Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: U.S. Humanitarian Interventions, Syria, and the Cheapness of IEDs

by Micah Zenko
June 28, 2013

Brian T. Haggerty, “Safe Havens in Syria: Missions and Requirements for an Air Campaign,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, July 2012. (PDF)

Discussion of military intervention in Syria to address the humanitarian crisis resulting from President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on an anti-government uprising began to receive sustained attention in the U.S. media in early 2012, more than ten months after the first major protests began…To date, however, the details of such planning have not been elaborated further and there has been virtually no systematic, open-source analysis of a possible Syrian contingency…

To begin assessing the scale, scope and likelihood for success of such an operation, I conduct an open-source analysis of a possible NATO-led intervention in Syria designed to address the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. For simplicity, I assume the mandate for such an intervention would be in keeping with the most basic goals of the vetoed UN Security Council resolution and UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Peace Plan first proposed in March 2012: to defend Syrian cities and towns from government repression and to allow for humanitarian access to those in need of assistance. In keeping with NATO’s past experience in responding to humanitarian crises, I focus largely on the missions and requirements for an air campaign…

Given Syria’s more sophisticated IADS, initial counterair missions for a Syrian intervention would presumably require a greater number of sorties dedicated to jamming and the suppression of Syrian air defenses.159 The 191 strike aircraft estimated above—more than two and a half wings of 72 fighters—thus seems reasonable as a lower bound for the number of strike aircraft that could be required to begin counterair operations over Syria. Assuming 35-40 percent of the total aircraft deployed would be support aircraft,160 this would necessitate another 105-130 aircraft. Overall, one estimate, then, is to expect at least 300 aircraft would be necessary for the initial counterair efforts to degrade Syrian air defense and air-to-air capabilities. (page 44)


Interview with President Barack Obama, Charlie Rose, June 17, 2013.

Obama: “When it comes to drones I gave an entire speech on this and what I have said is–and this is absolutely true–is that we have put in place a whole series of measures that are unprecedented and we will continue to do so.”

(3PA: If you actually read President Obama’s May 15 speech, you will see very little attention focused on lethal actions. Moreover, while it was meant to provide clarification on U.S. drone strike policies, it turned out to reveal nothing more than was already known.)


Jessica Kavanagh, “Are U.S. Military Interventions Contagious Over Time?” RAND Corporation, 2013.

Current DoD force planning processes assume that U.S. military interventions are serially independent over time. This report challenges this assumption, arguing that interventions occur in temporally dependent clusters in which the likelihood of an intervention depends on interventions in the recent past. The author used data on 66 U.S. Army contingency and peacekeeping deployments of at least company size between 1949 and 2010 and found evidence of temporal dependence between military interventions even when controlling for political, economic, and other security factors. However, the results also suggested that clustering is affected by the nature of the geopolitical regime and is stronger at certain points than others, for example, after the Cold War as compared to during the Cold War. The results suggested that as few as two military interventions above average is often enough to trigger interventions in subsequent years. Because current planning processes address only the direct force demands of a given deployment and ignore the heightened risk for additional demands created by temporal dependence, these processes may project force requirements that understate the demands placed on military deployments during a period of clustered interventions. This analysis suggests that DoD should consider modifying the integrated security constructs to incorporate serial correlation of interventions, making assumptions about the nature of the current or future geopolitical regime explicit, and assessing whether the existing set of force planning frameworks reflects the spectrum of potential future geopolitical regimes.


James G. Foggo III and Michael Beer, “The New Operational Paradigm: Operation Odyssey Dawn and the Maritime Operations Center,” Joint Force Quarterly, Issue 70, 3rd quarter 2013.

Operation Odyssey Dawn produced several lessons learned concerning operational warfare that were new to the joint planning process. A major infusion to the JOC’s intelligence preparation and development was social media, which provided a unique and useful tool for the Intelligence Community. The JTF J2 (Intelligence) staff was able to follow open-source Facebook and Twitter posts by civilians in places where the environment was constantly in flux (for instance, Benghazi), which they corroborated with standard classified intelligence sources, to present an accurate and timely picture to the JTF commander and planning staff. The exploitation of this technology and its incorporation into the intelligence process allowed the staff to stay ahead of the changing situation on the ground without the benefit of first-hand accounts normally provided by a land component.

(3PA:  When discussing the role of social media in conflict settings, it is worth recognizing how it is now used by military intelligence analysts to support attack operations, in this case the initial cruise missile and air strikes against Libya in March 2011.)


Michael Fabey, “Pacific Punch,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 24, 2013.

U.S. Navy officials contend their pivot plans, and especially those concerning the LCS, represent just the right amount of punch. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, says the U.S. “has to respect the sovereignty of other countries” in Asia. The U.S. must “avoid any kind of conflict. It limits the diplomatic stress,” he says.


Tom Vanden Brook, “Afghan IEDs: Warfare on the Cheap,” USA Today, June 24, 2013.

A 110-pound bag of ammonium-nitrate fertilizer goes for $160 in Afghanistan. It drops to $48 for the same size bag of potassium chlorate, the fuel for matches. The average IED in Afghanistan contained about 52 pound of homemade explosive.

The most-common IED, the type triggered by a person’s weight or a vehicle, cost $416 to build. They’re also very hard to detect since they can contain little or no metal that can be picked up mine detectors.


Ex-CIA Chief Robert Gates on Snowden, Syria, and the Biggest Threat to America,” Popular Mechanics, June 25, 2013.

Robert Gates on the biggest threat to the nation:

“I think the biggest threat to our future sits in Washington, D.C., and not someplace else. The rest of the problems of the world wouldn’t worry me if we had a functional government. And if we had a Congress that could begin to address some of the long-term problems that the country has. I mean, the reality is our problems are deep enough in every category that none of them can be resolved during the course of one presidency or one Congress. So you need bipartisan solutions that can be sustained through more than one presidency and more than one Congress. And we don’t see any evidence of that in Washington.”


Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Siobhan Gorman, “U.S. Begins Shipping Arms for Syrian Rebels,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2013.

The CIA is expected to spend up to three weeks bringing light arms and possibly antitank missiles to Jordan. The agency plans to spend roughly two weeks more vetting an initial group of fighters and making sure they know how to use the weapons that they are given, clearing the way for the first U.S.-armed rebels to enter the fight, diplomats briefed on the CIA’s plans said.

(3PA: The same day that it was announced that the CIA would begin providing arms to Syrian rebels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that he supports a “peaceful resolution…not a military solution.” For more on the convoluted objectives of U.S. intervention in Syria, see “Obama’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Syria Strategy.”)

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    The recent stationing of a weakly-armed propulsion-challenged LCS “combat ship” in the Malacca Strait to protect China shipping from pirates represents “just the right amount of punch.” And to US taxpayers, China says 谢谢 .

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    “Safe Haven’s in Syria: Missions and Requirements for an Air Campaign” –Does MIT have an English department?

    “U.S. Begins Shipping Arms for Syrian Rebels.: — that’s amusing, since the U.S. has been shipping arms to Syria for about two years — it’s what got Ambassador Stevens killed, in the Benghazi affair where truth has never been told.

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