Tag Archives: middle-east

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.


Are the Marines Landing on the Beach of a new Cold War?

Nothing quite says the start of a new war than Marines hitting the beach, so the news this week that the first of 2,500 Marines hit the beach in northwest Australia put some substance to the Obama administration’s declaration of a “pivot” to Asia.

The shift – refocusing U.S. foreign and military policy away from its fixation on the Middle East – is partly a public relations ploy, partly “strategic,” but there is also a cynical element: The national security establishment and big spenders yearn for an old school problem to tackle, one where classic geopolitics rule and Red is Red.  The only problem – the only problem? – is that declaring China the next enemy more likely makes it so.  And that’s idiotic.

The good news here is that after declaring its eternal commitment to Afghanistan and the terror war, the pivot can and should be read as the true desire on the part of the establishment to extricate the United States from the Middle East quagmire.  I’m not saying that the U.S. will give up on fighting terrorism or abandon Israel; the United States has declared everything from al Qaeda to the Arctic strategic and seems to be unable to have it any other way.  But the last big declaration of national military strategy — that everything was being dropped to focus singularly on counter-insurgency (COIN) and irregular warfare – seems to be in the process of being supplanted.  Not only didn’t COIN sit well with many traditionalists, but it also didn’t provide enough script to engage the entire cast.  After all, how many ships and bombers are needed to muck about in the jungle?

So, the United States and Australia are beefing up their cooperation under the guise of joint exercises, and there’s even talk of stationing ships or submarines down under.  The Australian government assures its public that the U.S. won’t have permanent bases in the country, as if somehow that’s the issue.

Meanwhile, Guam is being stuffed with more air, naval, and Marine forces; and Japan is fully wired into the anti-North Korea-cum-China missile defense shield.  Military cooperation with Indonesia is on the rise; the Singapore Defense Minister is in Washington this week; a submarine and tender are publicly in port in Malaysia.  Other Asian nations are being enlisted in the nascent efforts to “contain” China.

There’s a scene is George Bush the elder’s book with Brent Scowcroft – A World Transformed – where the two end their chapter on Desert Storm, the first war with Iraq under Saddam Hussein in 1990-1991: after only four days of ground combat, the Republican Guards have been routed, a ceasefire has been agreed to at Safwan, the coalition has triumphed.  The next chapter gets back to the situation in a crumbling Soviet Union, and it is abundantly clear that the two couldn’t wait to get off their Middle East detour and get back to the men’s work that they were so familiar with.

“The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay,” President Obama declared last November when he visited Australia.  It is a declaration that has a feel of impatience for a president who came to office promising to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and so many other things that he hasn’t been able to maneuver.

Here to stay is so much more homey and stable, and in the pivot to Asia – to China – Obama can collect together many happy allies:  In Washington, the Congress, think tanks, lobbyists, and opinion-shapers are all game.  The new cyber warriors can hardly wait to get to their keyboards.  In the U.S. military, there is a strong Pacific legacy and institutional bloc, even after 10 plus years of war they are far more powerful than the junior varsity at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the rather unglamorous command headquarters stuck in Florida and under lock-down in Qatar.  Success at pivoting takes the heat off of the white hot poker of Iran.  It even disses those arrogant collective annoying do-gooders in Europe, making it clear that America is a global power while they are, as Rumsfeld once said, just old.  And in the public mind, though I can’t prove it, China – even if it might be confusing why we would pick a fight or militarize our relationship with them – represents a more dignified and clear-cut peer competitor.  The Middle East in contrast is so messy and unresolved.

One can write, almost without thinking twice, the words that the Asian-Pacific region offers greater threats and opportunities to American security (and economic) interests than do Iraq or Afghanistan.  Serious thinkers and armchair strategists are writing variations of this more and more frequently.  China’s nukes, China’s economy, China’s spreading influence beyond Asia; it’s all there the ingredients for a good-ole Cold War.

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.

Cash! Bonuses! for Speaking Dhivehi

Who exactly is spying on who, and for what?

The latest Wikileaks peak into STRATFOR Emails is being described as a unique insight into some shadow CIA, while meanwhile some are worried that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring social media and conducting surveillance of OWS activists.  There is a little bit of truth in both stories, but it is such small potatoes.

The big daddy of spying is NSA’s eavesdropping apparatus, and it’s barely able to keep up.  It can’t process and translate all of the material it vacuums up from radio and telephone communications, cell phones, email, texts, chats, faxes, and websites belonging to the bad guys.  And the rest of the intelligence community is practically deaf in one ear unable to understand the languages of those who are considered the enemy — let alone the languages of our “friends.”

Into the breach marches an army of private contractors, who do a brisk business and are engaged in a death struggle with each other to find people who can speak obscure languages AND at the same time qualify for Top Secret clearances.

Arabic and the languages of Afghanistan and Pakistan (Dari, Pashtu, Urdu) are the priorities, but Farsi speakers, the language mostly of Iran, are in high demand these days.  As are African languages, because, well, we have a new African Command that is creating its own empire.

I compiled a list of the languages in demand right now, the companies who are looking for Top Secret cleared applicants, and some of the locations where the spying and analysis is done.

Hebrew anyone?  Only one country speaks that language.  Dhivehi?  That’s the language of the Maldives.  (updated 3 March 2012)

Language Company Location
Amharic STG Overseas
Arabic (Gulf, Egyptian, Iraqi, Levantine, Libyan, Moroccan/Tunisian, MSA, and Yemeni dialects) Acclaim Technical Services, AllWorld Language Consultants, Archimedes Global, CACI, Camber, Chenega; Ed Wallach Search Group, General Dynamics Information Technology, iNTELLITREX, L-3, LG-TEK, ManTech, Navanti Group, Northrop Grumman, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), ProSol Associates, Quick Services LLC,  Raytheon, SAIC, STG, TASC, VOR Technology Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Ft. Belvoir, VA; Herndon VA; McLean VA; Quantico VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Germany (AFRICOM); RAF Molesworth UK
Armenian Pluribus International
Azeri STG Overseas
Baluchi Boeing, ProSol Associates, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Bosnian Ed Wallach Search Group
Chinese AllWorld Language Consultants, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, LG-TEK, ManTech, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), Pluribus International, STG Monterey CA; Hawaii; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Wright-Patterson AFB OH; Herndon VA; Overseas
Dari AllWorld Language Consultants, Boeing, Ed Wallach Search Group, ManTech, Navanti Group, Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, SAIC, STG, TASC Ft. Meade MD; Ft. Belvoir VA; Herndon VA; Quantico VA; Overseas
Dhivehi Acclaim Technical Services Northern VA
Farsi (Persian) Acclaim Technical Services, AllWorld Language Consultants, Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI, Chenega, Epsilon, Inc., General Dynamics Information Technology, Global Linguist Solutions, iNTELLITREX, L-3, ManTech, LG-TEK, Navanti Group, Northrop-Grumman; PARSONS/McMunn Associates, Inc. (MAI), Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, Quick Services LLC, SAIC, Six3 Intelligence Solutions, STG, TASC Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD;  Ft. Hood TX; San Antonio TX; Ft. Belvoir VA; Herndon VA; McLean VA; Quantico, VA; Reston VA; Overseas
French Archimedes Global, Chenega; CSC, General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3, ManTech, Pluribus International, Quick Services LLC, Raytheon Herndon VA; Djibouti; Germany (AFRICOM); RAF Molesworth UK
Georgian KEYW, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Haitian-Creole Boeing, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Hausa AllWorld Language Consultants; Archimedes Global Germany (AFRICOM)
Hebrew AllWorld Language Consultants, CACI, Pluribus International, Professional Solutions Ft. Meade MD; Overseas
Hindi ProSol Associates, SAIC, TASC Ft. Meade MD; McLean VA
Hungarian ProSol Associates
Igbo AllWorld Language Consultants
Indonesian (Bahasa Melayu) Chenega; Dynamics Information, Technology, ManTech, ProSol Associates Herndon VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Japanese AllWorld Language Consultants
Kazakh Boeing, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Korean AllWorld Language Consultants, General Dynamics, L-3, ManTech, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, SAIC, STG Monterey CA; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Herndon VA; Reston VA; Northern VA; Overseas
Kurdish Acclaim Technical Services, General Dynamics, ManTech, Pluribus International, STG Ft. Hood TX; Herndon VA; Overseas
Malay ProSol Associates
Pashto Acclaim Technical Services;  AllWorld Language Consultants, Camber, General Dynamics Information Technology, iNTELLITREX, L-3, LG-TEK, ManTech, Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, SAIC, STG, TASC MacDill AFB FL; Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Herndon VA; McLean VA; Northern VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Polish ProSol Associates
Portuguese Archimedes Global, Pluribus International,TASC Ft. Meade MD; Germany
Punjabi (Western) Pluribus International, STG
Russian Acclaim Technical Services, AllWorld Language Consultants, General Dynamics Information Technology, ManTech, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), Pluribus International, STG Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Herndon VA; Northern VA; Overseas
Somali Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI, Camber, Chenega, Ed Wallach Search Group, iNTELLITREX, KEYW, L-3, Linc Government Services, Navanti Group, STG, TASC Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Ft. Belvoir VA; McLean VA; Djibouti; Overseas
Spanish Acclaim Technical Services; Boeing, CACI; L-3,ManTech, Pluribus International, SAIC, TASC Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; El Paso, TX; Lackland AFB TX; Herndon VA; Northern VA
Swahili Archimedes Global, CACI, Chenega; General Dynamics Information Technology, iNTELLITREX Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Germany (AFRICOM); Kenya
Tajik AllWorld Language Consultants, Pluribus International, Quick Services LLC Herndon VA
Turkish AllWorld Language Consultants, Ed Wallach Search Group, ManTech, STG Herndon VA; Overseas
Uighur/Uyghur General Dynamics Information Technology, SAIC Reston VA
Ukranian AllWorld Language Consultants
Urdu Acclaim Technical Services; AllWorld Language Consultants, Ed Wallach Search Group, General Dynamics Information Technology, LG-TEK, ManTech, Navanti Group, Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, Quick Services LLC, STG, TASC Monterey CA; Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Stewart GA; Ft. Meade MD; Ft. Belvoir VA; Herndon VA; Northern VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Overseas
Uzbek General Dynamics Information Technology
Waziri ProSol Associates
Yoruba AllWorld Language Consultants