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May, 2011:

Peach-Smoked Pork Chops

I posted this recipe over at Auntie Pasto.

Kill or Capture

And this is why I’m a lousy blogger: it takes me three days to seriously answer questions about my previous post. Taking the concepts in turn:

No. Really. You don’t talk about Fight Club.

There is the argument that the electorate deserves to know about Usama’s death. All I can say is that I disagree — that in any conflict between operational security and the public’s desire to know, the public loses. This is one of the advantages of a representative (as opposed to a direct) democracy: the people can still have a say without exposing details to our enemies.

That said, there is also a practical argument against secrecy: the public is going to (eventually) find out that Usama is dead, and the government may want to control that narrative. In that case, the proper statement should have looked something like this:

On May 1st, U.S. forces conducted a raid on an al-Qaeda command center in Pakistan. During the course of the raid, four militants were killed, and Usama bin Laden was positively identified as one of the dead. Operations are  ongoing, so we are unable to comment further at this time.

As it is, the current administration seems to be in a race with the military to see if they can piss away all the intelligence faster than the military can act on it. Assuming, of course, that anything we’re hearing form “highly placed sources” is actually real information, and not simply posturing for the media by folks pretending to know more than they do.

Kill or Capture?

The confusion on my  second point is my fault: I brought up the Ford/Carter/Reagan ban on assassinations in an attempt to speak in short-hand, and fouled up my own argument. The problem, of course, is that the ban is on political assassinations in the absence of war. Obviously, those conditions don’t apply.

No, my real gripe was with the “kill only” meme that was being presented by the media, attributed to the same “highly placed sources” as before. My objection is this: it is illegal for a member of the U.S. military to refuse an offer of surrender. It is also illegal for an officer of the U.S. military (including the C-in-C) to order a subordinate to kill an enemy when surrender is offered.

This means that, had Usama thrown up his hands and shouted “I surrender!” as the operative entered his room, (in the words of Froggy, an ex-SEAL who posts at Blackfive):

he would have taken a muzzle strike to the face, but not any rounds. He would have swallowed some teeth, been flex cuffed, and dragged roughly out to a marshalling area and then onto the helo.

My objection is to the posers want to look hard-core by saying that the team was sent to summarily execute Usama. Usama had an out, had he chosen to take it.

The usual source of confusion is a competing rule of war: you are not required to invite surrender. This means that, had Usama been targeted by a sniper (or a drone), he’d still have the same out — but he’d probably have been dead before he know he could take it.

(Of course, he might not have believed — or wanted to, if he knew — that he could ask for quarter in that situation. Which is why I’m griping about the media presentation of events, and not the actions of the actual shooter.)

The crashed helicopter seems to be a new-fangled stealth chopper.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning a contradictory point to my previous theory: the helicopter that was destroyed on-site appears to have been a stealth helicopter that the public hadn’t seen before. While it is possible that the special operations team might have deliberately crashed such a beast, it is less likely (because in doing so we reveal its existence).

Harshing your Geronimo E-KIA Mellow

As those of you reading my Facebook have probably already surmised, there are aspects of Usama bin Laden’s death this weekend that leave me disquieted. Not in the way the military operation was executed, but in how the administration has handled the aftermath. As the media storm has calmed a bit, I can now try to break down what’s wrong (keep in mind that this all depends on my sources telling me the truth):

The first rule of Fight Club is, you never talk about Fight Club.

The same thing is true of Special Operations. The White House has been overly forthcoming with information about the operation, starting with the big one: revealing the target.

That’s right, I’m telling you that the President should not have told the public that JSOC had just killed Usama. An idea that seems counter-intuitive at first becomes much more obvious when you remember that al-Qaeda was organized in a cell structure. A cell structure is designed so that the subordinate cells don’t know anything about their superiors, while the superiors only know about their immediate subordinates.

In Usama’s case, this meant that (theoretically) only his trusted courier knew how to find him. If the press had announced that the wreckage of a stealthy helicopter was found in a compound containing three dead bodies, then the bad guys wouldn’t know anything immediately.

The U.S. could then examine the supposed treasure trove of intelligence gained from Usama’s computer, and use it to track down Usama’s subordinates. If secrecy could be preserved, a large portion of al-Qaeda (and possibly the Haqqani network) could have been rolled up before they knew what hit them. As it is, the subordinate cells are probably on the move: both because they know that Usama’s been capped, and that we got his computers.

Now was not the time to suddenly discover transparency, Mister President.

Point number two: I Hate the Media.

One of the narratives that was put forth during the media storm was the idea that this was an assassination. I blame the genius wordsmith who wrote the President’s speech (emphasis added): “After a firefight, they killed Usama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

The obvious implication was that the JSOC team killed Usama after all the shooting had stopped.

I spent a few hours railing (inside) at the administration for throwing away the opportunity for more intelligence. (Despite getting the computer, there was still a lot of new information inside Usama’s brain.) But I paid attention to all the former SEALs on the forums I read: they all said, to a man, that they would not perform an assassination.

Remember, it’s been technically illegal by Executive Order since the Carter administration. Pretty much everyone in the military at this point has never known anything else.

No, the most likely explanation is that the Rules of Engagement for the mission were such that Usama didn’t have much chance of getting out alive. Leon Panetta said (basically) that Usama had to throw up his hands and surrender.

Those are rough RoE, but not an assassination.

Final note: Special Operations Guys are Nuts.

One of the things that has been claimed is that the strike team lost a helicopter to mechanical failure. I don’t think this was the case: I think it was deliberately crashed in an unpowered landing. This would get part of the strike team into position quickly, and allow them to approach without the helicopter’s engines giving them away.

If you think this isn’t likely, I refer you to Operation Ivory Coast: U.S. Special Forces deliberately crash-landed one of their helicopters into the middle of the Son Tay prison camp in 1970.

I’m glad they’re on my side.


JSOC: Joint Special Operations Command.