DC DISPATCH – (This interview was conducted in 2020 before the untimely death of my husband Anthony Schinella, aka Spooky.
I struggled to identify when would be an appropriate time to release it. The conclusion to the Longest War in Afghanistan and the devastating retrograde of US forces from the country were events that Tony readily predicted. Nobody understood the Taliban like Tony (with the possible exception of Steve Coll & Directorate S) and as I review excerpts of the interview, I feel much of his wisdom and observations about Afghanistan were proven true.
Anthony Schinella, the current National Intelligence Officer for Military Issues, is a man of many talents and the US government's top military analyst. In his second book, "Bombs Without Boots: the Limits of Airpower," this former Brookings Institution scholar takes us on a wide ranging intellectual journey drawing upon his experience on the ground and as a government expert working on the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Libya. With the US currently enmeshed in or seemingly on the verge of conflicts around the world, the question of whether airpower campaigns can work without putting American boots in harm's way on the ground has never been more relevant.
Mr. Schinella's book can be purchased on Amazon via this link and is guaranteed to add points to your intelligence quotient:
We sat down for an exclusive interview with Mr. Schinella to discuss his book in Washington DC in February 2020. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
You say the approval of all NATO member nations was required to approve each target in both the Bosnia and Kosovo air campaigns: this seems like an awfully difficult and convoluted process to follow during an ongoing conflict. And at that time, there were only 19 NATO members-with expansion since then there are now 29 countries in the Alliance. Why was the process this way, and is it still the same?
You're absolutely right that running a war by committee isn't the most efficient way to prosecute a military campaign. That said, as Winston Churchill famously remarked, "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them." In the two Balkan conflicts during the 1990s, NATO's consensus decision-making system imposed high costs in efficiency but also preserved and demonstrated alliance unity in the effort 1
I can't say anything about current NATO war plans or processes, but it's fair to say the underlying principle of the Alliance remains the same today: all major decisions about whether or how to conduct a combat operation must have the support or at least acquiescence of all member states.
How does the history of ethnic conflict factor in the success of the bombing campaigns in your book?
1 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 64-65, 67-68.
That's a very good question, given the number of seemingly intractable ethnic conflicts going on around the world and the understandable desire to end them when possible. The book suggests based on the historical examples considered that even if a bombing campaign successfully halts an ethnic conflict, unless there's some kind of peacekeeping force on the ground afterward the peace is unlikely to last.2
Your book does a great job of analyzing the complexities of the Balkan wars, and it seems a miracle that the Dayton Accords successfully ended the conflict in Bosnia. What is it that made this peace agreement durable?
One very big reason is that the international community, led by NATO and with the approval of the UN, blanketed the country with a large peacekeeping force almost immediately after the Dayton peace agreement was signed. And, just as importantly, international peacekeepers remained there for years. Decades, actually: twenty-five years after the Bosnian peace agreement was signed there's still a European Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR) with troops on the ground in Bosnia.34
I understand that bombing campaigns are tailored to US military objectives, including regime change or political coercion, but what's the best baseline formula in terms of eradicating a threat quickly?
Unfortunately, more often than not the common goals of ending a conflict quickly, minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage, and setting the conditions for a lasting post-conflict peace are at odds with one another. A massive bombing campaign, for instance, may be the fastest way to reduce a threat and force an opponent to capitulate. But such a campaign may also produce a lot of civilian casualties and infrastructure damage, leaving an embittered population and a devastated country as the aftermath5
There's talk in the news today about ongoing US-led efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan and pull the remaining American troops out. But we're not the only great power to fight a war in Afghanistan and then try to leave without precipitating an immediate disaster. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan-and the Al Qaeda sanctuary that enabled the 9/11 attacks on America-followed the Soviet Union's
2 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 299-301.
3 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 299-301.
4 Reuters, "EU Peacekeepers Warn Serb Leader Against Dividing Bosnia's Armed Force", by Daria Dito Sucic, 14 May 2019.
5 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 3, 292-295.
withdrawal from that country. Is there anything we can learn from the Soviet experience withdrawing from Afghanistan?
When the Soviet Union left, they left as their proxy then-Afghan President Najibullah who was very capable, very cunning, and when necessary, very ruthless. Najibullah walked back most of the People's Democratic Republic of Afghanistan's hugely unpopular Communist ideology, legislation, and symbols (among other things, he changed his name to Muhammad Najbullah to present a more Muslim and less Communist image to the Afghan people). He used the weapons and money he was still getting from Moscow to try to defeat his Mujahidin enemies, while at the same time offering peace deals and bribes to any factions that were willing to switch over to the government side. This system worked as Jong as Moscow kept providing backing to Najibullah and his regime, but once the external support ran out (because the Soviet Union itself collapsed in late 1991) the Moscow-backed government fell only three and a half months later.6
Since the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan began in 2001 this conflict has become the longest war in American history-in fact, many of the servicemen and women now serving in Afghanistan weren't even born when 9111 happened. A big reason why this conflict has been so protracted is because neither the Afghan Government nor the Taliban has been able to gain a strategic military advantage despite years of fighting. Not unlike during the Soviet period, the Kabul-based regime generally has control of the cities and other government strongholds, but the Afghan security forces have lots of troops tied down doing defensive missions, have limited mobility, and lack reliable forces to hold onto recaptured territory. The Taliban opposition has shown increased ability to conduct large-scale attacks, but hasn't won any knockout blows.7 So, both military victory and a peace settlement have thus far remained elusive.
Why did the Soviets leave MiG-21 & Su-22 aircraft behind in Afghanistan? Surely, they could have flown them back to Moscow.
When the Soviet Union pulled its combat troops out of Afghanistan in 1989, it didn't disengage from the country completely. There were still probably hundreds of advisors of different types, for instance. And the Soviets essentially concluded it was best to leave the Moscow-backed government with a lot of equipment-including MiG and Sukhoi fighter-bomber aircraft, as well as hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, and
s Barfield, Thomas, "Afghanistan's Ethnic Puzzle: Decentralizing Power Before the US Withdrawal", Foreign Affairs, September/October 2011, Pages 54-65.
1 DNI Daniel R. Coats, Statement for the Record before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community", 29 January 2019.
artillery pieces-in order to maximize the chance the regime they were supporting would survive against the Mujahidin. 89101112131415
The Soviet strategy when departing Afghanistan was actually not too different from what the United States tried to do after withdrawing the last combat soldiers from Vietnam in 1973: before the Saigon government fell in 1975, South Vietnam had the fourth largest air force in the world with hundreds of planes and helicopters we provided.1617
The targeted assassination of Ahmad Shah Masood was a devastating loss to the Northern Alliance. How were Al Qaeda operatives able to get so close to Masood? Was security lax? Surely, he would have known he was a target. Did the Northern Alliance ever really recover from Masood's loss from a funding and hardware perspective?
The death of Ahmad Shah Masood (popularly known as "the Lion of Panjshir: from his many victories against the Soviets in that Afghan valley) was indeed a great loss to the Northern Alliance, and no single figure has yet risen that could replace him. In 2001, Masood undoubtedly knew his life was in danger, and he had survived numerous assassination attempts by multiple enemies in the past. But he also knew he had to accept risks: it was part of his leadership style, and a necessity as he sought help from any audience outside Afghanistan that he could reach. The Northern Alliance in late 2001 was steadily losing ground to the Taliban and almost on the ropes. Masood had been trying, unsuccessfully, for years to get international support for his anti-Taliban coalition. Earlier in 2001, he had addressed the European Parliament in Brussels (Masood had gone to a lycee in Kabul as a youth and spoke reasonably good French) where he warned of the dangers the Taliban and Al Qaeda posed to the rest of the world. At the time, nobody was listening to him. But in that historical context it would
8 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Page 105.
9 Baumann, Dr. Robert F., "Russian-Soviet Unconventional Wars in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Afghanistan", Leavenworth Papers#20. Pages 129-177.
1° Fivecoat, David G., "Leaving the Graveyard: The Soviet Union's Withdrawal From Afghanistan", Parameters, Summer 2012. Pages 42-55.
11 Grau, Lester W., "Breaking Contact Without Leaving Chaos: The Soviet Withdrawal From Afghanistan", Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 20, 2007. Pages 235-261.
12 Grau, Lester W., "The Soviet-Afghan War: A Superpower Mired in the Mountains", Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 17 No. 1 March 2004.
13 Grau, Lester W. and Nawroz, Mohamed Yahya, "The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan", Military Review, September-October 1995. Pages 17-27.
14 Hilali, A. Z., "Afghanistan: Decline of Soviet Military Strategy and Political Status", Journal of Slavic Military Studies, March 1999. Pages 94-123.
15 Roy, Olivier, "The Lessons of the Soviet-Afghan War", IISS Adelphi Paper #259, Summer 1991.
16 Air & Space Magazine, "Escape to U Taphao", by Ralph Wetterhahm. January 1997.
17 Air Force Magazine, "Vietnamization", by John Correll, August 2017. Pages 60-64.
make some sense for Masood to agree to an interview in which he would again appeal for international assistance.1819
Ironically, what saved the Northern Alliance from imminent defeat by the Taliban was the chain of events that was set in motion just after Masood's death. The 9111 attacks happened just two days later-most people don't think that's a coincidence, as Masood's assassination wiped out the Taliban and Al Qaeda's most implacable adversary. In order to topple Taliban and strike back at Al Qaeda, the US suddenly needed allies it could work with in Afghanistan. So, just weeks after the 9111 attacks small teams of CIA operatives and US Special Forces troops were helicoptered into Afghanistan, where they partnered with Masood's Northern Alliance heirs to fight together against our now common enemies. In sum, on September 9, 2001, the Northern Alliance lost a unique and irreplaceable leader in Ahmad Shah Masood. But very shortly after September 11, 2001 the Northern Alliance's remaining leaders gained international funding, weapons, and political backing all of which turned the Alliance's fortunes around in a very short time.2021
A lot of CityWatchers are still grieving over the death of LA Laker Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and family friends in a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter. Do you see any parallels between Kobe's crash and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's crash in the Balkans? I also noticed in your book that shortly after 9/11 the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk was used as a platform for launching US Army helicopters, especially from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. How would these military pilots deal with bad weather in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and have bad flying conditions also contributed to accidents there?
When considering the recent crash of Kobe Bryant's helicopter, it's true that the helicopter pilot's training, the aircraft equipment, and the helicopter's age and maintenance are all important considerations. But so is the pilot's good judgment about when and where to fly. I happen to have known a colleague who was killed in the tragic crash of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's aircraft-a military version of the Boeing 737-which crashed into the side of a mountain in Croatia in very bad weather conditions in April 1996. And I myself have flown in helicopters over the mountains of
18 Coll, Steve, "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 9, 2001" (Penguin Press) 2004.
19 The Telegraph, "Ahmad Shah Masood", 17 September 2001.
20 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 97-162.
2 1 Coll, Steve, "Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan" (Penguin Press), 2018.
Afghanistan, and can attest to how difficult it is for even experienced pilots to fly at low altitudes, over uneven terrain, and in poor visibility flight conditions.2223
In a highly unusual and ad hoc arrangement shortly after 9/11, US Army pilots flew their helicopters off the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk because they needed a platform from which to launch Special Forces teams into Afghanistan. They were able to do this because these pilots were from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), also known as the "Night Stalkers." The 160th SOAR are probably the best helicopter pilots in the world. They fly specially modified helicopters and perform some of the most difficult Special Operations missions the US Government can assign.242526
The Night Stalkers special operations pilots often fly when there is bad visibility and at low altitude--but only when the mission requires it. These Special Operations aviators are professionals who don't take unnecessary risks. And that's because flying a helicopter in difficult terrain and flight conditions is inherently dangerous even for our most elite pilots. Several helicopters were lost to crashes flying into Afghanistan at night, over mountains, in high winds, and with falling snow. In fact, the first combat related deaths after 9/11 were two Army Rangers killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Pakistan on October 19, 2001.272829
I see the Agency used laser designators to identify targets, but how does this piece of equipment function?
One of the problems that was discovered-in Afghanistan, and in other conflicts-is that precision guided bombs without precision guidance coordinates to home in aren't really that precise. At the outset of the Afghan intervention in Afghanistan, American planes were dropping bombs but not having that much effect. This was starting to become a
22 New York Times, "Crash in the Balkans: The Overview; Bad Equipment Tied to Crash, Perry Suggests", by R. W. Apple, 5 April 1996.
23 CIA.gov News & Information
24 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 118, 1121, 128.
25 U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, "A Different Kind of War: The United States Army in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, October 2001-September 2005 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press), May 2010. Page 71.
26 "Weapon of Choice: US Army Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan" (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2003), page 98.
27 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower'' (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Page 118.
28 "Weapon of Choice: US Army Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan" (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2003), page 98.
29 New York Times, "The Early Casualties: 2 Soldiers Remembered for Their Focus and Patriotism", by Michael Janofsky, 23 October 2001. Page 81.
serious concern, both for the US military commanders and for the Afghan allies on the ground we were trying to convince to advance against the Taliban.30
Around the beginning of 2001, the combined teams of CIA officers and Special Operations Forces were able to turn things around-just in time, as it turned out. A very big factor was the SOF troops' use of laser designators for very accurate targeting of precision-guided bombs dropped by planes far overhead. Once they had the right combination of laser targeting technology and the ability to get close enough to ''paint" the right targets, just a few dozen Special Operations Forces observers were able to call in aerial fires exactly where and when they were needed. It was a dramatic demonstration of how a ground-air team could work together to achieve decisive results together that neither could have achieved separately.313233
Besides the conflicts where the US and NATO were involved, you also talk about the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. That whole conflict started when Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli patrol and kidnapped two soldiers. How could this have happened? And why was the Israeli political leadership unprepared for the possibility of this kind of kidnapping or demand for a prisoner swap?
The Israeli Army enjoys a reputation for being extremely good, but there's actually a vast difference in training and professionalism between their elite forces and the civilian reservists who have to complete a certain amount of compulsory military service. The Israeli soldiers that Hezbollah captured (Ehud Go/dwasser and Eldad Regev) weren't military professionals. They were reservists who were finishing the last day of their reserve duty when they got ambushed-they had actually thrown their civilian luggage into their military vehicles, planning to drive straight home after the patrol. That patrol simply wasn't expecting anything to happen that day-and neither the Israeli patrol nor their political leadership were really ready when something did occur.34
The main reason why the Israeli political leadership was so unprepared for this crisis was that Israel at that time happened to have a new government that had just taken office. And (unusually, for Israel) none of the government's most senior leaders were
30 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 126-127, 130-132, 291-292.
31 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower'' (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 132, 158-159, 291-292.
32 US Army Center of Military History CMH Pub 70-83, "The United States Army in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom, October 2001-March 2002". Page 11.
33 New York Times, "Use of Pinpoint Air Power Comes of Age in New War", by Eric Schmitt and James Dao, 24 December 2001.
34 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press}, 2019. Pages 188-189.
former military commanders. So the Israeli political leadership was new in the job, didn't have the right experience, and more or Jess made a snap decision to start a bombing campaign in response to an event they hadn't predicted. That's a bad combination of circumstances, and things ended up turning out badly for the Israelis.35
I was surprised to read in your book that Hezbollah killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization in the world before 9/11? How so?
Most notably, Hezbollah has been blamed for the US Embassy bombing in Beirut in April 1983 and the even worse Marine barracks bombings in October that year that killed 241 American servicemen. Hezbollah has also been accused of or linked to other events that killed US citizens. And Hezbollah hasn't only killed Americans with mass-casualty attacks, and its reach has extended far beyond the Middle East. At nearly the same moment as the massive October 1983 blast that killed over 200 US Marines in their barracks, another Hezbollah bomb killed 58 French paratroopers at a nearby base.36 And two Hezbollah attacks in Buenos Aires, Argentina-one at the Israeli Embassy in 1992, and another at a Jewish community center in 1994-killed and injured hundreds of Argentine civilians.37
Can you explain why Hezbollah is so popular in Lebanon, somewhat like the Taliban in Afghanistan? Why did Hezbollah gain in popularity after the Israeli bombing in 2006?
Lebanon's chronic political and economic problems go a long way toward explaining how an organization like Hezbollah could become genuinely popular with segments of the Lebanese population-or at least seem relatively good by comparison with the corrupt and self-serving alternatives. 383940 Hezbollah has always been a difficult organization to characterize. All at the same time, it's a terrorist organization, a paramilitary force, an ideological movement, a social services network, and a political party.41 It's important to realize that while most Americans probably think of Hezbollah as a US Government designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, within Lebanon it's now a recognized political party with seats in the parliament and positions as ministers in the administration. Hezbollah may run the local clinic where you take sick family members, or take care of other social services the government consistently fails to deliver. So when Israel or
35 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 189-191.
36 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Page 177.
37 New York Times, "Argentina Designates Hezbollah Terrorist Group on 25th Anniversary of Bombing", by Daniel Politi, 18 July 2019.
38 Washington Post, "Analysis: The Numbers that Help Explain Why Protests are Rocking Countries Around the World", by Rick Noack, 1 November 2019.
39 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS, "Turmoil in Lebanon", Strategic Comment Vol. 24, Comment 38, December 2019.
40 War on the Rocks, "Lebanon: Turning Protests Into Power", by Osama Gharizi, 22 January 2020.
41 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 175-179.
other countries pressure the Lebanese government to get rid of Hezbollah, from the Lebanese perspective this demand doesn't entirely make sense: Hezbollah is part of the government. 4243
Hezbollah's awareness of the importance of public support (and organizational efficiency) was demonstrated immediately after the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon ended on August 14, 2006. Lebanese public opinion could have blamed the Israelis for conducting the bombing that had killed over a thousand civilians, smashed apartment buildings, and destroyed all kinds of much-needed infrastructure. Or public opinion could just as well have turned against Hezbollah, for bringing this whole rain of destruction upon the country in the first place by kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah gained the upper hand in the court of public opinion through an effective messaging campaign, and by getting hundreds of Hezbollah members out all over the country to disburse emergency funds within hours of the cease-fire. In a country where the elected government can't maintain reliable electricity or collect the trash off the streets, that kind of timely and visible responsiveness to people in need goes a long way.44
In the Arab world and broader Middle East, Hezbollah also got (at least temporarily) a substantial popularity boost, for having visibly followed through on its anti-Israel rhetoric by fighting the 2006 conflict. This is all the more remarkable, since Hezbollah is explicitly affiliated with the minority Shia sect of Islam most associated with Iran, while almost the entire rest of the Arab world subscribes to the majority Sunni sect-and the two Muslim religious sects have been bitter rivals for more than a thousand years. All the same, Hezbollah was able to convincingly message that it alone (unlike the Arab state governments who had failed in every Arab Israeli war since 1948) had accepted risks and casualties to take everything Israel could throw against it for more than a month while inflicting casualties in return.4546
You talk about the history of conflict with Israel and Southern Lebanon, but much of this was in terms of the PLO. Did Hezbollah spring forth from the PLO, or has it always been an Iranian proxy?
Although Israel's most deadly enemy in Lebanon today is Hezbollah, decades ago Israel's first military campaigns into Lebanon were directed against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Back in the 1970's, the PLO was probably the most
42 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Page 192.
43 Congressional Research Service, "Lebanon", 16 March 2006. Pages 8-10.
44 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower'' (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 207, 213-214, 220-221.
45 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 208-209, 213-214.
4s Washington Post, "Hezbollah Chief Defiant at Huge Rally: Militia Still Has 20,000 Rockets After War With Israel, Supporters Told", by Anthony Shadid, 23 September 2006.
notorious international terrorist organization in the world. After the PLO was expelled from Jordan during the "Black September" of 1970, it established its headquarters in Lebanon. Not long afterward, the PLO began using southern Lebanon as a staging area for cross-border raids and rocket attacks into adjacent northern Israel. In response and to try to put an end to this, the Israelis mounted military offensives into Lebanon in 1978 and again on a much bigger scale in 1982. The latter Israeli invasion went all the way into Beirut, ultimately leading to the besieged PLO leaving Lebanon and relocating once again under a US-brokered peace deal. By hammering the Palestinian militants, the Israelis may have thought they had solved their problem. But as the Israeli occupation prompted resentment and then hatred from the Lebanese Shia Muslim population (which had initially welcomed the Israelis for expelling their Palestinian rivals) the Israelis ended up creating a much bigger problem, since this this popular desire to fight and expel Israel from Lebanon is what gave rise to Hezbollah.47
Hezbollah and the PLO had similar interests in opposing Israel but differed in other major ways. The PLO's membership was Palestinian, Sunni Muslim, and wanted to expel Israel from the disputed territories of Israel. Hezbollah's membership was Lebanese, Shia Muslim, and had the stated goal of expelling Israel from all of Lebanon. Hezbollah thus originated in the chaotic aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War and the PLO's withdrawal from Beirut, rather than springing from the PLO itself.48
Hezbollah historically has gotten very important financial and material backing from Iran as its ideological partner and key state sponsor. It also has long had a relationship with Syria, which helps explain why Hezbollah has had fighters supporting the Assad regime there. And Hezbollah also has other significant revenue streams, including overseas contributions from Shia expatriates around the world.49
Can you explain the concept of "Lebanese Mud" and its significance in Israel?
The Israelis have an expression in Hebrew, "habotz halivanoni" which translates as "the Lebanese Mud." For them, the meaning is very much like the American phrase "Vietnam quagmire." The Israelis had grown accustomed to violent but short wars with decisive victories, as they had fought before in 1967 and 1973. But when the Israeli military went into Lebanon in 1982, it found itself stuck in "the Lebanese Mud" - that is, an open-ended military conflict that the country couldn't win but at the same time seemingly couldn't find a way to disengage from. The Israeli military occupation in Lebanon lasted 18 years and was sometimes described as "Israel's Vietnam." 50
47 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 166-169.
48 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 166-169, 175-179.
49 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 175-179.
so Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 174-175.
You mention Israel's aversion to large casualties. Do you think this was colored by its relatively low casualty rate in the earlier Arab Israeli wars such as in 1967 or 1973?
Israel has a population of about nine million (roughly three-quarters of whom are Jewish) compared with more than 325 million in the United States. So, within this much smaller population, each casualty is far more significant to them. During the 18 years the Israel Defense Force was in Lebanon, it Jost more than 1,200 soldiers killed there-which is an enormous casualty rate for a country that small.51
Also, for most Israelis conflicts like the 1973 October were seen as desperate fights for national survival and the country's citizens were therefore willing to accept the casualties. However, over time the war in Lebanon increasingly became seen in Israel as an ill-judged war of choice, so when casualties continued for months and years domestic opposition built.52
How did the Arab Spring that began in Tunisia spill over into Libya?
The phenomenon now known as the "Arab Spring" all began on December 17, 2010 when a Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi publicly set himself on fire in protest against Tunisia's long-ruling President Ben Ali and the various personal injustices he had suffered. Within a month, this seemingly random act had sparked a wave of popular anti-government protests not only in Tunisia but a variety of other Arab countries. The outcomes were mixed. Less than a month later, on January 14, 2011, Tunisia's Ben Ali fled the country. The following month, Egypt's even longer-serving President Mubarak also resigned on February 11, 2011. So, in less than two months everyone in Libya has seen the president of adjacent Tunisia to the west resign due to a popular uprising, followed by the president of adjacent Egypt to the east. Antigovernment protests in Libya really took off very soon after Mubarak's resignation in Egypt, with the first demonstrations beginning on February 15, 2011. Unfortunately for the Libyan protestors, Gaddafi simply proved to be much more willing to use violence against the demonstrators (or unwilling to step down).53
51 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Page 174.
52 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower'' (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 174-175.
53 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 226-229.
In the beginning of the civil war, the Resistance had captured key towns in Eastern Libya and both along the coast and interior. Why was the anti-Gaddafi opposition able to initially gain momentum in Bengahzi and Misrata, as opposed to Tripoli? And how was Gaddafi able to push these gains back?
Unlike in most of the other Arab Spring countries, the uprising in Libya got very violent very quickly with neither side getting a decisive early advantage. The anti-government opposition got an early foothold in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, which historically hadn't done particularly well under Ghadaffi. The opposition in Benghazi got an early boost when it took over an important military barracks called the Katiba, and a prominent Interior Ministry commander and his brigade defected to their side. The Benghazi-based opposition forces then optimistically marched west, thinking they could link up with the coastal city of Misrata-the other big anti-government stronghold-and then just continue on the to the capital city of Tripoli.54
Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. The pro-Gaddafi forces took control of Tripoli and the surrounding area pretty quickly. Not surprisingly, authoritarian regimes tend to have a lot of particularly loyal military forces in and around their capitals for just this sort of contingency. Also, some parts of the country (including Tripoli and Gadaffi's hometown of Sirte) had benefitted from the regime's patronage, and these generally sided with the regime when the civil war began.55
At this point in the rebellion, the opposition had a lot more enthusiasm than it did a lot of other important things like weapons, organization, discipline, or good sense. The opposition basically advanced too far too fast, got overextended, and got badly hammered when they ran into well-prepared pro-Gaddafi military units supported by artillery, tanks, and fighter-bombers. They rebels turned around and were on the run back into Benghazi, closely tailed by Gadaffi's forces. Benghazi itself looked like it was on the verge of being overrun by the Gaddafi regime troops, which is when the European/US air campaign intervened to halt the Libyan government forces' advance in protection of Benghazi's civilians.56
How long did the Libya bombing campaign continue in 2011, and how did things change with NATO involved? Are there any similarities between the air campaigns in the Balkans and in Libya?
54 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 227-228, 233-236.
55 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 228-229, 233-236.
56 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 231-236.
The USINATO and allied air campaign against Libya lasted nearly eight months--much longer than almost anyone expected. The operation began with several countries, including the US, starting air strikes against the Qaddafi forces approaching Benghazi on very short notice and without a real, agreed-upon command arrangement. Twelve days into the campaign, NATO formally took control of the allied air operations. Unusually, the US then transitioned to a supporting role leaving the other countries to do the strike missions. The mix of countries that participated in this campaign also was unusual. Only half of NATO's 28 countries joined the operation, but four non-NATO countries (Sweden, Jordan, the UAE, and Qatar) participated as well.57
There were some important similarities between the Libya and Balkans air campaigns, and also some noteworthy differences. One fundamental problem that arose in both cases is that Western democracies have real difficulty using airpower to apply coercive pressure against adversaries that are fighting for regime survival. Bombing campaigns that apply pressure against the adversary's civilian population are generally inconsistent with democratic principles and internationally imposed rules of engagement-particularly if the stated purpose of the outside intervention is humanitarian relief. But if the opponent knows the air campaign has strict limits on what it can and cannot do, they're unlikely to give in if they believe they're fighting for personal or national survival. A further problem in both cases was that airpower by itself just isn't that good a tactical tool for humanitarian interventions. There's only so much aircraft can do when the events on the ground involve intermixed attackers and refugees, or virtually indistinguishable vehicles used by opposing factions.58
One of the most important differences between the Balkans and Libya is the geography. Technology has changed a Jot of things about war fighting, but it still hasn't changed geography, terrain, or weather. The Balkan air campaigns were conducted in relatively small theaters of operation, with a lot of mountains, forests, cloud cover, and bad weather. Libya, by contrast, is a very big place-it's about the same size as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain put together-that's largely flat, uninhabited desert. This made a big difference in terms of the intensity of air operations. At the height of the Kosovo air campaign, NATO was sometimes flying more than 1,000 combat sorties per day. In Libya, NATO probably never had more than four fighter aircraft in action at any given time over a country more than 160 times the size of Kosovo. This huge difference in combat firepower relative to geographic expanse does a lot to explain why the Libya air campaign went on so much longer than the other examples in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Lebanon.59
57 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Page 248, 253, 284.
58 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 292-295.
59 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 6, 57, 247, 284.
Was Gaddafi's green book like Chairman Mao's little red book? Did a Gaddafi cult of personality ever take root?
One of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi most famous oddities was his Green Book, a rambling document of his own authorship that he made everyone in the country read. Over and over and over. (Gaddafi's Green Book isn't nearly as famous as Mao's Red Book, but Libya has population of about six million compared to over a billion in China.) It included some profound statements of the stunningly obvious, such as "woman is a female and man is a male," along with a hodgepodge of sweeping political and economic theories.6061
I do believe that Qaddafi wanted to establish a cult of personality. Unfortunately for him, one of the first elements of a successful cult of personality is an attractive personality.
His was mostly just bizarre. (And it stands to reason that if he if he really had been that popular in his own country, he wouldn't be dead now.) But if the personality cult didn't take root, it wasn't for lack of effort: Gaddafi established a World Center for the Study and Research of the Green Book in Tripoli, spent millions to translate the book into more than 30 languages, and ensured that more than a hundred scholarly papers on his theories were published if not read. However, despite all this effort many if not most of the Green Books probably ended up in bonfires after his regime fell and jubilant Libyans no longer had to read the thing. 6263
How could UN simultaneously back the anti-Gaddafi opposition, but also put an arms embargo in place?
It's true that the UN (and NATO) found itself in the somewhat self-contradictory position of conducting an air campaign that benefitted the anti-Gaddafi opposition, while at the same time enforcing an arms embargo that was preventing weapons from reaching that same opposition. (A similarly confusing situation also arose in the Balkans in the 1990s.)64
This outcome was largely the result of the order and wording of the two UN Security Council resolutions authorizing the embargo and international intervention. The UN Security Council resolution that imposed the arms embargo on Libya (UNSCR 1970) was passed first, on February 26, 2011. Along with other clauses in the resolution, the arms embargo was intended when passed to put pressure on the Gaddafiregime, not the opposition. The idea-again, as in the Balkans-a/so was to minimize the
60 New York Times, "What Did Qaddafi's Green Book Really Say?", by Mohammad Bazzi, 27 May 2011.
61 BBC, "What Now For Colonel Qaddafi's Green Book?", 29 April 2011.
62 New York Times, "What Did Qaddafi's Green Book Really Say?", by Mohammad Bazzi, 27 May 2011.
63 BBC, "What Now For Colonel Qaddafi's Green Book?", 29 April 2011.
64 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 22, 237, 240.
bloodshed by reducing the number of arms going into a war zone. But as the conflict progressed, the arms embargo proved to be much more of a disadvantage for the rebels, since the regime started the conflict with weapons and the opposition didn't.65
Technically, the later UN resolution that was the legal basis for the NATO air campaign didn't back the opposition per se. UNSCR 1973, which was passed on March 17, 2011, said that UN member states or regional organizations could "take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack" without specifically saying which side this was aimed at. In practice, the regional organization that took action was NATO, the military actions were directed against Qaddafi's forces thereby benefitting the opposition, and the definition of "all necessary measures" to protect civilians became increasingly broad until the eventual outcome became regime change.66
Why did Gaddafi not flee in the midst of a war he was losing, or negotiate some kind of a deal?
Once the NATO intervention's de facto objective became regime change in Libya, Muammar Gaddafi essentially had no incentive to surrender or compromise. On April 14, 2011 President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy jointly published an open letter saying that "Qaddafi must go and go for good." Three Western heads of state had publicly called for his removal, UN sanctions had been directed against specific regime leaders, and the International Criminal Court had publicly announced indictments. So Gaddafi basically had nowhere to go, and nothing to lose by fighting it out and seeing which side would win in a contest of bullets and willpower.67
Why doesn't the CIA get the credit for developing the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane? It's such a remarkable aircraft that I have a sketch of it in my house.
Most people don't know that the famous SR-71 Blackbird was originally developed for and in collaboration with the CIA. At the time that's because the project was Top Secret, and even after the plane's existence became known the US wanted to keep the plane's CIA-related origins and capabilities secret. The CIA's first spy plane had been the U-2, which first flew in 1956 at the then-unprecedented height of 70,000 feet. At that the
65 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 19, 22,237, 240.
66 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 22,237,240,259, 262-264.
67 Schinella, Anthony M., "Bombs Without Boots: The Limits of Airpower" (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press), 2019. Pages 281, 292-295.
time, this was higher than any Soviet anti-aircraft missiles could reach. But the CIA knew even then that the Soviet air defenses would eventually catch up, and had started work on a new and even more remarkable spy plane even before Francis Gary Powers' U-2 was shot down over Russia in 1960.6869
The CIA specifications demanded that the new plane be able fly at 90,000 feet at a speed of Mach 3.0 (or over 2,100 miles per hour). You have to remember, this was in the late 1950's. There was no plane remotely like it at the time...or even today. The plane that later became the SR-71 was an extraordinary feat of engineering. To save weight, the plane had to be made out of about 90 percent titanium alloy, at a time when nobody anywhere had ever machined the rare metal in this way or on this scale. And there wasn't enough titanium in the whole United States for the project. So, the CIA had to covertly get more titanium from the world's largest source of the metal ...the Soviet Union. (They still don't say how.) Each of the plane's engines produced more power than all four of the ocean liner Queen Mary's turbines combined. And, not surprisingly, there was a very high uptick in the number of UFO reports in the area where the experimental plane was being tested.70
The original, CIA version of the plane was called the A-12, not the SR-71. When the plane was first being designed at Lockheed's now-famous "Skunk Works" the codename for the project was ARCHANGEL. The first experimental design was called Archangel-1, up until the twelfth design was adopted and simply called the A-12. The A-12 and the SR-71 designs were slightly different. And when people say the SR-71 (the US Air Force's version) is the fastest plane ever built, that's not technically quite right. One of the CIA's A-12 aircraft had a maximum recorded speed of 2,208 mph at 90,000 feet whereas the SR-71's official world speed record was 2,193 mph at 85,069 feet.7172 In either case, that's faster than a rifle bullet leaving a gun.73
CIA 's involvement with the project stayed intentionally secret even after the Lyndon Johnson White House announced that the US had successfully developed an advanced experimental aircraft. To further confuse the Soviets, the White House statement included a wrong aircraft name (the A-11) and misleading purpose (as a Jong-range interceptor) and never mentioned the CIA's role in the plane's design or operation. And
68 Center for the Study of Intelligence, "Archangel: CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft", by David Robarge. Second Edition, 2012.
69 CIA.gov, Center for the Study of Intelligence Library, "The Oxcart Story", by Thomas P. Minnich.
°7 Center for the Study of Intelligence, "Archangel: CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft", by David Robarge. Second Edition, 2012.
71 Center for the Study of Intelligence, "Archangel: CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft", by David Robarge. Second Edition, 2012.
72 CIA.gov News and Information (https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2015- featured-story-archive/oxcart-vs-blackbird.htmI)
73 The National Interest, 'The Story of the Mach 3.2 A-12 Spy Plane (Faster Than the SR-71)", by Sebastien Roblin, 27 May 2019.
if you'd like to see a SR-71 Blackbird there's one in the National Air and Space Museum annex outside Washington, DC. But if what you'd like to see is one of CIA's even more secret A-12s ... there's one on display at LA's very own California Science Center. 74
I was recently reading an article about the still-unsolved mystery message hidden in the "Kryptos" sculpture in the CIA building's courtyard. Can you tell me more about this story? Is it possible that quantum computing can solve the mystery of the uncracked fourth coded message in the Kryptos sculpture?
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Yes, the CIA building is full of mysteries and secrets-but the "Kryptos" sculpture in the main courtyard is one that everyone who works there can see every day since it was first put there in 1990. Kryptos (the Greek work for "hidden") is a 12-foot high, wavy copper and granite sculpture with an 865-character coded message clearly visible . The puzzle was a joint effort by the sculptor, Jim Sanborn, and a retired CIA cryptographer named Edward Scheidt. The enciphered message, in turn, is broken into four separate parts.7 576
74 Center for the Study of Intelligence, "Archangel: CIA's Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft", by David Robarge. Second Edition, 2012.
75 New York Times, "A Break for Code Breakers on a C.I.A. Mystery", by Kenneth Chang, 22 April 2006. Page A10.
76 New York Times, "Clues to Stubborn Secret in C.I.A.'s Backyard", by John Schwartz, 21 November 2010. Page A1.
Appropriately, even the story of the message's partial decoding has twists and turns. In 1999, a computer programmer named Jim Gillogly announced he had solved the first three parts of the puzzle text (which had become public). Then it emerged that a CIA analyst, David Stein, had decrypted the same three sections a year earlier but had kept the news within CIA. And then, it turned out that a group of codebreakers at NSA (in a bit of friendly intelligence community rivalry) had actually broken the first three sections of the message fully five years before that.7778
But there's still a remaining mystery, nearly thirty years after the sculpture was first unveiled. Despite the best efforts of unknown numbers of professional and amateur codebreakers, the very last section is still unsolved. Partly that's because it's the shortest of the sections, at only 97 characters, and with less text to work with it's harder to decipher any message. As clues, the sculptor Mr. Sanborn has released a few words from the text over the past few years: in 2010 he revealed that one of the words was "BERLIN" and in 2013 he added to that by saying the next word was "CLOCK." Just this month, Mr. Sanborn gave out another word: "NORTHEAST." But the rest of the elusive fourth section remains an unsolved mystery.798081
Could a breakthrough in quantum computing help crack the Kryptos puzzle? The answer, right now, is nobody knows for sure-although it's possible. When I was a computer science major at MIT, there was a lot of interest in what's called massively parallel processing (MPP) computer architectures as another possible way to solve very difficult computational problems in practical amounts of time. It turned out that MPP worked for certain kinds of problems but wasn't a silver bullet. If researchers are able to build workable quantum computing devices at scale-and a lot are trying right now-and if computer scientists able to develop new programming methods that can exploit the new capabilities quantum machines could offer, then it could open up a way to quickly break codes like the Kryptos message. Much more importantly, such a computing breakthrough could also make a lot of other things we now consider secure-like our banking transactions-potentially transparent to others. So there's a lot at stake in the quantum computing field.8283
77 WIRED.com, "CIA Releases Analyst's Fascinating Tale of Cracking the Kryptos Sculpture", by Kim Zetter, 5 June 2013.
78 WIRED.com, "Documents Reveal How the NSA Cracked the Kryptos Sculpture Years Before the CIA", by Kim Zetter, 10 July 2013
79 New York Times, "Sculptor Offers Another Clue in 24-Year-Old Mystery at C.I.A.", by John Schwartz, 21 November 2014. Page A16.
80 New York Times, "This Sculpture Holds a Decades-Old C.I.A. Mystery. And Now, Another Clue.", by John Schwartz and Jonathan Corum, 29 January 2020
81 Popular Mechanics, "Nobody Has Solved This Cryptographic Puzzle for 30 Years. Think You Can?" by Courtney Linder, 3 February 2020.
82 Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, "Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment", 6 March 2018.
83 Congressional Research Service, "Quantum Information Science: Applications, Global Research and Development, and Policy Considerations", 1 November 2019.
Why don't MIT graduates like to wear ties? Can you explain to CityWatch LA readers what the Great Dome is on the MIT campus, and can you say anything about your rumored operation on top of this dome?
MIT graduates tend to think of themselves as people who should be judged by what's above their neck, not around it. (And I'm one of the ones who believes that neckties cut off the oxygen supply to the brain.) One of the most famous landmarks at MIT is the "Great Dome", a ten-story dome atop the largest building right in the center of the campus. It's supposed to be impossible to get up there, and MIT students being who they are they naturally consider this a challenge. Over the decades, a Jot of student brainpower and ingenuity has gone into finding ways to get ever-more ridiculous things on top of that dome in the middle of the night.
One of the things that happened to appear there when I was an undergraduate was the so called "Home on the Dome." There was a housing shortage that year, and there wasn't quite enough room for all the incoming students. Certain persons as yet unknown thought it might be a good idea-or at least a humorous surprise-to construct a one-story wooden house atop the Great Dome. By complete happenstance, the school yearbook photographer was in the courtyard that morning waiting to snap a photo of MIT's most iconic building at sunrise.
Much to his amazement , the yearbook photographer got more than he expected:
(Sara Corcoran is publisher of the National Courts Monitor and writes for CityWatch, Daily Koz, and other news outlets.) The interview was approved by the Central Intelligence Agency Publication Review Board.