The Ice In My Teeth Keeps the Cristal Cold

Alex Olesker, who in addition to being a top-notch national security blogger also makes the best yerba mate tea in the whole of DC, has started blogging at–covering the topic of the Navy’s efforts to modernize its C4IRS hardware to run with off-the-shelf platforms.

Olesker’s also been busy at i-Con with a new series on the IRA and its legacy of terror. People often forget just how vicious and effective the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) was when thinking of al-Qaeda and its present challenges.

Of course, on a less serious note, Alex also has a post on “Biggie Smalls, Counterterrorism Guru.” Yes, you read that right.


Chain Links

  • One big part of contemporary urban operations is counter-sniper technology (C-Sniper) that allows troops to more quickly verify the source of a shot. Now, it looks like the same technology–albeit greatly expanded–is being utilized in counter-gang operations in the US (h/t John Robb).
  • If you’re in California, check out Milken Institute’s annual “State of the State” conference. I still have the forlorn hope (even though I’m in DC now) that CA can be salvaged.

The LRA, Regional Coordination, and Distributed Operations in Jungle Warfare

Nick Dubaz writes in to comment on the present status of the effort to destroy the LRA:

The Ugandan Army has strengthened significantly with U.S. assistance, Southern Sudan has increased their efforts against the LRA and there has been some reform of the IDP camp system. As a result, the LRA has been forced to operate largely in the DR Congo and Southern Sudan and has little reach into Uganda, at least partially achieving Uganda’s strategic goals in the conflict.

I’ve followed some of these developments as well, and I should have included some information about the present state of the effort in my Kony post–which was mainly historical in its look at the sources of his success (as was the FMSO paper). Kony’s range of operations has indeed shrunk since the high point of the violence. Still, joint military operations to capture him have been miserable failures and coordination is difficult.

As the International Crisis Group notes, the main problem is coordinating a war effort across three countries. Kony’s operations are a case study in the power of foot mobility and distributed operations in African jungle terrain in loose borders. As per my reference to Lettow-Vorbeck in a previous post, footmobile operations in jungle warfare is a hitherto understudied contemporary subject. It is not as much guerrilla warfare in the sense of politics but a techno-tactical thing that the Vietcong and NVA mastered. A small group of fighters can cover a large distance if light on their feet, and effectively challenge superior conventional forces for effective control of the countryside. There have been many studies on it during the Vietnam era, but none recently due to operations in desert conditions, urban warfare, and mountains in Kuwait, Iraq, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. The neglect of this subject may be lamented later on, however.

The ICG report is titled “A Regional Strategy Beyond Killing Kony,” but that is essentially what it is. Consolidating regional operational capabilities, protecting civilians, and gaining strike intelligence as well as progressively narrowing the range of ground the LRA can occupy. While it also recommends addressing the root causes of violence in Northern Uganda, that is a more long-term task that military forces (and the UN’s regional forces) are not really well-equipped to do. It is a task that only regional leaders can do. For now, the immediate military problem of the degradation and destruction of the LRA is the most pressing issue.

Why Joseph Kony is Still Alive

It is difficult to find a more hated man than Joseph Kony, the head of the revolutionary death cult the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony’s brutal group of religious fanatics are basically a larger, more atavistic version of Charles Manson’s gang–armed with small arms and machetes. Their atrocities are biblical in their sheer cruelty. The United States, several African states, and the international community all want Kony dead or imprisoned. Much money, weapons, and training have been poured into stopping him. Kony’s group is small and possesses little in the means of armament. So why is he still alive after 20 years?

A new paper by the Foreign Military Studies Office’s Major Robert Feldman explains why. First, a major factor is the the weakness of the Ugandan Army. It is dispersed, poorly trained, led, and cannot gain intelligence from Acholi peoples due to its heavy-handedness. Moreover, by depopulating the country to form strategic hamlets, the government is giving the LRA de facto control of the countryside.

Second, Kony’s cooperation with other guerrilla groups and skillful use of state support (for some time, maybe still) with Sudan, exploitation of black market weapons support, and cooperation with merchants to sell loot has kept him in business. The sheer ideological fanaticism of the LRA is important, as it uses atrocity as a strategic weapon to compel support and fresh recruits. Logistically, its requirements are small and there is nothing it needs that it cannot obtain through looting or local purchases.

The nature of the terrain allows for distributed operations, high foot mobility under cover, and numerous hiding places for small groups. Finally, the LRA is not on major powers’ radar and is seen as a minor humanitarian issue. Thus, Kony benefits from a simple lack of attention. Kony also plays on war weariness by deluding regional politicians into thinking he will give up if given amnesty, giving him time to rest and refit. In reality, the only way to get rid of Joseph Kony is to put a bullet through his head or a bayonet in his gut.

As abhorrent as Joseph Kony’s practices are, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he is probably the most successful African bandit-warrior since Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. Long before anyone began to write about global guerrillas and super-empowered actors, Kony successfully exploited the cleavages of regional politics, the nature of jungle warfare, black market flows, the power of religious fanaticism and fear, the realities of realpolitik, and the delusions of defeatist politicians to keep his ghoulish group of warriors operating. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight, Kony has no “plan” except to cause chaos and disruption. And he is likely to continue doing so until he and his band of murderers are completely and utterly destroyed.

The Ciudad Juarez Car Bombing

John P. Sullivan has a nice short overview of the Ciudad Juarez car bombing at the Small Wars Journal, covering the bombing itself and what it means for the drug war. Some of this won’t be new for long-time watchers of the Mexican drug war and those who’ve followed some of our writings on it.

Sullivan also has an update on active shooter and counter-IED police training in the US and some of its problems:

Police responders frequently respond well to familiar threats—that is ballistic and human threats. They respond according to their experience and training. Grenade and IED (roadside and vehicle bombs) are largely outside their experience (in the US, Mexico, and in reality most of the world). Metropolitan police in the US are rapidly integrating active shooter training into their skill set. This training should (and does) include awareness of explosive threats (grenades, IEDs, and military munitions). With repeated exposure and practice, police can integrate a three-dimensional approach to situational awareness and threat response.10 All too frequently, responders fix on the immediately apparent threat, engage gun fire, and in the natural “tunnel vision” that results under combat stress, miss non-ballistic threats and threats from other vantage points. This facet of close quarters battle can be corrected in tactical training and drills. Such efforts are essential. These include active shooter and IED awareness drills, drill on rescuing downed officers, and integration of force protection for emergency medical and fire service responders. In addition, this requires training and recognition of command post and crime scene defense capabilities.

Inconvenient Truths

Robert J. Bunker and Hakim J. Hazim point out an inconvenient truth: self-radicalization is an important domestic facet of the terrorist threat, and ignorance of it in public debate.

For procedural issues, this point is important:

“Specifically, while non-state warfare can be waged by larger radical Islamic cells, i.e. those which have been successfully interdicted such as the 2002 Lackawanna, New York (Muktar al-Bakri et al); 2005 Lodi, California (Hayat family et al); 2007 Fort Dix, New Jersey (Duka family et al); and 2009 New York (Najibullah Zazi et al) groups, it must also ask whether cells composed of ones and twos are not now also part of this threat spectrum. If ignored and simply labeled as ‘other than war (or terrorist)’ incidents, we may find ourselves with a homeland security capability superbly suited to combat large (and more conventional) cells belonging to the radical Islamic network but not the smaller and to date more effective ones. Such roles and missions would thus be deemed outside of current counter-terrorism operations even though they too may become not necessarily the mission US governmental agencies and personnel desire but the one that they end up with.”

Police-Military Interaction in Mexico

My frequent writing partner John P. Sullivan has a great new piece in the Spanish edition of Air Space and Power Journal (link goes to English translation) on police-military interaction in Mexico’s drug war.

Key graph:

“Policing post-conflict situations is notoriously difficult for military forces. The military establishes the conditions for order, them generally seeks to transition social control to civil police or transitional gendarmerie forces.50 The situation is even more complex in a state of on-going high intensity criminal violence such as that found in a “criminal insurgency” or drug war. Police and the military are equally challenged by brigands and gangsters who operate with near impunity. This is compounded by the challenge of operating within a fearful community, compromised by corrupt officials and a plethora of security leaks. To effectively operate in this environment, both the police and military services need to develop and employ new skills at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.”