About time

No American, outside of the defense/foreign policy establishment, gives a quantum of a damn about the situation in Syria. So why are we still there? Because of the Kurds? With all due respect to the brave Kurdish fighters, it’s hard to imagine anything more unconnected from vital American interests than their plight. It’s time to go home. As I wrote last December:

It’s really very hard to understand what the US strategy was in Syria. Was there even a specific strategic goal? What was the desired end-state of this campaign?

Personally I suspect most Americans’ reaction to this news has been: Wait, we had troops in Syria? Yeah, the public was never consulted about this, at all. I am not the only person who finds it bizarre that an ostensibly democratic nation can be engaged in a major foreign military campaign for years on end without a scintilla of public approval, or even knowledge, let alone a formal declaration of war. Did you know the US has at least a dozen military bases in Syria? What is going to happen to those?

Of course, that post was in response to a previous promise to withdraw the 2,000 US troops then in Syria. Fast forward to today, and roughly 1,000 troops are still there. The withdrawal must continue.

Here’s the official White House statement released on Sunday:

Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone. Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area.

The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused. The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial “Caliphate” by the United States.

In the mood for war

Looks like world is gearing up for a major conflagration:

  • Israel is now striking Iranian military targets in Iraq (the first Israeli strike in Iraq since 1981).
  • China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs has described the protests as a “color revolution” and apparently suggested that the PLA could be deployed.
  • India has decided to revoke the autonomous status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, a move that Pakistan deems illegal.
  • “Turkey has threatened to re-open the floodgates of mass migration to Europe unless Turkish nationals are granted visa-free travel to the European Union.”

Better get to work on that home fallout shelter…

Hardening the US against an EMP attack

The Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses, issued on Tuesday, is a step in the right direction:

Section 1. Purpose. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) has the potential to disrupt, degrade, and damage technology and critical infrastructure systems. Human-made or naturally occurring EMPs can affect large geographic areas, disrupting elements critical to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity, and could adversely affect global commerce and stability. The Federal Government must foster sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective approaches to improving the Nation’s resilience to the effects of EMPs.

This is a genuine threat. EMPs are not science fiction. The Soviet Union kept a reserve of steam-powered trains in case an EMP from a nuclear blast wiped out their electrical systems.

I wrote about EMPs in the context of North Korea back in 2017:

The North said in its statement Sunday that its H-bomb “is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals.”

De-escalation

Nuclear apocalypse averted on the Indian subcontinent:

Pakistan finally handed over a recently captured Indian fighter pilot after an inordinate seven-hour delay, allowing him to walk across the Wagah border on Friday night. Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced on the floor of the National Assembly on Thursday that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman would be released as a “gesture of peace.”

The release of the pilot proved to be a significant de-escalation measure, coming days after Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets crossed into Pakistan and bombed an alleged “terror camp” of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Pakistan retaliated with air strikes on Wednesday morning, bombing some open areas next to Indian military installations along the Line of Control (LoC) on the Indian side. Varthaman’s aircraft was scrambled from Srinagar air force base and engaged the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets before being shot down. The air attacks came in the wake of a terror attack that led to the death of 40 Indian policemen in Pulwama, Indian-administered Kashmir.

The outcome was definitely a happy one for the pilot:

He was captured by the Pakistani military soon after being assaulted by some local residents. “I am happy to be back to my country,” he said to Indian officials waiting anxiously before he was whisked away to board a flight to Delhi. He will have to undergo a detailed debrief, IAF officials told Asia Times.

According to Pakistani media reports, Varthaman was confused about his location before being found by the local residents. They chased him for half a kilometer, and he fired a few shots with his service pistol to dissuade them, before jumping into a pond. “He was trying to swallow some documents and drown the rest when the locals caught up with him,” eyewitnesses said. The locals had started beating him up when Pakistan Army soldiers arrived and took him away.

A free hand

Looks like India and Pakistan could be on the brink of all-out war:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the Indian military a “free hand” to act regarding the time, place and how they want to move forward after Pakistan violated the Indian airspace earlier on Wednesday, according to sources. The decision was taken at a high-level security meeting with all three Service Chiefs.

With a sharp spike in tensions between India and Pakistan following an airspace violation across LoC, Modi on Wednesday met service chiefs and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval at his residence at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi, to discuss the prevailing situation at the border areas in Jammu and Kashmir. The meeting came hours after Pakistan on Wednesday intruded into Indian airspace in Jammu and Kashmir’s Nowshera and Poonch sectors of Rajouri district and captured one of its pilots.

Yeah, that’s alarming.

Ruh-oh

Things are heating up between India and Pakistan:

Pakistan said it shot down two Indian aircraft from inside its airspace Wednesday and launched strikes inside Indian-controlled Kashmir, one day after India sent jets into Pakistani territory for the first time since 1971 and dropped bombs there.

The tit-for-tat aerial strikes marked the first serious military escalation between the two nuclear-armed rivals in two decades, although it did not immediately appear that either attack had caused any casualties. Both countries claim the Himalayan Kashmir region, which is divided by a militarized “Line of Control.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said its air force strikes were aimed at “non-military targets” to avoid human loss and damage, and that their sole purpose was to “demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defense.” It said Pakistan has “no intention of escalation, but we are fully prepared to do so if forced.”

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. It’s safe to say the world does not need a shooting war between two nuclear powers right now.

Nobody could have predicted this

I, for one, am completely taken aback by the failure of the US to achieve a quick regime change in Venezuela:

In a country with more than 2,000 generals and admirals, only one top officer — who commands no troops — has pledged allegiance to Guaido. So have two colonels (a physician and a military attache in Washington). Guaido has said that he has privately been in touch with other officers and that more will follow. He doubtless is, and perhaps they will.

Still, Garcia’s capture and confession show how tough a task Guaido faces. […]

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton recently offered to remove sanctions against military chiefs who join Guaido. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida repeated the offer, saying that if any of the top six military leaders defect, the U.S. will guarantee their immunity.

Longtime observers, however, say the generals doubt the promises will be kept. This is a major reason why the revolution isn’t moving as quickly as some had hoped when Guaido electrified the world on Jan. 23 with his declaration. This has led to impatience and finger-pointing. U.S. policy makers and those around Guaido — as well as leaders in Brazil and Colombia — are eyeing one another and worrying about failure. Officials in each camp have said privately they assumed the others had a more developed strategy.

Back in January, I pointed out:

The problem, of course, is that Maduro is the guy who actually has the power in Venezuela, whether the US recognizes him or not.

I’ll just reiterate my warning that war with Venezuela would be a comprehensive disaster. It looks like the US may not be able to dislodge Maduro with words, economic pressure, and covert shenanigans. Unfortunately, the US is ramping up its involvement by using the military to fly humanitarian aid close to the Venezuelan border. Maduro has rejected US aid on the grounds that it’s intended to foment regime change (which it is).

The stage is being set for a classic pointless and destructive intervention that nobody in the American public actually asked for. Let’s not go there.

Venezuela heats up

Things are getting dicey – will it end in the use of force, as some fear?

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country as international pressure mounts against the government led by President Nicolas Maduro.

The move comes hours after chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab asked the government-stacked high court to restrict Guaido’s movements and freeze any assets.

Saab said a criminal probe into Guaido’s anti-government activities has been launched but did not announce any specific charges against him.

Both Saab and the Supreme Court are aligned with the embattled Maduro.

But Maduro is weakening:

More than a week into a standoff with the opposition, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday that he is willing to negotiate.

Violent street demonstrations erupted last week after opposition leader Juan Guaido during a major opposition rally in Caracas declared that he had assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh elections to end Maduro’s “dictatorship.”

On Tuesday, Guaido urged Venezuelans to step outside their homes and workplaces for two hours on Wednesday in the first mass mobilization since last week’s big protests.

Maduro, who previously rejected calls for negotiations, said in an in an interview with Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency that he was open to talks with the opposition.

May have something to do with this:

A British minister on Monday suggested that the Bank of England should decline to release £1 billion of gold to Venezuela’s dictator after the opposition leader wrote to Theresa May.

Juan Guaido, who last week declared himself the country’s legitimate ruler and was recognised as such by the US, has written to Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, to ask him not to hand over the gold to Nicolas Maduro. He also sent the letter to Theresa May, the Prime Minister.

[…]

Mr Maduro has been attempting to repatriate the gold from the vaults since last year. The bullion in London makes up 15 per cent of Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves.

And Bolton brings the mayhem:

The Pentagon has refused to rule out military intervention on Venezuela’s border, a day after John Bolton, the US national security adviser, was photographed carrying a notepad that read: “5,000 troops to Colombia”.

Patrick Shanahan, the acting defence secretary, was asked repeatedly whether Mr Bolton’s notes indicated a deployment.

“I’m not commenting on it,” he said. “I haven’t discussed that with Secretary Bolton.”

Mr Bolton on Monday would not rule out the use of US troops in Venezuela.

Meantime, Defense Blog reports:

Residents of Eastern Venezuela have posted footages of heavy artillery systems, main battle tanks and military equipment moving towards the Colombian border.

Twitter account Already Happened‏ also has release video showing military convoy, included recently ordered Russin-made 2S19 MSTA-S heavy artillery systems, at the route to the Colombian border.

President Maduro fears a foreign military intervention in Venezuela and is ramping up its armored forces along the Colombia border.

A source in Caracas said that Maduro feared that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Syria, they could be well-suited for redeployment in a Colombia-based conflict with Venezuela.

But the Colombian Defense Ministry reported that the Colombian government is not going to provide the United States will military bases so that the latter could launch a possible military invasion in Venezuela.

Is an invasion in the works?

The gangs have spoken

Not everyone is happy with a proposal by Brazil’s new president:

Authorities in the state of Ceará have been overwhelmed by more than a week of violence, which has been most intense in the capital, Fortaleza, a metropolitan region home to 4 million people.

Security forces say three rival drug gangs have come together to carry out more than 160 attacks in retaliation for a proposal to end the practice of separating gang factions inside Brazil’s prisons.

Buses, mail trucks and cars have been torched. Police stations, city government buildings and banks have been attacked with petrol bombs and explosives. On Sunday, criminals blew up a telephone exchange, leaving 12 cities without mobile service. Other explosions have damaged a freeway overpass and a bridge.

The rash of violence is an early challenge for new president Jair Bolsonaro, who swept to power with his tough-on-crime proposals, which include military takeovers of Brazilian cities and shoot-to-kill security tactics.

The government isn’t cowed, however:

Despite the chaos, the government said it would not pull back on its plan to combat gang activities in prisons.

I like to follow events in Brazil, as it’s the fifth most populous country in the world, and happens to be located in the same hemisphere as the US.

Year of the drone

Drone attack Venezuela

This year there were two major and ominous drone-related incidents. One was the attack on Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro by a pair of exploding DJI drones in August:

However, in this attack, it is not the drones as such that should be getting the attention. Instead, the interesting part is that it was flown by a non-state group (reportedly the ‘T-Shirt Soldiers’) and that this attack happened in a civilian context, rather than in a conflict zone. It is this aspect that makes the Caracas event a departure from what we have seen before. But it had been a long time coming.

For decades, drones have been used by militaries around the world, with approximately 90 countries using military drones of some kind today. Civilian drones, by contrast, are much younger. But even though the commercial drone market is still in its infancy, millions of hobbyist drones have been sold around the world. Of course, this did not go unnoticed by non-state actors such as terror groups.

Note that the drones used in the Caracas attack retail for about $5,000.

The article reports this amazing fact:

In response, anti-drone technology has boomed: a 2016 Goldman Sachs Investment report estimated that almost 10 percent of US defense research and development funds goes into financing counter-drone systems.

The second was the shutdown of England’s Gatwick Airport for nearly two days in the week before Christmas, grounding 1,000 flights and affecting some 140,000 travelers, due to an alleged drone sighting:

But just how many drones caused this massive disruption, who was operating them and, most importantly, why? Over a week and a half later, there are still no answers, no culprits, and no drones recovered. The best British authorities can offer is that they are “absolutely certain” there was at least one drone.

The attack, if it even was that, succeeded spectacularly in sowing the chaos, confusion and systems disruption that are the hallmarks of fourth-generation warfare:

On Saturday (Dec. 29), in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Sussex police chief constable Giles York revealed the latest on what the area’s police force had learned about the incident at Britain’s second-largest airport. He said there had been 115 reports of drone sightings to police, including 93 confirmed as coming from credible sources, such as law enforcement and air traffic employees.

But beyond those eyewitness accounts, things get rather muddy. A couple that had been arrested by police and held for 36 hours was released without charge, and said that they felt “violated” by their experience and the release of their identities. York also had to concede that it was possible that police drones launched to catch the perpetrator(s) during the ordeal caused “some level of confusion”—suggesting that some of the reported sightings could have been of drones operated by police. Additionally, York said that two drones found nearby were ruled out of being involved in the incident, and searches of 26 sites in the immediate area were not fruitful. Further complicating matters, last week a senior Sussex police officer was quoted saying there was a possibility there hadn’t ”been any genuine drone activity in the first place.” This was later called a misstatement, and blamed on poor communication.

Economic and psychological damage: enormous. Cost of attack: virtually nil. The math works!

This is not going to stop. To the contrary, the combination of ultra-low cost and the potential for massive, even cataclysmic disruption means that drone attacks could become increasingly common. One way or another, modern society needs to be comprehensively hardened against malicious drones or there won’t be a modern society anymore.