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Friday, February 02, 2007

Clear-Hold-Win Public

I participated in an academic panel a couple of days ago regarding the Iraqi Study Group findings and the recent troop surge taking place. It became clearer to me by the end of the discussion that the surge by itself isn't necessarily doomed to failure nor a panacea for US problems in Iraq. I am going to try over the next couple of weeks to share my thoughts on the troop surge taking place in Iraq. First topic the clear-hold-win public strategy.

There is much debate regarding the military's role in any solution for Iraq, which most experts agree must be ultimately solved politically. But history tells us the military and the use of force, or even the threat to use force, is vital to set the conditions for a political solution. But a concern with the plan to surge more troops into Baghdad can be illustrated by the battle for Fallujuh (November 2004). Securing Fallujah led to tens of thousands of refugees and the basic destruction of large parts of the city. The same will happen in Baghdad when US (and Iraqi) forces engage the criminals, militias, death squads and insurgents operating within the city. Using the military in Baghdad can accomplish something as long as there is an immediate ability for reconstruction--not a plan for reconstruction--but an immediate reconstruction capability to move in and work in the very neighborhoods, that once cleared and held, don't degenerate into additional chaos, criminality and violence because the basic urban infrastructure has been destoyed, unemployment spikes, and those remaining in the city become susceptible to the message of the insurgency or driven to commit insurgent or terrorists acts for non-political reasons.

Embedded, I entered Baghdad with US Marines in April 2003 and watched as Iraqis began looting in all directions. To their credit, the Marines set up a table outside of the building they occupied and began fielding complaints from Iraqis frustrated that their neighborhoods were going up in smoke, their homes being ransacked, and family members were being killed and wounded in apparent reprisal attacks for past affiliations or ethnic background. Trouble was, that for days, those frontline Marines had no orders to get involved in any sort of stability operations. We all know what a mess that lack of an immediate follow-on course of action turned out to be. I am simply afraid that when the US troops engage in combat ops in Baghdad, which they are sure to do, without a clear secondary capability, it will accomplish little leading to renewed dissolution in the US and abroad over US actions in Iraq.

Sec State Rice has said there will be a strong civilian component to the surge but unless they are being mobilized concurrently with critical equipment and standing by during the fight, there will be to much time wasted between clear and hold operations and reconstruction, nullifying General Petraeus' ultimate goal to secure the population.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Troop Surge

This new troop surge (Bush's plan to put an additional 21,000 US troops into Iraq) is very interesting from an operational perspective. It really looks like the US is gearing up for a major offensive against the JAM (Mahdi Army) and the other Shiite militias within the Baghdad area. It is possible that an operation into Sadr City against the Mahdi Army could happen in 30-60 days. It would be the US Army and Iraqi government's largest offensive operation since the battle of Fallujah in November 2004, and demonstrate a real departure for the Iraqi government--targeting the very Shias that brought Prime Minister Maliki to power.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Okay, so I am not the most prolific blogger out here in cyberspace. That said, we are running Qala Jangi on CFR-TV this week and as I think back on the event, five years ago this week, I remember well the November cold and pentrating dust of the fortress, kicked up by automatic rifle fire, RPGs, mortars and tank fire. Three times on the north east tower that Monday morning I was pelted by shrapnel. Thankfully, with no injuries--except for the time I picked up a metal shard that had just glanced off my coat--only to burn my palm--that hurt for days.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Inguri River Option

Georgia would have a tough time retaking Abkhazia on its own for a couple of reasons. First, the widest part of the the disputed territory is at the current defacto border on the Inguri River. Any serious assault would have to get across the river into what is referred to as the Gali sector. Most of the bridges were destroyed for this reason during the fighting. There has been a number of rebuilding projects and lots of makeshift footbridges constructed, many by families skirting the Inguri River boundry. However, there are very few points of access for a mechanized or armored assualt en mass.

Even if Georgian forces were able to get across the river delta and penetrate the Gali sector in sufficient numbers, before the Abkhazian units could get their units into the fight, they would likely bog down again at the Gali Canal. The Gali Canal, a few miles north of the Inguri River is another line of choke points with scattered bridges and additional Abkhazian positions. These two waterways, the Ingury River and the Gali Canal would at least slow down, but likely stall any Georgian advance into Abkhazia via the south. Moreover, if Georgian units were to penetrate the Gali sector, they might be able to keep it, but advancing beyond the Gali Canal becomes more difficult because the terrain narrows and the distance between the seashore and the mountains create a geographic bottleneck that would further focus any potential line of advance. Abkhazian units would be able to concentrate their limited forces and trap the Georgians before they could advance as far as Ochamchira.

Ultimately if Georgian forces were willing to take the casualties, they could throw wave after wave of its troops across the Ingury River bridges, assuming the Abkhazians didn't catch wind of Georgian forces massing on the Zugdidi side of the river border, and destroy the few operational bridges. However, they would have to do it all over again at the Gali Canal. It would likely be a very costy advance, one that few governments today are willing to accept.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Georgia-Russia Spy Rift

I spent a lot of time in Georgia nearly every year between 1993-2001 (things got a bit busy elsewhere post 9-11), and most of that time in the disputed separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The recent hubub regarding Russian spies in Georgia is basically more of the same, although Georgia's recent incarceration of Russian officials and subsequent hand-over of said individuals to the OSCE is without precident.

Since Georgia declared independence in 1991, there have always been Russian spies in Georgia, or politely said, a strong Russian influence in Georgia. The Caucasus have been a flashpoint for super-power politics since the Soviet Union failed and lost its grasp of the region, and Georgia is right in the middle of it all--not least of which because of Georgia is now a central link in the oil supply corridor from the Caspian Sea to markets west.

But before oil flowed through the Baku Ceyhan Pipeline, much Georgian-Russian angst centered on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (There used to be three separatist enclaves in Georgia but a couple years ago Aslan Abashidze, the defacto ruler of Adjhara, gave up and relocated to Russia proper. Until the end he enjoyed good relations with Russian military units based near the regional capital, Batumi, and the Turkish border, and thwarted then President Shevardnadze's attempts to remove Russian forces from Adjhara. Abashidze's partnership with Russian forces was considered a linchpin of his success in staving off Georgian initiatives of resecuring Adjhara and its vital sea ports on the Black Sea.)

Anyway, back to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgians claim that neither separatist region would be separatist at all if it weren't for Russian support, and Georgian officials have more or less constantly demanded Russian peacekeepers in both regions leave "Georgian territory" in exchange for international peacekeepers--or no peacekeepers at all. Georgians have also insinuated, and even spoken plainly, that if the Russians were out of the way, Georgian forces would retake Abkhazia and South Ossetia with no problem.

However, the Georgian military, although the benefactors of US military training aid, would be hard pressed to retake Abkhazia on their own. More on this later...

Monday, September 25, 2006

I appreciate the feedback we have been getting regarding CFR-TV. In fact, we took a beating from some of our regulars regarding Episode 6. Yes, I know it is boring, but not every episode can have as much impact as Bus Stop (Episode 3). In fact, one of the main purposes behind CFR-TV is to show the soldier's life, as boring as it might be sometimes. Future episodes will focus on soldiers from not only the US but Abkhazia, Chechnya and Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, that, while not rooted in combat action, hopefully shed light on the mundane routine that soldiers experience.

Don't worry though, there will be enough action in future episodes. We also plan to air relevant interviews including Afghan Defense Minister Wardok and Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev (KIA July 2006). In addition, we are also working on a number of CFR-TV series offerings. The first one will be about the Qala i Jangi fortress uprising and will run for at least 6 weeks beginning in November and then India Company 3/7 Marines deployment from 29 Palms to Baghdad during OIF1, Operation Anaconda and the standing up of the 1/1/9 Iraqi Armor unit.

Anyway, stay with us on these "boring", "useless" "what is the point" episodes. We don't expect everyone to like all our offerings but hopefully you will like more than you hate. I am sure the soldiers of 3BCT didn't mind Episode 6!

I also put in the three recent comments regarding Episode 6 that came in over the weekend. Someday we will figure out how to have them post automatically to the blog so all can see--and we can get a discussion started.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We posted our first episode of CFR-TV this week and received a bit of feedback. One response in particular was entertaining. The viewer, and thanks for viewing by the way, said the film's content was "interesting but absolutely useless in a war situation--bullets pack a harder punch." That was very funny to us here at CFR because we never intended the episode to be about the body armor, rather, as indicated in the episode title, more about Marines "goofing off" waiting for the order to go forward. In this case one Marine kicking another Marine wearing body armor. Note that the plastic bottle the lance corporal kicked next wasn't wearing any body armor.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Truth of History

I was with Professor Eric Hyer a couple of weeks ago presenting our film Masses To Masses: An Artist in Mao's China at the Asia Society in New York City. It was an intellectually savvy crowd--these were not people that had a casual interest in Chinese art and politics--but experts and collectors of the art. It struck me during the Q and A, debating whether or not the old lady folk artists of Shaanxi Province engaged in traditional paper cutting during the Cultural Revolution, that the truth frequently has many layers. It isn't to say that there are no hard facts, or universal truths, but that the level of observance is the real litmis test.

During the process of making Masses we read all the scholorarly work, looked up all the experts on our topic, generally tried to keep abreast of the big picture. However, focusing on our little corner of China, Yan'an in this case, the story more or less supported the larger published writings on the subject, but there were those differences. Differences I think that make our story unique, but at the same time, challenge some of the accepted truths about the time. I recall quizing the artists featured in the film about things they experienced that didn't quite fit with the accepted truths of the time and there was a shared belief that Yan'an, being far from the center (Beijing), it was freer. And within the small artist brigade itself, age made a difference in individual experience and perception of what it was like to live through such upheavel.

These disparities aren't to say that the larger published accounts aren't true or that the experiences of the artists in our film have no merit, but they do demonstrate a difference between, for lack of better words, tactical and strategic reality. It is worth taking a few minutes to write about because I have found this to be the case in almost all my work covering current wars and conflicts in places like Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and past events in China and elsewhere. It makes relating history challenging and worth it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Kabul to Kandahar

My attempts to continue blogging from Afghanistan weren't very successful primarily because I was bouncing around and internet wasn't up in most places. I did take a road trip from Kabul to Kandahar. In spring 2002, my last time in Kabul and Kandahar, the trip would have taken two days. It only took seven hours this time--and that included a stop for food at the US PRT in Gazni.

The journey was relatively uneventful although once we hit Mokur we were a bit more alert. The area between Mokur and Kandahar has been the scene of increased contact between coalition forces and anti-coalition elements. It is difficult to characterize these anti-coalition forces as Taliban or al Qaeda, but there is certainly a portion of the population that continues to fight against the US led efforts to eliminate Taliban remnants and lead in the nation building process currently underway.

The lack of females along the roadside is striking. In fact I didn't see a single woman or teenage girl the entire 350 miles journey. Back in Kabul one can see a more cosmopolitan influence, there are women on the street. Most are covered still but they are out and about. The pace of change is much slower in the rural area. I remember Georgia in the early nineties. People in Batumi and other outlying provinces would always talk about the unashamed and "loose" ways of the "Tbilisi girls." The city was clearly seen as a place where traditional values were crumbling in the face of new forces and pressures--primarily from the west.

In Kandahar we stayed the night near the Canadian PRT. The group I was with needed to pick up an additional Humvee for the return trip to Kabul the next day. There wasn't enough room in the SUV for me so I hunkered down in a private house for the night while others went elsewhere to pick up the humvee. On the way back to my location they took small arms fire that splintered the bullet-proof glass on the rear passenger window.

Leaving Kandahar the next morning, a sniper round struck the driver's front window again splintering the glass but causing no other damage. That was all we needed to start referring to the humvee as the bullet magnet. The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Kabul Diary

Internet is finally up again.

I drove around Kabul most of the day today. There is a considerable amount of building and new business in the city compared to my last visit in March 2002. The neighborhood, from the backside of the TV tower all the way to the King's Palace, is considerably more populated now, decades after the factional war between the mujahadeen tore apart those neighborhoods. Our local driver says that the the city is over four million people, compared to a million or so at the close of the Taliban regime. ISAF patrols (Norwegian, German and British) continue to criss-cross the city. And we drove down the busy Jalalabad Road as well, the location of both suicide bombs a few days ago.

Yesterday I met and interviewed Afghan Defense Minister Wardok at the Afghan Ministry of Defense. Besides practical reasons to have western weapons, Minister Wardok makes a emotional appeal for US/Nato weapons to replace the Soviet/Russian arms currently in the Afghan National Army (ANA) arsenal, insisting the AK, PK and RPG are the arms of Afghanistan's recent violent past and it is time for a change.

Kabul Diary

Internet is finally up again.

I drove around Kabul most of the day today as well. There is a considerable amount of building and business in the city compared to my last visit in March 2002. The neighborhood, from the backside of the TV tower all the way to the King's Palace, is considerably more populated now, decades after the factional war between the mujahadeen tore apart those neighborhoods. ISAF patrols (Norwegian, German and British) continue to criss-cross the city. And we drove down the busy Jalalabad Road as well, the location of both suicide bombs a few days ago.

Yesterday I met and interviewed Afghan Defense Minister Wardok at the Afghan Ministry of Defense. Besides practical reasons to have western weapons, Minister Wardok makes a emotional appeal for US/Nato weapons to replace the Soviet/Russian arms currently in the Afghan National Army (ANA) arsenal, insisting the AK, PK and RPG are the arms of Afghanistan's recent violent past and it is time for a change.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Last night, my first night in Kabul, a rocket struck just outside the compound. I think I heard it, and I definitely heard the alarm in my sleep, but I guess I was pretty out of it as it didn't even register with me until I heard others talking about it today. Locals said it was likely a 107mm rocket.

There was another suicide bomb today, this time in Kandahar. The news reported another four Afghan dead as a result. It is sad to hear about suicide bombers and based on traditional Afghan warrior culture, of which suicide bombing is not a tradition, it is a fair bet that those behind the bombings are foreign. It could be that there is an element of the local population being radicalized into such acts but again, this would likely lead back to a foreign element.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I arrived in Kabul today from Bagram via a UH-60 Blackhawk courtesy of the US Army. It does feel different than my last trip here in 2002. I noticed brand new looking wells off the side of the road and locals pumping water. Local business also seems to be thriving, but that is a first impression.

The day before, on Monday, there were two suicide bombs here in the capital resulting in a handful of dead including one German ISAF soldier. I haven't seen the news coverage but word is that, in the first case, a car either backed up or hit the brakes, causing a collision with an ISAF vehicle behind. German soldiers then got out to sort out the accident and the bomber blew himself and the car up when the ISAF patrol was along side the vehicle--killing one German soldier. As we arrived on the tarmac a plane prepared to take off with German soldiers also wounded in the attack .

The other bomber appears to have been a person on bike.

Suicide bombing does not really have a precedent here in Afghanistan, so the incidents on Monday are disturbing. As is the case in Iraq as well, it is the local population that suffers the most casualties.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Army 911

Hurricane Katrina's devastation and the subsequent break down of the rule of law in New Orleans and surrounding areas has weighed heavily on my mind the last few days.

There has been rightful consternation among many that the federal government has acted so slowly in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf States. In fact, much of the 101st Air Assault Division, 911 for the Army, foreign and domestic, sits on post back in Ft Campbell. One could argue it should have been called in and this is exactly the kind of domestic operation it is suited for. The division's air assets could have been used quite effectively for security, and search and rescue operations. Part of the air-mobile component of the division, the CH-47 troop transport helicopter, can carry a platoon of soldiers, some 40 in all. Each helo could have been flown to pick up points, or landing zones, islands of despair within the drowning city, pre-designated by civil or military aerial reconnaissance, or even private and news media helicopters.

Troops could then exit the helos establishing a standard 360-degree security perimeter, which they are already well trained to do, and assist civilians onto the helo. While the civilians are flown to pre-designated safe spots, the soldiers still on the ground at the landing zone could continue to ready additional passengers, search for survivors, and even quell lawlessness with lethal force (I realize there are some issues with the last use). The CH-47 would then return to do it all over again or pick up the platoon or squads and move on to another pre-identified landing zone to pick up more displaced persons.

The whole operation wouldn't have taken more than a couple of days and the city could have been more or less evacuated by now if organized and implemented promptly in the wake of the hurricane. (Of course, this scenario envisions an additional level of deployment of troops and resources to operate and assist the effort at the safe spots.)

But the 101st, while at base in Kentucky, is prepping for a September deployment to Iraq. Many of the soldiers of the 187 brigade for instance, are on block leave through the Labor Day weekend--their last time with family before they ship out to hazardous duty for more than a year. Deploying the 101st to Louisiana would also have a trickle down implications for other units in Iraq and elsewhere.

Most capability studies question the ability of the armed forces to fight multiple wars simultaneously. War games probably never calculated a simultaneous catastrophic national disaster into the scenario, but that is exactly what happened. At a time when military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia are stretching our nation’s ability to project military power, a national disaster struck, adding one more burden to be shouldered by the national command structure. Poor planning, dumb luck or just a highly improbably scenario--the poor and disenfranchised of New Orleans will pay the price of an over extended security apparatus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Over There misses humor

I finally saw my first episodes of FX's new Iraq series Over There. In all, I give it high marks simply for being gutsy enough to tackle the issue of a war while it continues.

However, I did think that both episodes that I saw were a bit heavy, over dramatic, in dialogue, and severely lacking in the kind of humor that most 20 something's engage in--even in war--that served as a release for an obviously tense and dangerous job. After having been embedded in Iraq with both the Marines and the Army, I am convinced that soldiers are thankfully a bunch of ordinary guys and girls, a few years out of their teens, and prone to just goofing off. In that sense, I think the soldier's humor is more realistic in the documentary Gunner Palace or our own Virgin Soldiers. In one case specifically, I remember some rumor that Jennifer Lopez had been killed, by what or whom no one seemed to know, but the J Lo conversation within the unit the next few days became so funny it eclipsed talk of the war itself.

That is not to say that I didn't enjoy Over There, and in fact, I will be watching this week's program about embedded journalists with great interest. However, I am doubtfull the series will truly capture what young soldiers talk and joke about above and beyond the war in which they find themselves.

Here is the link to Over There if interested. http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/originals/overthere/main.html


Thursday, August 11, 2005

I often see and hear logistics and supply issues used as proof or ammunition that the war in Iraq is wrong or unjust. The fact is, whether you are pro or anti war, these supply problems and the morality of war have nothing to do with each other.

When I was with 3/7 Marines at one point we ran out of food for three days. Nor did all the night vision systems work. In the squad I was with, nearly half of the night vision systems had problems and were inoperable. Either they wouldn't clip to the helmet or wouldn't focus--a number of the systems fell victim to the rough ride in the AAV. Nor were the first and second generation M-16s in great shape. About half way up to Baghdad many of the take down pins had broken and the weapons were being held together with wire and/or duct tape. Being free to move from unit to unit within the Battalion, I hitched a ride with some MPs to battalion HQ, found the armory, and requested take down pins for as many M-16s as I could get. Unfortunately, they were all out. The unit had to make do as many other units up and down the line.

One could go on an on, but the point is, these are supply and procurement issues and have no bearing on whether or not the war is just, whether or not the U.S. should be in Iraq, whether or not the U.S. should pull out. Those are an entirely different set of questions, far above the average fighting Marine or soldier's pay grade operating in Iraq, and revolve around policy issues much larger than whether or not we ran short of food for a couple of days.

Does that mean it is justifiable that the solder or Marine is short the functioning equipment he or she needs to survive and fight effectively on the battlefield? I don't think so. Personally, I would rather the ground forces were well equiped at the expense of the other branches of service if that is necessary, but this is another whole set of questions that are fought over every budget between the services--that will forever be fought over--and that is only half the problem. There is no doubt that the war in Iraq should serve up some pretty important logistics lessons and a review of the process of getting the fighting men and women the equipment they need to be successful. However, it is unlikely to, and shouldn't have, any bearing on policy decisions related to whether or not the U.S. should be in Iraq. The services need to be prepared to deploy in whatever circumstance in which they are called--that is their role and mission.

Back to our lack of food, as it happened, the platoon I was with was positioned on one of the Main Supply Routes and there were frequent Army supply columns rolling by. Members of 2nd Squad actually took their ruck sack covers and went along the highway picking up discarded meal packets thrown away by Army truckers. We scrounged more than enough food to make up for the shortfall. I can't say that we all got what we wanted. Within the MRE collection, there are those meals that are known to suck and that is invariably what the Army supply columns were getting rid of, but we didn't go hungry.

Monday, August 08, 2005


The IED attack against a U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious assault Vehicle last week in Iraq (see image of an AAV from 3/7 Marines in Iraq OIF1)) was a violent illustration of a lesson I learned many years ago in college--back in Warner Schilling's Military Technology class at Columbia University. Every weapon and weapon system usually leads to the development of a counter weapon, and that counter weapon will in turn lead to a counter-counter weapon system--a continual escalation for battlefield superiority. This broad yet simple axiom seems to have stood the test of time, at least up to nuclear weapons, to which no successful counter technology or doctrine has evolved. (Even the civil defense measures during the Cold War seemed to be geared more towards public consumption rather than strategic practicality.)

Last year while in Mosul, I recall seeing photos of a suicide bomber's attempt to blow up a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle during OIF1. The insurgent's body was everywhere and the only damage to the Bradley was a large red stain of blood. Those types of zealous but ineffective bombings are more and more a thing of the past in Iraq. No doubt attacks like those demonstrated to the insurgents that they would have to come up with alternatives to penetrate the armor that the coalition possessed. For awhile at least most of the insurgent IEDs targeted the supply column--vehicles that were not armored or lightly armored and were more likely to be damaged, destroyed, and inflict casualties.

The IED that flipped the Marine AAV, may have diminished the importance of the race to up-armor all the soft skin vehicles operating in Iraq, Humvees and trucks. The Iraqi insurgent's IED capability has escalated to diminish the importance that up-armor may have afforded a humvee or truck eighteen months ago. This isn't to say that up-armor will not help against the casual, crude or misplaced IED, but against the more sophisticated and powerful kinds of bombs increasingly used by insurgents, it will not stave off occasional disaster. The Marine AAV is not the first Infantry Fighting Vehicle to be destroyed by an IED. At least one U.S. Army Bradley infantry fighting vehicle was struck by a "lollipop" IED, with enough force to split it from underneath.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

To know one's enemy

CNN reported today that ABC is being punished by the Russian government for last week’s interview with Chechen Warlord Shamil Basayev. This does not surprise me as we too have taken flak for our films on Chechnya and Shamil Basayev. Many people feel that even showing the enemy, giving him a voice, is a bad thing. However, only by understanding the position of all parties, can one make more informed decisions relating to that enemy.

For those dedicated to destroying the enemy, the more one knows about his enemy the easier it should be to defeat him. Knowing how a particular leader thinks, plans his actions, who is under his command, knowledge of the territory, and anything else one can think of, can pay off dramatically on the battlefield—hence every military’s emphasis on accurate and timely intelligence.

But knowing one’s enemy can also lead to multiple options beyond conflict. A true understanding might lead to the conclusion that there may be some common ground with which to build a framework for a relationship short of war. For example, on-going relations with North Korea, punctuated by last week’s six-party talks in Beijing, make it obvious that not enough is known about the workings of the senior leadership of North Korea and the country’s strategic capabilities (although I am sure it is among the most spied on countries in the world—at least from above). A greater understanding of any aspect of the leadership, chain of command, military ethos, anything, would pay off as the west continues to negotiate with this tightly controlled and closed regime over its nuclear program.

Back to Chechnya, I remember talking to a Russian academic about Chechnya and he said it was pure arrogance that the Russian military didn’t really try to understand the Chechen defenders of Grozny in the winter of 1994-1995. Among other tactical oversights, there were no Chechen linguists in the Russian columns that penetrated Grozny in the disastrous New Years Eve assault. But plenty of Chechens spoke Russian and utilized this language skill over the radio to redirect, misdirect and confuse Russian units.

Of course there are countless factors that weigh on every decision made, and too much blood has been spilt in Chechnya and surrounding Russian territories, on both sides, for any likely reproach from war. However, you can be sure that Russian defense officials watched the Shamil interview on ABC with great interest. After all, it is difficult to get that many up close and personal looks at one’s enemy.

Return from China

I apologize for my absence. I just returned from a two week trip to China where I traveled to Yan'an with BYU professor Eric Hyer to talk to local artists about their experience and work during the Cultural Revolution. It is one of our extracurricular activities here at Combat Films and Research to collect political, military and revolutionary related original pieces of art. We are in the midst of putting together an exhibit on a group of Chinese artists thrown together by Mao's policies in the 1960s and 1970s. I promise to post more on this in the near future, but in the meantime if anyone is interested, the collection will be shown at the Springville Art Museum in Springville Utah September 11th through October 16th.

The Springville Museum, under the direction of Vern Swanson maintains a large permanent collection of Soviet Socialist Realism art work. It is a natural to exhibit the Chinese collection here.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Chechnya revisited

I was glad to see that National Geographic is running a piece on Chechnya this month. Chechnya, as brutal as it has been, falls off the public radar unless prompted by events like the Beslan school massacre (Chechnya: Separatism or Jihad). However, tens of thousands of people on both sides of the conflict, which has remained more or less ongoing since 1994, have been killed, injured, displaced, kidnapped, or come up just plain missing.

Of all my travels, Chechnya was by far the scariest--and I was there during the "peaceful" interwar years 1997-1998. At the time, my cameraman and I were staying with Shamil Basayev and his guys in the Vedeno Rayon. We were moved every night from location to location, and had two body guards assigned to us 24/7. We usually slept on a big bed, us in the middle, guards on the outside, AKs and PKM on the floor--fully dressed but shoes on the floor--ready for quick reaction if necessary. From what I wasn't sure.

I remember one morning waking up in the village of Tousand and, anxious to get outside and take a look around, went up the hill from the village to watch some children sledding over abandoned Russian positions. I was out about an hour when Ruslan, one of our body guards, came up the hill and chewed me out. Salembek, another guard, told me that it was their job to protect us and if we were killed or kidnapped while in their care, Salembek claimed Shamil would kill them for failing their duty. It greatly clarified the situation for me. We were moved every night--not for fear of the Russians but other Chechens.

Shamil was perhaps the baddest of the Chechens and respect for him was immense in Chechnya at the time. I couldn't imagine any other rival group messing with Shamil's guys. In fact, there were a couple of times that we were stopped by other armed Chechens and when they saw we were with Shamil's soldiers we were not hassled in any way.

Rival clans and armed units are, of course, just a fraction of the instability in Chechnya.

Here is that Nat Geo link: (http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0507/feature4/index.html)

Dodge Billingsley

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The downing of an MH-47 helicopter by small arms fire earlier this month over Afghanistan was a tragic and significant blow to the Special Operations community. It was also expensive. When you consider that an MH-47 can cost between 14 to 40 million dollars, depending on the model and configuration, and that an RPG costs basically nothing in that part of the world, the bang for the buck was significant.

In 1994 I was in Sukhumi Abkhazia (western Republic of Georgia) and an Abkhaz militiaman tried to sell me an RPG-7 launcher for $100 and some warheads for $20 a piece (I was actually trying to buy an Abkhaz flag). I was subsequently told by other soldiers in Sukhumi that the price was to high. I have no idea what an RPG currently costs in Afghanistan but I am sure it is comparable.

And these "low-tech" weapons remain a risk everywhere to helos and other warfighting platforms. Three years ago on D-Day, Operation Anaconda, I was on a CH-47 trying to get off the tarmac at Bagram in the second lift. As we were sitting there waiting for the order to spool up, someone from the TOC ran up to the CH-47 I was on and gave us the quick sitrep, said good luck, and ran to the next helo to give them similar word. There was silence amongst the troops on board as he described the treacherous situation we would be dropping into. Basically, there was no close air support. All five AH-64 Apache helicopters providing overwatch for the CH-47s were shot up and rendered inoperative by enemy small arms fire, again AKs and RPGs. We never got off the ground. I think the command knew our chances of being safely inserted into the valley were slim to none considering that anti-Coalition forces were now engaging the infantry already on the ground. Gun camera footage from CPT Herman's Apache show dozens for RPGs streaking through the frame on each pass to strike enemy positions below.

Eventually that day, two additional Apaches staged at the FARP, one from Bagram and one from Kandahar, to provide close air support for the troops from that first lift--fighting it out on the ground below.

Dodge Billingsley

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Oil Wars: Cnooc and Unocal

All the flak about Cnooc's bid for U.S. owned Unocal Corp. is interesting. To what degree is the U.S government going to get involved is the question. It seems that if the government is going to step in on this issue, it might consider a more comprehensive energy policy regulating the oil industry similar to the defense industry. It is obvious that certain businesses are considered strategic such as weapon systems--and oil. Recent U.S. efforts to develop additional oil sources from places like the Caspian Sea basin (see Fault Lines and Pipelines) underline the effort to secure oil for the future in the face of an unstable Middle East, South America and other politically dodgy places, and a diminishing supply of known reserves. This is not to say that allowing the Cnooc deal to go through would be bad, but rather it will be interesting to watch events unfold as China becomes an economic power house requiring ever larger portions of the global oil reserve. The Unocal deal could be a significant volley in the emerging tug of war for natural resources between China and the west.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It looks like it is shaping up to be a busy summer here at CFR. I am wrapping up another set of lectures to various military units bound for Iraq. The topic this time was media relations--a tough sell for many soldiers who at best see the military as a hindrance to their mission. Many feel that they don't get fair representation in the press. More on this later when I get a chance to get my head around the issues raised in the last few days.

Myself and Eric Hyer are also preparing to head back to China to meet with friend and artist Jin Zhilin--an informal study of the bizarre realities of the Cultural Revolution. Ty Turley is busy conducting research for a new documentary we are producing tenatively called The World Car: Globalization and the Automobile. Besides that, Todd Sansom is wrapping up the second series of Beyond the Border. We should have been done months ago but running dubs and getting the right copies to the right places has been tedious to say the least. Out for now, Dodge Billingsley