October 31, 2003

BROKEN DOWN DOC, BUILT UP

CBC aired a Canadian documentary on American regular army basic training last night, "Build Me Up, Break Me Down." (Why the American army, you ask? There you have it.)

The synopsis was about right: "...captures the psychological arc of three lost and deeply disenchanted young people, who the army has seduced to join." The result, however, just left me... uninvolved.

Two of the three are, in a word, losers, who join for the wrong reasons, and never figure it out (a slow-witted Puerto Rican with a scumbag father... no, really, his little on-camera soliloquoy should win an award for worst father speech of the year... and a Chicago stockbroker who ends up as the "truck driver that's too smart for the system", drinking himself into oblivion and engaging with other soldiers in after hours on-base masochism sessions that involve flagellating each other with electrical cord... no I'm not kidding. He blames the army for being dead inside, and it's clear his failure to excel has torpedoed his self-esteem nearly fatally). But no real explanation is offered why they end up dropping out of the system, and the other, presumably equal losers in their platoons carried on. The film crew isn't with them to catch their breaking points. They just film them gung-ho before they're broken, and broken afterwards. Was it the army's fault? Was it theirs? The three recruits are apparently in different formations at different bases, too, so you have no way of seeing whether they received different stimuli, leading to different outcomes, or reacted to the same ones differently.

The third, Sara, is described in the press kit as the "perfect model soldier," but you don't see any of that... she looks and acts like any other recruit, ie, pretty much completely lost whenever she's in uniform. She's the one who stays with the army, though (82nd Airborne, by the looks of it) and goes to Iraq with them, though, so she can't have been as hopeless as she looks.

There's no "Survivor" style insights by fellow section members, instructors, and the like that might give you some insight into what happened between the on-camera confessionals... the overall message seems to be that the American army is a horrible, horrible place that turns out soulless automatons, where getting out before that happens is the real victory. It's a world-view where the soldier who leaves her old life behind and goes to Iraq is the cautionary example, and the alcoholic self-flagellator and the AWOL trainee, left at the end deeply overweight and flaunting gang colours on a New York ghetto basketball court, are the real heroes. Thanks a bunch... never heard that before.

Hey, look, the military is not for the weak of heart. (Weak of mind is another matter.) In my limited experience, those who excel in their early army training as a general rule seem to come from previous situations where they were heavily exposed to tough-but-caring father figures of some kind, whether it's a teacher, priest, scout leader, football coach, or even (God forbid) a parent... that's just the way the place seems to be. The conditioning locks in for them, sooner. (That's just getting through basic... success in actual real-world soldiering calls on different skills, altogether: fortunately, some of those are actually provided.)

I can look at the Puerto Rican and see he's never learned from his familial and neighborhood role models that honour is closer to humility than it is to pride, and that now he may never learn that; and at the stockbroker and see his caring and permissive family had left him without any defence mechanisms the first time things didn't go as he planned; and at Sara, the "success story," and see someone who may not be fully formed as a person yet, but she's getting there as fast in Iraq as she would anywhere else and whose tough-but-fair father openly encourages her without smothering her, either, even as her pacifist girlfriend tries to drag her back home for her own self-centred reasons (it's interesting that the Canadian crew focussed on a woman whose close relationship with her girlfriend and general appearance implies lesbian tendencies, but never addresses it openly). The upshot is, out of 3, one was pretty hopelessly damaged going in, one was (regrettably) damaged on the way through, and the other seemed to have ended up (at least in terms of friends and future) at the least no worse than before. Given the size of the sample set, it's hard to extend that to a condemnation of the entire system. But then, I'm not a producer at the CBC.

Posted by BruceR at 03:34 PM

SURPLUS? REALLY?

Interesting list here of the combat equipment the Canadian Forces are currently trying to sell on the export market:

112 106mm recoilless rifles;
50 C1 105mm howitzers;
18 TOW2 anti tank missile systems;
500(!) M2HB .50 cal machineguns.

Something to keep in mind when people say the armed forces has no equipment left. It's more that it just doesn't make sense to continue to train people up, buy ammunition, etc. for systems that are never going to be used on operations again. If the Canadian defence establishment really saw mass mobilization of the populace (or, for that matter, heavy overseas casualties) as a real possibility for a middle-sized Western nation to plan for though, it likely wouldn't be selling this stuff. That it is helps reveal the real future focus of the Canadian military (and by extension, other similar-sized militaries as well): small, well-equipped professional forces capable of operating in a low- or at most medium-intensity environment.

EDIT: Also 120 jets, 44 helicopters, and 191 APCs.

Posted by BruceR at 12:34 PM

SELLING THE NAVY DOWN THE RIVER

The Senate defence committee released a stunning report yesterday, that if left unchallenged will bury the Canadian navy at sea.

Played in the press as a call to better fund the coast guard and Mounties to help secure Canada's borders, it's more remarkable for what it implies by that... that when it comes to national defence, the navy and its affiliated air force units are functionally useless... not only that they can't be trusted to defend Canadians, but that they shouldn't be. The Canadian navy is, the report says, "not defending Canada's littoral waters (coasts) in any meaningful way."

How else can you read a report that says the navy's 12 Kingston-class minesweepers assigned to coastal defence, armed with 40mm guns and .50 calibre machineguns, do "not add appreciably to Canadaís coastal defence capabilities," and advocates instead that the coast guard should get 4 new cutters, armed with... 40 mm guns and .50 cals? It's not a matter of getting new capabilities, apparently... to the Senate committee (formerly perhaps the defence department's biggest friend in Ottawa) it's a matter of putting those capabilities in other civilian agencies, like the coast guard or RCMP, that might actually use them to, you know, defend Canadians.

There is a glaring image gap opening up here, and this is largely the navy's own doing. It's a classic example of how making oneself useful to the Americans militarily risks making you look useless for any other purpose. By investing almost exclusively in frigates that can effectively flesh out American carrier groups, and hence putting itself in high demand for overseas coalition work (unlike the other, less well focussed armed services in recent years), the navy has now alienated itself, this report has made clear, from any purpose that Canadians or their governments might actually find essential. To the army, which has long been unable to count on the navy for any support in its land operations, or even to help it get across the ocean, this surely can come as no surprise.

The political plan of the navy leadership is, pardon the pun, unfathomable. They had to know this report was coming out. As written, it effectively rules out any chance of their going up to Parliament Hill ever again for more money. Any statement like "We need to replace our ships, to defend Canadians," can now be refuted with the Senate committee's own report, which says quite clearly that that's not what the navy thinks it actually does. If this was adopted, it would become entirely conceivable, in fact, that the current surface combatant fleet will be the last the Canadian government ever buys (the Irvings, currently being accused of bribing cabinet ministers with freebies, are Canada's leading naval shipbuilders, but it's entirely possible the next ships to roll off their stocks will go to the proposed new independent Coast Guard, instead.) The defence department, the Senate has effectively said, cannot be trusted with maritime defence; Canadians should find someone better.

The navy could presumably have prevented this by saying, "you're right, our ships are too slow and we have too many maritime patrol assets overseas. We're bringing them back, so we can do the job Canadians expect of us." That they didn't at least try to make that pitch this time would seem indicative of how completely the country's senior defence planners have lost touch with what Canadians really want from them. In any other country, one would hope a report this damaging would have led to the resignation of a senior admiral, or two. But not here. (It's pathetic how few people feel a need to resign anymore. Why do Sean O'Keefe or George Tenet even have jobs? It's disgusting. Sorry, tangent.)

(One suspects what's really happening here is the navy is trying to insulate itself from future defence department cutbacks by supporting a separate coastal defence silo, outside the defence budget. It's the standard Canadian response to a failing government program... another government program... but here it seems very short-sighted.)

Even the proposed solutions for the problem of the Canadian Great Lakes, which the Senate committee identified as completely undefended, are telling. More resources need to be given, it says, to the coast guard (an organization previously in Canada only ever used for search-and-rescue, buoy maintenance, and ice clearance, and currently entirely unarmed) and the Mounties. The five naval reserve divisions on the Lakes, in Toronto, Kingston, Hamilton, Windsor and Thunder Bay, don't even warrant a mention. Apparently Canada's inland naval facilities are useless. (This surprised me particularly, as I've always found the Naval Reserve units to be the best run and most focussed of all of Canada's reserves.)

If restoring control of the Great Lakes was that dire, if Canadians were truly at risk, it would have seemed the naval reserve could at least have been given a footnote. Assuming sufficient watercraft were available, all five of those stations could surely be reinforced by naval personnel from elsewhere in Canada, or even local army reserve units, to man whatever patrol tasks were needed. (There's actually a historical precedent for this, amazingly... in 1812, the hopelessly undermanned Provincial Marine that guarded the Great Lakes for the British, was fleshed out by the addition to their crews of pretty much the entire Royal Newfoundland Regiment... a red-coated quasi-regular regiment raised in Newfoundland for North American service.) One must conclude that in the government's mind either the threat is unreal or non-immediate, despite what this committee claims.

This, though, reveals some larger truths about Canada's voluntary reserve service scheme. This situation... undefended lakes, a terrorist threat... is exactly the kind of unforeseen circumstance that the country's military reserves were presumably created for; ready to be mobilized to tide things over in emergencies until things normalized. But using reservists apparently wasn't even considered as an option. Toronto's reserve army brigade even does a big annual exercise with the Canadian Coast Guard, but the idea of actually collaborating, or even liaising, on an actual matter of national security between the two agencies was apparently never even remotely considered. The three reserve brigades in Ontario all have quick reaction companies, of reservists who can theoretically leave whatever they're doing with their lives on short notice if need be... presumably in a real threat you could put some of them, along with naval reservists, on something similar to that coast guard tender I once had a chance to travel Lake Huron on (great food... very competent watermen) to assist with searches and seizures without any major reorganization at all. Again, never considered as even an option, apparently. Why not?

It's necessary to grasp that the real problem on the Great Lakes that precludes reservists being used is part of a much larger one: that mobilization for national emergencies in this century is not really a matter of getting people. It's getting equipment. The ships the Coast Guard already has are well-manned... what they need is more ships, AND more crew, and the former's harder than the latter. Adding more bodies would be useless without more hulls to put them on. It's like the tank dilemma discussed yesterday here... in the 1980s the Canadian government had about 50 Leopard tanks in Europe. In a high-intensity war like World War 3 was supposed to be, once those were gone in the first few days, there would have been no replacements. It wouldn't matter how many people signed up for service back in Canada (or the U.S. for that matter)... NATO's war with the Soviet Union was going to end, one way or another, in roughly two weeks when everyone ran out of all their vehicles and ammunition.

The Defence minister is expected to make a major announcement on land force reserves sometime before Christmas. More money, more troops, etc. All welcome. When he does so, there will be the usual platitudes about creating a framework for mass mobilization, yadda yadda. It's important for people to understand that this stuff is just thrown in for the surviving Normandy veterans, and means almost exactly nothing. Canada will not "mobilize" as a nation, ever again. And even if it did, the reserves would not be essential, as it would take far longer to build up the industrial capacity to turn out new tanks and guns (and ships and planes) than it would take to train the soldiers to use them: you could just haul people in off the street if that were ever the case.

No, the reserves in Canada exist for one primary and one secondary purpose. The primary one is to act as a porous interface between civilian and military cultures, to prevent them from ever entirely separating, by training some civilians in military practice, and (to a much lesser extent here than in other countries) keeping touch with trained soldiers who have re-entered the civilian world. In addition to that, they can reliably provide a steady trickle of volunteer augmentees to fill out full-time units overseas. Barring American-style mandatory service legislation, that is all they can do. They can do it well, or poorly. But everything else is just spin.

As for the navy, they've apparently managed to completely alienate their natural support base among the public and government. When the Senate, the most useless organization in Canadian history, actually has the gall to call you even more useless than them, isn't it time to throw it in? One could argue they should probably bring the ships and planes home, man the coastal vessels properly, buy a few seagoing catamarans rigged out for troop transport, and devote their efforts to the tasks Canadians can actually understand. It's hard to see how they wouldn't be courting a funding disaster down the road if they continue to sacrifice the coastal defence task in favour of deep water joint operations. This wasn't just a shot across the bow. It was a direct hit. They're taking on water.

UPDATE: The hidden reason, btw, that the Canadian and American navies both have no Great Lakes presence is the 1817 Anglo-American treaty that demilitarized them. The U.S., however, has a substantial and well-armed coast guard to take up the slack. Canada does not. If we wanted to revoke parts of that treaty now, however, it's hard to see the Americans objecting, and it is not cited in the Senate report.

Posted by BruceR at 12:13 AM

October 30, 2003

THE MGS AND THE NEW MODEL ARMY

As discussed here previously, the Canadian government has agreed to buy 66 105-mm Mobile Gun Systems from GMC. This effectively ends the question of whether Canada would ever again buy new tanks.

It's not as big a loss in combat capability as you'd think. Since returning from Germany in the early 1990s, Canada's tanks have mostly stayed at home, being too large to transport on existing naval or air lift anywhere else. This meant that the 76-mm armed Cougar armoured car has been relied on for direct fire support by Canadian forces abroad. No matter how bad the MGS turned out to be, it couldn't be worse than a Cougar.

It's also got some obvious advantages, as a tank-hunter. That turretless silhouette is going to make for a very small target and increase crew survivability, assuming the MGS has time to find just the right spot. Plus it's made in Canada, which presumably gives us some control if flaws appear. Plus it's air and sea transportable, allowing it to actually leave the country. Plus it's the same vehicle that's the centrepiece of the new American Interim Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs). It, is however, almost wholly unlike the tanks that preceded it in the Canadian armoured regiments. This is going to require some changed thinking.

So what's the new model army? (Warning: extremely long essay to follow)

Well, the American concept for their Interim Brigade team is focussed on 9 combined arms companies of 3 infantry platoons and 1 MGS platoon... combined with a relatively large surplus of reconnaissance assets... 12 recce platoons in all, armed with 25mm LAVs. That's 21 platoons, or two regiments, of what Canadians would traditionally consider "armour" (which here has always meant tanks plus recce).

Given Canada's current brigade structure*, it'll be hard to man to that level. Currently each brigade has the one armoured regiment on paper... 9-12 troops (platoons). There are currently no plans to increase the number of armoured/recce regiments in a brigade, or give the MGS weapons to anyone else, even if more were to be bought... they're an "armoured regiment" thing. (And it's true, at the moment with their tanking background, they know best how to use them.) The upshot will be that the Canadian brigade must either skimp on reconnaissance, or fire support, or both, compared to the American medium-weight force.

The other big difference between the two forces could be seen to compensate somewhat: that the Canadian infantry LAV3 has a 25mm cannon, and the American LAV3 has a machinegun. The American vehicle is a straight-up battle taxi, which is abandoned by the infantry section to fight... the Canadian vehicle supposedly gives each infantry section commander the option of fighting from the vehicle (with the upshot that the infantry and vehicle must remain closely tied, even after the infantry have dismounted) or abandoned (which foregoes the advantages of the 25mm). (Some have said this is a bug rather than a feature.)

All these differences ride on an implicit schism in doctrine. How to correctly marry armour and infantry has been the central problem of army doctrine worldwide for decades. The infantry inevitably want the armour parcelled out in close support, and the armoured advocates want it grouped en masse for shock power. The NATO countries' combined arms concept squared the circle, by giving the formation commander the option of parcelling out his armoured unit into combined arms "combat teams" or keeping it grouped, or both, depending on his situation. Embracing that flexibility has been the central focus of Canadian army training past the basic level ever since.

The question is now going to be, though, whether that doctrine makes any sense anymore. There seems little value in massing the MGS, a vehicle custom-designed for low-profile ambushes on the defence, and overwatch fire on the attack. They don't have the onboard ammo load to fight independently, or punch through, or exploit. The sight of a couple dozen of them advancing in formation across the plain would be bizarre. If they are ever massed, it would be in a firebase, to support an advance by other elements, a task that could be as easily co-ordinated without the need for any elaborate armoured regimental structure to do it in. This is why the Americans are not having any MGS battalions in their concept, but rather just merging them right into the infantry companies.

It's similar to the problems with the "tank destroyer" concept in World War Two. Tank destroyers, just like the MGS a lightly armored and less expensive alternative to tanks, were grouped by the Americans in regiments, with the idea that they might need to fight independently in some circumstances. In the end, this wasn't necessary... the American armoured regiments, equipped with real tanks, fulfilled that "mass armour" role just fine. The tank destroyers ended up getting parcelled out to the infantry units despite their own protests, and more or less permanently assigned there, to give the infantry direct fire support.

The British and Canadians, it should be noted, with roughly the same force mix, did things a little differently. Their tank destroyers were manned by artillerymen instead, an arm that's more used doctrinally to being split up into small detachments from time to time. They correctly recognized that the weapons would only ever be massed when used for things like indirect fire support, and didn't waste their time with elaborate plans for independent tank destroyer action. Canadian tank destroyer troops operated under control of the infantry, or not at all.

It stands to reason then, that the Canadian armoured regiment with the MGS is likely going to end up planning to think and operate more like the artillery does now (and Canadian tank destroyer units did back then), if they're going to maximize the value of these new weapons... operating as a unit for garrison purposes, perhaps, but otherwise working in more or less permanent small subgroups attached to the infantry units in the field.

What this doesn't solve, however, is the sheer problem of numbers. For the Canadians to have a comparable density of 105mm platforms to an American medium brigade, they'd have to buy roughly twice as many MGS's as they have so far (around 120). Presumably a big part of the reason they didn't do this is because of the organizational problem it would present... there simply don't exist enough armoured units at present to put them all in, as the Canadian armoured units (which, as mentioned, also double in the reconnaissance task) are already relatively amply equipped at the moment with the 25mm-armed Coyote recce vehicles.

What I suspect the interim solution will be is the three armoured regiments will organize on a "two squadrons recce, one squadron armour" approach, with about 40 Coyotes and 20 MGS's each. This is a big shortfall compared to the Americans, who for the same sized formation (a brigade) would have about 50 Coyote-like recce vehicles and 40 MGS's. On the other hand, as mentioned, the 110-odd infantry vehicles in that brigade, if American, will only be machine-gun armed, while the Canadian ones will each have 25mm cannon.

Is this 2:1 split the best solution, though? It doesn't seem like it. When you're only talking a squadron of 20 105s per brigade, the possibility of massing armour vanishes completely, even if the weapons system doesn't have these kinds of limitations. To keep the regimental structure in these cases would seem to exactly repeat the American tank destroyer mistake. So... what?

The normally perceptive and inventive CASR 101 site suggests Canada start looking at a subsequent buy of the same machine-gun armed LAVs the Americans are getting. These, they suggest, would then be given to the infantry, and the current 25 mm LAVs be given to the armour. This would solve the vehicle-commander/team-commander doctrinal problems they claim the Canadian infantry have, and supposedly give the armour enough vehicles to exert their mass attacks again.

It's hard to see how this would be an improvement, however. You'd basically have to stand up an armoured and a recce regiment in each brigade (rather than one combined armoured/recce unit, as now) to take all the vehicles you've given them under this plan, and arm the recce unit with 25mm, and the armoured unit with a mix of 25mm and 105mm. You'd still have a lot of 25mms left over, even then. Plus it's a whole ton of new money. And obviously, it takes away from the Canadian infantry the one comparative advantage they have left over the IBCT... that handy-dandy 25mm gun.

The only way this could work is if some of the 25mms were kept at the infantry level, to provide the infantry with its own (25mm) fire support company, and three (MG-armed) maneuver companies. The recce regiment, way out front, would have the 25mm Coyotes. And the armoured regiment would have a 105/25mm mix that could be delegated out using standard combined approaches to make mixed combat teams.

This would seem, however, to be sacrificing efficiency for the sake of doctrine. (Two thirds of the "armour" would essentially just be more infantry support vehicles that wouldn't give the units they support any new capability). And again, it's a big buy (probably around $1.8 billion CDN, I'd guess). What other options are there?

Well, the obvious one, drawing on history, and the American doctrine, would be to wrest control of the 105 mm guns from the armoured units. Say the country buys a second allotment down the road of these MGS's... another $600 million worth, and parcels them out as MGS companies in the infantry battalions. (The cap badge they operate under isn't particularly relevant.) The remaining three companies would retain their 25mm-armed LAV3s. The brigade armoured regiment would keep its squadron of MGS as well, as well as 2 to three squadrons of 25mm armed Coyotes. All four major maneuver units in each of Canada's three brigades would then have a 25mm/105mm split, without any other major re-organization required.

Basically, what it would mean is that we, like the Americans --who have actually contemplated calling their IBCT units "dragoons," after the original mounted infantry -- would be going back to the idea of lightly armed, fast-moving all-in-one maneuver forces with a self-contained ability to fight, instead of the combined arms concept of the last 60 years. We'd be wholly foregoing the cavalry-esque idea of mass shock action by heavily armoured units (arguably, Canada did that decades ago, regardless) and infantry "hold ground until the tanks get here" philosophy, and replacing it with the "mounted rifles" idea of "getting there fast with the most," of integrating the functions of cavalry and infantry in the same battalion, as Canadians did successfully in the Boer War. The 105 MGS systems in this concept, equate to what Napoleon would have called the "horse artillery," direct fire support that moves as fast as the units it supports, even if it sacrifices some power by doing so. They also equate nicely, as was said before, with the artillery's tank destroyer units our infantry relied on in Italy and Normandy (largely because Montgomery insisted on massing all the real tanks for near suicidal cavalry-type charges like "Goodwood", but that's besides the point).

Obviously, this is not an ideal solution for all potential combat environments. A Boer War mounted rifles unit would have been slaughtered in the trenches of Flanders. But by the same token, however, a World War One infantry unit, even supported by the tanks of the day, would not have been as effective on the veldt or on the Saskatchewan plain as Canadian mounted rifle units demonstrably were. That kind of low intensity fighting (call it "peacekeeping") is what we DO now. As said before, the decision by Canada not to keep up in the tank procurement battle means we've foregone our place in the highest-intensity forms of combat already. If this were World War One again, we'd be volunteering to serve with Allenby and the Australians in Palestine, or against German auxiliaries in Africa, rather than sending a corps to Flanders. That approach makes us inherently less useful for some things, but more useful for others. On the other hand, a French wheeled 105 unit did quite well on the flanks in the 1991 Iraq war, by all accounts. And at this point, the Americans would be happy if an army just showed up in Iraq with its own vehicles. And there'd be little that could frighten a Canadian 25/105 unit in Bosnia or Kabul, or the Congo... all the places we've been sent or contemplated doing so since the Cold War ended. Coupled with some sensible naval and air buys to increase transportability, and the Canadian Forces would be more in demand than at any time in the last 40 years, and with 12 mounted rifle units to draw on, the depth to sustain 3 battalions overseas, even in a couple different places, nearly indefinitely. Plus the ability to ramp up production, given that the LAV plant's right here, allows us to actually mobilize the population with far more rapidity in the case of another major war, far more effectively than we've been able to in decades.

The main difficulty with this isn't the money (another $600 million is not in the bigger scheme, huge) or training. It's doctrinal and institutional. You'd be convincing both infantry and cavalry units to give up what they see as their traditions (and rivalry vis a vis each other) and buy into a new joint tradition. But as I've said, it's not all that new, in fact... and maybe better knowledge of that history could help smooth over the cultural changes that would be required. It's highly probable, though, that Canadian arms, in the next decade, by virtue of the characteristics of their equipment, are going to be moving to a place where the difference between the "armoured regiment" and the "infantry battalion" is less and less. So we might as well start reviving the appropriate meme.

*For the novice: the army has 3 deployable brigades (c. 5,000 men each). Each has four major combat units: three infantry battalions and one armoured/recce regiment. Each unit has four companies (the armour calls them squadrons), each comprising three-four platoons (troops.) Each platoon/troop has 3-5 combat vehicles, more or less. It's more complicated than that, obviously, with artillery and engineers and everything else. but that's the basic verbiage used.

UPDATE: If the number of wheeled 105s bought does ever look like it could go up, watch for the armoured establishment to suggest yet another possibility... parcelling out the recce task permanently between both infantry and armoured, so every battalion gets a Coyote (recce vehicle) company, and they the 105s for themselves in an ersatz tank regiment. I think this would be less effective, because recce at the brigade level is more useful than putting those assets at the battalion level would be (easier to co-ordinate finding the enemy with attacking him with artillery or air power that way, for one thing), and because, given the characteristics of the MGS, those 105s will inevitably just get parcelled out like tank destroyers under combat conditions regardless.

FURTHER UPDATE: The criticisms of the MGS system in the press today are of the lack of armour (even though the MGS is better armoured than the Cougar), and the lack of a 120 mm gun. In actual fact, it's looking more and more like the American "Future Combat System" replacement for their M1 tanks is going to end up with a (no doubt vastly improved) 105 mm weapon as well, in order to fit on the 20-ton frame that's been mandated. Likely this vehicle will use something like the Israeli LAHAT stand-off missile, as much as improved conventional tank rounds, and it's entirely likely those types of ammunition would then be available to our forces, as well. Critics are also talking about previous wargames where MGS vehicles, when deployed as tanks, did less well on the offence than Leopards would have. Obviously, the solution would be not to deploy them as tanks, which is sort of my point. No one to my knowledge has wargamed whether they'd be superior on the whole to Canadians armed with Cougars, or Canadians with nothing at all, which are the other two real options at the moment. Presumably everyone knows the answer to those questions, already.

Posted by BruceR at 01:17 PM

October 29, 2003

TWO IMPORTANT IRAQ WAR POSTMORTEMS

The second draft of history on this spring's Iraq war is being written, as the seasoned military academics are coming out with their first conclusions.

Carl Conetta has what will probably be the closest approximation to the truth we're going to get on Iraqi civilian and military casualties out. His work on the Afghan war was top-notch, and this is no worse. Particularly interesting are his conclusions on artillery: even using improved conventional munitions, the Coalition did no better than a ratio of 15 rounds per Iraqi fatality.

Even more importantly, the brilliant Stephen Biddle, whose work on both the 1991 and Afghan wars profoundly changed the way many soldiers viewed those conflicts, has shared his first conclusions on this year's fighting. He doesn't have a paper out yet, but Phil Carter links to a Powerpoint presentation by Biddle which gives us a pre-taste.

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM

October 28, 2003

SUZUKI? THAT'S FUNNY

Colby Cosh, on the horrible spectre of brilliant science journalist Bob McDonald speaking at a military event. Over the years I've heard Bob speak live, to big groups and small, and he's even better in person than on television (Americans: think a smarter Bill Nye... on acid)... I'm envious of the New Brunswickian military contractors.

The quote at the end got me, though. It's because in my journalism days I also talked with David Suzuki occasionally... just professional stuff via the phone, no biggie. One day, though, I ran into the guy at a McDonald's north of Toronto. He was there alone, and I was passing through with some workmates late at night, so I walked over to say hello and introduce myself in person. Suzuki didn't quite shake my hand: in fact, he went completely white, glared at me as if my head had suddenly unscrewed and fallen off to reveal some Cthulhuesque tentacled apparition, and then quickly fled.

Even counting all the horrible intro lines at parties, it was the worst first face-to-face meeting I have ever had, with anyone. It just left me feeling dirty. Oh, did I mention I was in uniform at the time? Sorry, guess I left that part out.

(I got back to my table and my friend Greg, who'd only seen the interaction from a distance, actually asked me what I'd said that was so insulting... I believe the exact words were, "Hi, Dr. Suzuki...")

UPDATE: Writer Ken L. suggests Suzuki, as an anti-capitalist environmentalist, wasn't necessarily mortified by talking to soldiers, but by being caught in a McDonald's.

Posted by BruceR at 01:37 AM

October 27, 2003

COULDN'T RESIST

I couldn't resist on weighing in on a misinformed history post that Andrew Sullivan was pleased by, on how the D-Day coalition and the Iraq war coalition were one and the same. My remarks (also in the post's comments):

"You really should read your own links. The (partial) order of battle you link to has the 10th Inter-Allied Commando (also known as the Free French Commando), led by Philippe Kieffer, who liberated Ouistreham (their action was also a major part of the movie "The Longest Day," so there's really no excuse there.)

"The same document you're linking to also shows units from Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as Canada, in case you hadn't noticed.

"So in terms of the D-Day landing partners who also showed up for the Iraq war, you're standing at 3 out of the 8 countries your linked text mentions. Um, what was your point again?"

I added later: "Now, if you factor in 2nd Tactical Air Force (http://www3.sympatico.ca/angels_eight/2tac.html), you get the Australians (who did show up for Iraq), but you also get New Zealand and Czechoslovakia (who didn't). So you're up to 4 out of 11 :-)"

History is a dangerous tool, to the user. It's times like this that remind us that Andrew Sullivan was the guy who wanted Stephen Glass to be the New Republic's head-of-factchecking...

PS: Now if your point is to highlight the precedence of an Anglo-American-Polish coalition, the obvious choice would be Arnhem.

Posted by BruceR at 08:02 PM

October 26, 2003

OH, DEAR

"In a speech that [Gen.] Boykin regularly gives, he tells the story of an aerial photo he took over Mogadishu that, when it was developed, revealed a black smudge over the city. Rather than accept the mark as a thumb print from whoever processed the film, Boykin became convinced that it was a sign of the evil hanging over the Somali city."

--Eleanor Clift, in Newsweek. Forget his effect on those of other faiths in the military. Someone who brings those kinds of preconceptions to the table would appear to be dangerous from an intelligence perspective.

Posted by BruceR at 05:40 PM

MORE ON AIRLINES AND SAMS

(See post below.) Okay, a couple other thoughts I had on the Pearson terrorism scare, too long to put in a footnote. I'll try and explain a little better why I'm discounting the prospect of shoulder-fired SAMs being used in North American airports as a highly likely threat.

You'd think I'd be more worried than I am. Pearson is, after all, the airport I fly out of. But SAM attacks by North American-based terrorists are not as likely as they sound. And it's got little to do with the limits of the technology, although that's a part of it.

Start with the basic assumption that you are a terrorist bent on raising havoc among Western commercial air travellers. It would seem fair to say that, either you are planning to give your life to do so, or you are not. You are either a suicide terrorist, or one who wants to get away to strike again.

Okay. Shoulder-fired missiles would seem ideal if you'd like to get away afterwards. You don't need to invade an airport to attack air travellers, just fire from a couple km away, right? Trouble is, though, it's still only a couple km away at most. You are still tied to attacking the plane on the point of takeoff, pretty much. You are physically tied to the airport, and that means local security, if it's aware of the threat and capable, can interdict, if not to stop the attack, then at least to impede your escape: the weapons signature alone is obvious enough that unless you have a sympathetic population or a brilliant escape plan, your trail will be picked up and you will be caught.

There is presumably a reason why every successful missile hit on a commercial jet so far has taken place in an area where the local authorities did not control the countryside. If the local population is hostile to those who control the airport, using SAMs and then escaping can be quite effective (indeed, I don't know of a single case where the assassins in those attacks were caught afterwards).

If you're a suicide, on the other hand, SAM attack is overly complex, and too much can go wrong for it to be ideal, when you could just attack the airport instead. SAMs require more training (not much more, but still more) than other weapons you could use. They are considerably more expensive. They are as hard or harder to conceal and smuggle than those other weapons. They have a higher chance of failure in bringing down a large commercial aircraft than a bomb, or a terrorist on board. And the suicide doesn't need a seeking warhead to help select his optimal target... he can use his human brain to do so.

It's thus something of a truism that suicidal terrorists do not use SAMs, and vice versa. When SAMs are used to attack aircraft, they are by people who want to get away.

But if you want to get away, then planning an attack in North America is considerably more difficult than numerous other places you could have picked. Not only do you now have to smuggle the weapons and operatives into the country, but you must have a logistically elaborate escape plan to smuggle your people OUT again. Presumably, since your operatives aren't suicides (not that they're not dedicated to the cause, it's just they're not planning to die that particular day if they can help it), they're only going to subscribe if the entrance and escape plans seem like it could work. And getting out of North America, with every law officer hunting you, cannot be that easy, compared to Europe, say, or Asia.

Given all the effort that would be required for a plausible in-out plan, it only makes sense, and decreases the risk of failure considerably, to make your SAM strike closer to home. The case in point is this threat against El Al, which is almost certainly only that... a threat. There is no advantage to striking Israeli airliners with SAMs in Toronto that isn't enjoyed by a planned strike at them when they leave Tel Aviv. If anything, the chances of a successful attack and escape there would have to be far greater. International airports with large disaffected Muslim populations have a far more realistic chance of falling victim to this kind of attack at present: Moscow or Delhi are thus far more likely targets for the next successful international terrorist SAM strike than any airport in North America.

Suicides, on the other hand, don't need all the rigmarole: not having to think of escape frees them. They can scale the fence and start firing RPGs at taxiiing jets, or raid the airport terminal with automatic weapons and explosives on their bodies, for far less planning and effort than getting just a single SAM into the country would take. (I'd lump in RPGs with the other suicide weapons because, while with SAMs you could well be 2000m away and off airport grounds, with RPGs you're 2-300m away from the aircraft terminal and almost certainly in a controlled area when you'd start to fire.) The only real limiting factor in this case for the international terrorists is how many suicidal adherents they can covertly get into the country... just as with Sept. 11.

The advantage is that this is the kind of scenario one hopes police tactical teams in North America have been planning for for decades. If there's real concern about a particular airport or what have you, additional support could be called in from the military or other agencies, and be able to have an impact. To the policeman as well as the common person, the risk, and the appropriate response, are understandable: we can all intuitively grasp that there's a small, but non-zero chance of suicide terrorists attacking North American airports. We all understand that they'd better beef up security then. (We've already had one such suicide attack since Sept. 11 at LAX, even if that individual was more a terrorist sympathizer than a member of any organized group.)

The trouble with all the talk of SAMs is that North Americans, not being widely familiar with the technology and its limitations, have trouble gauging the appropriate response... they don't understand the problems with attacking a plane when it's in flight, or landing, for instance. Once the defensive technology has improved, I do believe putting aircraft-protection systems on aircraft flying into high-risk airports abroad makes absolute sense. However, current proposals to refit entire domestic fleets are in cost-benefit terms not as sound a measure as spending an equivalent amount on protecting against all the other less-expensive-and-complicated-to-the-terrorists kinds of threat would be.

In the famous Rumsfeld memo, he talks about spending billions when the terrorists are spending millions. This is the problem with putting flare dispensers and the like on commercial airliners right now. We want by our government's behaviour to push terrorists away from lower-cost forms of attack into higher-cost ones (cost in that sentence being relative... our cost of preventing it vs the cost if we fail). If we want to make things harder on terrorists next year than it is this year, then rather than spend $1 million and up to harden just one aircraft against SAMs, we should first put that $1 million towards making Pearson (and other airports) as resistant as they can be to the lower-cost-but-potentially-just-as-deadly attacks.

If we can force terrorists to go for the more expensive and more complex plans, because the low-cost ones are becoming less likely to work, then we potentially lower the frequency, and increase our chances of stopping them, by virtue of how complicated thwarting airport security has become for them. In this war, that's the most victory we can hope for.


UPDATE: The Canadian authorities are now saying the threat that diverted the El Al flight came from the Israeli government, not a called-in threat to them directly, but the Israeli government is questioning the need to divert any air traffic on the basis of it.

Posted by BruceR at 05:30 PM

THE CASE OF THE GERMAN ROCKET LAUNCHER

The Toronto Sun is running with a story today that the Canadian union of customs employees is complaining about the large number of weapons their staff have seized in the mail at a major Mississauga postal plant over the last two years.

For some reason, the Sun, Canada's leading tabloid, is trying to tie this into the threat against the El Al aircraft earlier this week that was already discussed. What follows is the usual back-of-the-envelope speculation, but if you've been here long, I figure it's what you're used to.

The relevant paragraphs in the Sun story, in full:

"Canadian security officials say a "serious" threat to an El Al Israel flight bound for Pearson airport was made by phone from the Toronto area and involving a surface-to-air missile...

"[An anonymous official said] We understand the target was to be attacked on the tarmac..."

"The official said a heat-seeking missile was to be used to attack the aircraft.

"Security officials are also trying to determine if a rocket launcher found in a postal shipment is linked to the threat.

"The Mounties and CSIS are tracing the origins and destination of a German-made rocket launcher, found by Canada Customs officers among 14 caches of weapons, entering the country at a Mississauga postal plant from April 2001 to March 2003.

"The weapon is designed to be fired from the shoulder and can be outfitted with heat-seeking missiles."
Okay, observations:

Paragraphs 1 and 2 show pretty clearly that the "anonymous official" quoted probably has no real idea what they're talking about. If you're attacking a plane on the tarmac, you don't need a surface-to-air missile to do it.

Airline security officials have long warned that a rocket-propelled grenade is a more likely anti-airplane weapon for terrorists than a shoulder-fired SAM... both are just as concealable, an RPG's much cheaper, and if local security is lax enough to get close with a SAM (which contrary to popular opinion, has a small and relatively predictable launch footprint) you can probably get within the 300m needed for an RPG launch against a stationary plane, too.

In this particular case, we'd already commented that firing on El Al jets as they come in to land in Toronto is not optimal, and because the chances of success are so slight, would almost certainly not be preceded by any threats. Scaling a fence and firing at stationary or taxiing planes at the terminal with RPGs could be more successful, if only because it would allow you to circumvent the elaborate flare-type countermeasure systems El Al jets are rumoured to have.

This is, by the way, the reason that Chuck Schumer's push to have all U.S. domestic jets fixed with still-in-development countermeasure systems may not be the best expense at this time for the several billion dollars it would cost (NB: international jets flying high-risk routes may be another matter). Such systems would be useless against an RPG attack on the tarmac, and if you believe the other guy might have them, it's actually easier (and cheaper) for the theoretical terrorist to switch to the other mode of attack, instead.

Anyway, so what about the customs story that's linked to it? Well, the facts are sketchy, but it seems that an internal customs report pointed out that Ontario's big postal plant has seen 14 weapons seizures from mail packages in the last two years. (The report was leaked by the employees' union.) One of these apparently contained said German "rocket launcher."

There's no mention of when in the last 2 years this happened. And there's one small problem: Germans don't make shoulder-launched heat-seekers. Never have.

What they do make is very efficient light anti-vehicle weapons, similar to Russian RPG rocket-propelled grenades (in fact, the first RPGs were crude remakes of them). Have for over 50 years, in fact. They call them Panzerfausts. The WW2 Panzerfaust was reengineered in the late 1950s as the PzF 44A1 ("Lanze"), which was replaced in the 1980s by the PzF 3. (They also have a nice little mini-Panzerfaust which doesn't have the backblast of the others called the Armbrust.) All these weapons are shoulder-launched, unguided, with a range in good hands of 300 metres, tops, just like RPGs.

And here's where I expect is where the writer got confused. All Panzerfausts, like RPGs, use HEAT warheads (High Explosive Anti-Tank). If you don't know what you're talking about, you could easily conclude that meant those warheads are Heat-Seeking, which is something entirely different (the big difference being an RPG with a HEAT warhead is useless against anything except a stationary or taxiiing aircraft, whereas a heat-seeker can chase the plane in flight.)

When the smoke clears, I think we will find that someone tried to ship some kind of Panzerfaust into the country (maybe even a WW2 souvenir) a year or so ago and it got caught at the post office. It will probably have very little to do with the threat against El Al traffic to North America at the moment. But if it does, it will only confirm that the more dangerous threat at the moment isn't shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, but rocket-propelled grenades from just inside the tarmac fence. And assuming that the authorities are drawing the same conclusions, hopefully they'll spend a few million on electrifying fences before they spend a few billion on unproven anti-missile technologies.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Notably the last time that Canadian customs authorities sounded the alarm about rocket-launchers coming into Canada, it was in the case of an American NRA fan trying to drive his gun collection, which contained an M72 LAW (another kind of unguided anti-tank rocket), to Alaska. Just keep that in mind when you hear about weapons being sent through the mail being de facto evidence of terrorists.

Posted by BruceR at 02:57 PM

October 25, 2003

I'VE NEVER GOT TIME FOR TIM HORTON'S

This is one of those cases where I knew about something, but didn't bother to write about it... the end to fresh donuts at Canada's leading donut chain... due to my friendship with a young and now underemployed junior pastry chef. Oh, well... could have had a scoop, I guess.

Me, when I found out, I stopped buying Tim Horton's donuts immediately, my own little quiet protest. Their coffee is ubiquitous at army meetings, so there's not much I can do about that, but there's no reason I need to give them any of my own money anymore.

Posted by BruceR at 01:43 AM

OOPS

The curious case of the National Review editorial is showing up the one uncomfortable fact that normally smart commentators like Phil Carter aren't grasping yet re the Boykin affair... there is a substantial political penalty for the White House to pay if Gen. Boykin is seen to lose his job over his Christianity. Getting rid of him will not be easy. It's a perfect wedge issue, and it seems the Bush administration can not come out of it without reputational damage no matter what course they take.

Posted by BruceR at 01:39 AM

October 24, 2003

OWWW!!

Now, that there's what you call a Fisking.

Posted by BruceR at 04:20 PM

THE CIRCLE OF ACCEPTABLE OPINION NARROWS

Little Green Footballs and the Weekly Standard are now after Bill Arkin, the reporter who broke the Boykin story. Because he previously worked for Greenpeace, he's a "far-left anti-military activist."

Never mind that no aspect of Arkin's actual work on Boykin has been discredited.* Never mind that his previous work could never be described as "anti-military." (Arkin's last big scoop, you'll recall, was on the U.S. high command exercises pre-Iraq which showed vulnerabilities to Iraqi non-conventional warfare... he was widely praised for his work on realistic estimates of the civilian casualties in Kosovo and Iraq due to aerial bombing previous to that.) Never mind that he's an army vet and a distinguished military academic. It's just another case of attacking the messenger. If you write or say anything that could hurt the Bush administration, you are now to be cast out as objectively anti-American. Just like Joe Wilson. And the entire CIA. And a large number of soldiers and ex-soldiers. And me.

Hewitt links to Arkin's speech where he admits his first response on Sept. 11 was anger at the Bush government for screwing up, and suggests, Rumsfeld-like, that America may still be losing the war on terror. I urge you to read Arkin's whole speech... a finer example of patriotic dissent would be hard to find.

*UPDATE: With the exception of the stupid use in one piece of quotes around the word "jihad," when it was Arkin's own word, which was clear journalistic malpractice on Arkin's part.

I've also changed "air force vet" to "army vet," and removed a reference to Arkin working for Greenpeace in the 70s (he actually worked for them much later than that). Errors on my part.

Posted by BruceR at 10:11 AM

MISSILE THREAT REDUX

An El Al jet was diverted on approach to Pearson Airport in Toronto, allegedly because of a missile threat against the plane.

We've been down this road here before. Against most weapons that could reasonably be in the arms of terrorists, departure is a better time for an attack than approach. And because the optimal potential launch locations for a missile coming in to land at a metropolitan airport are limited to a relatively small space that could be put under effective observation reasonably quickly, a warning in advance would almost certainly seriously limit the chances of downing the target aircraft. So it's safe to say this was a hoax.

That doesn't mean authorities weren't right to divert the plane to the next airport over. Better safe than sorry. All I'm saying is that, when the day of a successful terrorist missile attack on an airliner comes, it won't come this way.

Posted by BruceR at 09:47 AM

A DAMNED STATISTIC IF EVER THERE WAS ONE

(See entry below.) I'm pleased Steven Den Beste noticed the 15,000 non English-speaking troops in Iraq, don't get me wrong... we've been talking about it here for months, of course, but it's important to get the word out. (SdB blames the American media for not telling their stories, because it would reflect well on Bush if they did... Occam's razor would seem to have suggested just run-of-the-mill American nativist chauvinism, but I'm sure I'm wrong about that.)

TM jokes below about the Canadian "holdouts," and Den Beste says Australia and New Zealand are holding up the Anglosphere's reputation for us, etc. etc.. That, however, is somewhat dependent on the metric (to steal Rumsfeld's word) that you use. Den Beste uses forces in Iraq at the moment (with a bye for the Australians because they served and went home). Here's another one: total military fatalities by country in the "wars on terror" thus far, as near as I have been able to keep count:

1. United States: over 400 fatalities (combat and non-combat, 343 in Iraq and over 60 in Afghanistan.)
2. Spain: 64 (62 Afghanistan, 2 Iraq)
3. Britain: 52 (51 Iraq, 1 Afghanistan)
4. Germany: 13 (Afghanistan)
5. Canada: 6 (Afghanistan)
6. Denmark: 4 (3 Iraq, 1 Afghanistan)
7. Ukraine, Australia: 1 each.

I'm sure I missed a few, for which I apologize. I wouldn't want any other country to be rivalling our place on this list. Nor would I mind if we dropped in the standings. But if you want to talk about which countries have been paying their share, it's not a statistic to gloss over so casually.

This is Kristopher Beerenfenger. I don't think Steven Den Beste's opinion of how much weight Canada's pulling is going to matter to him. I'm not sure it matters to me either, actually.

Posted by BruceR at 01:33 AM

October 22, 2003

UM, PROF. REYNOLDS...?

"And where are all the people who were screaming about the Plame leak?" Instapundit demands.

Oh, for pete's sake, Glenn, the story says Rumsfeld GAVE it to at least three Congressmen personally. Take your own advice and read the whole thing, for once.

Posted by BruceR at 05:56 PM

CANADA GOES BACK TO MOUNTED RIFLE TRADITION

DND will make an announcement today, the Globe reports, that it's phasing out its last heavy armour to make room for LAV3 Mobile Gun Systems (some call it an armoured car, some call it an assault gun... I'd say it's the second coming of the "tank destroyer" concept, myself).

I'd love to say this is a bad move, but I rather fear it was an inevitable bridge to cross at this point. Canada's Leopard tanks, while undoubtedly effective, were never capable of rapid deployment overseas, which meant that for the kinds of missions Canadians had actually been doing with NATO and the UN for the last 50 years, they were essentially a waste. Last year, the army consolidated its remaining tanks in one of its three tank battalions, out west... the other two battalions reverted to half-strength, essentially due to lack of equipment. Buying 50-100 105mm-armed armoured cars will make Canada's armour a rapidly deployable asset again, especially if defence minister McCallum follows up with a new Hercules purchase, as is widely expected, and some kind of improved naval transport capability so they can get places.

There can be no doubt that there's a survivability loss here, that these things are NOT tanks, and if they're treated as such, then Canadians will die. But a Leopard replacement was not affordable on the current budget, or even a significantly increased one. This will also be a big vote of support for the Canadian auto industry, particularly GM Canada, which was looking for its first real bulk buyer for this vehicle.

There's all kinds of doctrinal and organizational issues that need to be worked out, still, and there will certainly be an outcry from the Opposition and the "pro-defence" lobby. The historical comparison is that the 105mm MGS (the Americans call it the Stryker MGS) is to a real MBT as the Sherman tank was to a German Panther... simply not in the same league. But the simple fact is we have about as much chance of buying real MBTs now as the Canadians in 1944 had of picking up a few Panthers... zip.

In the last Literary Review of Canada, I wrote: "Rebuilding tasks, pre-emptive deployments and peacekeeping may become even more the Canadian way of war from here on: in the future, we may come to draw more inspiration from our low-intensity victories, such as the Yukon Field Force, Wolseley's Red River Expedition, or the mounted rifles in South Africa, than we do from Vimy or D-Day."

The mounted rifle tradition, which began in the 1860s and lasted until WW1, is not to be totally sneered at, and was in large part a Canadian invention (a leading scion of the movement, George Denison, has Toronto's central armoury named after him). The parallel tradition in the States would be Sheridan and Forrest's carbine-armed cavalry, which increasingly fought dismounted through the Civil War. It also grew out of the European dragoon tradition, whose adherents also saw horses as a means to bestow rapidity of movement, more than shock action (in mechanized terminology, the horse as reconnaissance vehicle and battlefield taxi, rather than as a fighting vehicle). You could also talk about the Australian Lighthorsemen, or a century earlier, Col. Johnson's Kentuckians. If the army wants to sell this to a skeptical armoured force, it could be it's that tradition they need to remind soldiers of now. Throughout the 19th century, there were competing heavy cavalry and mounted-rifle/dragoon traditions, both with their adherents, but with the latter making more sense in lower-intensity warfare situations or peacemaking. It was something the Canadians, like Australians and Americans, seemed to see as more relevant to their experience than all that heavy cavalry "into the valley of death" nonsense the Europeans liked at the time: the NWMP, the original "Mounties," was basically a mounted-rifle regiment formed to cow the natives and white traders on the Prairies into respecting Canadian sovereignty. (Sam Steele, perhaps the greatest Canadian cavalryman ever, served in the Mounties, fought Indians with his own mounted-rifle unit in the Northwest Rebellion, took time off to pacify the Yukon, then fought Boers with a series of Canadian and locally-raised mounted-rifle units in South Africa.)

In the mudfields of Flanders, the heavy cavalry tradition of battlefield domination through superior maneuverability and shock action was internalized by the new armoured corps. The idea of a light armoured tradition has taken a longer time reasserting itself (the South Africans never forgot its value in their warfighting, but the Americans, for instance, have spent a long time trying to make the helicopter-borne soldier the new "light cavalry," with somewhat mixed results) but it could be making a small comeback now, as more situations arise where speed of deployment can be more important than high-intensity survivability. Having a Canadian light cavalry force that can serve on an open flank in a high-stakes battle, like Buford at Gettysburg, or move quickly to forestall a looming crisis, like the Mounties, would paradoxically make the Canadian army both more valuable to the Americans than it is at present, and more capable of running an independent show, as the Australians did in Timor, and we're sort of doing in Afghanistan, if that's what the Canadian public wants, instead.

PS: A word on the defence minister, John McCallum. This blog said when he was appointed that there was more to this guy than meets the eye. The poor guy suffers because he's one of those people (I had the fortune of a one-on-one conversation with the guy shortly after his appointment) who by his nature looks a little less than sober even at the best of times... it's easy to see why rumours of alcoholism continue to follow him around. He's rumpled, and unpolished, and sometimes he says things he probably shouldn't. He's certainly not very macho, even in a Clintonesque way. He's weedy, like that prof you giggled about in undergrad because he couldn't keep his shirt tucked in. But he's already the most effective defence minister the country's had, in terms of actually setting realistic objectives and actually taking us there, in anyone's memory. You may dislike his direction, but anyone who thinks he's not in his own way in control of the situation and steadily trudging towards the goals he's set for the Canadian Forces is kidding themselves.

PPS: Little known historical fact: a chief creator of the discredited "tank destroyer" doctrine that shaped American pre-WW2 orbats and is now being dusted off by MGS advocates in the States, was the unfortunately named Brig. Gen. Harry L. Twaddle.

Posted by BruceR at 02:47 PM

MORE RAID STORIES FROM BAGHDAD

It would be really... interesting to live like this.

In other news, surely Paul Bremer has better things to do than take pretty Iraqi girls for helicopter rides.

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 PM

October 15, 2003

ONE DOWN, ONE TO GO

Sure enough, there I go a couple days back explaining how there's two prominent Canadian Al Qaeda members/fellow travellers still at large, and then the next day, just to prove me wrong, one of them goes and gets himself killed.

Posted by BruceR at 12:42 AM

October 14, 2003

BACK OVER KANDAHAR

Prof. Scott Silliman of Duke, perhaps the foremost academic authority on Air Force justice, was on campus today, which gave me the chance to see the full FLIR footage and hear the full audiotapes of the Kandahar bombing of Canadian troops for the first time. I've commented on the transcript before, and I've seen outtakes on the news, but this was the full presentation, with everything synched up... voice, the HUDs of both pilots and the FLIRs. Long-time readers will know the transcript alone is damning enough, and you'll have to take my word on what I saw and heard, but there were a couple new things that were clear to me, and will be clear to the court martial jury for Maj. Harry Schmidt, which resumes this Thursday.

In particular:
* There is no evidence of ground fire by the Canadians through the entire time either FLIR is on them. While Schmidt was certainly attracted through the target initially by seeing tracers, he would aim his ordnance via FLIR. He thus is not telling the straight truth when he tells the AWACS plane he is currently under fire, and invokes self-defence. The fire he would have been responding to had to have been from some time before. In the video, you can see Schmidt take some time to bring the FLIR on target: what seems to have happened is he initially identified the target through NVGs as being on a road, and then homes in on a similar road in the FLIR and follows it into the group of individuals (the Canadians). But for some time after that, before he says he's under fire and launches his weapon, he has a clear, close-up view, and there is no visible surface-to-air fire.

* Schmidt's wingman Umbach demonstrably never sees the target at all. We already could guess this from his utterances (asking if the Canadians are on a bridge, and so on), but it's crystal clear from this footage. While he either automatically or manually slaves his FLIR to Schmidt's at one point before bomb impact, so he does manage to see the explosion, his FLIR, unlike Schmidt's, is never zoomed in close enough to identify any ground or target detail.

* Even with the stresses put on them by exertion, the voices of the pilots clearly hint at state of mind. Umbach's response to Schmidt after they're told "Disengage, friendlies, Kandahar," asking him if he was sure he saw a target, is quintessential stunned disbelief... to get personal for a second, he reminds me exactly how I'm sure I sounded on an officer course once when I realized a soldier of mine I thought was okay actually had heat stroke (he'd pull through okay, but I knew my final grade was going to go south.) Umbach, now out of the Air Force after "pleading down" to a reprimand, is curiously on the Air Force's (prosecution's) witness list in the coming trial, according to Silliman. It should be interesting to hear what he says about Schmidt now that he's off the hook himself.

*Schmidt's intent is more clear than ever in his voice, too. I can certainly forgive his what-can-only-be-called triumphant "Shack!" when he sees the explosion hit home. I'd be happy, too. But that way he calls self-defence is unmistakeable. When the AWACS chimes in with words of caution ("need details on SAFIRE"), he quite clearly CUTS THE GUY OFF in mid-sentence, with his "Okay! I've got some men on the road, etc..." speech... it's the voice you only hear when someone is had a rough day at work and is sick and tired of being second-guessed by little people. It's the intonation you can only use yourself if you've got utter contempt for the pencil-necked geek on the other end of the customer complaints line. Everyone knows the tone of voice I'm talking about, I'm sure. If there had been any doubt in my mind, that would have torn it. Maj. Harry Schmidt didn't feel any direct threat... he just vehemently disagreed that the "weapons-tight" rules of engagement they were operating under applied to him, at that particular place and time. I can't imagine a military jury seeing the tape as I saw it and not convicting. But we'll see.

UPDATE: Silliman pointed out one thing I hadn't noted before: Schmidt does not, until the last second before starting his bomb run, ever say to the AWACS controller that he's taking fire from the ground. All he does is say he has a "tally in the vicinity" that he'd like to attack. It's only when his request to attack the target is stalled does he say it's firing at the planes... by which point, looking through the FLIR, he could see quite clearly that it was not... at least, not anymore.

Posted by BruceR at 09:06 PM

October 12, 2003

CANADIAN TERRORIST ROUNDUP

Haroon Siddiqui has a readable piece in the Star today which at least gives us a starting point for any discussion of how serious the Canadian/terrorism nexus really should be taken.

Siddiqui's piece is biased, sure, but reasonably complete in its way. It would be foolish, to pretend that there are no Canadian Al Qaeda members or fellow travellers. There certainly are, and at least two remain at large today. None of the men listed in the piece are as clear-cut innocent as Bill Sampson was or the recently released Maher Arar seems to be. But the suspicion, and the reasonable course for Canadians to take in deciding whether to claim these men as our own, would seem to vary widely.

Siddiqui lists a lot of captured Canadians, held in various places in the world. It isn't explicit, but those he lists as held abroad basically break down into four groupings:

1) The Hezbollah engineer. Fauzi Ayub, a known Canadian member of Hezbollah, was arrested during an Israeli army sweep in Hebron in the summer of 2002, and is reportedly being secretly tried. Hard to lose any sleep over this one.

2) The Khadr family.. Two brothers, Omar and Abdul Rahman Khadr, of St. Catharines, Ontario, were captured in arms during the fall of Afghanistan. They are being held in Guantanamo. Their father, Ahmed Khadr al-Kanadi, is a terrorist financier affiliated with Al Qaeda, still at large, and wanted by the U.S. I am not wholly impressed with the Guantanamo situation, but if anyone deserves to be held there, it would likely be people like this. (The elder Khadr brother was held initially by the Northern Alliance, and reportedly tortured... it seems unlikely he would not have preferred a transfer to Cuba.)

3) The Jabarah family. A second pair of St. Catharines brothers were tangled up in Al Qaeda, too. Mohamed Mansour Jabarah, accused of plotting attacks for Al Qaeda in Singapore, disappeared into U.S. detention in May 2002... it's not quite clear where he is now (somewhere in the U.S., but not Guantanamo). His brother Abdul Rahman Jabarah, was reportedly involved in the recent Al Qaeda bombing in Saudi Arabia, and was apparently killed in a gunbattle there in July. If Jabarah ever got spat out by the U.S. security apparatus, extradition to face charges in Singapore would seem the most just outcome... not a return home to Canada.

4) The Ottawa "cell." This is the interesting one. Four Canadians were arrested in apparent connection with each other while travelling abroad, and held in Middle Eastern jails. This seems to be the same group that Sy Hersh said had plotted a bombing on the American embassy in Ottawa. Three were Syrians from Ottawa... Abdullah al-Malki, Arwad al-Bouchi -- and the unfortunate Maher Arar, of whom we've talked before. Whereas Arar does not seem to have been in on the conspiracy, the first two seem to have been connected somehow with another Canadian, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, on the FBI's watch list, who was also arrested and is now being held in Egypt. He in turn is the brother of Canadian Badr Abou-Elmaati, an Al Qaeda member on the FBI's most wanted list.

It's still pretty vague, but what seems to have happened here was Syrian-U.S. cooperation led to the rounding up of three of the four known conspirators. One of them then fingered the apparently innocent Arar, who went to the same mosque as the Ottawa pair... possibly to avoid torture, or to derail the investigators.

In this case, I have more sympathy with Siddiqui's point of view. The others were all Canadians, arrested abroad, in the midst of committing terrorist acts abroad. In this particular case, though, these were Canadians arrested abroad who were apparently plotting a terrorist act in Canada. Even though I suspect the legal remedies we have are woefully inadequate, I don't believe it's appropriate for Canadians to avoid dealing with our own problem children by acquiescing to their indefinite detention in some other country (basically now we're the ones who find their dual citizenship convenient, despite our anger that other countries ignored it in the Arar case). Ideally all three of these should be tried in Canada, and the fourth member, still at large, hunted down and tried too.

It's important to note that no one has yet made a convincing case that any of these groups was using Canada as a springboard for terrorist acts in the U.S. Surprisingly, the common border still seems to not be a terrorist entry point (probably, to be fair, because arrangements like the U.S.-Saudi "easy Visas" made using a third country to transit into the U.S. for Sept. 11 and other attacks superfluous). The only time that Canada seems to have been used as a way station was for the aborted 2000 attack on LAX, in which case the terrorist in question was actually *caught* at the border.

Siddiqui also mentions the 28 known Canadians and immigrants that have been held here in Canada. 23 of those are part of the much hyped immigration fraud ring, and are now in the process of being released or deported, never having been any kind of threat to anyone. The other five, not connected with the others, are being held here without trial on national security certificates. We'll talk about them another day.

Posted by BruceR at 10:15 AM

SHEET-METAL WORKERS, ON THE OTHER HAND, AREN'T GOING ANYWHERE

Won't somebody think of the philosophers?

Posted by BruceR at 02:45 AM

OFFERED WITHOUT COMMENT

The NSC and State Department staffers were stunned to learn, for example, that the Pentagon, with the approval of the vice president, had flown controversial Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi into southern Iraq after Bush had opposed giving Chalabi special treatment.
--Washington Post, today

Posted by BruceR at 02:16 AM

October 11, 2003

KRAUT GETS DODGY ON KAY

Speaking of playing a busted flush, Charles Krauthammer, in a much-lauded piece, continues to hype the Kay report.

The fact that Hussein may have decided to go from building up stocks to maintaining clandestine production facilities... does not mean that he got out of the WMD business. Otherwise, by that logic, one would have to say that until the very moment at which the plutonium from its 8,000 processed fuel rods is wedded to waiting nuclear devices, North Korea does not have a nuclear program.

That's a false analogy, as Krauthammer certainly knows.

As Krauthammer documents in the piece, Kay has proven -- to no one's surprise -- that Iraq retained some chemical and biological research capability, in defiance of UN resolutions.

But surely Krauthammer, a self-proclaimed med school veteran, knows the difference between research, already proven in Iraq's case, and "production." (Between science and engineering, in other words.) Kay found no evidence of a "clandestine production facility," just the potential and probable intent to build one in relatively short order (presumably after sanctions are lifted). So why would Krauthammer say something that was completely unsupported like that?

The analogy to Korea is particularly false. In Iraq's case, it hasn't been established at all that they had the biochem equivalent of plutonium in "processed fuel rods." Far from it. Kay has so far established they had the equivalent of plans for processing nuclear fuel. Nor did they have any of the various NBC equivalents of "waiting nuclear devices" (no missiles, bombs, or spray tanks, just plans to make them later.) Those would have to be built from scratch, too. If North Korea's nuclear program only had what Iraqi had on the chem/bio side (never mind nuclear)... in other words, plans for a fuel processing facility and blueprints for a nuclear device... would anyone see them as a serious threat yet?

The "just in time delivery" comparison is misleading, too. Kay's own report states quite clearly that the Iraqis themselves thought they were 2-6 months away from having a mustard gas weapon (probably spray-tank or artillery-delivered, useless against anything but defenceless Kurds or Shiites) and two years from a deliverable nerve agent, assuming the world looked the other way. It's reasonable to assume that biological agents or an effective radiological weapon, requiring about the same industrial investment, would have taken about as long as nerve gas, and nuclear weapons would have been about five years off (as the British believed them to be pre-war). Calling being two years away from any weapon that could be used by a terrorist or to threaten Israel or to deter an invasion as being "just in time" does not help anyone's understanding of the situation.

If people want to argue that Hussein, by virtue of being Hussein, was a threat to regional stability demanding prompt international action, then that would still be hard to argue with. But it's becoming increasingly clear that in meeting that threat the United States had all the time in the world (and hence didn't necessarily have to rush ahead despite poor post-war occupation planning, or lack of UNSC approval), at least in terms of anything Iraq was doing or capable of doing while they waited.

It's notable in this context that the American doctrine of pre-emptive war is extending even farther post war. For the upshot of now saying that President Bush never claimed Iraq was an "imminent threat" is the corollary that the U.S. now believes that ANY threat, so long as it is "real and growing," is justification for American military action against another country. This can only contribute in the long run to clandestine procurement of deterrent weapons by all those regimes that fear they may one day be seen as a "real and growing" threat before they ever really have the chance to do any threatening.

PS: I find Kay's claim that his team (which has asked for an additional $600 million to complete his work) has only physically inspected 10 per cent of Iraq's munitions so far to be rather amusing. Either Iraq had the capability to find these weapons in their own stocks, or it didn't. Presumably some records, or someone who knows what they said, still exist somewhere. Otherwise those alleged weapons would be as lost to the Iraqis as they are to the Americans. A weapon that you've lost and can't find is surely just as useless as one that was never built. In this case, a whole-stock inventory, sooner or later, is probably required... but for it to be a real capability, Kay will also have to establish that the mustard shell they find in the corner was also known to be there by someone who could have used it. One shouldn't automatically assume that such weapons, if ever found, resolve into some kind of real capability.

ADDENDUM: This is why I'm thinking that this weekend's PR offensive, which seems to be focussing on the argument that Kay verifies the U.S. fears about Iraqi capability, is misguided. The message being sent in arguing that Kay proves that Iraq was a threat by virtue of its *capabilities* alone, is in effect that any country that could put together its own weapon capable of hurting Americans within two years, is now a criminal state subject to invasion. This is an impossible standard of behaviour for other nations to meet... if only because ANY nation that has industrialized has that capability; ie it could probably put together a convincing biological or chemical weapon in two years. It would seem much wiser from an international relations perspective to refocus the issue the other way... that the Hussein regime was criminal by virtue of its *intentions* (as demonstrated by violation of UN resolutions, threats against Israel and the United States, treatment of minorities, etc.), and start discounting Kay and the "WMD" issue. The message then would be, "act like a rogue state, with bad weapons or without, and you'll be treated like one," which at least would be a standard the rest of the world would understand and could conceivably comply with.

Posted by BruceR at 11:48 AM

TEMPEST IN A PROCUREMENT TEAPOT

No offense, but the Star's big piece on American military procurement in Canada does the best job of playing a busted flush I've seen outside of Atlantic City poker tables.

I mean, what do you do when you assign your major investigative effort for the week to an interesting issue and find not much of anything? Play it up, of course.

The Star's investigation shows that the U.S. spends about $400 million US a year in Canada on documented defence buys. The Star "estimates" (guesses) that there's another $400 million in undocumented subcontracts within between multinationals and their Canadian subsidiaries, too. That's out of a total US budget of $165 billion... or about 0.5 per cent, assuming you accept their assumptions. Although there's no figures to back them up, Canadian exporters are quoted saying that they doubt that number's going to change much at all because of the Iraq war, because business is business.

Erm, that's about it. For this we get the front page headline, "Canada didn't go to war, but our businesses did?" Come on. Getting 0.5 per cent of the U.S. defence procurement pie isn't particularly impressive, given the common border, extensive industrial integration, etc. etc. Would anyone on either side of the border really be deeply alarmed if it ever doubled to a whole 1 per cent?

Posted by BruceR at 10:17 AM

October 09, 2003

OKAY, A CHALLENGE FOR YOU

Two things to add on Condoleeza Rice's ludicrous remarks on the Kay Report that Marshall hasn't said. Marshall doesn't even touch on the other part of Rice's remarks re Kay in Chicago yesterday, where she says, Kay "is finding proof that Iraq never disarmed." Um, well, let's see, he had weapons once, he apparently doesn't have them now (Kay's only found evidence of R&D, no extant weapons)... that's pretty much the definition of "having disarmed," as far as I can tell. Kay IS finding great evidence that Iraq had disarmed... maybe she just got her words mixed up.

But here's a challenge for you. Over and over again now, we've heard that Iraq pretended to have "weapons of mass destruction" after 1998. War advocates are actually wondering now why, if Iraq had no weapons, it didn't just come clean and avoid war. Now, that's not how I remember it... I'm pretty sure I remember Iraq strenuously insisting it HAD disarmed, and that it opposed further inspections because, ostensibly they were thus both pointless and an infringement on sovereignty and their national security. (Hence all those protests about violating the "Presidential Palaces" by inspectors and so on.) Now, I wasn't born yesterday... I fully suspected that was just an excuse to get the inspectors out so weapons R&D could resume, just like everybody else (I still do). And I agree, lots of people, including myself, thought the Iraqis were lying at the time, and at least had a little mustard gas stashed somewhere. But... how EXACTLY did the Iraqis themselves pretend to HAVE the weapons it's now clear they didn't? I'm sure there is some statement the pro-war lobby is thinking of here, but I can't remember what it would be.

In other words, at what point, since 1998, did the Iraqis themselves, by their actions or words, deliberately contradict their official story that they had no banned weapons anymore? Not, mind you, did they act like jerks, or obstruct the UN in silly ways, or say something ambiguous on a satellite phone intercept. If you needed to prove that Iraq was actively contributing to the world's fuzziness on the weapons question, what would your evidence be? Cause I can't find anything yet in the old stories that contradicts them saying, "we got rid of the weapons, we have no weapons anymore, please lift the sanctions now."

It would be kind of odd if the Iraqis were the only ones in this entire scenario who should have been trusted at their word.

Posted by BruceR at 05:46 PM

STEYN FISKED

Ted Barlow is absolutely right -- Mark Steyn's piece on the Plame Affair in the Spectator is pathetically bad, easily one of his worst. In its sloppiness of fact, in its obsession with cheap rhetoric and irrelevancy, it's as bad as anything Robert Fisk or Ted Rall ever wrote. It's not even hip... Steyn got the rep he did largely because he was a research-a-holic, who could dig up little bits of facts to support his arguments from the oddest places before they hit the mainstream, or after they were long forgotten. It's why he took to blogs and vice versa. Yet now he's pulling out the "Plame must have been recruited when she was 10" joke, fully discussed and put aside by just about everybody else over a week ago. There's absolutely nothing new here. Jeffrey Simpson could have written it.

Instapundit's review? "Read the whole thing." Typical. Even the better pro-war blogs are rapidly becoming what they always claimed they hated... a refuge for sloppy thought and excessive partisanism. This is just one more step on the stairs down.

Posted by BruceR at 05:02 PM

October 08, 2003

IRAQ TROOP WATCH: TURKS ARE COMING

Despite the unanimous condemnation of the Iraqi Governing Council (an organization that apparently has yet to be trusted with the U.S. State Department fax number), a Turkish division seems destined for Iraq.

Most people seem reasonably confident for some reason that the Turks will be sent to the Sunni Triangle, where their presence would not be seen as the invitation to open revolt putting them in Kurdistan would be. The only problems are that a) the Turks don't want to be in the south, they want to be in Kurdistan, and b) the unit that will sorely need them to replace them come February, the 101st Airborne, is currently the garrison of Kurdistan.

It should be noted that the apparent Turkish demands for their cooperation this time (a troop presence in Kurdistan, and independence of operations from U.S. civil and possibly even military authority) are exactly the demands the U.S. balked at in trying to win their Parliament over prior to the war.

Posted by BruceR at 05:54 PM

WELL, THAT SETTLES THAT, THEN

Charles Johnson puts his cards clearly on the table. It's not just the LGF commenters anymore:

"No Palestinian state. Not now, not ever. They donít deserve it, they donít even want it."

The conversion of LGF to what its detractors always said it was is now complete, it seems. Pity: it was a good site, once.

Posted by BruceR at 01:29 AM

October 07, 2003

TWO THINGS THAT WILL ALWAYS CHEER ME UP AT WORK

1) The crisp feel of a brand new computer mouse;
2) "Nessun Dorma" in the headphones. "Vincero! Vincero!"

Erm, that's it.

Posted by BruceR at 04:45 PM

HEKMATYAR BLAMED FOR FATAL ATTACK ON CANADIANS

Well, now it's official... it was the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that laid antitank mines that killed two Canadians last week.

We've talked in the past about Hekmatyar, and his leading Canadian defender here, and here. We can now look forward to Wormtongue Margolis' piece saying his old friend was falsely accused, no doubt.

Posted by BruceR at 09:52 AM

OTHER SHOE DROPS IN NIGER

Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds are dissembling on the whole Niger-Africa thing, again. (So's Clifford May, but I expect it of him.)

The story, so far: The January, 2003 State of the Union refers to British intelligence claims that the Iraqi government is seeking uranium "in Africa." The only publicly known evidence that could support that is documents implicating the country of Niger, that would be discredited publicly by the IAEA by March, and disbelieved by the CIA long before that. (Partly due to the investigative efforts of one Joe Wilson.) The only reason Bush's statement is even only technically true when it's made is because of an ace-in-the-hole that the British are presumed to have that they haven't made public yet. Some even suggest that, since Niger so clearly isn't appearing plausible any more, that maybe the British secret evidence relates to Iraqi inquiries in a different country altogether.

Unfortunately the continued survival of that belief is no longer possible now. The British Intelligence and Security Committee(p. 28) listed all the evidence available to the British, in September 2002, AFTER the doubts had been raised by the CIA but BEFORE all the facts of the forged documents were known, to determine whether the British belief was still "reasonable" at that time. (No surprise, they concluded it was, because the documents were not then firmly identified as forgeries.) We now know that ALL the evidence relating to Iraqi uranium procurement that the British had had to do with Niger, and Niger alone. All of it. And in total, it amounted to:

*those forged documents; and
*a 1999 trip by Iraqi diplomat Wissam Al-Zahawie to Niger.

Erm, that's it: Al-Zahawie's trip was the big unknown, up until this month. We all wondered what else the British had, and now we know. And now that Al-Zahawie has said in Time that his trip had nothing to do with uranium (he has been saying so in the British press for months, but this is the first time I've seen it in North America), the total amount of evidence for Iraqi nuclear purchasing ambitions in Africa falls to exactly zero. I'll say it again: with all the evidence in our possession, we can say conclusively now that ALL the British evidence about Iraqi activity in Africa had to do with Niger. All of it. And once the forged documents are left out, all you've got is Al-Zahawie's trip.* That's the entire body of evidence that the famous "16 words" was based on. The British based their September, 2002 dossier on the forged documents the Americans had but no longer trusted, plus this additional trip they knew about, and the Americans in turn based their speech on their dossier. Garbage in, garbage out.

So, on Oct. 1, Time runs its interview with Al-Zahawie, which should by rights have put the final nail in the "Iraqi activity in Africa" claims. How do Sullivan and Reynolds comment?

Sullivan, Oct. 6: "The famous sixteen words are: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Not Niger - Africa, a critical distinction."

Sullivan again, later the same day: "He said Africa. There's an important difference. The writers of this story are excellent journalists. If they cannot get this right, what hope for the rest of the crew? The truth is: they have internalized this stuff. They don't even see their own biases any more."

And again: "Untrue: the claim was about Africa, not Niger, for the umpteenth frigging time. And, of course, the claim was not insupportable. It was, in fact, supported by British intelligence agencies, who still stand by their work."

It's like he's not even reading the news stories any more. Meanwhile, Instapundit, writing in support the same day, adds: "Niger is only part of Africa, which is, like, an entire continent. What this means is that 'Niger' is not, in fact, a synonym for 'Africa.'"

So, let me see if I get the argument straight. The President was still technically correct when he said that British intelligence had said Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa, because he didn't know that all the secret British intelligence he'd heard about also related to Niger as well, the same country that the CIA was telling him was "clean." So if he'd known the British only had that single additional signal log in their back pocket relating to a now-apparently innocuous diplomatic visit to Niger, in addition to all the other stuff about Niger the CIA had already discredited for him, he might well have dropped that sentence? Is that what's left of this argument now?

*UPDATE: I said Hutton inquiry above at first, where I meant the Intelligence and Security committee. Post corrected. I also neglected to mention that ISC report also cites an additional "intelligence source," one not possessing any additional documentary evidence, as approaching British officials in 2002 to corroborate the Niger allegations, and that intelligence services continue to stand behind the dossier's Iraq-Niger claims, apparently now based solely on this last remaining source.

Posted by BruceR at 01:29 AM

October 06, 2003

OKAY, THEN, LET'S TALK BOTOX

A couple things to add to TM's post below, related to BTx, a vial of which was found by David Kay's team in Iraq, having apparently sat in a fridge for 10 years.

The bio-side of the Iraqi deterrent that Hussein held in check during the 1991 Desert Storm war is actually pretty precisely known: 157 400-lb freefall bombs, and, more ominously, 25 Scud warheads, which formed the country's only real "strategic" deterrent. (Contrary to popular belief, Iraq's ample chemical capacity wasn't Scud-mounted, having been deployed instead in the form of still more aircraft bombs, aircraft spray tanks, and artillery rockets). 100 of those bombs and 13 of the warheads carried BTx, amounting to 10-11kL of toxin in suspension. BTx was thus the active agent in over half of Iraq's strategic weaponry at the time. Barring some kind of suicidal air strike, those 25 missiles formed the only real aspect of Iraq's military might that could potentially have severely punished Tel Aviv, or Riyadh, in 1991.

All those weapons were destroyed by the UN. The open question on the BTx front was what had happened to an additional 8-9kL that the Iraqis were suspected of making in the 1980s, that UN teams were unable to fully account for. It was generally suspected there were additional aerial bombs that hadn't been found, but it was almost certain that no additional Scud missile capability existed, as there was a high level of confidence that all the longer-range missile frames were accounted for. (There was still some confusion about whether a few of the smaller (less than 300 km-range) original Scuds might have survived, though). Apparently Kay has found only the one neglected vial so far, indicating that the remainder either never existed, or were long ago destroyed or degraded.

It's an open question whether any of the BTx munitions could have been actually used in 1991, with most of the Iraqi airforce in wreckage or in Iran, and the number of usable Scuds rapidly dropping. There are also real questions about the effectiveness of that missile deterrent force if it had been used... several of the other munitions carried an almost certainly useless payload of aflatoxin (a carcinogen, but not immediately lethal), and the whole program had really only kicked into high gear in August, 1990, and had never really been tested in any real sense.

Botulinum toxin as a weapon would have similar effects to a very strong nerve gas. The effects it produces are fatal, but not communicable... basically you could only deny an area for 1-3 days, before the toxin degraded, and also immediately contaminate anyone within the aerosol cloud of the exploded weapon, certainly many of them fatally... but it's thus not going to cause some runaway catastrophe, like smallpox could, or deny an area for a sustained period, a la anthrax. The only known attempts to use it to deliberately kill outside a laboratory, by the Japanese Aum cult, all failed, however. Botulinum dispersed by aerosol sprayer is in theory more deadly per volume than an equivalent amount of VX. Dispersal by explosion, on the other hand, as one would have to do with a bomb or missile, is somewhat more sketchy, and there's some question whether nerve gas wouldn't be at least as effective a payload in those conditions (one significant difference is that a nerve agent like VX can be absorbed through the skin, while botulinum, despite being far more lethal, would have to be ingested or inhaled). There really is no way of knowing how effective Iraq's botulinum-based deterrent force would have been if it had been used, but one would think the smaller number of anthrax-loaded warheads could have caused more fatalities. (Although those had their own problems.)

Final analysis: There seems little doubt that the "unaccounted for" BTx stockpiles UNSCOM was worried about, those dating from the late 1980s, have largely vanished (the chaos of two wars, against Iran and the 1991 war, will do that to you). The fact that the botulinum reference strain was put on ice in 1993, and never pulled back out after the first UN inspectors left, for instance, is more evidence of Iraqi compliance, or at least, their focus on some other, more profitable area than BTx, rather than any "smoking gun." The question of whether BTx could have been rapidly produced, and then shipped to terrorists, seems largely hypothetical... reference strains are already widely available in the West, too, and given the likelihood of degradation in transit, any significant amount of BTx used by terrorists would more probably have to be produced in the country of its use.

A vial of botulinum could certainly be used effectively to kill small numbers of people by a terrorist using the bacteria to contaminate a food supply somehow. But "weaponized" use of the toxin would require the indigenous ability to produce tens if not hundreds of litres, and a dispersal method that ideally doesn't involve an explosion (a crop sprayer, perhaps). Doable? Yes. But the presence of one vial in one 10 year-old fridge doesn't make it any more likely than it already was. Just IMHO, though.

NB: IANAB. (I am not a biochemist). I'm happy to be corrected on any facts above that are out of my ken.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I'm as surprised as anyone at how little the Kay group is finding. Now, BTx or nerve agent... these have to be produced pretty close to the time of use and they don't store well at all... I never expected anyone would find them, or that there'd be any in existence when the Americans invaded, as the old stuff would have long ago decayed, and the kinds of industrial processes required to start restocking them would prove hard to hide from any weapons control regime that could scrutize imports.

Mustard agents and anthrax spores, on the other hand, both last practically forever... those you COULD have buried in the sand for decades, and still conceivably still dig up and use now. I therefore thought it probable last spring there'd be at least a couple attempts to use mustard on American troops, probably using artillery, and, in what was probably my worst-case scenario, that there might also be a terrorist-delivered anthrax attack after the war began, probably in Israel, with spores smuggled from Iraq to Palestinian groups, perhaps (probably not Al Qaeda). As I said at the time, though, an anthrax attack elsewhere wouldn't slow down the 3rd Infantry Division one bit, so it would not be of immediate military concern even if the Iraqis did pull it off. So that really just left leftover Iran-Iraq War mustard shells as by far the most realistic threat the American soldiers faced, and I thought the same weapons would also be around to serve as easy evidence to to help justify American actions post facto, even if they weren't fired off in time. So, if Kay continues to find what amounts to no current stocks of anything at all, I'm as wrong about this one as everyone else. (I should add, however, that I'm also on record saying that chem weapons like the now apparently-hypothetical Iraqi mustard agent really don't qualify as "weapons of mass destruction" in any reasonable sense of the phrase.)

FINAL NOTE: You'll no doubt read somewhere that in 1991 Iraq had enough BTx to kill the world three times over. That's WMD propaganda... what's known is that Iraq had produced 10-20 kL of liquid BTx suspension... the percentage of active toxin in that mixture has not been made public. It would take that much BTx at 100% purity to kill the world three times. So the actual theoretical number of deaths, even if everyone in the world lined up to take their minimum fatal dosage, is probably considerably less than that.

Posted by BruceR at 08:33 PM

NEWS FROM KABUL: LATEST FROM "D"

I've been backlogging entries from our friend D. in Afghanistan. Haven't seen anything from him since the recent fatalities, but here's the stuff he was writing in September.

(PS: You can read the previous entries of D's Kabul diary here, here, and here. D's typically Canadian response to the last rocket attack is here.)

Sept. 13:

Well, things here are in fine shape, and we are all enjoying the still warm weather of Kabul. Yes, it continues to be over 90 degrees during the day! At night it is sleeping bag weather, so the combination is absolutely perfect for hot weather lovers like me. The winds have settled down as well, and so the dust is not stirred up as much. What a relief.

Big news - we have electricity in our tents as of this afternoon!!!!!!! All of the lap tops came flying out, and the guys sleeping in the day (we go 24 / 7 in some places here) will be able to plug in fans and actually sleep in a now not-so-hot tent.

The food continues to be excellent, and tonight we had fabulous shepherds pie, made with real shepherds. Remember that attack we had the other night that blew me off my feet . . . ?

At 10:00 tonight I am going up to the Spanish Mess (was invited by my Spanish friends) for a party - not a late one though, since we all have to report at 0700 tomorrow for the Terry Fox run around the entire compound. The circumference is a few KM, so we will do it twice, and we will enjoy it. So says the fuhrer. Speaking of enjoyment I was in the German section of the camp the other night for a fabulous good bye party for a really great lieutenant colonel who is being posted back to Germany. We will all miss him a lot. I was out a few times with him on "a job", and he is a real card. His replacement is also a first class guy, who swears I will be fluent in German in a few months. OK, we'll see!!!!

So I must run now, as I have a ton of things to do. We work 7 days a week here, at all hours of the day. This isn't exactly a 9 to 5 thing. The naughties here do not call it quits a supper, and neither do we.


Sept. 20:

Operational Security: This is very important!!!! In the interests the security of all of us over here, and yours as well, I am taking the same security measures as everyone else on this mission. Remember that there are still many, many Al-Queda and Taliban operating here in Afghanistan, and that they are always there, sometimes as close as the camp gate, where some locals are taking pictures of our patrols and installations, trying to find out our routines, weak points and get whatever targeting information they can, even from our garbage. This is not paranoia, it is the reality, and we have had several instances of local workers who are helping with the construction of the camp who have actually been caught drawing diagrams of the layout, et cetera, so this is for real! (They are immediately fired and sent to the embassy so they can immigrate to Canada and fund raise for creeps like Justin Trudeau - OK I could not resist). But seriously, they are a problem. You may notice certain "missing pieces" in a story, or a few days will go by when I will simply say - "didn't do much this week". Other times, I will sound like a bad 14 year old when you ask me what I have been up to. You all know the drill. "Where have you been? Nowhere. Who were you with? Nobody. Where are you going and when are you coming back? Don't know. Your housemaster called today, and the headmaster says you need to be caned. So what????" OK, you get the point. Remember, I can't tell you everything! This is for the protection of everyone here, and for your protection too.

If you send mail, the first thing we do is to tear off the return address part of the envelope and shred it. We also will destroy any letters that will indicate your location or full name in the letter, or where you work, after we have read them. Some of the Germans here had incidents where their families were threatened at home because the discarded envelopes or letters fell into the wrong hands and terrorists now have the names and addresses of the soldiers' families. I am not going to let any of you have the same problem. So that you know, the mail you send to me passes ONLY through Canada Post and then Canadian military hands, from the transport plane by armoured personnel carrier to our camp. All letters that you send to me will without exception be destroyed after I read them. In the case of email, try to leave your street address off the bottom if it is there. Do not become frightened by this - just use common sense and when you email me, or write to me, refer to people by their first name only. You need only to be careful. I carry a loaded 9mm pistol and an automatic rifle with LOTS of ammunition every day and if there is a threat to me I have the ability address a situation and effect immediate pest control measures - you do not!

OUR HOME
Picture bombed out ruins with a battle damaged factory complex (along the lines of old Laird Drive in Leaside, Toronto) in the middle of it all. Our camp is part of a just such a former industrial complex, which has an interesting combination of graffiti in the little hidden places that have not yet been painted, blasted by the omnipresent sand storms or simply baked off by the sun. Slogans from the Taliban and Mujahadin overlap with the Soviet / Marxist crap - you know the stuff. "The workers will be free when the proletariat and the military are one - comrades, produce more!" (loose translation by one of my Bulgarian comrades). Place this reverie in a very wide valley surrounded by incredibly rugged beautiful mountains which stand guard over the most vile rat and viper infested dust bowl on the planet and you have my home in mind!

As an annex to the main camp, much of it already built up by the Germans, the Canadian theatre activation team began building the Canadian extension in the Spring. The result is that we now have the grand and glorious Camp Warehouse, which was named for the factory complex it calls home. Surrounded by Hesco Bastion (big wire mesh drums filled with Hessian cloth and sand) which provide some protection against mortars, bombs, and small arms fire, and covered liberally with rolls of razor wire, this is our home. In the middle is a beautifully organized sea of canvas - some modular tents and some winter havens. These are large arched roof tents that stand 8 feet tall and have enough room for several cots and a few barracks boxes per troop. We have wiring in them, recently connected, so our individual lights and fans now work. The mess tent and recreation tent are wired and have light, but no protection against incoming rockets and mortars! The Mess tent (not the eating mess but the recreation mess) has three areas, including a bar area, a place where we watch satellite television, and a huge flat screen TV which has a great feature film every night. We are allowed two beers per day and are able to have a choice of Heineken, Blue, or Kokanee. Cost is 1.00 US Dollar per can. We also have pop for 50 cents. Haircuts are free, and Pringles are 2.00 US, except the last shipment that was crushed by an ammo crate on the Hercules flight and were on sale for 1.00.

When I phone or email, I do so from a sea container next to the mess tent. It holds 6 telephones on one wall and four internet stalls on the other. There is an air conditioner at the end so that the equipment does not break down, making this a very popular place to be in the middle of the day. As with everything else, all power is provided by several generators which grind on 24 hours per day. God bless 'em!

WEATHER
You need to see the sand storms to believe them, as they roll in like an ominous wall of brown and absolutely envelope everything in their path. Picture a winter whiteout in brown that hurts the skin and blasts the paint off buildings and vehicles. Some of it is very fine, and in fact has the consistency of talcum powder, or moon dust. A few weeks ago, we were driving through one section of the camp to another, and the sand (talcum) was wafting down the side windows in exactly the same way that water sheets down in a car wash. It was sort of a series of wavey lines of brown. Could it be a dehydrated form of Guinness Stout???? NO IT IS NOT!!!!! In fact, the analysis done by the medical folks indicates that it is 30% human waste, not surprising since there are no underground sewers in this city of 4,000,000 people. Waste is simply dumped onto the street where it dries and turns into the omnipresent dust. The farmers also use it on their fields for fertilizer, so there you have it! People here are in fact full of ...

During the day, it is about 95 degrees and at night it goes down to about 45 or 50. For me this is the perfect combination as we have nice cool nights and lots of opportunity to enjoy the sun. Especially enjoyable is the incipient heat prostration that you get from moving around in armoured vehicles while wearing a 28 pound armoured vest, magazines full of bullets, a nice heavy helmet, weapons et cetera.

FOOD and DRINK
As many of you know, this is an important element of life for anyone, but especially for a completely addicted St. Lawrence Market fan such as me! Great news - the cooks here are fantastic. They slave 24 hours a day in the oppressive heat of a tent, which is constantly flapping in high winds, and even during sandstorms produce a meal for the several hundred of us which is an amazing feat. We have the best food anywhere! full of international compounds. It is not unusual to see German, Romanian, Dutch and Swedish soldiers and officers migrating over to our kitchen tents for the odd meal. They perform roles as part of the camp security with the rest of the Canadian troops, so they are always trying to come to our little piece of heaven to pull security duty and eat with us.

We are short on staff in the kitchen as we sent some of them to our other camp (Camp Julien) on the other side of town, because the Canadian civilians there quit. We were so short that the cooks were in a frenzy, so I volunteered to help serve meals once a week. You should have seen some of the faces on the troops when they pulled up to the meal line and I was serving them spaghetti! I had a blast!! The guys in the kitchen are mostly Newfies, and I had a very entertaining hour and a half with them today - even learned a few new "songs". Sorry, for cooks and cook wannabes only! I had so much fun, some of the other officers are now going to volunteer to have the same experience. Let's see if they will let me try my hand at making eggs for breakfast. One of my great friends in Toronto has an apron that says "Don't Make Me Poison Your Food". Well, one of my green combat t-shirts says that now too! As you may have heard, Canadian and American troops were not allowed to drink alcohol. The other 29 countries here take the view that if they trust their troops who are old enough to vote, carry weapons and lots of ammunition on duty in the "Wild West" (here) and make life and death decisions, they are most likely able to handle a drink or two at the end of the day. Not so with the Yanks and us! If we are caught having liquor or go over the two beer per 24 hour limit, it is an immediate trip home, and probably a summary trial. So, I was hoping that General Leslie would come through my line when I was serving spaghetti. I was going to say, "May I suggest a nice bottle of Chianti with that?" After all, what is he going to do, make me [join the army]? He did not show. Until we are allowed to, which may be never, we will have to be satisfied with beer and not be allowed to drink wine or spirits.

THE NEWSPAPER STORIES
They certainly were stories. A lot of us read them with some level of amusement, and from time to time we have either rolled our eyes or just shaken our heads, wondering what the reporters were talking about. Boy, do they ever dress things up. They also miss the big picture, and apart from interviewing some great guys in the lower ranks also latched onto some to the weird senior people who for their own reasons (not the least of which was obvious self aggrandisement) who gave them a "load" every once in a while. I have learned a lot about reporters over the past few years, including their propensity for a "good story" (hey, even Pulitzer prize winners are being found out now!) but I had no idea they could be so naÔve. A couple of the sources used once or twice should have appeared to even the goofiest reporter as class one Ontario grade A, Olympic level story-stretchers.

Once or twice when we were gathered around the internet pages reading the various articles, we roared out loud. Never again will I read reports on absolutely anything from at least one of the regular reporters without snickering to myself. Yes, it is dangerous, and we are doing a lot to help people here in terms of security and keeping an eye on events, then reacting as best we can. It is also true that people shoot at us - as recently as last night in fact, but the drama that was put into a lot of the articles was, well, crap.

Equally entertaining was the CBC who actually stated in a story that ISAF had not been attacked in 6 months! Wow, so the Norwegians who were shot, the Germans who were blown up, and the Dutch who were wounded, along with the dozens of rocket attacks, bomb detonations at ambushes against troops were all actually imagined. But then, what do you expect from the CBC? If it has nothing to do with Trudeau's vile offspring or some other equally mundane topic, it isn't worth the research. No doubt they will soon produce a series on why we should all feel sorry for the Taliban - just victims of those mean old American oil companies and McDonalds!


Sept. 30:

I thought that I might just give you a further description on life here before I delve into specific events - some of which you will no doubt find amusing! First, a few notes on Kabul itself. We are at an altitude of 6,000 feet here in Kabul, and should therefore be the beneficiaries of "clean mountain air". Dream on. You have read about the dust here, including the analysis on the delicious contents thereof done by the medical folks, but the other thing about the air here is that it has a high level of pollution, and were it not for the winds, I have no doubt this would rival Mexico City or Los Angeles for filth. This city of 3.5 million people does however have many interesting qualities and I find the whole place nothing less than fascinating, to the point where I really enjoy being among the sights, sounds, and even smells. Some parts of the city on the outskirts remind me of rural Peru in the "bad old days." The mud and mud-brick composite walls and the colour of the sand and surrounding hills are very reminiscent of the areas around Lima, especially to the South. So, I feel like a teenager again! In addition, there are literally hundreds of thousands of street vendors, trucks form the 1950s, and lots and lots of adorable donkeys with beautiful woollen and leather bridles and ornaments, all of whom I would love to take home and put on a retirement farm so they could enjoy a well-earned rest instead of slaving away in the heat and pollution. The other night, I was at the private home of an NGO director and I could have sworn I was in Lima, again... There were lots of nice upper middle class houses, many with guards, and all with walls lining the quiet sidewalks, branches hanging over the parapets to provide shade for the passers by. Enclosed courtyards, and the subtle smells of semi-tropical vegetation mingled with the underlying "big, old world, been there for centuries" smell. Our camp is about a 25 minute drive from there on the Jalalabad road, a sort of Asian version of old Highway 2 that wanders out of Toronto and leads to quieter towns.

Other interesting sights include little boys flying kites, which used to be against the law under the Taliban and was worth a beating followed by three to five months in jail. The kites are usually the classic shape of a kite but are considerably smaller and are often made from clear plastic. One day last week I was outside a police station with two police, and saw three kites in the air at once, a scene that would have resulted in an overcrowded prison just two years ago. Both the little criminals flying the kites and the depraved individuals enjoying the sight of them dancing in the breeze would have been beaten and put into the local crowbar hotel. People are also no longer risking their lives for such morally bankrupt acts as listening to the radio, having coloured lights in front of the store, or the super evil act of listening to music. To really push the limit, some of the little children are now playing with toys and actually laughing. The Taliban remnants know how to deal with these diabolical little criminals, but we are there to prevent that, and that message has clearly hit home with child and adult alike. One of the interpreters I was working with last week is a former doctor, who was jailed for 6 months three years ago because his beard was not as long as a fist-full, and was later turned in for playing with brightly coloured toys in the back yard with his two year old.

Why the vicious reaction by the Taliban to these seemingly innocent but in reality deeply subversive activities you may ask? All of the previously mentioned acts were seen to be signs that the person was leaving themselves open to influence by the devil. In other words, amusing one's self is the equivalent of having a super sťance on Halloween followed by high occult ceremonies, complete with human sacrifice. If you want to torture a Taliban follower, force them to watch you standing clean shaven in a traffic circle while you are wearing a skimpy bathing suit and flying a kite with one hand and operating an 8 track cassette player with the other. Eight track???? Oh, now that is evil!!!! Make the music a two-hour joint concert by Wayne Newton and Mel Torme. What else is evil? So much, so let's just stick to plain rude. For example it is rude here to show up at a wedding with an AK-47 and not fire it off on full auto at the reception. If you're a real pig, you use soap when you wash your hands, especially if you do this before handling food. Perhaps the epitome of rude gestures is signalling before you change lanes. And if you obey a traffic policeman, you are beneath contempt.

Before I go any further, here is an amusing story. The little children have as their mantra the greeting "How are you?" whenever they see an ISAF soldier. They pronounce it as "Haryoo", and of course have no idea what it means since they repeat it over and over. They just think it is a common greeting. This is of course followed immediately by "Mistah . . . . penz! " They all want pens. The joke is that Haryoo is a word in Finnish that means a long sloping hill. Right Ray? It is also a last name in Finland, and by coincidence is the last name of one of the Finnish Lieutenants here, who speaks very little English. Nobody told him about this, so the first time he went into the countryside, he wondered why hundreds of children in several villages had already heard about him, and swarmed his jeep yelling his name as only loyal subjects would do! What a bizarre mystery for him!

On an equally amusing note, our Italian colleagues have allegedly taken it on to teach some of the local kiddies nice little gestures and phrases to say to some of the British troops, but we'll stop today's language lesson there. I love the Italian sense of humour, and have made a few friends over in their camp. They are really good engineers and are doing excellent work in the heart of Kabul with bridges and bombed out roads. We have business to discuss every day. Besides, they serve fabulous pasta at every lunch. So, if I need to discuss with them, say between 1100 and 1400 hrs and the conversation can't take place on the phone and must go to their compound, it's on with the flak jacket and combat vest, load up the pistol and load up on the pasta! I really must do more work with them...

This past ten days has been extremely busy for me and I have been in the field with both the Finnish and Norwegian contingents. The days have been long and hard with missions only taking place for me during the day and little or no evening activity. We were operating mostly in the Northern area, outside of the KMNB AOR (Kabul Multi-National Brigade Area Of Responsibility) where the Taliban still have a lot of influence only a few kilometres away, and remind you of that in their own inimitable fashion. One of the sure signs that you may be about to have a problem is when all of a sudden the streets are empty and the friendly waves and smiles from the adults and gleeful thumbs up gestures from the children are conspicuously absent. For the most part, that part of the country is fine, but there are places where if you do not watch yourself, you may have outnumbered the hiding Taliban, but you may be in touching distance of a minefield laid either by the Soviets, the Mujahadin, or the Taliban. There are no maps or records of where the mines were laid of course. The Halo Trust, which is an NGO - one of the 500 or so non-governmental organizations in Kabul - does a lot of the mine and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) clearances along with Military Engineers from ISAF (International Security Assistance Force - that's all of us from 31 countries). Signs painted on buildings seen while driving through the countryside reveals the results of their dangerous work. It is all too common to see "HT BAC 315" - Halo Trust Battle Area Clearance number 315 as an example). This means that the area you are about to enter will not be your last due to mines or booby traps. Maybe and hopefully that is. No method of mine detection is perfect, and when the Soviets laid mines by air-drop, they made many of them out of plastic to prevent detection by metal detectors, and used attractive colours,which enticed children to pick them up and play with them until they went off. Many times all you will see in a dry river bed or on the edge of a field is red paint on the rocks, indicating a live minefield that can not be cleared,or that is constantly changing with Spring run-offs and irregular water flows. One of these was about three or four feet from the edge of the road we drove down every day for a distance of several hundred meters, so a tire blow out on these very rough cart paths could easily mean a one way trip into an anti-tank mine. If you blow out your tire on Highway eleven on the way to the cottage, you are 5 minutes late, but if we blow a tire out, we are 50 years early going to our wake! Thank you ladies and gentlemen in the quality control department at Michelin, I am your loyal fan!

I had the pleasure of being with Norwegians most of the time and on one occasion we visited a fairly large school that was built thanks to money given by Norwegian and Finnish donors. The trip took us up to a valley where we inspected the work, which should be completed in about two weeks. The school was a beautiful little building, shaped like a U with a nice little courtyard in the middle, the entire area surrounded by very majestic mountains and long, meandering trails sneaking through the passes of the surrounding peaks. It was a small version of Banff, but without snow. That of course will change in about 6 weeks. Most of the area is surrounded by Soviet mines, and we needed to be careful on the drive in. The children came out to greet us, delivering their usual ecstatic greeting. "Hello!!! How are you?!?!?. They are such beautiful children, and especially the little girls who are absolutely and completely adorable. It is to me inconceivable that they can be so joyful given the miserable lives their families have all experienced over the last thirty years and the ruins they now live in. They are currently learning in tents donated by UNICEF (the most bureaucrat-ridden, self serving and inefficient charity in the history of the world - see the report form the UN Auditor General three years ago), and of course the ruins of their former school. The Soviets blew it up when the principal refused to teach Marxist doctrine. As for the principal, he was shot in front of the villagers to teach them a lesson about complying with the loving hand of Soviet socialism. I hope some of the naÔve little "all problems in the world stem from mean capitalist white men" pin-heads in second year political science read those last two sentences and stop to think the next time they get sucked in by that crap in the "Workers' Daily" that the Marxists hand out on campus.

On one of the days when I was out, we went to visit with a Malik and his council. There were 24 of us in all for lunch including our interpreter, and we all were the guests of the Malik, sitting cross-legged on the floor as is the custom. "Eat with your fingers, not with a fork" is the rule here, just as is sharing food from a common dish. We had a long discussion with the Malik, the Governor of the province, a senior judge, the local police chief and several very high ranking officials. The discussion was very fruitful, and we accomplished much. We were of course dressed in our combat uniforms although we left our rifles in the jeep with one of our troops and took off our pistols and combat vests once in the house. Everyone else was in customary tribal dress, the Pashtuns especially standing out with their long tailed turbans. After the meeting was over, the luncheon began. It was in fact delicious. But . . . The bare footed servants (actually everybody was barefooted except for us - sit and sleep with your boots on so that you can die in your bed) arrived with the floor cloth. This was actually two vinyl and cloth runners that extended the length and width of the room. The food was efficiently delivered, and included huge platters of steamed rice with chicken buried inside, roasted egg plant and garlic, and a wonderful variety of vegetables. There were other treats that were delicious, but I will not describe them here since I am not sure how you will react. All of our hands were washed by a little boy passing a basin around, pouring water over our hands into the bowl, and then letting us dry off with a yellow towel. Did I say yellow? I'm sorry, I meant to say gray. I was about number twelve, and yes, the colour transformation was well underway at that point! So . . . . everything was delivered by the bare-footed fellas, scurrying back and forth between the kitchen in the back yard and the guest room where we all sat. You guessed it, the bread was last. Bread here is the traditional Middle Eastern variety, and looks exactly like a large pizza devoid of any sauce or toppings. The bread was delivered to us by simply being slammed down on the floor, and then dragged back and for the as people tear off portions. Yes, this is the same mat where only moments ago the servers had been walking in filthy bare feet, cooties and all. I used to eat dirt in defensive positions as a sort of parlour trick for the men, so I simply did a quick reversion to the good old days and gobbled it all down, telling myself all the while that I was being a good dog by building immunity templates for all the local bacteria. So far, no problem! I will recount more of this bizarre adventure later, and will stop for now.

Posted by BruceR at 04:35 PM

... AND IN VIDEO FORM (SORT OF)

The recruit course I officered in Toronto last spring was the topic of a Canadian Forces recruiting video. You can find it here. I'm pleased to say you can watch the whole thing without seeing me once. And before anyone says it, yes, the young reservists therein need a lot of work, but bear in mind it was their first course. A lot of great Canadian soldiers started out testing the waters in the local army reserve unit first, from Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, killed in Afghanistan last year, to Maj. Gen. Andrew Leslie, currently commanding the Canadians currently in Kabul. I'm certain we'll get a few of these soldiers on overseas deployments in the years to come... a couple of the instructors have already seen deployments in fact.

PS: The brigade website that hosts that video is actually based on a design of mine (superbly implemented by Sgt. Snea of 32 CBG G6).

Posted by BruceR at 03:08 PM

BRUCER, NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPER FORM

My musings on the state of the Canadian military, in the guise of a book review, is now available at Canadian newsstands in the Literary Review of Canada. Editor Bronwyn Drainie, whom I must say was an absolute pleasure to work with, was referred to me by our genial webhost and occasional Flitters denizen Patrick C., on the basis of this site. So thanks to her, and to him. I think the piece reads rather better than my unedited ramblings here ever do, so I urge you to pick up a copy if the topic is of interest.

Posted by BruceR at 02:46 PM

THE PLURAL OF ILTIS IS ILTII

A lot of talk about the deaths near Kabul of two Canadian soldiers this week. There's a very good discussion going on in Flitters, so these are at best "late-to-the-fray" thoughts on my part.

*There is yet no firm evidence that the mine explosion that killed the Canadians was intentional, or targeted at Westerners. The area in question was considered pro-government by Afghan authorities. A deliberate remining is still a possibility, but not a certainty.

*The one thing you haven't heard this time from Canadian soldier-commentators (paid and unpaid) is surprise. The Canadians anticipated about one fatality a month from the Kabul mission; they're right on track for that at the moment. If this is the only price to pay from this 12-month mission, it'll still be a bloody miracle.

*The Iltis runabout (jeep? dune buggy?) is much maligned, and rightly so. It is not a sturdy vehicle in any sense of the word. It is, however, a half-decent vehicle if you've got a two-man detachment that has to work independently, as it's light enough that two men can push it out of just about anything it could conceivably get stuck in. It is not the worst vehicle Canadians have in their inventory... that honor still goes, by universal agreement, to the LSVW utility transport, in its Canadian incarnation quite possibly the worst military vehicle ever built. I'd love to blame some of this current mess on the tangled mess of Liberal-era military procurement, and Quebec procurement-favoritism in this country (the awarding of the Iltis contract to a Quebec company led to the shutting down of an auto plant in Ontario), but I can't... if only because the LSVW was, of course, built in British Columbia, meaning any Canadian province can produce crappy vehicles. The Iltis is long overdue for a replacement, but in some ways the replacement plan (splitting the fleet between G-Wagens for overseas service and Silverados for domestic work) might be seen as even worse (not that there's a choice... with the production lines silent for over a decade, the Canadian supply of spare parts for the Iltis is rapidly depleting, to the point where the fleet is on the verge of cannibalizing itself.)

*People are also talking about the American Hummers, and whether they're better... they were preferred by the Canadians in Kandahar, certainly. The original Hummer isn't much better armoured against mine strikes... its reputation for survivability had a lot to do with the front axle being so far forward of the crew compartment (as opposed to being right under the gas pedal in the Iltis) which, if the front wheel hits a mine, tend to produce a less destructive effect on the front seat passengers. It should also be noted that weight and wide wheelbases do not necessarily result in a more mine-survivable vehicle in every circumstance... while keeping the vehicle from flipping can certainly help, the tradeoff is you have a vehicle which exerts more pounds on the ground, increasing the likelihood of detonation in some cases, and has wheels that could be more likely to be a foot or two to the left or right of the "proven track," where anti-personnel mines can often rest undetected. Still, given a choice, I'd prefer a Hummer, sure.

*But that, of course, is the point. Canadian soldiers have no choice... Iltis is all there is for us. Wherever we go, it goes (lots of Iltii were shot up in the former Yugoslavia, too). I have no ideological problem with those talking heads who have chosen to use the prospect of future deaths like this to help explain to Canadians the consequences of running a $15 billion dollar military on a $13 billion budget. I just wish they'd waited to do it until all the facts were in, and the mourning was over. Last week it seemed... unseemly.

*One thing that I haven't heard said yet, however. The reason Canada is replacing the Iltis with the Mercedes G-Wagen is not because the Mercedes won any kind of competition, but because Mercedes was the ONLY company that bid on the contract (Rolls Royce and GM both declined), due to the current Canadian strategy of "lowest-cost compliant" bidding. (The cheapest vehicle that meets the minimum requirements is selected.) It's the same strategy that continues to delay the Sea King replacement. I'm of two minds whether I want this to become an issue, though... as said above, new vehicles are needed urgently. To go back on the deal with Mercedes and look again at the other alternatives (likely the Land Rover Defender and GM-Bucher's Duro LTV... the Hummer was never going to beat either of those so long as cost, and its effects on fleet size, was any factor at all) would likely accomplish little more at this point than delaying the replacement by many years, as has happened with the maritime helicopters.

*Final analysis: if the Canadians had been riding in G-Wagens, the only likely replacement for the Iltis, it likely wouldn't have made any difference given the size of the explosion. The G-Wagen would still have been a much better vehicle for this mission, though. (the Iltis is too low power to do well at the high altitudes around Kabul, and doesn't have the bolt-on armour capability of the G-Wagen, for starters.) Trouble is, given the usual Canadian military procurement tangle, all these well-meaning current calls for better Canadian vehicles (ie, Hummers) could lead to that necessary upgrade being accelerated, or delayed, depending on what lessons the government chooses to draw from it. Watch this space.

*Final final note: In addition to the 98 (now 97) Iltii with the 2,000-strong Canadian contingent in Kabul, there are also 20 new commercial-pattern Nissan Terranos. There simply weren't enough roadworthy Iltii available. The Canadian government had the choice between spending $2,000 per clapped-out ex-Bundeswehr Iltis to increase their fleet, or $15K per on the Terranos (Actually closer to $150K per when the entire contract value, presumably including delivery, spare parts, etc. is considered). The army's faith in the Iltis prior to this accident is perhaps best indicated by that decision.

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM

MAHER ARAR RELEASED

Work-related prolonged absence. Sorry. Back to the news.

Maher Arar has been released. He was the Syrian-Canadian mistakenly handed over to Damascus by American spywatchers when he tried to change flights in New York on a business trip. The guy lost a year of his life, and may have been tortured, but at least the second high-profile Canadian prisoner in the Middle East is coming home. As I noted earlier, Arar's deportation is apparently still being regarded as a victory against terror by the American government, or at least that portion of it that still talks to Sy Hersh, who recently wrote in the New Yorker about how Syrian-U.S. cooperation had broken up an Ottawa "terrorist cell." (Arar, it now seems, was that cell.) But as the CSIS individual says in the linked story, "he's clean."

By all accounts Arar, having been born in Syria, would still have been technically liable for his compulsory term of military service, so the Syrian government certainly could have convicted him for draft dodging if anyone thought there was value in keeping him in jail. So it's pretty safe to say the guy was an accidental drive-by by Homeland Security, not a real terrorist.

It's probably easy to ding quiet Canadian consular intervention, but, as in the earlier case of Bill Sampson, it does seem, eventually, to get results. The difference is, Sampson was almost certainly innocent, and there was a lot more mealy-mouthedness involved because the Saudis seem extraordinarily prone to taking offence at slights against the "hospitality" of their kingdom or the fairness of their legal system. In Arar's case, there were some early doubts about his story, and no one had any illusions about what he'd been consigned to.

Arar's case also has some similarities to the unfortunate death of Zahra Kazemi in Iran: in both cases other countries refused to recognize the Canadian practice of allowing dual citizenship. In Kazemi's case, however, she was travelling under her Iranian passport, a decision that left her overly vulnerable to imprisonment and torture, while Arar was travelling under his Canadian one. In the end, it was the American inexplicable failure to notify Canadian authorities they had a Canadian, travelling as a Canadian, en route to Canada, in custody, before summarily deporting him to Syria for "interrogation" by his country of origin, that is the real crime here. (And a clear violation of the Vienna protocols that the U.S. has signed.) And it's a crime that will in all likelihood never be rectified now, as it's hard to see how a civil court claim filed in Canada could ever compel restitution from the U.S.

Posted by BruceR at 10:07 AM

October 03, 2003

WELL, ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS WON, ANYWAY

The fact that an openly honest man who only wants to talk with voters about the issues can still win political office has to be a good sign. Dalton McGuinty's got a hell of a job ahead of him, as it's fairly clear to everyone the Tories robbed the provincial treasury to finance their pre-election voter-bribe goodies and we're facing one hell of a deficit starting today.

People are saying the real scandal is the low voter turnout in Ontario. I always thought part of the reason was the obstacles in the way of anyone not living with their parents in their early 20s voting. You've basically got to go home, like Joseph to Bethlehem, rather than in the city you're going to school or whatever. That means the people knocking on doors, etc. have no interest in you, and neither do those in your parents' riding. It's been that way for the two decades I've been around to notice it... all the evidence is, voting is a life habit and in Ontario it's actively discouraged until you're 25 and can't be bothered anymore. The plummeting numbers now are largely those young people, now not so young, who were turned away from the polls back when they were in college.

The reason it never gets fixed has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with Ontario political parties having no interest in youth bloc voting in the ridings with big universities in them. The only party likely to benefit if it were changed, on the whole, would be the leftist New Democrats, and they're barely even a party now.

When I went to U of T, and had to vote in Deep River, a seven-hour drive away, I lost all interest in elections, and it's been darn hard to get it back since. Everyone runs around surprised that no one under 35 votes any more. The simple fact is when we wanted to, they didn't care.

Posted by BruceR at 05:18 PM

October 01, 2003

LEAK SQUELCHING 101

Stryker's wisely keeping mum on the Nom de Plame affair, but Sparkey's not. His argument today is hard to make out, amid all the irrelevant "Wilson Is a moonbat" stuff, but it seems to be:

1. All wives of ambassadors and ex-ambassadors (and presumably ex-wives of ex-ambassadors) are in the pay of the CIA. Wow, who knew?

2. By saying to Novak, "don't use her name," CIA PR effectively outed Plame themselves.

This latter point is at least interesting. Say you're PR. A journalist calls you and asks you to confirm or deny someone works for your organization that you don't want the world to know about. You have, basically, three choices.

1. "No she doesn't." Upshot: journalist runs story saying he said-they said: "My sources tell me the Ambassador's wife works for the agency, but, the agency denies it."

2. "We can neither confirm nor deny." Upshot: journalist runs story saying you had nothing to say. "My sources say bla bla, the agency had no comment."

3. "Yes she works for us, please don't use her name." This is, in fact, what the CIA said, and that Novak ignored. The hope is that you can turn off that part of the story entirely, with an appeal to the journalist's conscience or patriotism. This works surprisingly often.

You can't logically say, "whether she works for us or not, please don't use her name." No journalist could ever leave it at that. If you want to put stipulations on the use of her name, you need to acknowledge you have some relationship with the person in doing so. Nor, unless you fully trust the journalist, can you dare go into more specifics. "Yes, she's worked for us as a covert analyst for over 20 years, she worked on this file and that file, please don't use her name, because the risk is you'll compromise this and that."

If the journalist isn't willing to stop at "please don't use her name" in and of itself, then they can't be trusted to keep anything else you tell them secret either. Novak is a case in point: he was asked to keep secret and he blabbed anyway. If the PR officer involved had said anything else that was classified info, it's reasonable to assume now that Novak could well have put that in his article, too.

Short of telling Novak's sources that they'd be liable for prosecution if he went with the article (which would have been a good approach in retrospect) CIA PR went by-the-book on "how to try to squelch a story" on this one. They are in no way responsible for the leak in question.

PS: I'm really beginning to wonder at the jingopundits' fundamental sanity on this one. Instaman is apparently convinced that because the ambassador's wife's name wasn't ITSELF a state secret, that this somehow all doesn't matter. In Glenn's current world, it's apparently a legal requirement that all wives of CIA agents are henceforward introduced to any and all others as, "This is my wife/husband, mrffllflffl". (When the priest led them through the wedding vows, and said, "do you, mrffllflffl, take this man...?" did she respond, "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you?") And Sully is still obsessing over the "three decades" remark by Larry Johnson. "Stay tuned?" What's to stay tuned to? He got one word wrong speaking on live television -- "for three decades" instead of "over three decades" -- and we need to stay tuned for something? This is madness...

Posted by BruceR at 12:15 PM

THE QUINTESSENTIAL PIECE

Some time ago, I waxed poetic about the quintessential New Republic essay, a literary sub-form found at its highest level only in the back pages of that magazine: the rambling discursive survey essay that leaves you thinking you now know more about a subject than you ever really could.

This week, we have the quintessential New Yorker essay to examine: Louis Menand's work on citations and Chicago style. It's the kind of article one can only reliably find in the pages of the New Yorker: more personal, less lofty than the TNR piece, more down-to-earth... with a subject no less important, but designed less with an eye to encyclopedic completeness, and more with an eye to flow. Rather than trying to elevate the reader to a new level of consciousness, it unlocks the complexity underlying something we thought was simple. The structure and writing carries you along, to a concluding paragraph that can only be described as masterful.

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM