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Military Affairs

D-Day plus 65 years

Yesterday evening I thought about what was occurring at the same time 65 years before in Europe. Young paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions as well as the British 6th Airborne Divison and 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion were headed in for night combat jumps with the mission of securing key bridges and road junctions and setting up blocking positions to prevent German reinforcements from reaching the beaches of Normandy. Of the 17,000 US airborne troops engaged in operation Overlord, 1,003 were KIA, 2,657 were WIA and 4,490 were declared MIA.

At the same time, off that coast, the largest amphibious assault fleet the world had ever seen, drawn from 8 allied navies (6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 transport vessels (landing ships and landing craft), and 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels), began gathering. 19 and 20 year old young men, who to that point had never seen a shot fired in anger nor fired one themselves, would get their baptism in war on Omaha, Gold, Utah,  Swordand Juno beaches. In all 160,000 allied troops would land that day.

Eisenhower meets with US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike), photo taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944.

Eisenhower meets with US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike), photo taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944.

At Pointe du Hoc, the US 2nd Ranger Battalion assaulted the massive concrete gun emplacements that commanded the beach landing sites. They had to scale 100 foot cliffs under enemy automatic gunfire to reach them. When they did, the found out the guns had been moved further inland. They pressed their assault, found them and destroyed them and then defended the location for two days until relieved. The operation cost them 60% casualties. Of the 225 rangers who began the operation, only 90 were still able to fight at its end.

On Omaha beach, the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions landed opposite the veteran German 352nd Infantry Division. They had sited their defensive positions well and built concrete emplacements which were all but immune from bombardment. The initial assault waves of tanks, infantry and engineers took heavy casualties. Of the 16 tanks that landed upon the shores of Omaha Beach only 2 survived the landing. The official record stated that “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded […] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue”. Only a few gaps were blown in the beach obstacles, resulting in problems for subsequent landings.

Leaders considered abandoning Omaha, but the troops that had landed refused to stay trapped in a killing zone. In many cases, led by members of the 5th Ranger Battalion which had been mistakenly landed there, they formed ad hoc groups and infantrymen infiltrated the beach defenses and destroyed them, eventually opening the way for all. Of the 50,000 soldiers that landed, 5,000 became casualties of bloody Omaha.

Canadian forces landed at Juno. The first wave suffered 50% casualties in the ferocious fighting. The Canadians had to fight their way over a sea wall which they successfully did. The 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) and The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada achieved their 6 June objectives, when they drove over 15 kilometres (9 mi) inland. In fact, they were the only group to reach their D-Day objectives.

By the end of D-Day, 15,000 Canadians had been successfully landed, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had penetrated further into France than any other Allied force, despite having faced strong resistance at the water’s edge and later counterattacks on the beachhead by elements of the German 21st and 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzer divisions on June 7 and June 8.

The Brits landed at Sword and Gold beaches. At Gold the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division landed with heavy casualties, but overcame the obstacles and drove about 10 kilometers off the beach.

Led by amphibious tanks of the 13th and 18th Hussars, the landings on Sword went rather well with elements of the 8th Infantry Brigade driving 8 kilometers off the beach.

And the final beach, Utah, saw the 23,000 troops of the US 4th Infantry Division land. Through a navigation error they landed on the western most part of the beach. That happened to be the most lightly defended as well. Taking full advantage of the situation, the division fought their way off the beach and through the German defenses linking up with the 502nd and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiments of the 101st Airborne Division which had dropped in the night before and secured the inland side of the beach exits.

The liberation of Europe had begun. But it was costly. Of the total 10,000 casualties suffered that day on the beaches by the allies, the US had 6,603 of which 1,465 were killed in action. The Canadians suffered 1,074 casualties (359 KIA) and the British had 2,700.

Men who had never set foot on the continent of Europe before died trying to liberate it that day. Today most of them lie in quiet graveyards near where they fell, the only piece of land ever claimed, as Colin Powell said, was enough to lay them to rest. 65 years ago, as the guns boomed, the shells exploded and desperate and courageous men made life and death decisions on the bloody sands of Normandy beaches, the fate of the world literally hinged on their success.

I think it is important, on this day to remember that. It is also just as important to remember that had the rest of the world taken the threat posed by the evil of Nazi Germany seriously earlier than they did, the possibility exists that such a fateful landing would never have been necessary.

But it was. And to those who made it, liberated Europe and destroyed the evil that was Nazi Germany, they have my undying respect and deserve to have what they did -and why they did it – remembered by all for eternity.

~McQ

Short-sighted Partisan Politics Makes For Bad Decisions

And nothing could make that point better than this:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t ruling out spending more on missile defense than what he’s asked for in next year’s budget if North Korea or other nations increase threats against the United States.

Gates said the missile tests by North Korea over the past week appear to have attracted more support on Capitol Hill for missile interceptors.

Candidate Obama was pretty darn sure that these interceptors just weren’t needed because, you know, they just weren’t! Russia isn’t our enemy anymore and we get along fine with China – where’s the threat?!

Well during the entire lead up to the 2008 presidential campaign, North Korea and Iran were flinging missiles around right and left each, seemingly, with longer ranges and larger carrying capacity.

Ignored. In fact, as I recall, Obama dismissed Iran as not much of a threat at all. Something about Iran being a ‘tiny’ country that ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’ Certainly not one that required a missile defense.

Politics. All politics. Nothing based in reality, but instead dismissive rhetorical hand-waves designed to please the base. And those who controlled Congress picked up on the tune and danced to it.

Now, suddenly, by doing almost exactly the same thing they’ve done for some years, North Korea has managed to resurrect the need for a missile defense?

Why now?

Well that’s easy. Now they’re governing, suddenly not having an armed missile land on friendly territory during their watch is a priority.

Politics. The only real reason they opposed it previously is because the other side wanted it.

Of course, if questioned about why this is different than when NoKo and Iran did this sort of thing the last few times, I’m sure they’d find a way to spin it that they think wouldn’t make them seem so short-sighted, petty and partisan (read the article, there’s plenty of spin included).

That won’t change the fact one bit that they were indeed short-sighted, petty and partisan.

~McQ

The Soldier of the Future?

So what will an infantryman look like in 2030? Well, here’s the vision (and I might add, this has been the vision in one version or another, for decades):

Future Soldier?

Future Soldier?

Some interesting comments in the NY Post article about this concept:

Aided by “smart drugs,” enhanced with prosthetics, and protected by a lightweight suit of armor, this soldier of the future possesses near super-human capabilities and weapons that would make even Iron Man jealous. He’s suited up in an “exoskeleton” – essentially a Storm Trooper-esque external shell – that allows him to carry heavy loads. Electronics integrated in his outfit allow for simultaneous language translation, automatic identification of potential foes, and video-game-like targeting. If the soldier is tired, overworked, or injured, neural and physiological sensors automatically send an alert to headquarters.

A networked battlefield has been a military dream ever since computers and networks was first understood by the institution. The upside is pretty obvious – the ability to quickly gather, integrate and disseminate intelligence. Fewer people necessary to cover more ground. Command, control and communication are enhanced in ways that aren’t possible right now. Joint ops would be a snap. And some excellent force protection technology too boot.

The other side of that is our tendency to display an bit of an over reliance on technology. Technology is not a tactic or a strategy – it’s a tool. The fact that you field a networked battle force doesn’t mean an automatic win. Of course that’s been evident in the low tech battlefields on which we’re engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Used as a tool, and given the amount of enhanced training that will be necessary for the lowest of privates to use it effectively, it could be something that gives us an edge in the type of warfare in which we’re engaged now, and certainly an edge on a conventional battlefield. What we have to remember, however, is technology isn’t a substitute for tactics or strategy.

~McQ

About That Nuclear Non-Proliferation Goal …

North Korea says “no”:

North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a ruling party official as saying.

YTN Television quoted the South Korean weather agency as saying it detected a tremor indicating a test at 0054 GMT (8:54 p.m. EDT).

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had called an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers over the test, Yonhap said.

Well that ought to keep ’em buzzing around in DC for a day or two.  I wonder if we’ll finally figure out that anything that NoKo agrees too in the future isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?

~McQ

A Day With The Hurricane Hunters (update)

I had a unique experience this week.  That was the opportunity to fly with a very unique military unit. Unique in the sense that they’re the only one like it in the US military. I’m speaking of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, known as the “Hurricane Hunters”, based at Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS.

The opportunity was one I just couldn’t pass up, so on Tuesday, I and a few other bloggers from as far away as Chicago, hooked up with the 53rd for a 3 hour flight in one of their 10 WC-130J “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft.

crewOf course we were first initially briefed on the history and capabilities of the squadron. The squadron is comprised entirely of Airforce reservists. Yet they carry a full mission load. So in addition to their monthly training and their 2 week annual training, these folks average 120 more days of active duty time a year.

That’s a lot of time away from home for a part-time job. But they obviously love it. The pilot of our flight had been doing it for 17 years and the AWRO (Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer) said she’d been bashing her way into hurricanes for 23 years.

The normal crew for a hurricane mission is 5 (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, AWRO and loadmaster).  Depending on the length of the mission, which can last up to 12-14 hours, they may take a second crew with them.
at-work
Do they actually penetrate the hurricane?  Yes.  In fact they fly right through it, from side to side, through the eye.  Last year during the hurricane season, they made 162 flights through the eye of hurricanes.

Their work normally begins with a low-level investigation.  Naturally forecasters are intersted in what effect the storm is having at sea level.  So, if its a tropical storm, they may begin looking at it at 500 feet.  As it becomes a hurricane, they step their approaches up.  A Cat 1 may see them go in at 1,500 feet and so on.

They never go higher than 10,000 feet, even though these storms may be as high as 50,000 feet.  That’s because of icing primarily and lightning strikes secondarily.  Icing begins at about 14,000 feet.  So while they’re equipped to do deicing, it puts the aircraft at further risk that is just not necessary to do the mission.

When Katrina was building, these folks were flying through her at 10,000 feet and sending invaluable information back to forecasters.  Obviously their work has helped both forecasters and meteorologists learn a lot about the behavior of these storms.   But more importantly, the Hurricane Hunters have helped sharpen landfall forecasting by 30%.  What that means is when you see a storm track which shows where the hurricane might make landfall, it’s a 30% smaller footprint than it would be without the information the squadron provides forecasters.

It is estimated that it costs $1 million to evacuate a single mile of coastline.  That reduction of 30%, depending on where the storm is forecasted to go, can mean eliminating the need to evacuate 50 to 100 miles of coastline.  Or more simply said, because of that, the cost of all the missions they’ll fly in a year are normally paid for by the savings produced by one mission.

Their area of operations is from the international date line west of Hawaii to the Atlantic ocean.   That is a huge AO.  Additionally they fly winter storm missions as well.   In all a most impressive group.  If you’re interested, you can read more about them here.

Having taken the 3 hour flight (a simulated mission and a low-level pass over New Orleans), I’m now on a list to fly into an actual hurricane with them.  That’s just too cool.  So, with hurricane season starting on June 1st, I’m standing by and hoping for an opportunity (they said it could take up to 3 years) to snag one this year.

Update: I forgot to mention that there was TV media on the flight as well, and this was headlined as the “first blogger flight in the history of the Airforce”.  So we were as much the story to them as the flight was to us.  Here’s a local TV station’s treatment of the story.  I don’t know who the “Bruce McSwain” guy is, but what is he says is true.

~McQ

[Photos by Cindy Morgan]

Welcome To Bizarro World

Sy Hersh, not yet ready to leave the evil cabal of Bush/Cheney alone, has concocted a real beaut this time and is peddling it on Arab TV (what other media outlet would be open to this stuff?), just in time to inflame the unwashed masses in the Middle East:

Former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on the orders of the special death squad formed by former US vice-president Dick Cheney, which had already killed the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafique Al Hariri and the army chief of that country.

The squad was headed by General Stanley McChrystal, the newly-appointed commander of US army in Afghanistan. It was disclosed by reputed US journalist Seymour Hersh while talking to an Arab TV in an interview.

Hersh said former US vice-president Cheney was the chief of the Joint Special Operation Command and he clear the way for the US by exterminating opponents through the unit and the CIA. General Stanley was the in-charge of the unit.
Seymour also said that Rafiq Al Hariri and the Lebanese army chief were murdered for not safeguarding the US interests and refusing US setting up military bases in Lebanon. Ariel Sharon, the then prime minister of Israel, was also a key man in the plot.

A number of websites around the world are suspecting the same unit for killing of Benazir Bhutto because in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV on November 2, 2007, she had mentioned the assassination of Usama Bin Laden, Seymour said. According to BB, Umar Saeed Sheikh murdered Usama, but her words were washed out from the David Frosts report, he said.

Got that? Bhutto was killed at Cheney’s behest (he apparently was the secret chief of the JSOC) by Gen. McChrystal and the boys (McChrystal soon to be the commander in Afghanistan headed the “squad”) because Bhutto blurted out that bin Laden was dead and that, unfortunately for her, undermined the given reason for the US being in A’stan.

Wow. How this guy gets even the coverage he does (The Nation and Arab TV) amazes me. At least The Nation jabbed Hersh with the “reputed journalist” tag. Arab TV, though, will eat it up with a spoon.

~McQ

Warrior Legacy Foundation

Matt Burden of Blackfive has announced the formation of something near and dear to my heart. A foundation to, well, let him explain:

So, a few of us decided to start our own foundation – non-partisan – to work with both sides of the aisle to solve veterans issues. We decided that we need to include every generation, every branch of service, in order to stand firm, back to back, and defend our family.

The Warrior Legacy Foundation is born.

The family he’s speaking about is the military family. And that family includes everyone, from service members and veterans, to those who have someone in the service to those who simply want to support the military and the veteran community.

Everyone.

This foundation’s membership is open to all – veteran or non-veteran – who are interested in supporting a group dedicated to ensuring the problems veterans face today have a powerful advocate willing to spend both the time and money necessary to see those problems solved.

The WLF becomes official on Memorial Day. But you can join now. Please do and support this new and worthy effort. This is the chance to make your unofficial support official.

~McQ

Is McCrystal the “Petraeus” Of Afghanistan?

There was no “nicety” to this very public change of commanders in Afghanistan. In command for only 11 months, Gen. David McKiernan has been fired. In his place will be LTG Stanley A. McChrystal. Secretary Gates made it clear:

“Our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at a news conference this afternoon announcing General McKiernan’s dismissal.

Gates tried to smooth it over a bit (generals and admirals don’t like to be handled like this):

Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered few reasons for General McKiernan’s ouster beyond generalities that “fresh eyes” were needed. “Nothing went wrong and there was nothing specific,” Mr. Gates said. It was simply his conviction, he added, “that a new approach was probably in our best interest.”

The media will give you the boilerplate on McChrystal’s career including his recent stint as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command who ran all special operations in Iraq (and his part in the Pat Tillman investigation which wasn’t quite as sterling).

But there’s more to it than just the fact that he commanded JSOC in Iraq. As abu muqawama points out, there was a big improvement in JSOC after McChrystal took command and how that impressed a certain other commander:

I do know that many policy-makers and journalists think that McChrystal’s work as the head of the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command was the untold success story of the Surge and the greater war on terror campaigns. I also know that McChrystal and David Petraeus forged a close working relationship in Iraq in 2007 and have much respect for one another. (Prior to 2007, the relations between the direct-action special operations task force and the overall command in Iraq were strained at best.)

So my guess is that Gen. Petraeus had a hand in McKiernan’s new status as “former commander”. Apparently he wasn’t seeing in McKiernan the type of thinking Petraeus feels is necessary to win in Afganistan.  He may see in McChrystal the type of outside-the-box thinking he feels is necessary to turn the effort around there.

Abu again:

I do not know if the war in Afghanistan is winnable. But I do know that Stan McChrystal is an automatic starter in anyone’s line-up.

Game on.

Frankly, I’m pleased with the move. Time will tell if it pans out, but it shows me a seriousness about the war in Afghanistan that I wasn’t sure existed within this administration. This isn’t a half-hearted move.   Tip of the cap to the Obama administration for doing what I believe is necessary to move the war forward in a positive manner. Credit where credit is due and all of that.

~McQ

Military Commissions Again In Saturday News

Last Saturday, May 2nd, we were reading about the possibility that the Obama administration might revive the military commissions that candidate Obama had so reviled.

Today, Saturday May 9th, we again see more on the subject. Could the administration be any more obvious in their attempts to “hide” this story?

The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under new rules that would offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections, government officials said.

The rules would block the use of evidence obtained from coercive interrogations, tighten the admissibility of hearsay testimony and allow detainees greater freedom to choose their attorneys, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

So apparently it really wasn’t the commissions themselves, but how they were run. Of course they were run by rules that Congress had put in place. Yeah, you can figure out the rest.

And the only change I can see is the elimination of some evidence, tightning of the rules on other evidence and the ability to choose their attorney (to a point).

Yet, in the big scheme of things, it ensures that secret testimony, exposure of which so concerned the previous administration, will remain secret. Yes, that’s a good thing.guantanamo-bay-5a

But, as the Obama administration begins to reinvent the wheel (even though it will claim that these military commissions aren’t the same as the previous military commissions – a bit like saying a Ford isn’t a Chevy. They’re still both cars) I keep remembering a very sure candidate proclaiming:

“By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure.”

The Obama administration is seeking a 90 day extension on the 120 day extension previously imposed on military commissions. They would be moved to American soil (given the ruling by SCOTUS that doesn’t mean as much as it would have previously). But by all appearances, they will be pretty much the very same thing that candidate Obama said was unacceptable and an “enormous failure”. In the end, it appears, it has just been justice delayed (another reason he was against them).

Of course the real critics of such commissions (those whose opposition wasn’t strictly political in nature) are not happy:

“This is an extraordinary development, and it’s going to tarnish the image of American justice again,” said Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International.

Yeah, well he won you know Tom, and with that, he reserves the right to throw issues under the bus if necssary, especially when it becomes clear that he had no idea about the subject he was condemning. And as an aside – I suspect that the slight differences in the commissions listed above will be enough for the fevered left to roll over and accept these military commissions as “OK”.

~McQ

Military Commissions Back On The Table For Gitmo

Sometimes, watching this circus of the Obama administration, you just have to shake your head and laugh a bit, even if the laughter is rueful:

The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.

Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.

Continuing the military commissions in any form would probably prompt sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as some of Mr. Obama’s political allies because the troubled system became an emblem of the effort to use Guantánamo to avoid the American legal system.

The more this crew gets into the weeds concerning Gitmo, the more they seem to validate all the moves Bush made.

I’m sure it’s a bit maddening for them.

Officials who work on the Guantánamo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.

That was the Bush administration argument for some time. Congress passed legislation to enable it, the SCOTUS shot it down and told them how to fix it and Congress did, only to see SCOTUS change its mind and shoot it down again.

And, of course, that made it very easy to denounce from the campaign trail. But now the reality of governing intrudes:

Obama administration officials — and Mr. Obama himself — have said in the past that they were not ruling out prosecutions in the military commission system. But senior officials have emphasized that they prefer to prosecute terrorism suspects in existing American courts. When President Obama suspended Guantánamo cases after his inauguration on Jan. 20, many participants said the military commission system appeared dead.

But in recent days a variety of officials involved in the deliberations say that after administration lawyers examined many of the cases, the mood shifted toward using military commissions to prosecute some detainees, perhaps including those charged with coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The more they look at it,” said one official, “the more commissions don’t look as bad as they did on Jan. 20.”

Heh … what a surprise.

And this:

Administration officials said Friday that some detainees would be prosecuted in federal courts and noted that Mr. Obama had always left open the possibility of using military commissions.

… is pure and unadulterated BS.

Still, during the presidential campaign Mr. Obama criticized the commissions, saying that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” and declaring that as president he would “reject the Military Commissions Act.”

But according to both Sec. Gates and AG Holder, military commissions are still very much on the table, because, as Holder said:

“It may be difficult for some of those high-value detainees to be tried in a normal federal court.”

Gee — I wonder who else’s administration said that?

~McQ