Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Admin note - light blogging until May 7

Unfortunately, I can't just go to law school and learn the law for its own sake. UCLA has to test my knowledge, and unfortunately, they choose the all-or-nothing final exam to do so. Barring some major news story, like the capture of Saddam or Osama (alive), I'll be out of the net for the next 8 days. In my absence, please check out the blogs I recommend on the left side of the page -- especially DefenseTech, Casus Belli, Winds of Change, and CommandPost for military stuff.

State Department releases its annual report on "Patterns of Global Terrorism"

While researching a briefing for my reserve unit on terrorism, I found the State Department's 2002 report on Patterns of Global Terrorism, which was released today and placed on the State Department website. This is one of the most exhaustive (unclassified) surveys by the federal government on terrorism, and it's well worth the read.
This report is submitted in compliance with Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(a), which requires the Department of State to provide Congress a full and complete annual report on terrorism for those countries and groups meeting the criteria of Section (a)(1) and (2) of the Act. As required by legislation, the report includes detailed assessments of foreign countries where significant terrorist acts occurred, and countries about which Congress was notified during the preceding five years pursuant to Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (the so-called terrorist-list countries that have repeatedly provided state support for international terrorism). In addition, the report includes all relevant information about the previous year's activities of individuals, terrorist organizations, or umbrella groups known to be responsible for the kidnapping or death of any US citizen during the preceding five years and groups known to be financed by state sponsors of terrorism.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

What happened in Falluja?

The first reports of the incident in Falluja, in which American soldiers appear to have shot and killed 15 Iraqi civilians protesting their presence, are almost certainly wrong. Or, at the very least, they are tainted by the adrenaline which corrupts all first reports in wartime. Yet, even if they are partially true, these first reports are disturbing. The New York Times reports, along with other media, that American soldiers received rifle fire from a crowd of Iraqi civilians protesting their occupation of a school in Falluja which occurred at night. The paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division returned fire, killing 15 and wounding more than 75, according to Iraqi medical officials.
There were few details about the shootings that the Americans and residents could agree on today, apart from the fact that it began with a demonstration of perhaps 200 people, some shouting slogans in support of Mr. Hussein on his 66th birthday. Soldiers said it was a night of far more gunfire and rock-throwing than had been usual in this city of mostly Sunni Muslims, many still loyal to Mr. Hussein.

The demonstrators gathered after evening prayers sometime after 9 p.m., first stopping at the headquarters of one unit of American soldiers in the Nazzal neighborhood. An American officer, Capt. Mike Riedmuller, said some in the crowd fired automatic rifles in the air, but he said the soldiers did not fire at the demonstrators because they did not feel they were being shot at directly.

He said the crowd then moved several blocks away to the yellow, two-story Al Qaed school, where American soldiers had positioned themselves for the previous three nights. The two versions of what happened there diverge sharply.

Lt. Wes Davidson, an officer at the school, said that about 20 to 30 demonstrators were shooting rifles mostly in the air, and that the soldiers responded with smoke grenades.

Then, he said, several more people with rifles appeared from three houses across from the school and began shooting directly at the soldiers, as did others among the demonstrators and from the houses' roofs.

Both Lieutenant Davidson and Captain Riedmuller said the Americans returned fire precisely.

"Our soldiers returned deliberately aimed fire at people with weapons, and only at people with weapons," Captain Riedmuller said.
Analysis: The fog of war is thick in situations like this, more so because all of this happened at night. Sure, the 82nd Airborne had great night-vision optics (e.g. AN/PVS-14 and AN/PAQ-4C) and they trained on how to engage targets at night. But even the best shots would have trouble engaging moving riflemen in a civilian crowd at night from any distance -- particularly when the Iraqi shooters are concealing their weapons or hiding behind civilians. Responding to this kind of rifle fire from a crowd is extremely difficult; it's almost guaranteed to result in civilian casualties. I think it's likely is that such rifle fire was used by an instigator to provoke exactly this kind of incident. Someone wanted to make the American army look bad -- and they succeeded.

Looking forward, I suspect the CENTCOM staff is looking right now at its Rules of Engagement, trying to determine if it needs to restrict the use of force further now that hostilities have calmed down to a lower level of intensity. I also think that someone at CENTCOM HQ is looking at the troop mix, to see if we really want all this infantry doing the job of military police in Iraq right now. American airborne infantry are really good at their mission -- which is closing with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver to kill or capture him. But they're less good at the kind of fuzzy, graduated-levels-of-force nation-building that this mission has become. Units that deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom did not receive the same kind of pre-deployment training that units going to Bosnia would have, and I think we're going to see lots of incidents in the near future where it becomes apparent that the average American combat unit is not prepared for this kind of mission.
Judges and lawyers on the way

Jess Bravin reports in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that a team of federal judges and lawyers has been picked to build an Iraqi court system. The team includes 6th Circuit Judge Gilbert S. Merritt Jr., and U.S. District Court Judges Paul Magnuson of Minnesota, Stephen Orlofsky of Camden, N.J., and Donald E. Walter of Shreveport, La. According to the Journal, the team has "signed on for a 90-day project to assess the condition of Iraq's judicial system. It will complement a 13-member police-training team also heading to the region."

Putting it together

America's military plans dramatic changes to globe-straddling posture

A trio of articles from Reuters, USA Today and the Washington Post paint a picture today of an American military about to make major changes in the way it deploys its forces overseas. Reuters reports today that American forces will pull completely out of Saudi Arabia. The news comes as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld travels around the Middle East to visit the troops and assess America's military missions there.
The announcement, made during a tour of Gulf states by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld focused on reducing the U.S. military presence in the region, followed Riyadh's refusal to allow air strikes on Iraq by some 100 Saudi-based U.S. aircraft.

``After the end of Southern Watch ... there is no need for them to remain,'' Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz told a joint news conference with Rumsfeld. ``This does not mean that we requested them to leave.''

Rumsfeld told reporters after talks with the prince that the ``liberation of Iraq'' had changed the situation in the Gulf and allowed Washington to reduce its troops in the region. ``The relationship between our two countries is multi-dimensional -- diplomatic, economic, as well as military-to-military,'' he told a news conference.
The next piece of the puzzle comes from USA Today, which reports that America's commander in Europe is planning to open new bases in Eastern Europe. This move comes in the wake of diplomatic difficulties with France and Germany over the war with Iraq, as well as increasing difficulties with the logistics of keeping troops in Western Europe. With the end of the Cold War, European civilians have become less tolerant of maneuver damage and other problems associated with the U.S. military presence. Eastern European countries, strapped for money and itching to become better members of NATO, may be willing to give the U.S. big concessions in exchange for American troops being garrisoned there.
The Pentagon is considering closing or shrinking bases — now chiefly in Germany — while opening smaller bases in eastern European countries such as Hungary, Romania, Poland and Bulgaria.

Gen. James Jones, who commands American forces in Europe, cautioned that the plan is still a work in progress but said the Pentagon could move away from big bases with large concentrations of troops and focus on Europe as a kind of staging ground for global hotspots. Among the ideas being looked at are "bare bones" bases in Eastern Europe that the Pentagon could use to move troops quickly to the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Although the changes might seem intended to punish Germany — which opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq — while rewarding some who supported it, officials say the moves have more to do with post-Cold War realities and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's efforts to make the military more flexible. "At every turn, we have sought to make sure the work is militarily unconnected to any political discussions," Jones said.
The final piece of the puzzle comes from Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham, who essentially confirms the USA Today report and its analysis.

What could this mean? Secretary Rumsfeld has been working since 2001 on transforming the American military into the lighter, faster 21st Century force he thinks is necessary to win America's wars. If the Pentagon can operate more cheaply in Eastern Europe than Western Europe, that would certainly support his goals. Moreover, there's no love lost between Mr. Rumsfeld and Messrs. Chirac and Schoeder after he called them "Old Europe," and I'm sure that Pentagon planners would rather work with eager Eastern European officials than recalcitrant French and German ones.

However, I think something bigger is at work here. Moving bases from one part of Europe to another is small potatoes. Instead, I think we're going to see a transformation of the nature of these bases -- from permanent garrisons to "lily pads" from which the American military can leapfrog abroad. Instead of maintaining large units in Europe like we do today, I think we're moving towards a model where we keep all these units in the United States, with their equipment pre-positioned in places like Diego Garcia and Eastern Europe, ready to deploy with them as a package to anyplace in the world. This would substantially lower operating costs, and increase the quality of life for soldiers who would choose to live in the United States (there will still be plenty of overseas opportunities for those who want to go). Moving out of Western Europe, with its gargantuan Cold War-era bases, is one step towards this new vision.

Monday, April 28, 2003

"I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy..."

The Associated Press reports that America confirmed the identity of its last missing soldier from the war with Iraq today. Spc. Edward John Anguiano was killed in the same ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company that resulted in the capture of six American POWs, including PFC Jessica Lynch. His body was recovered a day later, but his identity was not confirmed until today by military officials.
Officials used DNA tests to confirm that the remains were Anguiano, according to the soldier's grandfather, and military officials notified the family late Sunday. The grandfather said he believed Anguiano was killed during the initial attack on March 23, when he disappeared.

"What we heard is that he was ambushed," said Vicente Anguiano Sr., 72. "They found his truck, the one he drove, and it had been stripped — tires and everything. They found a body near the truck."

Anguiano's family members gathered in this south Texas town over the Easter weekend and held out hope he would return soon. The soldier's mother, San Juanita Anguiano, "is very sad. She was not expecting him to be found dead," said the soldier's aunt, Maria Anguiano.
Thoughts... There's no such thing as "closure" in a situation like this. However, it should give his family some comfort that America worked as hard as it did to find these missing soldiers, recover their bodies, and confirm their identities. In today's military, every single serviceperson submits a DNA sample (usually in the form of a small blood sample) to a giant repository. It appears that SPC Anguiano was identified with DNA from that database, enabling his family to know his fate for certain. One ramification of this database is that America may never again bury remains in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. Already, we have exhumed and used DNA to identify the previously unknown soldier from the Vietnam War. Our commitment to bringing every soldier home, together with our ability to positively identify them with DNA, means it's unlikely that we will ever place remains in this sacred crypt again.
Marine investigated for possible misconduct in war

The Las Vegas Review Journal reported on Saturday that Marine Gunnery Sgt. Gus Covarrubias was under investigation by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service for comments he made to an LVRJ reporter in an interview. (Those comments ran in a Friday story.) The statements in question indicated that Gunnery Sgt. Covarrubias "double tapped" an Iraqi soldier after he was captured, a possible violation of the laws of war. Covarrubias, a Marine Corps reservists, was wounded in combat in Iraq, and flown back to his home near Las Vegas to recuperate.
During an interview at his Las Vegas home earlier this week, Covarrubias told a Review-Journal reporter the harrowing tale of an intense April 8 battle in Baghdad that he described as "a firefight from hell."

The resulting story, published Friday, included Covarrubias' account of slipping away from other Marines after the battle in pursuit of the Iraqi Republican Guard member who fired a rocket-propelled grenade at his unit, causing a blast that gave him a concussion and wounded several other troops.

The 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps said he found the soldier after dark inside a nearby home with the grenade launcher next to him. Covarrubias said he ordered the man to stop and turn around.

"I went behind him and shot him in the back of the head," Covarrubias said. "Twice."

Military officials on Friday declined to comment on Covarrubias' story beyond a statement released late in the afternoon by the Marine Forces Reserve headquarters in Quantico, Va.

"A preliminary inquiry has been initiated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to examine the circumstances surrounding the statements made by Gunnery Sgt. Covarrubias in an April 25, 2003 Las Vegas Review-Journal article," the statement reads.

"The preliminary inquiry will determine if the actions described by Gunnery Sgt. Covarrubias during combat operations met the established rules of engagement and complied with the law of war. The inquiry will be thorough and impartial and will determine whether a formal investigation is warranted."
The article correctly points out that Gunnery Sgt. Covarubbias' conduct -- if established to be true -- would be illegal under the laws of war. Put simply, you can't shoot a prisoner who poses you no threat to yourself or your unit. Of course, this incident happened shortly after a firefight, and it's not clear yet that this individual met those criteria. First reports are always wrong in these kinds of situations, and the adrenaline of combat taints every eyewitness account. The investigators will need to stitch each account together to form the best picture of the truth, one that may or may not vindicate Gunnery Sgt. Covarrubias in this instance. If the investigation shows that this killing happened outside the Marines' rules of engagement, and that Covarrubias acted with the requisite level of intent, he could face criminal charges for his action.
LT Smash to Jacques Chirac: "You, sir, have no honor"

In a note more thoughtful than anything I've read from the State Department's public affairs office lately, L.T. Smash (a reserve officer deployed to fight in Iraq) has some sharp words on his well-read blog for French President Jacques Chirac and his refusal to support the war.
For well over two centuries, we have been friends and allies.

So how, sir, do you explain your recent behavior?

It is not unprincipled to be opposed to war. War is terrible.

But we have been in agreement, for over twelve years now, that Saddam Hussein must cooperate with the United Nations and abandon his weapons of mass destruction. Together, we passed seventeen resolutions in the Security Council demanding as much.

The last resolution, which was approved unanimously, called for "serious consequences" if Iraq failed to disarm. But the regime of Saddam Hussein continued to play games of obfuscation, denial, and deception.

We all know what "serious consequences" means, sir.
* * *
Your actions have grave consequences, sir. Like so many others, this American had to leave his home and family and go to war - a conflict from which over one hundred Americans will never return.

Today, in a newly liberated Iraq, we are learning the true extent of your betrayal.

Damning documents have been discovered. Reputable media outlets have reported that your government provided intelligence assistance to Saddam Hussein. This assistance allegedly included briefings covering confidential conversations between yourself and President George W. Bush.

These are not the actions of a trusted ally, much less a friend.

You, sir, have no honor.
Legal Brief: Soldiers have First Amendment rights, though they are somewhat curtailed for operational reasons (i.e. "loose lips sink ships") and political reasons (we don't want an American military coup d'etat). (See, e.g., Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503, holding in another First Amendment context that the Air Force could burden a serviceman's Constitutional right to free exercise of religion by making regulations which proscribed the wear of his yarmulke.) The Uniform Code of Military Justice criminalizes some forms of vocal dissent in Article 88:
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
This punitive article has been upheld by the courts on Constitutional grounds. LT Smash's words don't criticize any of the named individuals in Article 88, and as such, he's probably not vulnerable to prosecution under Art. 88. Furthermore, he's an anonymous blogger, and it's not clear that anonymous blogging would count for this statute. And there are probably regulations in place for the use of military computing systems abroad that limit such use to work-related purposes or limited personal e-mail. He's also criticizing the head of a NATO country, and speaking out on an issue of current diplomacy. In this case, discretion may be the better part of valor.
Their final words

Letters home from America's fallen sons and daughters

Sunday's Washington Post ran a moving article quoting letters from fallen soldiers to their loved ones. The Post's website also has PDF versions of these letters available for viewing and download. Collectively, the letters offer a moving tribute to the men and women our nation sacrificed in Iraq. Most write of life in the desert, and mundane details like laundry or mail. Some write more openly about their fears, apprehensions and emotions. In many ways, this collection reminds me of For Cause and Comrades by James McPherson, which collected the letters of Civil War soldiers. In that war, American soldiers wrote with considered prose about their thoughts on military life, their unit and their cause. In this war, the letters from America's fallen heroes tell similar stories, updated for the 21st Century, in voices that are at once thoughtful, compelling, intelligent, and strikingly honest.
One soldier wrote to his mother: Send more M&Ms.; Another scribbled hello to his Nanny and Pop-pop. A Marine asked his girlfriend to tie a yellow ribbon in her hair. A reservist told his sister that if he didn't make it back, please read Rudyard Kipling's "If" at the funeral.

The soldiers didn't know that these messages would be among their last. They dealt mostly with the mundane -- the blood blisters, the tent mice, the sand that crunched between their teeth. They congratulated Dad on his new heifer and praised Sister's cheerleading. But they were young men preparing for battle, awkwardly caught between imagined futures and an abrupt end. And so they made sure to say the things that needed to be said, to thank, to explain, to apologize and, most urgently, to love. They came from diverse backgrounds, yet a common theme runs through their writing. They died believing in their families, in the president or in their God. Rarely bitter and with scant bloodlust, they were men of faith.

Post-war force may equal 125,000 troops

USA Today reports today that Pentagon plans call for 125,000 soldiers to stay in Iraq for at least a year of initial nation-building efforts. The issue remains in play, however planners and military analysts say that initial estimates have already been used to mobilize reserve units and initiate deployment orders for units not already in Iraq.
The United States fielded a force of 260,000 for the Iraq war. That included ground, air and sea combat forces and tens of thousands of logistical support personnel.

The Pentagon does not reveal troop locations and numbers, but people with knowledge of current and likely deployments said U.S. troops will be clustered in obvious areas — 17,000 to 20,000 in Baghdad, 10,000 in the north, 17,000 in Basra and the south — and augmented with smaller groups elsewhere in the country.
* * *
If postwar Iraq remains generally peaceful and stable, the force could drop to 60,000 troops in a year, military officials said. The size and duration of the force could increase if there is political or religious unrest or if Iraq's neighbors interfere, experts said.
Analysis: If I'm reading this right, we're looking at three divisions of 10,000-15,000 troops on the ground in Iraq, with at least that number in support troops outside the country on ships, airbases and logistics bases in the region. This is roughly half the soldier footprint we have now in the region, but not that much of a departure from the combat forces we have in theater. Right now, America has the 3rd Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 101st Airborne Division, 1st Marine Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and a number of special operations and support units on the ground in Iraq. If this plan is accurate, then I think we'll keep 4ID on the ground (since they just got there), and move 1-2 divisions from either Germany or the United States to Iraq to replace 3ID, 101ID and the Marines. After order is restored and a functioning Iraqi government is in place, the troop commitment should drop even further. But it's not altogether clear when American forces may exit the nation completely. That will depend on a lot of variables, many of which are too complex to even begin modeling today.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it

William Arkin wrote a great essay for Sunday's Los Angeles Times in which he argues that America's military needs a lot less new stuff after Gulf War II than its generals and defense contractors are likely to want. Indeed, the lessons of this war indicate that American firepower is overwhelming, and America's technological edge is a generation ahead of our closet ally -- the UK -- let alone our Third World enemies. Instead of focusing resources on newfangled gadgets, America's military should instead focus on polishing the finer aspects of warfighting, such as joint Army/Air Force air operations, Arkin writes.
So if our weapons and equipment are effective, does nothing need improving? When compared to Hussein's military, which was crippled by oppressive centralization and poor training, the U.S. military seems like a big, happy family. But much work still needs to be done before its separate institutions learn to love fighting "jointly" together.

One report circulating about this war is about how Army units went solo in some of their initial forays, not telling air forces what they were up to and thus denying themselves air support. In one of those strikes near Karbala on March 24, 27 of 34 Apache attack helicopters sent out on a single mission against the Republican Guard's Medina Division returned so damaged they could no longer fly. One Apache was shot down, and two Army warrant officers were taken prisoner. It all might have been avoided with better ground/air coordination.

We have the firepower we need, and we have the well-trained forces. In general they work well together. But out of this war we need to gain a better appreciation of the combined effects of all of our firepower. Not only are we in need of accurate information about exactly what was unleashed by U.S. and coalition forces; we also need to press the best military minds to change the standards by which we measure our military capability and the capabilities of our opponents. We need to appreciate what we've got.
Analysis: I think it's too early to tell exactly what worked and what didn't work in Gulf War II. In the aggregate, we know that our weapons worked well, and that our ground forces accomplished their missions. But we also had hiccups in many of our sophisticated C4ISR ("Command, Control, Communications, Computing, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance") systems, such as the ability to find Saddam's chemical and biological weapons (something which, in theory, can be done with technical means). The Pentagon ought to conduct a series of in-depth surveys of America's campaign, such as the Gulf War Air Power Survey done after the first one, to ascertain exactly what worked and what didn't.

America can't afford to hand the Pentagon a blank check for the mall of military contractors. However, America also can't afford to starve the military of what it needs. After-action reviews are the key to finding the middle path between those two opposite courses of action.
Slate turns a profit

The New York Times reports today that Slate, a publication to which I've contributed a few times, has turned a profit in the first quarter of this year. This is notable because Slate is an entirely online magazine, and one that many critics claimed would go the way of other .com ventures. Instead, Slate has gone the way of E-Bay, showing that the marriage of good content to the Internet can work. I'm an avid Slate reader, and I think the reason for the magazine's success is its content. You won't find names like Thomas Friedman or William Arkin on Slate's pages. But you will find outstanding writers like Dahlia Lithwick, Fred Kaplan, Jack Shafer, and others who constantly push the envelope to offer new and interesting perspectives on current affairs. To borrow the line from Field of Dreams -- if you build a news site with good content, they will come.