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Early Morning Open Thread: Bad Houseguests & Generally Shifty Fellas

It’s natural human decency to offer the spare room to a bare acquaintance escaping (he tells you) a dangerous stalker, but after months of bearing with his deficiencies as a house guest — not to mention the extremely noisy and often unsavory ‘friends’ he invites over without so much as a by-your-leave — one might grow tired of the disruptions…

There were other rumors, but Buzzfeed has a good report debunking the most lurid.

The kerfuffle gave the social-media snarkers a happy interlude, though…

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The Battle to Liberate Mosul Has Begun. Updated: And Dabiq Has Been Liberated Too!

Here’s the link to the strike press releases by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

There will be more to come on this in the coming days. In the meantime here’s a link to the CJTF Spokesman doing a briefing – he’s one of my former students and an excellent Public Affairs Officer. Three other former students of mine are also with him at CJTF OIR.

Updated at 11:05 PM EDT

I missed it, but Secretary of Defense Carter issued another, very important press release today as well:

Statement by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the Liberation of Dabiq‎

Release No: 16-110 Oct. 16, 2016

Release No: NR-369-16
Oct. 16, 2016

I welcome today’s news that Syrian opposition forces liberated the Syrian town of Dabiq from ISIL control, aided by strong support from our ally Turkey and our international coalition. This is more than just the latest military result against this barbaric group. Dabiq held symbolic importance to ISIL. The group carried out unspeakable atrocities in Dabiq, named its English-language magazine after the town and claimed it would be the site of a final victory for the so-called caliphate. Instead its liberation gives the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat new momentum in Syria. Again I want to congratulate the Syrians who fought to free Dabiq and thank our ally Turkey for the close coordination during this operation.

 This is a very, very important bit of news. The town of Dabiq, Syria is central to ISIL’s apocalyptic theology. As I wrote about back in FEB 2015, ISIL believes that the defining battle of their version of Islam’s armageddon will be fought between the Muwaheedun (adherents to the radical unity of the Deity) and the infidel. By denying Dabiq/access to Dabiq to ISIL a blow has been struck directly to the heart of the raison d’être of ISIL’s theology and doctrine! The Information Operations and PSYOPS significance of this achievement is very, very important in the Syrian side of the fight against ISIL.

The Maskirovka Slips Part 2: Gentlemen I Thought I Told You to Synchronize Your Watches


More circumstantial evidence linking the hacks of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails, as well as the DNC and DCCC hacks, back to Russia has emerged. RT (Russia Today) went public, both by tweet and with reporting, on the most recent dump of Podesta’s emails before Wikileaks actually posted them.

RT is widely considered to be a Russian government funded propaganda outlet. As Putin stated in a 2013 interview with RT:

I’d like to emphasize something of the key importance. We never expected this to be a news agency or a channel which would defend the position of the Russian political line. We wanted to bring an absolutely independent news channel to the news arena.

Certainly the channel is funded by the government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world one way or another. But I’d like to underline again that we never intended this channel, RT, as any kind of apologetics for the Russian political line, whether domestic or foreign.

As the investigation into the hacked emails and other data files continues, as well as the investigation into Trump foreign and economic policy advisor Carter Page’s ties to Russian government officials, I think its important to reflect a bit on where Russia may be coming from. Especially as we see renewed statements that the US never takes Russia’s interests into consideration (by the aforementioned Carter Page) or that the election of Secretary Clinton would lead to a nuclear war. Putin is an old KGB hand; he came up through that intelligence service and it has been argued that his training and acculturation within it shapes his worldview and actions. One of the seminal pieces attempting to get American policy makers to understand Russia within the Soviet Union, which is the Russia that Putin grew up in both personally and professionally, is the Long Telegram.

On February 22, 1946 George Kennan* sent a lengthy diplomatic cable from Moscow Station, as the US Embassy in Moscow is sometimes called, back to the State Department in DC. Kennan was the Charge de Affairs at US Embassy Moscow and he would go on to publish in 1947, as Mr. X, an outline of his Long Telegram in Foreign Affairs. This is why the Long Telegram is sometimes called the X Article. While Russia and the Russians have undergone many changes in the 70 years since Kennan wrote his lengthy cable, it is still one of the best examples of a true subject matter expert, with deep regional and socio-cultural expertise, attempting to get non-subject matter experts, over half a world away, to understand the people behind the challenges and threats that they were facing and to avoid mirroring/the wilderness of mirrors. It is well worth reading even as Kennan’s argument for containment of Soviet expansion may no longer be necessary, desirable, or even possible in regards to modern Russia under Vladimir Putin. For those interested, the entire Long Telegram is below the fold.

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The Maskirovka Slips


(Maskirovka Principles)

Newsweek‘s Kurt Eichenwald has just broken a story pertaining to Russian Intelligence’s hacking, forging, and/or altering documents to influence the US election in collusion with Wikileaks.

Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputniktook the article down. But this is not funny at all. The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump. That is a topic for another time.

For now, though, Americans should be outraged. This totalitarian regime, engaged in what are arguably war crimes in Syria to protect their government puppet, is working to upend a democracy to the benefit of an American candidate who uttered positive comments just Sunday about the Kremlin’s campaign on behalf of Bashar al-Assad. Trump’s arguments were an incomprehensible explication of the complex Syrian situation, which put him right on the side of the Iranians and Syrians who are fighting to preserve the government that is the primary conduit of weapons used against Israel.

So no, Mr. Putin, I’m not Sidney Blumenthal. And now that you have been exposed once again, get the hell out of our election.

As I wrote back in July, we are in a cyber war, which is part of the new cold war that we find ourselves in.

I’ll have more on some of the current US-Russia impasse (hopefully) in regard to Aleppo tomorrow.

Friday Evening Horrorshow Open Thread

For sure, that tape is excellent low-brow entertainment, but let’s be honest: All of us, including Trump’s ‘evangelical’ fans, already knew he was a groper and a locker-room braggart. It’s baked into the vote already – his supporters love this stuff, because it’s the kind of crap they fantasize about doing themselves if only they had the power.

Given his age and lousy physical condition, talking filth in front of his fellow pigboys is probably as much as Trump’s capable of these days (there’s a reason those ViagCialis commercials all include a line about ‘be sure your doctor says your heart is strong enough for sexual activity’). I grew up having nightmares about Alas Babylon and Shadow on the Hearth; what I’m really afraid of is a President Trump who “impulsively” precipitates a nuclear incident because he can’t resist the urge to show off his virility by dissing some equally touchy foreign leader.


Apart from depressing scenarios, what’s on the agenda for the start of the weekend?

A Note On Tom’s Post: The Strategering of Mosul

I want to just add a strategic note to Tom’ post from earlier today. There are actually several very good strategic reasons to publicize the upcoming Mosul campaign even as the official start day is not announced. The first is to actually use the Information(al) element of National Power to pressure ISIL to abandon Mosul rather than suffer the types of battlefield defeat that it did in Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq and in parts of Syria where the US led Coalition is attriting ISIL’s hold on actual territory. One of the first positive effects we’re trying to achieve is to get a team of engineers, under Coalition protection, on site to shore up at the Mosul Dam full time before the rainy season starts as we move into Autumn. The sooner, and the easier it is to get the engineers on site full time the better. If the Mosul Dam goes, there is going to be a tremendous complication added to the Coalition’s efforts in the region in terms of having to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster management coupled with an increased flow of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within Iraq and the impact on Iraqi agriculture, which is still not back to what it was prior to the 2003 invasion. This will be much easier if we don’t have to fight our way to the dam or if we don’t have to worry about ISIL blowing the damn to cover their retreat and complicate Coalition operations.

The second reason to use the publicity about an impending attack, to leverage Information Power, to achieve the theater strategic objective is to ramp up the PSYOPS component of the potential attack. ISIL’s leadership is not stupid – they know an attack is coming to dig them out of Mosul. As a result they have to get their fighters on site in position and ready to fight. Sitting, day in and day out, waiting for an attack to come that doesn’t occur that day, even when everyone knows that the attack is, eventually, going to happen, saps morale. You can only keep troops mentally focused for an upcoming fight for a limited amount of time before they start to loose their focus. Every day that we make clear that the fight is going to come, that the force applied will be overwhelming for the ISIL fighters trying to hold the city, and nothing happens that day, is a day that ISIL’s fighters have spent mental focus waiting for an attack that will, but has not yet, come.

It is also important to leverage this psychological pressure created by knowing the fight is coming, but not when, to try to avoid what has happened in the campaigns to liberate Fallujah and Ramadi: ISIL’s almost complete destruction of these cities, the creation of tens of thousands of new IDPs and refugees, and the humanitarian crises that result. There wasn’t a lot left of Ramadi after its liberation as one of the Iraqi Special Forces officers stated after ISIL had been pushed out:

“All they leave is rubble,” pronounced Maj. Mohammed Hussein, whose counterterrorism corps was one of a initial to pierce into Ramadi. “You can’t do anything with rubble.”

As a result of what we’ve learned from the campaigns to liberate Fallujah and Ramadi, the less actual fighting that has to take place to retake Mosul the better it will be for the city and its residents. So anything we can do to make it harder for ISIL to actually fight works to our advantage.

There are also two very important reasons rooted within Iraq’s socio-cultural context. The first is that by making it clear that Coalition backed and supported Iraqi regular and irregular forces are going to bring overwhelming force to liberate Mosul, we are also leveraging Information Power to keep our Iraqi allies focused on their upcoming task. A repeated problem that was encountered by US and Coalition Forces going back to 2004 was that it was often hard to get the Iraqis to show up, and if they did show up to actually fight. There were several reasons for this. For instance, in Anbar Province in 2005-2006 we had lined up Sunni tribal fighters to be trained to fight with Coalition Forces against al Qaeda in Iraq. However, there was a logistical delay getting these local forces to the training site. During that delay their villages had been hit by al Qaeda in Iraq and as a result our potential new local allies decided they had to go home and protect their kin. As a result we lost an opportunity to build a more cohesive, local irregular force to work with throughout the region.

At other times we’ve spent a lot of time and money working with and training Iraqi Security Forces who, while they did fine in practice, would balk when the time came for them to apply force for real. I watched this personally one week in 2008 when I was working with my brigade’s Military Training Team (MiTT). Reports came in the night we arrived to embed with the MiTT of an attack on some Iraqis. The MiTT leader tried to get the Iraqi Army battalion commander he was working with to respond, but he wouldn’t. The next morning, however, we quickly had to gear up and get on the road to follow this Iraqi Army battalion as they rushed from their base to the middle of nowhere to see what had happened – 14 hours after the attack was reported. What you’re seeing in the US led Coalition’s publicizing the upcoming campaign to liberate Mosul is an attempt to use the other edge of Information Power to keep our Iraqi allies focused and ensure that when the day comes to begin that offensive they are ready and able to do so. I can not emphasize enough the damage that Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical government did to Iraqi confidence in their ability to accomplish things as Iraqis, especially military operations. A great deal of our partnering, advising, training, and assisting has been not just teaching the how of soldiering or policing, but also the less tangible and harder to inculcate why to do so – including building morale and esprit de corps.

Finally, the last reason to publicize the upcoming campaign to liberate Mosul is related to the need to keep the Iraqi Security Forces and irregular forces on actually going through with the campaign. As you can see in the map images below, Mosul is very close to the areas that are currently part of the autonomous areas of Iraqi Kurdistan (the Kurdish Autonomous Area). And Mosul is an ethnically mixed city – it has both Sunni Arabs and (Sunni) Kurds living together in proximity. If you look at Map 1, you can see where the Iraqi Kurds were able to extend their lines by the end of 2013/beginning of 2014.


(Map 1: Areas Under Kurdish Control 2013)

As you can see in Map 1, by the late Winter of 2014 the Iraqi Kurds had extended their lines beyond Iraqi Kurdistan to the areas of Iraq that the Iraqi Kurds have claimed, and want added to Iraqi Kurdistan. Most important among these is the city and province of Kirkuk, but Mosul is also historically important for the Iraqi Kurds. Map 2, below, shows the distribution of Iraqi Kurds as an ethnic group in Northeastern Iraq and the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan.


(Map 2: Ethnic-Religious Map of Iraq)

Mosul and Tikrit are contested areas between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds. In 2008 I was told repeatedly by both Sunni and Shi’a tribal and religious leaders (sheikhs and imams) across Central Iraq that the one thing that would definitely make Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’a Arabs cooperate was if the Iraqi Kurds took Kirkuk. Now this was in the 2008 context as opposed to the 2013-2014 context of the Iraqi Peshmerga fighting against ISIL and establishing their forward lines at the farthest points out from Iraqi Kurdistan that they could hold territory against ISIL. However, the Government of Iraq is dominated by Arabs not Kurds. As are the Iraqi Security Forces, though a significant portion of the Iraqi Army is made up of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga. So here too we are trying to leverage Information Power to keep the pressure on the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces to go and liberate a city that is ethnically mixed and that is contested between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds. The intention here is to ensure that Iraqi Arab regular and irregular forces show up and fight to liberate a city that may wind up under Kurdish control in the future. This is not necessarily an easy task, so leveraging Information Power to ensure the campaign actually happens is important.

It is this strategic nuance of National Power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic/the DIME), and how to leverage it that neither Donald Trump nor his advisors seem to understand. Moreover, it demonstrates a lack of understand of the theater strategic contexts in which US and Coalition Forces are working in Iraq. We already have a real world/real time example of what happens when the strategic regional context is not taken into before a major operation is undertaken in the Levant: the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. While the element of surprise may be tactically important, the strategic ability to leverage Information Power to one’s advantage is also a very important tool that should be used whenever possible.

Open Thread: Some of Us Don’t Deserve Nice Things

Third-party challengers: First, as tragedy

I actually feel sorry for Bill Weld, who’s probably the last surviving Honorable Republican Pol.

(He’s hoping for Secretary of State in the Trump administration.)

And then as farce…
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