Monday, March 19, 2018

Bashar al-Assad drives himself to the front lines in Eastern Ghouta.

The above video shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad driving from Damascus to Eastern Ghouta in a Honda Civic to visit the troops on the front lines. The New York Times has an article about it here, but that's not really what I am interested in. 

For me this is a very good example of propaganda. Even though I am sure that the route was cleared for Assad and he was never in much danger the idea of a world leader driving around in a war zone like he was a normal person is fairly impressive. Though I am sure that security measures were taken, it does seem like a huge risk to have him driving around in a Honda Civic even if the road had been cleared before hand. 

The one thing Assad has been good at is portraying himself as a man of the people. Unlike many Arab leaders he doesn't seem to fear walking among his people. This is obvious propaganda and I doubt it is working that well but at the very least it makes him look a bit different than other leaders in the area. 

As for the battle of Eastern Ghouta itself, I haven't had too much to say about it. It's another typical battle in the Syrian civil war where the government is fighting rebels, many of which are Islamic extremists. Since it is taking place in a major city, it is a bloody and terrible affair and one that is causing people to condemn Assad and his forces yet again. 

Finally, though the video is obvious propaganda, the New York Times article isn't much better. The article did a good job of demonizing Assad just like the video tried to make him look like a bad ass. I think that both viewpoints are probably correct, Assad is a brutal dictator and a killer as well as being fairly tough as well. He's obviously not a good person but demonization isn't the way to go either. 

I also wanted to post the raw video of Assad's drive. It's not translated but it's free from any commentary as well. It's from RT, who obviously also has an agenda as well, but when it comes to Syria who doesn't have an agenda? 

British woman fighting for the Kurds in Syria died in combat against Turkey.

Anna Campbell. BBC.

A British woman fighting for the Kurds in Syria has died in combat against the Turkish military in Afrin last week. BBC. Anna Campbell was 26 years old and was from East Sussex. Campbell went to Syria last year to fight with the Kurds who were at the time battling against ISIS. Campbell participated in the battle for Dier Ez Zor against ISIS but when Turkey attacked Afrin she went and fought there as well. The Kurds did not want her to go as her blonde hair would have made her stand out, but she dyed her hair black to better fit in with the Kurds. Campbell reportedly died in a Turkish airstrike and is the 8th British citizen to die in the Syrian Civil War. 

My Comment:
I've got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I respect Campbell and her beliefs. I am not usually one to send out praise to feminists, but in this case I will offer an exception. Unlike many people in the west that claim to support women's rights and turn a blind eye to the Middle East, Campbell actually went to Syria and fought for them against ISIS. She picked up a gun and fought for women as opposed to hashtags and outrage. 

That alone is a pretty brave thing and if the BBC article is correct and Campbell saw active combat she deserves some kind of acknowledgement. Fighting as a westerner against ISIS is a fairly brave thing on its own. Doing it as a woman, knowing how ISIS treats them, is even braver. I've got a lot of respect for what Campbell was doing, even though I would probably have some very obvious political differences with her. 

On the other hand, long ago I said I would never join up with the Kurds because I knew something like this was going to happen. Not that I was ever considering it in the first place, but even if I was the prospect as an American citizen possibly being thrown into combat against a major US ally, Turkey, would not be something I would ever want to do. 

Going up against the Turkish military has a lot of different legal concerns and problems than just fighting ISIS. ISIS is an international terrorist organization, but had Campbell or any other westerner fighting with the Kurds wasted a couple of Turkish soldiers there could be hell to pay. I am not sure what the legality of that situation is but there is a chance that had Campbell survived and returned to the UK, she might have ended up in handcuffs. I'm not sure what would have been done but nobody else seems to know either. I can't imagine making war against a NATO ally would be something that can just be ignored though. 

Still, my sympathy is more with Campbell than with the Turks. I don't like the Turks offensive into Afrin, which seems to have ended with a victory for them. Though the Kurds are a bit far to the left for me to like them politically, at least they aren't fair-weather allies like the Turks. I've said dozens of times how they were poor allies in the fight against ISIS so we don't need to repeat the point, but it still stands. And I also think that the Turks interest with the Kurds is the destruction of their culture and ensuring that they will never be independent, plausible claims of terrorist action be damned. 

Speaking of the Turks, this might be a public relations nightmare for them. Afrin and the Turks actions there have largely flown under the radar. Not so much now. They just killed a British civilian and a female one at that. Plus Campbell was a feminist who was fighting for woman's rights against ISIS. Her face is going to be plastered all over the world right now and people will be asking "why did Turkey feel it necessary to kill the blonde feminist woman who was fighting for woman's rights?" Not a good move by Turkey, but I don't see how they avoid it short of calling off the offensive. 

I doubt that Anna Campbell will be the last westerner to die fighting with the Kurds. ISIS is still alive and kicking and the Turks and their Free Syrian Army allies are probably going to continue their offensive against the Kurds after the Afrin enclave is cleared out. Sadly, Campbell might just be the first of many westerners killed by the Turks. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Vladimir Putin wins another six years in a landslide election.

Vladimir Putin at a rally. Reuters. 

Vladimir Putin has won another six years as president in a landslide election victory. Reuters. Putin will rule until at least 2024, which will leave him at 71 years old. With 70 percent of the vote counted, Putin got 75.9 percent of the vote. Putin's victory was never really in doubt as he had an 80 percent approval rate. His nearest opponent, Pavel Grundinin, of the Communist Party, only got 13 percent of the vote. Despite the high turnout and strong performance from Putin, Russia still claims that the West attempted to interfere with their election. Putin's relationship with the west has faltered lately over Syria, Ukraine, allegations of election interference and the suspected poisoning of a spy in the UK. 

My Comment:
No surprises here. There was basically no chance that Vladimir Putin was going to be defeated in this election. His popularity in Russia is very high and there aren't really any other credible candidates. It would have taken a miracle for him to lose. 

Why is Putin so popular? For many of the reasons the West hates him. They are happy that Putin stands up to the west and they generally like his policies. They also remember the bad old days under communism and the rough start that Russia had after if fell. Say what you want about Putin but without him Russia would be a very different country. 

I also think this is part of why Putin has been so confrontational with the west lately. He's been fairly aggressive in Syria and is likely the cause of the diplomatic row with the UK over that poisoned spy. I think that both actions were for domestic benefit. He wants to show that he is stronger than the west and is willing to fight for Russia. Given his high numbers, it seems to be working. 

Some might find it odd that Russia claimed that the West interfered with the Russian elections given that Russia has been accused of the same thing. Of course, Russia is totally right and we did everything we could to help his opponents beat him. According to the intelligence community it's ok when we do it, but as far as I am concerned we don't have a moral leg to stand on when it comes to election interference.   

Still, Putin is not exactly our friend, to say the least. I am not very happy with how he exploited this diplomatic row with the UK for his own election even though he was probably going to win anyways. It would be nice if we had a leader in Russia that wasn't so cynical. 

It seems very likely that Putin will rule for life. He's scheduled to be out in 2024 but he managed to keep in power despite term limits. He has changed the rules before and I am guessing if he wants to keep ruling in 2024 he will probably find away. I don't see him leaving for reasons other than health anytime soon. 

What happens in Russia after Putin is gone? Who knows? There isn't really an opposition party that has any credible candidates and Putin hasn't named any successors. I am sure they will come up with somebody but who that will be is not something I can speculate on. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

US Air Force has no real plan to procure a light attack aircraft.

A pair of AT-6 Wolverines. The Drive/Textron.

The US Air Force's plan to procure a light attack aircraft is not going well. The Drive/Warzone. The Air Force hasn't even defined what requirements they will have for the attack plane, let alone procured a large number of planes for evaluation. Right now the competition is between Textron's AT-6 Wolverine and Embraer's A-26 Super Tucano. It is possible that the Air Force will buy small order of planes and then replace them shortly after. 

My Comment:
Weapons procurement continues to be a giant mess and the OA-X program is yet another example. You would think it would be pretty easy to just pick one of these planes and deploy them but it never seems to work out that way. There are so many things that go wrong in these cases.

Part of it is lobbying and pork. This contract would bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to whoever gets it. You better believe that Textron and Embraer are doing everything they can to secure the contract. 

All that being said I am excited by the OA-X program. Though the planes aren't sexy or cool, they are an important cog in the military machine that will help our troops on the ground. Much like the venerable A-10's these planes are meant to partially replace, they get the job of close air support done. 

I also think that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to not have these planes deployed already. The vast majority of air support missions seem to be overkill. Having F-15's and F-16's drop guided bombs when a turboprop aircraft could accomplish the same thing most of the time for much cheaper is a waste of money. 

The only problem I have with using these small planes is survivability. The threat of air defenses hasn't been a big deal until recently. The global proliferation of MANPADS has changed the calculus a bit. 

Unlike our high flying attack jets, like the F-15 and F-16 or the tough as nails A-10 Warthogs, these small aircraft seem especially vulnerable to air to ground missiles. Countermeasures can help against that but the Islamic militants that we so often fight aren't helpless against light attack aircraft.   

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Broward County releases video showing armed officer standing around during a mass shooting.

Broward County has released video showing the armed school resource officer Scot Peterson standing around while Nikolas Cruz was killing people. Washington Post. Peterson has been branded a coward for not responding to the mass shooting. Peterson claims he thought the shooting was coming from outside so he did not enter the building. Peterson has been suspended and is under investigation for his actions. The video was released on a judges order. 

My Comment:
Not much to say about this one other than it confirms what we expected. Scot Peterson was cowardly and did not to his job. All he had to do was confront the gunman. He might not have survived but it was his job to protect the students at the school and he failed to do so. And given how so many of these mass shooters kill themselves or surrender after confronted he could have saved many lives. But he didn't, either because he was a coward or because he was a complete idiot. 

I don't really buy his excuse either. I don't understand why he claims that he thought the gunfire was coming from inside when the video shows a bunch of people running from the building. If he really thought the shooting was from the outside why didn't he stop them from running into danger? All he did is stand around in either case. 

I do have to say that I don't want to make it sound like Peterson was the only person who screwed up here. He was only the one that the media is focusing on while ignoring the actions of other officers, school officials and the FBI. 

Peterson may have been a coward but he was just one of the last people to fail the students at the school. The police chief, Scott Israel, along with the school board, put into place policies from the Obama Justice Department that made sure that Nikolas Cruz wasn't arrested for his long history of crimes. The FBI didn't investigate Cruz even after he was reported twice. And other officers failed to enter the crime scene until after Cruz had fled. 

So yes, we can condemn the obvious cowardice and stupidity of Scot Peterson. But he should not be alone in that condemnation. The entire system failed the victims of Cruz and Peterson was just a small cog in that machine...