Tag Archives: Iran

Ten air forces meet in Bahrain to do what?

Front page Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News today: The largest air exercise since 1988, involving 10 nations — Bahrain, the United States, plus Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan?

Is there so much surplus military money to throw around that now that the Iraq war is over, these large exercises are coming back with a vengeance?  Or is there some desire to send messages to countries like Iran that everyone’s ready?

And where’s Iraq in this?  Some Arab spring, eh?

[Note: Updated April 9, 2012:  The exercise is called “Initial Link.”]

Gulf Daily News frontpage, Sunday, April 8, 2012.


New Radar in the United Arab Emirates Watches Iran

Another sign of the times regarding preparing for war with Iran:  Last week, the Air Force installed a new long-range air surveillance radar in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the 380th Air Wing.

Of course the press release on the defending airmen of the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron from the Ohio National Guard makes no mention of Iran or the UAE.  The radar is being deployed to the “Arabian Gulf” to an unnamed country.

“Our job is to constantly watch the skies,” said Lt. Col. Steven A. Breitfelder, 727th EACS commander, deployed from Blue Ash Air National Guard Station, Ohio.  “Our operators defend the Arabian Gulf and its surrounding countries by monitoring the area for enemy aircraft.”

The 380th Wing is deployed at the hyper-modern Al Dhafra Airbase, located approximately 20 miles south of Abu Dhabi and operated by the United Arab Emirates Air Force.

According to the 380th Wing’s official fact sheet, the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing was reactivated on January 25, 2002, but Global Hawk UAVs and other U.S. aircraft started operating from Al Dhafra almost immediately after 9/11.  The 380th’s mission is to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and aerial refueling, the official fact sheet says, and currently the wing is comprised of five groups and 18 squadrons.  The Open Source GEOINT blog has in incomparable layout and description of the base, just in case you wondered whether there is any real secret involved here.

Al Dhafra air base has been almost continuously occupied by the United States since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, some secret.  The Air Force says the defenders have “another arrow in their quiver,” a freudian slip no doubt.  I’m sure Iran sees it as an arrow.

Iran: A Closer Look at Internal Look

The New York Times scoop on the recently concluded “Internal Look” military exercise involving war with Iran seems another alarm bell signaling imminent war, while also at the same time constituting an intentional leak to communicate caution both to Israel and the administration.  According to The Times, the exercise, which included an Israeli first strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, escalated to a regional war between Iran and the United States.

No one needs a sophisticated exercise to come to this conclusion, so the real questions are: Why the leak?  What was Internal Look really trying to practice?  And most important, what did The New York Times miss in its reporting?

Some background: Internal Look is a biennial (held every other year), unilateral Central Command (USCENTCOM) battle staff exercise.  Unilateral meaning it is a U.S. exercise; battle staff exercise meaning it is a computer assisted command post exercise to train headquarters and components staffs in doctrine and procedures pertaining to a major Middle East war.

Over the years, Internal Look has been CENTCOM’s number one training priority and its primary mission rehearsal for theater level conflicts.

From Internal Look 90 (1990) through 02, the exercise focused almost exclusively on Iraq.  Internal Look 90 was the first exercise to supplant a Cold War scenario involving a Soviet invasion of Iran scenario.  In December 1989, the JCS authorized CENTCOM to shift the geographic focus of the upcoming game from defense of Iran to defense of Saudi Arabia.

Then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz was working on the Defense Department’s 1992-1997 Defense Planning Guidance, a document that made the “central objective” for U.S. regional planning the prevention of a hostile power from gaining control over oil supplies or shipment routes.  The final document, dated 24 January 1990, stated:

“The Secretary has increased the relative priority of Southwest Asia by making explicit that the region ranks above South America and Africa in terms of global wartime priorities and by outlining an initial theater strategy.”

Internal Look 90 thus began as an exercise to test the military’s ability to respond to an incursion by Orange Forces from the north down through Iraq to seize control of Saudi oil fields. Given that Saudi Arabia, unlike Europe had no pre-positioned war stocks, no road network, and no water, logistics planning ended up being the major preoccupation.  The exercise commenced on July 9th, and before it was over on August 4th, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  Though many officers at CENTCOM’s Florida headquarters and at Ft. Bragg, North Caroline could not even pronounce the names of the towns in Saudi Arabia and were still scratching their heads over the problems identified in moving the forces to the area, they never even had the opportunity to remove the maps of Iraq and Saudi Arabia from their map boards when the invasion occurred.

Urban legend has it that Internal Look 90 thus presaged an Iraqi invasion – it did not – but there is no question that it ushered in the Iraq era, or more centrally, the oil era, which is to say, that protection of Middle East oil assets and flows became the priority U.S. military focus in the 1990’s as each subsequent exercise honed the defense of Saudi Arabia and the oil routes scenario.

By the time Internal Look 03 was held in December 2002, the focus was unambiguously a practice implementation of OPLAN 1003V, the war plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Internal Look provided the venue for the Air Force, Marine, Navy, and special operations commands to each examine their plans.   The major outcome of the exercise was the success of the Army commander to convince General Tommy Franks to provide him a minimum of forces to execute what was called the “running start option” for an Iraq war.  The attack would focus on Baghdad command and control as the center of gravity; a simultaneous and synchronized ground attack from multiple directions aimed at isolating the regime within Baghdad and ultimately at striking sites in the city.   The official history talks of a “rolling transition to stability operations and support operations” as ground forces advanced on Baghdad.  The U.S. would be welcome as liberators and the rest would be history.

After 9/11, most high-level CENTCOM exercises, including Internal Look, morphed to operational tasks associated with ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war on terrorism (GWOT).  Mission rehearsal exercises for each new deployment, and each revision of strategy, were called the United Endeavor series. Desert Sailor became the mission rehearsal for the Proliferation Security Initiative Maritime Intercept Operations (PSI-MIO).

All along, CENTCOM commanders pushed for refocusing the exercises for potential future operations, but the reality was that the requirements of real war and even the operational tempo of the staff inhibited such a shift in planning or development.  A new exercise, Internal Advance, was added to focus on lesser contingencies (so-called “tier II” scenarios).

Joint Chiefs of Staff Powerpoint slide from 2011 showing major mission rehearsal exercises and large scale exercises worldwide of the various combatant commands.

The last Internal Look exercise of this series (Internal Look 09) replicated a humanitarian assistance and disaster response scenario; in other words, for all of the grinding of teeth about the Bush administration’s sneaky plans for war with Iran and October surprises, Iran didn’t become the focus until the Obama administration.

So that’s it?  The staff’s time is now freed up to focus on a new “tier I” major war and Iran’s it?  This is the way thing work on the inside; it isn’t that anyone is particularly rooting for a war; it isn’t as if the order has come down (as it did with Bush in 2002) to prepare for an offensive war.  But it is the case that Iran is now the focus of planning and that precipitates changes and revisions and scenarios and deployments all of which build up a greater likelihood of war.  It seems to me that The Times got the story of the war game but missed the story of the war, how the dynamics of an idle planning staff steers the United States ever so slightly in a certain direction.

It’s Official: CENTCOM has started preparing for war with Iran

The U.S. military command responsible for the Middle East is augmenting its Iran war-planning and intelligence analysis staff at a time when navy minesweepers are going to the Persian Gulf and there is an increase in other naval defenses.  The U.S. has also quietly deployed Patriot missile batteries to the Gulf for possible conflict with Iran.

So while all eyes in this stand-off might be focused on Iran’s nuclear pursuits and Iranian actions, there are American defensive measures as well, some open and some not so open, that also provide stimuli.  Each move and counter-move can intrinsically escalate tensions; so much so that that the nation’s top military officer is speaking openly about Iranian misjudgments of either American intentions or the purpose of American defensive preparations.

In an interview with Charlie Rose last week, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Iran could suffer the consequences of misjudgment.  “There are some things that we know they will respond to,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey was mostly warning that Iraq “could get it wrong and suffer the consequences,” as he said, describing U.S. (and Israeli) will to act if it defies the international community.  But rationality is obviously on Dempsey’s mind.

I’ve been writing for at least five years about U.S. war preparations for Iran, and in 2006, I wrote that “on the surface, Iran controls the two basic triggers that could set off U.S. military action.”  Those then were acquisition of nuclear capability in defiance of the international community and lashing out militarily at the United States or its allies, or closing the Strait of Hormuz to international oil traffic.  Not much has changed in five years and it’s always useful to remind ourselves that Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear capability has been imminent for too long to qualify any longer as imminent.

But five years ago, the United States was overwhelmed by a war in Iraq and most of the writing about an Iran war focused on the Bush administration and its irrationality.  Five years later, Bush is gone and Iraq is no longer a resource-sucking military albatross for the United States.

Does that mean then that war is more likely today – this week, this month, in the next six months – than before?  Well one thing is clear: Iran still holds most of the cards.

So when I hear that CENTCOM’s Joint Intelligence Center has stood up an Iran Integrative Assessments Team, and that the planning staff in Florida is redoubling efforts to assess Iranian strategy and military capabilities, I’ve got to ask myself if there’s something I’m missing, something that’s going on behind the scenes that makes this time anything other than contingency planning as usual.

Though both the United States and Israel have the ability, with conventional, nuclear, or cyber weapons to mount a tactical surprise attack upon Iran – and that’s why it’s easy for so many to endlessly speculate about attacking that (or any other) country — at least for the United States, there is a certain cycle of preparations, a certain time scale of preparations, that are really necessary.   It even took the United States almost a month to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda after 9/11 and a lot of the reasons had nothing to do with Afghanistan’s geographic isolation or the absence of a plan.  The reality of war was the need to get everything prepared.

Thus the United States would accompany any strike with the mobilization of requisite strike, air and missile defense, naval forces, and even force protection elements to prepare for a counterstrike and protect the U.S.   Some of these moves are taking place, but they sort of still follow a cyclical pattern and next month, those same minesweepers could leave the Persian Gulf,

But when the responsible command CENTCOM starts to work on “conceptualizing, directing and executing long-term research and all-source analytic production on Iranian strategy, calculus and military operational capabilities,” which is what the Defense Intelligence Agency personnel stationed at the Florida headquarters are now doing, it seems more methodical and serious than deployments here and there.  The Integrative Assessments Team, according to DIA papers, is supporting CENTCOM’s “analytic activities on Iran’s strategic calculus, operational art and military resource decision-making” in support of war planning.

The ducks are indeed being prepared, even if they are not being put in order yet.

Deterrence and Iran. Secrecy Gets in the Way

Another example of insane secrecy regarding U.S. military bases in the Middle East: The Air Force has a little promotional news piece about an Army air defense Patriot 2 (PAC-2) unit deployed to … well that exactly the point, deployed to somewhere in “Southwest Asia,” ready to intercept enemy missiles (that would be Iran) and yet it can’t or doesn’t say what base the unit is (or the missiles) are deployed to.

I know some of you will say that’s good, that we shouldn’t tell the enemy where our military forces are, but in this day and age, this generalization is archaic and self-defeating.  If we’re hoping to “deter” Iran from firing missiles at military bases, isn’t the very basis making it clear to Tehran that it has nothing to gain?

Jordan is Eager: But For What?

The U.S. and Jordan will hold their largest military exercise ever in May, according to the state-run news agency Petra.

Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force and commander of the Marine component of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is in Amman this week meeting with Jordanian military officials to prepare the 17 nation exercise.  One of those participants will be Iraq, sending its military outside the country for the first time.

The theme of the exercise, officials say, is guerrilla warfare and “strategic threats.”

As one Arab commentator asks: “So who exactly will be this “Eager Lion” target?

“Strategic threats”?  “Guerrilla warfare?”

The first Eager Lion exercise in this series – Eager Lion 11/Infinite Moonlight 11.2 – was held last year from June 11-30, and involved 14 other countries spread operating at six locations inside Jordan.  This exercise also focused, according to CENTCOM, on “irregular warfare, special operations and counterinsurgency.”

But behind the scenes, the Army’s 20th Support Command from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland participated.  The official name of the 20th is Support Command (CBRNE) for chemical biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosives.  The unit was activated in 2004 to consolidate Army WMD response and search capabilities, and in Eager Lion last year, it held biological warfare identification exercises and radiological and nuclear response and civil defense training.

Military exercises happen all the time – check out my list of exercises – and some might just dismiss all of them and this one as well as routine, opportunities for militaries to get together, familiarize themselves with each other, practice basic skills.  But every exercise of this size also includes so-called “strategic” purpose, a scenario that is generally made up to guide decision-making.  Some country is made up – say Irandia, fighting with another made up country, say Israelandia – and they fight a nuclear war, or some external event in say a place like Syria spreads to Jordan.

Just because Iran, Israel, and Syria are in the news right now, and just because WMD are being bandied about doesn’t necessarily mean that this exercise is intended to mimic an actual real world scenario.  After all, if the focus of this year’s exercise is also counter insurgency, one has got to mention the Palestinian population of Jordan or even the Jordanian people themselves, who might just spring into action someday.  What “skills” do you think the U.S. is sharing?

The reality is that despite all of these questions, Eager Lion is also just an exercise, scheduled each year in the late spring/early summer, one that takes a year to prepare, to schedule the units to participate, to agree on all of the rules and complete all of the paperwork, etc., etc.  In some way, however, it is also the making of foreign policies and the subtle steering of the future.

It once was the case, during the days of Saddam that these U.S.-Jordanian exercises were highly secret, proving cover for preparations for U.S. forces to deploy to Jordan in order to fight Iraq (which they did in 2003).  Saddam is gone now, but the neighborhood is ever more complicated.  I wonder what they are cover for now?

Three Stooges of the Apocalypse?

Here’s something that passes for “news” that I submit even though it is repeated almost daily we could have read it any day in the last decade: Cyber networks are insecure, the Russians – Chinese, French, Israelis, Iranians – are coming, and, here’s the punch line, we have to spend more!

First of all, let me say that I’m not questioning the “threat.”  When DNI James Clapper says, as he did in his January 31 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that China and Russia and even an increasingly aggressive Iran are improving their cyber capabilities and increasingly penetrating U.S. networks, I believe the intelligence.

“Iran’s intelligence operations against the United States, including cyber capabilities, have dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity,” Clappers said.

But point one, and Clapper said it, this is spying.   And as spying, we should remind ourselves that the United States has the most extensive – and I would say most capable – cyber intelligence capability in the world; and the U.S. is itself “increasingly aggressive” in its efforts to penetrate, manipulate, and even figure out how to electronically disable foreign networks.

Hence the creation of the U.S. Cyber Command lodged at the NSA in 2009.  Hence a provision of the fiscal 2012 national defense authorization act authorizes the military to conduct offensive cyberspace operations subject to the same provisions of the law of armed conflict.  That would be the principles of military necessity, proportionality, and discrimination.

So not only do we live in a glass house, but if we want to continue to call it war, that is, an act of aggression justifying military response, war is what we’ll get.

If it is intelligence operations, on the other hand, and is thus a tacitly recognized international activity with its own conventions, then we should stop acting both surprised and indignant.

Which brings us to the mega-business of cyber security, whether it is the home purveyors of personal computer firewalls and malware detection and removal; or the multi-billion dollar federal efforts (a veritable hidden Platinum Valley for the contractors) to achieve what appears to be the impossible: securing American networks.

Anyone hear the anthem of the war on drugs or airport security playing in the background?  It is a never-ending, never enough gift that keeps on giving.  Failure to produce the result will be rewarded: It always is.

There are a number of inter-locking reasons why the cyber threat has been very very good to defense industry and the threat mongers:

– Everything is moving to public networks whether on land or in the cloud, from the mundane of billing to drone killings and even nuclear weapons command and control.  Networked data grows at rates that can’t even be quantified.  Net vulnerabilities – here I mean the number remaining after a deduction taking into consideration growth — may or may not be increasing.  No one seems to know and no one seems to have an incentive to counsel calm.

– There is a double dis-incentive to actually locking down cyber communications: intelligence and commerce.  On the intelligence side, secure networks impede spying, destroyed networks eliminate sources of information.  Hence the tensions that do exist in the classified world, for instance, between the existences of thousands of radical Islamic websites which the intelligence agencies monitor but logic might tell you should just be destroyed.  It is a perpetual conundrum.  Which leaves commerce, not just the business of supporting the pro-longed war against terrorism, but also the riches available in the private sector’s protection; the cyber threat is a Godsend.

At what point does all of this morph into an act of war?  At what point will we wake up some morning to the news that some digital Gary Francis Powers has been shot down inside Russia?

If my answer is “soon,” then I’m just falling for the same B.S. and have to remind myself that this same question was being asked a decade or longer ago.  And just like the WMD “threat,” I need to remind myself that there is a subtle devil’s alliance between those who truly believe that the threat is out there and hostile and demands (military) response and those who equally build up the threat in their efforts to agitate for non-military solutions but just end up inadvertently affirming the existence and importance of the threat, thus creating an environment that seems to affirm military action.

So there might be some cyber incident soon, but given that there are all sorts of incidents – penetrations, spies getting caught, screw-ups — all the time, I guess I’ll say, well that’s what happens when you play with fire; big deal.

What I can’t say is that this will all sort itself out.  There are subtle short-term developments afoot and long term implications that demand greater brain power and less throwing of money.  For those who don’t follow this too closely, we’ve seen just in the past two weeks bold announcements by the Secretary of Defense that cyber threats are his main worry and that security won’t be short-changed in budget reductions; arguments over whether all of this should be a Pentagon or Department of Homeland Security responsibility; the FBI calling for more control; a scuffle over whether the government should take control of protection of private networks such as the electrical grid.  Meanwhile, NASA’s network isn’t secure, its IG says; DARPA will provide increased funding for offensive cyber warfare research.

“In the not too distant future we anticipate that the cyber threat will pose the number one threat to our country,” FBI director Robert Mueller told delegates at the RSA 2012 conference in San Francisco last week.  “We need to take lessons learned from terrorism and apply them to cybercrime.”

Some wag observed long ago that the information security schnorers reminded them of the three stooges 1936 “Ants in the Pantry” episode.  There, employees of the Lightning Exterminating Co., they were directed to drum up business.  They did nicely, releasing ants and mice and snakes at a fancy party and then arriving to save the day.  They were so entertaining and effective, they ended up being invited to the Fox Hunt!

So beware the warnings of those who profit from the threat.  More important though, wording is really essential to get right, and my hats off to Clapper for calling it spying, but then he’s the Director of National Intelligence and that’s his portfolio.  So I couldn’t help notice that Leon Panetta minces no words in calling it attacks:  “We are literally getting hundreds or thousands of attacks every day that try to exploit information in various [U.S.] agencies or departments,” he told an audience at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville.

Does it make a difference which it is?  Hell yes, and the promiscuous wordings and flabby rhetoric of top government officials aren’t helping.  When the DNI yells spying, the Secretary of Defense yells attack, the FBI head yells crime, and the Department of Homeland Security yells help, the debate is more than just whether Certs is a breath mint or a candy mint.  This is the true sign of an ongoing and unresolved government food fight.

Meanwhile, while the heads of intelligence and defense are braying loudly about cyber security, the Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, while speaking at a February 24 conference, announced that security was one of the Obama Administration’s top five priorities!  Top five?  What the hell could the other four be?