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September 30, 2007

Attack the Iranians? It's about time!

According to an article by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine, the U.S. military is planning air strikes on Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) facilities. This article, if true – consider the source – purports that the planning, being done by the Air Force planners at the Pentagon, has shifted from strikes on key facilities of the Iranian nuclear program to strikes on IRGC Qods Force installations.

These people have been killing our troops – it’s time to hit back.

The Qods Force is the elite special operations unit of the IRGC. They have been sent into action in Lebanon, Bosnia, Chechnya and Iraq, and probably as of late, Afghanistan. They have American blood on their hands in Lebanon and Iraq for sure, and possibly recently in Afghanistan. It is the Qods Force that is providing the Iranian-made weapons components – explosively formed projectiles - being used in roadside bombs that have killed over a hundred American troops in Iraq.

It goes back for decades. In Lebanon, the IRGC was directly involved in the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks at Beirut airport, complicit in the kidnappings, torture and murders of CIA Beirut station chief Bill Buckley in 1984 and U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Rich Higgins (serving with the United Nations) in 1989.

The Qods Force has been involved in other Iranian special operations in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was members of the Qods Force who were dispatched into southern Iraq in 1991 to foment the failed uprising against Saddam Husayn. They provided weapons to fundamentalist Islamic groups in Algeria in the early 1990's. In 1995, the Qods Force was involved in smuggling weapons to Bosnia's mostly Muslim army.

Of course, there are those who fear that any strike into Iran will cause the Iranians to unleash a wave of terrorism against U.S. interests in the region or elsewhere in the world. Maybe, but we cannot hold our foreign policy hostage to what the Iranians might do. Those who counsel against military action also have no alternative plan to deal with the problem. Diplomacy? Has that in any measure slowed the Iranian nuclear program?

The Iranians have attacked our troops - we owe it to them to hit back. At some point, we are going to have to address the growing Iranian threat – terrorism, nuclear, or both. Hurting the IRGC is a good place to start.

September 28, 2007

The Israeli air strike in Syria - what the target wasn’t....

Israeli F-15I fighter-bombers
In the aftermath of the September 6 Israeli air strike in northeast Syria, there has been much speculation about the target. Neither the Israelis nor the Syrians are talking about what was hit, only that there was a strike.

Whatever the target was, the Israelis considered it of such importance that it mounted a long-range raid to attack it. The area of the strike, Dayr az-Zawr, is fairly remote, yet on the Euphrates River, providing some infrastructure to support a large industrial facility.

What target would be of such significance? The speculation is that there were some nuclear-related materials from North Korea. The North Koreans have been in Syria since the 1970's. When I was the air attaché in Damascus in the early to mid 1990's, the North Koreans supplied Scud C ballistic missiles and mobile launchers. The North Korean military attaché spoke fair Arabic, so we chatted on occasion – he never denied that his country was in the missile export business. Not a bad guy, just on the wrong side. He was killed in car accident in Lebanon - against direction from the Defense Intelligence Agency, we American attachés attended the funeral, only to be lambasted by his widow for being "imperialists."

I was asked if I believed the target could have been a chemical weapons (CW) production facility. I doubt Israel would go all the way to Dayr az-Zawr to hit a CW facility – the Syrians have had indigenously-produced GB/sarin and VX nerve agents for years. We also believe they have CW warheads for their SS-21, Scud C and Scud D missiles. In 2003, the Central Intelligence Agency prepared a report for Congress (Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions) that detailed Syria’s possession of the chemical munitions.

The Israelis know about Syria’s chemical warfare capabilities and have chosen to accept them. It has been Syria's poor man's mutual assured destruction weapon - if they launch a first-strike CW attack against Israel, they know what is coming back at them. It does, they believe, provide a deterrent against a major Israeli attack on Syria - a properly delivered GB or VX warhead over Tel Aviv could kill 8000 people (based on computer modeling).

I don’t know what the target was, but it had to be more than another CW facility. To me, that means something more menacing, like a nuclear facility.

September 26, 2007

NBC Nightly News

I contributed to an NBC Nightly News report on an operation possibly targeting Usamah Bin Ladin in Afghanistan last month.

The text story:

Bin Laden may have just escaped U.S. forces
August mission in Tora Bora almost snared 'high value target'

By Justin Balding, Adam Ciralsky and Robert Windrem
NBC News


A little more than a month ago, with the anniversary of Sept. 11 approaching and fears of a new al Qaeda attack rising, some U.S. intelligence and military analysts thought they had found one of the world’s two most wanted men just where they last saw them six years ago.

For three days and nights — between Aug. 14 and 16 — U.S. and Afghanistan forces pounded the mountain caves in Tora Bora, the same caves where Osama Bin Laden had hidden out and then fled in late 2001 after U.S. forces drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan cities. Ultimately, however, U.S. forces failed to find Bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, even though their attacks left dozens of al Qaeda and Taliban dead.

One of the officials interviewed by NBC News, a general officer, admitted Tuesday that it was “possible” Bin Laden was at Tora Bora, saying, in fact, "I still don’t know if he was there."

Still, some in the special operations and intelligence community are telling NBC News that there was a lack of coordination particularly in the choice of support troops. But with intelligence limited on who was there, no one is willing to say that the lack of key units permitted Bin Laden or Zawahiri to escape.

When the operation began in early August there was no expectation that Bin Laden or Zawahiri would be there, say U.S. military and intelligence officials. Instead, there was intelligence of a pre-Ramadan gathering of al Qaeda including "leadership" in Tora Bora. Senior officials in the U.S. and Pakistan tell NBC News that planning for the attacks intensified around Aug. 10 once analysts suggested that either Bin Laden or Zawahiri may have be drawn to the conference at Tora Bora. (When U.S. forces attacked al Qaeda camps in August 1998, following the East Africa embassy bombings, Bin Laden was attending a pre-Ramadan conference of al Qaeda in the same general area of eastern Afghanistan).

While the intelligence did not provide “positively identification” that Bin Laden or Zawahiri were at the scene, there was enough other intelligence to suggest that one of the two men was there. Bin Laden and Zawahiri are not believed to have traveled together since mid-2003 for security reasons.

Another official said that intelligence analysts believed strongly that there was a high probability that “either HVT-1 or HVT-2 was there,” using U.S. intelligence descriptions — high value targets — for Bin Laden and Zawahiri. He added that while opinion inside the agency was divided, many believed it was Bin Laden rather than Zawahiri who was present. The reason: “They thought they spotted his security detail,” said the official, a large al Qaeda security detail — the kind of protection that would normally surround only Bin Laden, or Zawahiri.

Also, locals reported the presence of groups known to be part of Bin Laden’s security detail —Chechens, Uzbeks and other Arabs, men willing to die rather than surrender top al Qaeda officials.

The military operation included "several hundred" U.S. and Afghan ground forces, say officials. Elements from the 82nd Airborne blocked off escape routes through the mountains on the Afghanistan side of the border, while helicopters inserted U.S. Navy Seals at night. The Seals pinpointed enemy positions and called in air strikes; the 82nd came in and "mopped up."
On the other side of the border, a senior Pakistani official says the U.S. military helped thousands of Pakistani forces — including their elite commando units — set up a blockade to sweep up any al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan.

Any operation to take down Bin Laden or Zawahiri would have been formidable.

“He's surrounded by the true believers,” reported Rick Francona, who worked with CIA and special ops teams in Iraq in the 1990s. “And they will fight to the death to protect him, they will probably even kill him before they allow him to be captured. So if you're going to go in that area, you have to go in there with enough force that you think you can accomplish this mission successfully and not lose all of your guys in the process.”

One senior military official said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace personally briefed the president on the specifics of the ongoing operation.

The operation closely parallels the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi last year. NBC News reported at the time that the U.S. military did not positively determine that Zarqawi was in the house that was bombed. Instead, they had surveillance on Zarqawi's spiritual adviser who led them to the house, and the decision was made to take the shot because they didn’t want to miss the chance to get Zarqawi. One general predicts, "That's the way we'll get Bin Laden." They may not have that positive ID, but there'll be enough intelligence to prompt an air strike and they'll find Bin Laden in the rubble.

What happened this time? Military officials admit there were unidentified "planning and coordination problems" even before it got to execution, “primarily between the operators and the generals who give the go-orders” added an intelligence official. A company of the 82nd Airborne was brought in since a Ranger team trained in special operations was not available. But the combination of the “dark side” — the SEALs — and the conventional — the 82nd Airborne — didn't work. "They didn't gel," said the military official. There was "a lack of responsiveness to the intelligence and a lack of aggressiveness."

Michael Sheehan, a former Army Special Operations colonel and counter terrorism ambassador, says he is not surprised.

“Our response is normally too big, too slow, too cumbersome and too risk adverse and those factors normally come from Washington,” said Sheehan.“The operators normally want to go in much smaller, much more low profile in order to be able to get to the target without being identified and as those plans go up the chain of command they normally get much bigger and much more cumbersome.”

But the bigger part of the picture is the question of allocation of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. All Delta Force and “dark side” Rangers were moved to Iraq, said a special operations officer involved in the Afghanistan operation. Left behind in Afghanistan were SEAL Team Six and some Rangers. But apparently in this case, not enough “dark side” were available. The 82nd, said a second special operations officer, “is a poor substitute … [it is] a blunder to use them on an op with dark side operators.”

Justin Balding is a Producer for Dateline NBC. Adam Ciralsky is a producer with the NBC News investigative unit. Robert Windrem is an investigative producer for NBC News special projects.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

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The video can be seen on this page: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21000298/

September 23, 2007

Italy – you brought this on yourselves

SISMI Crest
According to reports out of western Afghanistan, two Italian soldiers have been kidnapped by members of the Taliban – many believe they are likely associated with the Italian military intelligence service SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare).

This comes in an area that has not been known for recent violence. Now we have two members of the Italian contingent possibly kidnapped. Why would two Italians be kidnapped in this area? Perhaps it is because Italy has gained the reputation as the country that pays ransoms for the release of its nationals, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their past dealings with insurgent hostage-takers:

  • September 2004 – Italy paid a ransom (they said only “some money changed hands”) to Iraqi kidnappers to secure the release of two young aid workers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari. The ransom amount was estimated to in the $25 million range.

  • March 2005 – Italy paid a suspected $10 million for the release of leftist journalist Giuliana Sgrena, whose case became famous when her Italian military intelligence escorts tried to run an American roadblock in Baghdad. The American troops, following the long-established rules of engagements of which the Italians were aware, fired on the car, killing one SISMI officer and wounding Sgrena and a second SISMI officer. Bottom line: SISMI, not known for its capabilities, blew it.

  • May 2005 – Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni was kidnapped in Kabul and released three weeks later. Again, it was suspected that money was paid.
  • October 2006 – Italy paid two million dollars for the release of journalist Gabriele Torsello in Afghanistan.

  • March 2007 – Italy paid a ransom to the Taliban for the release of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, soon after her Afghan national translator was beheaded. The journalist was released after the government of Hamid Karzai agreed to release five senior Taliban prisoners in Afghan custody.
In July of this year, the Taliban kidnapped over 20 South Koreans, two Germans and five Afghans. Why? They think kidnapping work. Why not – Italy caved in and paid money and announced a troop withdrawal from Iraq, Karzai released a senior Taliban official as part of the Mastrogiacomo deal, and South Korea paid money. If you are the Taliban, the message is that kidnapping works.

The Taliban has been taking heavy casualties since the spring, after their announced “offensive.” Unable to match US and NATO forces in battle, they have resorted to roadside bombs, suicide bombing and kidnapping as their primary means of insurgency.

The Italians have created this problem for themselves. When the Iraqi insurgents or the Taliban see an Italian, they see a paycheck walking.

September 21, 2007

Pick a side, Mr Barzani

KRG President Mas'ud Barzani and author
Salah ad-Din, Iraq - 1995
KRG President Mas'ud Barzani and author
Iran has been providing money, weapons and training to Shi’a militias in Iraq for some time now. These weapons include the lethal explosively-formed projectile (EFP) used in improvised explosive devices that have killed and wounded hundreds of American troops. In recent weeks, both the Secretary of Defense and commander of the U.S. Central Command have accused Iran of providing these same EFP’s to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

As part of the effort to interdict the flow of these weapons into Iraq and to prevent further casualties, U.S. forces have begun hunting down members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Qods Force who have infiltrated into Iraq. Five such operatives were detained in January in the Kurdish city of Arbil. Iran claims them to be diplomats, and the Iraqi foreign minister (himself a Kurd) demanded their release. They are still in U.S. custody.

Earlier this week, American forced arrested another Iranian accused of smuggling explosive materials into Iraq. The arrest occurred in as-Sulaymaniyah, the major city in northeast Iraq, part of the Kurdish autonomous region. Iran, as expected, called the detained member an economic envoy, and threatened economic retaliation against the prosperous Kurdish area – prosperity largely due to Iranian trade.

Kurdistan Regional Government president Mas’ud Barzani called the action illegal. Mr Barzani, you need to determine whose side you are on. Are you going to blindly support the Iranian regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmous Ahmadinejad, or back the American forces that have been responsible for the security and prosperity of Iraq’s Kurds for the last 15 years?

Of course, many of the KRG’s actions have not been helpful. They have, as is their right under the Iraqi constitution, formed an autonomous region comprising three provinces in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Fine, that’s probably the wise thing to do given the situation in the rest of the country - the Kurds have successfully established a prosperous, secure zone.

However, the KRG acts like a sovereign nation, not an autonomous region under the jurisdiction of the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. Earlier this year, KRG President Barzani banned the Iraqi national flag from public buildings in the region, ordering instead the display of the Kurdish flag. Many consider this to be an indication that the Kurds intend to establish an independent state, a step sure to anger Turkey, Iran and Syria.

There are other steps that tend to indicate this intention. Last year, at least four Kurdish airlines opened for business, offering direct flights between cities in Europe and the Middle East and the newly refurbished and improved airports in Arbil and as-Sulaymaniyah.

KRG officials have also made independent deals for oil drilling and oilfield development without consulting or involving the oil ministry in Baghdad. The most recent was this month between the KRG and JB Hunt Oil, a Texas firm.

We all support the Kurds’ right to form and administer an autonomous region. I spent a lot of time with the Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1990’s – they’re my favorite Iraqis, to be sure. That said, they have to be part of Iraq. That entails supporting the American forces that are in the country and are responsible for the Kurds’ successes.

Pick a side, Mr. Barzani. Support the United States, or support Iran. Pick carefully, as I suspect there will be reckoning about Iran in the not too distant future.



September 20, 2007

Bombs for Syria – a message for Iran


Israel is capable of using force against 'threats'
Alleged raid into Syrian territory showcased Israeli air force, intelligence


COMMENTARY
By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC


Israeli F-15I Ra'amIsraeli F-15I Ra'am (Thunder)

The Israeli air raid into Syrian territory on September 6 caused repercussions far beyond the dusty city of Dayr az-Zawr – the shockwaves of that small, precision attack deep into hostile territory were felt as far away as Tehran.

If media reports are accurate, the Israelis were able to detect, locate and neutralize in a very short period of time a perceived threat to the Jewish state over 600 flight miles away. Operation Orchard again showcased two of Israel’s finest national assets – the Israeli air force and the Israeli intelligence services, both among the best in the world.

There is a lot of speculation about what the actual target was - both Syria and Israel are uncharacteristically tight-lipped about it. Normally the Syrians would have mounted a loud campaign complaining about the violation of their sovereignty, and the Israelis would have released a mountain of data and photographs justifying their actions. In the absence of Syrian complaints, Israel has felt no need to speak out. I think we can dismiss the claims made by an “unnamed American official” that the targets were Iranian arms destined for Hezbollah – weapons destined for Hezbollah would not be in northeastern Syria – they arrive in Damascus by air and are trucked to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Regardless of Israel’s silence on the Syrian raid, the Israelis hope it sends a loud and clear message to Iran: Israel is capable of – and willing to use – military force against what it perceives as “existential” threats to the state. For the last year, the Israeli drumbeat over the Iranian nuclear threat has been relentless.

Let’s start from the beginning of a potential operation – identification of the threat. Israel has good intelligence capabilities in Iran, and a host of intelligence relationships with other intelligence services around the world, the most important of course being that with the American services. There is no shortage of data on Iranian intentions – the question is how far along are they in the development of a nuclear weapon. As the Israelis just demonstrated in Syria, when they believe there is an imminent threat, they will act.

Time, however, is running out for the Israelis. According to senior Israeli officials, the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran should be considered a world problem, not just an Israeli problem. They also hope for a world solution rather than being forced into an Israeli solution. Assuming that will probably not happen, the Israelis have been acquiring long-range strike capabilities for a possible strike against Iranian targets. That long-range capability is best represented in the specialized design, acquisition and modifications to the American-built F-15I and F-16I fighter aircraft. Both are easily capable of reaching targets virtually anywhere in Syria, however, getting all the way to targets deep inside Iran and back to Israel will stretch their capabilities. Factors complicating Israeli planning: the targets in Iran are spread over the country, are heavily fortified (many are underground) and defended by newly-acquired capable Russian-made air defense systems.

The Israelis have proven themselves to be resourceful military planners and operators. If there is a way to do this, they will find it. That might include flying through Turkish airspace (the two countries have had a defense pact for over a decade) into American-controlled Iraqi airspace, use of American-controlled bases in Iraq, use of American aerial refueling tankers (the U.S. and Israeli air forces have trained together for years), etc. Regardless of the tactics, the key point is that if an when the Israelis believe they must act, they will. They attacked the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981, and now a target of some import in Syria.

When Israeli leaders, political and military, believe that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons is imminent, they will act. They have stated they believe that there will be no deterrent against Iran’s use of the weapons once they have them. That may or may not be true, but that is what Israelis believe, and they will act on that belief.

Israel’s actions on September 6 in Syria were not a dry run for an attack on Iran, but most certainly a strong signal. Let’s hope the antennas were up in Tehran.

September 19, 2007

The war is about oil but it's not that simple

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

The war is about oil but it's not that simple
Francona: Is this a surprise to anyone?

COMMENTARY
By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

MSNBC


Why are former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s comments that the Iraq war is “largely about oil” raising eyebrows? Of course the war is about oil – much of our involvement in the Middle East is about oil, while the rest is about Israel and Iraq has posed a threat to both.

That said, let’s define “about oil”: It is not about seizing Iraq’s oilfields. If that was the case, we should have seized Saudi Arabia’s and Kuwait’s oilfields while we had over half a million troops there in 1991. We could have stayed in oil-rich southern Iraq as well. That was not the policy then, and it is not the policy now.

But, what is the policy? We are still following one first enunciated by then-President Jimmy Carter at his State of the Union Address in 1980, now known as the Carter Doctrine. The free flow of Persian Gulf oil is a vital interest of the United States and will be protected by military force if necessary. Granted, when he made his remarks, he was referring to the threat from the Soviet Union, but the policy remains.

That free flow of oil is essential to the global economy, and shows no signs of changing. In fact it will become more critical as developing nations such as China and India require more energy for their huge populations. It is estimated that 25 percent of the world’s oil consumption moves through the Straits of Hormuz, at the south end of the Persian Gulf, every day. Iran has expended a large amount of resources developing the military means of closing the Straits. The U.S. Navy has spent a lot of time planning how they will keep that same passage open.

Although the United States imports less than 20 percent of our oil from the Persian Gulf, that is not the issue. Oil is a fungible commodity – it does not matter where it is produced, what matters is how much is available on the world market each day. If 25 percent of the world’s oil flow is disrupted, where are the nations who rely heavily or solely on Persian Gulf oil going to buy it? They’re going to buy it from the countries that produce the 80 percent we don’t get from the Persian Gulf. Prices will skyrocket.

The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war was the first test of the Carter Doctrine. In 1987, the Defense Intelligence Agency assessed that former U.S. ally Iran would emerge victorious over Iraq within a year. That victory would give Iran control over huge oil resources, Iran has the second and Iraq the third largest conventional oil reserves, and would likely cause turmoil in the world oil markets. The United States sided with Saddam Hussein and provided the intelligence support to his military that prevented an Iranian victory.

Just a few years later when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded, occupied and even annexed Kuwait in 1990, the initial American reaction was to defend the key supplier of oil in the region – Saudi Arabia. Our deployment to Saudi Arabia, Operation Desert Shield, was to defend the kingdom from a possible Iraqi invasion. We were not defending the Saudi royal family, we were defending the world’s largest producer of oil and venue of the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

By 2002, it was apparent that much of the world had lost its appetite for continuing sanctions against Iraq. Once sanctions were lifted, Saddam Hussein would be free to resurrect his missile and weapons of mass destruction programs. Washington decision makers believed this potential development would pose a threat to America’s two key interests: oil and Israel.

The war was not about the weapons of mass destruction, it was about the threat the weapons posed to the flow of oil from the Gulf. As Chairman Greenspan says, it’s about the oil.

Is this a surprise to anyone?

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

The Webb Amendment - Good Riddance

Today the Webb Amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill failed - good news. This was a disingenuous effort to undermine the administration's and specifically the Pentagon's ability to prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wrapping in the mantle of support for the troops and their families is political theater. Note Senator Webb's portrayal of this as an effort to support the troops and their families by the use of such phrases as "as much time at home as deployed to Iraq."

In fact, the actual text of the amendment does not say anything about troops being "home." It states, "No unit or member of the Armed Forces...may be deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom unless the period between the deployment of the unit or member is equal to or longer than the period of such previous deployment."

Military units and personnel do not stay at "home" when not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. They deploy to training locations, schools, other missions - all part of the "ops tempo" that keeps them away from families. Under the rules proposed by the Webb Amendment, there would be no prohibition from deploying a unit (or member) returning from Iraq from being almost immediately deployed to Korea for a one-year remote tour, then deployed back to Iraq - this would meet the letter, although certainly not the spirit of the proposed amendment. Things like this would have been the unintended consequences of the Webb Amendment, and probably would have happened as the amendment robbed the Pentagon of flexibility in moving troops as needed.

The notion that the Congress is more concerned about the welfare of troops and their families than the military officers at the Pentagon is ludicrous. An overwhelming majority of Senators and Representatives have never worn the uniform of their country, let alone heard a shot fired in anger. I will be the first to acknowledge Senator Webb's distinguished combat record, but the officers at the Pentagon spend, and have spent, their adult lives in military service.

Senator Jim WebbHowever, Webb's comments to Senator John McCain, whose military credentials are above reproach, that John McCain should read the Constitution are offensive. Perhaps Senator Webb might read the sections that state that Congress raises armies, and the President is the commander in chief. I think that deploying troops is the function of the commander in chief.

Senator Webb is an American hero, fervently believes in his cause (declare defeat and come home) and makes his case with passion.

He is a patriot, but he's wrong.

September 14, 2007

MSNBC: Live with Dan Abrams

On September 10, I appeared on MSNBC's Live with Dan Abrams along with fellow MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan. Here is a transcript of that segment:

Live with Dan Abrams

MSNBC
LIVE WITH DAN ABRAMS
September 10, 2007 Monday



DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Speaking of Britney, later in the show, we`ll ask how her team of many actually allowed her to go on stage. Does she not have anyone who loves her enough, even likes her enough to say, Don`t go?

But first, the other eagerly anticipated September appearance, General David Petraeus and his long anticipated report on the progress in Iraq. Amid hecklers and microphone problems, he announced we will be able to start reducing a tiny fraction of the troops, and by next year, back, hopefully, to the level they were at earlier this year.

My take. The goalposts keep moving. The've changed the definition of victory, of success, of violence and now apparently of September, General Petraeus saying we need to wait for another assessment in March. The surge was implemented to offer Iraq political stability and stop the violence. Instead, it seems we`re constantly trying to get back to where we were the previous year. In terms of progress, violence and now troop numbers, when you look back at President Bush`s past comments and compare them to what General Petraeus and especially U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said today, it`s kind of depressing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that free societies are peaceful societies. So we`re helping the Iraqis build a free society with inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all Iraqis.

RYAN C. CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: But rather than being a period in which old animosities and suspicions were overcome, the past 18 months have further strained Iraqi society.

BUSH: And on the economic side, we`re helping the Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure, reform their economy and build the prosperity that will give all Iraqis a stake in a free and peaceful Iraq.

CROCKER: Unlike our states, Iraqi provinces have little ability to generate funds through taxation, making them dependent on the central government for resources.

BUSH: We`re reaching out to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan, asking them to support the Iraqi government`s efforts to persuade Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and accept national reconciliation.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER: We believe that Saudi Arabia is still probably the largest country in terms of the foreign fighters, although that again may be diminishing somewhat, and there are certainly others that come from North Africa, Jordan, Syria, and so forth, into Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS: So even if you take Petraeus and Crocker at face value, still major discrepancies between what was hoped for and where we are now.

Joining me now, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, MSNBC military analyst, and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. Gentlemen, thanks for coming on. Appreciate it. All right.

Colonel Francona, I mean, do you not think the goalposts seem to constantly be shifting?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Boy, it sure looks that way. You know, when the general was testifying today and he said we`re going to be able to reduce our troop strength starting in December, and then moving through March and then into next year, he said, basically, we`re going to get back to where we were a year ago. So that`s correct. But he didn`t even commit to doing that. He said, We`ll start the withdrawal, and then we`ll take another look at it in March. So if you assume that the only piece of this that`s even working is the military side, you've got to even question that, given what the general said today.

ABRAMS: Pat, I mean, it constantly seems like we`re trying to get back to where we were the previous year.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, where we`re going to wind up, Dan, is in November of 2008, exactly where you were in November of 2006, with about 130,000 American troops in Iraq. And this, I think, is the president`s objective. He doesn't want this to fall and collapse on his watch. And I think, politically, he`s succeeded because I think the anti-war Democrats are basically beaten. They are not going to try to substitute their judgment for General Petraeus's.

ABRAMS: But Pat, isn't that kind of sad, that what you just said is that there`s a political decision being made here, when we`re talking about American lives and a war in Iraq?

BUCHANAN: Well, I do believe this. I believe the president speaks the truth when he says if we pull out and draw down too rapidly, as General Petraeus said, we will have disastrous consequences. I think both men believe that, Dan, and I think they believe if you pulled out the troops rapidly, that would happen. And I think the Democrats believe that. That`s why they won`t defund the war.

ABRAMS: Right. But Rick, is the only choice here bringing down the number of troops rapidly and basically bringing us back to where we were earlier this year? I mean, it seems to me that there`s got to be another choice in there, which is to slowly bring down the troop numbers.

FRANCONA: Well, that`s what he`s talking about doing. He`s talking about starting in December, bringing home a combat -- brigade combat team, and then more as 2008.

ABRAMS: Right. But by 2008, getting us back to the numbers we were at earlier this year.

FRANCONA: Right. Right. Well, he`s not going to withdraw -- he`s not going to reduce the troop strength any less than that, and the only reason he`s doing that is the Army basically cannot afford to deploy anymore troops. We are totally deployed, and if he doesn't reduce them, he won`t be able to keep up this ops tempo. So there are political -- there are military realities that are driving this.

But I think, to pick up on what Pat said, I think -- I think that what he did today, whether it was by design or not -- and I`ll let Pat make that analysis -- I think he really torpedoed the Democratic efforts to put some sort of timetable into legislation. I think that that is -- that ship has sailed.

BUCHANAN: Dan, the bottom line is the anti-war Democrats have been defeated horse, foot and dragoons. And quite frankly, they are not going to impose a deadline. They don`t have the ability to do it. They don`t want to do it. They don`t have the courage to do it. They`re going to follow Warner`s lead, and Warner is on all fours with General Petraeus.

ABRAMS: Let me play another piece of sound here. This is -- again, this is comparing President Bush to what was said today, this one by Ambassador Crocker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Victory is a government that can sustain itself, govern -- a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself and serves as an ally in the war on terror.

CROCKER: There will be no single moment at which we can claim victory. Any turning point will likely only be recognized in retrospect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS: Does anyone care? I think that we keep changing the terms of the conversation, that President Bush talks about victory, and then when it seems like they can`t get victory, we change the way we describe this? Let me go to Rick. I've talked to Pat about this before. Go ahead, Rick.

FRANCONA: No, I agree with you. You know, what was a grandiose plan years ago has morphed into...

ABRAMS: But no one admits it, Rick!

FRANCONA: ... Let`s just get us out of here.

ABRAMS: No one admits it. No one will say, We are changing the way we talk about this because it hasn't worked out the way we hoped.

FRANCONA: Well, of course, they`re not going to say that. But as they keep moving -- as you say, moving the goalposts, I think what they`re doing is reality is beginning to set in and they`re going to take what they can get. They want to be able to get out of there without allowing Iran to just waltz in there and take over to fill that power vacuum. And I think that`s what they`re trying to do, come up with that balance between not letting Iraq fall into the bloodbath that it is and Iran becoming the power broker in the region. It`s very difficult.

BUCHANAN: Dan...

ABRAMS: Let me play one more piece of sound...

BUCHANAN: Sure.

ABRAMS: ... comparing President Bush and what was said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We`re helping Iraqi leaders to complete work on a national compact to resolve the most difficult issues dividing their country. The new Iraqi government has condemned violence from all quarters and agreed to a schedule for resolving issues.

CROCKER: It is no exaggeration to say that Iraq is and will remain for some time to come a traumatized society. It is against this backdrop that development in Iraqi national politics must be seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS: So Pat, isn't it fair to say, then, considering what President Bush said the goals were, that in essence, what we heard today was we have failed?

BUCHANAN: Look, you`re exactly right here, Dan. We started off, It`s going to be a democratic, free, pro-Western Iraq with relations with Israel, a model for the Middle East. What we are doing now is -- Bush, I believe, and Petraeus and I think Crocker saying, in effect, We have to stay this course to prevent a strategic disaster and a humanitarian catastrophe and an Iranian takeover of half of Iraq.

ABRAMS: All right. Pat Buchanan, as always, appreciate it. Lieutenant Francona -- Lieutenant Colonel...

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS: Lieutenant -- I hate it when they put that in there! Colonel -- Colonel Francona.

BUCHANAN: Promote the guy. Promote the guy!

ABRAMS: Colonel. Yes. Good to see you. Thanks a lot.

FRANCONA: Good to see you.

September 11, 2007

Quoted on CNBC blog

(excerpted)

9-11 Remembered

Wall Street today sadly remembers the thousands killed in the World Trade towers, in the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania six years ago with ceremonies and moments of silence.

Air Force Lt. Col Rick Francona, (ret.), an NBC military analyst, shared his thoughts with us yesterday on whether America and Wall Street are any safer since 9-11. "I think we are safer, but I definitely don't think we're safe," he said.

Francona, a Middle East expert, said however he believes al-Qaeda will more likely seek out targets like the military installations it attempted to attack in Germany.

German police last week arrested suspected Islamic militants who were said to be planning massive attacks on U.S. military targets in Germany.

Those types of targets make sense and officials need to be especially vigilant overseas, he said. "That's the largest concentration of Americans outside the United States ... that's where they need to be looking," he said.

(end quote)
-----
Note: Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy. She hired me as an analyst in 2003 for a 60-day stint....

September 9, 2007

The bin Ladin video - a unique confluence of events

As we commemorate the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 al-Qa'idah attacks on the United States, we have a new video from Usamah bin Ladin - the first actual video of him since October 2004. The release of the video also coincides with the upcoming status report to Congress by the commander of American forces in Iraq. One has to wonder if the three events are coincidental or merely serendipitous.

The video is interesting and a bit different than previous videos from bin Ladin. The most important thing about the video is the "proof of life." It is bin Ladin speaking about contemporaneous subjects, thus dating the video to the summer of 2007. The good news: it answers the question, "Is he alive?" The bad news: he's alive.

I have watched and listened to all of the bin Ladin releases over the past years, both video and audio. In this video, he appears to have dyed his hair and beard. Although this practice is common among Arab men, we've never seen bin Ladin exhibit such vanity. Thus, it does raise questions as to why he chose to appear this way. If he had dyed the beard with henna, that would be in keeping with some Islamic traditions, as it is believed that Muhammad used henna to dye his hair and beard. The black dye is puzzling. Is it vanity, or meant to hide something?

Bin Ladin also appeared to be a bit heavier in the face, but his shoulders were narrow and he seemed a bit frail, more so than I recall in the 2004 video. That said, his voice was strong and measured, actually sounding better than in 2004. His syntax was excellent - he was obviously reading a prepared text, but there were no signs of weakness in the voice.

The text itself is interesting. This message is not aimed at al-Qa'idah, this is squarely aimed at the anti-war left in the United States. Bin Ladin fully realizes that his organization cannot defeat the Americans on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan or possibly in the future in Pakistan - he can only defeat the United States by using public opinion. He would like for the war in Iraq in particular to stop, since the American military and Sunni tribal militias are now extracting a severe toll on his so-called mujahidin.

Of note, he chided the Democrats for winning an election on the promise they would end the war and have not. He likened the continuation of the war to what he called John Kennedy's failure to end the war in Vietnam - an obvious incorrect historical reference to Lyndon Johnson.

Bin Ladin also raises all the standard anti-war rhetoric - Bush lied, the neoconservatives misled, a million orphans in Baghdad, over 650,000 Iraqi dead, it's about oil, etc. He even used the phrase, "money talks." I would assess that all these references indicate the hand of indicted American traitor Adam Pearlman (AKA Adam Gadahn).

The release of the video coincides with the sixth anniversary September 11th. Bin Ladin says that to convince us that the war is wrong, he has ordered an escalation in the attacks and killings in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as elsewhere. I suspect that there are planned al-Qa'idah operations such as the one just thwarted in Germany, aimed at the American air base at Ramstein, headquarters of United States Air Forces in Europe. Combined with U.S. Army installations in the immediate area, it is the largest concentration of American military personnel and their families outside the United States. The area presents a lucrative and relatively soft target.

Bin Ladin is still out there. While many of our politicians want to bring him to justice, I'd rather have American forces bring justice to him and his.

September 6, 2007

The Petraeus report will make no difference

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

The Petraeus report will make no difference
Francona: Congress already knows its response — insisting on withdrawal

COMMENTARY
By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

MSNBC

Next week, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will deliver the much-anticipated report on the status of the “surge” operations that have been ongoing since earlier in the year.

The report will be no surprise. It will say the military operations are starting to turn to the tide against al-Qaida, there is moderate political progress with some Sunni tribes, the Iraqi security forces are only slowly getting up to speed, and the Iraqi government still has major problems.

I suspect that no matter what the ambassador and the general have to say, it will make no difference. Those who favor the immediate withdrawal of American forces will try again to legislate an end to the war pretty much as they did in 1975 in Vietnam. The difference is that in Vietnam we cut off funding to the Vietnamese whereas here we are talking about cutting off funds to our own troops.

In Vietnam we declared victory, withdrew our forces, and left the Vietnamese to fend for themselves. It was an act which led to millions of deaths in Southeast Asia. Now, too many of our elected representatives are perfectly willing to declare defeat and leave Iraq.

Yes, I know the rhetoric; we are leaving Iraq, but not the region that is so vital to our national interests.

If you do not believe the Persian Gulf is vital to America’s national interests, I have one word for you: oil. They have it and we — along with the rest of the world — need it.

Despite the fact that the United States imports less than 20 percent of our oil from the Gulf region, oil is probably the ultimate fungible commodity. It does not matter where your oil comes from, it only matters how much is available on the world market. Take off the table the 25 percent of the world’s oil that flows from the Persian Gulf every day and the countries that rely on Gulf oil for the majority of their energy like Japan, China and India who will be bidding to buy oil from our suppliers and the price will skyrocket.

We will not leave the Gulf. It has been our national policy to guarantee the flow of Persian Gulf oil with military force if necessary since President Carter first stated it in 1980. Yet we are willing to watch Iraq, who has the world’s second largest proved reserve, descend into a Sunni-Shia bloodbath, or become the next al-Qaida stronghold, or both. The probability of al-Qaida achieving a victory in what they themselves have designated the primary battlefield in their jihad against the West is becoming less likely due to the recent success of military operations combined with cooperation from the tribal shaykhs in al-Anbar governorate.

Of course, that assessment only holds true as long as there is sufficient U.S. military force on the ground to continue aggressive operations against the group, a military presence that will need to remain until the Iraqis are capable of doing it for themselves. How long will that be? I doubt General Petraeus knows yet, but for sure no one in Congress does.

American forces have been in Iraq since March 2003 — far too long. We all agree that this war should have been over long ago. Whether you supported the invasion or not, once the troops were deployed, we owe it to them to conduct this war aggressively, efficiently and quickly. After the fall of Baghdad and until the surge operations of earlier this year, we did none of the above.

It appears that the leadership in Washingtonm, either at the White House or the Pentagon, has finally figured it out and committed the right combination of commanders and resources to conduct the war effectively. I fear it may be too little too late.

What the commanders on the ground in Iraq need now is time, the one resource Congress will not provide. The Crocker-Petraeus report will be delivered next week, but the Congressional responses to that report have already been written.

We could have and should have won this one.


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