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Avian carriers achieved a message delivery rate of 95% in the first World War, and were reported to reach 99% success in an Army study published in 1944.

In an article at At War on the Rocks, Dr. Frank Blazich provides a brief overview of the military use of homing pigeons and argues for their reintroduction as a response to electronic warfare.

Considering the storage capacity of microSD memory cards, a pigeon’s organic characteristics provide front line forces a relatively clandestine mean to transport gigabytes of video, voice, or still imagery and documentation over considerable distance with zero electromagnetic emissions or obvious detectability to radar. These decidedly low-technology options prove difficult to detect and track. Pigeons cannot talk under interrogation, although they are not entirely immune to being held under suspicion of espionage. Within an urban environment, a pigeon has even greater potential to blend into the local avian population, further compounding detection. The latter presumably factored into the use of pigeons to clandestinely smuggle drugs, defeating even the most sophisticated of walls.

Furthermore, pigeons provide an asymmetric tool available for hybrid warfare purposes. The low-cost, low-technology use of pigeons to transport information or potentially small amounts of chemical agents — or even coded cyber weapons — makes them a quick and easy asset to distribute among a civilian population for wider military purposes. During World War II, the British Confidential Pigeon Service of MI14(d) dropped baskets of homing pigeons behind enemy lines for espionage purposes, gathering invaluable military intelligence in the process from a wide array of French, Dutch, and Belgian civilians. Even as a one-way means of communication, the pigeon proved an invaluable military asset.

Via Schneier, who reminds that we have an RFC.

James Stejskal's article from American Rifleman provides an overview of the arms used by T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt.

The article is an extract from the author’s military history of Lawrence and his legacy, which I’ve added to my reading list. I was unaware that they made use of technicals, predating Bagnold and his self-described “piracy on the high desert”.

Lawrence had a talent for employing the Great War’s new technologies: semi-automatic pistols, airplanes, electric detonators, machine guns and motorcars. The equipment used by T.E. Lawrence and his colleagues against the Turks was innovative, as was his untraditional approach to the employment of intelligence, aerial reconnaissance and mobile gun platforms. His methodologies were game-changers and would heavily influence what would later be known as special operations in the British military, not to mention guerrilla leaders such as Mao Zedong and Võ Nguyên Giáp.

via Active Response Training

Currently reading The New Spymasters by Stephen Grey.

The book begins with an overview of espionage immediately before, during, and shortly after the Cold War, before moving on to the role played by Western intelligence agencies in the current millenium. Grey contrasts the earlier focus on human intelligence with the growing dependency on signals intelligence and assassination programs, and makes a compelling case for the need to return to a balanced approach with a focus on traditional spy running.

The dichotomy is reminiscent between that of the longer-term, unconventional warfare practiced by US Special Forces and the direct action focus of other Special Operations Forces as discussed by Tony Schwalm.

Currently reading The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen.

Kilcullen draws on his decades of experience in asymmetric warfare to develop his theory of fighting small wars in the midst of a big one and the failure of both classical counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency on the modern battlefield.

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla – fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours… he is engaged in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

…The dynamic interaction between the modern international system of nation-states (especially its self-appointed defender, the United States) and these two discrete but often interconnected and loosely cooperating classes of nonstate opponent – terrorist and guerrilla, postmodern and premodern, nihilist and traditionalist, deliberate and accidental – may be part of what gives todays’ “hybrid wars” much of their savagery and complexity.

Journey Without Boundaries: Small Team Operations

I believe that maintaining an interest in asymmetric warfare is a healthy habit. The Rhodesian Bush War and South African Border War are particularly interesting, as both sides employed direct, unconventional means.

I am currently reading Journey Without Boundaries: The Operational Life and Experiences of a SA Special Forces Small Team Operator, the memoirs of Colonel Andre Diedericks. Diedericks joined the South African Defence Force in 1974 and served in their Special Forces for two decades. Taking inspiration from Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts, he was largely responsible for developing and implementing small team tactics in the South African Recces. These “small teams” are not the 12 man ODAs we think of with our Special Forces today. Diedericks’ small teams consisted of only two men. Their missions would last a month or longer, during which time they would be completely self-sufficient and travel hundreds of kilometres on foot. Their operations were deniable, which required them to remain completely hidden from both the enemy force and local population.

Journey Without Boundaries

Journey Without Boundaries joins The Jedburghs by Will Irwin and The Phantom Major by Virginia Cowles as being an excellent read for tracking the development of unconventional warfare.

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Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Having seen the film, I had been familiar with T.E Lawrence, the man and his story, before reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom: but I had no idea of his skill with the pen. This book – excelling not only in historical and military account, but also in literary merit – establishes himself as one of the greatest men and truly one of the most talented writers of the 20th century.

A recommended read, Lawrence’s book is a crucial work in understanding the conflicts in Arabia today.

In these pages the history is not of the Arab movement, but of me in it. It is a narrative of daily life, mean happenings, little people. Here are no lessons for the world, no disclosures to shock peoples. It is filled with trivial things, partly that no one mistake for history the bones from which some day a man may make history, and partly for the pleasure it gave me to recall the fellowship of the revolt. We were fond together, because of the sweep of the open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep: and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.

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The Road to Hell

Michael Maren’s The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity shatters the glossy image of NGOs as humanitarian organizations concerned with the betterment of third-world peoples. Instead, he claims Aid as a new kind of colonization. Focusing on Somalia, Maren shows that NGOs there not only didn’t help refugees, but actively killed them. That NGOs supported the power of Siyaad Barre and, later, Mohamed Farah Aydiid. And that NGOs were largely responsible for continuing and worsening famine conditions in the early ‘90’s. In the end, he shows them as no more than Corporations concerned with profit.

It’s an excellent book. Not only for exposing the Aid industry, but for the history and understanding of Somalia.

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