23 November 2015

Update no.727

Update from the Heartland
16.11.15 – 22.11.15
To all,

            The follow-up news items:
-- Director of the Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (FSB) Alexander Vasilyevich Bortnikov publicly claimed his agency has determined that MetroJet Flight 9268 [724] was brought down by a one-kilogram (2.2 pounds mass) on-board bomb made of TNT (TriNitroToluene).  I have seen no evidence to support such a claim, and while TNT would work quite well in this instance, it is not a contemporary explosive of choice as it is less stable and less malleable than many other forms of explosives readily available to those to kill in this manner.
            That’s nice, but I don’t much care what the FSB Director thinks happened.  All I care about is what the evidence says.
            The ISIL, jihadi, electronic magazine Dabiq released an image purportedly showing the soda can bomb smuggled onto the aircraft in the aft baggage compartment that they claim brought down MetroJet 9268.  Presuming the 12-ounce, aluminum, pineapple juice can was filled with a high-order explosive compound, it would be quite sufficient to break-up a pressurized, A-321 aircraft.  If they used a contemporary plastic explosive, the can bomb would be approximately 450 grams, rather than 1 kilogram.  Regardless, such a bomb, especially near a major structural component like the pressure bulkhead would be quite sufficient to compromise a passenger jet under 8 psi pressure differential.  ‘Officials’ are claiming they are convinced an improvised explosive device smuggled onto the aircraft by ISIL agents or supporters at Sharm al-Sheik airport destroyed the aircraft.  For the record at this moment, I have seen no evidence whatsoever the ISIL or ‘official’ claims are accurate.  Let us not jump to conclusions before we see the physical proof.

            To be frank and blunt, I am amazed and disappointed at the number of voices pressuring President Obama to commit ground troops back into Iraq and now Syria to root out ISIL operatives.   I remember the handwringing as President Bush approached his decision to commit U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I argued then as I do now that the commitment of military forces (land, air or sea) to combat operations should be the choice of last resort, and once that decision is made, the commitment should be overwhelming in operations, logistics, industrial and societal support.  We (and here I mean the United States of America) have made the mistake of war on the cheap, i.e. half-assed, ever since the extraordinary effort of World War II, e.g., Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.  The only exception was the Gulf War of 1991.  We can argue about the intelligence assessment or the decision process that led President Bush to pull the trigger on Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, but once that decision was made, his biggest mistake was listening to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who bludgeoned the generals to fight the war on the cheap.  General Shinseki [227] did his best to speak truth to power, but it cost him his job.  Most of us should remember the rampant looting in the aftermath of the fall of the Hussein regime in Iraq; there were grossly insufficient troops on the ground to secure the country after Saddam was eliminated.  So, when we hear about committing U.S. ground forces to defeat ISIL in the Levant, that should be translated into 500,000 to 1,000,000 troops to include military government of the remnants and security for the country, meaning police, intelligence, border security, supply, support and reconstruction.  We should either be all-in or do our best to contain the threat.

           Why is it that Donald Trump is perpetually and persistently explaining, deflecting and obfuscating on his ill-chosen, emotional responses?  What is it that some people see than I am wholly unable to sense in any form?  He says idiotic things, and then comes up with any old lame reason to say in essence, “just kidding.”  Is this really what we want as our commander-in-chief?  I cannot imagine why anyone would even remotely consider him a viable candidate to be President of the United States of America.  I would rather have an ill-spoken, humble and well-intentioned president than a narcissistic, ego-centric, self-aggrandizing man who vilifies anyone and everyone who even hints at disagreement with him, and whose mantra is ‘I have a plan, trust me.’

            Continuing comment from Update no.702:
[NOTE: Yes, the Update number is correct . . . better late than never.]
 . .  a third party insertion:
“The whole ISIS crises has put WW III on hold, especially now that the Russians and the Chinese are beginning to look like the good guys while Uncle Sam is looking like as fool.”
 . . . to which the contributor responded:
“I don't know [anon.], I'm with you on this but it seems everything is a MATRIX and even though I turned on the fog lights, I am not seeing things as clearly as before.”
My reply:
            While I disagree with both the current Russian and PRC governments, the people are good people and do not deserve war.  Yet, both governments are acting in very offensive and aggressive ways with their neighbors as well as threatening NATO member states.
            I do not interpret the Obama administration’s timidity as weakness or foolish.  Diplomacy is better than combat.  He has pulled the trigger in the past, and I doubt he will failure to pull the trigger in the future, e.g., deployment of the USS Lassen and a section of B-52’s to challenge the PRC hegemony in the South China Sea.  Let’s not be so quick to spill American blood in some distant civil war.
 . . . Round two:
“True, diplomacy is always better route than battle/war.
“Let me ask you Cap, because you are a very well studied gent and I believe fair, what do you believe about the perceptions we are told Russian and China may have about our own expansion both as USA and through NATO?  One might say my assertion is just propaganda extended by the Russians, but if you look at the maps of our military extensions/footprint, it seems we are differing than what might have been promised to Russia as they fragmented/crumbled from the Soviet Union.

“I am trying to be open-minded:  While we might believe Russia or PRC is provocative, is there any chance we are too, which makes the game all that more dangerous?”
 . . . my reply to round two:
            Re: what do you believe about the perceptions we are told Russian and China may have about our own expansion both as USA and through NATO?”  Well, the immediate answer to your query depends directly and solely upon perspective.  I am certain our overtures to a free Ukraine are seen, perceived and propagandized as United States meddling in the internal affairs of Russia (AKA Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik).  I imagine Putin and his Politburo cronies still see Ukraine as Soviet, and thus the sole domain of Russia.  Ukraine is and of right should be a free and independent nation with sovereignty to decide the path they wish to take.  The Orange Revolution of 2004 and the ouster of Yanukovich were a freedom movement to the West and a rebellion to Russia.  I have seen no evidence whatsoever that the United States or NATO have made any attempt to make Ukraine a vassal state of the West, so where is the expansion of which you speak?  The same is true for the PRC in the South China Sea.  The sandbars, coral reefs and atolls of the region have been disputed and claimed by virtually all the neighboring countries.  What right does the PRC have in physically possessing anything?  History?  How far back in history do we go to establish ownership?
            Re: While we might believe Russia or PRC is provocative, is there any chance we are too, which makes the game all that more dangerous?  I fail to see the provocative actions by the United States to which you allude.  The PRC does not own Fiery Cross Reef [696] et al.  This situation is no different from someone claiming a public park was ancestral land from centuries ago and started building a fence around it, building a house on it, and warning everyone to not trespass under threat of being shot.  Are we simply just to say, oh well, throw up our hands in resignation, or do we defend our right of passage?  If anything, I believe we have acted with far too much timidity, and because of that paucity of response, we are moving toward greater risk of war.  I do not see a positive outcome from what is happening.  So, my answer, no, I do not see our actions as provocative.
 . . . Round three:
“Thank you as always Cap, for your analysis/opinion!  Some may suggest others are taking advantage of our lack of action/leadership??”
 . . . a different third-party contributor added:
“Amazing, actually incredibly mind boggling that your respondent sees no meddling or the serious subterfuge against Russia!!!!!!  Good grief, not only is it blatantly clear by US actions on Russia's borders, that only the wholly blind can not see, but its documented in thousands of publications, even by some honest analysts in influential US think-tanks, like Foreign Affairs and the National Interest, as well as by some non brainwashed UK counterparts in Chatham House and various European think-tanks.
“And at the very least, the US behaves in a provocative way in the South China Sea, even though I wholly agree China under international law has no right to hog almost that entire sea region.
“Whatever the case, this heavy handed, ugly, clumsy and dirty way the US tries to intimidate its competitors is NOTHING but symbolic to its increasing decline as the ‘sole’ superpower.  It's about time, and thank God bullies never last long as they serve only to endanger world peace, as we so clearly see in the last 20 some years.
“All the more good reason that great powers must have containing powers to balance them and neuter their hostile actions.  The world was a much safer place during the cold war.”
 . . . to which our contributor added:
“I have attached three maps found on Google, one is USA military bases worldwide, #2 is NATO bases, #3 is Russian bases and/or influence/relations.”
 . . . my reply to round three:
            As I said in my previous reply, the answers to your original queries depend directly upon perspective.  Ships and aircraft have every right of free transit in international waters and airspace.  What is provocative about exercising our right of free passage?  So, if the PRC has no right to sovereignty over Fiery Cross Reef or the other reclaimed islands, then what right do they have to deny safe transit to ships and aircraft in the vicinity of those disputed coral reefs?
            Further, is the Ukraine a sovereign nation?  Do the Ukrainian people have a right to determine who they wish to associate with?  Conversely, is the Ukraine just another disenfranchised republic of Russia?  The answers will largely establish perspective.
            The United States has not always acted with the most noble of intentions, but . . . “superpower bully” . . . really?  I respectfully suggest someone take a closer look at the facts and study up on international law.  We have one group accusing the United States of being dispassionate for refusing to be the international police, while at the very same time with the exact same situation another group accuses the United States of being a unilateral superpower bully.
            As the song phrase goes, “You have to stand for something, or you will fall for anything.”
 . . . Round four:
“You are referring to international rule of law, that nations can agree on, and operate within the agreements/treaties, I suppose.
“I was always amazed that Russia did not make a fuss when we went into Afghanistan and/or Iraq in 2001/2003, respectively.
“We shall see what interesting things come our way in this complicated world.”
 . . . my reply to round four:
            Yes, you are correct; that is precisely what I am referring to in this discussion.
            I’m not so surprised.  Perhaps, the Russians supported our efforts to deal with al-Qa’ida, Taliban and state sponsored terrorism, or they were happy to let us get mired down in Afghanistan, as they did 20 years earlier.  Who knows?  But, they did not react publicly.  After all, they sanctioned overflights of their country in support of those operations.
            We do indeed live in interesting times.

            Comments and contributions from Update no.726:
“Paris still figures heavily here with the BBC filling their news programmes from Paris.
“Putin and Cameron shaking hands today, neither looking especially vibrantly delighted. As I expect you know our parliament have not authorised the bombing of Isis, unlike Russia whose leaders probably do not need to ask. So are we doing our bit?  We are being questioned and will be found wanting.
“But is destroying this evil organisation over there the complete answer for these ‘operatives’ are leaking across Europe as migrants. A worrying scene indeed and one that needs our leaders including Mr. Putin to find some urgent answers.”
My response:
            Paris has dominated our Press coverage as well.
            Re: RAF bombing of ISIL.  I would not be so hard on Parliament, Her Majesty’s Government or Her Majesty’s Air Force.  Your countrymen are not wanting.  I would be willing to bet a dollar to donuts that MI6, MI5 and GCHQ are quite engaged in this process.
            Better to fight them over there than at home.  And yet, no, our engagement of ISIL cannot be confined to Syria & Iraq.  We must fight Islamo-fascism everywhere and most specifically in predominately Muslim neighborhoods and in mosques espousing radical conduct.  I am convinced the War on Islamo-fascism is not just against fighters & bombers, but more importantly against clerics and ideologues promoting jihad and violent action.
            I am in favor of helping the innocents among the refugees, but all freedom-loving countries and peoples must get serious about immigration control and enforcement.
            It is quite sad that Putin (and whatever the Politburo is called these days) have decided to adopt such aggressive and hegemonic conduct.  The Russians are actually far closer to the West than their current political leadership has allowed – very sad to me.  We could do so much more with Russia and NATO together than at arm’s length.

A different contribution:
“Why don't we quickly and compassionately temporarily suspend all entry into our country from Muslim countries (directly or indirectly) and offer to pay Saudi Arabia $10,000 each for every refugee they accept into their country from their neighbor fellow Muslims' countries?  As of now, it appears that would cost us nothing, but it would improve our security immensely.
“Surely our POTUS, in spite of his life-long sympathies for all things Muslim, knows that it is impossible to vet thousands of so-called and self-proclaimed refugees adequately.  To do what he proposes is evidence not so much of ignorance or prejudice based upon his upbringing and political leanings but of sinister intent on completing the destruction of the greatest nation on earth.”
My reply:
            A pretty good idea, actually . . . certainly better than bringing un-vet-able people into this Grand Republic, especially with a dysfunctional registration, tracking and immigration enforcement system.  I have always thought refugees are best supported and protected in the region, in an environment they are familiar with in life.
            I do not share you apparently pessimistic view of POTUS.  However, I do share your serious concern that the current administration may be weighting compassion heavier than should be in the risk equation.  We know POTUS wants to shelter refugees from ISIL, but we do not know the criteria they intend to use for admission to this country.  Let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Another contribution:
"Of note is that the Russians used about 23 long-range strategic bombers in a recent mission. These included Tu-160 Blackjacks, Tu-22M Backfires, and Tu-95M Bears – the latter being used in actual combat for the first time since they first appeared in the 1950's. They flew from Mozdok Air Base in North Ossetia, which could be interesting later.
25 Russian long-range strategic bombers in action over Syria for the very first time
Nov 17 2015
Russian Air Force heavy bombers made their first appearance over Syria yesterday night.
[The article referenced:]
“25 Russian long-range strategic bombers in action over Syria for the very first time – Russian Air Force heavy bombers made their first appearance over Syria yesterday night.”
by David Cenciotti
Published: Nov 17 2015
My response:
            Yeah, I’ve seen some of the released videos from their missions.  I wonder what flight path they used and whether they coordinated with the countries involved?
            Could get interesting . . . well, even more so.
 . . . a follow-up comment:
“I understand that they coordinated any overflights.
“And check this on the Kh-101, which was on the video.  Not sure whether it was actually used, but they seem to want us to think so.”
Putin Blasts Syria With New Stealth Missile—and Shows the World He Can Strike From 1,700 Miles Away
It wasn’t that long ago that the U.S. Air Force seemed to be the only one capable of attacking from half a continent away. Then came Russia’s ‘anti-ISIS’ strikes.
By David Axe
11.19.158:00 PM ET
[The referenced article:]
“Putin Blasts Syria With New Stealth Missile—and Shows the World He Can Strike From 1,700 Miles Away – It wasn’t that long ago that the U.S. Air Force seemed to be the only one capable of attacking from half a continent away. Then came Russia’s ‘anti-ISIS’ strikes.”
by David Axe
Published: 11.19.15; 8:00 PM ET
. . . my follow-up response:
            Almost sounds like a perpetual motion machine.

One last thread contribution for this week:
“Yesterday I read in Breitbart news that on the Arizona/Mexico border, CBP took into custody some males who were from Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I told a friend that alarms me more than Syrians.  And the day before, it was on the wire services that some Syrians were taken into CBP detention on the Texas/Mexico border.
“And today we have the Raddison Hotel attack in Mali, the former French colony.  I read but have not confirmed, that a Belgium diplomat may be one of the deceased victims, from the Islamists that attacked.  The security along with what I read were USA special forces, quickly took control back at the hotel.  I suspect special forces may have been deployed/guarding, due to the meeting at the hotel amongst various country diplomats.”
My reply:
            I’ve heard similar reports.  This should be no surprise . . . disappointment, yes . . . but, no surprise.  The CBP has been under-resourced in perpetuity.  What is worse, the Federales have refused, failed or something equivalent to create a system in depth down to the local level for enforcement of immigration law.  Further, even with a ‘perfect’ system, trained operatives can penetrate any system, i.e., where there is a will there is a way.
            Re: Bamako attack.  An al-Qa’ida affiliate claimed responsibility for that one.  So, now, we have dueling terrorist attacks begging for attention.  I think the reaction was primarily Malian units with French support.  All I’ve heard about American involvement was limited to two agents.  This one had shades of Mumbai [26.11.2008] [363/4].
            We live in a violent and brutal world.
 . . . Round two:
“True on the CBP and challenges they have with such porous borders.  And the perps who do human/drug smuggling keep innovating from complex tunnels to the guys who were smuggling drugs on jet skis, entering into the San Diego local waters from Mexico.  What will they think of next?
“Yes, you are correct on the Mali attack being an al-Qa'ida affiliate or 'franchise.'  I suspect al-Qa'ida feels like the child not paid attention to, as ISIS/ISIL/IS seems to get the headlines theses days.  And that presents a problem of competition between ISIS and al-Qa'ida.  Think you are also correct that most of the force protection were French troops/SF.
“Yes, our world has been violent and brutal and hopefully this will not trend-up.  Let's hope Belgium is calm on Sunday, as is Paris, NYC, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Rome.  Those were all locations named that are to be attacked.”
 . . . my reply to round two:
            Re: CBP.  We have never been serious about controlling our borders, or regulating immigration for that matter.  In this context, I use the word ‘immigration’ in the broader, more inclusive sense, including visitors with visas and those under the visa waiver program.  Once people enter for any reason by any means, we have been and remain virtually impotent to know where they are and enforce limitations.  The borders are important, but they are just symptomatic for the much larger problem; and, I do hear any of our politicos, current or wannabe, talking about solving the internal tracking issue.
            Re: Bamako attack.  That is my understanding as well.
            Re: Belgium.  It is truly sad to see Brussels streets virtually devoid of people and transport.  To me, this is the wrong reaction, in that the Islamo-fascist terrorists have achieved their aims – disrupt our lives and make us fearful.  Hopefully, the Belgians will quickly follow Parisians.
 . . . to which a third-party added:
“1.  There are plenty of pilots on this blog, but the aeronautical engineers (plane designers and structural engineers) haves so far failed to identify themselves.  WHERE you place that 2 lbs (apparent from the size of a 12 oz soda can) of plastic explosive is extremely crucial.
“2.  ‘Special forces’ is undefined.  There is a HELL of a lot of difference between the Green Berets, Rangers, Seals, and Delta (or the – civilian - FBI Hostage Team, for that matter). Not that the SAF (Brit) and other may have been there instead.
“3.  What the heck was so important going on in that hotel in Mali that was important enough to attract an el-Qaeda attack in the first place?”
 . . . Round three:
“[o]n Item #1, my take is, if in fact plastics were used by a suicide bomber/passenger, he was seated near the aft pressure bulkhead/tail control surfaces.  If true, I would guess this was a strategic plan on best possible location in the cabin.
“My understanding about the Raddison Hotel Blu in Bamako, was some diplomats from various countries were meeting there (which may explain upgraded/enhanced force protection that was able to rescue the 100+ hostages and hopefully terminate the actors who were waiting for virgins).
“Sourcing Wikipedia, it appears two groups carried out the attack: Al-Mourabitoun, in cooperation with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  I heard on NPR that one set of attackers may have been driving a vehicle with diplomatic plates, confusing security.   Again from Wikipedia's latest update:
A delegation of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie was in the hotel at the time of the attack.[5] Ten Chinese citizens; twenty Indian citizens;[20] about a dozen American citizens, including personnel from the US Embassy;[21] seven Algerian citizens, including six diplomats; two Russian citizens; two Moroccan citizens; seven Turkish Airlines staff; and an unknown number of French citizens were reported to have been among those taken hostage.[11] Twelve crew from Air France, who were also in the hotel, were extracted and safely released.[22] Three United Nations staff were safely removed from the hotel, but it remains unknown how many were caught inside. Several delegates from MINUSMA were present at the hotel attending a meeting on the peace process in the country.[23] More than 100 hostages were freed.[24]’
“6 Russians were killed in the attack.  I suspect Putin and Russians are feeling a desire to do something soon.”
 . . . my reply to round three:
            Since [anon.] may be concerned about qualifications, I am a former experimental test pilot, or engineering test pilot, if you will, and as such have been deeply involved in aircraft design from structures to systems.  My degrees are in engineering.
            Re: placing explosives.   The effectiveness of a small explosive charge increases rapidly as the fuselage pressurizes.  Whether 450gm or 1 kg of contemporary explosive, at 8 psi delta P, the aircraft structure can be seriously compromised, i.e., less turbulence tolerance, ‘g’ tolerance, et cetera.  There are notable examples of survival, e.g., Aloha Airlines Flight 243 [28.4.1988] and United Airlines flight 811 [24.2.1989].  In this instance, I urge caution.  All we have so far is ISIL’s claim and alleged bomb image, and the FSB Director’s public statement.  We have no proper investigative evidence.  If it was a bomb, the evidence should be readily discernible and documented.   There have been some ‘rumor’ leaks (if we give them even that rudimentary level of credibility) that the soda can bomb was placed at the aft end of the aft baggage compartment, which would in turn be at or very close to the aft pressure bulkhead (a major structural assembly).  I have confidence, if the investigation is done properly, they will determine exactly what happened, if the quality of investigation is comparable to the OVV investigation of the MH17 shootdown.  Regardless, whether a suicide bomber or a planted explosive, they should be able to sort it out.
            Re: Bamako attack.  Quite so, there are indeed significant differences between special operations units in this country and others.  Each group seems to have unique specialty operational capabilities as well.  I have not seen any definitive reason for the attack beyond the obvious, i.e., western hotel with western guests.  The attack appears to have been a smaller scale version of the Mumbai attack [26.11.2008] – a reused template.

A submission by a contributor of an unknown author:
“Recently received third party briefing document on Syria.
[from an unknown third-party author:]
‘President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the Rebels (who are good) started winning.
‘But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State (who are definitely bad) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good).
‘So the Americans (who are good) started bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad) which was good.
'By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they're good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.
'Getting back to Syria. President Putin (bad, as he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking IS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?
‘But Putin (still bad) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).
‘Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.
‘So a Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good) which is bad.
‘Now the British (obviously good, except Corbyn who is probably bad) and the Americans (also good) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).
‘So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them good. America (still good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that mad ayatollah in Iran (also good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS (still the only constantly bad group).
'To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims (Assad and Iran) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as good (doh!).
‘Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (might have a point) and hence we will be seen as bad.
‘So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (good / bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, good) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?’

“I hope that this clears it all up for you, I know that I am ready to debate any of the above on either/any side.”
My response:
           Seems like a fairly good, light-hearted description of a difficult, complex, geo-political situation.

           My very best wishes to all.  Take care of yourselves and each other.
Cap                        :-)