Category Archives: Pakistan

And Yet There Are Faster Ways To Die

Yesterday’s Twitter hissy fit over our use of a GBU-43/B MOAB in Afghanistan combined with the friction with North Korea, as reported in the amazingly well connected @KGSNightWatch, set me to thinking about quicker means for us to end ourselves than the slow roast we’ve already set in motion.

We had already detonated 2,053 nuclear weapons by 1998 but since the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty all tests have been underground, including the five North Korean tests that happened after this video ends.

We got plain scared by the results of the 1954 Castle Bravo test, a six megaton test that yielded fifteen, because we didn’t understand there was a fusion path for lithium 7, and only nine short years later the world decided air/space testing was a Really Bad Idea™.

 

Since then, we’ve shifted to constraining ourselves to developing stuff that inhibits others delivering weapons. Basically we have about three dozen Ground Based Interceptors on the west coast and the trend seems to be counting on Aegis Combat Systems and the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 to knock down uninvited ballistic missiles.

Missile Defense Systems

Missile Defense Systems

This missile defense stuff is all still really theoretical. Tests are few, expensive, and results have been mixed. We don’t really have a plan for submarine launched cruise missiles but the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated whole classes of weapons.

But North Korea is not a signatory to any of these treaties and they are slowly standing up a nuclear capability. This happened while we were naming them part of the Axis of Evil and blundering into Bush’s adventure in Iraq. Like a Cape buffalo surrounded by lions, we focused on one and the others got up to things we didn’t see coming.

 

North Korea can’t nuke San Francisco. They can’t nuke Honolulu. They can maybe hit 7th Fleet HQ at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Their current best has a yield equal to the weapons the U.S. produced in 1945.

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike (NUKEMAP)

I have zero confidence that Little Fingers has the right moves given that the DPRK is surely going to test another nuclear weapon tomorrow. China has moved six divisions of troops to its border with North Korea with the announced intent of ensuring that there are not a flood of refugees crossing their border. They also have a credible plan to put an end to North Korea’s test facilities, which is something the U.S. and South Korea lack.

Another grandstanding effort, like the theatrical strike against a forewarned Syrian airfield, or the drop of a MOAB in Afghanistan, seems likely. The most foolish step would be treating this as a chance to employ a B-61 Dial-A-Yield nuke, specifically the B-61 Mod 11 bunker buster.

 

The assessment of the premier geopolitical threat monitor is simple and clear:

NightWatch concurs with the judgment that the North Koreans are not bluffing about retaliating for any kind of attack against them.

The scariest part of all of this? America’s recto-cranial inversion, which predates Little Fingers, keeps us strutting like the only superpower, but ignoring stuff where we don’t have a direct interface. The relationship between India (110 nukes) and Pakistan (130 nukes) is always some flavor of tense, but in recent months there have been reports in Night Watch that indicate they went right up to the red line of a rapidly evolving ground war and strong potential for an exchange.

Now take a look at this China-centric population cartogram.They have four neighbors with nuclear weapons, two are at each other’s throats, the U.S. is showing strong signs of moving against North Korea, and doing so because we have a leader as isolated and strange as Kim thanks to meddling from nuclear armed neighbor number four.

China-centric Population Cartogram

China-centric Population Cartogram

 

There is no such thing as a limited nuclear exchange where India and Pakistan are concerned. If they each show some restraint and only use half of their arsenals we lose half of our ozone layer, a couple years of Canadian and Russia wheat production, and the initial ten million killed directly would be joined by another billion famine victims.

These projections stop where the effects of smoke in the atmosphere end. A billion dead of starvation are the unlucky one seventh when all of us are facing that possibility. We are already precariously balanced when it comes to food, we lose all of the Mideast and North Africa in this scenario, those places teeter on the edge of ungovernability now when there are relatively minor disturbances in wheat supplies.

 

The area south of Africa’s Great Green Wall would be the best place to ride out such a catastrophe, far away from fallout of all sorts, from economic to political to radioactive.

Sobering, isn’t it? We already have the means to create an extinction level event for our species and we are stumbling that direction, led by a man with a psychopath’s regard for cause and effect.

U.S. Drones In Africa

U.S. Military Presence in Sub-Saharan Africa

U.S. Military Presence in Sub-Saharan Africa

Washington Post provided MAP: The U.S. military currently has troops in these African countries earlier this week. This is interesting to compare to the map of drone bases in U.S. Military In Africa, which I posted just over a year ago.

U.S. Bases In Africa

U.S. Bases In Africa

Time For Congress To Build A Better Drone Policy was posted eighteen months ago. This OpEd originated with Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison and it focuses on legality, oversight, and how we are perceived overseas. While those are very important political considerations, drones aren’t going away, but our doctrine needs to change.

There are two types of drones that do most of the damage. The first is the MQ-1 Predator. We have 360 of these and their performance is roughly equivalent to a World War I fighter. They can carry two of the AGM-114 Hellfire or the newer, smaller AGM-176 Griffin, which was created to do what the Hellfire does, but with reduced collateral damage.

MQ-1 Predator

MQ-1 Predator

The second type is the MQ-9 Reaper. We have 104 of these and their performance is similar to a World War II attack plane. They can carry four of the AGM-114 Hellfire and two GBU-12 Paveway II, a 500 pound laser guided bomb.

MQ-9 Reaper Used By U.S. Customs & Border Patrol

MQ-9 Reaper Used By U.S. Customs & Border Patrol

Our problem isn’t just overall drone policy, there is a much more specific issue – we need sensible rules of engagement for armed drones. We learned in Vietnam that we could not bomb our way to victory. We are repeating that experiment with the Predator and Reaper, and we are slow learners. Here is a starting point for such a discussion.

First, we used the 1980s vintage AGM-114 Hellfire because it was easy to adapt from helicopters to drones. The AGM-176 Griffin is half the weight of the Hellfire but it retains 65% of the explosive charge. This missile isn’t much of a downgrade in terms of explosive charge, it’s half the weight of the Hellfire due to thirty years of improved electronics and a reduced propellant load. The GBU-44 Viper Strike is the same size as the Griffin but with 15% of the explosive load of the Hellfire. If we truly are using drones just for high value targets this is the right tool for the job.

Second, drones can fill multiple roles. These include:

  • Eye In The Sky – like a satellite or forward air control planes such as the O-1 Bird Dog
  • Close Air Support – if we have ground forces in play no limit on weapon type or count
  • Aerial Sniper – the targeted kill job usually done by CIA or Special Forces

The Reaper had a failed add on package known as GORGON STARE, which was a video camera array. The execution was poor but the concept is excellent – set up a 24×7 watch on a problem area, figure out what is really happening. We’ll see another system like this eventually put into production. This is a natural role for aircraft that can loiter up to 36 hours.

No one is going to say a word if a fully loaded MQ-9 Reaper shows up twelve hours before a ground unit goes in and then lingers twelve hours after they withdraw. We have produced purpose built close air support planes for seventy five years, this is a natural evolution.

The drone attacks that make the news are these:

AfPak Drone Strikes

AfPak Drone Strikes

Helmand and Kandahar were always the most dangerous place for coalition troops, we now know that this was fueled by madrassas in nearby Quetta that were fostered by Pakistan’s ISI. Yet the drone strikes are inside Pakistan in the breakaway tribal area of Waziristan.

The wedding parties where dozens of guests are dismembered by Hellfire strikes are explained away as faulty intelligence. Collective punishment of the families of key leaders would be a more sensible explanation for the frequency of such ‘failures’, and I can see little difference between this and the manner in which Russia handles the families of Chechen separatist leaders. We ought to be better than this and if not, we ought to be wiser, because such a policy just drives further radicalization.

We are trying to draw a line in the sand, literally at the edge of the sand, where the Muslim Maghreb meets the Christian/animist sub-Saharan Africa. Oil rich Nigeria already has a de facto divide between the coast and the interior, but unlike Sudan did with South Sudan, they can’t just abandon the troublesome area. Boko Haram will keep showing up to ‘tax’ their neighbors, because terrorists mutate into insurgencies and those always become crime networks if their environment provides the opportunity.

The world has a multiplicity of troubles, but most stem from the iron triangle of collapse – economy, energy, and environment. There is little point in taking on COIN duties if neither we nor the state we are nominally supporting can do anything about the underlying issues that caused the insurgency in the first place. We do not have unlimited resources and we should be focusing what we have on taking care of home first.

Pakistan’s Greatest Peril

The news from Pakistan’a Gilgit-Balistan province is grim:

  • 30% of normal snowfall
  • November to March snow was observed before 1994
  • Snows came only January & February 2014
  • March melt is four to six weeks early
  • Water is already gone by May planting time

This province is in the far north of Pakistan, part of the small area that gets snow.

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

The country is subject to monsoon rains between June and September, but centered on six weeks in July and August. The cooler, higher altitude areas get the bulk of the precipitation.

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

But on just one night in 2010 this happened, leaving 20% of Pakistan under water.

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Various stories can be found indicating the per capita water availability in Pakistan is 20% of what it was when they achieved independence in 1947. These stories neglect to mention population – which has more than quintupled in that time.

Pakistan Population

Pakistan Population

Pakistan’s elected government has been taken over by the army three times starting in 1958 and these takeovers last an average of eleven years. The recent assassination of Hamid Mir, a GeoTV journalist, and the TV network’s immediate blaming of Inter-Services Intelligence are seen as signs that 2014 may see another coup.

A military government can quash dissent and push through unpopular but necessary adaptive infrastructure, like a dam that will flood part of one valley for the sake of stabilizing a region. The problem is that Pakistan already has a couple of domestic insurgencies and countering violence today will take precedence over civil engineering projects that will not contribute immediately to stability.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and couple of the former Soviet stans, along with Iran itself are part of a geographic region the Persian empire called Parthia, but which we now call Greater Iran. Click through that link and you’ll find a similar story about Iran, which stands to have 45 million of their population of 75 million become climate refugees(!)

Greater Iran

Greater Iran

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

The Soviet Union blundered into a war of attrition with Afghan tribes in 1979 and this was a big factor in their collapse in 1991. Just eleven years after Afghanistan’s most recent imperial kill, the United States, as sure of democracy as the Russians were of communism, marched right into the same trap. The United States has not collapsed outright just yet, but the economic malaise at home and our shaky grasp on foreign affairs are clear signs of what is to come.

This entire region is over carrying capacity. This should be both the first and last thought when considering any long term plans. India, Russia, and Turkey will bear the brunt of this and they are the ones who are in a position to do something. The days of unilateral U.S. action are over. If you want to make predictions for the region look at precipitation and the price of staple foods such as wheat, because they matter in ways that ideology and rhetoric can never match.

Afghanistan: Coalition Casualties, Opium Poppies & Drone Strikes

Here’s a map of Afghanistan’s opium poppy production by province:

Afghanistan Opium Prodution

Afghanistan Opium Prodution

Here’s a map of coalition casualties in Afghanistan, with a highlight of Waziristan, where drone strikes are most prevalent.

Afghanistan Casualties

Afghanistan Casualties

Funding The Syrian Insurgency was written almost five months ago and it references a 2006 paper by economist Paul Coller, Economic Causes of Civil Conflict and their Implications for Policy. Summarizing to a single sentence, insurgencies market themselves to claim moral high ground, but they always have an illicit network exploiting local opportunity, and they often devolve into regional mafias (think: Colombia’s FARC) once their political objectives are met.

National Defense University’s Convergence is a collected series of papers on the nature of illicit networks that support insurgencies. Afghanistan has a variety of such entities, from the Haqqani Network, which may or may not be cozy with Pakistan’s ISI, to Iranians on the opposite side of the country, more focused on revenue than any political objective.

Kandahar and Helmand are the gold mine, they are where coalition troops were most at risk. The area being droned is Waziristan, home to the political leadership of the bi-national Haqqani network. Afghan Logistics Just Got Much Harder describes the added distance and costs we face in our withdrawal due to the slaughter of 24 Pakistani troops in 2011. We are simply not wanted in Afghanistan, and the residents have the temperament to make that decision, and then make it stick.

This will never work politically, but if we intended to reduce the hazard Afghanistan poses the right thing to do would have been a short, sharp action against radicalized Arabs in the country, then spending our dollars facilitating legal use of the country’s opium crop. Global Access to Pain Relief Initiative is just one many efforts that could use opium derivatives, relieving the suffering of both Afghans and cancer victims worldwide.

CORRECTION: Balochistan Triple Tap

I published Balochistan Triple Tap, in which I linked the structure hit on the symbolic Ziarat colonial residence with a pair of suicide bombings and an armed assault on the hospital treating the wounded. This was in error.

The structure hit was indeed the Balochistan Liberation Army, striking a symbolic target with the loss of just one life.

The suicide bombings and armed assault were not at all related to the structure attack. A source in Quetta, Pakistan states:

lashkar i jhangvi is by and large Punjabi by ethnicity .these are punjabi extremists uprooted into quetta and afghanistan . they use suicide blasts as tactics. they are close to taliban and al qaeda.

BLA on the other hand is ethnically Baloch and wants independent balochistan. lashkar i jhangvi has no secessionist agenda but an elimination agenda based on sect and belief.irani baloch are led by jundullah which has a religious agenda .the irani baloch thus use suicide bombings as tactics.jundullah was supported by US also.Pakistani baloch led by BLA , BLF and BRA however condemn suicide bombings as wrong tactics

i am in quetta. now the two attacks followed distinct taliban tactics. ( 1) female suicide bomber targeted bus of Sardar Bahadur Khan University which is all female university . (2) when wounded are evacuated taliban suicide bomber pair targeted the Bolan Medical complex hospital. I asked a senior taliban commander why such attacks . he jokingly said we are imitating US attack tactics. (1) US drone attacks target (2) when targets accomplices try to administer wounded or evacuate them second drone strike takes place

So I had some good background, some good maps, but this one conceptual error throws the whole piece off kilter. Rather than editing it in place, I felt a clean update was best.

Ziarat Residence

Ziarat Residence


Ziarat Residence Gutted

Ziarat Residence Gutted

A little more info came in – this house in Ziarat was a colonial British structure that was later used by Muhammad al-Jinnah, the father of Pakistan. The Balochi feel as though they should have had their own state, so this building was seen as a symbol of not one but two colonial periods. The destruction, with the loss of just one policeman’s life, carries a great deal of symbolic weight.

Balochistan Triple Tap

Early Saturday morning, the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army destroyed the former Ziarat residence of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in a bomb attack, claiming it was a “symbol of slavery” from the former British Empire (ET). Hours later, a female suicide bomber from the anti-Shi’a group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi attacked a bus from the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, killing at least fourteen students and wounding dozens of others (Dawn, ET). Once the injured were moved to a nearby hospital, a male suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest in the building’s emergency room, killing at least eight more people, and gunmen stormed the building, launching a firefight with security officials that last several hours (ET).

Structure hit, suicide bomber success, another suicide bomber at the hospital handling casualties, and then a unit of unknown size storms the hospital in an attack lasting hours? I first noticed the Balochistan independence movement about six months ago. The action that gets reported has thus far been in Pakistan.

Lands Of The Baloch People

Lands Of The Baloch People

Balochistan

Balochistan (Pink Baloch, Green Pushtun, Yellow Sindh, Brown Punjab)

Balochistan is 44% of Pakistan’s territory but holds just 5% of its populace. This large territory is sparsely inhabited except near inland Quetta and coastal Karachi. Both cities are the scene of frequent violence, but this is not purely Balochi driven.

Pakistan Population Density

Pakistan Population Density

Southeast Iran Population Density

Southeast Iran Population Density

Earlier I posted Iranian Troops To Support Assad? The question mark was quite intentional – a single report of something so notable, even from an otherwise reliable source like The Independent, must be checked carefully. I’m assuming this is going to turn out to be either dramatically overstated or completely false. This is just the latest in a long running string of such attempts to steer public opinion for an attack on Iran.

NATO is withdrawing from Afghanistan. If old patterns hold the current government will remain only as long as aid flows. Once the funds stop the warlords will hang Karzai from the nearest tree, just as they did with the puppet the Soviet Union left when they withdrew.

Balochistan has been a challenge for Pakistan since their independence in 1947. The Khan of Kalat sought independence, but Pakistan prevailed.

British Balochistan

British Balochistan

Afghanistan is and will remain chaotic, Pakistan is set to follow them into disorder, and if Iran is attacked, or if the regime simply implodes, what happens next? Balochistan may find itself with some sort of de facto independence as the three government with claims to the territory become increasingly incapable of any sort of action in the area.

Afghanistan Logistics

Afghanistan Casualties

We are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan and there are a number of navel-gazing articles that address “what we will leave behind”, with the focus generally being the political affects in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Slightly less common but still present are the articles on the cost of retrieving some 35,000 armored vehicles from a land locked country.

The casualty map is important for context. The shortest route would be a southern exit through the Chaman crossing to the port of Karachi, but this has consistently been the most dangerous part of the country and conditions on the Pakistan side are also troublesome.

The northern exit crosses the Khyber pass, but based on my reading the threats are equal, they’re just more focused on transport, as opposed to the general anti-NATO view held in the Pashtun dominated Helmand and Khandahar provinces.

I borrowed this map from The Long War Journal as it shows the northern routes, which involve Baltic or Black Sea ports and long train trips. Transiting the Russian Federation is slower and more expensive than landing materials at Karachi, and there are political ramifications to having access, just as they are with Pakistan.

Afghanistan Northern Supply Routes

Afghanistan Northern Supply Routes

Part of the reason we have such trouble is the death of 24 Pakistani troops in Mohmand in the winter of 2011. Sensitive about their sovereignty, Pakistan closed supply routes to the U.S. after this event.

I recently posted Disruptive Technology & Reforming The Pentagon Establishment, a series of four articles about the MRAP acquisition, our largest land acquisition since World War II, and how this was done in spite of Pentagon resistance.

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles

The United States has seen just over 2,200 flag draped caskets come through Dover AFB from Afghanistan. If the Marine Corps had stayed the course on developing the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the quintessential weapon system in search of a suitable battle, we might have seen double that number of men lost during the 2010 – 2012 surge.

Now that we’re pulling out the fate of the MRAPs is in question. Are we removing all of them? I would guess not – some will be deemed war weary, stripped of all usable equipment, and the bodies left for the scrappers. I have talked to men who have served in Afghanistan and they joke about the need for a “black eye” medal, a lesser companion to the Purple Heart, which would be awarded for non-combat MRAP rollover injuries, which are apparently fairly common. We may see a more complex selection process than a sorting of working/non-working vehicles – those which are deemed to be less capable in some fashion may be left behind.

We’ll never hear grand speeches about “The War To Get Our Stuff Back From Afghanistan”, but that is the phase we are in, and it’s as complex and as challenging as getting there in the first place.