August 14, 2003
IRAQ TROOPS UPDATE
Just a quick update on our earlier post on the major contingents other than the Americans and British in Iraq.
Based on this N.Y. Times article, the Americans still don't have firm commitments from two of the 12 nations who we listed as having offered significant forces (South Korea and Fiji) and now apparently have only a non-combat commitment from two of the others (Bulgaria and El Salvador).
So as far as combat forces, the remaining unit- and formation-level commitments are from:
with the British 3rd division--
in the multinational "division"--
Everything else is non-combat, or tokenistic. Once you cut through the long list of countries in the Pentagon press releases, this "group of seven" are the real contributors at the moment. Just in case you were wondering who the U.S.'s real friends in Iraq are (all Europe, it should be noted). We'll keep you updated as the numbers dance.
UPDATE: A keen reader will note I left off Bulgaria's 500-strong battalion, which was on the first list. That was based on some indications I'd read that their use as actual combat troops would be circumscribed. I don't have anything firm on that, so it's possible we're really talking a group of eight.
OVERSTATING THE CLAIM
I have no idea how James Dunnigan thinks he got the number in this sentence, but it's wrong.
Terrorists trying to take down airliners with portable missiles has been a threat for a long time. Actually, over the last thirty years, it's been a reality. Some 29 commercial aircraft have been shot down by such missiles.
Either Dunnigan is counting small planes, or military transports, or other kinds of antiaircraft weapon in that total, because that's a much higher number than I've ever seen elsewhere. It's certainly not the generally accepted number for "commercial aircraft" brought down by "portable missiles." Here's the complete list of commercial aircraft, downed or possibly downed by ground-based anti-aircraft fire.
As you can see, the number is 23. Of those, only 5 are confirmed "portable missiles" (SA-7 and Stinger), and 4 have been confirmed as distinctly non-portable kinds (naval missiles), or other gunfire. One is from before the introduction of man-portable missiles (1965). So at absolute most, the number Dunnigan's looking for is 18. Of those, fully 10 are considered "possibles," meaning that while a missile hit has not been ruled out, there's insufficient evidence to determine whether it was a missile, some other kind of AA fire, like a gun or larger missile, or in some cases a air-detonated bomb or some other cause altogether. If I had to guess, I'd say the real number was around 14, about half what Dunnigan claims.
UNITA has claimed two missile kills on Angolan planes, but neither has ever been proven (just straight-out crashing has not been ruled out in either case); another five are from the peripheries of the Vietnam War, with planes crashing in jungle over fighting with little way to determine what really happened; and two lighter planes have gone down in suspicious circumstances in African countries that had fighting ongoing. Presumably Dunnigan is counting all those, plus a whole bunch of others that don't even fit his own definition.
What it is fair to say is this. Since at least 1978, when the Rhodesian rebels brought down two propeller craft with SA-7s, portable SAMs have constituted a minor threat to civilian air in some areas of the world. In general, attacks with man-portable SAMs follow certain characteristics: they are almost always aimed at a plane as it's taking off. They generally take place in areas of civil strife, where the civilian authority has poor airspace and airport perimeter control. The leading confirmed killer to date is the SA-7, which requires rather precise siting and a smaller slow-moving target to succeed. Better missiles are now becoming available, and attacks of this kind are likely to become easier to accomplish than in the past as a result.
Size of aircraft definitely matters, as Dunnigan points out. Breaking down the 18 accidents that did or could conceivably have been caused by a man-portable missile by airframe, you get 9 involving two-engine prop aircraft (382 fatalities total), 4 with 4-engine props (156), two with twin-jets (157), two with trijets (161) and one with a quad-jet aircraft (0).
In all confirmed cases, the pilots retained at least some control of the plane initially; most fatalities in these cases actually happen as a result of the failed one- or two-engine emergency landings that follow. In one case in Afghanistan, everyone walked away from a four-jet aircraft after their plane was hit by a Stinger, although the plane itself was a write-off; in another, in Rhodesia, fatalities were compounded because the missile team was able to reach the crash scene before rescuers and finish the survivors off on the ground.
I would totally support the Schumer proposition that anti-missile systems, once they've been widely adopted by military transport fleets first, should be extended to international planes with routes that take them into high-risk areas. I just don't see missiles as a serious threat to commercial domestic air, requiring a $10-20 billion dollar quick fix. Yet.
PS: While I'm at it, saying "most" of these incidents occurred in Africa, which is why the West never hears about them, is also incorrect. Of the 23 confirmeds and possibles on that comprehensive list, note that only eight occurred in Africa. North Americans are just as capable of ignoring the news about other countries, too, it seems.
UPDATE: Dave L. writes in with a clue as to the apparent source for the Dunnigan "29" claim, which is apparently an FBI report. If so, it's got to be a misquote on somebody's part, either including military transports (which would be highly misleading) or smaller private aircraft and helicopters, or possibly even known misses as well as kills. But as the number of missile strikes that "shot down" civil fixed-wing aviation, it's certainly overstated.
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