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Samizdata quote of the day

If Russia’s defense ministry really does believe that all the missiles found their intended targets, those sheep must have been up to something

Dave Majumdar & John Allen Gay

15 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Still, they avoided hospitals, as far as we know: advantage, Russia.

  • Mike Polaski

    Current evidence is the USAF attacked the target in Kunduz that the Afghan army called the strike in on. Not sure why this should not be addressed to the Afghan army. If they felt it needed to be hit, maybe it needed to be hit.

  • Mr Ed

    The use of the Caspian Sea as a launch site is quite interesting. It used to be shared by the Russian Empire (then the Soviets) and Iran, and was divvied up between them. Now it has Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan as well as its shores and the status of the waters offshore (e.g. outside the territorial limit) is not clear. Are the waters outside the territorial limit international waters, or waters of the littoral states? If the waters are international, Russian warships could get a bit closer to Syria without needing ‘permission’ to be in the southern part from Azerbaijan or Iran.

    There is also a line of argument that although the Caspian Sea has no outflow, the Volga which flows into it is connected by some of Stalin’s GULAG canals to the White Sea (Arctic Ocean) and the Black Sea, thereby making the Volga and Caspian Sea an international waterway to the high seas (should Turkmenistan and neighbours wish to have access to the sea, they would have quite a journey for that cruise up the fjords of Norway. I can’t quite see Mr Putin accepting ‘innocent passage’ whatever the UN convention might set out.

    Poor blighted Bolivia still has a navy of sorts, bumbling around their Andean lake and rivers, after their access to the Pacific Ocean went Lake Titicaca up.

  • Fred the Fourth

    Although I am worried as any sane person would be by events in that area, I harbor a guilty hope that Putin will decide to resurrect the Caspian Sea Monster (google it). No weapon ever built so well embodies his personality.

  • Laird

    Fred, why say “google it” when you could just provide a link?

    Mike, I don’t accept that any hospital, especially one run by a reputable international organization (Doctors Without Borders) ever “needed to be hit”. This particular one has a history of animosity from the Afghan army, which has already attacked it numerous times. But that does not excuse the US bombing it (and it was clearly specifically targeted; other structures in the compound were not hit). The US knew it was a hospital, and had been given its specific coordinates numerous times, most recently just five days before this attack. And its staff called the US military during the attack in a desperate attempt to break it off, but the attack continued for at least 30 minutes longer. This is a war crime, and people need to be severely punished for it.

  • Bod

    The attack on the hospital is problematical, to be sure, but I’m tempted to advise against Monday-morning quarterbacking at this stage, primarily because we as civilians are still very much subject to the fog of war. And then, to break that rule, I’m going to do some Monday-morning quarterbacking of my own, and offer a plausible scenario.

    On the assumption that everything objective that has been shown and written about the event is somewhat true, we have a few photos (that all outlets used) and a couple of interviews with individuals on the ground. We have somewhat less reliable indications of the circumstances of that night, and what the prevailing RoE was in Kunduz at the moment – one of those uncertainties being to what degree the local command consider themselves subject to the Geneva Conventions.

    Finally, there’s the circumstantial knowledge of other topics which we can’t expect journalists to know, because it’s scary, complex and doesn’t play to the narrative.

    The Photos
    Less than 10 photos of a burning shell of the hospital, or some selected part or it Note, the structure itself is substantially intact, the limit of the damage seems to be roof damage or removal. It’s entirely possible that the primary damage was elsewhere, and the news outlets decided to avoid showing those, out of sympathy for the victims. The problem with this is that the level of damage is inconsistent with what would be experienced from a single 500lb iron bomb, which is, I believe, the smallest explosive payload deployed for ‘bombing’ in that theater.

    The Interviews
    I have no doubt that the interviewees experienced harrowing and traumatizing effects of being in an active zone, and I see no reason to believe that they were not under sustained attack while calling the local military to declare that they should be off limits. However, a bombing attack does not take 30 minutes nowadays. Anecdotally, I’ve been advised that an air mission would get in, hit the target and get out. There’s no benefit in loitering (remember that key word) looking for targets of opportunity at night. These guys aren’t bombing the Ruhr Valley dams in 1943. ISIS have some capabilities in improvised air defense, and there would be no benefit in hanging around. Additionally, the personnel calling in the news will not have been military personnel, and are unlikely to have been in this situation before. I would think that if you’re on the receiving end of an attack, I’d be rather imprecise in explaining what was happening in detail.

    It’s reported that MSF – consistent with every other combat zone I know of – provided the coordinates of their facility to the local military to ensure that they were ‘whitelisted’. I see no reason to doubt that claim.

    Faulty Journalist Research
    I can’t track down the first news item that included it, but at some stage, there was a minor aside that a ‘gunship’ was present at the time. Subsequently, another news item expanded it to “… an AC-130 gunship” – which provides us with a plausible alternative scenario, which I believe fits the (minimal) information we have.

    1. No bombs – smart or otherwise – were dropped at that hospital. No missiles. Nothing in the US arsenal of weapons in theater is *small* enough not to have flattened that structure with a single detonation.

    2. The damage (and the duration of the incident) argues strongly for the culprit to be that AC-130 gunship. Typically, these are equipped with a fuselage-mounted 105mm field gun, 20mm cannon, and usually, a 40mm cannon. The AC-130 loiters, circling above their firezone, with target acquisition made by use of IR and visual monitoring by an observer, directing other crew for loading. I believe that some of the most modern versions of the AC130 provide joystick-control on some of the equipment. The altitude for such activities range from about 1000-2000 feet depending on operational considerations.

    3. That the AC130 may have been engaging targets which technically are legitimate targets under the Geneva Conventions, despite the fact that to do so may have been inadvisable and/or contrary to the standing RoE.

    4. The observed damage the result of 20mm and 40mm cannon, with or without tracer. The 105mm field gun would have done considerably more damage than is evidenced in the photographs I have seen. None of the photos show damage inconsistent with heavy (non-explosive) projectiles.

    So, What difference at this point does it make?
    It’s highly probable that no “airstrike” was called, or delivered. There will be no documentation made available, because there won’t be any.
    There will be a flight plan, along with a mission briefing for that AC130, and there will also be some records of “ground troops engaged with hostiles” somewhere near the coordinates of that medical complex, with the direction to investigate and offer support. Finally, there’s likely a “Green” on engaging targets, with 30 minutes or so of overflight.

    The bombing of a military (or in this case, non-military) target will have a paper trail so long that an investigation would find multiple points of culpability and a chain of command, authorizing the mission to strike a known whitelisted facility. We can ignore the letter of the Geneva Conventions, I think, because while the MSF facility *could* still be a legitimate target under certain circumstances, theater commanders wouldn’t do it. For all the great reasons we’re seeing right now.

    In the case of the AC130, it’s possible that the aircrew may not even know, officially, that the medical facility was whitelisted. They still have RoEs (which we don’t know what they are at present), but their involvement could have been due to being called in on fire support. Rightly or wrongly, the crew may have have drifted into that area to support local friendlies; and it’s far harder to establish ANYTHING beyond negligence. It will certainly be much harder to indict a whole command chain for this event, which would mitigate against calling this a ‘war crime’.

    As far as calling off the attack, while I would expect theater command to be aware of all ongoing missions at all times, if chain of command believed they were trying to track down an “airstrike”, they may not have been able to determine that they were trying to abort a mission which didn’t exist.

    In any case, I anticipate one officer, given a dishonorable discharge.

    And a lot of news coverage.

    And a narrative that will never die.

  • William O. B'Livion

    Killing those sheep was done to deny morale and recreational activities to the ISIS fighters.

  • Julie near Chicago

    A couple of observations.

    1. It is a fact well-known by little children of three (and up to 83 anyway) that we lost the Tet Offensive.

    2. Anybody who ever heard of the V-N War knows that the U.S. was guilty of heinous war crimes in targetting (civilian) hospitals, schools and such.

  • Mr Black

    If the enemy was present with weapons or using the hospital for military purposes, then it was a legitimate target. War crimes occur when you slaughter innocent people without reason, not because they are standing next to soldiers and were hit by fires.

  • If Russia’s defence ministry really does believe that all the missiles found their intended targets, those sheep must have been up to something

    Ram-pant bestiality at a guess.

  • Paul Marks

    No Person from P. – Putin’s people have hit hospitals, it is just that the media do not care about it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Correct, Mr Black. That was my idea of sarcasm, and a way of supporting Bod’s comment.

    The points are still, of course, part of the Standard Line about V-N. And of course the Israelis have to put up with the same bilge as a constant drumbeat, if bilge can beat drums.

    I wonder if a bilge-builder can build bridges.

  • bob sykes

    Unfortunately, the attack on the Afghani hospital is not a fluke. The US now has a truly sordid history of wanton, often unprovoked and strategically pointless attacks throughout Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Ukraine … The result of American interventions, especially during the Obama regime, but also earlier, is chaos and civil war. There is no discernible strategic goal to any of it.

    Add to that mass migration of young Muslim men into Europe bent for conquest.

    A chocolate administration is, of necessity, and idiocracy.

  • NickM

    Poot’s mob wrecked Grozny – a city the size of Liverpool.