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Military21 Sep 2008 at 13:56 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The US often hears echoes of worldwide hostility against the application of its foreign policy, but seldom are they reached by the voices of those who experience first hand how close we are to the USA. In spite of contextual political differences and conflicting interests that generate friction, we do share the same fundamental values – and when push comes to shove that is what really counts. Through the eyes of that French OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams) infantryman you can see how strong the bond is on the ground. In contrast with the Americans, the French soldiers don’t seem to write much online – or maybe the proportion is the same but we just have less people deployed. Whatever the reason, this is a rare and moving testimony which is why I decided to translate it into English, so that American people can catch a glimpse of the way European soldiers see them. Not much high philosophy here, just the first hand impressions of a soldier in contact – but that only makes it more authentic.

Here is the original French article June 2011 update : the site of the original article is long dead – it disappeared not long after this translation was published and I was therefore unable to satisfy those who wanted proof of source. I just found out that has captured a snapshot of the site as it was in September 2008 – so there, you can now read the original !

Here is my translation :

“We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while – they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army – one that the movies brought to the public as series showing “ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events”. Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day ? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company.

They have a terribly strong American accent – from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.

Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine – they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them – we are wimps, even the strongest of us – and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.

Here we discover America as it is often depicted : their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity lack of privacy and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor, motherland – everything here reminds of that : the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location : books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions : the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.

And they are impressive warriors ! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark – only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered – everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.

And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all – always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks : they switch  from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the ennemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting : they just charge ! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later – which cuts any pussyfooting short.

We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is – from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.

To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America’s army’s deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owned this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers”.

Brain dump and Military and Security and Technology20 Jan 2008 at 17:33 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In spite of the hype surrounding micro and nano UAV and how important they are becoming to winning the struggle for tactical information, I can’t find any reference about how to defend against them. As their current use is mostly on the strong side of asymmetrical warfare, it seems that the industry and the users have simply set the problem aside for now.

But it won’t be long before two high-technological forces equipped with swarms of nano UAV will find themselves fighting against each other, and they will both certainly clamor for a better fly swatter. Since I can’t foresee very large fly swatters being part of standard issue kit anytime soon, there is a clear need for some new form of air defense against air vehicles as small as a mapple seed.

Will we see micro air defense units in action, complete with toy-size automatically guided artillery, dust-like shrapnel and tiny missiles ? This heralds the appearance of new dimensions in the tactical environment, and those familiar with nanotechnological prospective will have recognized the first step of a downscaling war.

Meanwhile I think about the potential for pest control – selectively killing flying intruders seems definitely better than spraying nerve agents in my home…

Africa and Military and Politics06 Jan 2008 at 23:51 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The story has been getting recently some more exposure, but it has been going on for years with sporadic appearances in mainstream media. It is still quietly under-reported in contrast to the widely hyped Darfur crisis.

As we can see in Sudan, killing civilians and destroying infrastructure is a practical method of ethnic purification that can yield useful results. But the social fabric itself is left intact – and with it the opponent still has the potential to survive as an organized group. But to really annihilate the opposition, its social fabric has to be torn up. And that is the motive behind the massive organized rape campaign in eastern Congo. Some of it is random violence comparable to what is found in any other armed conflict, but there is a disturbing trend that shows a systematic approach : the heart of darkness has found its weapon of mass destruction. According to the UN representative, the prevalence and intensity of sexual violence against women in eastern Congo are “almost unimaginable”.

A UN report found that in the central Equateur province, the police and army often responded to civil unrest “with organised armed reprisals that target the civilian population and involve indiscriminate pillage, torture and mass rape”. It is most notable that this violence is not the uncontrolled acts of random rebels, but planified operations executed by official armed forces. Of course, violence by state armed forces against civilian population is not a Congolese monopoly, but it is still an alarming signal that something is going very wrong, especially at this level and this extent.

In traditional societies, in the absence of a centralized impartial power to enforce social order, honor within the group is by far the most important measure by which relations of trust are established and preserved. Lose it and you lose everything. When you have witnessed how touchy members of traditional societies are when they feel the tiniest slight to what they perceive as their honor, you can understand how utterly ruined they are after every conceivable taboo has been broken in front of them. It goes beyond the sheer psychological shock of the abomination : in modern societies there is a safety net that can help in mending a broken life and starting again – medical, psychological, professional and financial help – but in the chaos of eastern Congo there is nothing of the sort. Losing all social links is a catastrophic event as bad as the physical effects of the violence. In practical terms, survivors of rape face abandonment by husbands, discrimination by the whole community and a very bleak future.

John Holmes, the UN emergency relief coordinator remarked : “It’s the scale and brutality of it, it’s the use of it as a weapon of terror. It’s the way it’s done publicly, for maximum humiliation. It’s hard to understand”. Actually, when put into the context of a systematic use for social destruction it makes a lot of sense. With a heavy medical burden unsupported by any health care, with overwhelming shame and no psychological support, with sexually transmitted diseases and a destroyed reproductive system that voids all prospects of bearing children, women not only lose their role as pillar of their community but they also become a constant reminder of the humiliation, a vehicle for the hopelessness. And their former community that rejects them suffers just as heavy a blow to its cohesion.

Again, the key point is that those horrendous violences are not reported to be the product of the random urges of some isolated criminally perverse elements – they are part of a systematic campaign against entire populations. The yet to be open case should not waste time targeting the lowly executioners : if the phenomenon is as widely spread as reports suggest, then it cannot exist without approval and active support from their military hierarchy. Some major war criminals are out there, still free to roam and take profit from the continuing suffering of the population. And we have not even started to denounce them, so it is not even worth mentioning doing anything against them.

Sadly, we are not interested in doing anything to stop the crisis in Congo : a meaningful intervention would be hugely expensive and last a generation. In all honesty, I am not ready to pay for that, nor are you – so we simply look away. From a Realpolitik point of view that may be a sound strategic decision. But from an humanitarian point of view the least we can do is not to let the horror stare us down when we look at it in the face.

If you wish to help, you can promote awareness of the humanitarian situation in Eastern Congo, or for a more direct impact you can get in touch with the Panzi Hospital whose action in the treatment of sexual violence has been exemplary.

Military and Politics11 Oct 2007 at 14:11 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The Economist has just concluded a series of detailed articles on terrorism and civil liberties (1, 2, 3). I have been particularly touched by how the editorial introduction to the series has made an essential point in a stunningly courageous way :

“[..] We accept that letting secret policemen spy on citizens, detain them without trial and use torture to extract information makes it easier to foil terrorist plots. To eschew such tools is to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind your back. But that—with one hand tied behind their back—is precisely how democracies ought to fight terrorism. [..]

Human rights are part of what it means to be civilised. Locking up suspected terrorists—and why not potential murderers, rapists and paedophiles, too?—before they commit crimes would probably make society safer. Dozens of plots may have been foiled and thousands of lives saved as a result of some of the unsavoury practices now being employed in the name of fighting terrorism. Dropping such practices in order to preserve freedom may cost many lives. So be it”.

Considering the care that the editors of The Economist usually take in exercising opinions, such bold stand against the way we currently fight against terrorism has taken me by surprise. And it expresses better than I so far managed to conceive the profound reason why, in the fight to uphold our values, letting the ends justify the means is counter-productive : you cannot fight in the name of your own values if you sell your own soul.

Different regimes have different constraints, choosing democracy comes with specific ones and acting within them is the price we must keep paying without reneging. If we don’t we are just loosing ourselves and there will only be pyrrhic victories.

Brain dump and Military and Politics10 Oct 2007 at 20:53 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The song “Guantanamera” is such an omnipresent timeless classic tune that the mere mention of it immediately recalls its irresistible groove in anyone. But Guantanamo is now a name draped in an infamy that may well become just as famous as the song. So since a couple of years, every time I think about that song I can’t help but associate the concepts.

Now I want you to associate them too ! Every time you hear that song I want you to think about all the losers imprisoned in Camp X-ray without cause. Think about how arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention without trial, extraordinary rendition and suspension of habeas corpus are actually sapping at the foundation of the very freedom that our democracies are supposed to uphold.

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

I am a sincere man
From where the palm tree grows
And before dying I want
To let out the verses of my soul

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmín encendido
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
Que busca en el monte amparo

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

My verse is light green
And it is flaming red
My verse is a wounded stag
Who seeks refuge on the mountain

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

I grow a white rose
In July just as in January
For the honest friend
Who gives me his open hand

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

With the poor people of the earth
I want to cast my lot
The brook of the mountains
Gives me more pleasure than the sea

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

When I started writing this post five minutes ago, I thought I was the only one to have thought of using that song as a symbol… But as usual in the global memetic ocean, like-minded individuals exposed to the same set of stimuli will produce the same response – so much for my delusion of being creative… Shortly after starting researching some context for this article I stumbled about the most unlikely like-minded individual : Richard Stallman the Free Software pionneer and undefatiguable advocate !

Richard Stallman even went a step further by writing new lyrics for the tune and recorded it with amateur Cuban musicians. So pass the mike to Sir Richard !

Me odiaba mi primo
Por celos a mi carrera.
Lo arrestaron y dijo
Que terrorista yo era.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

My cousin hated me;
He was jealous of my career.
They arrested him and he said
I was a terrorist.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

Ha decidido el imperio
Tenerme por siempre preso
Y la cuestión es hacerlo
Con o sin falso proceso.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

The empire has decided
To keep me in prison forever.
The question is whether to do it
With or without a fake trial.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

Cuando me hieren el cuerpo,
Dicen que no me torturan.
Causan heridas profundas
De esas que nunca se curan.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

When they injure my body
They say they are not torturing me.
They cause me grave wounds
Such as never heal.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

No me permiten que duerma:
Mi fin no es un misterio.
Voy a salir cuando muera
O caiga el gran imperio.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

They don’t let me sleep:
My end is no mystery.
I will get out when I die
Or the great empire falls.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

Military27 Apr 2007 at 10:33 by Jean-Marc Liotier

This week, the BBC published a photographic essay about the ongoing fighting between Ethiopian-backed forces and insurgents in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. One of the notable features of this battle has been the mortar bombardment, so inaccurate that it could as well as been random. The insurgent from the Hawiye clan and the islamic militias remnants of the Islamic Courts of Somalia have been accused of terrorism, but I have a alternate theory.

Hanlon’s Razor teaches us to never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence. Among the pictures in the essay was the following one. Take a good look at it :

Notice anything remarkable ? Does not the blue round look a bit odd if just from the perspective of chromatic harmony ? Actually it is much worse than that, and those among you with some military culture are probably laughing already.

For those not familiar with ordnance color codes, the color blue is the convention for marking inert training rounds. Those rounds are designed to give crews practice in firing and technique of fire without the expense incident to firing HE ammunition. On impact, the practice rounds emit a puff of white smoke. Those round differs from the HE version in color and filler only.

The Ethiopian army and the Darod on the receiving end are surely going to believe in miracles when they are still alive after that mortar round impacts among them in a rather harmless puff of white smoke.

What is that training round doing among live ones is anyone’s guess. If anyone tells the shooters, you can be sure that whoever holds the mortar ammunition stall at Bakara market will at least have to offer them a discount on their next purchase of ordnance…

Consumption and Military27 Jul 2006 at 19:52 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In “The Art of Camo” (an article for the American Institute of Graphic Arts), Phil Patton says :

Camouflage attracts modernists raised to believe that ornament is crime. Camo ornaments legally, you might say – its pattern has a job to do.

That quite nicely puts my feelings into words. I worship pragmatism and generally can’t stand pointless decoration… Camouflage is an excellent excuse to indulge in some. So maybe this is the reason why I love camo patterns… Well, that and the way I’m irresistibly attracted toward the sort of large and expensive hardware that camouflaged people play with…

Military20 Jul 2006 at 23:08 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Jihadis Adapt to Counter-Terror Measures and Create New Intelligence Manuals” is an article by Abdul Hameed Bakier published at the Jamestown Foundation. It describes the sort of documents that the jihadist movement has been producing. From what I read in the article, much of the published material describes basic operational techniques already available from open sources and paraphrased with a few Quranic verses sprinkled along. But among all that chaff there is certainly original source material from the rather large experience surviving experienced members of the jihadist movement have gathered on various theaters. There are plenty of American servicemen writing about their daily lives but I am quite curious about experiences from their opponents. Too bad I am not fluent in Arabic…

Games and Military27 Jun 2006 at 2:18 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I bought Harpoon 3 Advanced Naval Warfare yesterday and of course I could not resist the urge to play it immediatly. I selected a scenario at random and ended up in “Three young tigers” commanding some Philippino/Malay/American coalition going up against the PLAN in the usual disagreement over the Spratlys.

Installation was fast and trivial but my immediate impression was one of disappointement. The graphical interface is still its more than a decade old Harpoon II self with its windowing system independant from Windows own and limited to a window (no full screen) with a maximum size of 1280×1024 pixels. As promised it is rock stable – no crash, no glitch and no problems whatsoever switching between H3ANW and other applications. But I expected some ergonomics improvements and there are none. Interaction with the game is still as clunky as ever and the concept of contextual menu and drag’n’drop are still unknown in the Harpoon world.

On top of all that, even on an Athlon 2400, H3ANW is still the CPU hog that Harpoon has always been – I pegged CPU usage to 100% during the whole game. And I do not yet understand what the increased CPU usage brings : I have not found the AI to have improved measurably.

So to me, H3ANW is a stable bug-free Harpoon II with multiplayer capability. Not bad if only for the sheer nostalgia value. I do not regret my purchase and I will surely find much pleasure in toying with imaginary haze gray heavy metal, especially if I can find a like-minded friend to play with. But I do not believe that H3ANW will appeal to anyone outside of a small circle of old Harpoon players and hard-core naval warfare afficionados. That traditionnal audience will find just what it needed, but the casual gamers who overcame the initial hurdle of getting interested to a realistic simulation with historic context and getting used to the NTDS symbols will certainly be horrified by the woeful ergonomics.

Games and Military22 Jun 2006 at 12:19 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Ever since I started playing Harpoon II eleven years ago I longed for human opponents. Multiplayer developments of Harpoon have long been promised but various projects encountered endless corporate obstacles and left the fans frustrated. But today the wait has ended : Harpoon 3 Advanced Naval Warfare has been released with multiplayer support. As Harpoon is by very far the best commercially available naval combat simulator, the perspective of playing against my fellow humans fills me with joy. Now I have to convince some of them to join me… Meanwhile you can read a good article about H3ANW by Armchair General (from which the following screenshot has been taken) with enough background information to put you up to speed with what to expect from Harpoon.

Military08 Jun 2006 at 13:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In an article dated from wednesday the 7th of June 2006, Strategypage claims “Zarqawi Scheduled for Martyrdom” and goes on explaining how strained relationships with the mainline al Qaeda leadership makes his fall at the hands of his partners a likely event.

In an article dated from thuesday the 8th of June 2006 at 8:42am ET15Reuters announces “Al Qaeda’s Zarqawi killed“. Associated Press goes on precising that “Al-Zarqawi and several aides [..] were killed Wednesday evening“.

It appears that Strategypage has hinted at Zarqawi’s death before the official announcement. Is that just a coincidence and good foresight by Strategypage ? Strategypage having very good relationships with members of US military and paramilitary forces, I would rather think the information was leaked to them before an official press release.

Military12 Jan 2006 at 10:44 by Jean-Marc Liotier

“War upon rebellion is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife” – TE Lawrence.

In his book “Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife” John Nagl examines how armies learn during the course of conflicts for which they are initially unprepared in organization, training, and mindset. Like “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” from which TE Lawrence’s quote is excerpted, it is a very useful read for understanding the current situation in Iraq. Written well before Operation Iraqi Freedom it nethertheless shows lessons very relevant to it.

Voicing publicly the private views of many of his peers, Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a senior officer in the British Army has published a critical analysis of American military attitudes in Iraq. I do not believe his paper to be the scathing account that the press presents. On the contrary, it confirms the traditional strengths of the US Army and the ability for learning that individuals have demonstrated. But is does point out how heavy institutional inertia prevents widespread adaptation to the nature of counterinsurgency. Compounded doctrinal and cultural factors are shown to be the root cause of the American difficulties in Iraq.

Alwyn-Foster cites Nagl noting that “The American Army’s role from its very origins was the eradication of threats to national survival’, in contrast to the British Army’s history as ‘an instrument of limited war, designed to achieve limited goals at limited cost”. The USA possesses nearly irresistible powers in conventional wars against nation-states. But when confronted with counterinsurgency operations, this strength induces such a bias that it becomes a root of weakness : when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For example, Alwyn-Foster underlines that the US Army’s ‘Soldier’s creed’ “enjoins the soldier to have just the one type of interaction with his enemy – ‘to engage and destroy him:’ not defeat, which could permit a number of other politically attuned options, but destroy”. Being a warrior is part, but not all, of being a soldier.

Alwyn-Foster’s paper leads the reader to “the realisation that all military activity is subordinate to political intent, and must be attuned accordingly: mere destruction of the enemy is not the answer”. It is no suprise to me that he reminds me of what my aikido master used to teach us : the goal of martial arts is not the destruction of the opponent, it is the destruction of the conflict. Adversary and partner are one and there can be no winning of the hearts and minds unless this has been realized.

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