March 24, 2005

Two Canadian heroes

I was remiss not to make a previous mention of the Star of Courage recipients from Kabul.

Posted by BruceR at 04:38 PM

Roszko update

As I'd suggested based on early reports on calibre and country of origin, the weapon used to kill four Mounties was almost certainly an HK91 assault rifle. As it seems clear now they were all killed almost simultaneously as they walked through a doorway, it seems highly likely it had been illegally converted to a fully automatic weapon by cop killer James Roszko.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Apparent testimony from Roszko's previous life as to his having converted his HK seems to have been wrong, too... or he picked up a new one.

Posted by BruceR at 04:31 PM

March 23, 2005

Well, when we said flies on eyeballs, we were really speaking metaphorically

"Iraqi police commandos backed by U.S. troops killed at least 45 militants, many of them foreign fighters, in an hours-long battle to seize an insurgent camp north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Wednesday."

--Reuters, yesterday

"It's hard to overstate how fantastic a development this is, but let's try. I wrote last December about insurgent overconfidence. Is this ever a case in point!"

--Spencer Ackerman, TNR

"Up to 40 fighters were seen today at a Iraq lakeside training camp attacked by US and Iraqi forces a day before and said they had never left, an AFP correspondent who visited the site said."

--Agence France Presse, today

Posted by BruceR at 07:49 PM

March 08, 2005

C-130 update

The British defence ministry has apparently ruled out non-hostile causes or sabotage in the Iraqi election day crash of a C-130 transport north of Baghdad. That leaves surface fire, which I had identified previously as the least likely of a number of possibilities. (See previous entries here, here and here.)

We're still looking at very little data here. Crucial questions for which there have been no answers to date include: did the crew issue any distress call, indicating a more progressive breakup, or was destruction more or less instantaneous? Did the plane take any evasive maneuvers or countermeasures? For that matter, what was its actual mission? We just don't know.

The Janes expert quoted beats me to the obvious conclusion... that the plane was flying at low altitude for some reason. At 5,000 feet or less, a shoulder-launched missile strike could possibly do enough damage that the plane's pilot simply couldn't recover in time. Another possibility at that altitude would be evasive maneuvers for even a non-impacting missile leading to ground collision. We only ever had the journalists' word for it that transport planes routinely stay above 15,000 feet... there has never been any specific indication of this plane's altitude at the time of destruction. And Baghdad to Balad is a pretty short hop... by the time you got to 15,000, you'd have to start coming back down again.

I have no doubt the British and Americans are concerned about new missiles being employed in Iraq... but I'd have thought that would refer to SA-16/-18 heatseekers... which greatly increase the probability of impact, but have little effect on the slant range/max altitude. The simple fact though, that they're more reliable compared to the ancient SA-7/-14s we've seen so far gives the shooter some options to engage planes in midflight or farther from airports that the older missiles did not: they do not, however, kill higher, or carry a larger explosive charge. (As mentioned here before, the most destructive SAM strike in history, the one that killed the Rwandan and Burundian presidents in 1994, sparking the Rwandan genocide, was a SA-16.) I still think it's pretty implausible that the insurgents have anything larger or more sophisticated to play with than shoulder-launched missiles and possibly 23 mm AA guns.

I should add that the question of what actually did kill the plane in question has little bearing on the veracity of the terrorist video played on Al Jazeera, which is provably fake for all kinds of other reasons, as discussed in previous entries. And I'm frankly not sure how the Independent justifies "hit by missile" in the headline, as that's not what the Ministry of Defence interim report actually says.

Posted by BruceR at 09:48 AM

March 07, 2005

Always a day away, redux

In other news, the Americans are liberating Samarra again. For previous attempts to control Samarra, click here.

The short version is the second or possibly third attempt to install a pro-American city leadership failed when they all resigned last week, apparently because the Americans wouldn't leave. This led, as in October, to anti-American marches in the street, which led the Americans, as in October, to conclude Zarqawi was in the city, which has now led, as in October, to the current lockdown. The forcible reoccupation, once again with a prominent role for those Iraqi troops which fixed everything the last time, would seem inevitable.

Also in other news, the Dutch have nearly finished their pullout. Their contingent in southern Iraq had two fatalities during its time there. They had been the seventh-largest contingent in Iraq for some time, with 1500 soldiers at the peak of their deployment.

This leaves the coalition (non-US) or Iraqi forces comprising:

3 UK Division, with one Italian brigade and a Romanian battalion (11,000 total);
A South Korean brigade (2,800);
Single battalions from Denmark, El Salvador and Georgia (3-500 ea);
A battalion group en route from Australia.

Everything else is non-combat, or tokenistic. With the exception of the Salvadorans, the entire Multi-National Division (South), which also comprises a Polish brigade, a Ukrainian brigade, and a Bulgarian battalion, is headed home by the end of the year, at which point the division will presumably be stood down.

Total Iraq coalition fatalities to date are: Britain, 86; Italy, 21*; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Spain, 11; Bulgaria, 8; Slovakia, 3; Estonia and Thailand, 2 each; 1 each from Denmark, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and El Salvador.

*including the Intelligence officer killed late last week at a U.S. checkpoint. You'd think 21 dead would give a country some immunity from jingopunditry accusations of "ineptitude". Apparently not.

Posted by BruceR at 10:15 AM

March 04, 2005

Mounties and mad trappers

For some reason, this CBC summary of Mountie deaths leaves out perhaps the most famous of them all: the killing of Const. Spike Millen by Albert Johnson ("The Mad Trapper of Rat River") in 1932, himself killed after a 48-day cross-Arctic manhunt which saw innovative uses of aircraft and radio in police work (and one of the first mass media crime dramas, occupying radio news programs across North America with updates) and confirmed the Mountie popular legend of "always getting their man."

The rifle in question in yesterday's quadruple shooting appears to have been of Heckler & Koch manufacture, probably the HK91... one of the rifles specifically covered by the elder Bush administration's 1989 assault weapons ban. I have no idea what a "rapid fire auto carbine assault style rifle" is, though.

UPDATE: It's purest speculation right now, but it's hard to see four immediately fatal shots against armed men while inside a Quonset hut, by a man armed with even a half-decent semi-auto rifle. It may be a while before we figure this out, but it sure would seem like the first two Mounties killed, the ones on overnight duty, had to have been bushwhacked earlier, at night or in the early morning, and that the next two were killed upon their arrival later.

I am baffled by Martin O'Malley, who seems to be arguing that marijuana should be legalized, but its illegal growers subject to martial law. Pick a side, ffs.

Posted by BruceR at 11:19 AM

March 03, 2005

Payoff vs. Value

Henley has some thoughts on the "what they fear most" cliche. I would revise his synopsis somewhat, though.

He writes: "Stripped of morale-building rhetoric, all the formulation really claims is that Combatants operate against targets on which they place high value."

Not necessarily. A target can be worth striking for at least two distinct reasons... because its destruction significantly improves your chances of success, or because the enemy requires it for their success.

In military targeting-speak, that's why there's a distinction between a "High Value Target (HVT)," meaning something the enemy requires, and a "High Payoff Target" (HPT), meaning something that stands in friendly forces' path to success. Military targeters generally keep two separate priority lists (an HVTL and an HPTL). Some things (like heavy artillery, or Saddam Hussein) could appear on both lists. But many things do not, and the more asymmetrical the conflict is, the more the lists tend to diverge. For instance Iraq, in 2003, where Iraqi tanks would have been seen as a High Payoff Target, as destroying them could only accelerate the U.S. rate of advance to Baghdad, but were not necessarily High Value (Saddam's escape was not contingent upon still having them.)

(Generally, in a symmetrical battle where enemy and friendly aims are apposite, the HVTL should be almost a subset of the HPTL, although something can certainly still be High Value without being High Payoff. For instance, in 1991, Republican Guard units in reserve deep in Iraq were essential for the regime's continuing post-war survival, making them High Value, but destroying them would not have helped much in the reconquest of Kuwait, so they weren't High Payoff.)

To take Henley's examples:

The Hilla bombing: High Value (a non-demoralized Iraqi security force is an essential condition for American victory).
The conquest of Afghanistan: High Value. (Al Qaeda required Afghanistan to operate as it had been doing.)
The World Trade Center: High Payoff. (Not required by the US to dominate the Middle East, but still, like any civilian target at that time, seen as likely to improve international terrorism's chances to spark an American reaction.)
Archduke Ferdinand: High Payoff. (Ferdinand's existence was not an necessary condition for the subjugation of Bosnian Serbs, but his death may have been seen by the radicals seen as improving the Serbs' chances through regional destabilization.)

So I'd say adding "or represent a high payoff" to Henley's summary, above. There is a distinction worth making there.

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM