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Pentagon Takes Indirect Approach to Combating Al Qaeda in Yemen

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

That Defense Secretary Robert Gates is thoroughly shaking up a military bureaucracy desperately in need of a good shaking is a given. When I talk to Pentagon policy folks another name comes up again-and-again as somebody who has also done much to drag the military into a new era: Mike Vickers, assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict; one of the few Bush administration DOD holdovers.

Vickers, who most readers probably recognize via Charlie Wilson’s War (less well known is his advisory experience in El Salvador during the 1980s), is a big proponent of the “indirect approach” to combating terrorists and insurgencies: providing advisors and money to work with and improve foreign militaries rather than sending in large ground forces to pull constabulary duty on foreign soil. He talks of “counter network warfare” and using a “network to fight a network”; building small teams of special operators across the globe to battle al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups.

News that the Pentagon is boosting aid to Yemen to build out its special operations forces bears the Vickers imprimatur. Al Qaeda has long used Yemen as a staging ground for attacks inside Saudi Arabia and to support Somali affiliate Al Shabaab. The report says $34 million will go for “tactical assistance” to Yemeni special forces and another $38 million for airlift. American special operators and intelligence agents are known to be in Yemen in an advise and assist capacity.


Female “Black Widow” Suicide Bombers Strike Moscow Metro

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Ugly news out of Moscow where two female suicide bombers detonated explosive packed vests in two separate and very crowded subway stations this morning. The death toll from the two blasts separated by about 40 minutes currently sits at 37 with more than 100 injured. The suicide bombers were reportedly from the “Caucasus Emirate’s ‘Black Widows,’ a female suicide bomber cadre, mostly widows and daughters of fighters killed in the wars against the Russians in Chechnya.

As always, Bill Roggio over at the Long War Journal is on it and provides some good detail on the al-Qaeda linked Caucasus Emirate and the Black Widows. Female attackers from the Black Widows were involved in both the 2003 Nord-Ost Moscow theater attack (129 killed) and the attack on a Beslan school in North Ossetia (334 killed).

Russian security forces reportedly recovered the heads of the suicide bombers at the blast sites (I saw this oddity a few times over in Iraq, a suicide vest typically shreds the torso and lower body of the bomber but often leaves the head either completely or semi-intact).

Caucasus Emirate’s leader Doku Umarov threatened suicide attacks in the heart of Russia in a February interview with a pro-terrorist publication Kavkaz Center. The Chechen insurgent group reignited the long running war with Moscow last spring with a wave of suicide bombings across the Caucuses, Roggio says.


Armor-Piercing Grenade Hitting US Troops

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Heres an interesting and disturbing report from CBS news on a new weapon being used against US troops in Iraq: Russian-made armor-piercing hand grenades. I’ve never heard of these before, but I’d be interested to hear what DT readers know about them.

– Christian

F-16 Shoot-down Mystery

Thursday, July 19th, 2007


Well it looks like the most recent F-16 crash might not have anything to do with camel spiders, but something much more serious.

Tactical Report blog reports that there are indications the F-16 that crashed four days ago was shot down. This is a disturbing development if true, since the U.S. military had seemingly gotten its arms around the spate of crashes and shoot-downs of helicopters.

The indication that the shoot-down occurred during the aircrafts takeoff is also alarming because it points to the possibility that MANPAD teams are able to get close enough to U.S. air bases to launch in the opening moments of an aircrafts flight.

The Tactical Report article follows:

Another US F-16 aircraft crashed on 15/7/07 during takeoff at Balad air base, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. This was the second F-16 aircraft crash in just a month, as a crash had taken place on 15/6/07 shortly after taking off from the same base.

While the pilot of the first crash was killed, the pilot of the second one survived. But what caused both crashes remains under investigations by the US Air Force.

Reports from Baghdad suggest that hostile fire caused both crashes.

According to these reports, it is not just a coincidence that both aircraft crashed during takeoff.

Circles close to the Iraqi Defense Ministry suspect that a shoulder-held anti-aircraft missile might have been fired at both aircraft from an area not far from the air base.

These circles add that it is too difficult for any aircraft to maneuver and avoid a missile during takeoff.

According to these circles, the Iraqi insurgency has different types of anti-aircraft missiles, including SAM-7, SAM-8 and SAM-11, which can hit an aircraft during taking off or flying at low altitude.

UPDATE: Astute readers pointed out that while the SA-7 is a MANPAD, the others listed are not. It would be pretty unlikely for the USAF to not notice a truck-mounted system parked close by its air field, which casts even more doubt on the authenticity of this report. But it’s still worth keeping and eye on what MNF-I determines might have been the cause of the crashes.

(Gouge: NC)


Dirty Bomb? Grab a Llama

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007


The current issue of The American Legion magazine has an interesting tidbit about how “an unusual protein found in the blood of llamas has enabled scientists to deveop a quick, simple method for making anibodies that could be used in a new generation of bio sensors that could help detect deliberate environmental contamination, such a bioterrorism.”

According to the article, researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory say that llamas are among certain animals that produce “heavy chain antibodies” from which “single-domain antibodies” can be isolated by genetic engineering. Camels and sharks also produce the same antibody but you seldom see either of those in a petting zoo, do you?

NRL researchers claim to have used single-domain antibodies to combat a smallpox virus surrogate, cholera toxin, along with other biothreats.

– Ward

How Israel’s Drones Fought the War, Part II

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Israeli military chiefs are being taken out to the woodshed for relying on airpower during the summer campaign in Lebanon. “But after-action data and battlefield imagery are revealing great advances in the ability to respond to asymmetric threats,” says Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome. Thanks largely to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), “more than 90 percent of the medium-range missile launchers used by Hizbollah were destroyed almost immediately after they fired their first weapon.“

By the third night [of the war], the IAF [Israeli Air Force] attained full operational capability of the worlds first Boost Phase Launch Intercept (BPLI) force [maybe it’s more of a “a search and destroy operation,” as Bill noted in the comments — ed.] a tightly linked network of manned aircraft and UAVs that saturated the airspace to hunt and immediately kill small, mobile, medium-range missile launchers.

It didn’t work against the terror group’s teeny-tiny Katyusha rockets. But Israels BPLI capability did managed to knock out “more than 100 launchers during the more-than month-long war.” UAVs “like the Elbit Hermes 450S Zik, the Shoval (Heron-1/Crusher) and Searcher-2 built by Israel Aircraft Industries” did the lion’s share of the work.

This was the first large-scale use of UAVs, not only for providing a continuous presence over the entire battle area, but in [assisting the direction and delivery of] smart munitions to these very small, well hidden, moving targets, said Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired IAF major general and former director of Israeli defense research and development…
This is not like a targeted killing where we have two weeks to plan, Ben-Israel said. Here, theres only a matter of seconds between the time the terrorists emerged to launch these missiles to the time when they returned to their hiding places among innocent civilians. Those medium-range missile launchers became suicide launchers. They were destroyed either before or immediately after they fired their first missile.

The Israeli Air Force also got better about detecting — and taking out — Hezbollah drones. By tweaking “multiple radars never designed to detect such small, slow-moving, pinpoint targets.… F-16C fighter pilots on air patrol [were able] to blast the [unmanned] offenders from Israeli and Lebanese skies with Python-5 dogfighting missiles.”

According to Israeli military data, Hizbollah launched four Iranian-made Ababil UAVs during the war. One apparently exploded upon launch; another penetrated Israeli airspace, but crashed just south of the Lebanon border; and the other two were downed over the sea southwest of Haifa and near the area of Tzur in southern Lebanon.
Remnants of the downed drones showed that at least one was equipped with nearly 10 kilograms of explosives, which Israeli intelligence sources believe was destined for Tel Aviv. According to officials here, the UAV that crashed upon launch may have carried a payload of up to 50 kilograms.
Examination of cockpit imagery from one of the engagements shows detection of the target at extremely short range close enough for the pilot to actually see the UAV. From an extraordinarily low altitude of less than 2,000 feet and at very low speed, the pilot launched his Python-5, which immediately arched and locked on to its target. Imagery shows the missile maneuvering at nearly 90 degrees for a matter of seconds before blasting the gnat-sized target with its explosive warhead.
This is an historic first for us, and professionals will understand how complicated the mission is. Its not the classic engagement of an F-16 versus a MiG, where you have a competing aircraft and radar. In this scenario, its not plane against plane, but rather network against an asymmetrical target you can barely see, said the senior IAF official.

Hez Hacked Israeli Radios

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

This is downright shocking, if true. “Hezbollah guerrillas were able to hack into Israeli radio communications during last month’s battles in south Lebanon, an intelligence breakthrough that helped them thwart Israeli tank assaults,” Newsday reports.

Using technology most likely supplied by Iran, special Hezbollah teams monitored the constantly changing radio frequencies of Israeli troops on the ground. That gave guerrillas a picture of Israeli movements, casualty reports and supply routes. It also allowed Hezbollah anti-tank units to more effectively target advancing Israeli armor, according to the officials…
The Israeli military refused to comment on whether its radio communications were compromised, citing security concerns. But a former Israeli general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah’s ability to secretly hack into military transmissions had “disastrous” consequences for the Israeli offensive…
Like most modern militaries, Israeli forces use a practice known as “frequency-hopping” — rapidly switching among dozens of frequencies per second — to prevent radio messages from being jammed or intercepted. It also uses encryption devices to make it difficult for enemy forces to decipher transmissions even if they are intercepted. The Israelis mostly rely on a U.S.-designed communication system called the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System…
With frequency-hopping and encryption, most radio communications become very difficult to hack. But troops in the battlefield sometimes make mistakes in following secure radio procedures and can give an enemy a way to break into the frequency-hopping patterns. That might have happened during some battles between Israel and Hezbollah, according to the Lebanese official. Hezbollah teams likely also had sophisticated reconnaissance devices that could intercept radio signals even while they were frequency-hopping.
During one raid in southern Lebanon, Israeli special forces said they found a Hezbollah office equipped with jamming and eavesdropping devices.

It was my impression that this kind of signal interception was really, really hard to do — especially for an irregular force like Hezbollah. I know there are some radio and commsec gurus who read the site regularly. Weigh in here, guys.
Or maybe the article itself contains the seed of what actually happened. “Besides radio transmissions, the official said Hezbollah also monitored cell phone calls among Israeli troops,” Newsday notes. A raided Hezbollah base had list of “cell phone numbers for Israeli commanders.“
Cells are, of course, way easier to intercept. “Israeli forces were under strict orders not to divulge sensitive information over the phone.” But maybe they talked anyway. Maybe they thought Hezbollah would never be sophisticated enough to grab their calls.
UPDATE 3:25 PM: Weeks ago, the Times of London and Asia Times had hints of this.

Apparently using techniques learnt from their paymasters in Iran, they were even able to crack the codes and follow the fast-changing frequencies of Israeli radio communications, intercepting reports of the casualties they had inflicted again and again. This enabled them to dominate the media war by announcing Israeli fatalities first.
They monitored our secure radio communications in the most professional way, one Israeli officer admitted. When we lose a man, the fighting unit immediately gives the location and the number back to headquarters. What Hezbollah did was to monitor our radio and immediately send it to their Al-Manar TV, which broadcast it almost live, long before the official Israeli radio.

(Big ups: JQP, /.)

Hezbollah, Deadly Hybrid

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

We’ve hinted at this a couple of times since the fight between Israel and Hezbollah began. But the terror group, “with the sophistication of a national army… and the lethal invisibility of a guerrilla army” is a new breed of military animal. “A hybrid,” Thom Shanker writes. “Old labels, and old planning, do not apply.“

Hezbollah still possesses the most dangerous aspects of a shadowy terror network. It abides by no laws of war as it attacks civilians indiscriminately. Attacks on its positions carry a high risk of killing innocents. At the same time, it has attained military capabilities and other significant attributes of a nation-state. It holds territory and seats in the Lebanese government. It fields high-tech weapons and possesses the firepower to threaten the entire population of a regional superpower, or at least those in the northern half of Israel.…
“We are in a world today where we have a non-state actor using all the tools of weaponry,” from drone aircraft to rockets to computer hacking, said P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in the impact of new technologies on national security.

But John Robb, who’s been examining this kind of “open source warfare” for years, says that “the central secret to Hezbollah’s success” isn’t in its weaponry. It’s in the terrorists’ ability to have its “guerrillas to make decisions autonomously… at the small group level.”

In every area — from firing rockets to defending prepared positions… — we have examples of Hezbollah teams deciding, adapting, innovating, and collaborating without reference to any central authority. The result of this decentralization is that Hezbollah’s aggregate decision cycles are faster and qualitatively better than those of their Israeli counterparts… the continued success of its efforts has put the Israelis on the horns of a dilemma: either request a ceasefire or push for a full invasion of southern Lebanon (each fraught with disastrous consequences).

And not just for Israel. “Other terrorists are learning from Hezbollahs successes,” Shanker notes. Iraqi insurgents are showing a similar blend of operational flexibility and modern technology. To beat these groups, the U.S. is going to have to learn that it “takes a network to fight a network.”

American intelligence agencies and the military proved it can fight this kind of war, as it did in Afghanistan to rout Al Qaeda, when intelligence officers and small groups of Army Special Forces worked with local fighters to call in devastating air strikes and drive the Taliban from power.
Within the Bush administration and across the military, a clearer view is emerging out of the chaos in southern Lebanon. It is that nation-states know they cannot directly take on superpowers either regional or global without getting their clocks cleaned, and so they use proxies they train and support to take the fight to those superpowers. The fight against groups like Hezbollah requires a strategy for dealing with their sponsors. These networks, Hezbollah included, dont float around in the ether like free electrons bumping into each other. They alight. They attach themselves to territory. In Afghanistan it was with the full support of the Taliban. In Pakistan, its an ungoverned space. In Lebanon, its a state within a state. Cut off state support, or eliminate the ability of the networks to survive in ungoverned areas, and they collapse on themselves.
No solution has been written. But it would include military force along with diplomacy, economic assistance, intelligence and information campaigns.
“Most critically, we have to get better at its such a clich winning hearts and minds,” said a military officer working on counterinsurgency issues. “That is influencing neutral populations toward supporting us and not supporting our terrorist and insurgent enemies.”

And so the zillion-dollar question becomes: Do big air campaigns and large-scale invasions really influence those opinions in a positive way? Or do they just play into the terrorists’ hands?
UPDATE 07/31/06 4:07 PM: Anthony Cordesman’s answer: The U.S. — and Israel’s — current course is “stupid, incompetent, and obsolete.” Youch.

Hez’s 30-Mile Missile

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Here’s some more on those longer-range Hezbollah rockets mentioned in today’s Rapid Fire:

Hezbollah called the rockets the Khaibar-1. They fell more than 30 miles south of the Lebanese border. A few other rockets have traveled this far, but it was still unusual, according to the Israeli military and police.
The rockets are capable of carrying more than 200 pounds of explosives, making them much more powerful than the Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah has been firing most of the time, Israeli authorities said.
American and Israeli officials believe that the rocket Hezbollah referred to as a “Khaibar-1″ appears to be an upgraded version of the Fajr-3, a rocket that Iran has supplied to the terrorist network and that Hezbollah has used often during the conflict. The rocket fired today has an estimated range of 90 kilometers, which makes it the longest range rocket fired thus far. Officials said that it is still unclear whether the rocket is actually a Fajr-5 which Iran has also given to Hezbollah or a new model altogether.
[The Jerusalem Post and Ynetnews both argue differently — ed.] Hezbollahs leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said earlier in the week that his Shiite group would strike beyond Haifa, about 20 miles inside Israel, which has been the southernmost city to come under regular attack.

One thing the weapon was not, according to Israeli authorities, was “an Iranian-made ‘Zilzal’ rocket, which has a range of about 210 km (130 miles) and would have put the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv within reach.“
That honeymoon is looking less and less likely, all of the time…
(Big ups: SOI)

Hezbollah’s Surprise Weapons

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Wonder why the Israelis thought their ship had been hit by a drone last week — when it turned out to be a radar-guided missile instead? Or why the crew of the Hanit corvette didn’t use their countermeasures to protect themselves? Simple: the Sabras knew that Hezbollah had been playing with drones; they had no idea that the terrorist group had such a sophisticated missile in their arsenal. It’s one of a number of ways that the “power and sophistication” of Hezbollah’s arms “has caught the United States and Israel off guard,” the Times reports. “Officials in both countries are just now learning the extent to which the militant group has succeeded in getting weapons from Iran and Syria.“
c-802_3.jpgThe missile that hit the Hanit was a C-802, an Iranian-made variant of a stealthy, turbojet-powered, Chinese weapon. It’s “considered along with the US ‘Harpoon’ as among the best anti-ship missiles” in the world, GlobalSecurity​.org says.
“Iran began buying dozens of those sophisticated antiship missiles from the Chinese during the 1990s,” the Times notes. “Until Friday, however, Western intelligence services did not know that Iran had managed to ship C-802 missiles to Hezbollah.“
Now that the Israelis know, it’s influencing their choice of targets to hit. The C-802 was most likely “fired it from a truck-mounted launcher cued by a coastal radar installation,” Situational Awareness says. So “Israel has stepped up its attacks against coastal radar sites, as any sort of surface-search set would be able to provide data for the initial launch.”

After launch, the missile takes care of itself with its own inertial guidance system and onboard radar seeker. Since the launchers are mobile, the trucks carrying them could scoot after firing. And we all know how notoriously difficult it can be to locate mobile units, even when you have lots of reconnaissance assets.

The terrorists’ more traditional weapons, like Katyusha rockets and Fajr-3 missiles, have contained surprises, too. “In the past, wed see three, four, maybe eight launches at any given time if Hezbollah was feeling feisty,” one unnammed official told the paper. “Now we see them arriving in large clusters, and with a range and even certain accuracy we have not seen in the past.“
70 Katyushas were fired at Israel “within the space of an hour” on Wednesday afternoon, Ha’Aretz writes. Israel is responding by sending small group of ground troops into Lebanon, and by striking targets in Beruit — including ones in the Christian part of town.
The Times says that “while Iranian missile supplies to Hezbollah, either by sea or overland via Syria, were well known, officials said the current conflict also indicated that some of the rockets in Hezbollahs arsenal including a 220-millimeter rocket used in a deadly attack on a railway site in Haifa on Sunday were built in Syria.”

Officials have since confirmed that the warhead on the Syrian rocket was filled with ball bearings a method of destruction used frequently in suicide bombings but not in warhead technology.
“Weve never seen anything like this,” said one Western intelligence official, speaking about the warhead.

Conflicts Forum’s Mark Perry, on the other hand, isn’t as alarmed as most about Hezbollah’s weaponry. {Joe Katzman says that’s because the guy is a terrorist shill.} Perry declares that the militia only has a handful of sophisticated and long-range missiles. Check out his All Things Considered interview here.

: “Israeli military officials have warned that the next Palestinian uprising could be ‘a ballistic intifada,’” the Washington Post reports.
(Big ups: Umansky)
UPDATE 7:13 PM: The Jerusalem Post is reporting that “IAF fighter jets dropped over 20 tons in bombs late Wednesday night on a Hizbullah bunker, possibly the hiding place of the group’s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp in southeast Beirut. It was still unclear who was in the bunker at the time and what their fate was, but IDF sources said the bunker was totally destroyed and that all that was left was a crater.”