Belmont Club

The War Unseen

Back in 2009 analysts put a name to a style of warfare that has emerged in response to asymmetrical threats: they called it diffused warfare — “where small units fight independently over a large area. Higher headquarters largely stay out of the way, providing brigades and battalions all of the supporting intelligence, surveillance and indirect fire assets they need.”


RAND analyst and historian David Johnson …  says leaders in the Israeli Defense Forces are pointing to “Operation Cast Lead,” that targeted Hamas in Gaza, as the new way to battle irregular enemies. …

Surprise Israeli precision air strikes took out hundreds of Hamas leaders and other high value targets in the operation’s early hours …  drones, attack helicopters and fighter jets were assigned directly to the maneuver brigades, Johnson said, a key element that ensured close coordination and a very short sensor-to-shooter cycle. This was critical as Hamas fighters presented fleeting targets as they used civilians for cover and bounded between buildings.

Whatever you want to call it, this describes how slowly and then with gathering speed traditional warfare has changed from a contest between regular formations to a death match between government operators and non-state actors. The American Conservative notes that America is at “war” as never before — with an array of enemies against whom war has never been and probably never will be declared, using forces that coalesce and dissipate like a puff of smoke.

The face of American-style war-fighting is once again changing. Forget full-scale invasions and large-footprint occupations on the Eurasian mainland; instead, think: special operations forces working on their own but also training or fighting beside allied militaries (if not outright proxy armies) in hot spots around the world. And along with those special ops advisors, trainers, and commandos expect ever more funds and efforts to flow into the militarization of spying and intelligence, the use of drone aircraft, the launching of cyber-attacks, and joint Pentagon operations with increasingly militarized “civilian” government agencies.

Much of this has been noted in the media, but how it all fits together into what could be called the new global face of empire has escaped attention. And yet this represents nothing short of a new Obama doctrine, a six-point program for twenty-first-century war, American-style, that the administration is now carefully developing and honing. Its global scope is already breathtaking, if little recognized, and like Donald Rumsfeld’s military lite and David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations, it is evidently going to have its day in the sun–and like them, it will undoubtedly disappoint in ways that will surprise its creators. …

Take the American war in Pakistan–a poster-child for what might now be called the Obama formula, if not doctrine. Beginning as a highly-circumscribed drone assassination campaign backed by limited cross-border commando raids under the Bush administration, U.S. operations in Pakistan have expanded into something close to a full-scale robotic air war, complemented by cross-border helicopter attacks, CIA-funded “kill teams” of Afghan proxy forces, as well as boots-on-the-ground missions by elite special operations forces, including the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.


Much of this new warfare is being waged in Africa. Right across the continent operators are offing threats and teaching others how to off them.

Last year’s war in Libya; a regional drone campaign with missions run out of airports and bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles; … a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against militants in Somalia, including intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, secret prisons, helicopter attacks, and U.S. commando raids; a massive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa; a possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft; tens of millions of dollars in arms for allied mercenaries and African troops; and a special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders, operating in Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic (where U.S. Special Forces now have a new base) only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding plans and activities in the region.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton might take note, if they at all recall from their educations, that  the last time the Man had been so active in Africa was back in the day of Cecil Rhodes.  If Bush had done a tenth of this, they would have raised the cry of genocide, but thank God it’s Barack Obama, so it’s OK.  Still some niceties must be observed. Danger Room notes that the Pentagon may be asked to drop Uganda as a partner because of their unfriendly attitudes towards Lesbians, Gays and Transgenders.

In the past four years, the Pentagon and State Department have forged a close, and largely unreported, alliance with the Ugandan military. A force of 120 American advisers based in Uganda provides training, weapons and supplies — $100 million worth since 2011 — and in exchange Ugandan soldiers bear the brunt of the close fighting in Somalia, a stronghold for Islamic militants.

The Ugandans’ “superb” fighting ability “was directly responsible” for driving militants out of Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu this year, according to one American official close to the U.S. train-and-equip program. But there’s a ticking time bomb inside the outwardly strong alliance. Uganda’s escalating crackdown on its gays, lesbians and transgenders has the U.S. indicating that it might just cut off that military aid. “LGBT issues” are a “caveat on U.S. support,” says the official, who spoke to Danger Room on condition of anonymity.


Perhaps the best defense for Jihadis and bloodthirsty militias is to became gay and lesbian themselves, if possible both, as this scruple may not be breached.

Nothing has emphasized the paradigm shift as much as the high-priority conversion of an aging amphibious vessel, the USS Ponce, into a high-tech “mothership” for SEALs in the Persian Gulf. “Motherships” have long been associated with Somalian pirate operations. Now, in the confined waters of the Gulf, they will be paid back in their own coin from equivalents operating from the USS Ponce. It is the Gaza concept all over again: “where small units fight independently over a large area. Higher headquarters largely stay out of the way, providing brigades and battalions all of the supporting intelligence, surveillance and indirect fire assets they need.”

The “mothership” concept is officially known as the Afloat Forward Staging Base. Some of the modifications to the USS Ponce in its new role include:

Her flight deck will be altered and enlarged to handle up to four massive MH-53 Sea Dragon mine clearing helicopters at one time, or a ton of MH-6 “Little Birds” and other highly modified special operations helicopters. Further, the Ponce’s aviation and marine fueling systems will be upgraded, cranes will be added, command and control systems will be retrofitted, and berthing will be provided for an array of fast attack and stealthy small boats. What is not clear is what will happen to her well deck. Either it will be sealed and possibly turned into a hangar bay or it will be used for launching and recovering special operations craft. A menu of other modifications will be made as well, making the half century old marine transport ship tailored to it’s new special operations and mine-clearing mission …

Although the Sponce’s conversion into a missionized sea base seems like a novel idea, and may by default become a miniature proving ground for the Navy’s larger, farther reaching sea basing concept that will allow large scale forward operations in denied areas, it is actually an idea ripped from the American special operations playbook of decades past. In the 1980′s “Operation Prime Chance” was put into effect in an attempt to protect US flagged oil tankers and merchant ships from direct Iranian attack and sea mines during a conflict period known today as “The Tanker Wars.” This operation would see the initial use of a variety of USN frigates and the marine transport dock “LaSalle” as a staging area for special forces flying MH-6 and AH-6 Little Birds, at night. Their mission was to hunt for Iranian mine laying craft, to protect allied mine clearing vessels, and to escort vulnerable merchant ships traveling through Gulf. These operations, although relatively limited in scope, were so successful that the Navy leased two barges, the “Hercules” and the “Wimbrown,” and converted them into makeshift special operations mission platforms. These barges would be called Mobile Sea Bases or MSB’s for short by the USN and would work as forward deployed Navy SEAL operations nests, complete with supporting fast boat units, EOD teams, marine security forces to protect the platform itself, and bristling with AH-6 attack and MH-6 support Little Bird helicopters flown by the Army’s elite 160th SOAR.


“Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

Leon Trotsky once observed that “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” He was wrong. The correct formulation is that “you may not be interested in war if the war is not interesting to you.”

Today’s military operations have become increasingly similar to high-tech hit jobs. The President has a list and people go out and cross the names off that list, whether those names are on a ship at sea, in the North African desert, in a Pakistani urban stew or in a cave in Afghanistan. Some drone, some group of men with green faces, some bullet discharged from long range will make sure of that. But because it doesn’t look like “Vietnam” nobody will notice. The conflict can rage all around us,  but if it doesn’t affect the reception in our home entertainment centers, why should anyone care?

Of course, none of this could occur without information dominance. The invisible component of the new way of war is the information distortion and control. “The United States must frighten adversaries by displaying an arsenal of operational hacking weapons to fight cyber threats, said retired Gen. James E. Cartwright, who crafted the Pentagon’s current cyber policy before retiring last summer.”

In the world of cyberwarfare, there will probably be no ‘cyber Pearl Harbor’. That would make war visible to the public Instead “different segments of the population experience” different levels of information attack. While your new Google Goggles may lead you to a friend, in the case others it will take them direct to a meeting with people like Enrique “Ricky” Prado, a man with mob connections who some authors say became “senior manager inside the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station, before the Al-Qaida mastermind was a well-known name. Two years later, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania elevated Prado to become the chief of operations inside the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, headed by then-chief Cofer Black”.  And since meeting Ricky Prado is probably not the same as having a date with Mila Kunis the same set of Google Goggles might lead different people to radically divergent experiences.


Although the public might feel some apprehension over the ongoing conversion of military operations from combats between armies to nocturnal battles between shadowy figures, it is hard to deny the fact that bad guys all over the world — Jihadists, neo-Nazis and organized crime — have been engaged in their own alliance building. Recently a Mexican drug cartel took a page out of al-Qaeda’s book and decapitated five rival gang members on video. “The video, which was posted on the cartel-tracking blog, shows masked members of the Gulf cartel standing behind five shirtless members of the Zetas cartel, who have black ‘Zs’ painted on their chests.”

The camera then shows three of the men start the grizzly, slow process of beheading them as they hack and saw at their necks with the machetes.

As the men plead for mercy, the man shooting the video says: ‘This is how all your filthy people are going to end.’

Forces are battling all around us, like biplanes turning and twisting above the clouds, but we don’t have to notice, if we don’t want to. The world, led by a liberal African-American President, has moved away from the model of war so despised by the left-wing to a more or less permanent campaign of assassination in every corner of the world. The great advantage of this new style of warfare is that it doesn’t exist, insofar as any peace lobby is concerned; and hence they will never care about it. It’s a lie of course, but to paraphrase CS Lewis nobody notices the existence of a lie once we accept the impossibility of telling the truth. Human beings don’t see with their eyes. They see with their minds.

And the truth has had a bad week. One of the more recent news developments wa a Supreme Court decision, ignored in the wake over the Obamacare finding, holding that it is not a crime to claim that you have received a military decoration.

Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, concurred with Kennedy’s opinion that the Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional.

Breyer wrote the Stolen Valor Act was not akin to laws against fraud, defamation, perjury, impersonation and even trademark infringement, all of which are likely to produce “tangible harm to others.”

While this list is not exhaustive, it is sufficient to show that few statutes, if any, simply prohibit without limitation the telling of a lie, even a lie about one particular matter. Instead, in virtually all these instances limitations of context, requirements of proof of injury, and the like, narrow the statute to a subset of lies where specific harm is more likely to occur. The limitations help to make certain that the statute does not allow its threat of liability or criminal punishment to roam at large, discouraging or forbidding the telling of the lie in contexts where harm is unlikely or the need for the prohibition is small. The statute before us lacks any such limiting features.

The San Francisco–based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010 ruled that, if it were to uphold the law, “then there would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age, or financial status on or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway.”


So my friends, let me take the opportunity to modestly confess that I am the holder of two Medals of Honor, a Victoria Cross and am also a Hero of the Soviet Union.  And on those laurels I will rest forever. It’s a lie, you say? There is no such thing.  Eric Holder already knows that falsehood doesn’t exist. “Lying,” he said, “has to do with yours state of mind.” Or your political affiliation.

For the first time in centuries man is on the verge of doing away with war. The word, but not the condition.

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