Archive for June, 2005

I’ve had a request in comments from Frans Groenendijk for a round-up of all the Viktor Bout posts. There’s also been a traffic spike in the last few days after a discussion at Airliners.net linked us. As a service, here is all the Viktor Bout stuff..

Finally, print media discover the Viktor Bout story. This post, from the 28th of September, 2004, contains links to all the 12 previous Viktor-related stories back to May, 2004. All reports post-28th September are given below.

Viktor Bout Aircraft in Kabul, 16th September, Baghdad, 24th January 2004. A giant Russian transport plane.., Bout’s Antonov 12 in Baghdad (PICTURES), Bout and the upcoming Rwandan invasion, The Bout Story Blows Wide Open, Update: Story Goes Critical, Look What Happened Last Time, Getting Your Priorities Right, But He Does a Lot of Work for Charity, A Sudden Bout, Viktor Bout – Some Recent Developments, Why Is The Lying Bastard Still Lying To Me?, Reader Mail (KAM Air), What’s Up in the Yemen?, 300 Million flown out of Iraq, Even THEY won’t go to Baghdad now, “Someone high up in the contracting world must want to use Bout companies”, KAM Air: Disaster in Afghanistan, Iran, Liberia, Viktor Bout, World’s Most Wanted Man, No More, CPA Corruption – Case Studies, Saying One Thing and Doing Another, A Very Independent Financial Advisor, Another Bout of Madness, AS15-Further Analysis, Jet Line lose a Jet, A Wave of Boutery, (UN-11)007: Licence to Kill, Hypocrite, Farah Has Some Viktor Bout News, Hip Down: A Look at SkyLink, Viktory!, Congo Incident, What is, in fact, going on in the Yemen, Evening Standard Censored?, If Not Mystery Jets…, Mystery Prop Update – Transafrik, Mystery Jet Update, June 17, and finally Those Departures, Iraq’s New Economy, New Mystery Jet Developments, An26 Down in DRC, Shocked To Find Gambling In This Casino!.

VB comes up next in this post on networking theory: Scalefree networks: the Internet in’t. Then it’s back to the routine. Royal Airlines, Natalco: Slight Return, and Bulgarian issues, and Irbis: Back in Baghdad.

Then, in November, 2005, came the first Black Site posts. Black Site Flights, Black Sites: A Brief Update, and Black Site Update 2. These aren’t strictly VB posts but do have some cross-references.

There follows: Touroterrorism, before Operation Firedump begins.

The first Operation Firedump post is here. Firedump: 3C-QRF is the first effort to get 3C-QRF confiscated in Romania. This Slight Update covers both a bit of Bout and some black site flights. I reply to some questions on the Falcones and Wayne Madsen. BGIA: Off to Bagram. Time to liven up the Firedump reviews this, adds detail that the Falcones used the same PR man as George Bush. Bout aircraft sighting in the Azores on Christmas Day. Operation Firedump: Surveillance gives details on an Irbis plane sighting.

Riddle me this, in early February, deals with Iraqi Airways weirdness. Then, Mr Capone, about that tax return, and More on Falcone deal with Sonia Falcone’s arrest. 9L. concerns revelations regarding Hezbollah/AQ/Sierra Leone connections and Paddy McKay. This is my two cents about the DP World-P&O deal. Most recently, we have Firedump: 3C-QRF May Escape and Firedump: A6-ZYD.

Don’t miss our interview with Paddy McKay.

I will add all future mystery jet posts to this one, and put a link in the sidebar for speedy reference. That makes, so far, a total of 83 Viktor Bout/mystery jet posts.

And, I’m amused to see, a rock band has appeared calling itself the Mystery Jets..

Well, it’s IDDay tomorrow as the ID Cards Bill heads for a second reading in the Commons. Gratifying signs of impending failure are breaking out all over it, what with the London School of Economics study, the card’s possible rejection by two major trade unions, and a wave of hostile press comment. If you want to help, get your arse down to Parliament tomorrow, 1130 hours, and help us demonstrate.

That’s the public service announcement over with. This weekend, the Independent on Sunday wapped everybody by claiming that the government was going to sell the information from the National Identity Register to private interests. Now, I wouldn’t put it past them, but on reading the story it appears what they meant was that the government intends to charge businesses for the ability to check IDs. Not very good journalism, but it did point up an important aspect of the scheme which has otherwise not been mentioned very often. If a company can read the cards and presumably look up the database, then it can also store the replies. In this way it would be possible to, in effect, reverse engineer the database for your customers. If you were (say) Tesco, you could build a shadow database of most of the records in the real one. You might even portray it as making the technical challenge simpler by locally caching the replies, thus relieving the load on the central system. The risk exists that multiple, not necessarily updated, part-NIRs will appear.

Just yet another reason to reject ID cards. And, of course, the Database State.

I wonder what will happen when the ID Cards Bill falls? After all, as I’ve said before and been proved right on, we are going to win. My bet would be that, in three or four years’ time, the Home Office will bring the bugger back, or one of its many stealth versions, like the national database of children. This is a key feature of the Home Office. It has about three ideas, which appear in rotation. These are: Prison for everyone, compulsory boils for asylum seekers (or whatever), and ID cards. As far as I can see, defeat does not change them at all; they just shift on to the next stereotype. When ID cards fail, there will be a new assault on asylum seekers (hell, they are already happy to send people back to Zimbabwe), and when the limits are reached they will start bingeing on incarceration again. Once the prisons are jammed beyond capacity, the Treasury will call a halt and there will be a period of purging, before the next cycle begins with the ID Cards (2010) Bill. With the crazed proposal to use troops (troops!) to repress “anti-social behaviour”, we can already see this happening.

What I want to know is: what does the Home Office do for our society?

After all, it is a long-standing British principle that policing should be local and accountable. Police forces already answer to elected police authorities, with the exception of the MOD Police, UKAEA Police (Tony Benn’s private army) and the dear old British Transport Police (the railway plod). Now, the first of these is a military responsibility. The second ought to be as well. What the third is actually for defeats me. Even the Blairite prison-hawks like the idea of “elected sheriffs” because it sounds American, and the Treasury geekmeisters love to talk about “new localism in our public services”.

The control of the borders is split between Customs (part of the Treasury) and the Immigration Service. We have seen quite enough poisonous, Sun-driven ministerial meddling with the assessment of claims for immigration or asylum in the UK, so it’s time to depoliticise the issue. Bang goes another function. The secret services are currently split between departments, and live outside proper ministerial and parliamentary accountability. In fact, they have the reverse problem to the Immigration Service. That leaves – what? The National Criminal Intelligence Service? Feh. And the prisons. Those.

I propose we kill it before it grows, as Bob Marley so wisely put it. Managing the individual police forces should be devolved and democratised (perhaps to the regions I suggested). The civil nuclear security task should go to the military, and the Transport Police tasks go to the local forces. The sensible Liberal Democrat proposal for an independent Immigration Agency should be taken up. Something like two-thirds of prisoners are illiterate; perhaps the Department for Education and Skills should take over the system, or seeing as similar numbers have at least one mental illness, the Department of Health. MI5 should go to a new Secretary of State for the Intelligence Services, taking over GCHQ and MI6 into the bargain – and why not a reduced NCIS combined with the National Crime Squad? The Intelligence and Security Committee should be released from the prime minister’s power and beefed up as an Intelligence Supervision Committee. This would provide a single lead for anti-terrorism, into the bargain.

Marsham Street, it’s time for you to go…

Anyone who puts their money into this must be either a fool or a hero: INTREPID gold explorers have extended their search for the precious metal to Iran, a country largely untouched by Western mining companies.

A small mining play whose field of operation is, ahem, Iran. One for my Completely Crazed Business Ventures list, alongside the Baghdad Stock Exchange and Totally Honest Air Charter Ltd.

Good Luck, Phil!

Phil Carter of the outstanding Intel Dump has been mobilised into the 101st Airborne Division. This represents a considerable improvement, I think, in the US Army’s capabilities. Phil is a former paratrooper (or more accurately, now he is again), Civil Affairs specialist and Military Police officer turned lawyer, whose coverage of the US Army’s manpower crisis and the intersection of law and strategy has been some of the best stuff in the blogosphere.

Best of British, as they say.

(Is it just me, or are Phils over-represented in the set of decent bloggers? Phil Carter, Existing Actually Phil, Phil Hunt of Cabalog…)

John B. has an interesting post up about British and English identity. His premise is that, in effect, England doesn’t exist. Or at least, there are parts of the geographical entity of that name that do represent the stereotype “England”, but they should not obscure the parts of England that don’t. Now, I’ve been known to say this too, usually after drinking too much beer and feeling the need to say something provocative. But, more soberly, I think he’s right.

You often hear of (usually rightwing) people who argue that, if there is Welsh and Scottish devolution, “why won’t Blair give us an English parliament?” (yes, I know this sentence is in bad style, but the original phrasing is worth keeping.) This fits with a particular strain of Euroscepticism which enjoys conspiracy theories about the Labour Party “hating the UK” and wanting to “break up England” (note the conflation of England and Britain), one which is usually found in what I call hard-core Euroscepticism, Liam Fox as opposed to Michael Howard.

Now, there’s an obvious argument that with devolution, the House of Commons and parts of Whitehall have a strange position where they have at once a central role, a federal role in US terms, and an English-only role. But countering this with “devolution for England” is not a good idea, for the simple reason that England as a single unit in a federal UK would be destabilisingly dominant. Not just that, it’s quite possible that “England” isn’t a sensible political unit in itself (in fact, the current territorial boundaries are hardly aligned with any of the pre-Union Englands). Many of the problems of a diverse state with centralised Whitehall rule would remain – and what then? Devolution within devolution?

My further argument is that England, as opposed to Britain, doesn’t exist. Being English to me is being British, but not Scottish, Welsh or Irish. Most of the things that might be given as common features of an English identity from the Solway Firth to Dover are equally common with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and New Zealand, for that matter), so pubs, old maids biking etc etc, sailing ships and Protestantism don’t help very much. This is where the problems kick in: as you narrow it down, it’s like zooming in on a bitmap graphic. It breaks up into dots. A lot of the high-Tory stuff about fox-hunting, Kentish lanes and cricket sounds pretty alien in Bradford. But white roses, dark satanic mills, Rugby League, dry stone walls and real ale look just as foreign in Guildford. I grew up in the Yorkshire Dales, and although there were plenty of sheep and a certain amount of cricket I wouldn’t have known where to find a hunt. (But if you go up beyond Skipton towards the Lancashire border, you’ll see plenty of Countryside Alliance favours – probably a result of the foot and mouth epidemic, which was especially bad around there.) And the current layout would assume Yorkshire was exactly the same as Oxfordshire, and Birmingham interchangeable with St. Ives – because administrative England includes Cornwall.

Further, the centre of “England” is without doubt London, a vast multinational city inimical to the English-parliament people with their rants about the “metropolitan elite”. And which happens to be the seat of central government, and also itself devolved from administrative England. Where else, then? Birmingham? But isn’t the second city rather too unlike the rural-conservative territory that English identity is supposedly built on? Bristol? The city of Tony Benn, Tricky, and Airbus’s aerodynamic design department, for fuck’s sake? Newbury, perhaps..oops, that’s already the capital of Vodafone.

John attempts to answer this conundrum in the best, and I think the only way: disaggregate the fucker. If there really is a constituency for the whole bunch of Victorian tosh, it’s (as he says) the rural South outside London. Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, across the gap between London and Birmingham, over to Bristol and down to the coast. Mind you, there’s a good few outliers in there: Portsmouth/Southampton, Brighton, Reading, Bristol aren’t necessarily a good fit. But then, who says politics is easy?

There’s one way to gauge the realities of such a plan, which is to look at the electoral map. Yes, there is the great Lab/Lib concentration of London, with the marginal suburban belt. Yes, there is the similar urban block of the West Midlands. Across the Pennines you have the big concentration of Labour urban and semi-urban seats, with a varying fringe of (in the hills) alt.conservatives like David Curry and the odd Liberal Democrat or (in the Fylde and the Vale of York) big-farm, standard issue Tories. Across Cumbria you get a lot of slightly unusual Tories with red spots up the industrial west coast, and the north-east has its own balance between solid Labour in Newcastle and Durham Tories.

And, sweeping over from the Wash, there is indeed a southern Tory belt that squeezes between the red Midlands and London, dropping down to the south coast and going as far west as a curious line somewhere west of Poole where people start voting Liberal. Such a scheme would, I think, work rather well. UKIP and co. would likely act as a sort of Southern League, passing resolutions to leave the EU in the security of Norwich or whereever. (Note: I would probably find myself in Thatcherstan, so rest assured I’m willing to take responsibility.)

Looking up those Sharjah Airport departure boards yesterday, I thought it might be an idea to collate the Boutcos as a psuedo-timetable. So here goes.

SHARJAH (SHJ)

ARRIVALS

23/06/05

0900 TEB1102 Kabul (“Tenir Airlines”)
1500 PHW051 Hyderabad (Phoenix Avn)
1545 TKY118 Baghdad (“Thai Sky” – a new one on me)
1600 AWZ202 Khartoum (Airwest/East West Cargo)
1800 RQ005 Kabul (Kam Air)

DEPARTURES

0030 AWZ201 Khartoum
0113 P1019 Dubai
0119 BIS6331 Riyan Mukalla (Irbis)
0200 GFG971 Baghdad (Georgian National)
0330 CGK4365 Baghdad (Click)
0400 CGK4367 Baghdad
0430 CGK717 Baghdad
0430 CGK913 Baghdad
0500 CGK4371 Baghdad

24/06/05

1000 CGK4366 Baghdad (Click Airways)
1030 CGK4368 Baghdad
1130 CGK4372 Baghdad
1230 TXC4163 Frankfurt (Transaviaexport)
1245 AWZ336 Khartoum (Airwest)
1330 CGK718 Baghdad
1400 CGK914 Baghdad
1600 PHW005 Dubai
1800 AWZ017 Frankfurt
2030 PHW786 Dubai

DEPARTURES

0030 AWZ201 Khartoum
0100 TEB1101 Kabul
0320 TXC4162 Kandahar
2330 TXC4163 Frankfurt

DUBAI (DXB)

24/06/05 ARRIVALS

1400 P31020 Baghdad (Phoenix Avn)
1400 BIS6376 Baghdad (Irbis)
1430 BGK1230 Baghdad (British Gulf International)
1530 BGK1232 Baghdad
1700 P3606 Baghdad (Phoenix)
1700 PHW604 Baghdad
1800 RQ005 Kabul (Kam Air)
1830 BIS6372 Baghdad

DEPARTURES

0600 BGK1229 Baghdad
0630 BIS6371 Baghdad
0630 BIS6375 Baghdad
0700 BGK1231 Baghdad
0800 TEB1101 Baghdad
0815 P31019 Baghdad

25/06/05

ARRIVAL

0200 CRD090 Kabul (Aero Corridor)

DEPARTURE

0600 CRD091 Kabul

Well, that was anal, wasn’t it? And there are a LOT of flights to Iraq on there, including the repeatedly-banned Irbis Air Co. of Kazakhstan, Houston and Sharjah, as well as the equally repeatedly-banned Transavia going to another western-controlled airport in Kandahar (not to mention Frankfurt!).

A note: Georgian National and Thai Sky are cases I am less certain of. In fact, Thai Sky Ltd. seems to have been created in Bangkok this year, with three aging Lockheed Tristars and no immediately obvious reasons for suspicion (yet). Tenir, though, seems to share an ICAO code (and a route network) with Teebah Airlines, the company belonging to a prominent Iraqi tribal sheikh that supplied all Iraqi Airways’ aircraft (which all happened to be registered in Sierra Leone for some reason). Aero Corridor, oddly enough, is registered in Mozambique but uses only Phoenix Aviation aircraft and has been reported as operating in Iraq.

And, just for more mystery-jet goodness, one of cocaine-runners Aerocom’s Antonov 24s was in Baghdad on the 6th of May: Photo.

EDITED to replace formatting chewed by Blogger.

My HOWTO Occupy Tunisia post has been attracting referrals from companycommand.army.mil, a forum set up by the US Army for officers returning from or going to Iraq to share experience and knowledge. A sensible idea. I’m rather pleased they read it. However, because as far as I know those of us outside the US DoD can’t get to the site, let alone read it, can the chap who lunk to it please get in touch and tell me what they say about the HOWTO?

In other Iraq-related news this morning, I see that a rightwing American journalist has been going around saying that things are getting better in Iraq, because a lot of people have mobile phones. Obviously, he didn’t realise why: they’re good for letting off roadside bombs. They also have the advantage that carrying one is not suspicious, unlike other radio devices, and the calls are even encrypted. Granted, no doubt the US military have long since cracked the GSM encryption, and more importantly the core network is probably lousy with official bugs. But it is probably good enough for tactical use, as such things take time, and you at least can’t be overheard directly. And, as everyone else in Iraq is on the same net, choosing whose line to tap is a non-trivial question.

Oh, and the other reason; we bombed the landline exchanges, although if the mobiles work we must have either spared or restored the long lines and such. Eerily, Mr. Zinnmeister also refers to the number of satellite TV dishes he saw…in 1969, John Vann used to take journalists on tours of the Mekong Delta in his helicopter, proudly pointing to the number of TV aerials they saw.

(Expanded from a comment at AFOE)

The LA Times reports in detail on the recent insurgent company-sized assault on Abu Ghraibh prison. It was deeply scary: they staged diversionary raids all round the area to hinder relief and confuse the issue, then assaulted the position from three directions at once, having laid down a bombardment with mortars and RPGs used as mortars (a tactic from the Afghan war) to drive everyone’s heads down. The US relief party encountered a rebel stop-group as far as four miles away, showing clearly that they had carefully isolated the battlefield first.

Then, they sent in three suicide trucks, one of which was apparently meant to crash the prison wall and explode, aiming for the base of the guard tower nearest the cell blocks (clearly detailed reconnaissance had been carried out). The only reason they failed to storm the place or spring the prisoners seems to have been that this particular wagon went off prematurely.

While all this was going on, the prisoners were rioting. The riot began at the same moment the assault did, which argues coordination. Personally I suspect the aim was to stage a jailbreak – it would have given them immense prestige to be the liberators of Abu Ghraibh, and no doubt there were people in there they wanted out.

But the really bad bit is this: after half an hour, the battle suddenly stopped…just like that.

“By 9, it was quiet. “It was almost as if everybody blew a whistle,” Melanson recalled. “Almost everybody stopped firing, and they disappeared.”

No doubt, after the attempt to breach the wall failed, some commander decided to break off the action and make an orderly retreat before the QRF arrived with the heavy metal. And that’s just what they did – they even carried off their dead, as they only found two corpses outside the wire. Now, breaking off a battle without being counter-attacked is very difficult. It requires excellent training and discipline, as well as good leadership and effective communication, to say nothing of prior planning. And it’s all about recognising when to stop and cut your losses.

An enemy that can do suicide car bombing as well as break-contact drills is truly formidable; it’s like the alpha and omega of war. The Americans have been talking about two kinds of enemy in Iraq, the calculated ex-Ba’athist roadside-bomber types who care deeply about living to fight another day, and the crazy-arsed jihadis who just want to die gloriously and couldn’t care less about breaking contact in an orderly fashion. It looks like they’re on their way to finding a Hegelian synthesis.

At the same time, the enemy’s hardware is improving too. Last week they blew up a humvee, killing five US Marines: but this Hummer was special, being one of the ones that did get its extra armour. The New York Times‘s David Cloud has the details:

Insurgents have long been able to build bombs powerful enough to penetrate some armored vehicles. But the use of “shaped” charges could raise the threat considerably, military officials said. Since last month, at least three such bombs have been found, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing this month.

The shaped charge explosion fires a projectile “at a very rapid rate, sufficient to penetrate certain levels of armor,” General Conway said, adding that weapons employing shaped charges had caused American casualties in the last two months. He did not give details.

A Pentagon official involved in combating the devices said shaped charges seen so far appeared crude but required considerable expertise, suggesting insurgents were able to draw on well-trained bomb-makers, possibly even rocket scientists from the former government. Shaped charges and rocket engines are similar, the official said.

Infrared detonators are an advance over the more common method of rigging bombs to explode after an insurgent nearby presses a button on a cell phone, a garage-door opener or other device that gives off an electric signal. That approach is vulnerable to jammers, however, and a shift to infrared detonators, which rely on light waves, underscores the insurgents’ resourcefulness.”

Rocket engines, eh…Readers of this blog will probably remember that I covered the loss of an RAF C130 on Iraqi election day in some detail. The Times, I see, got hold of a leak of the official verdict and I missed it. Link. Apparently it was operating at very low altitude, carrying out a reconnaissance of possible landing zones in support of SAS tasks in the area (whatever *they* were), when rebels fired at least five missiles or rockets at it simultaneously, thus flooding the defensive-aids suite (DAS) on the aircraft. The Thunderer’s source suggested that its take-off from Baghdad had been observed and, presumably, communicated to the shooters.

Michael “Downing St. Memo” Smith, for it is he, seems to have discovered a *very* fruitful source in the MoD. And I was wrong as hell about the SA-4. On another point, I’ve mused in the past that the tendency of the southern provinces of Iraq, the ones that make up the MND(SE) zone, to integrate might be being encouraged by British political advisers to the army. The putative Shia entity (I hesitate to use the word state) now has a name: “Sumer”. And I’m beginning to think that if we aren’t encouraging it, maybe we should be. Because I can’t see any remotely plausible exit strategy otherwise.

At least we got the zone with a coast.

It’s been brought to my attention that the ever-informative Sharjah Airport online departures board shows that an Irbis Air Co. flight departed for nowhere else than Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan this morning. (Thanks, Hannah!) Further digging down the lists shows that, in fact, Irbis is running a regular service to the base, which has acquired an infamous reputation after two prisoners died in captivity there. There’s a flight into SHJ at 0640 (BIS6345) and a flight to Bagram at 0900 daily, flight no. BIS6355. Furthermore, British Gulf International Airlines are back on the Baghdad and Kabul runs. Ex-Dubai, flights to Iraq are continuing under Irbis’s ICAO code (BIS) although they are listed as Royal Brunei Airways. Royal Brunei’s code is BI.

Nobody in their right minds thinks Irbis is anything other than one of the core Viktor Bout companies, including the United Nations, the British government, and the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. OFAC have put Irbis on their list of companies whose assets are to be seized. I doubt, somehow, that the Irbis plane was impounded in Bagram. What the fucking fuck is wrong with these fucking people?

Elsewhere, you might like to scoot over to Carlos’s, who has a wealth of information about the missing 727 and its ties to Imad Saba, and his ties to etc etc etc. Suffice it to say that I seem to recall seeing a DOD fuel contract for one of his firms mentioned in Carlos’s story, Air Van. I haven’t substantiated it yet, but I’ll check, and I’m fairly sure I saw one.

Phil Carter has an interesting post on why the US military establishment is still failing to provide the language skills and area knowledge its soldiers need. Rather, the post is good, but the comments discussion is cracking! Phil’s basic point is that there are nowhere near enough Arabists in their forces (no surprise, perhaps, given the way “Arabist” was repurposed as a neo-con term of abuse), and that this is equivalent in importance to not having enough guns.

“Indeed, in today’s operational environment, cultural competency must be regarded as an element of combat power — and something to be measured when one assesses the readiness of our forces.”

You said it. Let’s go back to that Washington Post report I linked down-blog. (Link)

“Last month, three trucks filled with two dozen soldiers from Charlie Company were ambushed near a Tigris River bridge. Instead of meeting the attack, the Iraqis fled and radioed for help. The Americans said the Iraqis told them they had lost 20 men, had run out of ammunition and were completely surrounded. When a U.S. quick reaction force arrived, the area was quiet and the Iraqi soldiers were huddled around their trucks. Four were missing; it was later learned that they had hailed taxis, gone home and changed into civilian clothes. One soldier, the company’s senior noncommissioned officer, refused to come out for several hours, saying he continued to be surrounded by insurgents.

After the incident, McGovern said he summoned an interpreter, asked him to translate the soldier’s words verbatim and “disgraced” the Iraqi soldiers. “You are all cowards,” he began. “My soldiers are over here, away from our families for a year. We are willing to die for you to have freedom. You should be willing to die for your own freedom. If you continue to run away from the enemy, the enemy will continue to chase you. You will never win.” McGovern asked the interpreter, Nabras Mohammed, if he had gone too far. “Well, you shouldn’t have called them women, and you shouldn’t have called them” wimps, Mohammed told him…[snip]…U.S. forces then ordered the Iraqis to arrest everyone inside the mosque, including the respected elderly prayer leader. The Iraqi platoon leader refused, U.S. soldiers recalled. The platoon leader and his men then sat down next to the mosque in protest.

“We wanted to tell the Americans they couldn’t do this again,” Dhanoun said. In a measure of the shame they felt, the men insisted they had not entered the mosque. “You can’t enter the mosque with weapons. We have traditions, we have honor, and we’re Muslims,” Dhanoun said. “You enter the mosque to pray, you don’t enter the mosque with guns.”

Well, that’s set the bounds of the problem nicely. Compare and contrast my HOWTO Occupy Tunisia post, containing pages from a British Army handbook issued to all ranks in Tunisia, 1942. The very first piece of advice is: DON’T enter mosques! It goes on to give useful advice on a wide range of topics, including the desirability of healthy scepticism towards the French colonial power, the inadvisability of starting fistfights, and the importance of treating the civil population with dignity.

I commented on Phil’s post, and I’ll reiterate one of my points here. Another Second World War lesson is that Britain found that it was possible to teach “difficult” languages to considerable numbers of men quickly. The Joint Services School for Linguists, a wartime innovation, had to evolve new teaching methods, and chose to concentrate on language-as-communication over formal teaching, as well as using total-immersion teaching. Postwar, it went on teaching Russian to high standards for large numbers of conscripts screened for linguistic ability up until the end of National Service in 1962. (It also made a considerable contribution to English literature, oddly enough. Alan Bennett, Michael Frayn, Dennis Potter, DM Thomas and Sir Peter Hall were all graduates.) The course aimed at producing translator-standard linguists in less than a year, and it ran through 5,000 conscripts in its postwar existence.

So – it can be done. Why it hasn’t can perhaps be seen in the reasons the JSSL succeeded. Those were: commitment to understanding Russian language and Russian culture, strict meritocracy, considerable investment, and innovation. I suspect 1) and 2) are the keys.





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