November 24, 2005

Iraq: Insurgent Mortar Tactics

Over the last two years, the insurgents in Iraq, the insurgents - be they Iraqis or part of the Az-Zarqawi-led Al-Qa'idah in Iraq - have learned that they cannot attack American forces directly. Every time they do, they suffer unacceptable losses.

To continue their attacks on the Americans, the insurgents have adopted tactics that allow them to strike without sacrificing themselves. These tactics are in addition to the suicide bombers and the use of their most effective weapon, the improvised explosive device (IED).

One such tactic is the use of a mortar with an improvised delay trigger. Here's how it works.

The insurgents determine as best they can the appropriate firing position of the tube and the suitable charge for the round. The tube is buried or otherwise supported to stand alone. An ice cube is placed in the tube, followed by the round. The mortar team departs the area. After the ice cube melts, the round falls into the tube and is launched at the target.

Why not fire the mortar by hand and run away? They tried that. However, the American military possesses accurate "firefinder" radars, the AN/TPQ-36 and AN/TPQ-37 which can immediately locate enemy fire. The radar back-plots the firing location to friendly artillery and mortar positions to allow for counterbattery fire. Use of this tactic defeats the counterbattery fire.

Another common mortar tactic is to mount the mortar in the back of a pickup truck. The team fires the mortar while slowly moving, which is very inaccurate, or from a fixed position, departing immediately after firing. While counterbattery fire might be effective in this instance, the insurgents normally fire from built up areas - concern for civilian casualties prevents an artillery response.

Although the insurgents can use these tactics to fire mortars, the most effective weapon in the insurgent arsenal is the IED.

November 23, 2005

Iraqi Demands for American Troops to Depart?

Arab League Seal and National Flags

In the final communique issued at the end of the recent Arab League meeting in Cairo, Iraqi leaders called for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. They noted that these forces are present in Iraq under the terms of a United Nations mandate, which was recently extended for another year.

The problem with a timetable is that it creates a race against the clock. From the US/coalition perspective, we then have to kill most of the them faster than the timetable expires. From the insurgents' perspective, they merely have to survive in sufficient numbers until the forces depart.

Some media outlets have reported that the Iraqis "demanded" a timetable. Let's take a look at what was really said. If you read the Arabic text, the Iraqi leaders used the word "natlabu," which can be properly translated as either "we request" or "we demand." I prefer to use "request" because more often than not the connotation is less strident than "demand." It's a subtlety missed by some translators.

What was also in the communique was the statement that "resistance is the right of all nations." What does that mean? To me, it means that Iraqi nationals involved in the insurgency fighting US/coalition forces can eventually be granted some sort of amnesty, while the "terrorists" (Iraqi or foreign) cannot. Who determines who is who? We'll see.

Although many in the United States will find the prospect of pardoning any of the insurgents abhorrent, there will have to be some form of national reconciliation if the country is to stand up as a coherent political entity.

Both of these statements - the request for a timetable and "resistance is a right" - are likely attempts by the Shi'as and Kurds to bring the Sunnis back into the fold. Will it work? Maybe, but probably not anytime soon. It has taken ten years for Bosnia Herzogovina to agree to a federal structure and to try to write a constitution, and foreign forces are still there.

November 15, 2005

MSNBC Hardball - CIA and Torture


November 15 - I appeared on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss recent allegations of torture by the CIA. Here is the transcript:


Torture tactics spur debate
Does aggressive interrogation of an alleged terrorist cross the line?

Sen. John McCain says he wants to ban cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees. Though Vice President Cheney has been lobbying for language that will not limit the president's power in prisoner treatment.

Is there a right and wrong way to treat an alleged terrorist?

Rick Francona, a retired Air Force Lieutenant colonel and MSNBC analyst, and Dana Priest, a reporter for The Washington Post, play Hardball on the issue. Priest recently broke the story on the CIA so-called black sites.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Let me start with Colonel Francona here. It seems to me there's four levels of hell if you get captured by the United States. There's how you're treated by the military, how you might be treated by the CIA, how you might be treated if you end up in one of these black sites in Eastern Europe and what happens to you if you have to go one of these rendition sites like Egypt. Am I right, Colonel Francona? There are four levels of hell here for treatment.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): You're exactly right, Chris, and that's in about the right order. Of course, the military operates under a strict series of standards that were set up by the Department of Defense. Basically they're adhering to the Army Field Manual on interrogation. And that's pretty cut and dry.

Then you get into this kind of murky world of what happens if you fall into the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency? If you're held in one of the Central Intelligence Agency's facilities, there's a lot of oversight and restriction on that. But as we've seen reported, and I think Dana had some information on this, was when you get into the black sites that are in other countries, then you get outside of U.S. supervision, outside of real oversight.

The CIA is in charge but they're offshore and they're, you know, out of sight, out of mind and then the worst is, of course, what we call these extraordinary rendition, is when you are handed over to our foreign service and you're at the mercy of that service.

MATTHEWS: OK, Dana, your review of the four levels of hell yourself. What do you know about them?

DANA PRIEST, THE WASHINGTON POST: The one that I'm most familiar with although it's very vague, is the CIA site, the black sites. You know, they are not operating without guidelines. In fact, their guidelines are approved by the Justice Department and the White House and the CIA General Counsel's Office. But we don't know much about them, contrary to the military interrogation techniques that we have got lists and lists of and we see what's being debated in Congress.

The CIA has refused to turn over anything about those. We know, however, there have been some techniques used. Water boarding is the most familiar where a detainee is made to believe they're going to drown.

MATTHEWS: Are they? Are they going to drown? I mean, I'm wondering if that isn't just the real thing.

PRIEST: No. I mean, the whole point of having somebody in that site is not to kill them. It's to interrogate them so that you can get information out of them.

MATTHEWS: Well, how often do they get out of hand and how often do they actually drown somebody? Like every tenth time? Enough times to make you think they might be doing it?

PRIEST: No. I think we would hear. We know about seven or eight investigations involving CIA people linked to deaths of detainees. We have not heard of any in the black sites yet and I we would.

MATTHEWS: How would we hear? If somebody is over in Poland or somewhere, somewhere else in Eastern Europe at some old gulag site, would we actually get a report of someone who died over there?

PRIEST: Well, we, the people, would not. The public. I mean, the only way that we've known anything about the sites is through press reporting. Because the members of Congress who know about this, there are perhaps four, they're sworn to secrecy. They violate a law if they tell you about it, and that's catch-22 for them.

MATTHEWS: Well, here is what Senator Hagel said. I don't know if this is catch-22 or not. Here's what he had to say. We're going to watch the reports of these secret CIA jails, the story you broke.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R), Nebraska said, "The recent media reports of a worldwide American system of secret black hole jails run by the Central Intelligence Agency and developed explicitly to circumvent our obligations under the Geneva Convention soils further everything America represents. It further erodes the world's confidence in America's word and our purpose."

OK. Colonel Francona, what do you make of that? You're a military man. What is your personal sense of what's right and wrong in the area of treating prisoners?

FRANCONA: I don't have the problem with the CIA running a series of overseas detention facilities and interrogation sites. I'm more concerned about what goes on in them and how it's overseen from headquarters. If there are guidelines that are adhered to and those guidelines are within the framework of the law, I don't have a problem with that.

MATTHEWS: Why would you take somebody over to Poland if you weren't going to treat them differently than you would in Georgia?

FRANCONA: Because you could do things in Poland that you can't do in Georgia because you are out of sight.

MATTHEWS: That's my point. Dana, is that your assessment? There's a reason why these are black sites? Because they want to do things in the dark?

PRIEST: Well, yes. And the only reason they took them overseas is because they didn't want U.S. courts and U.S. law to apply.

The only reason that they're secret where they are is because they would be breaking the laws of democracies, where these black sites are located. Because they have laws like we do, that gives detainees certain rights.

MATTHEWS: I don't want to be a complete goo goo here, a good government type, Colonel Francona, but what about the United Nations declaration of human rights, which outlaws this kind of torture of any kind, really?

FRANCONA: Well, here we're going to get into semantics. What constitutes torture? What constitutes, you know, aggressive interrogation?

MATTHEWS: How about it hurts real bad? Let's keep it simple. It hurts real bad, that's torture.

FRANCONA: That's torture.

MATTHEWS: It hurts real bad.

FRANCONA: Threatening with a loaded weapon, threatening to kill their family, I don't regard that as beyond the pale. When you start breaking things, forcing joints, that's beyond the pale, that we shouldn't be doing.


PRIEST: The bottom line is, we don't know. Senator Hagel is on the intelligence committee. He doesn't know about these black sites and that's because they won't brief members who are even supposed to be doing oversight to give them any comfort about what might be going on there.

To watch the video, go to

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive