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Offensive cyber authorization

Reports indicate that new legislation in the Senate proposes to authorize US military cyber warriors to go on the offensive against Russian attacks on the United States in cyberspace.   It also mandates a cyber deterrence doctrine.

These same reports indicate that lawmakers were disappointed in the administration’s latest cyber policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s fiscal year 2019 defense policy bill designates clandestine military operations in cyberspace as “traditional military activities.”  This affirms the secretary of defense’s ability to order cyber operations. A related section of the bill “authorizes the National Command Authority to direct US Cyber Command to take appropriate and proportional action through cyberspace to disrupt, defeat and deter systematic and ongoing attacks by Russia in cyberspace,” the report states:

(a) In General.—It shall be the policy of the United States, with respect to matters pertaining to cyberspace, cybersecurity, and cyber warfare, that the United States should employ all instruments of national power, including the use of offensive cyber capabilities, to deter if possible, and respond when necessary, to any and all cyber-attacks or other malicious cyber activities that target United States interests with the intent to—

(1) cause casualties among United States persons or persons of our allies;

(2) significantly disrupt the normal functioning of United States democratic society or government (including attacks against critical infrastructure that could damage systems used to provide key services to the public or government);

(3) threaten the command and control of the United States Armed Forces, the freedom of maneuver of the United States Armed Forces, or the industrial base or other infrastructure on which the United States Armed Forces rely to defend United States interests and commitments; or

(4) achieve an effect, whether individually or in aggregate, comparable to an armed attack or imperil a vital interest of the United States.”

There are several interesting aspects to this Congressional proposed strategic policy.

1.    The concept of cyber deterrence as a doctrine.

2.    That deterrence of cyber-attacks may also be achieved by the use of non-cyber responses.

The congress determining national security strategy is by itself unique.  The formal authorization of a cyber deterrence doctrine opens the whole realm of what is deterrence?

My UCLA graduate school professor (Bernard Brodie who was one of the founders of deterrence doctrine thought of deterrence as” a strategy intended to dissuade an adversary from taking an action not yet started, or to prevent them from doing something that another state desires. A credible nuclear deterrent,  he wrote, must be always at the ready, yet never used.”

Subsequently the capacity to harm another state was to be a motivating factor for other states to avoid it and influence another state’s behavior. To be coercive or deter another state, violence must be anticipated and avoidable by accommodation.

Deterrence is considered to consist of the capability to inflict such harm and the willingness to do so.  Capability is the more easily demonstrated aspect of deterrence.  It is achieved through observable tests, news reports or use. Willingness is the hard part to quantify.  It is usually thought to consist of demonstrated use or as during the cold war some form of automaticity to the response.  With the consequences of a major nuclear exchange being so great during the cold war and automatic responses discussed openly no side was willing to test the willingness of the other.

This lack of willingness to test the other side’s willingness became the source of moderation during the cold war.  Simple escalation of the DEFCON or making advanced alert status visible was used as a method of signaling willingness.

How one is to signal willingness in the cyber world is a fascinating question.  It may require some cyber ‘skirmishes.”  Possibly these have already occurred.

As we go forward in the evolution of strategic thought the concept of cyber deterrence will require significant additional study and the response to questions, such as:

  • What is the potential damage?
  • What is the nature of escalatory steps?
  • What are the defensive measures?  (These will most likely be constantly changing.)

This article should open a dialogue of cyber deterrence.  Please make your comments and check back for the comments of others.

Attack on Syria–Many Dimensions

As the Saturday morning quarterbacks seek to portray the coalition missile strikes in ways that support their own agendas it seems necessary to attempt to provide a multi-dimensional view on the strikes.  These dimensions include:

·         The military implications of the strike

·         The diplomatic messages

·         The domestic political reaction

In response to the Syrian attack on its own people using chlorine gas a coalition of British, French and American naval and air forces launched missile attacks against 3 chemical production and storage facilities.  The objective of the attack was two fold:

1.       Seriously degrade/reduce Syria’s chemical weapons capability

2.       Deter Syria from future chemical weapon usage

Reports indicate that the missiles hit and severely damaged their targets.  The ability and methodology used for the attacks indicate the ability to synchronize target engagement between multiple platforms and national assets.  The US attacks came from naval forces in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean ocean.  Air assets launched missiles while over Saudi Arabia and the Mediterranean.  While launching the missiles each element of the attacking force took air defense, naval and cyber efforts to protect the force.  Reportedly all missiles hit their targets while the Syrian missile defense efforts were an abysmal failure.  The Syrians reportedly launched over 40 air defense missiles and none of them successfully engaged a target.  (The Russian disinformation campaign reported that there were 103 missiles and 71 shot down.)

Militarily the mission was accomplished.  However, some pundits are seeking to use this description of the reaction was to be expected as no matter what President Trump and our allies do there will be detractors who are looking for opportunities to speak against the President.

The diplomatic messages of this strike go far beyond the Syrian government.  The clear pronouncement that the intent was not to target Syrian President Assad tells Kim Jung Un of North Korea that the US can accomplish its military objectives without necessarily threatening the regime leadership. (This is not to say that decapitation isn’t an option.)  With the upcoming denuclearization discussions between President Trump and Kim Jun Un it is clear that Kim not necessarily feel personally threatened.

The preparations for the North Korea / United ‘States historic meeting are ongoing using multiple different avenues for the preparation of the meeting.  Reportedly CIA Director/Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo is leading the back channel preparatory talks.  The summit will follow a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart.

Israel is touting the strikes as a message for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Russia is certainly evaluating President Trump’s resolve to not condone chemical weapon usage.  The same is true for Iran as the May Iran nuclear agreement review approaches.  John Bolton’s appointment as the National Security Advisor also tends to show an increased hardline by the administration on the major issues facing the United States.  Certainly potential adversaries are viewing this whole set of events as a new entity.

The continuing fight against ISIS may have had an unintentional consequence.  The net winner of ISIS’s destruction is clearly President Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.   The anti- Assad forces were not capable of filling the vacuum created by the damage to ISIS.  The continuing conflict in the region is extremely complex given all of the players.  This has been a subject of previous articles and one that we will return to in the future.

True to form the hard left politicians like Nancy Pelosi are condemning the attacks as uncivilized.  This condemnation is to be expected.  The other side of the aisle has been supportive the attacks.  However, there seems to be a universal return to the discussion of the war fighting powers of the President.  This is a continual power struggle between the executive and the legislature.  This debate is probably more posturing than reality but may continue for several weeks and then return to its traditionally dormant status.

The attack against Syria may be the opening gambit in several future conflicts–Russia‘s desire to increase its posture in the Middle-East, Iran’s goal of forming a Caliphate across the region and its conflict with the Gulf Cooperative Council, and Israel’s continual struggle for survival.  These are all issues we will be watching closely.

Stopping/repelling the invasion

According to news reports there are over 1000 Hondurans, who are being assisted by the Mexican Government moving in formation to invade the United States and demand amnesty.  This tragedy is most likely funded by far left political activists such as George Soros.  Their most likely goal is to embarrass President Trump.

The organizers of this invasion probably feel that they are in a win-win situation.  If they successfully breach the border the US will have no option but to care for them and eventually grant them amnesty.  If they are stopped the organizers see a net win for the total amnesty supporters as public opinion will be aroused and with the midterm elections coming the political pressure to give in will be horrendous.

One can count on the media portraying these invaders as poor people looking for work and if any of them are harmed they will seek compensation from mean old United States.

To date the Trump administration has only played the Obama game—talking tough but not doing anything.  The threats against NAFTA may momentarily give the Mexican government pause, but not for long.

Since even the Associated Press is calling this an invasion, the President should treat it as such.  It would be very easy to deploy helicopters and infantry to form a ready reaction force against the invaders. With drone provided intelligence the defending forces could react to any movement towards the border and form a physical force to meet the invaders on the border.  Additionally, using helicopters and cargo planes food supplies could be dropped behind the invaders as an incentive to turn around.  Finally a detention facility with tents and barbed wire could be quickly established for anyone who might leak through.  This facility should be very bare bones, not the typical elegant jails that the US normally puts such folks in. Invaders should be taken from the detention facility to a port of embarkation for the return to Honduras.  No legal niceties need apply–they are invaders.

Coupled with the physical barrier and humanitarian food supplies a psychological campaign should be waged to influence the invaders to turn around.

On the economic from the border should be closed to goods coming from Mexico or there should be a huge tax on them to pay for the repelling of the invasion.

Finally, intelligence sources should pin point the leadership and funding of the operation and take appropriate action to neutralize them while documenting their use of poor Hondurans for their agenda.

This whole invasion is a political ploy and should be dealt with by the use of stern, unrelenting but humanitarian efforts.  Political and economic action should accompany the act of repelling the invasion.

The siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base—the noose tightens

Recently, when reading my VFW magazine I encountered an article entitled Tanks in the Wire”.  It was a brief, but still not accurate, synopsis of the battle of Lang Vei Special Forces camp on 7 and 8 February 1968—50 years ago. (I would commend David Stockwell’s two books on the battle. First came Tanks in the Wire and just recently The Route 9 Problem) I was underground in my bunker at the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) but listened to much of the battle on the radio and the next morning was part of the planning for the relief effort for the beleaguered forces at Lang Vei.

To put the battle in perspective it actually started at the end of January when the 33rd Royal Laotian Battalion was overrun by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in Laos using tanks. The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) Special Forces at Forward Operating Base 3, which was an appendage to the KSCB and where we had the local Vietnamese government in exile, had a close connection to the Laotians.

QuangTri Map

Lang Vei Special forces Camp was located on the Tcepone River and very close to the Laotian border.  The scale shows that the distance from Lang Vei to KSCB was about 10 miles or at the limits of the range of the artillery from KSCB.

When the Laotians reported that they were overrun by tanks nobody believed them. The 33rd Battalion fled Laos and settled at Lang Vei in a camp near what was called the “new” Special Forces Camp.  They were reinforced by Special Forces elements from Hue Phu Bai lead by LTC Schungel.  So now there were two Special Forces camps at Lang Vei—the old camp with Laotians and Special Forces in it and the new camp with A 101 and its Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Forces (CIDG).  CPT Frank Willoughby, the commander of A 101 Special Forces detachment at Lang Vei requested anti-tank mines but his request was denied because the report of tanks being used was not believed by higher headquarters. The Special Forces did provide some Light Anti-Tank Weapons (LAWs).

pt 76 2

Soviet built PT 76 Light Amphibious Tank–5 or 6 were used to attack the Lang Vei camp.  Several were knocked out by the defenders and several more by air strikes.  One ended up sitting on top of the command bunker.  There is a monument at Lang Vie today celebrating the over-running of the camp which includes a PT 76.

The scene is now set with two camps near the Bru village of Lang Vei and track sound (moving tanks?) being heard on several evenings before the attacks.  On the evening of 8 February the new camp was hit with artillery and mortar fire followed by an infantry attack led by PT 76 light amphibious tanks.  The forces fought back and called artillery from the KSCB on the attacking NVA. Some of the LAWs failed to operate correctly and many of those that did were ineffective. Between LAWs and 106 mm recoilless rifles the defenders were able to destroy 6 tanks.

Eventually, the defenders of the new camp either secluded themselves in the deep underground command bunker or fled to the old camp.  The fight continued all night long.  CPT Willoughby requested reinforcement by the Marines from KSCB, but was turned down twice!

KheSahnMapwithHills

If one looks at the terrain he can easily understand how much of a tough slog it would have been to get form the upper right corner of the map to the lower left–multiple possible ambush sites.  There are also reports that several of the PT 76s had been moved to cover possible landing zones.  Still the Marines said NO! and left the soldiers at Lang Vei to their own devices. 

Communications from the command bunker became difficult with the antennas knocked down but the single side band radio with its buried antennae continued to allow communications to the outside.  At this point there was a PT 76 tank on top of the command bunker and the NVA were throwing tear gas down into the bunker.  CPT Willoughby and his crew continued to communicate.

Forces from the old camp, supported by artillery and air strikes made up to five attempts to reach the bunker with no success.   The 7  weak from wounds and dehydration survivors in the bunker made their plans to escape.  CPT Willoughby told the aircraft overhead to make 3 hot strafing runs over the camp and then make runs without firing.  During the “dry” runs the survivors would make a dash to the old camp. Actually it was to be more of a limp. The survivors met little opposition and with the help of a brave Vietnamese Lieutenant who drove a jeep to pick them up made it to the old camp.

The final saga of the battle was the evacuation.  There are several versions who the fight for helicopters, but COL Ladd, the 5th Special Forces Commander in Danang was forced to go to General Westmoreland who was in a meeting with LTG Cushman (the Corps Commander) and could not be disturbed.  COL Ladd turned to GEN Abrams who had established a MACV forward command in the northern part of the country.  GEN Abrams ordered the Marines to release the helicopters to rescue the survivors of the battle.  The relief operation was planned by the Special Forces at FOB 3 and lead by Major George Quomo.  After reluctance of the Marine CH 46 helicopter pilots to land at the old camp was overcome the Americans and the wounded along with the Laotian Battalion leadership were evacuated by air to KSCB and then once medically treated were taken to Danang.  The individual soldiers and the Bru civilians were left to fend for themselves.  They walked the distance to the combat base where they were disarmed and turned away.  (This was to create a political incident between the Laotian government and MACV.)  I radioed Quang Tri thru my radio relay that the 1500 or so mixed group was on its way.  The advisory team in Quang Tri prepared to house and care for these stragglers.  The Laotians were evacuated through Saigon back to Laos.

Route 9 was now not impeded—the Lang Vei and District Headquarters impediments had now been removed.  The route to the KSCB was now open and the noose had been tightened.

Articles about Khe Sanh and the fight in Khe Sanh Village

In recent weeks we have posted an entire series of articles on the events leading up to the siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB).  If one sews the articles together he will have much of the story leading up to the siege.  This article provides a road map for those who want to catch up on what happened 50 years ago January 21, 1968.

Visit the 29 minute video of Nhi and I talking about Khe Sanh.

 Was America Duped at Khe Sanh—debunks an article in the New York Times about North Vietnamese strategy leading up to Khe Sanh

 General Westmoreland and the Vietnam War Strategy—continues the discussion of the false items in the previously mentioned New York Times article.  It presents the dueling strategies of the two sides.

 Limited War and Rules of Engagement—presents a discussion of the problems with limited war concepts and how they related to Rules of Engagement.

 Khe Sanh—the intelligence build up—explains the origins of the title Expendable Warriors.

 Command and Control in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations (AO)—explains the quagmire that was the local command and control situation.  Lack of unity of command lead to a lack of unity of effort.

 The march towards the opening of the siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base—explains the North Vietnamese Army approach towards the village of Khe Sanh.

 1968 Advisory Team 4 Newsletter—how the battle around the village was originally explained in a newsletter published by Advisory Team 4 headquarters in Quang Tri.

 The village fight 2—further explains what happened during the defense of the District Headquarters

 Air Support for Khe Sanh Village—explains the various forms of air support that were used to support the defenders of the District Headquarters and how they were coordinated for.

 The Battle of Khe Sanh Village is Over—the Advisory Team the district forces withdraw after the Marines are withdrawn and further artillery support is denied.

Each of these articles can be found on https://brucebgclarke.com/

The Battle of Khe Sanh Village is Over

The morning of 22 January 1968 dawned bright and quiet.  The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces were gone.  There was a sense of exhilaration in the District Headquarters—the attack had been stopped!

Patrols were launched to determine the damage and collect information on the enemy.  There were numerous blood trails and bodies found.  Over 150 weapons and 3 Rocket Propelled Launcher 7s (the first seen in South Vietnam) were recovered.  Many of the weapons still had cosmoline on them as they must have just been issued.

As the Marines and District Forces were conducting their limited patrols LT Stamper (Combined Action Company Commander) was boarding and flying by helicopter to the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB).  He was not to be seen again.  He radioed back to the Marines to pack their stuff as they were being evacuated.

Colonel Lownds sent a radio message to the Advisory team that he could no longer provide artillery support to the District forces.  Both CPTS Nhi and Clarke reported this to their superiors in Quang Tri.  Bob Brewer, the Province Senior Advisor said that there was a long meeting.  No one wanted evacuate the District Headquarters as it would be the first governmental headquarters ever surrendered.  In the end the order was given to evacuate.

SFC Perry with all of the wounded and SFC Kaspar were evacuated by helicopter.  SFC King and CPT Clarke worked with CPT Nhi to organize the withdrawal from the village.  The small force of about 140 men followed a little known trail to reach KSCB.  Throughout the trek CPT Clarke was coordinating with the Special Forces in FOB-3 for mortar coverage along the route and a reception when they got to KSCB. (The Marines had told the advisers that armed Vietnamese and montagnard soldiers could not enter their compound.)

to KSCB

The route to KSCB stayed in the valleys and away from terrain that might have been occupied by the NVA.

The small force reached FOB-3 and were assigned defensive areas on the it’s perimeter to prepare fighting positions.  Little did they know that this was going to last over 77 days.

CPT Clarke reported all of the weapons that had been left behind.  The Special Forces quickly organized a raid to get back into the District Headquarters to recover the NVA weapons and destroy anything else of worth that was there.  CPT Clarke was the second in command of this raid and led the Special Forces into the compound after they were landed in the wrong spot.

Raid

Helicopters landed in the old French mine field

The weapons were loaded and hauled off and then the helicopters returned for the raiding force.  CPT Clarke remembers lying on the floor of the UH-1 helicopter and emptying his 30 round magazine at an NVA patrol that was approaching the village from the west as they were leaving.

Later the charges set in the food warehouse exploded as did the grenades that CPT Clarke had used to booby trap the food in the Adviser’s store room.

The battle of Khe Sanh village had ended.  Just over 50 years ago, but sometimes it seems like yesterday.

Post Scripts:  The Special Forces at Land Vei offered what was called a Mike Force to re-secure the village, but this request was never acted upon.  When the 37th Army of Vietnam Ranger Battalion was sent to Khe Sanh the original intent was for it to be used to re-secure the village, but the Marines would not support such an attack.

The village fight 2

khe Sanh Village

Khe Sanh Village with the District Headquarters in the bottom center

 t 0500 the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) attacked the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) rockets and artillery.  The sound of the barrage woke up the District Advisory Team and the defenders of the District Headquarters (a mixture of Bru Montagnards, Vietnamese Regional Forces, Marines from Combined Action Company O (CAC-O) and the small 4 man advisory team.

At 0530 the ground attack against the District Headquarters began.  NVA after action reports suggest that the attack was 30 minutes late in being launched.  The attacking force from the 66th NVA Regiment had been slowed down by the B-52 strike of the previous day—all of the downed trees etc. that it caused.

The weather on the morning of 21 January 1968 was extremely foggy with visibility down to no more than 5-10 yards.  Fortunately some of the improvements made due to the observed activity at the KSCB included the emplacement of trip flares along the entire outer perimeter.

Another improvement that CPT Nhi had made was to place a 3 man element on the roof of the warehouse.  These brave montagnards were equipped with a case of grenades to drop on any one trying to conceal themselves behind the warehouse.  Both of these improvements were to prove critical to the defense of the District Headquarters.

District HQs

The District Headquarters to include the Regional Force Compound

to the south bordering the Landing Zone

The attack with artillery and mortar rounds impacting throughout the area.  One bunker was directly hit and collapsed on the occupants.  SFC Perry dug the survivors out and treated them in a makeshift aid station.   The enemy sought to penetrate the compound in the seam between the Regional Force Compound and the District Headquarters which was defended by Bru montagnards and Marines under the command of SGT Balanco.

The initial ground assault was announced by trip flares being set off.   The Bru knew where to shoot when certain trip flares were set off.  Thus they could engage the enemy that they could not see.  The same was true for Regional Force (RFs) in their old French fort made of pierced steel planning with about 12-18 inches of Khe Sanh red clay filling the space in between.  It stood up well to the enemy attack.

CPT Nhi and CPT Clarke were in the command bunker in the center of the compound.  CPT Clarke was to request and adjust over 1100 rounds during the next 30 hours.  The advisory team had 4 preplanned concentrations that were shaped like an L and located basically at each corner of the compound.  By moving those concentrations East and West and North and South one could cover the whole compound with steel.  The only rounds fired were fuse variable time (VT) a round that detonates in the air and throw shrapnel down to hit everyone who was not in a bunker with over- head cover.

The Marines in the compound became the fire brigade. SGT Balanco moved Marines around to meet the largest threats.  The presence Of Marines bolstered the morale of the RFs who had born the brunt of the attack.  The ground attacks came in several waves, each of which was stopped.  The key spot was the two bunkers on each side of the seam between the two parts of the headquarters.  The NVA seemed to be on something as an example when I shot an NVA sapper who was trying to take the north western bunker in the RF compound the two parts of his body, though separated continued to move towards the bunker with his pole charge.  (A charge on the end of a pole to place the charge into an aperture of the bunker and detonate it so as to create a gap in the defense.)  SFC Perry also thought that the NVA was on something.

In the late morning the fog burned off and the defenders were able to get some air support.  This will be the discussion in our next article.

 

 

 

 

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