Archive for the ‘war’ Category

Did anyone notice that Liam Fox had an audience of Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, or I suppose they of him although you know how these things work around here, some time this spring? It’s in the latest MOD meetings disclosure, which runs up to March 2011. MOD is probably the most assiduous department for meetings disclosure – not only do they provide lists up to March, they have yet to randomly change the file format even once, insert random foreign characters, use multiple spellings of the minister’s surname, suddenly start publishing PDF files, or indulge in any other quirks. (On the other hand, the Cabinet Office has suddenly developed an addiction to PDFs.)

However, I notice that this meeting doesn’t have a date, nor a purpose. It’s just there – Liam Fox, Rupert, and Becks. It’s possible that this is a quirk, as immediately before it there is a meeting listed with John Witherow of the Sunday Times for a “Defence Briefing” in March 2011 and perhaps they interpolated the duplicate items. (The doctrine of just war, however, does require as well as just cause and reasonable chances of success that the decision be taken by legitimate authority.)

Meanwhile, WhosLobbying.com has a problem with the Home Office, in that if you try to look up the Home Office on their website, the site chokes and returns a 500 internal server error.

I suppose it’s understandable. If you want any other shocking document release stories, the Daily Hell has plenty. I especially like the image of Blair in the den, plugging through the borrowed prose of Saif Gaddafi’s PhD thesis. Haven’t I seen this before somewhere?

In my continuing fit of doom about Korea, this isn’t helping – a US Military Sealift Command reserve freighter full of Maritime Prepositioning System kit is practising offloading it all in a Korean port. Supposedly, when they’re finished they’ll put it all back aboard and sail away. If you believe that, though…

The MPS is the US military’s way of saving time shipping stuff around; they basically keep all the gear for an Army or Marine brigade packed in a ship somewhere strategic. Instant force, just add soldiers, who can come by air. This has a nasty logistics sound to it. Meanwhile, there is a real danger of war, says a Korean strategist from CSIS. Serious politicians are saying things like “reunification is drawing near” and that the Japanese military might be sent to look for people abducted by North Korea. That last one, from the Japanese prime minister, has an even nastier propaganda sound to it.

The Chinese envoy has been to Pyongyang, while the Foreign Ministry has had a pop at the US commander in chief in the Pacific, Admiral Mullen. This could be good news in the sense that Chinese engagement might warn off anyone from doing anything dangerous. The US Deputy Secretary of State is going to Beijing soon with a delegation, followed by Robert Gates next month.

And if you want to know what a joint US-Japanese carrier fleet looks like

OK, so it’s time for another chapter of the Strategic Defence Review as a Blog.

Chapter 2 begins as follows:

The use of force as an option is becoming more complicated. It is likely to become more difficult to use force in the way in which we have used it in the last two decades.

This is of course code for Iraq. The Iraq experience is a considerable theme through the chapter.

Many of our assumptions about joint working and expeditionary capabilities have been validated. But experience has shown that our operations have developed in more complex ways than we envisaged. We have sometimes underestimated the intricacy of working in multi-national operations and with non-military actors

To put it another way: We were right to expect we wouldn’t spend all our time in Germany. Further, we had to talk to the RAF. But one particular operation turned out to be much more complicated and much more serious than we allowed ourselves to imagine.

Looking ahead, The Future Character of Conflict will grow more complex. We are likely to face a range of simultaneous threats and adversaries in challenging operating areas – such as fighting in urban areas against enemies concealed amongst civilians. We are also likely to be subject to greater scrutiny from the media and public, both in the UK and overseas. Communications is now a key component of any campaign.

That seems to be communications as in “strategic communications” – PR, in other words. Nothing to do with being Better Off With Map And Nokia. Snark aside, again, this is the experience of Iraq glaring through.

Technological development, especially in the fields of cyberspace and space, may further change our understanding of conflict. It is likely to be more difficult to maintain our technological edge over some adversaries, or to bring that edge to bear on others, with a profound effect on the way we operate.

Anything electronic is now cheap, and the big power monopoly of satellite reconnaissance is breaking down.

There follows a list of operations and arguments that tend to support the 1998 SDR and the later New Chapter. They do not include Iraq, and only mention Afghanistan in passing on the grounds that we got there logistically, until we get to this paragraph:

Special Forces have demonstrated their value across a broad spectrum of activity, from operating alongside our conventional forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to capacity-building with partners or hostage rescue.

However, when we get on to the “lessons learned”, we get this:

Our assumption that we could “go first, go fast and go home” has proved false. We believed that we could deploy our forces for the most difficult early intervention stage of a conflict, and leave the subsequent stabilisation and development tasks to partners. But we have not been able – or wished – to disengage as we had planned. We have therefore further improved our ability to sustain deployed forces, including, for example, through additional procurement of strategic lift.

I think this is important. Going first, going fast, and going home was very close to the early Rumsfeld view – airpower, strategic mobility, force protection, and an almost neurotic self-assertion towards allies. It’s rather what the European Council on Foreign Relations says here; Europe was meant to do the boring stuff. It reminds me of the old line about “America cooks and Europe washes up”. Well, if you never wash up, eventually you get typhoid. The reference to additional lift was the decision to lease, at vast cost, and eventually buy the RAF some C-17 transports – a sort of shadow of the concurrent procurement train crash around the Future Strategic Transport Aircraft.

The international and national policy and legal framework is having an increasing impact on our operations. Defence continues to make an important contribution to tackling terrorism overseas, following the lines set out in the SDR New Chapter in 2002. The role of Defence in working with other departments to tackle the drivers of terrorism, and to build security capacity, is crucial – although the scope for conducting overseas counterterrorism operations is narrower than envisaged in 2002.

Indeed – 2002, and the spirit of 2002, are a long time ago, and:

In many cases, our operations have developed in much more complex and dynamic ways than we envisaged and planned for, and we have not been able to adapt as rapidly as we would have liked.

Indeed.

In particular, in our focus on our geographical area of responsibility, for example in Basra, we may have placed insufficient emphasis on the multi-national operational level. In the later stages of operations in Iraq, the full integration of UK staff into US and coalition headquarters significantly improved the coordination of our contribution. We are taking that lesson forward in Afghanistan.

To put it another way: We thought we could ignore what was going on in Baghdad, Anbar, and Multinational Division South-Centre, and just crack on in Basra without rocking the boat. But it’s impossible to divide the problems of war, whether between land, sea, and air or between geographies within the same theatre. When they wanted war elsewhere, we opted out of the big decisions and lost the ability to say no effectively.

Our deployment of formed headquarters and formations for limited periods has not reflected the need for “campaign continuity”. We have now extended the tour lengths for key headquarters personnel and are looking at options that would ensure greater continuity throughout the headquarters. We are clear that we need to go further to produce better campaign continuity.

This was a problem for the Americans in Vietnam and also for the British Army in various counterinsurgencies. It’s probably common to all armies involved in a long war that isn’t utterly central to their worldview, because it’s driven by career structures. To be a general, you must have a general’s command, and why would you be a general if not to command? Further, what they usually command is a formation, and formations usually rotate. Ad-hoc geographical or functional commands are against the bureaucratic structures involved – perhaps it’s because of this that they are always necessary.

We have found it challenging to identify and rapidly implement lessons in doctrine. This is inherently difficult, but in some areas we have already moved a long way. The Army recently issued a new Counter-Insurgency Doctrine, and we now have a dedicated training facility for counter-insurgency in the UK.

Well, they’re right, really.

Often, innovation within the operation has minimised the adverse impact of these weaknesses. In our current operations, we have incorporated those insights into our strategic policy. Our Afghanistan/ Pakistan Strategy, and General McChrystal’s strategy, are based on a clear understanding of the challenges we face, a long-term vision founded on integrated political, development and military action and an overarching regional approach. Our Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) procedures are delivering the equipment our forces need as the requirements evolve. The Government has approved over £5.5 billion of UORs in Afghanistan since the operation began.

To put it another way – we muddled through, sort of. The reference to UORs corroborates this – part of the reason why the armed forces don’t buy all they need through UORs is that they go around much of the procurement process, in order to be urgent. This means, of course, that they may end up paying more, or getting less. On the other hand, the very fact that they needed to raise £5.5 billion worth of them for Afghanistan – that’s as much as the carriers – suggests that the normal procurement process is dysfunctional.

What about the future? It’s likely to be:

* Contested – access and freedom of manoeuvre – even as we attempt to deploy into the regional theatre – will have to be fought for;
* Congested – we are likely to be unavoidably drawn into urban areas, the littoral and lower airspace;
* Cluttered – we will find it difficult to discriminate between a mass of ambiguous targets – friendly forces, other international actors such as non-governmental organisations or development agencies, media representatives, local civilians and our adversaries;
* Connected – key lines of communication, including critical military infrastructure, maritime chokepoints and computer networks, will be vulnerable to attack and disruption; and
* Constrained – legal and social changes will place additional limits on our actions.

This is true, but hardly original. This is a good book.

Our preferred way of warfare – concentrating force, bringing technology to bear and seeking rapid defeat of our adversaries – may not be as effective as it has been in the past.

Is that our preferred way of warfare? I think this might need a debate. It sounds a lot like a classic statement of the American way of war, which may be the problem. Of course, nobody wants to disperse force, fail to use technology to best advantage, and seek endless, inconclusive struggle – but if Rupert Smith is right and struggle tends to be endless and inconclusive, and technology less decisive than expected, perhaps this should have some bearing on our preferences.

And here comes the dread word: “cyber”.

Cyber Space, in particular, poses serious and complex challenges for UK security and for the Armed Forces’ operations. Our increasing dependence on cyber capabilities creates opportunities but also serious vulnerabilities. Cyber attacks are already an important element of the security environment and are growing in seriousness and frequency. The most sophisticated threat is from established and capable states but cyber eliminates the importance of distance, is low cost and is anonymous in nature, making it an important domain, not just for hostile states, but terrorists, and criminals alike. Cyber space is critical to much of our military effort here and overseas and to our national infrastructure.

Note that the most sophisticated threat comes from states – not the main or the most serious threat. Of course, if the feared attack involves an electron microscope or a quantum computer, a state is the most likely attacker. But it’s in the very nature of information security that the great overwhelming majority of threats come from a huge diversity of tiny actors, and they are just as capable of doing serious damage as anyone else.

Further, defence against these threats tends to be the same – basically, sensible network management. The good news here is that there is no talk of giant firewalls or of “cyberdeterrence” – just of sensible security precautions. Further, the realities of the threat environment are taken seriously. No Dr. Evil plots here, nor cold war fantasies, just a space rather like the sea. The upshot of this is that the UK has far greater interests in keeping the infrastructure up, working, and open to all than it could possibly have in disrupting it. Very like the sea.

The National Security Strategy also set out the increasing challenges we face in Space. The Armed Forces’ dependence on space has grown rapidly over recent years. Access to space-derived information is now critical to our ability to conduct operations. This makes us vulnerable. The development of offensive counter-space capabilities is a particular concern. But, given our reliance on assets we do not control, there is also a risk of loss of access in periods of high demand – such as during large-scale operations or in the event of a sudden reduction in existing capacity. A continued close relationship with the US underpins our access to space capabilities. But we intend to look closely at how we contribute to allied programmes or develop national capabilities.

This is probably the most significant paragraph in the chapter. After 1971, the UK hasn’t tried to maintain its own reconnaissance satellite capability, nor has it participated in multilateral projects. It is thought, although as with everything between the UK and the USA, it is not written down in anything subject to ratification, that there is an understanding that the USA would share its overhead imagery with the UK. We know that this was turned down at least once during the Falklands War.

Tellingly, during the Iraq war, European countries fell in three groups. Those who had their own imagery – France and Germany. They didn’t participate at all. Those who got such a capability after the spring of 2003 – Spain and Italy. They left early. Those who had nothing at all – everyone else, basically. The outlier is Turkey, which didn’t have such a capability (although they did have representatives at the EU Satellite Centre) but didn’t get involved. Then, the Turks probably had good human sources in Iraq. They’ve since ordered a high-resolution photographic satellite from Telespazio of Italy.

Exactly what the US chose to share with us out of the wealth of imagery its national technical means, as they say, produced remains one of the great questions about the UK’s involvement in Iraq.

Research and development investment in defence technology in emerging nations has been increasing significantly over the past decade. Some key equipment produced by these countries is already as capable as equivalent equipment produced by the UK and our key allies and partners.

Civil investment in research and development, both nationally and globally, is now much larger than equivalent defence spending. Much of this research is developing technology – for example in communications, materials or biomedical science – which could be used in a military or wider security context. But the Ministry of Defence and our international partners in defence can expect to have less visibility of and expertise in such cutting edge technology than we have had in the past.

Loss of our technological edge in significant areas of military capability would have a profound effect on the way we operate.

This is the Arduino question; the proliferation of what used to be technology confined to the superpowers, or as Phil Hunt put it, what happens when a Congolese workshop with a RepRap can make a surface to air missile? Arguably, the key point here is that there is nothing we can do about it except for getting more like that ourselves – which comes back to the procurement economy.

As Kings of War’s David Betz says, this is an argument for general-purpose forces more than anything else. He also quotes the Navy as follows:

* Firstly, what do you want to defend and what are the Standing Commitments for Defence?
* Secondly, we need to have a clear idea about what we as a country would aspire to do on our own.
* Third, where the UK is operating as a coalition member, how do we want to influence our partners?

Well, this is hardly surprising; the FBI was in the habit of pretending to be on a terrorism case every time they wanted telecoms traffic data. Their greed for call-detail records is truly impressive. Slurp! Unsurprisingly, the lust for CDRs and the telcos’ eagerness to shovel them in rapidly got the better of their communications analysis unit’s capacity to crunch them.

Meanwhile, Leah Farrell wonders about the problems of investigating “edge-of-network” connections. Obviously, these are going to be the interesting ones. Let’s have a toy model; if you dump the CDRs for a group of suspects, 10 men in Bradford, and pour them into a visualisation tool, the bulk of the connections on the social network graph will be between the terrorists themselves, which is only of interest for what it tells you about the group dynamics. There will be somebody who gets a lot of calls from the others, and they will probably be important; but as I say, most of the connections will be between members of the group because that’s what the word “group” means. If the likelihood of any given link in the network being internal to it isn’t very high, then you’re not dealing with anything that could be meaningfully described as a group.

By definition, though, if you’re trying to find other terrorists, they will be at the edge of this network; if they weren’t, they’d either be in it already, or else they would be multiple hops away, not yet visible. So, any hope of using this data to map the concealed network further must begin at the edge of the sub-network we know about. And the principle that the ability to improve a design occurs primarily at the interfaces – this is also the prime location for screwing it up also points this way.

But there’s a really huge problem here. The modelling assumptions are that a group is defined by being significantly more likely to communicate among itself than with any other subset of the phone book, that the group is small relative to the world around it, and that it is boring; everyone has roughly similar phoning behaviour, and therefore who they call is the question that matters. I think these are reasonable.

The problem is that it’s exactly at the edge of the network that the numbers of possible connections start to curve upwards, and that the density of suspects in the population falls. Some more assumptions; an average node talks to x others, with calls being distributed among them on a well-behaved curve. Therefore, the set of possibilities is multiplied by x for each link you follow outwards; even if you pick the top 10% of the calling distribution, you’re going to fall off the edge as the false positives pile up. After three hops and x=8, we’re looking at 512 contacts from the top 10% of the calling distribution alone.

In fact, it’s probably foolish to assume that suspects would be in the top 10% of the distribution; most people have mothers, jobs, and the like, and you also have to imagine that the other side would deliberately try to minimise their phoning or, more subtly, to flatten the distribution by splitting their communications over a lot of different phone numbers. Actually, one flag of suspicion might be people who were closely associated by other evidence who never called each other, but the false positive rate for that would be so high that it’s only realistically going to be hindsight.

Conclusions? The whole project of big-scale database-driven social network analysis is based on the wrong assumptions, which are drawn either from military signals intelligence or from classical policing. Military traffic analysis works because it assumes that the available signals are a subset of a much bigger total, and that this total is large compared to the world. This makes sense because that’s what the battlefield of electronic warfare is meant to look like – cleared of civilian activity, dominated by one side or the other’s military traffic. Working from the subset of enemy traffic that gets captured, it’s possible to infer quite a lot about the system it belongs to.

Police investigation works because it limits the search space and proceeds along multiple lines of enquiry; rather than pulling CDRs and assuming the three commonest numbers must be suspects, it looks for suspects based on the witness and forensic evidence of the case, and then uses other sources of data to corroborate or refute suspicion.

To summarise, traffic analysis works on the assumption that there is an army out there. We can only see part of it, but we can make inferences about the rest because we know there is an army. Police investigation works on the observation that there has been a crime, and the assumption that probably, only a small number of people are possible suspects.

So, I’m a bit underwhelmed by projects like this. One thing that social network datamining does, undoubtedly, achieve is to create handsome data visualisations. But this is dangerous; it’s an opportunity to mistake beauty for truth. (And they will look great on a PowerPoint slide!)

Another, more insidious, more sinister one is to reinforce the assumptions we went into the exercise with. Traffic-analysis methodology will produce patterns; our brains love patterns. But the surge of false positives means that once you get past the first couple of hops, essentially everything you see will be a false positive result. If you’ve already primed your mind with the idea that there is a sinister network of subversives everywhere, techniques like this will convince you even further.

Unconsciously, this may even be the purpose of the exercise – the latent content of Evan Kohlmann. At the levels of numbers found in telco billing systems, everyone will eventually be a suspect if you just traverse enough links.

Which reminded me of Evelyn Waugh, specifically the Sword of Honour trilogy. Here’s his comic counterintelligence officer, Colonel Grace-Groundling-Marchpole:

Colonel Marchpole’s department was so secret that it communicated only with the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff. Colonel Marchpole kept his information until it was asked for. To date that had not occurred and he rejoiced under neglect. Premature examination of his files might ruin his private, undefined Plan. Somewhere, in the ultimate curlicues of his mind, there was a Plan.

Given time, given enough confidential material, he would succeed in knitting the entire quarrelsome world into a single net of conspiracy in which there were no antagonists, only millions of men working, unknown to one another, for the same end; and there would be no more war.

Want a positive idea? One reading of this and this would be that the failure of intelligence isn’t a failure to collect or analyse information about the world, or rather it is, but it is caused by a failure to collect and analyse information about ourselves.

It took a while, but somebody finally acted on those 38-year old gaskets. The BBC is reporting that the RAF’s Nimrod MR2 fleet has been grounded for the replacement of the engine bay hot air ducts, the famous pipe involved in the loss of XV230 over Afghanistan in September, 2006. According to my own sources, the original plan was to have them all examined and either replace, overhaul, or ignore depending on the results, but BAE as the Design Authority wasn’t keen on this (who would be?) and therefore the ducts were all declared time-expired.

The upshot is that in order to maintain the RAF’s maritime commitments in the North Atlantic (which seems to be what “critical homeland security tasks” are in Bob Ainsworth’s statement), they have to find enough airframes to maintain the sub-spotting and SAR quick reaction alerts while the fleet goes through the engineering wing at RAF Waddington. This means that the Nimrod detachment in the Middle East is being withdrawn.

Its tasks included supporting the various naval operations in the area (pirate spotting, looking for a dhow with Osama Bin Laden on the bridge, and looking after oil platforms off Iraq) but also providing special reconnaissance capabilities for the Army in Afghanistan, both with the Searchwater 2000 radar and also providing a live video feed. Readers with a long memory will recall that XV230 was the first Nimrod to get the video capability under an Urgent Operational Requirement for Helmand in early 2006.

Apparently “other UK or coalition aircraft” will fill the gap. The whole affair originates from one of the great cockups of British defence procurement – the much-delayed, if formidable, MRA4 Nimrod, which has been in the works since the 1980s under various titles. (One of which was “Nimrod 2000″…) The decision to convert existing airframes rather than build new, in order to save money, turned out to be a very bad one, especially as the original airframes were essentially built by hand, with the result that the new CAD-CAM’d wings didn’t fit any of the fuselages and the job ran several hundreds of millions over budget and many years behind schedule. The first flight has now been achieved, but part of the problem is that the planned fleet has shrunk dramatically, and the existing MR2s have been flogged to death waiting for the new airframes.

Says Bryan O’Sullivan in his bookmarks:

Kevin Myers, the ne plus ultra of ballbag Anglo-Irish reactionary hacks, surprises us all by writing what might be an essential close-up of the Troubles. Maybe his lunatic, protean nature was a perfect fit for the time.

This was the upshot of this post. I promised, I think, to review Myers’ book once I got it, and here goes. Well, for a start, O’Sullivan isn’t wrong – the young Kevin Myers this book portrays is no reactionary, but he is certainly a ballbag, a hack, and occasionally a near-lunatic. It’s good to read a journalist memoir which isn’t wildly self-glorifying, and a major theme of Watching the Door which runs in parallel, in politics and in life, is shame. Myers admits that his younger self, the RTE journo in Belfast, was at worst little better than a war tourist getting off on the bang-bang, the gangster glam of the paramilitary underworld, and the sexual opportunities the war provided. Not just that – but he admits that he happily let actual journalism slide, in favour of attending to his own self-obsession.

On the other hand, though, what are the accepted moral standards in a society like early-70s Belfast? The city Myers describes is one where several of the forces that keep civilisation going have failed – shame is one, and another is scepticism. People are willing to do appalling things, and also to believe anything, so long as it’s about themmuns. Killers shoot a teenage boy and then give his younger brother, abducted with him, tenpence for the bus fare. This kind of perverted kindness recurs throughout, as the original structures of morality and authority collapse. Similarly, the traumatised seek comfort in other forms of religious bullshit, like the cultist charlatan Oliver Cromwell Whiteside – the sections of the book involving whom are desperately painful.

Not even primarily the official ones of law, the state, the church; one of the most telling moments in the book is Myers’ encounter with a legendary dockside brawler, once a feared enforcer throughout the North, who never hit a man again after a fifteen-year old boy pulled a gun on him. His version of order was hardly desirable, but what came after was infinitely worse. It’s a vision of the classic northern working-class town gone rotten, its social networks re-organised around the new class of mini-warlords and the new war economy based first on extortion and fraud, and later on heroin imports, rather as the process of scarring re-organises the skin’s cellular structure. Peace was impossible so long as the British and Irish governments were still talking to the shells of the old society, rather than the people who controlled the war system.

It’s also a book about youth; when you’re young, shame, scepticism and responsibility are not particularly big concerns. They weren’t for Myers, for his many girlfriends (like the one who let the IRA know his car registration after an unsatisfactory threesome), or for the new men of the paramilitary world. One thing that stands out is how many of these people were enjoying themselves – the transition from ordinary routine, Catholic morality or Protestant propriety, to intrigue, violence, and nervous hedonism was clearly a liberation for a lot of people. In many ways, it was yet another version of the 1968 generation; just conditioned by history to be a peculiarly horrible one. Here, under the combined influence of sectarianism, a particularly dense conservative power-structure, and an existing thug culture, the liberation turned out to be the liberation from freedom that militarism has always offered directionless young men.

In a sense, the great divide wasn’t even so much between the loyalists and republicans, but between a kind of unified paramilitary subculture and everyone else. Other divides were the class divide, between the players, the fans, and the targets on one side, and the garden centre unionists and castle Catholics on the other out in the suburbs, and between the old and the young, those who were quite content with a frozen conflict and those who either wanted to win or end it.

However, I find another strand of the book less compelling. Myers insists on his own complicity in a number of violent incidents I really don’t think he bears real responsibility for. I MUST RECOGNISE MY GUILT!! can be a form of self-dramatising, self-important bollocks too. And insisting on some sort of duty of journalists to cooperate with the authorities…well, that’s reactionary, hackish, and rather Decent.

The Times has been doing the best reporting from Iraq by far at the moment. Here’s some evidence.

Now, to substance. Note this:

“We have received a shipment of Strela antiaircraft rockets,” Abu Sajad boasted to a Sunday Times reporter.

“We intend to use them to prove to the world that the Mahdi Army will not allow Basra to be turned into a second Falluja.”

This could get bad, especially if the Sadrists can be as good at shooting down helicopters as that NOIA outfit in early 2007 were. Anyway, the last dispatch is that far from the Iraqi government offering anyone mercy in exchange for surrender, Moqtada al-Sadr has just issued an official Leave It, Daz, He’s Not Worth It order to his army to stop beating them. I can’t see any evidence of this being due to imminent government triumph, so I reckon it’s a mix of an exercise in contemptuous indulgence and a renewed assault on the moral high ground.

Think of that; officially at least, the Sadrists have been on ceasefire, more sinned against than sinning, acting only in self defence, but they’ve also kicked the shit out of the Iraqi government, and now they’re looking to exit the confrontation on their terms. The question about this is of course whether the big red stop button will work; Sadr has historically had only coarse control of his army, basically a choice between STAND BY and BURN SHIT DOWN. It’s quite possible that the political dynamic will get out of hand, though, and there are signs of this round taking on a life of its own.

For example, it is reported that the Mahdi Army in Baghdad has been going after the usually ex-NOIA, Sunni “Awakening Councils”/”Sons of Iraq”, even to the point of attacking Sunni territory; apparently, their outposts are being rolled up into more defensible concentrations, which would mean at least a temporary disruption of the US counter-insurgency strategy, and at worst the enduring loss of territorial control and a major NOIA counteroffensive, probably (if you want a guess) in Diyala. Policemen are deserting in droves of up to battalion strength. It may be that this round of violence, like all the others in Iraq, is breeding its own army; 2004 gave us the original Mahdi Army and the NOIA, 2005 the SCIRI fake policemen, 2006 the ex-NOIA countergangs, 2007-8 the Mahdi Army 2.0?

There’s more evidence of renewed sectarian war here. Brief thought; has anyone else noticed that as well as improving its coverage, the Times has started referring to Moqtada al-Sadr as Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr? This shows both greater respect, and significantly improved spelling. (So has the US Army.)

Finally, let’s all be thankful the Mahdi Army mortarmen missed Tariq al-Hashemi, this blog’s favourite not-quite-an-insurgent Sunni politico and Iraqi vice president. Because that probably would have been the starting gun for the various Awakenings to turn.

Update: I spoke too soon. Someone tried to assassinate the governor of Diyala earlier today.

Well, it’s not as if we weren’t warned; the Iraqi government had been threatening to move against Fadhila in Umm Qasr, and there had been increasing tension between the Iraqi government and the Sadr movement going back to Christmas. Not so long ago, there were demonstrations in Sadr City against Sadr; they thought the movement wasn’t standing up to increasing provocation from police/SCIRI as was//Badr Corps men feeling braver now they didn’t have to fight NOIA any more.

You can read the violence in a number of ways; the government/ISCI/Dawa probably briefed it to the Americans as an extension of their counter-insurgency plan to the deep south, with the added twist that this was an operation the Iraqi army would throw all by itself, hence good politics. Sadr of course will consider it an outrage by the collaborationist-Iranian bastards, eerily mirroring Petraeus’s response to the Green Zone bombardment; if you adopt Jamie Kenny’s policy of trying to think like Leonardo Sciascia, you’ll see it merely as a fight for oil rake-offs between (as Douglas Adams put it) rival police gangs. As always, SF leads the way into history.

Daniel Davies has apparently finally taken my much repeated advice and read A Bright Shining Lie, which has apparently led him to conclude that the Dawa-Sadr fighting is a good thing on the grounds that it strengthens the government, even if only as the biggest gang. Well, it has led the annoying look-at-me contrarian Daniel Davies to do so; what the real one thinks I don’t know. I don’t agree; the Sadr movement demonstrated its deterrent capability on day one, when it resumed rocketing the Green Zone and seized police stations across the Big Gap in southern Iraq, as well as the road between Amara and Basra, rather as they did in the first and second Shia risings in 2004. Further to its massive popularity, the Sadrists also have had at least a tacit alliance with some currents in NOIA – there’s a risk of the whole shithouse crashing down. Note that the Dawa and Sadrists, and ISIC, are on the opposite sides of one of Iraq’s worst territorial fights.

So inevitably, the US authorities seem to have swallowed the “southern surge” thing, and are now pressing for more British troops to be sent – not just that, but for an advance back into Basra. This is genuinely bugfuck insane and the Prime Minister has no choice but to reject it; there is literally no-one left. Army planners are already looking at calling out at least 2 TA battalions in their entirety to cover routine tasks; a mass of resources is going into Afghanistan; there is some question as to whether there is another brigade in the tubes for the next but one rotation in Iraq. The inter-allied shit just hit the fan.

Of course, nothing would do more for Gordon Brown’s polls than turning the fan right up…it’s worth noting that officially, the only support MNDSE is giving this operation is aerial reconnaissance; that could perfectly well be provided from Kuwait. However, maybe not.

Gratuitous Dogfight Blogging

I don’t know why Danger Room is so surprised about this; apparently one of the Hungarian Air Force’s new Saab Gripens managed to claim a shootdown of a Eurofighter Typhoon during an exercise (is that the first encounter between 4th generation fighters?).

The first point is that the Gripen isn’t second-rate at all, as DR implies; it’s a genuine fourth-generation fighter. The manufacturers (Saab and BAE) respectively built the Saab Viggen, an F15E/Tornado GR1A/Sukhoi 24-class strike aircraft in the 80s, and the Tornado itself; BAE, of course, is also a major workshare partner in the Eurofighter.

The second point is that there is a history of lightweight fighters doing better than expected; back in the 60s, the Singaporean air force’s BAC Strikemasters – Jet Provost initial trainers with guns – occasionally shocked the RAF Lightnings and RAAF Mirages. At the same time, the North Vietnamese MiG-17s and -19s did very well against US F-4s. More recently, the Sea Harrier FA2 had a similar reputation. This is actually why the Americans decided to develop the F-16.

It all goes back to John Boyd, and his ideas of the OODA loop and the importance of shifting energy states; if you’re small, you’ll be seen later, and you can turn tighter without losing as much energy. Of course, smallness has costs; the Gripen is comparable to the Typhoon in many ways, except range.

It’s incredible what you can find out if you read the newspaper closely enough (said I.F. Stone, apparently). He wasn’t wrong. Yesterday, a soldier from the 4th Battalion, the Rifles (ex-Green Jackets, for those who aren’t keeping up..) was killed in Basra. Note the detail, though: Major Harding was killed by mortar fire onto the Provincial Joint Coordination Centre, that is to say the Iraqi/British tactical command for Basra, which is apparently right downtown.

This is, of course, a problem – with the general concentration back at the RAF’s Basra Air Station, small installations like this one are going to be more isolated. There is no clear solution – keeping multiple battalion-size camps in the city of Basra is clearly not a good idea, if it ever was, but moving the PJCC out to the Air Station would be politically foolish and would help cut the Iraqi police and army off in a mini-Green Zone. Hence:

Maj Harding, who served as a rifleman for 30 years, arrived in Basra less than a month before he was killed. He was put in charge of security, resupply and liaison at the Provincial Joint Co-ordination Centre, a small and isolated outpost in central Basra city shared with Iraqi security forces.

On one of his first days there, the building was attacked by more than 200 armed militiamen. Under Maj Harding’s “calm and inspiring leadership” British troops fought off the attacks for four hours, using more than 9,000 rounds of ammunition.

On Tuesday night, Maj Harding placed himself in the centre’s front sangar – the most exposed fortified position – to help secure the route in for a resupply convoy from the Basra Palace base. He was hit by a mortar round and died instantly.