Archive for ‘September, 2011’

About SAS “mentoring.”

datePosted on 09:30, September 30th, 2011 by Pablo

When John Key authorized the re-deployment of an SAS company to serve as counter-terrorism advisors to the Afghan Police’s Crisis Response Unit (CRU) in 2009, he was authorizing a mission that differed from the long-range patrol, tracking and infiltration missions that are the mainstay of SAS deployments and which were the basis for its original deployment in that theater from 2001-2005. In doing so he was placing the SAS at the forefront of the urban guerrilla war in and around Kabul (to include Wardak Province) that was part of the Afghan resistance’s two-pronged (urban and rural) irregular war conducted against the foreign occupying force led by the US and NATO under the banner of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). By the time Key authorised the deployment the security situation in Afghanistan had evolved into a civil war involving the Western-backed Karzai regime, the Pakistani-backed Haqqani network, and various Taliban factions based in and outside of Afghanistan (with Pakistan facilitating cross-border cover for those based inside its territory).

The SAS inherited the counter-terrorism advisor mission from the Norwegian special forces, who had advised the CRU from 2007-2009. The CRU has its origins in 2005, so rather than a new unit it is almost seven years old and has had foreign professional military training and advice for nearly five years. In most modern militaries the time taken for specialisation beyond basic training (such as sniping, sapping, intelligence-gathering and counter-terrorist response) varies from 6 to 18 months. That means that the CRU, which has 285 members, is lagging behind when it comes to being able to autonomously respond and fight on its own.

The SAS initially sent a light company’s worth of troops (70) in 2009, but the number has been reduced to 38 in the last year. The job consists of providing training on-base in which counter-terrorist assaults are mounted in various scenarios, using abandoned buildings, vehicles and other simulations that replicate the dense tactical environment in which the CRU must operate. Close quarter clearing and entering, airborne rappelling, hostage rescue and a host of other skills are initially imparted in these exercises. But the mission also includes accompanying the CRU into real situations, which means taking leadership roles in responding to live incidents when the CRU forces prove unable to cope on their own. As Taleban attacks on symbolic and military targets have increased over the last year in concert with the announcement that the US will be withdrawing the bulk of its forces by 2014, with other ISAF members already doing so,  the pace of these “live” responses has accelerated as well. Most of the operations conducted by the SAS/CRU consist of pre-emptive strikes against imminent threats based on intelligence flows provided by Afghan and ISAF forces. A smaller percentage is dedicated to responding to terrorist incidents in progress such as the attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel and British High Commission. The accelerated pace of operations now sees the SAS/CRU deployed in “live” mode 2-3 times a week on average. 

Urban guerrilla warfare has no fixed lines or fronts. In fact, by definition the battle space in a guerrilla war is amorphous and permeable. Thus the counter-terrorism mission is a combat mission within an irregular warfare context. Training and advising in such contexts means involvement in close-quarter small unit kinetic operations, which given the dense (heavily populated and urbanised) environment in which they occurs means that support and leadership roles are indistinguishable to the enemy. Thus the SAS has always had a combat role in this mission.

It is evident that the CRU is not performing up to professional standard, particularly when confronted by a committed and well-prepared enemy. This may be due to a lack of will on member’s part, which in turn may be rooted in the deep divisions extant in Afghan society and in the knowledge that a post-ISAF political settlement that avoids massive bloodshed will have to include the Taliban and the Haqqanis. Under such conditions in may appear foolish to be closely identified with foreign forces working with the Karzai regime. That could sap the desire of some CRU members to engage robustly in the counter-terrorism effort, no matter how eager they may appear to their SAS advisors when back on base. This is compounded by faulty intelligence flows in which individuals or groups with personal vendettas supply misinformation about rivals so that ISAF forces, including the CRU/SAS, launch raids against innocent people. There is already at least one incident in which the SAS has engaged in an operation that resulted in the deaths of innocents based upon faulty intelligence. The manipulation of intelligence by Afghan sources, in other words, raises the probability that the SAS will be involved in the deaths of civilian non-combatants.

The SAS dilemma is compounded by the fact that, given CRU unreliability, the risks to SAS troopers increases every time they deploy with them. It is one thing to deploy with fellow SAS on long-range patrols or in a counter-terrorism situation. They are a tightly knit and cohesive fighting unit playing off the same tactical page. But adding the CRU to the mix brings with it a lack of discipline and resolve, which forces the SAS troops to compensate by leading by example. Doing so exposes them to a degree seldom seen when fighting on their own.

The latest raid that resulted in the second death of an SAS soldier in a month demonstrates the problem. In a pre-emptive raid against suspected bomb-makers (or a family feud, depending on who you believe), the SAS deployed 15 advisors along side 50 CRU troops. This is a ratio of 1 advisor for every 3.1 CRU soldiers. That is remarkably low if the SAS were merely “mentoring” in a support role. The fact that the SAS trooper was killed while climbing a ladder to gain a better vantage point on the compound in which the raid was taking place shows that even such basic tasks, usually assigned to the most expendable soldiers of lower-rank,  are having to be done by SAS troops. This demonstrates a lack of faith in the competence or reliability of the CRU personnel and the need for first-responder proaction on the part of the SAS in such situations.

Given that the Afghan resistance have increased the tempo of their operations in and around Kabul, the likelihood is that the CRU/SAS will be involved in an increasing number of armed incidents. That may force the NZDF to re-increase its complement of SAS back to the original 70 personnel, and raises the question as to whether it will be asked to extend the SAS deployment past its March 2012 withdrawal date. Given the strategic dynamics at play in Afghanistan, that is a sticky question.

It also raises the question as to why Mr. Key has from the day he announced the re-deployment insisted that the SAS are in a non-combat “mentoring” and support role. The NZDF and Minister of Defense have now admitted that combat is part of the mission. Mr. Key continues to deny that it is so. Besides the lack of synchronization of the government PR spin, the question rises as to whether the government has misled the NZ public on the true nature of the mission, or the NZDF deliberately misled the Prime Minister and his cabinet on the matter at the time the request for SAS assistance was made by ISAF (it should be noted that Mr. Key’s agreement to redeploy the SAS was based on his eagerness to curry favor with the US, which may not have seen a trade deal as a reward but which has seen NZ elevated to the status of full US security partner with the signing of the Wellington Declaration of November 2010. This may well mean future involvement in US-led military operations that have little to do with NZ’s national security per se).

All of this makes the government and NZDF attacks on the credibility of Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager, two journalists who exposed the true nature of NZDF missions in Afghanistan and the duplicity surrounding them, all the more contemptible and desperate. It also was very stupid to do so because the conflict environment in which the SAS operates has deteriorated rather than improved since it arrived back in theater, which made the deaths and wounding of its personnel much more likely if not predictable. Once that began to happen (there have been about a half dozen SAS troopers wounded in combat on this mission),  it was only a matter of time before the corporate media began to focus attention on the dubious explanations about the nature of the deployment. With that now happening the house of cards that is Mr. Key’s justification for authorizing it has begun to crumble, and it will not be surprising if senior NZDF heads will roll as a result.

 

A reality TV window on the US.

datePosted on 08:01, September 20th, 2011 by Pablo

Some say that reality TV is a stained-glass window on society. In the US the concept began with the show “Cops,” now in its gadzillionth year. It gave rise to the Survivor and Amazing Race series, singing and dancing shows, celebrity this and that, cooking  disasters of various sorts, adventure and survival programs,  motorcycle and automobile customizers, the antics of sexual deviants, cheaters and lumpenproletiarians of various ethnicities (e.g. “Jersey Shore”), Bridezillas and vapid Housewives from various places, dumb and dumber idiots doing an assortment of Darwin Award misadventures, animal attacks, plus a variety other examinations of the detritus of US life. However, the recent turn in reality programming offers a dark reflection of the economic malaise gripping the country.

In recent months the reality concept has focused on the impact of economic misery, albeit from a tangental angle. The most popular shows, led by those on a channel called “True TV–not reality, but actuality”–are those that cover the flow-on effects of econonic hardship. These are led by several shows about vehicle repossession agents, but also include shows dedicated to pawn shops, gun dealers, auctioneers, hoarders and down on their luck gold prospectors. The television angle is not on the economic condition of the participants but on the behavioural effects produced by the consequences of personal economic misfortune: fights, tears, breakdowns and other human drama. Like watching train wrecks, these shows cater to morbid interest and pervese delight in other’s misfortune, which may say something about the state of US social cohesion. I confess to finding some of those involved strangely fascinating, and there is some dark humor involved, but my overall sense is that these shows are a bit too close to the truth to be entirely easy to watch. 

I am not sure what to make of all this, but it could do conservative US policy makers some good to watch these shows, simply for them to see, should they wish to, the human face of the negative impact of the feral economic policies of the last decade.

NB: I am winding up my tour in the US this week, and other than one mention of the US-Russia game have seen and heard zero in the US media  about the RWC. What I did read is thatWayne Mapp said that the SAS was “sort of” involved in the latest terrorism incident in Kabul. Note to “Dr.” Mapp: that is  like being “sort of” pregnant.

Otherwise, and in spite of the RWC, it will be great to be home.

Willful ignorance in the US

datePosted on 04:47, September 14th, 2011 by Pablo

Ron Paul was booed at the recent Tea Party GOP candidate’s debate when he said that Americans should think about what motivated the 9-11 attacks. Rick Santorum had already said that the US was attacked because the terrorists hated “American exceptionalism” and the freedoms it brings, a comment that brought cheers from the audience. Even admitting that the audience was full of Tea Party adherents, what is disturbing is that this sentiment–that the US was attacked for its freedoms and that the underlying causes of the attack are reducible to that–is generalized throughout the population.

Neither Paul or other thoughtful commentators have justified the attacks (and I am not referring to the Ward Churchill variant of commentary). They have simply sought to open debate on the nature of US actions that could prompt such an act of premeditated violence against the symbols of US power and the innocents caught in them. For that, they have been accused as anti-American traitors and terrorist sympathisers.

The hard truth is that Americans simply do not want to reflect on the impact of US foreign policy in general, and on its role in setting up the conditions in which the 9/11 attacks were carried out. Scholars (most notably Chalmers Johnson) have used the term “blowback” to describe the unintended effect of US neo-imperialism. But this is not acceptable in American political discourse because, in spite of its myriad problems, the narrative being sold is that the US remains the “shining house on the hill” that can do no wrong and whose impact on global affairs is always benign. Thus two wars of occupation are considered to be acts of bringing freedom and democracy to backwards places, even if the majority of citizens in those places openly oppose the presence of US troops. Extrajudicial rendition and enhanced interrogation techniques on “unlawful combatants” and a host of innocents are justified as necessary for freedom to prevail in the Islamic world. There is a hallucinatory aspect to the way in which US foreign policy and international behaviour is construed, and it is disturbing that so many average Americans buy into that construction.

Admittedly, Ron Paul calling for a reflection on what motivated the 9/11 attackers in a presidential candidate’s debate held on September 12 a decade after the attacks shows poor political judgement, for which he will be punished electorally. Equally understandable is that right-wingers in the US would seek to cloak all US actions in the mantle of righteousness. But it is profoundly alarming that even after ten years a majority of Americans appear to believe that the attacks were unprovoked, or at a minimum inspired by some form of jealousy on the part of Islamic evil-doers. It is also alarming that in the present political context no Democrat is going to disabuse the American public of that notion.

It may be hard to swallow, but the US public needs to understand that there is a direct link between US actions abroad and the resentment it breeds. It needs to understand that this resentment is long standing in some parts of the world (I am most familiar with Latin America), and that the desire to strike back is deeply embedded in many places. It needs to take pause and reflect on this cold fact in order to begin to address what the US international role properly should be. Many Americans think that it should act as the global policeman, not only because other states cannot but because this is what politicians and the mainstream press tell them that is the role it should play. But that view is not universally shared overseas, where moral authority, diplomatic leadership and economic exchange is more highly valued than carrying (in Teddy Roosevelt’s terms) a big stick.

Better yet, with its economy hollowed out and its military stretched across the globe fighting to preserve a status quo increasingly under siege, perhaps it would be wise for the US public to drop the blinders and reflect on the fact that it many ways the US is starting to look like the USSR in the 1980s–a military power increasingly left without the economic or political foundation to regulate the international system rather than simply clinging on to a role it once had, and which may never be again (remembering that the difference between a superpower and a great power is that the former intervenes in the international system (often using war as a systems regulator) in order to defend systemic interests, while the latter intervenes in the international system in order to defend national interests). Only by confronting the truth about the nature and impact of its actions abroad will the US be able to begin the process of re-establishing its international reputation, if not status.

That, it seems to me, is the root question that needs to be addressed a decade on from 9/11.

 

 

 

Mooting Mutu

datePosted on 11:09, September 7th, 2011 by Pablo

Since my name was taken in vain in comparison with Margaret Mutu and her recent remarks on immigration, I would like to set the record straight as to why the comparison is false.

Margaret Mutu is a racial polemicist who received her professorship as a PC sinecure from an Auckland University administration concerned about placating key constituent groups. She is a second rate rate academic with a third rate publication record espousing fourth rate post-dependency and post-modern subaltern-focused theories. She publishes in obscure journals, mostly without peer review, and in crony academic volumes. Her books are published by local presses and receive no international mention.

She has nothing to say about the bitter employment relation disputes between the Auckland University management and its academic staff, perhaps because she is rumored to have been bought off by the management as part of that silence. She likes to talk S***t about race relations, and believes that it is impossible for non-whites to be racist. She is not the only one to think this–there are people in my old department who share that belief.

I was an internationally well respected scholar and teacher who was dismissed for sending a rude email (which was unprofessional, to be sure) to an utterly unqualified and hopeless foreign student who as it turns out invented an excuse to avoid an assignment (as happens often at Auckland). During the time I was at Auckland I published two books and over forty peer reviewed articles, chapters and reviews in major international disciplinary journals. During that time and in spite of the fact that I gave away eight years of seniority to take the Auckland job, I never made it past the Senior Lecturer rank. Now I have been blacklisted and am out of academia.

Because I said that the student’s excuse was preying on Western liberal guilt and thus were culturally driven, I was branded a racist. After litigation I was barred from returning to my career in exchange for a small monetary settlement (due to the fact that I could not afford the costs of a court case when the University had spent nearly 1 million NZ dollars keeping me out). Mutu was on the side of those who claimed I was racist even though we have never met and she was aware of my non-compromising and egalitarian atttiude towards students. Her commitment to excellence in education is, to say the least, questionable.

I was fired for jeapordising the university’s foreign student revenue stream. Mutu did no so such thing, as she only annoys white people who will send their students to the 82nd ranked university anyway. After all, where are they going to go? To a NZ university ranked 180th or so? (For the record, I taught three years at a university ranked 27th-32nd in annual rankings after my Auckland dismissal, so the place got worse after I left).

Needless to say, I have no time for Ms. Mutu and her rants. It offends me that she lumps me–an American raised in South America and who has been involved in struggles that she can only pontificate about–with Afrikkaners with attitudes.

But it offends me more that just because she says offensive things, people demand that she be fired. For better or (in this case worse), universities are supposed to be bastions of the offensive, the profane, the unfashionable and even the idiotic, simply because the role of the academe is to foster the clash of ideas and a culture of healthy, if not intense intellectual debate about subjects both esoteric and contemporary. Just because someone’s views are provocative does not mean that they should not be heard, and that is where academia plays a role.

So even if I believe that VC Stuart McCutcheon in an unethical and corrupt bully with a lot of skeletons in his closet that need to be exposed and who has an abiding hatred of intellectuals and union members (since he is neither), I applaud his defense of Ms. Mutu’s remarks. She may be offensive, and indeed quite stupid, but that is her right as an academic. It was at the point of her hire that the mistake was made, but once her position was enshrined, however bogus the rationale, she has a right to use that pulpit for public commentary without fear of employment retribution. She may not be exactly the conscience of society, but her role as a polemicist enlives its discourse. Hence, I believe that she should be retained, however overpaid she may be.

As for me–it is past time to “get a real job.”

 

Justice Gnomes

datePosted on 19:05, September 5th, 2011 by Lew

The New Zealand Police [and Crown Law] appear to be adopting the Underpants Gnome strategy to deal with minor breaches of public order and transgressions against the general authority of the state:

1. Brutally arrest and lay spurious charges for general idiocy or mostly harmless defiance.
2. Weather firestorm of public and civil society outrage.
3. Drop or substantially downgrade charges after months (or years) of tedious ‘review’.
4. Insist that, despite expert opinions to the contrary, their original decision to lay charges — and the excessive means by which the arrests were effected — are perfectly justified.
5. ????
6. Profit!

This pattern holds in three high-profile cases that spring easily to mind: most clearly the “Urewera Terra” raids and subsequent fiasco, about which Pablo has written previously; more recently the case of Arie Smith, documented best by Russell Brown; and the pattern has today been completed by the decision to drop charges against Tiki Taane.

There are certainly other examples, which readers can discuss in comments. An exception to the pattern has been the Crown’s treatment of the Waihopai Three, who are being vexatiously pursued for damages they can’t pay, having been found not guilty by a jury of their peers. Pablo has written about this, also. In stark contrast to the high standard of conduct expected of random individuals stands the lax attitude towards police discipline, with egregious conduct documented or alleged in two out of three of those cases, and in others.

This coming weekend (weather & workload permitting) I’ll be visiting a block of land in Taranaki that the police had also pegged as housing “terrorist training camps” back in 2007. They failed to reach even the lax evidentiary requirements to gain the proper warrants to conduct raids there, but according to contemporaneous news reports they weren’t far off, and had dedicated considerable time, effort and money towards that end. Based on what I know about these particular circumstances, they would have roused a few kaumātua at Parihaka and its surrounds; some possum trappers, and depending on the day, perhaps a hunter or two (most likely Pākehā), since the most dangerous people in there are the folks who go in of a weekend with quad bikes and boxes of ammo and bottles of spirits to blaze mobs of goats, and leave them on the flats to rot as pig bait. Policing of this sort is a fool’s errand, and after nearly four years we have no reason to believe that those cases that had accrued slightly more evidence than the one of which I’m aware will have meaningfully more merit.

Watching and listening coverage of the 1981 Springbok tour riots this past week or so I’ve been struck by how his preoccupation with symbolic insults to law and order, rather than more substantive breaches, is reminiscent of police and government conduct under Muldoon, during that era — a short, sharp, shock doctrine of fiercely punishing trivial breaches in order to send a signal to those who would commit more serious actions. I don’t have time at present to go into a deep discussion of the implications of this activism among the police, and indeed Pablo has already covered much of that ground better than I could. But the apparent detachment between police command and both the ordinary citizens of the state and the country’s expert civil society agencies would be hilarious if it wasn’t so concerning.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this trend is that it serves to undermine the credibility of and public confidence in the police, which civil society needs to function. Especially at society’s margins — including Māori, the disabled, and activists — with whom police should be especially assiduous about building relationships.

Update: And would you look at that — right on cue, the remaining trumped-up firearms charges against the Urewera 18 have been dropped, on the grounds that continuing proceedings would not be in the public interest. Indeed. So, authoritarian apologists for the police state and anti-Māori revenge fantasists, how you like THEM apples?

L

Safer, but less secure.

datePosted on 08:04, September 3rd, 2011 by Pablo

I will be traveling to a family reunion in Boston during the September 11 commemorations, so will not be doing much posting during that time. What I will do now is briefly opine on what the US public might reflect upon a decade on after the attacks.

It is clear that, in terms of security against large-scale terrorist attacks, the US is safer. The price for that safety, from the indignities of airport security to the infringements on civil liberties and constitutional rights allowed by the Patriot Act and attendant legislation, is something that Americans take for granted, even if large gaps still remain in the defense against a committed and well-organised attack against mass targets (one need only to see shopping mall security to get an idea of the potential targets such places represent). By and large the US public is resigned to living in an age of fear, and go about their business willfully ignoring the myriad aways in which it is being surveilled, eavesdropped, video monitored and otherwise treated as a nation of suspects. Such, as they say, is the price for freedom.

The US has also become the most fearsome military force on the planet, with a level of combat experience and lethal technologies that exponentially exceeds that of any other country or combination of countries. For all their rise as important powers, when was the last time China, India or Russia were capable of sustaining two prolonged wars of occupation half way across the globe for years on end? What rivals, such as Iran or North Korea, have the ability to bring sustained multi-layered force to the battlefield, and which of these countries has a cadre of combat-hardened 30 year old field commanders and enlisted personnel capable of wreaking organised havoc at a tactical level? The answer is none. The US is a war machine par excellance, and allies and adversaries are well aware of this fact.

But the US has paid a price for its war-mongering. Having engaged in torture and the killing of thousands of innocents in the Muslim world in its pursuit of those responsible for 9/11 (and some who were not, such as Saddam Hussein), the US has lost much diplomatic stature and respect in the international community. It no longer represents the so-called “shining house on the hill” that all people aspire to. It is now just another great power bullying its way, with little to none of the moral authority it used to claim just ten years ago. Nor is it much liked, not only in places that have been traditionally exhibited antipathy to it such as Latin America, but now even amongst the community of liberal democracies that it ostensibly leads. The situation is so dire that even the Russians feel compelled to critique the US on issues of democratic governance and values. That is a sorry state indeed.

The ongoing commitment to unilateral pre-emptive war has exacted a toll on the US economy. More Americans are out of work than anytime since the late 1970 (the overall unemployment rate is over 9 percent and the unemployment for some sub-groups such as young Afro-American men exceeds 16 percent). More Americans are devoid of affordable health care since before World War Two. The dream of secure home ownership, the foundation of the American Dream as much as the quarter acre pavlova paradise is in NZ, is less attainable for the majority than at any time during the last fifty years. Crime rates have crept back up after record lows in the late 1990s. Political, class and ethnic divisions are at their sharpest in a quarter century. Polarisation, not solidarity and communitarianism, are the hallmarks of US society today. There is more to this litany of despair, but the point is that the US may still be proud, but it is bowed. It may be physically safer from foreign attack than ever before, but it is also more insecure than at any time since the war of 1812.

The mood, from what I can gather speaking with friends and family across the country, is sombre. This contrasts sharply with the historical sense of US optimism, if not idealism, that existed prior to 9/11. A friend of mine, a former Pentagon official, drew the analogy this way: the US went on a bender from the mid 1990s until 2008, only pausing in its partying ways during the weeks after 9/11 while the immediate damage was assessed. It now saddled with a massive hangover and the need to sober up by living within its diminished means. Although the Fox News and Tea Party crowd will engage in the usual jingoistic patriotism and shout that “we are still number one” to all and sundry, for the vast majority the anniversary will be ignored, be spent quietly, or be cause to reflect on what once was, and is no more.

Thus, my questions for the day are this. Is the US more or less strong than it was on 9/11/2001? Are its people more or less secure than they were on that terrible day? And if not, why is that, especially since al-Qaeda has been largely routed as a large scale irregular fighting force and Osama bin Laden is dead?

The answer, I reckon, lies within the US itself.