Sunday, April 30, 2017

High tensions between US and Turkey over US support of Kurdish militia.

A US Stryker APC driving with a Kurdish convoy in Syria. Washington Post/AP.

Tensions are growing between Turkey and the United States over the American government's support of the Kurds in Iraq and Syria. AP. The United States has deployed vehicles, including light armor, to patrol the border region between Turkey and the Kurdish held areas of Syria. Turkey has denounced the move and considers the Kurdish YPG units to be part of the terrorist group PKK. In response to the American activity, Turkey has deployed armor near the border area. Tensions are high after massive airstrikes hit Kurdish bases in both Syria and Iraq and a series of border artillery and mortar skirmishes. 

Another view of the convoy. AFP

In addition, Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan has said that he was "saddened" to see the US flag flying along with the Kurds. AFP.  Erdogan watched the footage himself and called the YPG units "terrorists". He said that he would bring up the issue when he meets with President Donald Trump when he visits the United States on May 16th. Erdogan also claimed that more airstrikes against the Kurds were possible and that US cooperation with the Kurds has to "end now".

My Comment:
This situation with the Turks is getting out of control. Last week, they blew up quite a few of our best allies in the fight against ISIS. That series of airstrikes really changed things on the ground due to the fact that the United States has a lot of troops on the ground and it could have resulted in US casualties. Thankfully, that didn't happen, but if Turkey tries more airstrikes, it could happen. 

Indeed, it seems like a major reason these units are operating with the Kurds right now is to prevent them from being bombed. It's a major warning to the Turks that we won't just let them bomb our allies on the ground. Attacking a convoy partially made up with US vehicles would have a massive political cost even if no American servicemen were injured or killed. They are essentially human shields, which is a hell of a role to ask for US soldiers... Especially when they are protecting against a key NATO ally.

I find Erdogan's complaints about us flying our flags on our vehicles stupid. First of all, nobody tells us that we can't fly our flags on our military vehicles. Period. I think Donald Trump would make that very clear to Erdogan when they meet. Second, one of the reasons we are flying those flags is for IFF purposes. We want our allies on the ground to know that our vehicles belong to us and not to any of the other factions that have US made vehicles. Since ISIS still controls a few US made Humvee's and other vehicles, flying an American flag could prevent a friendly fire incident. Friendly fire is a huge concern and the precious feelings of Erdogan do not compare to that interest. 

Still, I can't imagine that Erdogan expects us to simply give up on the Kurds and their Arab rebel allies. To do so would give ISIS a huge opening to gain back some territory and release some of the pressure they are under right now. The Kurds may mostly be in a defensive role right now, but they are supporting us in our advances against Raqqa and Mosul, freeing up other forces to fight. If we cut off the Kurds, we can forget about our push to Raqqa and it could hurt the battle for Mosul. 

Of course Erdogan is right that there probably are some PKK terrorists mixed with with the YPG. Generally, I wouldn't have a problem with Turkey blowing the hell out of communist rebels, but the fact is that those rebels aren't threatening the US and its interests in Iraq and Syria. Right now those interests are defeating ISIS above all else. It may be dangerous to tolerate the PKK but they are not anywhere near the threat that ISIS is and aren't likely to hurt anyone but Turks. It's not a good situation by any means but it's the one we are in and we can't back down now. 

Erdogan's saber rattling is systemic of a larger problem with the leader. Ever since the failed coup, Erdogan, who was never a great friend to the west, has become unhinged. He blames America for the coup because he blames on Fethullah Gulen, who is currently residing in the United States. Somehow he thinks that means Barack Obama conspired with Gulen to do the whole thing which is... actually not outside the range of possibilities for Obama. He is also furious with Europe for actions taken in Germany and the Netherlands concerning expats voting in the power grab referendum. He threatened the safety of Europeans on their very streets and compared Angela Merkel to Adolf Hitler, a deadly insult to the Chancellor of Germany, because of a stupid argument about Turkish officials campaigning for the power grab.

In short, Erdogan has gone nuts and I no longer trust him to act rationally. I think that there is a real chance that he could launch an attack on the Kurds despite the presence of US troops. And US troops could die by his hands. Imagine that, a NATO member attacking US troops on the ground. There would be massive consequences for that and I think it would be a huge scandal. But I don't think Erdogan cares anymore. He's not stable anymore and may lash out...

Though the Arab Spring shows that unintended consequences were the rule rather than the exception to the most recent line of Middle Eastern government changes, I really wish that the military has succeeded in the coup against Erdogan. It would have been chaotic but I am guessing that the new government would be a lot more friendly to US intrests. I am thinking that we might have ended up with another Abdel Fattah al-Sisi like in Egypt. Of course we might have ended up with another Syria or Libya as well, so in the end maybe we aren't better off. Still, that's about the best thing we can say about Erdogan. At least he hasn't led his country into complete ruin... yet. 

I have to also say that Syria is an absolute mess right now of competing forces and different agendas. In a throwaway line in the AP report, they said that the Syrian regime also has an outpost in the village which we have troops in. Though we have not bombed the Syrians since the missile strike, there is always a chance that an incident could occur there as well. I don't think that is likely, but there are just too many competing factions in Syria right now, and none of them seem to like each other. Remember, this is a war where America, Russia, Turkey, Syria, Hezbollah/Iran, and even al-Qaeda are all fighting against ISIS, but none of those parties have a shared vision of what should happen after ISIS is gone...  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Donald Trump speaks to the NRA, says the assault on gun rights is over.

Trump supporters at the NRA speech. Miami Herald/AP.

President Donald Trump gave a speech today at the NRA and says that the assault on gun rights is over. Miami Herald. Trump's 30 minute speech was a love letter to the gun community and promised that gun rights would be a priority. Trump spoke highly of three pro-gun officials that he had put into office, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke, on his first day in office, removed the ban on led ammo on federal lands. Trump also promoted a pair of NRA backed bills that would grant concealed carry reciprocity through all 50 states and removing restrictions on suppressors. Though Trump has not gotten much media attention for his actions on gun rights, he has loosened restrictions. The NRA was an early supporter for President Trump and they ran quite a few adds in support of him. Trump is the first president to speak at the NRA convention since Ronald Reagan. 

My Comment:
A quick note on the source for this post. I don't usually use the Miami Herald, but the national articles I read on this topic were all pretty terrible. This one was bad enough since they gave gun control groups a platform for their idiocy, but that's fairly standard. What isn't is the fact that a throwaway line insulting Senator Elizabeth Warren got almost all of the media attention. Though calling her Pocahontas is both hilarious and apt, it's not the big story here at all. it's just another incident in a long running rivalry between the two. The media won't ever give credit where credit is due and for gun rights supporters, Trump deserves some here.

Donald Trump hasn't gotten enough credit for his work on gun rights. Though he hasn't accomplished everything gun rights supporters have wanted, he has certainly rolled back some of the regulations put into place by the Obama administration. Obviously, the ones that have to go through congress first are taking more time, but Trump has used his appointments and executive orders to get rid of a few odious regulations. 

In addition to removing the ban on lead ammo, Trump has also removed Obama's executive order that banned people from owning guns if they couldn't handle their finances. That order was horrible since you should not lose the right to self defense just because you can't handle your spending habits, but it's gone now. Also gone are the ATF's wider definition of what a fugitive is, allowing more people to own firearms. 

I am also happy about the two laws working their way through congress right now. I am especially happy that the ban on suppressors (aka silencers) is on the way out, assuming it passes. The ban never made any sense whatsoever. Silencers are a major misnomer since they hardly make a gun silence. Instead, they reduce the noise from ear damaging levels to simply very loud. That's right, a suppressor is a safety feature that was banned because stupid people thought it was too scary.  Here's an example of a suppressed firearm:

The other bill is great too. Concealed carry is a great thing and it makes zero sense that we lose our rights to carry when we visit a different state. If someone has the ability to carry a firearm in one state, he or she shouldn't lose if when they go somewhere else. It should be the same as a drivers licence, good for all 50 states. 

I do think that Donald Trump owes the NRA a bit. Though there was almost no chance of anyone who supports even the vague concept of gun rights would ever vote for Hillary Clinton, the NRA was key in increasing turnout. Trump made a lot of promises to the NRA and in return they spent a lot of money trying to get him elected. I don't think you can say for sure that Clinton would have won without the NRA but I do think they did play a role in getting Donald Trump elected. Trump certainly owed them at least a speech. 

With gun control on the back foot, it is easy to be complacent. While we have GOP majorities in congress, the Supreme Court and in many state Governors offices and state legislatures, the opponents of gun rights still exist and we still have the media against us. Even the relatively fair Miami Herald story I used as a source for this post still gave a platform to gun control groups. As long as those groups still exist the human right of self defense will be under threat. 

That being said, it does feel great to finally have a president that supports gun rights. I don't think I have had it in my lifetime. The best of a bad bunch was George Bush (43). He didn't really do much other than let the assault weapons ban expire. The rest of the presidents were actively against gun rights and even Ronald Reagan was in favor of some gun control. Trump is on our side and the side of human rights and I am so happy that is the case. 

And it is important to note how important the Supreme Court is. Trump will likely get at least one more justice on the bench before his first term is up and that number could go up when he wins a second term. That means that gun rights should be safe even if the Democrats win back power for almost a generation at least. That doesn't mean we have won, but it does mean that we scored a massive victory for gun rights when Donald Trump was elected... 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Antifa backs down! No violence at pro free speech event in Berkeley.

Free speech supporters rally in Berkeley. NBC/AP.

A free speech demonstration held at UC Berkeley after conservative pundit Ann Coulter backed out remained peaceful. NBC News. Hundreds of pro free speech activists arrived despite the fact that Ann Coulter. Local officials had said that they could not guarantee Coulter's safety and she backed out. Despite that, supporters and other conservative figures showed up to UC Berkeley and spoke for free speech and a few counter protesters showed up as well. Two people were arrested, one for carrying a knife and another for wearing a mask in public. No violence erupted and the relations between the different factions was boisterous but peaceful. 

My Comment:
This was a huge victory for free speech and a huge blow to antifa and other progressive malcontents. Despite the fact that Ann Coulter backed down, others, like Lauren Southern and Gavin McInnes, showed up. Dozens of pro-speech and pro-Trump supporters showed up as well, all willing to fight to protect the right of free speech. I'm not going to say much about Coulter other than the fact that she definitely should have showed up. Not only did nothing bad happen to the people that showed up, the cancellation is the only victory the opponents of free speech managed today. 

Previous conservatives events at UC Berkeley have ended with violence and injury. During Milo Yiannopoulos' aborted speech there was a lot of violence and police generally stood down. In several events after that speech, the same pattern emerged. Antifa protesters attacked people and Trump supporters started to fight back. Many people were hurt and a lot of property damage was done as well. 

So what was different this time? Well for one, the police actually did their jobs. In the past, Berkeley police stood down and allowed the riots to happen. They were ordered to do so, so I can't blame them too much. This time the police had a massive presence and weren't tolerating any violence whatsoever. I have said in the past that a strong police presence can prevent a demonstration from turning into a riot.

Critically, police actually enforced a ban on demonstrating with a mask on. In the past antifa have taken advantages of masks in order to assault people without the risk of being identified. Wearing masks allowed bad actors to hurt people without fear of legal repercussions. Enforcing a ban on masks meant that antifa couldn't hide behind them anymore. More than anything else, enforcing a ban on masks makes antifa activities impossible and is a huge lesson on what should be done to fight them. 

Another factor was that the Trump supporters showed up in force with armor. Many of the supporters had helmets, shields and other forms of protection that would help protect them from the sticks and fists of antifa. Antifa could have done the same thing but they didn't show because they knew that they didn't have any easy targets. I have always said that making yourself a hard target will protect you from attacks by thugs. It doesn't matter if those thugs are common street criminals or terrorist scum like antifa. 

I also think that antifa understood that they had gotten their asses kicked the last time around. And I am not just talking about physically, though that certainly happened as well. Antifa seemed to underestimate how robust and persistent the Trump affiliated internet can be. People on 4chan's /pol/ board were conducting a frame by frame analysis to identify and expose antifa attackers. Some were identified and harassed. Everyone knew who they were and what they had done.

Though I am not a supporter of doxing people, I do have to admit that doing so really hurt antifa. They have always depended on anonymity to get away with their attacks but that was no longer an option. I think antifa understands now that even if they try to be anonymous, it won't work as long as 4chan exists...  

Antifa and other violent protesters has proven to be a huge liability for the left. There has been a large amount of grass roots opposition to these violent riots. I think it is a major reason why Donald Trump won the presidency. I know that for me personally it was leftist violence against Donald Trump and his supporters that made me a Trump supporter. The attacks after the election have only strengthened Trump's support and increased opposition to the left. It has also greatly damaged leftist protest in general. Now any protest in opposition of the right will be tarred by the worst actions by those on the left. 

Will the violence continue? I am not sure. This was a huge defeat for antifa and a major rejection by the establishment of their tactics. After all, the Berkeley police were instructed to actually stop them, which was the opposite of what had been happening. Berkeley officials finally figured out that it wasn't worth the bad press and damage to property that these riots cause. Without support from the establishment, antifa will have a much more difficult time.

On the other hand, antifa isn't just going to go away because they got a bloody nose and publicly shamed. Antifa is an international organization and they have a lot more power in Europe than they have ever had here in the United States. They will still exist, but if they aren't able to attack people in Berkeley California, the most liberal place in America, they have had their power base broken and destroyed... 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

President Trump briefs entire Senate on North Korea.

Buses arrive to pick up US senators and deliverer them to the White House. Reuters. 

President Donald Trump has briefed the entire Senate on the threat that North Korea presents and laid out plans on ending their nuclear weapons problem. Reuters. Trump's administration seemed to signal that diplomacy would be the first option, but military operations are being considered as well. It is estimated that North Korea will have a ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States with a nuclear warhead by 2020. The Trump administration considers this an existential threat and are working to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. New sanctions are being considered and the US government is working closely with regional allies to put more pressure on the Korean government. China, a key partner, has signaled that they are unhappy with North Korea's weapon program as well, but are upset that the United States has deployed the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. 

My Comment:
An unusual move by the Trump administration. Though it is, of course, a good thing to update the Senate on the threat that North Korea presents, I have to wonder if this was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  

After all, Trump's new policy is pretty much the same as the Obama admin's policy on North Korea. Sanctions and international pressure. Military force is on the table but I think it always was. From the reports that I have read I haven't seen much indicating things are really any different right now. I don't see Trump getting us into a war of choice unless there is a huge military threat that the general public isn't aware of. There is nothing in the media reports that suggest that is the case here.

One thing has changed though. China it seems is finally on our side on the North Korean issue. They, too, are tired of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and are finally doing something about it. Donald Trump seems to have gotten them on our side somehow. The meetings he has had with President Xi of China seems to have gotten results because China has put quite a bit of pressure on North Korea since Trump was elected. 

This new Chinese pressure is both words and actions. They are threatening to cut off North Korea's oil imports, which would essentially shut down the country. Such a powerful threat can't be ignored by North Korea as their entire economy, such as it is, is dependent on oil. They have little in the way of domestic oil production, so such threats have to be considered by the North Koreans.

But China hasn't just used words to act on North Korea. Earlier this year China stopped buying coal from North Korea. Since North Korea gets a major part of their income from coal exports, this was a huge blow to North Korea. The action had much to do with the diplomatic insult against China when North Korean agents poisoned Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un's ne'er do well brother, who was under Chinese protection. China isn't happy with North Korea's nuclear program but a diplomatic insult had to have a response as well.

I think that China's pressure on North Korea, and President Trumps role in that pressure, are much more of an influence than any of our military moves in the region. A lot has been made of the deployment of a carrier strike group and a nuclear submarine to the Korean region. People have even said the deployment of a MOAB in Afghanistan against ISIS was a message as well. I do think that those military operations have an effect. Just not anywhere near as much of one as the media is making it out to be. North Korea knows that Trump isn't messing around with them and that he won't lay down to pressure. But China is a much more direct threat. 

Do I think war with North Korea is likely? Not really. North Korea has often caused tensions to rise and it often occurs after they have difficulty feeding their people. When their communist economy inevitably fails, they often conduct missile and nuclear tests. Usually that leads to negotiations and food aid. That plan hasn't worked lately and I think North Korea is starting to understand that it won't work in the future. 

I think that makes war a little more likely, but still fairly impossible. Though North Korea desperately needs food aid and sanctions relief, Kim Jong Un understands that war would be certain death for himself. Kim is many things but I don't see him as someone who wants to die. 

Indeed, there is some evidence that North Korea is backing down a bit. Though North Korea just conducted a new missile test, that failed miserably, it is important to note a few things. First of all that it was a medium range missile, not a long range one. Second, everyone was expecting it to be a sixth nuclear test. That didn't happen so I am guessing that North Korea had it planned but backed down after all the pressure. They only launched a mid range missile as a face saving measure. 

I am officially predicting no war with North Korea and nothing will happen other than new sanctions. It's possible that North Korea will even give up their weapons program. I don't see a military strike happening and I doubt that there will be an actual war...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Turkey launches airstrikes against Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

A US military commander inspects the damage with a group of Kurdish YPG fighters in Malikiya, Syria. Reuters. 

Turkey has launched airstrikes at Kurdish forces, and US allies, in both Syria and Iraq. Reuters. Between 20 and 70 Kurdish fighters were killed in what is seen as an escalation of Turkey's war against the Kurds. Though Turkey has struck the Kurds before, this was the first time that they hit the Sinjar region of Iraq. The Turks said they were targeting members of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), a far left group of Kurdish nationalists who are considered terrorists by the Turks. Many of the people killed were members of the much more moderate Kurdish Protection Units. The United States expressed concern about the attack because it killed US allies in the fight against ISIS. The Kurds are a key member of the Syrian Democratic Forces who have been crucial in pushing back ISIS.

My Comment:
With allies like these, who needs enemies? It's not like the Kurds are critical allies against ISIS or anything. Though Turkey has long said that their military operations are primarily focused on stopping ISIS, it's clear that they are really in it to stop the Kurds. Remember, Turkey's main goal in clearing out ISIS in Syria was to prevent the Kurdish enclaves from linking up and creating a de facto Kurdish state in the Northern part of Syria. Turkey would not tolerate it. 

Why? Because the Turks consider the Kurds to be an existential threat to the survival of Turkey. Turkey is not a multicultural society and believe that everyone that lives there should both be Muslim and Turkish. This desire was the driving force behind the Armenian and Greek genocides and is the main reason why the Kurds are being attacked today. Though Turkey hasn't gone so far as destroying the Kurds, they are being attacked because they are different culturally. 

Of course, the Kurds aren't helping their case by tolerating the PKK. They are a far left group of communists that use tactics more suited for radical Islamic terrorists. They are the only secular group that I know of that regularly uses suicide bombing as a tactic in warfare. How they find people willing to blow themselves up for Communism is beyond me, but they find a way to do so. They are a dangerous group of terrorists that only look good in comparison to Islamic terrorists. 

This attack also was extremely dangerous for US forces on the ground. First of all, US forces are deployed in the area and could have been hit by Turkish airstrikes. There is a chance that Turkey let NATO know where they were going to hit, much like we did for the Russians with our Tomahawk strike in Syria, but there was nothing in the Reuters report that said they did so. It could have just been dumb luck that no Americans killed in this attack... 

There is also a fear that if these attacks continue, the SDF might decide that having the Kurds as a member is more trouble than it is worth. After all, the SDF is made up off Arab Syrians as well and their main goal is fighting ISIS. Attracting Turkish airstrikes might not be worth it for them and it could break up the alliance. It would reverse the gains against ISIS in the region if that were to happen.

Turkey has put the United States in a very awkward position. On the one hand, Turkey is a critical NATO ally and we need a strong relationship with them. On the other, the Kurds have been the best fighting force against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria with only the Iraqi and Syrian governments giving them competition. President Donald Trump has made it very clear that his number one priority is fighting ISIS and Turkey just screwed up our plans against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It will be interesting what the United States will do in response. 

My personal opinion is that the United States should put pressure on both Turkey and the Kurds. Both of them are in the wrong as far as I am concerned. We should not tolerate an ally that bombs our other allies. We also should not tolerate allies that have communists in their ranks. But trying to navigate those competing demands are a massive minefield.  

The only people that really benefit from this development is ISIS. ISIS is on the defensive everywhere and it looks fairly obvious that they will be defeated soon. The only hope they have is that the forces arrayed against them end up fighting each other and not them. Doing so would give ISIS a reprieve and a chance to go back on the offensive. It's not too likely, but it's the best chance that ISIS has. Considering that Syria and the rebels, the Turks and the Kurds and the United States and Russia are all more concerned about confronting each other than destroying ISIS, it's not like it's impossible...   

Monday, April 24, 2017

The video showing private security forces fighting Somali pirates is actually from 2012

A contractor aims his rifle at Somali pirates. 

As many of you are probably aware of, the above video has gone viral. It shows an engagement between Somali pirates and private security contractors. The contractors fire several warning shots as the skiff and it then collides into the ship. The contractors continue firing and eventually drive off the pirates. As of this writing, the video has been viewed over 11 million times. That alone makes it worth posting, just in case any of the readers of this blog missed it.

But it turns out that the footage is a few years old. According to the Daily Mail, it happened in 2012, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Yeah, it's the Daily Mail, but I have little reason to doubt their claims in this case, and for once they are debunking fake news (other than the fact that they claimed the contractors were armed with submachine guns when they are clearly using rifles). A lot of people are misrepresenting the footage.

People are saying that the video is recent and from the latest series of piracy attempts launched out of Somalia. That is false, and fairly obviously so since those incidents Indian and Sri Lankan ships. I am not sure the nationality of the ship in the video but the contractors are obviously Americans. That doesn't mean the ship was, but it makes the claim even less likely.

These attacks haven't been that successful either. Hostages have been taken but they were quickly rescued and other attackers have been driven off. It's a return to the bad old days where piracy was rampant in the waters near Somalia, which necessitated new security measures. Since the effected areas were near a critical shipping route, the world responded quickly and a major international effort quickly cracked down on pirates.

I also have to point out that I just watched the Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips, about the Mersk Alabama hijacking. The movie was good, but not worth a full review in my humble opinion. Still, that incident shows how badly things can go with these piracy attacks and why international cooperation, and armed guards, are needed in the waters around Somalia.

If there is any good news to be had it is that the government of Somalia is starting to function a bit better than it used too. The government can actually do something about pirates and will probably crack down on them as well.

The real fear is that local terrorists, like al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, could adopt piracy tactics. It wouldn't be any more difficult for these terrorists to launch assaults on commercial shipping and either kill or ransom the crew. Fortunately, al-Shabaab has been targeted heavily by both local and international forces and are rarely active in the parts of the country where piracy happens.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

140 Afghan soldiers killed in a Taliban attack on an army base.

Soldiers stand guard outside a military base in Balkh Province. New York Times/EPA

At least 140 soldiers were killed in a Taliban raid on an Army base in the northern Balkh province in Afghanistan. New York Times. The soldiers were mostly unarmed and were either shot while eating or emerging from a mosque after Friday prayer services, with most of the dead killed in the mosque. The Taliban took credit for the attack and they used the familiar tactic of bombing a checkpoint and then rushing in riflemen. The Taliban were dressed in Afghan uniforms and at least four of the fighters were turncoats that were working at the base. The death toll in the attack is staggering and may increase as more details are known. The Taliban has been putting considerable pressure on the Afghan government and such a deadly attack right before the traditional spring campaign season is not a good sign. The attack is already considered to be the worse loss of life during an attack on a military base for the entire 16 year war.

My Comment:
How on earth did this happen? I understand that the Taliban used the very successful bombing and rifleman attack that has worked so well for them and other terror groups in the past. I also understand that the soldiers that were killed were not prepared for battle. But there was nobody that could fight back against these soldiers? Nobody had a weapon near them? Were there not sentries posted besides the ones at the checkpoint? Were there no officers to rally the men so they could retrieve their weapons and mount a defense? How do 10 men kill 140 and wound even more? 

I'm sorry, but the fact that 10 Taliban fighters without any artillery or air support were able to kill almost a company's worth of men is almost totally unbelievable. And these weren't the normal front line troops either. From what I understand this was the leadership of the 209th Corps. For dozens of headquarters troops to die is almost unimaginable. This is a decapitation strike against the 209th Corps and I think they will have to reorganize after this brutal attack. 

It's crucial that four of the Taliban that pulled off this attack were turncoats and the rest were using Afghan Army uniforms. That's a war crime and it may have had a lot to do with why the casualties of this attack were so bad. It would be very difficult of single out who the bad guys are if they are wearing the exact same uniforms as you. The potential for friendly fire would be sky high. It has been a massive problem for the Afghan Army and they need to somehow prevent them from happening. Given how frequent they have been, that seems like an impossible goal.

This attack is part of a larger campaign by the Taliban to destabilize and recapture land they have lost since the start of the war. This campaign has been very successful and the Afghan Army is on the back foot almost everywhere. They also now have to deal with the threat of ISIS as well which is taking and holding territory in the southeastern part of the country. The MOAB strike helped with that problem, but did nothing to stop the Taliban.

The Afghan government is losing the war against the Taliban. Even before this terrible attack, they were taking unsustainable casualties. In the first 8 months of 2016 alone they suffered 15,000 casualties and 5,500 deaths. That rate of casualties continued for 2016 and has not abated in 2017. More importantly, the Taliban and ISIS have pulled off some spectacular terrorist attacks that have targeted the very heart of the Afghan government. In Kabul alone we have seen a suicide bombing at the Supreme Court, a major attack on a military hospital and a terror attack on the American University. These attacks alone have killed dozens and adds to the chaos already caused by the major battles happening throughout the country. 

It seems to me that if the Afghan government doesn't get some kind of major help it is going to lose and lose badly to the Taliban. In may take a few years, but it seems inevitable at this point. Though we still have some troops in country training Afghan forces, we no longer have major combat units there. We still offer air support but we mainly target ISIS. In short, I don't think our current strategy is going to work. The Afghan government needs bodies and trained fighters and I don't think they are going to get them. 

It's always tough to tell what President Trump is thinking on foreign policy. Unlike previous presidents he rarely announces policy before he carries it out, so it's hard to gather what he wants to do in Afghanistan. It never really came up during the election and after he hasn't said much. I think the MOAB strike offers a major clue though. That strike was targeted on ISIS and ISIS alone and given Trump's recent statements on Libya where he said our only role there was to fight ISIS, I think that just might be the official policy. When Trump said America First, I think he really meant it, despite the saber rattling in Syria and North Korea.

If so, I am not sure what to think. On the one hand, I do not want eternal war in Afghanistan where our troops keep dying for little gain. We couldn't win there in more than a decade of fighting and to send back troops now might save the Afghan government but I doubt it would win the war unless we went all out. We can't afford to keep fighting unwinnable wars and I think the American people elected Donald Trump to prevent that from continuing. The political will just isn't there.

On the other, letting the Taliban, or worse, ISIS, take over might result in the same Afghanistan that we had in 2001. The one that gave al-Qaeda a safe space to plan and execute the 9/11 attacks... That's a huge risk and I don't know if we can mitigate it. I guess we could take a hands off approach and let whatever happens happen and only target ISIS and al-Qaeda fighters with limited airstrikes, but that still seems very risky. Plus, a large amount of government loyalists and innocent people would die if Afghanistan would be returned to the Taliban. Whatever progress Afghanistan has made in civil rights would be erased and the economic potential of the country would remain untapped. 

I also think there is a risk to our prestige and honor if we were to allow the Afghan government to be defeated. We lost a lot of both when Saigon fell at the conclusion of the Vietnam War. We lost quite a few good soldiers in the fight for Afghanistan and it seems like a shame for it to have all been for nothing...

That does look like the way things are heading though. This attack which killed so many people in such an embarrassing way really does seem to be a turning point in the Afghan war. I just don't see how the government can get it together after this, along with the string of terror attacks in Kabul. I hope that I am wrong and the government can somehow turn it around without foreign intervention, but I just don't see it happening at this point... 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ISIS takes credit for terror attack in Paris, France, that killed one police officer.

Police and medical response at Champs Elysees boulevard in Paris, France. Reuters. 

ISIS has taken credit for a terrorist attack at Chams Elyees boulevard in Paris, France, that killed one police officer. Reuters. The attacker pulled up next to a police car, got out, and then shot the officer. Two other police officers were shot in the attack and the attacker was shot and killed. Police cleared the sight of the attack which is usually filled with locals and tourists. ISIS almost immediately took credit for the attack, naming the attacker, which suggests a strong link to ISIS. The attack happened right after another terror attack plot was broken up. France is in the middle of a presidential campaign and the attack occurred just two days before the first round of voting. 

My Comment:
Another terror attack in France. Not a very successful one though. It is, of course, tragic that a police officer died in this attack, but it could have been so much worse. The attacker had powerful weapons and if the police had not been on the ball, a lot of people could have died. French security forces have been fairly excellent lately and the response to this attack continues that trend. If the police hadn't put this terrorist down right away, dozens of people could have died. 

The choice of target might have been a major reason why this attack wasn't worse. Chams Elyees boulevard is one of the most famous parts of Paris. It's home to the Arc de Triomphe and is one of the most famous tourist areas in the world. Security is understandably tight and it would have been shocking if police and/or military didn't react quickly to an attack there. If the attacker had chosen a less famous and less well defended place he might have succeeded in killing more people. Soft targets are always better ones than well defended ones when it comes to number of victims. If that's all you care about than this attack was very stupid.

On the other hand any semi-successful attack on Chams Elyees will have huge propaganda value. Chams Elyees and the Arc de Triomphe are symbols of France itself. An attack there is an attack on the very idea of France. It's the equivalent of ISIS attacking Times Square in terms of propaganda value. This attack wasn't very successful, but despite that, it will have an impact larger than the low number of deaths would indicate.

I think this attack will have a larger impact than it would normally. France is in the middle of a tight four way race for president. The first round of voting starts on Sunday and it's a race between four candidates. Julian Assange, of all people, had a good translation of who these candidates are compared to US figures. 

The attack would seem to support National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, the French equivalent of Donald Trump. Like Trump she is anti-immigration and has been extremely critical of Islam and terrorism. An attack on a very symbol of France just days before the election has to help her. It validates and supports her arguments. She has support from young people, but the older generations consider her to be a Nazi due to her father. With this attack validating her argument, there is a good chance that she moves up in the polls and wins the first round.

Given that there has been a major terrorist attack and another attack broken up, I fear that the candidates themselves could become victims. There are rumors that I haven't been able to confirm that Marine Le Pen herself was the target of the 2nd broken up attack. ISIS has tried to go after french leadership before. Remember, the Paris attacks involved a bombing at a soccer stadium where the president of France, Francois Hollande was attending. He was a primary target for that attack so there is a precedent for such things.

If a candidate were to be attacked or killed due to an ISIS terror attack, expect utter chaos to erupt. It would be the biggest coup that ISIS had ever pulled off. It would cause panic and would completely throw the French election into chaos. Let us hope that it doesn't happen...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

UC Berkeley cancels Ann Coulter speech due to "security threat"

Ann Coulter at the Comedy Central roast of Rob Lowe. USA Today/Getty.

UC Berkeley has canceled a speech by conservative pundit Ann Coulter after more violence has happened in the area. USA Today. Coulter was supposed to speak on the 27th and had been invited by two student groups. UC Berkeley claimed that they were unable to find a safe venue for the speech to happen at. Coulter and her supporters claim they will hold the event anyways and that the cancellation was politically motivated. Violence has broken out several times in Berkeley. In February, leftist protesters were able to shut down a Milo Yiannopoulos event and just last week brawls broke out at a pro-Trump rally. 

My Comment:
I've never been a fan of Ann Coulter. She's always been far too abrasive for my tastes and I think half the time she's just saying stuff for media attention. But to cancel her event? Beyond the pale. Though Coulter is abrasive and often annoying, her political beliefs are fairly mainstream conservative. I have never thought of her as being "alt-right" even by the most lenient and expansive definition of the term. She's part of the conservative establishment and isn't anywhere near as provocative as someone like Milo Yiannopoulos or nearly as offensive and controversial as Richard Spencer.

If someone as mainstream as Coulter can't speak at a college campus then there is a serious problem with our colleges today. Indeed, less controversial figures then Coulter have been attacked. Charles Murray, a political scientist and the author of "The Bell Curve" and generally well respected academic, had one of his events shut down by radical leftists as well.

And it's not just pundits and scientists. Regular people are getting attacked for their political beliefs as well. During the presidential campaign President Trump, and other candidates, had supporters attacked, events disrupted and regular threats issued. Indeed, the violence at Donald Trump rallies, many of which were later proved to be connected to the DNC, was a major reason why I ended up voting for him.

Berkeley has been a base for these kinds of attack. Part of that is because it is a major base for anti-fascists. Antifa claims to be against fascism but normally just target run of the mill conservatives, libertarians and people not sufficiently on the left. They are communists and target anyone who isn't also communists. They are criminals that revel in violence and often brag of attacking right wing people. As far as I am concerned they are terrorists and it is just luck that they haven't killed anyone and they will do so eventually if this continues.

That being said, other places have had problems with Antifa as well. When Richard Spencer spoke on the 18th, there were also protests by Antifa. You know what happened? The cops cracked down right away and though there was a little violence the situation came under control very quickly. Compare that to the violence in Berkeley and you have to reach an obvious conclusion. The local PD and campus security are far more interested in allowing Antifa to run wild. If they would do their jobs and break up these riots when they start and investigate and arrest the instigators, things would calm down quickly.

The situation in Berkeley is so bad that conservatives are starting to adapt Antifa tactics. They are showing up with armor and shields and are generally expecting a brawl. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I abhor political violence and though the conservatives are generally just defending themselves, I think it could be counter productive. Indeed, last weekend the news media focused on the fact that a female Antifa member was punched, despite the fact that she was later shown to be armed with a bottle and was attempting to fight people. It's bad press even when our side does nothing more than defend ourselves. And I do have to admit that some of the anti-Antifa protesters aren't really doing it for a noble cause, they just want to fight.

On the other hand, something needs to be done about Antifa. It's clear that the cops in Berkeley aren't going to do much of anything. We can't just let conservative events get shut down and we can't just let Antifa to beat people up. Political violence isn't acceptable but neither is leaving people defenseless against thugs who wish to silence speech.

I think more mainstream conservative and libertarians need to show up at Berkeley as well. Anyone that supports free speech, has a large audience, and isn't a total tool like Richard Spencer, should go there. It would be helpful if someone is is relatively uncontroversial or has universal respect, like a major senator or former president showed up. People need to know that Antifa is not attacking these speakers because they are controversial but just because they aren't radical anarchists/communists. Ann Coulter is a start as she is relatively famous and is at least accepted as a popular pundit, but we need some heavy hitters there as well. Someone like Ted Cruz or one of the Bushes should show up... 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Gunman kills four people in shooting rampage, targeted because they were white.

Police tape blocks off the site of one of the shootings. Reuters. 

A gunman killed three white people, a week after murdering a security guard and targeted people because of their race. Reuters. The suspect, 39 year old Kori Ali Muhammad, shot three people and missed another before getting arrested by the police. During the attack Muhammad screamed out "Allah Akbar" a phrase meaning "God is Great" but is often invoked during terrorist attacks. Police said the suspect hated white people and was specifically targeting white men. It is unclear if the suspect had any connections any terrorist organization or if his motive went beyond racial hatred. Muhammad had prior convictions on weapons and drug charges. 

My Comment:
Very strange case. I am not sure if this is an Islamic terrorist attack or just a simple racially motivated hate crime. Either way, I consider this shooting to be a terrorist attack. If the Dylann Roof shootings, which were racially motivated, were a terrorist attack then this one is as well. It shouldn't matter if in one case the victims were white and the other case they were black, it's the fact that the attacker killed them because of the color of there skin. And if it was based on Islamic beliefs than it is obviously terrorism.

We shouldn't rule out connections to terrorist groups though. ISIS has long history of trying to recruit people like Muhammad to conduct "lone wolf" terror attacks. ISIS loves to recruit people on the margins of society. People with criminal records, mental health issues or who just don't fit in with the wider society are prime for recruitment. It seems as though Muhammad was probably in all three categories, after all he called himself Black Jesus, so I think it is possible that he was recruited. Right now though there is no evidence either way. 

I think it is very possible that this was just a racist attack though. Though it is a faux pas to point this out, there are a lot of extremely racist black people that hate whites as much as the KKK hates blacks. These people blame every single problem the black community has on the white community and this occasionally results in violence. The main difference is that white racists are roundly, and correctly, condemned for their beliefs while black racists are ignored at best and celebrated at worse. Compare the reaction to Black Lives Matter, a black racist organization, to the KKK. They are both hate groups but one is respected and covered religiously by the media while the other is so hated that they can't even be mentioned in polite society. 

I think the media has a role to play in this as well. They do everything they can to reinforce the beliefs of black racists. When a white man kills a black man, no matter how justified the killing is, it will be used to reinforce the false narrative that white people can kill blacks with impunity. The media tells people that the entire system is against black people and that they are oppressed and it is all the fault of white people. All white people, not just the politicians. Even innocent people like the ones that were killed in this attack. And it doesn't matter that this narrative is, by and large, false. Though we don't know for sure if that was the motive for this attack, I suspect that this had a lot to do with it. 

And I also have to point out that black racism and radical Islam have a strong connection with each other in the United States. Some black Muslims in the United States are very racist against white people and consider them to be less than human. It is very possible that this attack was related to both racism and radical Islam.

Once again, I feel the need to point out that we should condemn racism wherever we see it. We shouldn't judge people because of the color of their skin. When talking about people we should be talking about their actions, not their race. There are good people and evil people of every race and we should always avoid condemning an entire race for the actions of a few bad people. When the Kori Ali Muhammad's and Dylann Roof's of the wold commit atrocities, we should condemn them and them alone for their actions, with the exception of anyone that helped them.

People are already downplaying certain aspects of this case. Specifically the Associated Press sent out a tweet saying that the suspect said "God is Great" during the attack. That's technically correct, but it is also very misleading. The man said "Allah Akbar" which literally means "God is Great" but translating it to that strips out much of the context. It seems like a very deliberate attempt to mislead people on the nature of the attack and downplay the possibility of Islamic Terrorism. This is a major example of why people don't trust the media.  
I also have to point out that this attack happened in California. The suspect was a convicted felon and should not have been able to get a firearm. He also seems to have had a magazine that carried more rounds than is legal as well. He fired 15 rounds which is a standard magazine size that is illegal in California but it's possible that he reloaded. All the laws in California didn't prevent this attack and I am sure the new gun control proposed in the wake of this attack will do nothing to prevent the next one...

Donald Trump to sign executive order reforming controversial H-1B visa program

President Donald Trump. Reuters. 

Donald Trump is scheduled to sign an executive order that will reform the United States controversial H-1B visa program, that allows foreign workers to fill high skilled jobs. Reuters. The H-1B program awards, via a lottery, to allow 65,000 workers and 20,000 graduate student workers in to work in jobs like computer science, engineering and scientific research. The program has come under major criticism because many of the workers replace US citizens and are often awarded to outsourcing firms. Many of the workers that are brought in are paid less then what American citizens would be for the same job. Trump's executive order will call on the Departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to propose reforms that would ensure that the jobs go to the most qualified and most paid workers and to crack down on fraud and abuse. 

My Comment:
This executive order was long overdue and I am happy that Donald Trump is signing it in my home state today. The H-1B system has been deeply flawed. It was originally a law that was intended to bring skilled workers in from other countries when our own country didn't have the talent needed to fill a position. It was supposed to be an option of last resort to only be used when companies were completely unable to hire a US citizen for highly skilled labor. I think there is a place for that kind of immigration and I don't have a problem with stealing the best talent of other countries in fields where we are weak. As long as the system isn't abused it can have some real upsides

Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case lately. Many of these visas are being issued to people that will work for much cheaper than the current workers will and they often replace existing workers. Often those US workers were forced to endure the indignity of training the very foreign workers that were taking their jobs. 

This was usually seen as a win-win for the companies that brought in these workers. Not only did they have to pay their workers less, the level of quality wasn't expected to drop too much. After all, an Indian can code as well as an American and they can do it cheaper.

I'm not sure how true that is. From what I understand many of the workers hired under the H-1B program were significantly worse than the workers they were replacing. Not all of them, but enough that people were even more disgusted. Trying to get work done for cheap is rarely worth it and often backfires. 

Regardless, the H-1B program was part of a disturbing trend where foreigners were taking jobs that US citizens really did want to work. And these weren't fast food or farm labor jobs, they were white collar, good paying jobs that were mostly for the upper and middle classes. Jobs you needed a four year degree, or more, to work. Engineers, IT specialists and scientists were being replaced by foreigners. Tent-pole businesses, like Twitter, Facebook and Disney depend on these visas and have used them to avoid hiring US workers. 

Needless to say, many of those American workers effected by this program hated it and felt it was a massive betrayal not only by their companies but by their government as well. Not only did they find out that their talent wasn't needed anymore because the company found a cheaper alternative, they also had the government helping the company at every step of the way.

This kind of thing is a large reason why Donald Trump was elected. Even though my job is not really at risk from H-1B visa holders, I do worry that a foreigner could replace me, even though I work in a totally different field. Seeing it happen to people way above me in social class and income made me think that if nobody cared when people that "matter" are getting screwed over with impunity, what chance does a little guy like me have? 

That reaction is a partial reason for why I voted for Trump and I think a lot of voters also supported him because of that. He was the one speaking out about these abuses and immigration in general. People hate to feel cheated and for someone who's job is at risk to foreigners, it feels like their employers are cheating horribly when they hire someone from outside the country to fill a job that an American citizen can or already does work for a bit more money. 

The fact that Trump is signing this executive order is a good start and a sign that Trump is keeping his promises on immigration. Overall, as a voter who supported Trump in the election partially because of his stance on immigration, I am happy with what he has done. Not only is he reforming the H-1B program, he is also deporting criminals and cracking down on sanctuary cities. And he is at least attempting to build the wall, even though he is facing some resistance in congress. Though the media is portraying Trump as a promise breaker, on immigration at the very least, he is keeping them. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Massive bombing in Aleppo, Syria, kills at least 126, mostly Shiite Muslims.

Smoke rises from the site of the bombing. Reuters. 

A massive car bombing targeting a convoy of refugees near Aleppo, Syria has killed at least 126 people, including more than 60 children. Reuters. The group of refugees were part of a swap where Syrian loyalists would evacuate two besieged villages while another group of anti-Assad refugees were released from a town under siege by the government. The convoy was made up of 5000 people from the towns of al-Foua and Kefraya, which have been under siege for months. The attack occurred behind the rebel lines and several rebel fighters were killed as well. Both the Syrian government and the Free Syrian Army have condemned the attack but so far no one has taken credit for it. 

My Comment:
Yet another atrocity in Syria. This one was especially tragic. The residents of al-Foua and Kefraya have been under siege since 2015 and have suffered immensely. The city has been cut off for quite some time and many civilians have died in the battles there. It is a pocket of regime forces completely surrounded by both rebels and al-Nusra Front soldiers. 

This is not the first time an evacuation has been attempted. In December 2016 a convoy of buses was arranged with the rebels in exchange for a population transfer for rebels and civilians in Damascus. That agreement was ended when the convoy came under attack by former al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra. The al-Nusra fighters burned the buses down. 

The fact that al-Nusra was responsible for the last attack on the evacuation makes them a prime suspect for this attack. Al-Nusra has a long history of terrorism and are more than capable of conducting an attack. Al-Nusra is also very active in the areas west of Aleppo and have a very major presence in that part of Syria. They are cold blooded killers and have no problems with killing refugees and children. 

ISIS are the other main suspects. They too have conducted multiple terror attacks and have targeted other humanitarian convoys. They certainly have the motive and means to attack this convoy, but I doubt they did it. Why? Well, it's unlikely that they would be able to get to the area. ISIS has very little presence in western Syria and to conduct such an attack not only would they have to get by the local rebels, they would also have to get by regime fighters near Aleppo, or get by the Kurds in the north. I guess it is possible, and they certainly are capable of killing these people, I just don't think it is very likely. 

My guess is that this was an al-Nusra attack. Not only are the very active in the area, they are also very motivated to attack the mostly Shiite Muslims that made up the population of the refugees. Though ISIS gets much of the attention, it's important to note that both groups have similar ideologies. They are more alike than different and both consider Shia Muslims to be apostates. They have conducted several horrible terrorist attacks against Shiites and are essentially committing genocide against them.  

Despite this atrocity, it is encouraging that these population exchanges are happening. Evacuating civilians is a good thing, especially when those civilians are under siege. From what I understand Iran and Qatar were the ones that brokered the deal and they should be commended for it. I am hoping that this attack doesn't derail further attempts at swaps like this. If there is to be any chance at this war ending, the rebels and regime will have to come to some kind agreement and if this effort makes those talks more likely then I am all for it. 

The problem is that al-Nusra and ISIS will keep derailing these efforts. They know that these population exchanges can open the lines of communications. The two groups need, more than anything else, a weak Syrian regime and rebels that have taken a back seat to them. This attack helps both of those goals... 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

US deploys troops to Somalia to fight al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab

A 1993 picture of a crashed helicopter during the Battle of Mogadishu, better known as "Black Hawk Down. BBC/AFP.

For the first time since 1993 the United States has deployed troops to Somalia in an effort to destroy the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab. BBC. The dozens of troops will train local Somali fighters to fight al-Shabab. The United States has not deployed troops to Somalia since the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, which is now better known as "Black Hawk Down" because of the title of the popular book and movie. 18 US soldiers died in that battle and the US has been reluctant to return to the country since then. US forces have conducted multiple missile, air and drone strikes since then though. The UK and Turkey are also training the Somali Army, which is widely regarded as substandard and requiring help. Al-Shabab has conducted terror attacks both in Somalia itself and in Kenya. They have even called for attacks in the United States. 

My Comment:
A fairly important military deployment that isn't getting much coverage. Indeed, half the BBC article was reporting on the 1993 battle. I guess that is an important part of the story too, but the deployment alone should be big news. The Battle of Mogadishu was a hugely important one even before the book was written and the movie was made. The 18 US deaths in the battle made the US more wary of deploying troops on humanitarian missions and much more aware of the concept of "mission creep".

Some have pointed out that the Battle of Mogadishu was one of the first places we ever engaged al-Qaeda. This was before 9/11, before the USS Cole and even before the bombing of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. News outlets have reported that al-Qaeda was involved in training the troops that attacked US forces in the battle. They were the ones that taught the local militants how to angle the RPG's that destroyed and damaged US Black Hawk helicopters that caused the mission to fail. 

Almost 25 years later, al-Qaeda is still a force in Somalia. Now they focus on fighting the weak and damaged local government and use Somalia as a staging area for attacks outside of the country. Kenya has been especially hard hit. The 2013 Westgate Mall attack and the 2015 Garissa College attack killed dozens of people and are merely the most well known incidents. If it wasn't for ISIS running wild in Europe and the Middle East and al-Qaeda's Yemeni affilate, AQAP pulling off the Charlie Hebdo attacks, al-Shabab would be one of the foremost terror groups.  

Al-Shabab has also threatened attacks in the United States. They once called for an attack on the Mall of America in Minnesota and have called for recruits to come fight for them as well. Minnesota has a large Somali population and some people have returned to the country to fight. As an aside, my part of the country also has a small but growing Somali population, that I fear might be vulnerable to radicalization as well. 

With all that being said, it makes a lot of sense that we are training forces in Somali to fight al-Shabab. Not only are they a threat to the region, they are one of al-Qaeda's best remaining groups. Unlike the rest of al-Qaeda which has been dismantled and defended, al-Shabab is still running strong and are one of the few terror groups in the world that control territory. They are a huge threat and could very well attack Americans at home or abroad. 

And from what I understand the Somali military needs all the help it can get. The country is just barely beginning to turn itself around after decades of being a failed state. That is hard enough to do under normal circumstances, but when you have a brutal terror group like al-Shabab running around it's even harder. They don't have the history, leadership or experience to be a tough fighting force and need help to get there. 

I'm not sure if I totally agree with sending troops there. I think the argument for the deployment is strong, but there is a counterargument as well. Our special forces are stretched thin as it is since they are deployed in Syria, Iraq and various other locations across the world. The locals are also being trained by the Turks and the UK, who are certainly capable of doing a decent job. Plus, those troops would be prime targets for any terrorists. Perhaps the status quo ante, where our only involvement was drone and airstrikes, is the better option. 

Still, it's not like we are sending in a couple of divisions and invading the whole country. A few handfuls of troops aren't really that expensive to deploy and they can accomplish quite a bit just by training. Indeed, it might even be cheaper to train local fighters than dropping bombs or missiles on al-Shabab. There is the risk of combat but the risk is low. Even with the criticism, it's not like it's a boneheaded move or anything. It makes sense strategically, even if there are other options. 

I do wish that there was more public knowledge about our role in Somalia. Outside of Egypt, our deployments and actions in Africa are completely off the public's radar. Part of that is to a general disinterest in Africa, but I think the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and even Yemen have distracted us. I just wish that when we send troops to Africa we would have a more public debate about what we are trying to accomplish. I think that debate would probably come to the same conclusion, that we should deploy trainers, but the fact of the matter is that we didn't have that debate and probably never will... 

Drone footage of the MOAB dropped on ISIS in Afghanistan.

The US Air Force has released footage of the GBU-43 MOAB blast from last week. The death count from the strike against ISIS in Afghanistan has also almost reached 100 people. Not much else to say, but I wanted everyone to see the video if they haven't already.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

US drops MOAB, largest conventional bomb ever, on ISIS in Afghanistan.

GBU-43/U MOAB. Air Force photo/Reuters

The United States has used the largest conventional bomb in their arsenal, the GBU-43/U MOAB, on an ISIS base in Afghanistan. Reuters.  The attack took place in Eastern Afghanistan where ISIS had a major base in a network of caves and tunnels. The MOAB stands for Massive Ordinance Air Blast, but is more commonly known as the "Mother of all Bombs". It is a 21,600 pound bomb with 11 tons of explosives and this is the first time it has been used in combat. It is unclear how much damage the bomb did to ISIS's base but President Donald Trump described the attack as "very successful". The attack comes a week after a US soldier was killed by ISIS in the same region of Afghanistan. The MOAB was used largely because it is effective against shallow fortification like the caves and tunnels like the ones ISIS was using in Afghanistan. 

My Comment:
Very interesting deployment. We have never used the GBU-43 before and it seems as though this attack was extremely effective. Though I haven't heard what the damage was, I am assuming that the ISIS base in eastern Afghanistan has been completely destroyed and many ISIS fighters were killed. 

It might have been a bit overkill though. The United States has plenty of other weapons that can destroy caves and tunnels that are a bit less overwhelming. We have the "bunker buster" series of bombs that were specifically made for blowing up underground targets, like the GBU-28, GBU-37 and GBU-57. To be fair, the GBU-43 is useful for that as well, but the other bombs are, at the least, cheaper. 

So why use the MOAB? I think there is a fairly obvious reason why. We are almost certainly stockpiling the other bunker buster bombs for possible use in Syria or North Korea. Those bombs would be excellent for destroying bunkers hiding enemy leaders or housing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. 

The other series of bunker busters are also easier to deploy. Other bombers, like the B-1 and B-2 can use them and even fighter jets can drop them as well. The MOAB has to be delivered by a specially modified C-130 cargo plane, which obviously has a smaller chance of surviving in anything but a totally clear airspace. It's perfect for Afghanistan but in a combat role in Syria or North Korea? Forget about it. 

Still, the usual suspects are up in arms about the use of the MOAB. Part of this is just normal liberal hand wringing about a Republican president. I guarantee that if Obama had dropped a MOAB on Afghanistan, nobody would have said anything. The only reason people are freaking out is because it was Donald Trump that dropped the bomb. 

There has also been some very irresponsible fake news about the MOAB as well. There was a graphic floating around today that described the comparative yields of the MOAB with the Little Boy bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. That bomb had a yield of 15 kilotons while the MOAB has 11 tons of explosives. The image dropped the "kilo" from the Little Boy bomb and made it sound like the MOAB was just a little bit smaller than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. 

Once again that is some very irresponsible reporting. I don't know if this was a mistake or deliberate but either way it fed into the leftist hysteria about the MOAB. No, we didn't just drop a mini-nuke on Afghanistan. We did drop a very large conventional bomb that was used for it's ability to destroy tunnels and caves. The world isn't ending and this story isn't even all that remarkable, other than the fact it's the first time we have used it in combat... 

Syria accuses US of bombing an ISIS chemical weapons base near Deir ez Zor

Deir ez-Zor clashes (2017)
Deir ez-Zor after the last offensive. Via Wikipedia user MrPenguin20.

Syria has accused the US led coalition of bombing a ISIS chemical weapons factory in the Dier ez Zor province and killing hundreds of people. Reuters. The Syrians say that the attack proves that ISIS has access to chemical weapons. A spokesman for the US Air Force denied that any airstrikes were conducted by the coalition in the area and time frame of the alleged attack. Outside news organizations have not been able to confirm the Syrian's claims and the Russian Defense Ministry also claims no knowledge of the incident. 

My Comment:
You know how I know that Syria is lying about the Khan Shiekhoun gas attack? Because this story reeks of propaganda. First of all, the above image shows the front lines near Deir ez Zor as of January. Things have changed a little bit since then but you can see that the Syrians only really control a small area of the city that has been under siege for a very long time now and was recently split in two by a semi successful ISIS offensive. 

If you look at a wider map focused on Deir ez Zor province, like this one, you can see that the red areas near the city itself are the only areas that the Syrian government controls. The attack supposedly occurred to the east of the city. What's to the east of Deir ez Zor? A sea of ISIS controlled territory. Which raised the obvious question: If there was an airstrike that killed hundreds of people east of Deir ez Zor, why would the Syrians know about it? They aren't anywhere near that area. 

Second, although ISIS has used chemical weapons in the past and have even produced their own, most of those attacks were using chlorine. While bombing a chlorine storage place could cause quite a few casualties, I don't think you could really claim it was a weapons factory unless you knew for a fact that that is what ISIS was doing with it. Same thing with the pesticides ISIS has used in attacks as well. If something did happen in ISIS controlled territory it could be something as simple as a regular old chemical plant getting bombed by mistake and it would have nothing to do with chemical weapons. Chlorine and pesticides have obvious uses outside of warfare and it's not surprising at all that ISIS controls some stockpiles of them. 

ISIS has also used and created mustard gas. However, there hasn't been a major attack by ISIS using mustard gas in quite some time. More than a year ago I speculated as to why that could be. I think the most obvious reason is that they simply ran out of the precursor chemicals used to make them and their chemical weapons experts died in US airstrikes. The withering cycle of airstrikes and combat have most likely eviscerated ISIS's chemical weapons capabilities. If ISIS has any chemical weapons left, outside of the more slapdash and makeshift chlorine and pesticide weapons, I would be somewhat surprised. There is no doubt in my mind that ISIS had chemical weapons, but nothing recent has suggested that they still have stocks of mustard gas. 

And we have to remember that ISIS's chemical weapons program was rudimentary at best. Their attacks with mustard gas mostly consisted of a few mortar shells and nothing else. There was never the mass scale strikes that killed hundreds, and most of the attacks only injured people. Quite frankly, ISIS sucked at making mustard gas even before most of their experts got killed and I doubt that if they had a warehouse making chemical arms that it would be large enough to kill hundreds of civilians. 

Still, there is a small chance of this story being true. If it is then I think it is possible that the coalition hit a weapons lab or cache. I think that lab or cache being ISIS made weapons is extremely unlikely and it being a captured stash of Syrian government weapons only slightly more likely. I give this story less than a 5% chance of being even partially true. 

So why would Syria lie about this? Well, if people believed it, it would give credence to their claims about the Khan Shiekhoun chemical attack. Their official stance is that it was either a weapons cache on the ground that got accidentally bombed or a false flag conducted by ISIS. 

I think also that the Syrian government wants to plant the seed of doubt in peoples minds. If ISIS is using chemical weapons as well, isn't Syria justified in using them in return? Possibly, but right now that's not the way the media is portraying the story and this claim would possibly shift it to a more pro-Syria slant. It would also play well domestically, painting ISIS in an even worse light and also downplaying the Syrian government's own atrocities. 

Either way, this seems like a very transparent and obvious lie and I don't think it makes Syria look good at all. It's so obvious that I have marked down the chances of the chemical attack being anything other than a deliberate strike. Why would Syria lie so obviously and badly if they didn't have something to hide? I guess new evidence could be discovered and if it is I will revisit this story, but I am guessing that this is the last time we hear about this supposed airstrike...