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Belmont Club

Remember the Alamut

July 20th, 2014 - 4:39 pm

Bill Roggio reports on the disasters overtaking the Iraqi Army. A key base near Tikrit being used by the government to counterattack ISIS was reported overrun with heavy loss to equipment and life.

Two days after repelling an Iraqi military attempt to retake the city of Tikrit, the Islamic State and its allies are said to have overrun Camp Speicher, a large base just outside the city that was being used in the failed effort to retake the provincial capital.

The Islamic State’s Salahaddin Division claimed in an official statement released on Twitter yesterday that it overran Camp Speicher and is in “control of the airport and the base completely.” In the statement, the Islamic State claimed it killed “scores” of Iraqi military personnel, including a brigadier general and a colonel. It also said that a number of pilots were killed in a “martyrdom” or suicide operation on the base before it was overrun. …

The Iraqi military made its first effort to retake Tikrit in late June, when it airlifted commandos into Tikrit University in an effort to gain a toehold north of the city. An advance on the city from the south was defeated. Then, on July 16, the Iraqi military launched Operation Decisive Sword. A large column of military and militia units entered southern Tikrit and thought they liberated the city, but as they celebrated they were ambushed with suicide bombers, IEDs, and conventional attacks. The Iraqi forces then withdrew from the city.

After the Iraqi military withdrew from southern Tikrit on July 16, the Islamic State immediately began its assault on Camp Speicher, as the base was the last remaining holdout of Iraqi forces near the city (Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Tikrit University sometime before the second offensive was launched).

The Daily Beast disputes Camp Speicher’s fall, saying the “Iraqi Army’s Alamo” is still holding out.

A high-ranking officer in Baghdad’s military operations center said only that “Speicher is under the control of the army and the volunteers. ISIS never entered the base.” He declined to discuss further what he said were classified matters relating to the base’s defense.

Without being inside Speicher or peering above the base’s walls, it is impossible to say for sure who controls it. But one clue that ISIS has not taken it over is the lack of documentation on their social media accounts. If ISIS had really killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers, destroyed army helicopters, and captured a major base, as they claim, the Twitter-obsessed group would likely be tweeting the evidence and basking in the images of carnage. So far, this hasn’t materialized.

The Iraqi Army isn’t the most reliable source of information, so the facts are still in doubt.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government touts victories in Tirkit on a steady basis while ISIS regularly claims to have slaughtered government forces and taken control of the city. The truth seems closer to a deadlock. The Iraqi Army has the manpower and weaponry to defeat ISIS in open skirmishes but is often fighting from a defense. While the army tries to retake Tikrit, it’s forced to counterattack and hold its ground against an enemy that likes to ambush and then fade away into the sympathetic or cowed elements among the local population.

But if ‘Alamo’ it is, the bastion’s investment or fall was sealed by strategic blunders committed in the past. The Iraqi Army’s woes go deeper than the tactical situation at Speicher. Bill Roggio cites an assessment by a US advisory team, released on July 14 by McClatchy, which paints a grim picture of organizational collapse.


The Element of Predictable Surprise

July 19th, 2014 - 6:15 pm

“Ok, surprise me.”

The enemy always does.  For years Hamas has been working on a secret weapon: tunnels. “Eight Palestinian militants emerged from a tunnel some 300 yards inside Israel on Saturday morning, armed with automatic weapons and wearing Israeli military uniforms, the Israeli military said. The gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at two Israeli military jeeps on patrol, starting a battle that killed two Israeli officers and one of the militants, according to the military. The rest then retreated underground, back to Gaza.”


The IDF has taken 30 tunnels so far, many lined with concrete. While the Israelis were not strategically surprised, they were inevitably taken at tactical unawares. They knew there were tunnels but not where all were and how they would be used.

Israeli officials framed the encounters as successes in thwarting attacks on Israel. But they were also an indication that Hamas could strike even during the invasion through a tunnel network that Israeli officials just revealed they had been studying for a year to plan a way to destroy them.

Despite the belief in NSA omniscience, James Kitfield in Breaking Defense points out that Western intelligence has many institutional blinds spots that terrorists have identified. It is now only a matter of time before they strike, but they seem to be holding off until they can pull off the Big One.

We know that intelligence gaps exist and unfortunately politics has ensured the defensive horses are wearing not only blinkers but blindfolds.


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The Perils of the Sea

July 18th, 2014 - 8:32 pm

One of the biggest causes of warship losses is self-immolation. Remember the Maine? It is now believed that the USS Maine might have blown herself up in what was the equivalent of a coal dust explosion that set off her magazines rather than from a Spanish mine.  The evidence is inconclusive.

There is less controversy in the case of the HMS Vanguard, a dreadnought class battleship that blew up in Scapa Flow in 1917. “Just before midnight on 9 July 1917 at Scapa Flow, Vanguard suffered an explosion, probably caused by an unnoticed stokehold fire heating cordite stored against an adjacent bulkhead in one of the two magazines which served the amidships gun turrets ‘P’ and ‘Q’. She sank almost instantly, killing an estimated 804 men; there were only two survivors.”  During World War 2 the Japanese battleship Mutsu sank the same way.  She survived Midway and the battle of the Eastern Solomons and returned to Japan in 1943 where a magazine explosion sank “the ship with the loss of 1,121 of the 1,474 crew and visitors.”

For most of the Second World War the danger of an exploding warship magazine was simply regarded as an occupational risk. Second World War carriers were floating bombs. They carried large quantities of gasoline, munition of all sorts and had wooden flight decks.

But the search for ways to keep warships from blowing themselves up — principally by switching over to ‘insensitive munitions’, explosives that don’t readily explode when heated or blasted — really gathered momentum after the World War 2 when the US nearly lost two supercarriers to munitions accidents. Perhaps the best known incident was the 1967 fire on the USS Forrestal. The Navy had by then introduced bombs with less sensitive explosive fillers. But as the bombing campaign ramped up the Navy began to run out of modern bombs.  So they used old bombs found in a jungle dump from Subic Bay.


The End of Animal House

July 17th, 2014 - 12:02 pm

The shootdown of a Malaysian Airlines 777 over Ukraine with the loss of all aboard may represent a new and disturbing trend in that conflict. For Ukraine represents the flashpoint between east and west at its most immediate.

The airplane was brought down from 33,000 feet by an anti-air system from parties unknown, yet almost certainly connected with the army of a great state. It follows the announcement of new sanctions by the Obama administration on Russia — and a connection between the two, even if factually nonexistent, will be drawn and hang like a cloud over the international scene.

Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone Thursday morning to discuss the new sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia Wednesday, and near the end of the call Putin noted the early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Moscow requested the call between the two leaders, which provided the opportunity for the Obama “to make clear once again the important principles at stake here” when it comes to Russia’s support of rebel militias in Ukraine.

The destruction of the Malaysian airliner comes at a time when international tensions are very high. From fighting in Gaza, Syria and Iraq to the manifestly failing attempts to negotiate away Iran’s nuclear program to renewed attacks on Kabul’s airport — at no recent time have American efforts to preserve the Long Peace been under such threat.

If Leading from Behind is working, it’s not obvious.



July 16th, 2014 - 5:46 pm

The decision of a court to hold the Dutch state liable for the death of 300 Muslim Bosnians in the Srebrenica massacre marks the first time a UN mission has been blamed for doing nothing.  It threatens to unravel the whole system of UN peacekeeping.

The judgment by the Dutch supreme court is the final decision in a protracted claim brought by relatives of three Muslim men who were expelled by Dutch soldiers from a United Nations compound during the Balkans conflict, then killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

Although the case related only to the murder of three victims, it sets the precedent that countries that provide troops for UN missions can be held responsible for their conduct.

The UN itself was not directly implicated because the court found that it was not even in touch with the Dutch contingent at the time. “The Dutch court ruling held that in the chaos of the Serb takeover of Srebrenica, UN commanders no longer had control of the troops on the ground and “effective control” therefore reverted to Dutch authorities in the Hague.”

Unable to receive the customary orders to do nothing the Dutch were therefore expected to do something and so the blame attached to them. “The Dutch government resigned in 2002 after the National War Documentation Institute blamed the debacle on Dutch authorities and the UN for sending underarmed and underprepared forces into the mission and refusing to answer the commanders’ call for air support.”

Testifying at the trial of Bosnian Serb military and police officers charged with crimes in Srebrenica and Zepa, [Kees Nicolai, former UNPROFOR chief of staff] Nicolai described that ‘close air support’ for the Dutch Battalion deployed in Srebrenica enclave had been postponed several times in June 1995 despite frequent attacks of the Bosnian Serb forces. After the ‘hostage crisis’ in May 1995, he explained, the UN command introduced restrictive guidelines for air support. The guidelines specified that it was better for the ‘blue helmets’ to withdraw if the UN checkpoints came under attack, than to call in NATO air strikes.

The New York Times notes that the court’s decision puts at risk the entire system of UN peacekeeping, a fact used as a legal defense by the Dutch government. “The court dismissed the arguments presented by the Dutch government that holding peacekeepers accountable for events that happened during their mission would deter future United Nations operations and make countries less willing to supply troops.”


The Seven Gambit

July 15th, 2014 - 6:23 pm

Just as soon as Israel accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire Hamas fired 47 rockets killing one Israeli citizen.  Anyone who has followed the conflict could have predicted this with certainty; the point of a ceasefire — for a terrorist organization — is to break it for exactly the same reason it purposely attacks women and children.

Dr. Anna Geifman tried to explain that the reason why innocents are selected as terror targets is because “children are the last consecrated absolute”. That is just why they must be killed in the cruelest way possible. For “militant nihilism strives to ruin first and foremost what their contemporaries hold sacred”.

Nihilism isn’t the absence of a belief. It is something subtly different: it is the belief in nothing. The most powerful weapon of terrorism is therefore the unyielding No. “No I will not give up. No I will not tell the truth. No I will not play fair. No I will not spare children. No I will not stop even if you surrender to me; I will not cease even if you give me everything you have, up to and including your children’s lives. Nothing short of destroying me absolutely can make me stop. And therefore I will defeat you even if you kill me. Because I will make you pay the price in guilt for annihilating me.”

It’s an extremely powerful weapon.  The Absolute No is a devastating attack on the self-image and esteem of civilization.  Hamas will demonstrate the No, the Nothing. It will show that deep down inside Israelis — and Americans — are animals like them.  This can be called the Seven Gambit, from a 1995 film which explores this exact theme. It depicts two detectives versus the devil in the shape of nameless man, who kills people not by attacking them directly, but by creating situations where they kill themselves by yielding to one of the seven deadly sins: sloth, gluttony, vanity — and finally vengeance and wrath.


The Siege of Baghdad

July 14th, 2014 - 10:59 pm

Bill Roggio has a very interesting article describing the ISIS plan to invest Baghdad. They aim to infiltrate the surrounding towns until they control a “belt” around the capital.  From this vantage they will gradually paralyze the capital through unremitting campaign of terror and subversion until it can be taken outright.

The encirclement won’t consist of trenches or other physical obstructions. Rather it will be comprised of clandestine networks and supply systems that will move bombs, weapons and fighters around through a network of cells and safe houses to locations in and around the city.  It is, as Bill Roggio points out, a rehash of the Sunni strategy to encircle US forces during Operation Iraq Freedom.

The lightning advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham and its allies from Mosul to the outskirts of Samarra, as well as its capture of several towns in eastern Diyala, all over the course of several days, appears to be part of a greater strategy to surround the capital of Baghdad before laying siege to it. This plan, to take over the “belt” region outside of Baghdad and cut off the capital, appears to be the same strategy used by the ISIS’ predecessor back in 2006.
The 2006 plan, which was drawn up by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the forerunner of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), was discovered after the US found a crude map on the body of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader who was killed by US forces in Baqubah in June 2006. The “Baghdad belts” map was released by Multinational Forces-Iraq during its offensive to liberate vast areas under al Qaeda/ISI control in 2007 and 2008.

Zarqawi’s plan was to seize control of the outer provinces and Baghdad’s belts, or key areas surrounding the capital. The ISI would then use its bases in the belts to control access to Baghdad and funnel money, weapons, car bombs, and fighters into the city. The ISI also planned to strangle the US helicopter air lanes by emplacing anti-aircraft cells along known routes in the belts areas around Baghdad.

Back in 2007 I co-authored an article in the Jerusalem Post with the commander of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne, Colonel Dominic J. Caraccilo exploring this issue. His job then was to dismantle the southern belt, then known as the Triangle of Death.


The World As We Find It

July 13th, 2014 - 5:01 pm

The initial reports from the Los Angeles Times described the massacre of almost 30 women in the Zayouna neighborhood of Baghdad as an an unsolved mystery: “gunmen in Iraq reportedly kill at least 30 in upscale Baghdad area”.

A group of armed men raided a building in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Zayouna, breaking into “a number of apartments and opening fire on the residents,” reported Sumariya television, a private pro-government channel. Twenty-eight of the victims were women. Police cordoned off the area. Initial investigations yielded no evidence about the identity of the killers, or the motive for the attack, Iraqi news reports said.

It was not long before a more sinister motive made itself plain. The murder site was a brothel. The gunmen came in order to kill every one in it and teach the world an Islamic lesson. “Police believe men using silenced weapons carried out the executions, before scrawling ‘this is the fate of any prostitution’ on one of the doors.

A police officer speaking on condition of anonymity said: ‘When we walked up the stairs, we saw a couple of women’s bodies and blood streaming down the stairs. ‘We entered a flat and found bodies everywhere, some lying on the sofa, some on the ground, and one woman who apparently had tried to hide in a cupboard in the kitchen shot to death there.’ … Police believe men using silenced weapons carried out the executions, before scrawling ‘this is the fate of any prostitution’ on one of the doors.

One is tempted to label this a ‘war on women’, but that term is already taken by the opponents of the Hobby Lobby decision, where the Supreme Court held that one couldn’t force an employer to pay for the birth control or abortifacients of an employee.  Over time, the West has cheapened the language of discourse. (more…)

Ethnicity: Poor

July 11th, 2014 - 4:41 pm

David Goldman writing from Tel Aviv, explains that Hamas is broke, has lost its patrons in Egypt and weaker than ever. It is bombarding Israel to attract more terror funding. By contrast, Israel has thrived under fire and is poised to become more prosperous than ever.

Netanyahu will look indecisive and confused, because he has to deal with an openly hostile U.S. administration on one side and his nationalist camp on the other. Time, though, is on Israel’s side: economically, demographically, strategically. The proportion of Jewish births continues to soar. The fruits of a decade of venture capital investing are ripening into high-valuation companies. And the Arab world is disintegrating all around Israel’s borders.

That coming prosperity will only make Israel even more ‘guilty’ than before. To understand why, watch Dinesh D’Souza debate Ed Show guest host Michael Eric Dyson and panelists Eric Boehlert and Zerlina Maxwell over slavery. D’Souza argues that every country began by conquest  and slavery was rife in the world from the beginning of time. The only thing that distinguished America was it actually fought a civil war to end the institution.  Dyson was having none of it. He argued America was guilty because it ‘ideologized’ slavery by using the Bible. In this Dyson is almost certainly wrong. America is guilty, like Israel, not because of the Bible but because it got rich.

One wonders what Dyson would have made of news that Brazil was being asked to pay reparations for historical slavery. It was the largest slaver in the new world. “Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery. By the time it was abolished, in 1888, an estimated four million slaves had been imported from Africa to Brazil, 40% of the total number of slaves brought to the Americas.” By contrast, as Wikipedia explains, North America was small potatoes:

A total of about 600,000 slaves were imported into the Thirteen Colonies and the U.S, constituting 5% of the twelve million slaves brought from Africa to the Americas. The great majority of African slaves were transported to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil. As life expectancy was short, their numbers had to be continually replenished. Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. and the slave population began to reproduce; enslaved peoples’ numbers grew rapidly, reaching 4 million by the 1860 Census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American enslaved people was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England.

But Brazil is rarely mentioned in connection with slavery for one simple reason. It ain’t got no money. Race guilt — and guilt in general — is directly proportional to wealth.  China is discovering that wealth is turning the Chinese White. During the recent advance of Isis in Iraq, Chinese oil workers were evacuated in special buses and chartered flights complete with hired Iraqi army escorts. The rescued workers were even allowed to recount their fear and anxiety, just as if they were Westerners. The ever politically incorrect Chinese expressed it succinctly: “Chinese society is no longer in the era of poverty, life is no longer cheap.”

Eugene Volkh famously described how Asians in America became white. The process was simple: they became rich.

This implicit correlation between wealth and race distorts nearly every media story.  Proof that Israel is racist is shown by the fact that they inflict disproportionate casualties in every fight with the Palestinians, something you might expect from their superior weaponry, training and competence.  The genetic differences between Arabs and many Jews is not very pronounced. They are principally different in wealth. What if the Palestinians had the F-16s?


The Innermost Doll of Failure

July 10th, 2014 - 4:57 pm

A farmer in Boise, Idaho once compared  the attack methods of a pack of wolves and a mountain lion.

Mountain lions or cougars have the reputation of killing with efficiency and, if there are such things in the high desert food chain, some mercy and grace. The big cats keep bloodshed to a minimum and they kill quickly.

Wolves employ far sloppier methods in their hunts. A cow might take her last breath of air amid a scene of flattened brush, trampled ground, drag marks and smears of blood–lots of blood. Nadeau calls such scenes “struggle sites.” These sites can stretch hundreds of yards–a seasoned crime scene investigator might call the scene “gruesome” and the cause of death “brutal….

“They’re not trying to kill it, they’re trying to eat it,” Deb Lord says of the wolves’ attack methods, which often leave their victims partially consumed before they finally die of blood loss or violent injuries.

One thing wolves do is circle the victim. “Wolves would usually approach from downwind. Both to scent the animal and probably to prevent their scent from being carried to their prey. Suspicious and cautious by nature, this will usually entail some circling and observation, but at a distance.”

Where the animal is unable to flee, is either tied grazing, in a fenced area or in the case of the deer floundering in deep snow … I have seen them circle quite close to the animal (within a few meters).

I believe they just do this to assess the risk. Is the animal really helpless, does whatever has caused the animal to be unable to flee pose a risk to the hunter.

Just a basic cautious assessment, because they are able to do so, whereas with a fleeing animal they cannot take the time. The animal would be out of reach by the time they assessed the risk.

This comparison suggests itself in politics after Sarah Palin was reported as advocating the impeachment of president Obama while John Boehner chose to lead his pack of wolves in filing a lawsuit. The Voice of America reports:

And you thought you’d heard the last from Sarah Palin? Not so fast! The former Alaska governor is back on the national stage, leading a new conservative charge to impeach President Barack Obama. …

In a recent column, Palin cited the immigration crisis on the southern border as the “last straw” in what she described as the president’s “purposeful dereliction of duty.” Palin wrote on the conservative website that the president’s “rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here.” She went on: “It’s time to impeach, and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.”

Boehner is warier. As the Washington Post reports, the speaker has decided to sue the president, as if he believed his political quarry to be still dangerous. The lawsuit is less confrontational.  Boehner aims to do some circling.

Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Tuesday joined a growing chorus of Republicans calling for the impeachment of Obama, writing in an op-ed that the influx of young illegal immigrants over the southern border “is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas.’”

“I disagree,” Boehner said when asked by reporters Wednesday morning. When a reporter pointed out that some House Republicans also are calling for impeachment, Boehner said again: “I disagree.”

Boehner’s comments came after Palin said Tuesday night on Fox News that the speaker’s planned lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive power is a weak maneuver. “You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight,” she said. “There’s no place for lawyers on the front lines.”