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Preamble: We have taken a sabbatical from writing articles for the last 18 months in response to the venom that is out there in the media. However, the US response to the Iranian attacks seems to indicate a completely new US approach to global stability. Therefore I felt duty bound to spell out my thoughts and respond to those who can only see their hate of this administration.
The recent Iranian attacks on the Saudi oil facilities in north eastern Saudi Arabia indicate an escalation by the Iranians. Why? Do the Iranians perceive that the US is powerless because of the Democratic calls for impeachment? Are the sanctions and limits on Iranian oil exports taking such a toll that the Iranians feel that the world will react to Saudi oil output short falls and try to force the US to relax its containment of Iran?
The lack of an American kinetic response has the world wondering what has changed in the US approach to the world. By listening to the president’s speech at the UN yesterday it is now very clear that the President does not see the US as the world’s policeman. In the name of regional stability the US is deploying defensive capabilities to Saudi Arabia.
The recent attacks show the deficiencies of the Saudi military. In spite of extensive expenditures their missile defense capabilities are still inadequate in the face of Iranian cruise missiles. Reports indicate that the problems are both the training of the force and the needs of a modern missile defense.
Missile defense requires the ability to intercept multiple types of missiles through a complex spectrum of missile types. Most missile defense systems can be overcome by a volume of missiles. The Israeli “Iron Dome” system attempts to discriminate based on a calculation of impact points. Will incoming missiles hit critical assets? The Saudi system has not reached the degree of sophistication required to make such a discrimination automatically.
The lack of a kinetic attack illustrates the new Trump Doctrine—allies must protect themselves and respond to attacks using their own capabilities. The US will assist where necessary to maintain stability until the allies have developed their own capabilities. This approach means that the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperative Council members should respond to threats. The US may provide technical assistance in such a response, but one should not expect US forces attacking Iran unless US forces have been directly engaged by Iranians.
The military situation in the Gulf is truly asymmetric, but in a different way than the discussion of conventional forces versus terrorists or unconventional forces. The Iranians have devoted a significant part of their defense development to offensive missiles and small attack boats, while the Gulf States have focused on air power and defensive forces. As noted above the Iranian missile assets can most likely overpower the defenses of the Gulf States. However, a series of preemptive attacks might go a long way in leveling the battle field. One could even envision the Apache attack helicopters that the Saudis have being able to go in under the Iranian radar and doing extensive damage.
Will the Saudis/Gulf States respond? The answer to this question is probably in the Iranian hands. If they push the opportunity that they may perceive exists because of the political situation in the US they may in fact cause a reaction with extensive US support. On the other hand if the new status quo continues nothing may happen. The status quo favors the Saudis and the Gulf States as the political situation in Iran may continue to deteriorate and they can enhance their defensive and offensive capabilities.
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.
On the 1st of April 1968 the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) launched Operation Pegasus. Many newly interested authors focus on the battle for the old French fort. What they don’t realize that just as the operation was beginning the war was being officially lost.
As the senior advisor in Khe Sanh before the beginning of the “agony of Khe Sanh” on 21 January 1968 I was seconded to the 1st Cavalry Division to assist in the planning for Operation Pegasus. (For a complete discussion of the siege of Khe Sanh see: www. Expendablewarriors.com or my recent postings here.)
It was strange to fly over what had once been the area along route 9 and see rice paddies where there had never been paddies before. In actuality what I was seeing was bomb craters that were filled with rain water. (I flew into Khe Sanh with Major General John Tolson (commander of the 1st Cavalry Division) several times,
Route 9–the Road to Khe Sanh
Lz Stud was at the turn of the Route from North South to East-West
During the planning process units from the 1st Cav, the 101st Airborne Division and the 3rd Marines were conducting operations along the DMZ as a diversion to the relief operation. The engineers were busy building a short runway and underground bunkers for the command and control of Operation Pegasus near Calu. The new facility was to be named LZ Stud.
LZ Stud–right before Route 9 turned west
It was located under the range fan of USMC artillery units north and east of here
For Operation Pegasus the 1st Cav had an extensive set of capabilities
- The 1st Cavalry Division with its 400+ helicopters
- A Marine BDE with augmenting engineers and artillery
- An Army of Vietnam (ARVN) airborne brigade
- 26th Marine Regiment +–the whole force defending the Combat Base (5000 strong)
- Massive air support
This was the equivalent of a small Corps.
The attack began the morning of the April 1st with the Marine Brigade attacking along route 9. Its mission was to open Route 9 from LZ Stud to the combat base. This required the repair of numerous road by passes that had been destroyed by the NVA and neglect over more than a year. The air assault was delayed until 1 PM due to fog in the Khe Sanh area. The initial air assault was into areas where the vegetation had been flattened by use a bomb called a Daisy Cutter (a 20,000 pound bomb that was dropped from a C130 aircraft and detonated when the long pipe that was its detonator struck the ground—thus creating standoff and blowing things down without creating a crater). The Infantry and engineers followed to secure the area and move the blow down so that howitzers, crews and ammunition could be lifted in. As a result a firebase was created.
With fire support for support of the infantry and to support the next hop forward closer to Khe Sanh the next unit could be inserted and the leap frog towards the combat base and the enemy could continue.
It was on this day 1 April 1968 when the war was lost. Major Paul Schwartz and I had to brief General Tolson on the proposed concept for the Division’s next mission—clearing the NVA out of the A Shau Valley (about 40-50 kilometers south of Khe Sanh. There were 4 people present at the briefing—General Tolson, his Chief of Staff, Major Schwartz and myself. We proposed attacking through Khe Sanh to the Vietnam-Laos border. Going into Laos, cleaning up the Ho Chi Minh Trail and then turning south to enter the A Shau Valley for the west—not the traditional route which was from the east. There were 90 days of supplies at Khe Sanh to draw upon and thus not have to back haul. Most importantly such an approach would have caught the NVA by surprise and had war winning effects.
After about 4 minutes of briefing General Tolson said” “Obviously you didn’t hear the President last night! What you are proposing is politically impossible.” Lyndon Johnson had just announced a partial bombing halt in an effort to enter negotiations with North Vietnam.
3 years later the US was to support ARVN in Lam Son 719A which was an attack into Laos where the ARVN got clobbered. The NVA had used the 3 years to recover. A year or so later President Nixon was to start the B-52 bombing missions over Hanoi and Haiphong. These would result in a peace agreement.
President Johnson’s bombing halt decision was when the US decided to not try and win the war on the battlefield—just as the NVA were on the throes of collapse. There war was winnable after the eventual Khe Sanh and Tet victories, but the political climate in the US had so turned against the war there was no political will to try and win on the battlefield.
In coming articles we will talk about the bigger lessons learned from Khe Sanh and other conflicts. It is my hope that someday some wanna be strategists will read these articles and learn something from them.
President Trump’s tweets and what seem to be off the cuff remarks are providing a perfect smoke screen for the media that want to focus on what they think is outlandish rather than do good journalism and find out what is happening behind the smoke screen.
Behind the smoke screen and the bluster and the magician act that the President is using to focus attention there seems to be a lot going on. Hate for Trump, which the President thrives on, is allowing strategic activity that would remind one of the Kissinger days when the bureaucracy was busing doing busy work while real strategic moves and ground work were occurring behind the scenes.
National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H R McMaster
If one follows the National Security Adviser LTG H R McMaster there is not much to see until this last week. During the annual Munich Security Conference he seems to have emerged and has laid down several markers:
- Used the incontrovertible truth that Russia sought to sow instability in the US elect ion process as a background to say that it was impossible for the US to work with Russia on cyber issues.
- Called for action against Iran while scolding those states that traded with Iran for giving the terrorist sponsor a blank check
- Called for action against Syria for using chemical weapons again
In addition he orchestrated the current Olympics lowering of the volume with North Korea. One can readily see the North Koreans using the very fragile détente with South Korea coming out of the Olympics as an excuse for a “delay” in missile testing.
One can be sure that both LTG McMaster and Secretary of Defense Mattis, who has also adopted a low profile, are very aware of the trategic weapons growth by the Russians and Chinese and are laying long term plans to address the potential imbalances.
As the remarks in Munich indicate relations with Russia and the current sanctions will not improve until Russia makes a positive move in the Ukraine or elsewhere. In the meantime the nuclear modernization announced by the President will go on unabated. Is the ground work being laid for a new round of arms control negotiations in 2019?
If the naval armada that has gathered in the South China Sea as a deterrent to North Korea starts migrating towards the Persian / Arabian Gulf one can anticipate the screws being applied against Iran. Obviously Secretary of State Tillison and LTG McMaster’s trips to Turkey and discussions with the Saudis and Israelis have laid the groundwork for such actions. These discussions also have further provided the venue for a consensus on how to deal with the continuing Syrian debacle.
In the first year of the Trump Administration while working behind the Trump smokescreen Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS), was put together by McMaster’s team. It champions a realpolitik worldview that puts American national interests first and sees the world as a competitive stage. “The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world,” the NSS states.
Additionally, it has a focus on “revisionist powers” China and Russia and “rogue regimes” North Korea and Iran as acting in ways that are against American interests. “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence. At the same time, the dictatorships of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran are determined to destabilize regions, threaten Americans and our allies, and brutalize their own people.”
The strategy development in which the entire national security apparatus –State, Defense, and Intelligence Agencies etc.—participated took a year. The media has given little attention to this strategy complaining that it is lacking in detail. One is now starting to see the details based upon that the interests and objectives that were clearly defined and agreed to across the government. In their most likely timeline now is the time for the deliberate but well thought out execution behind the smoke screen provided by the President.
It will be fascinating to see the media reaction as they see behind the smoke. Or will they given their Trump hatred?
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:
- 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.
- 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.