Canadian Name Change, Taliban attack in Kabul…

Posted in Afghanistan War on August 19, 2011 by maccaulay


Beginning earlier this week, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced that the Canadian Forces’ separate commands will be reverting to their pre-1968 names: the Maritime Command will return to being the Royal Canadian Navy, the Air Command will become the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Land Command will once again be the Canadian Army.

This is a return to the designations that the services served under in World War II, and is probably being done more as a public relations move than anything else. However the good it’ll be doing for the services’ esprit de corps shouldn’t be undersold: this is something that a fairly vocal group of veterans has been pushing for for a long time.

The move does have it’s detractors, however: Paul Hellyer, the Defence Minister who spearheaded the original name change in 1968, is vocal about in his belief that this is the wrong course. “This is a step back towards pseudo-colonialism,” he remarked soon after news broke. The action group Citizens for a Canadian Republic is also calling for a full accounting of the cost of the name change.

For myself, at the risk of editorializing, I think it’s a good move. There is a history associated with the names RCAF, RCN, and Canadian Army. These are the names that kept the supply line open to Britain in 1940, stormed Juno Beach in 1944, held the line at Kapyong, Korea in 1951, and fortified Germany during the first part of the Cold War. While Hellyer can be understood in his wish to move Canada past it’s British roots, he must understand that these names are historical because of Canadian accomplishments, not British ones. That in itself makes them intrinsically Canadian names.



On the heels of the anniversary of the Anglo-Afghan War, Taliban suicide bombers have attacked a British cultural center in Kabul. According to BBC World Service, there are currently 4 dead and 4 wounded, as well as a suicide bomber still inside the structure itself.

The attack was against the outside of the building, though it seems that by the presence of the survivor, at least one Taliban attacker was able to make it inside the cultural center. I’ll deliver more on this as it becomes available.


The tactical experience in Desert Storm, Leon Pennetta to Afghanistan…

Posted in Afghanistan War, Desert Storm on July 10, 2011 by maccaulay

…though it has been twenty years since the conflict, Desert Storm still echoes through our recent history due to the Iraq War. One enduring myth that will probably outlive the veterans of that war is that the Iraqi Army was without any tactical or operational savvy whatsoever.

One engagement which shows the immense doctrinal and equipment advantages the US had even when the Iraqis DID make good tactical decisions is the Battle of 73 Easting.

On February 26th, 1991, elements of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment were advancing across the desert along pre-established directional “lines in the sand”. Upon reaching Easting line 70 (known in parlance as 70 Easting), the Bradleys and Abrams of Eagle Troop under the command of Captain H.R. McMaster engaged dismounted Iraqi infantry dug in around a series of buildings.

The American armor engaged the infantry and passed through them after decisively defeating them in a quick engagement, and continued east. The group of Iraqis they had engaged was in actuality one of the security screens for the Tawakalna Division.

It is here that we stop to answer an important question: why was the Tawakalna there? Obviously the Iraqi Army was not just a series of pop up targets to be collected and shot at by the US. Contrary to popular belief, there WAS a larger operational plan.

The Coalition plan was to attack with the mechanized VII Corps (1st Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st UK Armoured Division, 2nd ACR) around the north flank of the Iraq forces in Kuwait, locking them off from retreat and trapping them between their own mechanized forces in the north and the advancing troops of the Marine and Arab Corps in the south.

Once this became obvious to the Iraqi General Staff, four Republian Guard and one mechanized Army divisions were sent from southern Iraq to create a north-south defensive line from Basra down into northern Kuwait in order to deny the Iraqi flank to the Coalition. This was a sound operational move, and one that in effect managed to keep the Republican Guard intact by aligning it against the VII Corps as opposed to the south of it.

The mechanized Army division, in the south of the line, was the Tawakalna Division. And it was that unit’s lines that the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment had just moved into. Once past the security cordon, the 2nd ACR pushed into the Tawakalna’s main body: US doctrine states to attack on the move, charging in and using the confusion of movement to aid in causing fear in the enemy.

The Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles  advanced towards the main body of the Tawalkana Division, but before they could close they hit an anti-tank minefield. Captain McMaster’s decision was to move through the minefield at full speed, choosing momentum over tactical precision. It turned out to be the correct choice.

Over twenty T-72s were already destroyed by the time the Abrams made their way past the minefields and into the main lines of the Iraqis. The T-72s were dug into revetments: only their turrets were visible to the Americans, but their training and inclination to aim at the mass of a target resulted in most shots going straight through the berm in front of the tank before finally impacting the target.

The M1A1 Abrams tanks moved farther into the Iraqi positions, finally reaching the command and control section of the division where they proceeded to shoot up the mobile reserve which was still waiting to deploy.

What does 73 Easting tell us about US and Iraqi warfighting? It tells us that even when the Iraqis did everything right, US doctrine and training still outclassed them definitively:

The Iraqis laid out pickets: the Americans managed to advance through them using a simple attack.

The Iraqis next laid down an anti-tank mine field: the 2nd ACR bypassed that using speed and forcefulness of movement, as is directed in their doctrine.

The Iraqis THEN had a mobile reserve waiting to counter any attack, but the breakthrough from the minefield by the 2nd ACR was so fast that the Iraqi armor wasn’t even out of it’s revetments by the time the Abrams were in among them.

Simply put: the Iraqis did everything right, and they still lost. That is because American doctrine was designed to take advantage of those holes in Soviet doctrine that the Iraqis were using. We had the right tools for the job, and used them in the right way.


In his first trip out of the US as Secretary of Defense, former CIA chief Leon Pennetta made a whirlwind trip to Afganistan yesterday to meet with David Petraeus. Surely that must’ve been an interesting meeting: Petraeus is due to take Pennetta’s old slot at the CIA.

As for who will take the Central Command head post after Petraeus leaves, only time will tell. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes there were a few more like him.

Afghanistan Draw Down and the Chinese Carrier…

Posted in Afghanistan War with tags , on July 3, 2011 by maccaulay

Last week, the President declared a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan that is in effect a phantom reduction: according to ABC News, a rough calculation of force numbers in Afghanistan shows that force levels have nearly tripled during the Obama Administration due to a Surge similar to that done in Iraq.

The troops being withdrawn over the next year (about 30,000) correspond with those troops that were sent in originally with the Surge, bringing the troop strength in country down to pre-Surge levels.

What to make of this? Obviously there are political calculations involved in the Administration’s choice. One cannot discount the good feelings engendered by a bunch of troops coming home to their families. It also takes a bit of ammunition away from those Republicans that would attack Obama for keeping the US mired in an unwinnable war.

But the fact remains: the drawdown is really a conveniently timed rotation with no replacement, and at the moment there is almost no chance of getting an honest on-the-ground assessment of how the situation is as the troops pull out.


The ex-Varyag is ready to be put to sea next week, to undergo sea trials for the People’s Liberation Army Navy. This is the PLAN’s first carrier, and one that they got almost completely constructed from the Russians. The ex-Varyag (it still doesn’t have a new name) started life as the Varyag in the service of the Soviet Navy. It was uncompleted at the time of the Soviet breakup, and ended up in the Black Sea where the Ukranians sold it to a third party bidder that ended up being a front company for the Chinese Navy.

Satellites and submarines are expected to keep a sharp eye out when the carrier goes for it’s first sea trials. No aircraft trials are expected: there has been no movement of Flankers from the naval flight sch0ol at Guangzhou.

T-72s to Ethiopia, New Zealand SAS in Kabul…

Posted in Afghanistan War with tags , on July 1, 2011 by maccaulay

…according to Jane’s Intelligence, Ukraine has inked a deal with Ethiopia to sell the country two hundred T-72 tanks. Details on the exact type are sketchy, but most likely the tanks are the T-72BM variant, with Explosive Reactive Armour bricks across the frontal arc and sides and angled armour on the bow.

More information has come out about the New Zealand SAS raid on a hotel in Kabul last week. The Times of London reports that the raid began at 10:45 local time when a suicide squad burst into the International Hotel’s ballroom firing randomly with Kalashnikovs and RPGs. A Crisis Response Unit of the Afghan Army responded to clear the building, but by that point several of the members of the suicide squad had already managed to get to the roof.

It was at that point that the NZSAS was called in to clear the building and roof. In the ensuing firefight, helicopter gunships were brought in as well as ground fire from surrounding Afghan troops before the Kiwis made the final assault which resulted in the entire suicide squad dead and two New Zealanders wounded. As of press time, reports that the injured SASers will make a full recovery.

Welcome to the Blog, and French aid to Libya…

Posted in Libyan Civil War on July 1, 2011 by maccaulay

This blog’s main purpose will be to discuss topics in the realm of modern warfare, security, and counterinsurgency as well as to cover any ancillary goings-on. Book and film reviews, pictures from historical sites and museums, etc., will all be par for the course.

For the first column, I thought I would cover the introduction of French military aid to Libya in the last few days in the ongoing civil war between Muammar Gaddafi and the National Transitional Council.

According to BBC World Service, the Armee de l’Air began running transport missions over Libya about a week ago to deliver over 40 tons of weapons to tribesmen fighting south of Tripoli on what it currently the only front that isn’t in stalemate. Just recently that front has also been helped along by the recovery of a massive arms cache, as reported by Al Jazeera. The rebels recovered recoilless rifles, surface-to-air missiles (most likely SA-14 Gremlins) and at least two T-55 tanks in running order.

The exact makup of the cache is unknown, but a few things can be ascertained: if SAMs from the cache are used, then they are most likely SA-14s, as no SA-7s have been seen in either Libyan arsenal so far. This lends credence to the theory that most equipment used by Qaddafi’s forces dates from the late-70s/early-80s and is noteworthy only in it’s sheer numbers.

But what of the French aid? What could entail? History tells us that there are certain French weapons that have worked well in counterinsurgency scenarios: according to The Soviet-Afghan War by the Soviet General Staff (and published by the U of Kansas), Milan anti-tank missiles and Swedish Oerlikon AA guns were both used to great effect in the hands of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan.

We know that the Milan is capable of penetrating the armour of almost all of the tanks in the Libyan inventory: the only tanks that have yet to be concretely tested against it are the T-80s, most of which are in use on the Eastern Front against the Benghazi-based rebels and as such would be unlikely to face any French-supplied weapons.  In any case, we can surmise that if the Milan was to face a T-80 in combat, if would still turn out the victor: in the Russo-Georgian War, Russian T-80s were penetrated using Soviet-era AT-11 Sniper anti-tank missiles which have been shown to have 80 percent of the penetrating capacity of the Milan.

But is there anything else they could’ve parachuted to the rebels? 40 tons is a lot of weight, and surely anti-tank rockets don’t account for all. Small arms are almost certainly not part of these shipments: the rebels are in control of more than enough small arms, and there is no need to give more to them and increase a glut. Nightvision gear is something: increasing the overall tempo of operations the rebels can undertake is a good way to bring the war to a swifter conclusion, and the French command could understand that.

Air-portable artillery is yet another: the Italian Oto Melari 105mm gun was designed to be portable in packs, and could provide a large punch for rebel offensives that they are otherwise lacking. However the possibility of airdropping a gun that has to be put together on the ground by untrained people unfamiliar with the gun’s workings is probably minimal.

So we have (1) anti tank rockets, (2) nightvision gear. What else?

That is a good question, and one I hope we’ll be able to find out when the war is over.