2015


Why bomb Syria? Simple.  It is what has to be done until some one comes up with a good idea. Bombing is lethal mood music.

Most of America has never heard of ISIS, IS, ISIL or Da’esh.

Until  a law office pinned the badge on the California shooting a couple of days back ISIS was mostly an unknown here. The rest of America is armed to the teeth to shoot anyone who it thinks needs shooting (more than 300 gun slayings in the US so far in 2015) so does not need the incentive of what happened last month in Paris, France.

Inside the beltway of the Nation’s Capital here the view is broader. Why not? A thousand or so think tankers are making this year’s fortune in personal appearances and consultative values talking nothing else but how to stamp out what we now label as modern fascism.

Yet there is a quiet group that is not yet getting a big hearing because what they have to say is impossible for most to understand.

Executive Washington and not a few on Capitol Hill just as in the UK and France are simple people with little sense of history and even less understanding of what they are facing.

The introduction of the UK bombing in Syria had more to do with the good PR for clean-kill Brimstone missiles than any concept of theatre and strategic concepts that divert the way of ISIL ambitions and what comes next.

The got-to-do-something European notion is more understandable than the American view because Paris could have been in any other of 30 European capitals especially as there is evidence that radicals in Birmingham England were part of the planning for Paris.

In other words, we have a short term plan that cannot work because no one has come up with any true concept of what the threat really amounts to.

Maybe then it is time to work out how we come to live with a thought that has its origins not in post-Paris thinking but in the mind of a man who died ten years ago, George F. Kennan. Kennan was the man who taught us how to handle the ambitions of post-World War II USSR

In 1946 Kennan was the US charge d’Affaires in Moscow. His job was to analyse what Stalin planned for Communist Russia and his establishment of a near abroad of states that would provide a cordon between Russia and Western Europe.  That analysis was in an 8,000 word telegram in 1946 that Kennan sent to the State Department. The shorten version was in Kennan’s conclusion that American policy towards the growing threat must be “firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies”.

The following year, the containment document was published under the nom de plume Mr X in the American journal Foreign Affairs.

Take the model of George Kennan’s report and you will find the kernel of reluctant conclusion of what is going down here in the back rooms of State.

The outline reads like this:

For all the mighty military and political powers of the US led coalition including those in the UK and France, this joint superpower cannot destroy ISIS.

There can be military success with many ISIS killed but the surviving leadership – now across three continents – will continue the threat and consequences in ways that so-called sophisticated Western society cannot handle.

Therefore the Kennan option has to be imagined.  The resources of the US-led coalition has to devise a military and political option to “live with” the threat but as best that can be, keep it in check.  This is the 1946 American policy of containment.

The most remarkable concept is this: containment may be the only part defence the West has but as ISIS increases its success as a caliphate so it will become hogtied by all the restrictions of holding the ground and running a caliphate that in the long term can only be ruled by patronage.

Containment as it was modelled by Kennan and those who followed anticipated three or for decades of Cold War and then the uncertainty of common interests – which is what we have now between Washington and Moscow.

As ISIS moves from an AK-47 enemy to one armed with drones and worse, containment becomes the only option.  The IS move on fellow Wahabi Saudi Arabia can only be imagined.

The weaknesses are obvious in a more complex world than 1946 and powerful regional interests some of which and whom are Western allies. But for the moment this may be the only game in town: bomb to clear the ground for mechanised infantry warfare; the recognition of new boundaries and then the containment of something that is effectively a new world order.

After that? No one could possible know.



ISIL: why Cameron needs a quick kill

December 1, 2015


1 December 2015


Prime Minister Cameron needs a quick missile kill in Syria – an ISIL leader rather than a playgroup. But in warfare, there are few guarantees.

The Royal Air Force is on standby to go with a reinforcement of two Tornado bombers – making ten in the Akrotiri squadron and six multirole FGR4 Typhoon jets.

The RAF Reaper drone crews in Kuwait have been tracking targets for weeks. The dry runs have been done. The Brimstone laser tracking missiles have already been used from the Tornado and the Americans in particular cannot wait for them to go-strike in Syria. The special forces to laser spot targets deep inside alien territory know the job.

The operational brief is signed off.

All that remains is for the Speaker of the House of Commons to call The Ayes Have It! The Ayes Have It! The green benched chamber will erupt with a roar to rival a Typhoon afterburn and 3,589 kilometres away the Akrotiri base will be on go.

Prime Minister Cameron will then wait.

In a meeting at Westminster after the Friday 13 November murders in Paris Cameron was overhead fuming that he intended to ‘kill the bastards”. Not the tone of the cool calm and collected but that soon returned. He, his whips and a leaderless Labour Party have, barring Parliamentary coup de theatre given Cameron his prize.

Cameron needs a Thatcher moment that will restore him to the sanctum sanctorum of the American and French leadership. President Obama, with finer sense of history than the British regards France and not Britain as America’s oldest ally. That hurts in Downing Street.

And so Cameron needs a Tornado’s Brimstone or a Reaper’s Hellfire to bring him the news he longs for: Al-Baghdadi down. That in Number Ten would be perfect although it is hardly clear that the RAF knows the exact location of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Cameron wants it this week. His bendy people (aka spin-doctors) want the political victory roll any time very soon after the Commons vote. Cameron wants to hit the networks with a good kill.

He wants the video play of a scurrying ISIL team disappearing in a silent puff as their Toyota – surely the most photographed rebel/terrorist truck of the decade – is no more and they even less so.

The Prime Minister has taken the UK into another stage of war that has like all warfare, few promises of success. No military commander nor tactician believes bombing does it for them. A mythical follow on ground force is just that – wishful.

So Cameron needs a fireball. Truck. Oil tanker. Command centre. Dodging 4-wheel caught in the laser track. Strike one makes him right. Forget what happens next. Strike one is everything. He got it wrong over Libya. He needs another chance at the toughest of all shots a Prime Minister gets to call. It makes him a political hero – a euphemism for I told you so.

What he does not need is a mistake. He does not need a school bus. He does not need the world broadcast of a solemn spokesperson of Medecins Sans Frontiers.

War produces no guarantees.