Friday, February 26, 2010

Well, it's Friday -- and that means we here at D&D take a short break from the serious hard analysis for a celebration of the weird and rediculous. To those loyal TWIW readers who were miffed at the lack of this column last week -- fear not ... we are now ready to reveal the project that has been taking all our free time.

For the past 2 weeks, Demagogues and Dictators has scoured the globe to assemble our team of Super-Friends from the Animal Kingdom. While the identities of our super-friends must remain, understandably, our highest guarded secret; below we have provided a few suggestions for your corps of animal adventure-warriors...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

They have been preparing for this crisis since 1994. They have built a disciplined, equipped, determined force not of hundreds, not of thousands, but of tens of thousands. They are the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and they are not alone. They stand with the United Wa State Army and the Shan State Army, each able to field tens of thousands of fighters in their own right, and with whom the KIA has held extensive joint military training exercises in the past years.

Kachin news networks have been featuring stories of oppression and persecution of their ethnic group by Burmese Junta Soldiers. The BBC reports that:

On the car radio are freedom songs, and at one of the training camps a course in traditional dance is being run - cultural nationalism and propaganda is strong.

The Kachin stand against the Junta in charge of Burma, and, as you read this, they are digging trenches, fortifying their artillery positions, and mobilizing their reservists.

The Burmese Junta has ordered these autonomous ethnic armies undertake a Sophie's choice of sorts: disarm, or merge with the Burmese Army before the upcoming 2010 'elections'. The ethnic armies of Burma seem unwilling to comply. the KIA's Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Gam Shawng today told the BBC that:

I want to avoid being a one-issue blogger, but I have received several requests for more details about my pessimism in Marjah, and Afghanistan more generally. 

Let’s say you want to build a house. You have the funds to hire everyone you need, and you’re a lucky person, because you happen to know the very best carpenter on earth – Norm Abram. Norm agrees to work on your house, but after erecting a few frame pieces you immediately have him switch to painting unfinished rooms. After a delay, you finally allow him to return to carpentry – but only on one single bedroom. Meanwhile, in all the debate about Norm’s role, you neglected to hire a real contractor to lay the foundation. Instead, you just poured some concrete that you had lying around and called it a day.

This is clearly not the way to build a house. Anyone who has ever picked up a hammer can predict how this project will end, and it won’t be a pretty sight. Unfortunately, if you’ll forgive the somewhat strained Friedman-esque analogy, this is exactly what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan.

Norm, our master carpenter, is the U.S. military. Just like Norm, they are the best in the world at what they do – fighting. But in Afghanistan they have been engaging in nation-building (even though nobody in Washington is willing to use that term). And as good as the military is at fighting, it is not trained or equipped for development work. Having troops do nation-building is akin to taking your master carpenter and asking him to paint. Not only is it outside his core competencies, there are other people who specialize is doing it the right way. Instead of professional painters, consider professional aid workers – the people who work for international NGOs or government organizations like USAID. They have spent their lives studying and practicing development, and are clearly more qualified to undertake those tasks in Afghanistan. Yet instead of utilizing our aid workers, or professional painters, we are letting the military and Norm do unfamiliar work.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I am happy to report that we (and by we I mean the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Program Agency) are closer than ever before to coming out with a hand held translation device. Yes the same people who brought you the internet and GPS, are currently funding a research initiative titled the Robust Automatic Translation of Speech program to streamline the translation process.

As reported by Katie Dummond on Wired Magazine's blog The Danger Room

"What troops really need is a machine that can pick out voices from the noise, understand and translate all kinds of different languages, and then identify the voice from a hit list of “wanted speakers.”
The goal is to have a working model that is the size of an ipod and is 98% accurate in 20 essential languages. Such a device would quite literally change the way we fight wars and respond to disasters. A common complaint from the battlefield is the poor quality of many translators who simply do no possess the English language skills...

Today, a bomb went off in a market in Thailand. Two Thai soldiers were wounded. That market had been fully swept, before the explosion, with the GT200 "bomb detector" (pictured above). Sharon Weinburger, a contributor for AOL News described the aftermath:

Two soldiers were wounded in the bomb blast that went off in in Thailand's restive southern Pattani province, even though the area where the explosives were placed had just been searched using the GT200, the Bangkok Post reported today. "We have to explain to them that the detector's effectiveness has not been scientifically proven," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said after the latest bombing, according to the newspaper.
Last week, we here at D&D reported on the Thai Government's test results on the GT200 "bomb detector". For those of you who missed it, here is the executive summary:

Global Technical, a British "security" company, has made millions selling their alleged bomb detection equipment to militaries across the globe, specifically to nations like Thailand and Mexico -- where thousands die in undetected, undeterred explosions. The device, which is essentially a metal body attached to a small thin tube with insertable "cards" claims to possess the ability to detect the presence of anything from narcotics to explosives. It contains no electrical components, or, really, moving parts. After years of deployment, the Thai Science and Technology Ministry decided to test its effectiveness.

They found that the...

Here I was, all set to write a follow-up to my last post about Operation Moshtarak, only to discover that Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal has already written exactly what I wanted to say.  He touches all the bases - the inadequacy of the ANSF, the lack of understand of how governance works (hint: it doesn't come in a box), and the continued corruption by Hamid Karzai.  Seriously, just go read it.  It's good.

From the BBC today:

Mali has freed four militants from jail weeks after al-Qaeda's North African branch threatened to kill a French hostage if the men were not released.
Wait, what?

Yes, you read it correctly. Today, Mali released 4 militants belonging to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). While Malinese officials swear that they are not caving to the demands of the group, merely releasing people who had done their time, I find that highly unlikely. AQIM has been growing in strength in both Mali and neighboring Mauritania during the past year, and it appears that Malinese officials are taking an appeasing approach to growing Islamic radicalism amongst their people. From Olivier Guetta at the excellent Counter-Terrorism blog:
Mali enjoys a very good reputation around the world. It boasts a vibrant democracy with a multi-party system, a market economy and a tradition of a moderate Islam. But things might be changing: Since 2001, worrying signs have emerged— for example, the proliferation of Osama bin Laden's photo in stalls at the Bamako market and the exponential increase of radio stations preaching radical Islam.
This trend in Mali should be on every CT professionals radar. AQIM is...

On Sunday the Israeli military revealed the latest in a long line of drone technology to come out of this small but extremely well armed nation. As reported by the My Way blog,

"The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel's military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads."
In news reports released today, the most highly touted fact concerning the Heron TP line of drones is that due to their large size and fuel capacity that they are in fact capable of reaching the Persian Gulf (ie Iran) from Israel. While I am sure that hinting at proof that Israel is gearing up to carry out a military strike against Iran sells newspapers, this is certainly not any such proof. Drones are ideally suited for the irregular warfare that the US and Israel find itself fighting today. Drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)/ unmanned aerial Systems (UAS)) are capable of providing real time video surveillance of the battle space and can alert troops to obstacles and ambushes. They have been especially effective in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan where insurgents may be able to detect them overhead if its a clear day, but simply do not possess the firepower to bring them down. Israel has similarly used drones in Gaza and Lebanon to increase their surveillance of insurgent movements and even to assassinate the occasional terrorist.

Where drones have not proven effective has been in wars against actual states that possess actual militaries.

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