Category Archives: Modern War

Looking ahead, reluctantly

Recently, I was asked for “my take” on the future. After apologizing that my crystal ball was down for maintenance, I skirted away from the question – the surest way to look a fool is to try to paint an accurate picture of events that will be driven by the unpredictable actions of millions of individuals.

Yet there’s a paradoxical truth – although individual actions can’t be predicted, the movements of the herd in which they live can be.  So, I figure that if I stick to broad strokes and squint with as blurred a vision as an Impressionist, I might be able to paint a passable picture of the future.

But which future to discuss?  Technology?  Art?  Economics?  For me, the most interesting extracurricular topics generally revolve around religious philosophy and war.  But as we all know, religion is the third rail of the intelligentsia, a topic few today take seriously for fear of mockery, so let’s stick to war, mankind’s second-favorite obsession.

Wars…

ISIS will continue making steady progress, in part because of such fabulous marketing. They understand the cinematic power of their message. Especially in the eyes of a generation raised on hyper-violent gaming and movies.

I’m sure Tarantino would approve of their artistically-filmed beheadings and public immolations: maybe they’ll take a page from his playbook and start knocking off the heads of Christians with baseball bats or better yet, crucifixes.  That would play well among the downloaders.

Our society certainly loves its gory violence, a poison gulped down guiltlessly as mere entertainment, and that is precisely what ISIS is giving its audience of wide-eyed Internet junkies. By the bloodily overflowing bucketful. And all heralded as “news” with impeccable timing by their proxy press offices in CNN and Fox.

But it’s not just the (blood-) slick messaging that is working for the men holding the black banners and the bayonets. Their ranks will continue to grow because the west can’t figure out the counter argument.

There is no contradictory message, no hearts-and-minds campaign coming out of either Washington or Riyadh to inspire our generations raised on war games and slasher movies.  The young men who fall for ISIS aren’t just isolated Algerians in France, they are part of a generation ignoring their own nations’ political heritage of doing good in the world, because the western ideal of “all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to fail to oppose it”, now sounds so old-fashioned in their millenial ears.

And that is a tragedy, because without that simple truth, the West has zero message to rally our own in opposition to the atrocities committed in the shadow of the Black Flag. Many watching online tonight in Holland or Italy probably think (and maybe without much guilt) that the ISIS message is appealing in a strangely retro way: Lawrence of Arabia meets Inglourious Basterds.

So, ISIS will grow, and they will eventually deliver their content to the West via more effective campaigns, much closer to home. They have already outgrown standing in a line to gun down their cowering co-religionists, and surely they will find something more repulsive than cutting off the heads of a few dozen Coptic Christians along the seashore, or live-roasting a captured pilot.

By “more effective campaigns” I mean that they will show up in Europe, or America, or a seaside resort in Indonesia filled with half-drunken Europeans on vacation, grinning behind their balaclavas, an AK in one hand and a cheap knife in the other.  Why the grins?  Because, like wolves, they know they’re ready for the slaughter,  while the sheep never are.  This predator/prey relationship is being established today, and will play out on tomorrow’s headlines if we remain frozen in the headlights of our indecision.

And rumors of war

But ISIS isn’t the real threat, not to more than our sense of well-being. In cold reality, they’re a sideshow, a chance for the Fox and CNN “analysts” to shout for 60 seconds and earn a thousand bucks pretending to think independently, while actually parroting their respective networks’ political agendas.

The greater threat in my mind is Russia, while in my Israeli friends’ minds, it is Iran.

And you know what?  We’re both right.

As I’ve written before, the Russians are a threat to regional stability in Europe, with their constant nibbling away at Ukraine, eating a slice of it each year, until eventually it will all be gone, and the West will have done nothing. Realistically, what’s to hold them back from continuing the banquet with other former members of the Soviet empire on next year’s menu?  More sanctions?  Once we stop selling them Chevys and iPads, what’s left in our arsenal of democracy?

Oh, but surely the sanctions will hurt the Russians.  That’s precisely the point we’re missing – there’s nothing a Russian does with greater instinctive fervor than suffering for Mother Russia.  Putin is exploiting nationalism while demonizing the West, because we, with our sanctions, play straight into his hands.  While we play checkers, the Russians are playing chess.

Yes, the Russians are a real threat, just not to us – they’re a threat to regional stability in the Mideast, as the Israelis know. With their support for Iran and enablement of the inevitable Iranian achievement of nuclear capability, they are helping to gently place a noose around Israel’s neck. Just as they have during centuries of pogroms.

So, the Israelis have to face facts – Iran will be a nuclear power in the next five years, there’s no negotiating a way around that one – and the only question remaining is whether the Israelis want to let the Mullahs build five bombs or five hundred, before someone gets impatient and pulls the trigger. Because the Iranian regime really wants to pull that trigger and usher in a brave new post-apocalyptic world.  And Israel’s best chance for survival is to fulfill its worst fear, by pulling it first.

But all of those threats pale in comparison to China. While we print paper debt, they are quietly stockpiling enormous quantities of gold. What is their end-game? Why invest so heavily in something that the West views as being antiquated, a symbol of wealth from another era? If the Chinese are wrong, the Bitcoin crowd will snicker, but if they’re not, the West will be the indentured servants of the Chinese in decades to come, after our own house of paper printed by the Fed and spent into oblivion by the Congress has finally collapsed under its own demographic and mathematical weight.

In a world beyond, or fated to rise from the ruins of, the next war

While we twitter and tweet and follow each other in spirals of momentary popularity, the Chinese are amassing the world’s greatest manufacturing capabilities: who builds, rules. They are steadily growing their military. They are reinforcing their economy against financial collapse. They are playing the long game, not just chess to our checkers as are the Russians, but a multi-century game for millennial domination.

What will the US’s role be in 50 years? If we’re lucky, peace will have broken out and the Chinese will be treating us with smirking tolerance like Sweden – a society of technically clever folks idling quietly on the fringes of history, a politically irrelevant nation of has-beens inventing electronic gadgets for the Chinese to sell to the rest of the planet. Hopefully they won’t demand too high of a percentage on our bail-out payments.

If we’re not lucky, we’ll be coming out of the tail-end of a world war that will have started in the Middle East after the Mullahs decided to trade Tehran for Tel-Aviv and hasten the return of the 12th Imam, a war whose conclusion might find  NATO staring down Russia over the smoking ruins.  That is, if the Chinese remain politely on the sidelines, instead of seizing the moment to join the winning side late in the game and spring to world dominance, just as the US did in Europe a century ago.

Either way, it’s a big “If”.  And that’s why my crystal ball will remain in the shop for the (un) forseeable future.  Except on the economic front, where I have a hard time seeing a way for us not to be spending a good chunk of the 21st century on a long hard slog out of national insolvency.

So, as above, I see this as a time of wars and rumors of war, yet laced with the chance that the storm might still miss us. Whatever comes, this will remain a time of accelerating change and increasingly greater reliance on ever-more complex technologies that we understand ever less.  We rely far too deeply on a national infrastructure inherited from generations in the past, and we are living through a time of the abandonment of the morals and philosophies that helped our ancestors hold the darkness at bay over the course of many centuries.

But those before us have overcome worse.  And we are their sons and daughters – we can do the same.

Yet on the fringes of my imagination, I still see the black flag fluttering defiantly: that banner of the death cult, that standard of violence as entertainment and inhumanity as virtue.  And in the shadows beneath the black flag, I see a reflection of our own darkest natures.

In other words, whether we want it or not, this is a conflict of good and evil, and if we can’t muster the willpower and moral certitude to stamp out evil now… well, there’s an old saying: those who ignore a small evil today, will surely face a greater evil tomorrow.

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Nous Somme Tous Charlie, but who are they?

In Paris tonight, crowds are holding up signs saying “Je suis Charlie”.  They’re right.  We are all Charlie – Nous somme tous Charlie.

The principles of this awful event don’t need to be discussed – it’s a clear case of radicals who share nothing of the West’s respect for freedom of expression using the barrel of a gun to place their veto.

What’s interesting to me is the apparent professionalism of the attack, and what that says for the future of Europe, where so many radicalized young Muslim men have European passports and are able to return relatively easily to the EU after having spent time abroad, learning the skills of war.

When I saw the video clips, it took me only a few moments to understand what had happened, while (of course) the media continues to get the details wrong, for example calling it a terrorist attack using “Kalashnikov submachine guns”.

Here’s what I surmise might’ve happened

A small group of French-nationality Muslims had a “semester abroad” in the school of war with one of the dozens of factions duking it out in Syria these past couple of years. In that cauldron of blood and violence, they learned how to use small arms and RPGs. They gained real-world combat experience.

Afterward, they returned to France on their French passports. They probably didn’t go to ISIS, as the norm there is to destroy western passports.  Upon their return to the EU, they might’ve had exit stamps from Turkey or Cyprus in their passports, possibly not even that.  If they had taken a boat from Greece to Syria, and back through Greece, whose seaside border is utterly porous, they might not even be on the records as having left the EU at all.  In which case, their being ISIS alumni remains a possibility.

Tools of the attack – what can we learn?

They used AK-47 assault rifles, clearly in 7.62x39mm caliber. This is the older model, the kind that is lying around in warehouses throughout the world by the millions – the weapons might have been circulating in the underworld for decades.  This makes tracking the men via their suppliers a very big challenge, probably futile.

Their other equipment speaks to equally antiquated origin. They carried spare mags in chest pouches, almost certainly 3-mag fabric pouches, a very old style we’ve seen since Vietnam, one which is still quite popular in Syria today.  Their mags look like standard steel 30-rounders.  This means that each of them brought about 120 rounds to the fight: not enough to weigh you down excessively or prevent you from running quickly, but more than enough to accomplish their goal and give them a reserve in case they got pinned down.

In other words, they weren’t overly-armed amateurs.  They brought just enough firepower for the task at hand, so they could hit hard, move fast, and escape.

Outgunned and out-maneuvered

When the police bravely tried confronting them with their Sig SP2022 9mm pistols, they got hammered. They had little chance against the vastly superior firepower they were facing. These two soldier/terrorists formed into a rough skirmish line and moved aggressively up the street, seeking cover and working smoothly together as they cleared the opposition. Like they had done this many times before.

The one cop who is shown on the video being murdered was down because he was already hit, and was rolling away, attempting to raise his hands in surrender when one of the Islamic soldiers finished him off at nearly muzzle contact distance with his AK.  This horrific image will become the icon of the attack. It shows a cold-heartedness, a ruthlessness that comes from the battlefield: no prisoners, no threats left alive.

Deliberate

During the engagement, you can see these terrorists/soldiers aiming their weapons carefully.  The tightly-clustered holes through the windshield of the police car say that this was no spray-and-pray job.

You can also see their deliberate approach when they confronted the cop(s) up the street: they didn’t duck and shoot wildly, firing randomly from cover. No, instead they moved forward confidently, advancing towards contact, not trying to break it. Like professionals.

Again, this cool-headedness, the almost casual way one of them stopped to retrieve the sneaker, speaks volumes about their prior experience under fire.  As cowboys say: “this ain’t their first rodeo”.

Relentless

During combat, they called out “God is greater” during their volleys of fire, exactly as is done in Syria and Iraq. I am certain that while inside the target building, they made doubly sure of their primary kills – the cartoonists and the editor of the magazine.  I expect that those people were shot many times, and finished off quite deliberately with a shot to the head each.  We hear that some witnesses describe them as saying in French that they were doing this in vengeance for an affront to their God.

I expect that we will learn that these two attackers were not acting in a panic while inside the building – but instead, that their murderous attack was deliberately and enthusiastically carried out.

Planned

It’s obvious that they planned it carefully: this was not a spontaneous event by any means. One photo shows their vehicle parked up a one-way street, facing the wrong way, blocking all traffic flow with its open doors at a kink in the street, using a natural choke-point where even the sidewalk is blocked by traffic bollards.

That wasn’t a random choice: they needed to ensure that nobody drove into their AO, especially not the police, so they blocked the street at the best spot.  This speaks of planning, prior recons of the area, maybe even dry runs.  Perhaps CCTV footage from the past will come into play here, helping us to discover their identities.

Alone?

They probably had accomplices who were helping  by ensuring that their escape vehicle remained unmolested while they made the assault: there is talk about hand-signals to people in other vehicle(s).  There is also the possibility that the attackers were given inside information about the timing and attendees to the staff meeting: I’d look carefully at every person with access to that building, including cleaning staff and anyone who was conveniently absent during the attack.

Timing

They also clearly knew about the exact timing and attendees of this staff meeting well in advance, planning their attack for precisely the moment when all of the cartoonists (who normally work at home) would be gathered together in one room with their editor, like fish in a barrel.  Who was the source of their intel?

Escape

After almost casually clearing the street of any remaining police, they escaped, ditching the car after or (maybe before) switching into street clothes brought with them to better blend into society. This change of clothes says to me that they were planning on travelling in the open during at least part of their escape.

This is also why they concealed their identities during the attack, because they counted on being filmed – they knew that it was impossible to avoid CCTV or cell phone cams, so they dealt with it in a predictable way: balaclavas.

Still Armed?

What’s surprising to me is that they might have still had their AKs with them after abandoning their vehicle, the black Citroën. I suggest this because, if there had been weapons inside of it, the police would’ve handled the vehicle much differently.  There would be video of the guns being removed or bagged separately or the vehicle might’ve been screened off – in any event, the police would never have left guns in the car as it was being craned onto the flatbed.

Hidden Weapons

This is why I believe that it’s logical to assume that they made off with their weapons in gym bags or backpacks, unless they had ditched them or handed them off to their accomplices at that first rally point, where they ditched the Citroën.

The AKs were probably folding stock guns, which would make them much more easily concealable in such a bag.  The guns almost certainly came into their hands via the blackmarket. There was talk of an RPG: if true, this would confirm non-commercial sourcing.

Neither Amateurs nor Suicidal

The overall theme of the assault that comes through to me is professionalism, planning and a real determination to escape. This is not what a suicide attacker does – this is what a soldier does.

From where and how they parked the vehicle (at least twice), to the precise timing of the assault on the building, and through their apparent escape, this whole operation feels well-planned, and seems to have played out almost glitch-free.  If their goal was to live to fight another day, then it was a goal at least temporarily achieved.

Where Now?

My gut says that they are probably hunkered down somewhere within a couple of hours’ driving time of Paris, still armed, still ready.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they got away in the back of a commercial vehicle, moving to some remote location where they’ve “gone to the mattresses” as the Mafia used to say.

Finally, I’d bet that if they did take that route, they’re probably prepared to remain hidden (with the help of accomplices) in some rural basement or forgotten loft for weeks to come.