Does Fallujah Spell “Catastrophe” In Arabic?

City sieges have storied places in lore, history, and consciousness. Be it Troy (1200 BCE), Tyre (332 BCE), Damascus (634), Constantinople (1453), or Leningrad (1941-1944), defense of cities under determined attack did not always end as the belligerents intended. With few exceptions, sieges of cities across the millennia have two points in common: widespread collateral damage and significant non-combatant casualties. Since the beginning of 2016, life in Fallujah, Iraq is increasingly being lived well below the subsistence level by most of its estimated 30,000-60,000 non-Islamic State (IS) inhabitants captives.  Starvation is appearing. In 2014-15, it was incorrect to characterize the plan method strategy Iraqi military’s approach to retaking Fallujah as a siege campaign; rather, their approach was a loose and ineffective military cordon. For lack of political will, sufficient forces, and strategic creativity, the Iraqi military chose to place Iraqi units on select approaches to Fallujah—and always, talk tough. As months yielded to years, the population of Fallujah dwindled after the Islamic State (IS) first occupied the city in late 2013. Initially, the IS presence tended … Continue…

Escalation Their Way: Saudi Arabia

A Sunni regime did what? Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Sh’ia cleric four days ago.  In seeking to oppress a class in Saudi society, Riyadh gave its Sh’ia minority a martyr and another reason to sustain their rally at the precipice against the Saud monarchy.  The aftermath of Nimr al-Nimr’s death along with 46 other individuals accused of crimes against the state makes clear that the Saudis are employing a different strategy…that comes across as misguided and dangerous.  Al-Nimr’s death more resembles an atrocity within a longer counter-Sh’ia campaign; however, it is not the catalyst for today’s Middle Eastern tumult nor is it the sole reason for the current state of affairs between Saudi and Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a struggle contest for who owns the top steps of an escalation staircase.  Neither we nor they know where this is going, what happens next, or where it ends; this is the face of a Saudi/ Iranian competition that just got more volatile. There are reasons why this competition practically and politically looks like this, … Continue…

Ramadi…What Should It Mean?

Some time in the next 5-10 days Iraqi military and Sunni militia forces will complete their campaign to retake, and keep Ramadi. The years of regime hyperbloviation bluster as to the imminent reconquest of Ramadi—the seat of Anbar province, is finally coming to pass. Interestingly, the regime chose to bypass Da’esh strength in Fallujah as part of a larger encirclement strategy. Future conversations at this site will address the strategy on the ground in Iraq. However, this conversation gets to three deeper points about the regime’s eventual success at Ramadi. First, Iraq’s “national army” is a fledgling thing, still (un/re-)learning, being shepherded shaped by U.S. influence training that seeks to overwrite this army’s bad habits and baked in shortcomings. As written before in these pages, the Iraq Army’s biggest challenge is not its access to equipment, training, or leadership (contrary to the assertions of Iraqi national leadership); rather, its ability to learn how to win…and ultimately, become a winner. Easier written than done. So basic has been the chore of transforming Iraq’s Army from a constabulary … Continue…

America, Turkey and The Burden of Friendship

Having friends, being a friend—even inside of a relationship of expedience should not be this difficult. Yet, this is that it is like to be Turkey’s “friend.”  In this era the two chief components of Turkish friendship doctrine strategy are a tacit understanding that the relationship will tilt heavily toward Turkish preferences, and what America wants is interesting but Turkish goals define the relationship. While dysfunctional friendships are commonplace within individual lives, what happens when such behavior scales up to the interaction amongst nations? The “friendship” between the U.S. and Turkey is, well…unique special explainable understandable complicated. When most U.S. diplomats think of Turkey, they often view it through the lens of the NATO alliance. The problem is that to view Turkey through the lens of America’s preexisting NATO relationships papers over the complexity of recent U.S. relations with Turkey while invoking an outdated Cold War script.  The point of this conversation is not to summarize or even celebrate the U.S./Turkey relationship of the Cold War era. Rather, the purpose of this conversation is to cast … Continue…

Stopping Da’esh’s Hate Recruiting–New Ideas

Today, America’s Internet and social media shop, team office is a small group buried hidden situated within the Department of State. The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications’ small staff of less than 25 people represents the sum of America’s strategic messaging throw weight. Strategic messaging, what is that? Well, to put it concisely, strategic messaging is the means U.S. leaders have to influence the thoughts and thinking of America’s adversaries and opponents. We do not turn strategic messaging loose on Americans or our allies. The relevance of strategic messaging is not America’s 98 pound weakling approach, but it Da’esh’s Arnold Schwarzenegger approach that leverages thousands of tweeters and social platform foot soldiers. Guess what? Da’esh’s campaign works. Not only can Da’esh out-muscle, out-transmit, out-message, and out-do America within cyberspace in important ways, Da’esh’s propaganda asymmetric strategic messaging—oriented on the entire world—is now more than a public awareness tool. It turns out that for Da’esh, its largely uncontested access to cyberspace gives life to a Da’esh center of gravity. If you are not up on your Clausewitz (author … Continue…

MOTO: Containment Is Not Working

Last week’s coverage of Defense Secretary Carter’s testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee contained several forgettable unforgettable quotes. The one most relevant to this conversation was the Secretary of Defense’s revelation that America’s strategy strategic approach against Da’esh is not succeeding. In the words of a Headquarters Air Force general officer who was prone to blurt aloud during poorly constructed briefings given by unskilled Air Staff action officers…,“well, there’s a MOTO (master of the obvious) moment.”  Yeh. I was thinking MOTO when SecDef confided in the CSPAN audience that America’s “approach” to contain Da’esh is not working. MOTO…and a couple of other billboard-sized thought bubbles. It was not Secretary Carter’s long overdue candor; rather, this sense I got as I listened to his testimony that as he was assembling his statements he was simultaneously composing his mea culpa email to President Obama. Something like, “Boss, when I threw the strategic approach of the administration under the bus, here is what I really meant to say…” One of the things that suffers in America’s strategic … Continue…

Meanwhile, Back In Baghdad…

There is no end to the over-the-top statements of anti-U.S. Iraqi Sh’ia militia leaders or the conspiratorial ruminations of anonymous and thus unaccountable Iran loyalists within Iraq’s Council of Representatives. Both groups are proliferating a specious story of U.S. military cooperation with Da’esh. The story appears on several Iraqi media platforms with a presence alongside legitimate journalism that suggests this headline passed rigorous fact-checking. The outrageousness of the allegations harken from state media propaganda tactics developed in adjacent countries that seek to inlay baseless fabrications into a context of vague veracity.  Speaking specifically to Sh’ia tales of a U.S./Da’esh cooperation, I enter into evidence, Exhibit A: the timely and effective application of U.S. airpower to the facilitation of Baghdad’s only substantive victory over Da’esh forces: the Battle of Tikrit. Then as it remains today, any Da’esh commander would strenuously argue with any Sh’ia militia commander who asserts that America and the Islamic State have a cooperative military relationship. As a public relations foul gaffe tactic designed to incite a diplomatic rift between Iraq and the … Continue…

Turkey’s 24 Nov Shootdown: Bad Timing, Worse Judgement

  Yesterday, the press reported that the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian fighter aircraft that entered Turkish airspace, a tragic incident; simultaneously sad, destabilizing, and unhelpful. Dozens of airspace incursions occur daily all over the world. Those incidents do not meet with lethal force except in the rarest instances. The unfortunate Korean Air lines flight 007 incident reminds us about the human costs and enduring legacy of bad timing and worse judgment in aerial use of force scenarios. That years later we are talking about Russian loss of life in the aftermath of an aerial use of force scenario may strike some as ironic. But, as we shall see, the conditions are not as cut and dry as the Turkish government would like the world to believe; courtesy of information disclosed by the Turks themselves. What characterizes most airspace violations and aerial encounters between interceptors and transgressors is restraint and respect—both driven by the knowledge that once loosed, most air-air missiles cannot be recalled. With today’s generation of air-air weapons, and excepting a … Continue…

Of Wisdom & Terrorism

Tonight the world got another dose of terrorism 3.0.  The PLO and Fatah was 1.0; Al Qua’ida was/is 2.0, now 3.0.  While tonight’s attacks in Paris are grisly, it is important to take a deep breath and avoid seeking answers to all the obvious questions with so little fact-based information. Terrorism 3.0 brings the confrontation into western society in its urban centers and as if to borrow a chapter from history, airliners.  Al Qua’ida, Islamic State, and/or other entities have learned how to mitigate if not defeat measures intended to thwart them. The nature of this threat makes combating it difficult.  However, resorting to old methods to hit back at something different will only reinforce the West vs. Islam narrative of jihadis and radicals. However, paralysis via analysis is also inconsistent with counter-terrorism wisdom.  For example, waiting months for the Egyptians to complete an aviation incident investigation laden with organized terrorism undertones provides criminals with the opportunity space to repeat their method.  Similarly, waiting for attackers to claim credit for tonight’s events in Paris is … Continue…

What Do 9268, 5164, and 224 Have In Common?

On the morning of 31 October, the day of the Metrojet 9268 crash that claimed 224 lives it was 5,164 days since 9/11.  Why that matters, follows. Late today, media reporting suggests that western intelligence officials agree that sufficient indicators exist to call the loss of #9268 what it likely was, a successful attempt to destroy the aircraft inflight. The evidence for the presence of a destructive device was too compelling to ignore. Data released earlier this week sourced from land based data link sites suggested the aircraft broke apart in seconds. The final event occurred so rapidly that there was little the cockpit crew could have realistically done to salvage the situation. Most interesting right now is the silence of the Egyptian authorities investigating the crash. Thus far, Putin has yet to speak out and frankly, he may be divining what this terrible event means for his foreign policy expedition in Syria. Meanwhile, the Egypt civil aviation authority and the government it answers to looks more impotent than ever. The regime is analyzing the … Continue…