The Conflict with Iran in the Short-Term

Update:

https://twitter.com/onlyBarryLClark/status/1214700684907552769

My assessment below still stands despite this. The US is still in a predicament vis-a-vis Iraq, leave and allow Iran unfettered influence or stay and become an occupier. Obviously, within the Iranian calculus, they saw enough popular support in the region to press a rocket attack sooner rather than later to force the US hand.

I suspect this has increased the risk of escalation. No US president ever ignores an attack on US troops, and to properly attack Iranian sites the US needs to beef up airpower and bases in Afghanistan and perhaps Uzbekistan and secure permission to conduct operations from perhaps Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I suspect the next move will be a US strike with cruise missiles while the big brains come up with a name for the operation and begin plans to forward position more air power. It really comes down to how many Americans were/are killed in this attack tonight.

In the roll-up of troops below, I missed the deployment of 2 or 6 B-52s to Diego Garcia yesterday. These are primary delivery systems for cruise missiles in this scenario.

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Last evening I received inquiries from a young man that occasionally asks my opinion on matters such as this concerning the potential that something bigger may occur related to Iran. He has a wedding planned this spring and his bride to be is obviously concerned he may not actually be here.

I told him I suspect there is at worst a 33% chance of anything ‘real’ occurring and even in the worst-case scenario, it would not involve a Desert Storm style ground invasion. At most, all that is realistic is a pre-Desert Storm build-up and air campaign. Even that scenario requires many more iterations of additional events.

Upon consideration, if I were in charge of Iranian strategy, and if they react and act rationally and in a calculated manner that leverages their advantages, I think that 33% assessment is perhaps too high, much too high for the coming months.

So what do we know?

Khamenei Wants to Put Iran’s Stamp on Reprisal for U.S. Killing of Top General (reported by NYT). In the previous years Iranian direct action has been conducted through proxies, and in almost all cases included plausible deniability. Based upon the passions at home and the positive sentiment Iran enjoys at present in the region after the assassination of Suleimani they must and likely will act directly and overtly. This is not the same as acting stupidly or bluntly. I believe their next action will come soon but it will be measured and focused toward a specifically American target, not a GCC, European or even Isreali target. Perhaps the easy and vulnerable target of al-Assad airbase in Iraq with a limited missile attack. They will use strategic patience to wait for the right target at the right time that just affects the US. It will be proportional, so as not to cast them into the terroristic narrative. So yes, they will act but it will not involve anything like closing the Straits of Hormuz or hitting Saudi oil fields.

The Iraq Parliament passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi soil. If and when the US leaves this is a tremendous victory for Iran. The US is now in a quandary, stay as unwelcome occupiers or leave and allow Iran unlimited influence. The Pentagon has confused the issue by releasing a statement that US forces will leave followed by a statement by SECDEF that no decision has been made. Iran will pace its next move after all this gets sorted out, so as to not influence the Iraqis to change their minds. Iran will act once the US begins to leave or decides to stay against the will of the Iraqi government.

The deployments to the middle east of ground troops by the US does not indicate that the big brains in the Pentagon believe there is an imminent threat of Iranian massive action. Since May the US has sent approximately 14,000 additional troops to the region. Since the current events began the US has sent(T&P):

  • 3,500 paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division, who were sent to Kuwait.
  • A “contingent” of Army Rangers with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
  • Around 2,200 Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit that are embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan.
  • About 100 Marines from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, who deployed to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad as part of the Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response – Central Command.

This really comprises a “speed-bump”, deterrence, rapid reaction and force protection deployment, not really the sort of thing that can conduct or withstand sustained offensive or defensive operations. Trump in his most wise statement of military doctrine I have ever heard him utter told a reporter a couple of months ago, if he wanted to fight Iran he would send a lot more troops.

Sending the light forces, the Marines and paratroopers first pays homage to centuries of gunboat/saber diplomacy. It tells the other side that you are serious and gives them the option for the next move.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly. These recent deployments do not have a name. Military folks love to give operations a name. Once you give it a name, it is real, game on. This is perhaps the best proof that things are not really serious yet. Once some iron major comes up with a name, that makes it past a council of colonels for approval but a group of generals, then you should worry.

I think Iran will be patient, they will probably leverage their newfound sympathy in a place like Afghanistan, overcoming centuries of animosity toward the Persians, to work with groups there to affect their direct action strike Khamenei wants.

Afghanistan Papers

The American Conservative posted piece calling the revelation of the Afghanistan Papers a #MeToo moment, with all sorts of former military folks and ‘experts’ coming out of the woodwork to say they knew also.

I have written about Iraq and Afghanistan since my first rotation in the middle east. I did most of my writing under a pseudonym ‘ElCid’, but it never would have been difficult to out me, I never hide where I was, what I did nor my rank and affiliation. I was not alone, there were many others, many posted on places like Soldiers for the Truth before that organization changed its focus. I was anti-war after my first rotation, not because I do not see the necessity of war, it was because I saw the futility of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I knew it early as a young man sitting in Shuras with village leaders, us passing out money to the old men were supposed to give to young men to get them to work instead of plant IEDs, it was obvious the old men sent the village idiots out to pick up trash for our money while the IEDs were still planted. I knew it sitting with Kurds in northern Iraq and them asking me tough questions about loyalty, trust and US policy that I could not honestly answer because none of it made any sense to me based upon true principles. It was obvious after going back much later to see the same spots that were once ‘tamed’ blow up in conflagration, nothing from before lasted. I knew it when assigned to train both Iraqi and Afghani troops, the appetite of higher-ups for ‘good news stories’ was insatiable. If you could not produce at least one storyboard per day talking about how great they were doing in their training or operations you were a failure, it did not matter that nothing good was going on, people made stuff up. It was most obvious working with a counter-terror finance team created as a result of SIGAR that MILLIONS of US dollars were being paid out to shell companies that directly or indirectly financed the adversary.

And the metrics, bafoons sitting in massive operations centers looking at elaborate COPs (massive digital displays) filled with drone feeds, metrics, and sundry data. It often reminded me of the body count nonsense for Vietnam, as a student of history, I wondered how we could be so stupid and foolish. Commanders thining that digital feeds and communications might allow them to actually understand what was going on.

If I am a hypocrite because I stayed in and went back for many more rotations, I will accept that title. I did it because I believed people that hold principles dear ought to serve. I also stayed because it was what God created me to do. A lot of people of conscience that I served with stayed for the same reason.

I am skeptical of those that want to make a now big deal of saying they knew, to come out like a hero and gain accolades in the media, especially those that did one rotation and got out years ago. If they knew, they ought to have been screaming the truth. Speaking up while one’s career might have been jeopardized would have been brave. Jumping on the bandwagon now because the MSM will give you a voice is a form of virtue signaling.

Navy Secretary Fired

” US Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has been fired in wake of the Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher controversy, which the White House has waded into. Siding with President Donald Trump, the Pentagon chief said Gallagher will keep his pin.” RT

Do not be misled, just because Gallagher appeared on Fox News does not mean he is a hero. Fox News is neither conservative, honest nor often right. I have said it many times, there are many wolves wearing the clothing of the sheepdog. Such men are not heroes.

Spencer was fired for going around Esper and having a frank conversation with Trump, the very definition of a man doing his professional duty. One is supposed to tell the emperor when he has no clothes, and a service chief is supposed to tell the president when he is wrong.

Trump was wrong for pardoning three war criminals – he was wrong again for interfering in service level details such as who should and should not retain a Trident. Yes, he is the commander-in-chief. He can do this, but “can” does not mean should and “can” does not mean he was right to do so in this case.

The services are already struggling with morality and ethics, if POTUS interferes with them trying to self-correct how does that help?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

What an interesting drama this has turned out to be.

Russia reports they detected no activity near the site where the US claims the operation occurred.

The US reports that Baghdadi “whimpered and cried” before blowing himself up in an underground tunnel.

In our world where truth seems to be an elusive commodity, we are left to wonder. Let’s consider the facts.

First, despite the fact that we might rightly not trust politicians and governments in general, because they do often lie, it is not common for the military to blatantly lie. Not a lie as in say something happened when it did not. The military will lie, has lied and does lie about the scope and nature of things – but generally not so far as to fabricate a complete fiction; not generally.

Second, it seems unlikely that if the operation occurred that one could actually know that Baghdadi whimpered and cried in a tunnel and that he actually blew himself up, as opposed to say perhaps someone else did the act of blowing those in the tunnel up. It is difficult to state unequvically that he did the whimpering and the blowing up of himself. These are small details but perhaps items that were just best to leave out of the narrative, as they diminish rather than enhance credibility. (yes, there exists technology that would make the knowing, or at least suspecting with a high degree of certainty, the facts of what occurred in the tunnel possible but this is still not relevant to the story).

The operation was reportedly conducted by Delta. These guys are not the ball bouncing amateur SEALS. It is highly unlikely there will ever be an interview, book or movie about this created with the cooperation of any SFOD-D team member. That is not how these guys operate.

It is possible if the reports are correct and the 75th Ranger Regiment provided cordon security for the operation, that some enterprising reporter might track down enough current members of the Ranger regiment and confirm or deny that such an operation occurred on the specified date. This will take time, those youngsters will not talk whilst they are still in the regiment if they hope to remain there.

It is likely this all occurred. It is likely the US suspected with a high degree of fidelity that Baghdadi was there and we are likely pretty confident he could not have escaped the cordon. It is logical to assume that he died.

It is just odd. If the event occurred and if the US government wanted to hold this out as a win why not exploit the site after the operation -of course, after the guys that conducted the event were extracted. Like we used to say when I was an OC/T, “pictures and video or it did not happen.” Why not allow and information operations and a combat camera crew a few moments on the site to document things after it was over? Why rush to dispose of Baghdadi in the ocean so soon after he died? More importantly, why even make a big deal of this at all. If you killed him, great, why talk about it?

I spent two rotations in the middle-east on a team that every evening geared up and departed our little base to hunt folks on a target list. Every night, as soon as it was dark until the early morning we were out raiding houses, blowing holes in walls, kicking in doors and detaining or killing big and small targets. (I was just a geek with some skills in geolocating, validating the target and exploiting some of the stuff left behind).

The thing about the guys on all these target lists, none of them are the villains from a James Bond movie. They are not super-geniuses, hiding out in lairs with extensive and technologically advanced defenses. They are not world-changing philosophers or thinkers that will change the nature of the world with their ideas. These are all just regular guys, many of them with good leadership skills, but regular guys that adhere to an ideology that is different than our own. It is like whack-a-mole, detain or kill one and another pops us. You simply cannot shift the center of gravity of an ideological fight by whacking a few moles.

Baghdadi was just a bigger, fatter mole. He was the leader of a group that did bad things and for that he deserved punishment. However, killing him will not change the world. He deserved to die, kill him and move on, making him out to be a supervillain, hero or a martyr simply inspires others to someday be him.

The More Things Change….

It is my sad duty to report that all is not well with the US Army Signal Corps.

I retired from active duty in the US Army as a field grade Signal Officer after 33 years of service last April. I took a position as a project manager at Augusta University and then a contract position with the Cyber Center of Excellence doing lessons and best practice analysis. (you can read a bit about what that experience taught me here). Last August I took a mundane general service position with the Signal School because I had heard things might be changing and there might be hope for the future. I wrote about those hopes here.

My assessment at this point is things are not better, nothing is changing in a positive way and essentially the Signal Corps is mired in the same sort of ineptitude, bureaucracy and petty political in-fighting and personal empire building that I observed across the breadth of my career.

In short:

  • The organization lacks a clearly defined, articulated and disseminated strategic plan and vision.
  • “Leaders” spend much of their time refining and shaping organizational charts – not to build efficiency and effectiveness but to solidify personal empires.
  • Instead of making many new hires of fresh thinking, eager people with unique skills, the School has populated its upper tiers with people that just walked over from other ineffective entities on Fort Gordon. Some of them came with real baggage and in some ways, it is the island of misfit toys.
  • Senior Civilians on Fort Gordon, in general, exert too much control over the future – as a result of efforts at empire building mentioned above. Senior officers have always been and continue to be either blind to this or afraid to rock the boat.
  • The NCO Corps in the Signal Corps is, at the senior levels, perhaps the worst in the Army. Everyone that wants to become a Sergent Major becomes a Mason and that club exerts undue influence in how the NCOs act and perform and where their loyalty resides. (this became painfully apparent to me a few years ago when I conducted a 15-6 on allegations against a BN CSM and found an entire platoon of Sergeants Major willing to lie for him despite proof contrary to their statements I uncovered later on)
  • Too many Colonels with no other place to go and no real prospect of decent employment after the Army migrate and roost at Fort Gordon, occupying positions that could make a difference, if only…
  • The union at Fort Gordon exerts entirely too much influence on operations. Supervisors are afraid to supervise for fear of a complaint.
  • Too many ordinary civilian GS employees that perhaps could make a difference have simply given up. They come in each morning, put their heads down, do mundane tasks and go home.
  • The Signal Corps was perhaps the originator of the insane concept of the “top 5” or whatever number you want to designate. The notion that you have to have a senior civilian, warrant officer, NCO and other spuriously designated folks to make a “command team” is ridiculous but it is alive and well at the Signal School. This in effect “excuses” every little GO that cycles through there from making hard decisions.
  • Overall the Signal School is like 11 men on a football field, all running around, some trying to secure little plots of land for themselves, others hoping they just get to stay on the field and get paid a little longer and others dancing in the endzone to be seen – yet the ball sits at the 20 and never moves forward.

A friend of mine laughs at me often when I make statements akin to those above saying “man, Barry, you say some stuff”. He is not disagreeing with me, he is stating in his own way that people do not state the truth about the state of the Signal Corps in the way that I do. I realize that making such raw statements sets me up as a straw-man, my assertions are easy to dismiss as rantings. I might even agree, if I were disgruntle or felt slighted in some way but I do not. It took me years to arrive at the conclusions above, years of observing a Signal Corps that was divorced from the real needs of the warfighter. I came back to be a GS employee because I heard there was hope. I am not disgruntle. I am disappointed and perhaps a little angry that such ineptitude has gone unchecked for so long.

It is said often that one should not raise a problem without presenting a solution. I have often found that to be a lazy way for bosses to tell subordinates not to complain. However, there are solutions to all of this. Some big and some small, some painful and radical and some mundane and easy. It is not the point of this post to articulate those. I have rallied for many of those points numerous times in the past to no avail. In my current position I advocate for some of the smallest of fixes – yet nothing changes. If someone with power reads this, does not get personally offended and dismiss it and wants to see real change, contact me, I will join your team and help.

Barring that…

I will soon transition out of my GS position and focus solely other pursuits that interest me. I have done my best during my time in uniform, as a contractor and as a civilian employee to effect change or at least find a team with a leader that wanted to really move the ball. Life is too short, there are too many other interesting things to do.

I have taken numerous oaths over the years, and take the idea of doing one’s duty seriously – I have, yet nothing has changed.

The New and Improved US Army Signal Corps

I have been associated with the US Army Signal Corps since 1985, yes sir, that is over 33 years.  For the majority of that time, I have been disappointed with the leadership, direction and culture of the branch.  I tried at various times to divorce myself from the branch, once when offered a menu of options I choose to accept a cash payment in lieu of a transfer and I regretted that decision often.  My views, more or less have always been consistent with the observations I made recently in a post called “Three questions that defined the US Army Signal Corps“. It has been my considered opinion that the branch produced some of the worst officers in the Army.   In my estimation, we have been led over the years by generals that simply did not get it.   The branch, historically, has been burdened by an entrenched bureaucracy at Fort Gordon that was generally out of touch with what the warfighter really needed and often incapable of innovative thought.

I recently discussed my observations out at the National Training Center (NTC) and my assessment is that the Signal Corps continues to fail to provide the types of mobile, agile, secure systems the warfighter wants and needs.  Worse, tactical skills and acumen among Signal Soldiers are, in my considered opinion, at their lowest point in the 33+ years I have been around.  However, upon returning from the desert I saw a reason to hope for a better future.

I contend and will continue to assert, that it was wasteful and stupid to create the Cyber branch.  The roles and functions of that branch are not unique or different enough from what the Signal and Military Intelligence branches were capable of doing.  Creating a new branch just added waste, bureaucracy and desynchronization.  However, it is a fiat accompli, it is done.  With this change, I think the Signal Corps has the opportunity to divorce itself from the computer geek image and culture and become relevant teammates, partners and supporters of the warfighter.

The contract I was working came up for renewal last Friday.  I was offered the opportunity to stay on with the new company, with a significant raise.  However, something interesting happened last Thursday.  I received the offer letter from the new company but I also received an offer for a GS position with the Signal School.  The GS position was for much less money, it is not the ideal role and I probably will not have much of a voice unless I find a way to work myself out of the dungeon.  The thing is, I sense something new is going on in the Office of the Chief of Signal and the Signal School.  I wanted to be part of that.

The contract position was with Capabilities Development Directorate (CDID).  That organization is filled with old bird Colonels that should retire, old GS employees that have been on the job too long (most that have been promoted far beyond their capabilities).  CDID is a dead, old, slow, cumbersome beast that has produced bad doctrine and poor materiel solutions.  The money was nice but CDID, as it stands, is the past, a boat anchor!

Fortunately, the future looks good.   Pieces and parts of what is now CDID will soon have to vet their ideas and products through the Signal Branch, instead of developing doctrine and solutions in a vacuum of old tired heads.

Training is moving out from behind computer monitors into the field.  Soldiers are being trained, for the first time in a long time to be warrior technicians instead of geeks.  Additionally, the model of training is giving way to education, a point me and others have screamed for over the years.   If you educate a young man in the fundamentals he can, over a career, master many skills as opposed to trying to train him in a short period on things that quickly become irrelevant.  These are good changes.

I cannot say with certainty if these changes will hold. It is impossible to know if the vanguard of old heads occupying desks and cubicles will coalesce to inject stupid into this progress.  I also cannot know if I myself will be around as a GS employee long enough to see any of this come to fruition.  As I said, my current role is certainly not intellectually compelling.   However, I do, for the first time in 33 years have great hope for the Signal Corps and I am very happy that at this point in my life and career I have the opportunity to be part of the change.

Signal Corps Soldier