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A Sputtering Blitzkrieg

Krieg it is, but not a blitz. Poor morale and insufficient training are any army’s ball and chain.

Krieg it is, but not a blitz. Poor morale and insufficient training are any army’s ball and chain.

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• Topics: USA / Global,

For those who have not read Dianne Foster's article of a few days ago (Wait a Minute, We Got in This Ukrainian Mess…How?), I urge you to read it and comment. It has engendered a rather “lively” discussion, however, my intent here is to not redo her article or the comments made.  

Early teletype version of MOLINK

As some of you already know from some of my articles, I spent some time at the now-named National Joint Military Intelligence Center (NJMIC) at the Pentagon in the physical area of the building that houses the Offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). We supported the “war room" of the JCS with intelligence from all sources and at all levels of classification. Given the current situation in Ukraine, what would have happened in those spaces weeks or even months ago, is that a task force dedicated to the Ukraine situation would have been formed. These task forces are created to work on a specific crisis, while the rest of the intelligence analysts concentrate as usual on the entire world, nothing is neglected. These task forces are placed in special closed areas adjacent to the NJMIC and occupied by specialists in Russian and Ukrainian affairs, not to mention NATO operations. Also nearby, is one of the several terminals in Washington of the Moscow Link (MOLINK), the direct link between Moscow and Washington put in place decades ago as a means of instant communications between the president of the U.S. and the dictator du jour in Moscow. During my days in the NMJIC, one of the MOLINKs was a few paces away from my desk in a small closet-like room. Another set of terminals was in a much larger area of the National Military Command Center, where several watch officers could work and communicate at the same time. You can bet that place is a beehive of activity as I write this and you read it.

During the last few days, there has been much questioning in the press about the seeming slow-motion aspect of the attack on Ukraine by Russian forces. The reason for the slow pace of the attack became obvious to me several days ago when I received a somewhat poorly written dissection of the problems facing the Russian troops. On a site called Threadreader, a fellow by the name of Stanimir Dobrev (about whom I know little) has posted a series of statements regarding the readiness of the Russian soldiers and what is turning out to be inadequately-thought-through battle plans. Putin anticipated a mad dash to success, but now his troops are stretching supply lines to the breaking point as they are bogged down by Ukrainian forces that Putin, in his hubris, has badly underestimated. If you remember in the movie “Patton,” George C Scott, playing the general, pleads for more gas to keep the forward momentum of his units, but is denied. He knew full well that vehicles without fuel quickly become large paper weights and all plans for the tactic of fire and maneuver are scuttled.  

In a separate email, I received a link to an article (Why the Russians Are Struggling) in the National Review that, in spite of its appearance in that rag, is surprisingly accurate, especially when it comes to describing how to use combined arms teams (infantry, armor, and artillery). The author is Mark Antonio Wright, the executive editor of the magazine. 

“Mechanized infantry must be willing to, on a moments notice, receive the order to dismount, leave the perceived safety of an infantry-fighting vehicle, and serve as a screen for the armor. The infantry can neutralize the anti-tank missile teams. The armor can then provide covering fire, supporting the infantry as they move up, while knocking out any heavy weapons a defender might emplace. The point is that the infantry and the armor must work as a team. And this takes trust. And a hell of a lot of training. Because it’s counterintuitive to leave the safety of the vehicle to close with the enemy, you must drill and drill and drill what the U.S. military calls ‘immediate actions.’ ”

Me (on left) with fellow officer atop an APC after 3 weeks of exhausting training in Germany

But Russian conscript troops now only serve for 12 months, a woefully inadequate time to train troops to a level at which they perform automatically. I had these maneuvers drilled into my head when I was a mechanized infantry platoon leader in the 3rd Armored Division facing Russian divisions through the Fulda Gap in West Germany. We trained constantly during the year, working closely with the armored battalions that we were there to protect. When the training schedule ended, we began again. All of my armored personnel carriers (APCs) were combat loaded with bullets, mortar rounds, and rations, ready to move within two hours of an alert, all day and any day of the year. Lacking this kind of training, Russian troops can suffer serious tactical defeats, low morale, and increased casualties. This can all add up to an ultimate collapse, especially when entering cities where armor and infantry must work together to avoid getting chopped to pieces by urban guerilla-type forces.  

Putin has no big war generals to speak of (all WWII vets now being dead), except those who were in Afghanistan dealing with skirmishes and house-to-house combat on a village scale. They got their asses handed to them on a platter, as we later experienced over our two decades in Afghanistan. And word has it that Putin has ignored his civilian advisors, which places him in “bunker mentality,” possibly moving miniature tanks and trucks around on a map with no clue as to the reality. Large-scale armored battles need careful planning, especially logistics. Russia needed an in-house [German Field Marshall] Von Schlieffen. Putin is now directing war with the military and strategic mind-set of a KGB lieutenant colonel, which might explain his recent comments regarding putting Russian nuclear forces on alert, an extremely dangerous move. Nobody has any assurance he will act rationally with respect to his nuclear (even tactical) weaponry. He could flatten Kyiv or any other city in a show of strength if he feels he is threatened or about to lose this war. If that doesn't frighten you, then you do not understand what is taking place.   

 

Comments by Readers

David Donohue

Feb 28, 2022

Thanks for your clear-eyed assessment, Dick.  I remember when my dad would go on maneuvers with his communications group in France, and then Germany, in the ‘60s.  Russia has devolved into a gangster kleptocracy which has also made a good go at infecting our own government.  We must also fight this madness while understanding how things actually work.   This  is exceedingly difficult when the order of the day is commercialized propaganda.

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Abe Jacobson

Feb 28, 2022

Thanks Dick for your military perspective.

I think we need to be cautious here, before ballyhooing the Russian army’s shortcomings. They are running their invasion in a relatively low-impact mode: Trying to slice through the country without blasting it into rubble. That low-impact mode would have been a clear advantage if the advancing Russians had been met as liberators by a large plurality of the population, or at least if the amassed Russian hosts had successfully intimidated the majority of Ukrainians or its government. But there was no such welcome or mass intimidation, apart from the contrived events in the two annexed provinces in the East. So now, the “low-impact” method of invasion allows the vastly out-gunned Ukrainian forces to substantially impede the Russians.

The Russians have so far chosen to play by rules that tie one of their hands behind their back.

The alternative Russian mode of invasion would be that used in Chechnya: Blast and rubble-ize all structures and soldiers opposing their progress. That was tenable for Putin to get away with in Chechnya, because the Christian west was less able to identify with Chechyns. But for Putin to turn to that Chechnya model of invasion now- and he might -would be to apply brutal mass killing on white Christians. Harder for the Christian west to abide (though not impossible). Also, the full-brutal mode of invasion would repudiate Putin’s own central rationale for the invasion, namely that the Ukranian people are an age-old part of the Russian civilization, indistinguishable from Russians

If Putin turns now to the Chechnya model, i.e. blast and rubble-ize anything in front of their advance, then I don’t think that the soldier-level or unit-level shortcomings of the Russian army will be as much of a problem for the Russians. Chechnya proved that such a full-brutality operation is well within their core competence, and if there was still any doubt, Syria proved the Russian armed forces’ mastery of successfully using unlimited violence against a hostile population.

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Geoff Middaugh

Feb 28, 2022

Excellent article, Dick.   I find it interesting that with all the technology—Javillan’s, stingers, drones, and satellites—it still comes down to training, training, and training.   

 

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Randy Petty

Feb 28, 2022

“dictator du jour”  😊   I appreciate your insight on this.  I’m encouraged by what looks like a “circling of the wagons”  with many different voices  and entitites in the free world doing what they can.  I’m hesitatant to mention moves such as those by Youtube, Facebook, Elon Musk ( starlink coverage over Ukraine) and British Petroleum pulling out at a cost of $25 billion——you never know much self interest is involved.  But Germany voting to increase their defense budget by a large amount, and others shipping Stingers and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine is encouraging.
I’ve been watching on FlightRadar24 how a Global Hawk drone of ours has been circling the black sea 24/7 at 50k feet + in recent days, along with numerous refueling tankers orbiting around countries just west and NW of Ukraine.  We and others have moved fighter aircraft closer for “policing,” but you almost never see them on places like FlightRadar since they usually aren’t using civilian style radar transponders ( for obvious reasons).

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Dick Conoboy

Feb 28, 2022

 David - mid-60s was the time I was in Germany.  Training in the freezing snow and being housed from time to time in barracks once used by Hessian troops.  Each room had its own stove for heat.

Abe - some good points but If I remember correctly Chechnya turned into a long slog. 

Randy - perhaps I should have said “dictator de la decenie”.  (the decade).  The consequences for Russia as you point out are now coming into view.  I am not surprised by the surveillance.  Most eyes and ears of the intel community are pointed toward Ukraine/Russia.

Geoff - training and food.  The old saw, an army travels on it stomach.  And woe to the army that comes down with an intestinal virus.  Nature’s nuke. 

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Mike Sennett

Feb 28, 2022

There is much written on how the NATO “expansion” into the countries behind the fallen Iron Curtain is responsible for Putin’s aggression, and the blame America firsters claim this war was inevitable because of U.S. meddling, as if Putin’s madness has nothing to do with it. These view points focus on the past few decades and  ignore the longer histories of the former captive countries in relation to Russia. The three Baltic nations quickly threw off Russian rule after World War I and the Bolshevik revolution, defeating the Red Army in their Wars of Independence. Stalin extinguished that freedom in 1940, and put them back under Soviet yoke after driving out the Nazis in 1944. In all three countries there was active armed resistance by the Forest Brothers through the 1950s into the early 1960s.  The Baltics regained their freedom during the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.; the Singing Revolution and the Baltic Chain were  notable events in that successful struggle. I’ll hazard a guess that NATO did not have to twist arms to induce them to join. And so too with Poland, who also fought off the Red Army to regain independence after WWl only to lose it to the second German(Prussian)-Russian partition in 1939. The current acceptance of Ukrainian refugees by the Poles constitutes one of the great acts of forgiveness in human history, and is taking place partly because Poland is safe within NATO and not imprisoned in the Warsaw Pact. Rather than provoking Russian aggression, NATO is the necessary deterrent to the Russian imperial imperative to rule over its neighbors and suppress and submerge their national identities and aspirations for freedom, just as the new Stalin is doing now.

 

 

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Dick Conoboy

Mar 01, 2022

Mike,

Our meddling and Putin’s madness are not mutually exclusive.  I blame America when it deserves to be blamed and that list is very, very long.  Putin is a nasty human being and the list of blame for him is, perhaps, longer. But I cannot not wave the US flag as a sign of purity. 

Socrates was purported to have said to us humans, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  One might paraphrase this dictum as,“uncriticized governments are not worth conserving.”

So what is your solution to this situation in Ukraine?  Shall we enter into the fray?  Send in the Marines?  Launch missiles?  Stealth bombers?

And who of us will be on the front lines? 

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Randy Petty

Mar 01, 2022

What do I know…..but I won’t let that stop me 😊   The problem with letting Putin take Ukraine is,
what’s next?    Hopefully all of the anti-tank, anti-aircraft gear being shipped in will at least make the “victory” costly enough to make Putin think twice about places like Romania.
Are their parallels between this war and our reaction to Russian missiles being located in Cuba?

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Dick Conoboy

Mar 01, 2022

 Randy,

What’s next?  I have no idea, nor do you. Are you reviving the dominoe theory? You think Putin is just itching to move on westward?  Romania is part of NATO and that is a whole other danger itself.  Attack on one is an attack on all, etc. Now that scares the shit out of me even more that the current situation. 

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Mike Sennett

Mar 01, 2022

Dick- Solutions are way above my pay grade. I guess all we can do is what we are doing in supplying arms and money, and leading the global response in opposing Putin. We certainly cannot go to war against Russia. My opinions are informed and influenced by my heritage. My mother’s parents got out of Poland shortly before WWI; thus my grandfather did not have to fight for the Czar or the Austrian emperor- hundreds of thousands of Poles died in those armies. My father’s side are from Ireland (post potato famine), another country brutalized by imperialism, Anglo-Saxon style. So I would not be here opining in cyber space if it were not for the open doors at Ellis Island. Our freedom to criticize our country and to try to hold our government accountable without fear, as in forums such as this, is a blessing we should all be thankful for. It is a great failing of our leaders in their support of regimes which do the opposite, using repression and violence as tools of control. 

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Dick Conoboy

Mar 02, 2022

Mike,

It appears we have almost exactly the same background.  My grandparents were born under the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century.  My grandmother in L’vov near the Polish border and my grandfather in Chernivtsi near the Romanian border all of which are now in present day Ukraine.

To support Ukraine initially I plan on donating to Doctors Without Borders, a group that is already on the Ukraine/Poland border giving medical aid to refugees.  I would encourage others to find their own organizations to assist Ukraine in this terrible fight.

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Mike Sennett

Mar 02, 2022

That is a great suggestion. The mental traumas may be worse than any physical conditions the refugees suffer from. The medical needs inside Ukraine will be even more enormous.

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Dick Conoboy

Mar 03, 2022

 “The war in Ukraine did not begin with the Russian intervention. There are a series of authors for this war, each one important to understanding what is happening today.”  This is from an newsletter written by Vijay Prashad entitled In These Days of Great Tension, Peace Is a Priority.

Prashad goes on to say:

“Wars make very complicated historical processes appear to be simple. The war in Ukraine is not merely about NATO or about ethnicity; it is about all these things and more. Every war must end at some point and diplomacy must restart. Rather than allow this war to escalate and for positions to harden too quickly, it is important for the guns to go silent and the discussions to recommence. Unless at least the following three issues are put on the table, nothing will advance:

    Adherence to the Minsk Agreements.

    Security guarantees for Russia and Ukraine, which would require Europe to develop an independent relationship with Russia that is not shaped by US interests.

    Reversal of Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist laws and a return to the pluri-national compact.

If substantive negotiations and agreements regarding these essential matters do not materialise over the next few weeks, it is likely that dangerous weapons will face each other across tenuous divides and additional countries will get drawn into a conflict with the potential to spiral out of control.”

Details are in the newsletter.  Please read it.

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Dick Conoboy

Mar 04, 2022

Ex-U.S. Ambassador to USSR: Ukraine Crisis Stems Directly from Post-Cold War Push to Expand NATO

https://www.democracynow.org/2022/2/17/jack_matlock_ukraine_russia_nato_us

“I would add, however, that the problems with Russia are not just NATO expansion. There were also a process that began with the second Bush administration of withdrawing from all of the arms control — almost all of the arms control agreements that we had concluded with the Soviet Union, the very agreements that had brought the first Cold War to an end. There was a step-by-step withdrawal of those. And there was a decided direct intrusion into the domestic politics of these newly independent countries, attempts to — directly to change the government. This gets, I would say, very complicated in a way, for one who hasn’t been able to follow it step by step. But, you know, in effect, what the United States did after the end of the Cold War was they reversed the diplomacy that we had used to end the Cold War, and started sort of doing anything, everything the opposite way. We started, in effect, trying to control other countries, to bring them into what we called the “new world order,” but it was not very orderly. And we also sort of asserted the right to use military whenever we wished. We bombed Serbia in the ’90s without the approval of the U.N. Later, we invaded Iraq, citing false evidence and without any U.N. approval and against the advice not only of Russia but of Germany and France, our allies. So, the United States — I could name a number of others — itself was not careful in abiding by the international laws that we had supported. 

 

 

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Randy Petty

Mar 16, 2022

Dick it would nice to see an update on this from you.  Check this out:
https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/ukraine-no-fly-zone-would-be-ineffective-dangerous-and-gift-putin

There’s also a youtube video where a retired F14 pilot interviews the author of that article.
“Justin Bronk is the Research Fellow for Airpower and Technology in the Military Sciences team at RUSI. He is also Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems online journal.

Justin’s particular areas of expertise include the modern combat air environment, Russian and Chinese ground-based air defences and fast jet capabilities, unmanned combat aerial vehicles and novel weapons technology. He has written extensively for RUSI and a variety of external publications, as well as appearing regularly in the international media.”

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