Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Earlier this week, FP's own Elias Groll wrote an in-depth profile about intrepid reporter Robert Young Pelton and his plan to track down the notorious African warlord Joseph Kony. Apparently, though, it's not just Pelton who's going all-in on going after Kony. In his Washington Post article, "Kony 2013: U.S. quietly intensifies effort to help African troops capture infamous warlord," Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that U.S. forces are sending in tracker dogs:
African troops and their U.S. advisers are also being aided by two American philanthropists, who are paying $120,000 a month for six Belgian Malinois tracking dogs and their handlers. The dogs have accompanied soldiers on patrols and raids. In September, they were helicoptered into the rebel camp near Garamba to assist in the search for fleeing Kony loyalists.
The dog teams are funded by Howard G. Buffett, the eldest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and Shannon Sedgwick Davis, an activist from Texas who heads the Bridgeway Foundation, the charitable arm of Bridgeway Capital Management, a large investment firm that devotes half of its after-tax profit to human rights causes.
The United States used tracker dogs with tremendous success during the Vietnam War. Navigating the tangled brush of the jungle was no easy task; not only did the dogs help keep their handlers and the men who followed behind them on a safe path, but patrols that were accompanied by dog teams were almost always able to avoid being ambushed. And though it's a less-utilized skill deployed by the military's dog program nowadays, tracker dog teams still offer the same advantages, especially in a manhunt scenario. I've followed behind a tracker dog team and watched SF dog teams train. Their skills are unparalleled.
So, the question in this instance really is not "Why would Special Forces employ dog teams on the Kony manhunt mission?" but, "Why wouldn't they?"
In a brief exchange over Facebook, I asked Pelton what he thought about sending these elite dogs in on the hunt for Kony.
"Obviously I have seen these dogs in action," he wrote. "But I have also seen that part of Africa ... These well trained dogs are typically used in close encounters (flushing a suspect out of a hiding place, rather than across hundreds of miles of swamps, grasslands and forests.) They are good, but nothing replaces HUMINT and man trackers." He added: "The Special Forces are the best of the best... but they are also restricted by a number of rules, resources and just the vast scope of the region. I wish them luck!"
And so do we.
Rebecca Frankel is special projects editor at Foreign Policy.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran had a very good look at U.S. special operators pursuing warlord Joseph Kony. Well worth your reading.
But in it, my hackles were raised by this comment from an American diplomat:
"Is Joseph Kony a direct threat to the United States? No," said Scott DeLisi, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda. "He's not targeting U.S. citizens. He's not targeting U.S. embassies. He's not al-Qaeda."
Instead, DeLisi said, Kony merits U.S. involvement because his malign behavior runs counter to "our core values."
"Why is the United States engaged in the world, for God's sake?" he said. "If we are true to what we believe in as Americans ... we need to get rid of Joseph Kony."
Justifications like that make me sympathetic to the Bacevichians who want us to pull back. If the U.S. mission in the world is to get rid the world of evil, we are going to be fighting for a loooong time. Among other things, that likely will undermine our nation. So by trying to enforce American values abroad we may lose them at home.
By Katherine Kidder
Best Defense office of Communist Chinese capitalist studies
China's growing role in Africa over the past decade-or-so has raised some eyebrows. Questions surrounding China's motives for investment abound: Are they purchasing U.N. votes? Simply extracting natural resources? Expanding the rhetoric of revolution, as it did in the 1960s?
Yet most of these questions presuppose state-led investment in Africa. Xiaofang Shen, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS China Studies Program and former investment climate specialist at the World Bank, said in a recent talk at SAIS that the more notable increase over the past decade has been the rise in Chinese private-sector investment on the continent.
Pre-2001, Chinese private investment in Africa was negligible; by the end of 2011, there were 879 private companies and OFDI projects registered with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Contrary to the image of state-led extraction, Chinese entrepreneurs focus their energies mainly on manufacturing and service industries. They increasingly are forging relationships with local management, and aware of the value of learning local customs, religions, and languages.
So, what does this mean for the West? Interestingly enough, Chinese private investment in Africa may be a hat tip to Western models of development and governance: Xiaofang Shen's study finds that going overseas to do business was much easier for up-and-coming Chinese entrepreneurs than starting a business in inland China.
Most of China's industry grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, with little-to-no regulation. By contrast, many African laws (at least on paper) were copied and/or imposed by the West through such mechanisms as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). As a result, Chinese entrepreneurs find African processes more conducive to business, from obtaining licenses and navigating the bureaucratic process to trusting that the food they eat for lunch is safe. African governments face higher incentives to improve infrastructure and devote resources to political stability and regulatory efficiency in order to attract capital -- precisely the same goals reflected in SAPs.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 4, 2009.
He says fears about it falling apart or into civil war are overblown:
... on visits to Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli, to find that there were no militiamen to be seen, that most things were functioning normally, that there were police at traffic intersections, that there were children's carnivals open till late, families out, that jewelry shops were open till 8 pm, that Arabs and Africans were working side by side, and that people were proud in Benghazi of having demonstrated against calls for decentralizing the country.
As someone who has lived in conflict situations, I take as a very serious gauge of security whether shops are open and how late they stay open. Jewelry shops in particular are easily looted, and the loot is light and easy to fence. But in Tripoli there was loads of gold in rows of jewelry shops, along with clothing stores newly stocked with Italian fashions."
One of Sudan's "lost boys" is now a sergeant with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan. Peter Kuch remembered about his early life in Sudan that after his village was attacked, he hid by day and walked by night and over the course of many months, made it to Kenya. I bet Fort Benning seemed easy after that.
It reminds me of a Marine I met who was had been an illegal immigrant from Belize. When he joined the Marines he was amazed that not only did he get good food and a clean bed, he also got paid. On the downside, he had thought they worked at Sea World.
Remember how I found command and control for the Libyan situation kind of confusing? Apparently so did others.
The Air Force is now folding the 17th Air Force, the designated unit for African operations. Their jobs are being tossed back to Air Force Europe, which had to do the first combat mission that came along for Air Force Africa anyways.
(HT to JT)
I know the V-22 has posted a pretty good record, but I keep on thinking of what a Pentagon official once said to me: No one has ever built a helicopter with jet-engine-like hydraulic pressures (5,000 ppsi) inside its nacelles -- and then landed that aircraft in dusty spots where jet engines fear to go. He said that one little bit of dust inside the nacelle could weaken the hydraulic tubing, which if it sprang a leak would shoot fluid so powerfully that it could cut off a man's arm.
When I was a military reporter, this was the only aircraft I promised my wife I'd never fly in.
The authors, three souls who toiled in the lower depths of the Joint Staff's J-7, write that, "the decision was made to retain AFRICOM as the supported command, with USEUCOM, USCENTCOM, USTRANSCOM and U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) in support."
Sounds simple, but wait: AFRICOM doesn't have any forces, so EUCOM became "de facto force provider." It is almost as if EUCOM were acting like a service. (Which would make it our sixth service, after the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and SOCOM, which already effectively has its own civilian-led secretariat, in the SO/LIC bureaucracy.)
It gets even more complicated. Many aircraft were flying from bases in EUCOM's area of responsibility, so EUCOM "retained OPCON of these forces." What's more, EUCOM had other fish to fry, so reported Adm. Locklear, "We were responding to OPCON pleas of the provider to make his life easier rather than the OPCON needs of the commander." It's like a waterfall running in reverse.
Also, it turned out that AFRICOM lacked the ability to actually run an operation. (Interesting side fact: Half its staff is civilian, and it had never rehearsed to run anything.)
Final bonus fact: The U.S. military has apparently come up with the worst acronym I have heard in a long time: "VOCO." The article's authors quote an Army brigadier as stating that in the Libyan operation, there was "Lots of VOCO between all levels of command." It stands for "verbal orders of the commander." But hold on: Aren't all orders are verbal, unless the guy is pointing or something? What the poor general meant was "oral orders of the commander." That would be "OOCO." I'd prefer "Unwritten orders of the commander," which would be "UOCO," but that is too hard to pronounce. It could make you poco loco in the coco.
And remember at this point we haven't even gotten into the command arrangements with the other 14 nations in the anti-Qaddafi coalition (AQC).
I know some of the little grasshoppers may disagree with me, but I think that sending 100 Special Forces troops to Africa to coordinate different countries' operations against the Lord's Resistance Army is a good use of our military. This is classic "indirect action," and it is a whole lot better than sending battalions of American infantry. I expect they will introduce unique American capabilities-such as imagery from satellites and long-loiter drone aircraft-to help corner the LRA. And because the American commitment is so small, there won't be a ticking political clock on their deployment. This means the foe can't simply go to ground and wait out the crackdown. So, unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan, time is not immediately a factor against the American move.
It also was interesting to me that this news did not make the front pages of the newspapers I looked at.
Here is a conversation with my officemate, Robert Kaplan, who has written a lot of interesting books, and has a new one out today, titled Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, about the growing political importance of the Indian Ocean basin.
If after reading this you want more, come on down the evening of Nov. 9 to his CNAS book rollout, hear him talk, buy a book, and get it signed. And if you mention "Best Defense" Bob might give you a free beer. Register here.
Best Defense: What made you turn to the Indian Ocean as a book subject?
Robert Kaplan: In 2006, I saw a few references to the Indian Ocean in military journals. So I did what I always do when hunting for a new project, I consulted an atlas. As I stared at the map, the book began to emerge in my mind: Here was the entire arc of Islam from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Here was the global energy interstate, through whose waters pass the hydrocarbons from the Middle East to the middle class cities of East Asia. Here was a vehicle to get beyond Islam as strictly a phenomenon of Middle Eastern deserts and take in its green, tropical allure in the Far Eastern seas as well. Here was a way to connect the issues of Islam and China in one book. Another influence upon me was the teaching post I had at the time at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where I met colleagues who had experience on warships in these waters, and they told me their stories.
BD: What do you think will be the biggest surprise in the book for readers of this blog?
RK: This blog has tended to concentrate, as it should, on the wars of the moment, in Iraq and Afghanistan, messy land wars where counterinsurgency is a doctrine that the U.S. military is pursuing. This book takes military issues beyond those of the day, and suggests a future where our challenges may be primarily maritime. China and its naval rise, and the possible threat it poses to the Indian Ocean and adjacent South China Sea, figure prominently in this book, while Iraq and Afghanistan figure barely at all. Central Asia figures, though, because it will one day be linked by roads and energy pipelines to the Indian Ocean. Pakistan figures heavily, but here, too, I concentrate on what the media has generally ignored: the restive provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh on the Indian Ocean. The surprise of this book is that future wars and conflicts may be vastly different than the ones of the moment. Instead of fighting neighborhood by neighborhood in Baghdad or Kandahar, we may in the future have to influence vast spaces on the map through naval maneuvers.
BD: Some of your previous books have had dark scenarios and descriptions. Is this book also pessimistic?
RK: No. This is my most optimistic and -- hopefully, that is -- nuanced work. Of course, the reader will be the judge of that! The interweaving of civilizations in the Indian Ocean is incredibly complex, and it was a real struggle for me to adequately communicate it. It was certainly the hardest book I ever wrote -- the book where I did more reading and research than any previously. As I get older, writing just gets more difficult and complicated. I did not set out to be an optimist. But my conclusion is that the Greater Indian Ocean is evolving into a vibrant, multipolar trading system reminiscent of the Muslim and Chinese trading systems that preceded Vasco da Gama in these waters. And for the United States to maintain its power it will have to listen more to the yearnings of hundreds of millions, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who are not concerned with al-Qaeda, but with attaining a middle class standard of living. If you want to hear the authentic voice of the emerging, former third world, watch Al Jazeera, and maybe dip into my book.
BD: What do you think you will write about next, and why?
RK: I have started writing a book about geography, about the great geographers of the past and how to incorporate their sensibilities in order to approach places like Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey in hopefully a new and original light. Whereas, Monsoon involved enormous traveling, this next book involves endless reading. I don't believe we have overcome geography, despite the jet and information age. The Hindu Kush, the Tibetan and Iranian plateaus, and the riverine wastes of Siberia, to name a few examples, still matter to international politics, as they deeply affect the behavior of nations. As Napoleon said, if you want to know a nation's foreign policy, inspect its geography. That's what I am now trying to do.
Heeeee's back. After some tough contract talks with his agent, Best Defense has lured Herb Carmen back from his fling with Abu Mook. Here he goes feet dry to check out what's happening in Somalia. Wasn't this stuff below a scene in the Evelyn Waugh novel Scoop? (Which, btw, is the best book ever written on foreign correspondents.)
By Cdr. Herb Carmen, USN
Best Defense pirates columnist
It appears that the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) may be caught between a rock and a hard place in southern Somalia. Attacks from Al Shabaab, infighting among the members of the TFG, and the possible introduction of German mercenaries to potentially fight against troops trained by the European Union all threaten the future of the TFG.
Adirashid ABDULLE ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images
Here's an interesting file from our pirates watcher on the connections between piracy and campaign finance, and also how complicated ransom money has become.
By Cdr. Herb Carmen, U.S. Navy
Best Defense piracy columnist
The Chief of Naval Operations' Foreword in the "U.S. Navy's Vision for Confronting Irregular Challenges" states, "Our Navy has a history of confronting irregular challenges at sea, in the littorals, and on shore." After reading the latest U.N. report on Somalia, it sounds like the security situation in Somalia is a prime example of the irregular challenges navies face.
Adirashid ABDULLE ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images
An anonymous response to Best Defense's piracy columnist here calls out the U.S. Navy for its sluggish response to the growing piracy problem in the Indian Ocean. It's not every day that you see someone challenge the manhood of the whole 5th Fleet.
Frankly, I think Mr. Anon is a little rough on Cdr. Herb Carmen, a fine officer who is our regular piracy columnist. (So Carmen applauded the French, is that a crime?) But this blog believes in letting different voices be heard, so here is the opposing viewpoint. Btw, for those of you following the action at home, a MEU is a Marine Expeditionary Unit. The last time I looked, which was a long time ago, that was a jarhead infantry battalion backed by an aviation element (a few weak-ass Cobra attack helicopters, some aging transport helicopters, and a couple of Harriers, if you were lucky), plus a logistics battalion.
Herb Carmen's posts talk about international will, highlight EU NAVFOR and NATO -- and say almost next to nothing about the U.S. Navy.
The fact is that the U.S. isn't showing the will to do what needs to be done. No one, including policymakers, wants to deal with it. I really believe that 5th Fleet made a conscious decision to let piracy escalate to get the Europeans to drag their butts through the Suez and no one has told me I'm wrong.
The U.S. Navy wants nothing to with fighting thugs in the littorals for the same reasons the Air Force traditionally resists the close air support mission -- it's not the blue water fleet battle they've built the force around. We ought to be take down motherships and ‘steal back' a merchant ship or two offshore. We should attack the financial networks and go after the agents and negotiators in other nearby countries. No one is willing to call out shippers and insurers for their complicit behavior. The real reason no one is really taking any of this seriously, I suspect, is that the hostages are largely low-paid Filipino, Indian and Pakistani merchant seamen. If we had 200 westerners held captive -- let alone Americans -- we'd already have a MEU on the beach.
I'd like to hear from someone other than poor old Herb on this. Any response, 5th Fleeters?
By Cdr. Herb Carmen, USN Best Defense pirates columnist
In my last post, I wrote about the EU's expanding mission against piracy near Somalia. Well, quite impressively, EU NAVFOR wasted no time in taking action. Since Thursday's post, the French frigate Nivose has seized 35 pirates, four motherships, and six skiffs. This is good news because the fight against piracy hinges on international willingness to take action. What the French intend to do with the captured pirates has not yet been made clear, but what is clear is that there are 35 less pirates on the seas and, as Bryan McGrath has described it, 35 "empty chairs at the dinner table."
Multi-mission naval aviator Herb Carmen returns safely to base with yet another interesting report. Here ‘tis.
By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense piracy columnist
History shows that stopping piracy almost always requires actions ashore. In the case of piracy near Somalia, very little has yet been done to put pressure on the shore establishment that supports the booming business and burgeoning industry of piracy in the region. By steering clear of the Somali coast and focusing on sea lane protection and escort, navies may make hijacking merchant vessels more difficult for pirates but can only address the symptoms of piracy without confronting the source and the motivations behind it.
With some 2 million square miles of ocean to patrol, it requires considerable effort to do counter-piracy well. While escort operations have been largely successful in recent months, the annual number of pirate attacks has increased. The rate of pirate hijackings actually decreased by 28% in 2009, but the number of hijackings remains almost steady between 2008 and 2009. What the steady number of hijackings might suggest is that pirates have a finite capacity ashore to berth and retain seized vessels; and, within that finite capacity, pirates have been able to sustain a certain level of success in the region despite the success in the sea lanes.
Even as navies make it more difficult for pirates at sea, the problem isn't going away without addressing piracy closer to shore and denying pirates the use of port facilities. Recent hijackings have been largely against merchant vessels that have strayed from transit corridors and ignored best practices. The most recent example of such a hijacking is the capture of the Saudi tanker Al Nisr Al Saudi which was hijacked Monday and had not registered its voyage with MSCHOA. The vessel was taken to Garacad, a well-known pirate stronghold. Garacad isn't new to the Navy, as seen in this video.
Last week brought promising news of a first step in denying pirates the use of ports such as Garacad, along the middle of the Somali coastline. The ministers of the defense of the European Union announced an expansion of the mission of EU's Operation Atalanta to "include control of the Somali ports where pirates are based as well as ‘neutralizing' mother ships that allow the pirates to operate over 1,000 kilometers from the coast." Until now, EU NAVFOR has focused its maritime assets on protection of vessels of the World Food Program (WFP) delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia and the protection of vulnerable vessels sailing in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast. While they've been largely successful in protecting WFP aid, it appears that EU NAVFOR is expressing a willingness and commitment to confront piracy more directly. If the EU takes this mission on wisely and with drive and energy, it could reduce Somali piracy significantly.
Beyond the issue of piracy, what happens to WFP aid once it is delivered to Somalia has become the challenge ashore. The WFP partially suspended operations in Somalia in January in the face of threats and attacks from armed groups. In a statement Sunday, Al Shabaab "banned" WFP operations in Somalia. Just this week, there are reports that WFP trucks and truck drivers have been hijacked ashore. WFP has hopes to restart work in the area in March or April and aims to provide food assistance to 3.5 million people.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
By Cmdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense piracy czar
Are some ship masters rolling the dice as they pass through pirate infested waters to save operating costs? Are ship masters intentionally taking the path of least resistance and ignoring Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Coast of Somalia? It's something we've been looking at when combing through data of successful pirate attacks. So, too, have the folks at Strategy Page.
In a recent post, Strategy Page points out that about a quarter of the ships passing through these waters are gambling with the safety and well-being of their ships and crews to save time and what can amount to tens of thousands of dollars in operating costs. In doing so, they increase the pirates' chances of successfully hijacking their ship from 1 in 500 to 1 in 200. At a press conference on February 2nd, Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, Commander of EU NAVFOR Somalia, highlighted the fact that many of the ships hijacked were not registered with the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa), were not reporting to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) office in Dubai, and were not following best management practices.
Here are some thoughts on the pirates of the interstate from naval aviator Herb Carmen, whose daddy was a truck driving man.
By Cmdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense pirates columnist
We most often think of piracy taking place on the high seas, but it's also happening closer to home. Jennifer Levitz wrote an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal about a spike in piracy on the nation's highways. The article cites data from FreightWatch International which shows that thieves stole 859 truckloads containing $487 million of goods in 2009, up from $290 million just one year ago. FreightWatch International's 2009 review of U.S. cargo theft has breaks down what types of good were stolen, which states have seen the most thefts, and points to a few trends.
It's interesting to contrast cargo theft on the highways with piracy off the Somali coast. Tractor-trailer thefts require surveillance and focus on stealing cargo often while drivers are away from their trucks. Stolen goods are then sold on the black market. Pirate attacks near Somalia seek vulnerable targets of opportunity at sea to capture and take hostages. Pirates near Somalia have the capacity to capture and detain hostages for long periods of time while ransom negotiations take place. Tractor-trailer thefts more closely resemble pirate attacks near Asian ports, where cargo is more often the prize and where the capability to remove and resell the cargo exists.
David McNew/Getty Images
By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense Pirates Columnist
With all that's been happening in Haiti over the last week, I'd like to start by sending a shout out to my first Fleet squadron, the VRC-40 Rawhides. The Rawhides have several C-2A Greyhound aircraft participating in Operation Unified Response, shuttling food and water to from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Haiti throughout the night. In fact, I heard from one of the Rawhides at 4:30am Tuesday morning before he and his crew made a final run to Haiti with six pallets of MREs before getting some rest. Because the airfield at Port-au-Prince can only handle 1 wide-body jet at a time, medium lift aircraft like the C-2A can help keep supplies moving by landing, unloading quickly on a small taxiway, and departing. Obviously, the C-2A carries a lot less than a C-17, but the C-2A's ability to get in and out of an airport expeditiously with a light footprint gives it a niche for the movement of high priority cargo into Haiti which can then be distributed by other means. Bravo Zulu to VRC-40 and Bravo Zulu to everyone lending a hand in Haiti.
Pirate Watcher Herb Carmen buzzed the deck of the USS Best Defense and dropped this message from his cockpit:
By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense Buccaneers Beat Reporter
Thanks to all who submitted comments and emails in response to our first post on piracy. You already are giving me new ideas for future posts. I had intended to make this post a discussion of defining piracy. Instead, I'd like to take a detour and highlight the U.S. Navy's Africa Partnership Station (APS) because it has the potential, over time, to build and promote anti-piracy capacity along the east coast of Africa.
Vice Admiral Harry B Harris, Jr., Deputy Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa, in a briefing with reporters a couple of days ago described APS as "an international initiative, which promotes maritime security and stability in the region."
Ahoy, mateys. Herewith my CNAS colleague, Navy Cdr. Herb Carmen, comes aboard with an overview of recent pirate news. Herb, formerly ringleader of the Sun Kings, the notorious music-loving aviation squadron, is a veteran naval aviator with 444 controlled crash landings on carriers to his name.
We here at Best Defense hope that in the coming months, until Herb catapults back into the fleet, that "Pirate Watch" will be a continuing feature of this blog:
In recent weeks, we've been showered with stories and posts in recent about piracy near the Gulf of Aden and Somali Coast. On December 27th, a helicopter delivered a $4M ransom payment to secure the safe return of the Chinese dry bulk carrier Den Xin Hai owned by Qingdao Ocean Shipping, her 25-member crew and 76,000 tons of coal. Just after I had read a blog post about the sale of Blackwater's 183-ft anti-piracy ship, I read another post describing A.P. Moller Maersk Line's hiring of contracted security forces, including a warship from Tanzania, to protect the Brigit Maersk tanker from pirates of the coast of Africa. In just the first two days of 2010, a chemical tanker, a British vehicle carrier, and 49 seamen were taken captive by pirates. Just when it appeared the salvo of news on piracy was over, apparently a contractor and forces from the Yemen Navy have teamed up for some time to provide security for ships transiting the Gulf of Aden.
So I was idly reading the Copenhagen Post (Hans Christian Anderson's favorite newspaper!) and saw the Maesrk shipping company has hired a Tanzanian warship and some soldiers to defend its merchant vessels in the area.
Does this mean the shipping companies have come to believe that the naval task force assembled by Western task forces isn't providing sufficient security and deterrence? If I were the CNO I'd be worried by this.
(HT to HC the Sun King)
MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images
Remember yesterday I mentioned David Wood as a good defense reporter? He has a terrific column today about what is going wrong in Afghanistan. I'll summarize it here, but only if you promise to click on this link and read the whole thing.
Wood begins with a good strong "lede" that manages to combine action and policy:
When a warning crackled over the radio of a suspected ambush ahead, Lt. Col. Rob Campbell swore softly and ordered his three armored trucks to a halt. What happened next illustrates why the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is failing, why commanders here are asking for more manpower -- and why they are pleading for more time.
Then his main character strides into the picture, along with a succinct statement of the problem:
Leaping out with his M-4 carbine, Campbell, a tall cavalry officer with sandy hair and freckles, strode through the empty, sun-baked fields flanking the road while his men fanned out, checking the ground for IEDs, sweeping the fields for snipers. The Afghan police assigned to patrol this stretch of road? Nowhere in sight.
Campbell comes off as a good, thoughtful officer doing well, but conscious that time is running out. Anyway, read the whole thing -- one of the best things I've read on Afghanistan in awhile.
Meanwhile, NATO aircraft hit some hijacked fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan, killing a bunch of people. Some of them were insurgents, some of them children and other civilians trying to get the fuel the Taliban was distributing from the trucks for free. The total is somewhere between 50 and 90, it appears. My question: Does this air strike pass the Petraeus test, which I saw him apply in Mosul back in 2003-2004: Before taking any action, consider whether it will create more opponents than it stops. Anyway, this makes me wonder if NATO forces got snookered into the attack.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Move over, Rupert. I'm promoting Zimbabwe thug Robert Mugabe to No. 1 on my list. Despite his toxic effect on American journalism, Murdoch never gave anyone choldera, as far as I know.
Here is the latest Zimbabwe report from Doctors Without Borders (aka MSF, Medicins Sans Frontieres):
The political crisis and resultant economic collapse is manifesting in cholera, population movement, hyperinflation, food insecurity, violence and a lack of access to HIV/AIDS treatment and health care more generally.
Despite the glaring humanitarian needs, the government of Zimbabwe continues to exert rigid control over aid organisations. MSF faces restrictions in implementing medical assessments and interventions. Especially in cases of emergencies where quick action often determines life or death, allowances for a rapid humanitarian response is crucial."
I see where China announced a plan to build a big old "friendship" bridge in the west African nation of Mali.
China is serious about Africa. Bridges don't bother me so much. What really worries me is the day when Beijing starts deploying "private security contractors" to African countries, in part because that might be when the precedents established by the U.S. government in Iraq come back to haunt us. Among other things, Chinese mercenaries are gonna be much cheaper than their American counterparts -- and also are likely to be even cozier with their own government back home. Imagine the State Department trying to figure out how to respond when the Beijing government insists, "That's not a mechanized brigade of the PLA, that's the Shanghai Double Happiness Security and Friendship Corporation."
I am not sure what China is up to in Africa. But I have the nagging thought that we will figure it out in 15 years and be sorry.
KIN CHEUNG/AFP/Getty Images
Stevie Wonder was at least 28 years premature, but it may yet happen.
Apparently Robert Mugabe, who is third on my list for jerk of the year, after Rupert Murdoch and Bill O'Reilly, has bought an expensive house in Hong Kong. (Bodyguards there roughed up two British reporters nosing around the property.) Let's hope he flees soon.
Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Until Iraq, the hardest reporting I ever did was Mogadishu in 1992. Somalia became my measure of journalism -- in an uncomfortable and dangerous spot, I would ask myself whether this was half as hard as then, or equally as hard. Then came Baghdad in the summer of 2003, when a horrible climate combined with a deteriorating security situation that American officials didn't understand or sometimes even perceive. I was reminded of all this when I read Rob Crilly’s blog post about how to report nowadays in Somalia. His bottom line: Don't.
Photo of Islamist militiamen in Somalia via MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images
Not long ago I was having an argument with some military strategists about what, if anything, the United States should do about Somali pirates. The strategists tended to say that it isn't our problem. My view was that it was partly our problem, because so much of the oil we consume passes through those waters en route from the Persian Gulf, and also that we have an interest in law and order on the high seas. My secondary argument was that if we didn't, someone else would. Now I see that the Chinese are sending three ships to help patrol the area off Somalia. "This is shaping up to be a key step in China's rise as a great power," comments John McCreary in NightWatch.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.