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Media Excursion

The announcement that the US would re-position some of its 1000 troops in Syria to avoid their being engaged by Turkish soldiers if they invade has created another firestorm in the media.

Now that the Turks have started their attack there are numerous reports flying around:

  • Civilian targets are being attacked
  • The Kurds have requested that the US impose and enforce a “no fly zone.”
  • The Senate is considering severe sanctions against Turkey

The media and even some Republicans fear is that Kurdish fighters may be attacked by Turkish armed forces moving into north-eastern Syria.  In essence the media and other pundits are saying that the lives of US soldiers should remain at risk in order to protect the Kurds.

Hidden in all of this punditry are several hard facts:

  • The Kurds, with US support are holding 11,000 ISIS prisoners. An attack on the Kurds would possibly result in their freedom.
  • There are only about 50 Special Forces that are being tactically relocated.
  • The US has always wanted the US presence in Syria to be a short term operation
  • Now that the Turks have invaded their stated goal is to create a free zone in Syria so that many of the refugees that are in Turkey can be relocated to this safe zone
  • There is no indication that the Russians in Syria will get caught up in engaging the Turks—if that should happen it could trip the NATO obligations of other states to come to the assistance of an attacked ally. There are even reports that the Russians were trying to negotiate some form of cease fire.

What I seem to have missed in the reporting is why the Turks chose to attack into Syria now.  Probably missed because there are so many possible explanations:

  • Expansion of Turkey’s geographic area of control
  • Resettlement of Syrian refugees
  • Further destabilizing Assad of Syria
  • Weakening/destroying the Kurds

None of these explain the current timing.  Could the real reason be because Erdogan is in trouble politically?  The above objectives could all be valid but the domestic political situation is responsible for the present timing.

If the Turks don’t attack the Kurds and their US Special Forces advisors there will be no problem.  The US will have reduced its footprint in Syria and be on the way out, leaving the resolution of the conflict to regional actors with the Kurds secure in an enclave away  from the Turkish border.

So when you cut everything away the media frenzy is about US credibility in supporting allies in the future.  This assumes that the Kurds are being deserted by their Special Forces advisor / assistants and especially that their logistical support and air support will be shut off.  It is difficult to see that happening if for no other reason than the 11,000 ISIS prisoners that they hold.

In a perfect world the Kurds and Turks could coexist and the Syrian refugees could be relocated from Turkey into this safe zone.  Such a coexistence would be a very fragile one.

Strategically, there is still something missing from the above discussion.  We will watch the situation and update it as appropriate in the future.

We’ll see what happens.

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Nuclear weapons and their employment–media deception

The media, amid rising nuclear tensions with North Korea and concern over the potential for war, has captured some unfortunate discussion by the Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander. He reportedly said that he would resist President Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.  What an illegal launch of nuclear weapons is was never clarified.

STRATCOM is the command that controls the strategic weapons commands of primarily the Navy (submarines and carrier based aircraft) and the Air Force (bombers and silo based missiles).  It is STRATCOM that would issue the orders to the selected commands to employ selected weapons system against selected targets.  These targets and systems are each accounted for in the Strategic Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).

Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), reportedly told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada that he had thought a lot about what to say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten reportedly said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

There are two issues about this story that are worrying:

  1. The media attempt to characterize the president as unstable and reckless has only the folk image that it is trying to create as a basis for such a portrayal.  Such characterization when it involves nuclear weapons would be truly damning.
  2. Both the question and the answer do not do justice to the way that nuclear weapons would be employed.

As mentioned above, nuclear weapons are targeted based on the Strategic Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). The SIOP is a master list of targets and these are allocated weapons and delivery systems for multiple different scenarios/contingencies/situations.  A president cannot just tell the Secretary of Defense or a field commander to “nuc” a desired target.  That is just not how the system works.

The SIOP has matured and changed since the beginning of the nuclear era in 1945.  There are numerous personnel from each of the services involved in building and refining the SIOP on almost a continuous basis.  Targets change, weapons system availability changes, and contingencies change making the process extremely dynamic and closely controlled and tightly held.  When the president would order the execution of some part of the SIOP it would be based upon a situation and the best advice that he could get from both the intelligence and operational communities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other agencies.  It is not a unilateral decision done in the “dark’ as the question and answer would imply.

Unfortunately for the STRATCOM commander the details of the process of using nuclear weapons is highly classified and could not be part of his answer.  If he was thinking he probably would have said something to the effect of implying reckless behavior on the part of the president is not something that it is useful to discuss.  At this time if I was the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff I would have a “chat” with General Hyten.

It is deplorable that the effort to demean President Trump has reached this level of reporting—the creating of false implications and news.