Boom! Head Shot – Physical Realities of Ballistics and the Instant Kill

I was asked a disturbingly cool question not long ago which prompted me to write about the question. “Jon, you were in the Marines and know a lot about deadly stuff that goes boom. Your tagline also reads ‘A nice guy who knows some scary stuff.’ So, what is something that could kill us so quickly that we wouldn’t even know?”

Well, my morbidly curious friends, firing just about any caliber round in this area will pretty much do it.

This is called the “T-box” by police and military security forces because of it’s obvious shape. When these individuals are placed in lethal force encounters, this area is emphasized as a vital target area, second only to the center of the chest. It is valued so highly because it is the single most lethal part of the body to succumb to violent kinetic pressure and if the round is delivered accurately, will guarantee the end of any adversary’s aggression. If troops or law enforcement officers can fire within this very small field, it is virtually guaranteed to instantly kill any combatant. The only reason it isn’t trained to be the first area shooters aim for is that the shot is extremely difficult and in situations where lethal force is required, sometimes just crossing the finish line matters more than the grace and finesse with which one does so.

The Mythical Head Shot

A simple “head shot” may not be enough to completely stop the enemy dead in their tracks. Video games and movies give the idea that, so long as you “tag” the head, a person will drop dead with no questions asked. This movie myth is factually inaccurate. Numerous cases have shown individuals who have survived being shot in the head, not resulting in death of the intended target. Other cases will show people who have suffered varying levels of brain damage, but not death. Many times no brain damage occurred and the only resulting injury was just cosmetic damage to the face. There are even some reports of people being shot so closely, and at such an angle, that the bullet was deflected and simply bounced off the skull, leaving literally nothing more a scratch. All of these are survivable and sometimes even result with little loss of quality of life. For that reason, most “head shots” aren’t guaranteed kills. Some won’t even end the threat happening at the moment. Firing within the T-Box, however, is.

Why the T-Box is Lethal

The T-box covers the nose and behind the eyes. These sensory organs don’t actually matter themselves, but are simply the target area. What makes the T-Box different from any other area is the part of the brain which rests directly behind it. Beyond this point is the lower brain, the parts most responsible for the processes that cause us to continue living. It houses the brain stem which is responsible for our organs functioning automatically, namely our heart, lungs, our central nervous system, as well as controlling the rest of our brain itself. This means that losing it guarantees a complete and instantaneous loss of consciousness and life.

Internal Ballistics

The truth is, the T-Box can actually be much larger depending on the caliber of the round. This is because ballistic effects on soft targets have cumulative effects which help to guarantee a complete loss of lower brain function. A round doesn’t just pass through a medium. Another movie myth would suggest that a bullet just punctures at a given point of entry then bores a bullet sized hole all the way through. Reality is much more graphic than that.

Like any kinetic object, a moving object will release it’s energy into the medium with which it travels. My examples will be with a standard issue 9mm Beretta pistol, commonly issued throughout the military and law enforcement, as well as widely available to the common buyer. The energy of that weapon can be measured as an 8 gram mass moving at around 381 meters per second generating about 3 Newtons of force. Those three or so Newtons of energy will be released into a target proportionally to the resistance it gives the round as it travels. A good analog for what 3 Newtons is would be the force of 3 apples falling. This doesn’t sound extremely powerful, but it must also be emphasized that this is a massive amount of force being emanated from a very narrow channel, the cavity created by the bullet. This transition of force results in the round slowing down as the cavity it created expands explosively.

This is what explosive expansion looks like on ballistics gel, the best analog for human bodily tissue.  Ballistics experts even measure this property, referred to as “cavitation” or the measurement of the cavity produced by ballistics. This gel features a larger round than the 9mm, but showcases the effects within the human body. This is an especially potent event in the brain. It can’t be communicated enough that most of a bullet’s damage doesn’t center on the direct path it takes through the body, but through the absorption of energy. The most important factor to consider is that that cavity you see above shouldn’t just be smaller; it shouldn’t exist. We are talking about cells which once touched being violently propelled from one another. Within the brain, that represents cells and neurons that exist and operate within nanometers, momentarily separated by a space of several inches, and never able to return to their original structure.

Placing this event anywhere near the lower brain, namely the brain stem, will result in the violent and immediate fragmentation of all necessary working processes providing both awareness to the victim, as well as control of all bodily functions. That means they are instantly dead.

But Will We Know It’s Coming?

So we have shown that any round placed within this area will result in death, absolutely and non-negotiably, but are we sure we wouldn’t be able to realize we had been shot, or even shot at, first? Now we are asking a question about the comparison of the speed of a bullet in flight and the cognitive capabilities of the human perceptive system. Our 9mm Beretta fires a round which has a muzzle velocity, the speed it travels through the air when it leaves the weapon, of around 1,250 ft/s or 381 m/s.

Reaction time for people is something like 0.2 seconds if you are skilled and practiced at very certain tasks which you are prepared for and expect to occur. That isn’t the case here. Under normal conditions, you could expect to be able to react to something, given about 1.5 seconds notice. Using our metrics from the Beretta, at the velocity the round is moving, you would have to be capable of watching the round moving for over 570 meters, or over a third of a mile, just to have time to react to it. Considering the size and speed of the round in question, I am going to consider that, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

You also won’t be able to hear the round fire either. The speed of sound is 1,126 feet per second, or 343.205 m/s. Looking back at our old numbers, the 9mm Beretta clocks in at 1,250 ft/s or 381 m/s. Therefore, the round is traveling at supersonic speed. For that reason, you would never hear it coming until long after it had had done it’s job. For argument’s sake, in the case of the slowest bullets out there, ballistic velocity is still 339.7504 m/s. That’s not faster than the speed of sound, but are only 4 m/s slower than Mach 1. Given that this difference makes the slowest rounds only .01% slower than sound and the fact we still require another 1.5 seconds to process that sound, this bullet would still have had to have traveled over a fifth of a mile before you could possibly hear it in time to recognize and process. Being that no handgun firing such a slow round is even effective at that range, and also that there is no way to know if you are diving to a safer location than you already occupy, we could say that it too is rhetorical. There is no chance that you will ever hear a round with your name on it.

The Gruesome Truth

Having said all this, you can safely know that any unfortunate victim of being shot with any caliber round aimed directly to the imaginary T-box area of the face will be dead. In fact, they will die so thoroughly and immediately, that the last cognisant thing their mind registers will be the sight of the barrel of the weapon which was about to kill them… before their brain explodes.


That was twisted. I hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to support me, please visit my Patreon support page. For more content like this, visit my blog –Jon’s Deep Thoughts. Thanks for reading you morbidly curious individual.

The Middle Eastern Cold War is Getting a Bit Warmer – Announcement of Joint Military Force by the Arab League

The recent news over the weekend is surrounding the announcement of a pan-Arabic defense force lead by the Arab League. The announcement came from a two day summit in Cairo, consisting of important world leaders from the 22 member states of the Arab League. The summit resolution said the newly unveiled joint Arab defense force would be deployed at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat and that it would also be used to combat terrorist groups. Egyptian military and security officials stated that the intention is for the proposed force to consist of up to 40,000 elite troops backed by jet fighters, warships and light armor. The force would likely be headquartered in either Cairo, Egypt or Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

There are many questions surrounding the nature of this military confederation, many of them appearing here on Quora – Arab League Joint Military Force Announcement (March 2015). As of right now, though, there are still more questions than answers. Not much is known as most of the plans for the joint military force have yet to be made. The Cairo summit informed the AP that there will be a Chiefs of Staff meeting within the next month and a plan presented within the next four months for the implementation of the force. Whatever is delivered at that time will determine the scope of operations going forward.

Thus far, the stated purpose seems to be to counter “outside parties” and their military agendas within Arab countries. While many Westerners may believe this relates to American and European interests, it was made very clear that this is directed toward meaning Iran. Iranian backed groups, such as the current threat in Yemen, as well as Hezbollah, and the Iranian backed Shia government in Iraq have left the Arab nations feeling pressure, compounded by the blow delivered to it in 2011 via the Arab Spring. Uprisings and protests have riddled the Arab World since that time and, given the recent push by the Shia backed Iran to fill the void. This combination of threats has solidified many of the 22 Arab League members. Recent military successes in Yemen, have also empowered those backing joint military operations.

It has already been acknowledged, however, it is doubtful that all 22 will be part of the force.

However, it is unlikely that all 22 member nations of the often-fractious Arab League will join the proposed force. Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense agreement.

Iraq, whose Shiite government is closely allied with non-Arab and Shiite Iran, has said more time is needed to discuss the proposed force.

What we will probably see it used for immediately is to try to stabilize the Yemen conflict in favor of Arab interests. If it has strong lasting power, we may see it act as a counter balance to Iran and forces like their Quds Force. The Quds are a special forces arm of the Iranian military reporting directly to Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. They are responsible for the Iranian military’s “extraterritorial operations” and reportedly number around 15,000 troops. A good analogy for the Quds would be something comparable to the United States CIA married with the Green Beret and reporting directly to the President while still technically being part of the Department of Defense. Through them, Iran has been able to support military action across multiple agendas throughout the Middle East, most notably through their commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani reportedly taking a prominent role in both the planning & execution of the offensive to liberate Tikrit from ISIL.

Currently, there is no such Arab answer in the Middle East with the means to counteract Iranian influence and capabilities such as they have shown through forces like the Quds. What the Arabs seem to want from the arrangement is a direct action force combining air strike capabilities and ground forces to be capable of quelling any national destabilization, (such as events like the Arab Spring) insurgency (such as the beginning of the Syrian War and current Yemen conflict) as well as counter-terrorism capabilities.

This isn’t, however, the first time such a force has been seriously suggested. Such a force was a major agenda with the Ba’athists since the 1960’s and has been a long established goal of various Arab League states for many years. This has always been hampered by the region’s numerous flaws, suspicions and inability to cooperate strategically across borders. Add to this and the devastating effect of the Arab-Israeli conflicts on Arab cohesion.

To the credit of the Arabs, conflicts throughout the Middle East over the last fifty years have seen a massive, though somewhat quiet, increase in military infrastructure to support such a new force. An example of this is the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq and others like it, a result of the Israeli conflict and the Middle Easts inability to muster forces fast enough to fight back against Israeli assaults. Another fact worth considering is that nations throughout the Middle East have been outspending much of the world for the last decade. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been spending as much as 10% of their annual GDP on defense spending, more than doubling even the United States military’s relative spending.

That said, if this goal does stick, one can’t know what it will lead to. The force’s staying power will mean an escalation of conflict between the Arab League and Tehran, an event which paints a new and altogether more threatening light on the recent nuclear agreements going on with Iran currently. The Arab region’s history of being politically intertwined in all regards with Islam, particularly that of extremist Wahabi/Salifist branches, is obviously concerning, given their own recent attempts at nationalization. Arab military victories would surely see a rise in Arab nationalism, which may see more growth in parties like the remaining Ba’athists, which given their history, could be even more concerning.  These three elements together, an example being a militarized Arab national state with religious backing such as Iraq circa the 1980’s is frightening.What this will mean for places like Israel we can’t know, but I’m personally not looking at that area very positively. In general, the only thing the entire Arab League has agreed on centered on the illegality of the Israeli state. Shifting focus, the presence of such a force will also only increase tensions with Iran. Finally, a militarized Arab League does hold the long term threat of one day pushing the West, such as the United States, Europe, and the UN out of many Arab countries altogether.


Thanks for reading. This blog is supported entirely by fan donation. If you would like to support the author, please visit: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

What lessons can people learn from being in a war?

I was recently asked by the Huffington Post along with a few other veterans to share what lessons one can gain from being in a war. I really went off with it. What came out was basically the outline to a book I may one day need to write. This is one of the few subjects that is so broad that I have literally invested hundreds, if not thousands of hours writing over it over the last four years. It’s incredibly important to me so I wanted to pull out all the stops for it. I’ll be sharing the full text with all my followers here over the next week or so. Hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading.

What does War Smell Like?

I was deployed to Iraq’s Al Anbar province. This is a particularly arid desert region which is important to understand the next point. When stepping off the plane you are instantly embraced by the heat and the smell. Immediately after the heat, depending on the time of year you are there, you get a smell that I have only been able to describe as the smell of “thousands of years of death and woe.” It was somehow very different from that of training in the Arizona deserts of Yuma or even in Kuwait.

Dust

kpn8sl-25dillow5large

In Al Anbar, the smell that is ever present is of earthen dust with a certain staleness. You don’t notice this smell anywhere else because of the particular weather conditions that are present there. The region suffers permanent drought which means that you might see less than a few inches of precipitation a year at best. The environment also causes sandstorms known as haboobs that happen at least once a year. The haboob will pull up all top layers of soil and deposit the finest of it on the surface, while helping to weather the rest for future generations of desert dwellers. The result is an ultra fine layer of dust coating the entire region. After a few weeks of no moisture, that being a return to the norm, every step you take creates a cloud of dust beneath your feet. The collected dust is almost liquid; it will flow through your fingers like water, but solid enough to leave a perfect imprint of your boots preserved in the dust until the wind carries it away perhaps hours later. In parts, the dust dunes, not quite “sand” dunes, seem to create seas of it. This video, recorded by an Army soldier demonstrates this perfectly.

The dust is so fine that all of it never really settles. You can look in the distance and always see a dull orange haze darken the blue sky along the horizon. This is the dust that is always circulating literally everywhere around you, but only visible en masse from a distance. The net effect of this layer of dust on the entirety of a region is a smell that always exists. The hardest part of describing the smell is describing what it is like to remove scents you have always experienced and have long ago filtered from your conscious thought. Moisture and the various aromas of vegetation are usually all around us in parts of the planet people enjoy living, so we forget about them until they are gone. Take these away, and replace it with the dusty desert and you are left an arid, earthy, stale, chalky smell that will be a constant for your next seven months. For some reason, I immediately attributed this smell with the scent of something ancient and long dead, like what I imagined to be the smell inside a tomb, or perhaps a stale old dumb.

Gunpowder

The second smell I would think of is that of gunpowder. I worked at a rifle and pistol range as a weapons instructor for two years with the Marines, so I became very familiar with the smell. Though I never was given the responsibility to fire a shot in anger, the constant training for such an event left an indelible mark on my memory. I failed to articulate it though, so I asked the question What does gunpowder smell like? to try to refine it. Some of the best answers were fellow veterans.

Sam Morningstar

I’ve been in sustained gun battles in Iraq and I found the smell to be distinctly like a “metallic sulfur” (if that makes any sense).

Nick Layon

To me, it smells of “burnt earth”.

Takeo Eda

Sharp, pungent, leaves a metallic flavor on the roof of your mouth. If in sufficient quantities it will water your eyes, will deaden your smell sensitivity for other things for a long time.

The common themes I can identify with were the presence of a sulfuric “rotten egg” scent. I can only guess that this is from some modern derivative of the classic saltpeter brew of gunpowder. I wouldn’t know the specifics of that. This is overridden by an acidic, lingering, metalliod aroma that one could taste, as much as smell.

As I stood on the range behind my shooters firing round, after round, after round, the scent became very familiar to me, pleasant even. I’d never experienced it before pulling the trigger for the first time at the rifle range in boot camp. The target I fired upon descended into the pits and registered a hit for full points. I was a good shot and I loved the smell of that moment. Even today, when I go to the range as a civilian hobbyist, the scent of gunpowder is a pleasantly nostalgic. It brings about feelings of accomplishment, of power, and of pride. It is the intoxicatingly manly scent that accompanies the military experience and one finds that they long for the sulfur rich acidic bitterness long after they’ve left the war behind them for good.

BO

Next is the presence of yourself. Frankly, there are some things you can never get clean.

I couldn’t find an image of a grimy flak jacket, so I took this guy because he will never get all of that out. Eventually, after wearing the same piece of equipment every single day for months, sweat and mud will dry and congeal into a strange type of black film that you can never get clean. You can take away the top layers of the muck, but you can never prevent it from staining the once khaki colored gear to non uniform shades of grey and black.

Add to this the constant smell of yourself after not getting to regularly shower, bathe, or really function on any degree of civilized cleanliness and you have a smell that I can only describe as pure and unadulterated manfunk. I also didn’t know how much salt could come from the human body. It turns out, that if you are forced to wear the same clothes over and over again, such as the few cammies you are capable of taking with you, and work very physically demanding jobs, you leave salt deposits on your clothes which will never wash out. Trust me. Over time, this uncleanness and chronic discomfort has been attributed more to the decline of morale over the long term in periods of prolonged fighting than most other factors barring the actual death of teammates and can be a leading factor in the breakdown that leads to psychiatric casualties in war. That fact surprised me, that people could stink so bad that they go crazy. Just go without bathing for a few weeks while rolling around in dirt, dust and a moderate supply of gun oil to top off and you won’t feel like a warrior, but you’ll smell like one.

Decay of a Nation

War has a few distinctive smells that are relatively common in most warzones, but rarely occur anywhere else today together. In the early stages of war, the government is broken down and basic services fail. Fires burn out of control if there are no government agencies to administer them. When delegates were sent in by the Americans following the collapse of the Hussein regime, they entered Baghdad and saw the smoke rising from all around. Fires had been burning nonstop for weeks. At first, the question centered on getting the firefighters back up and running, It was made obvious very soon that the fires were directly caused by the American weapons or the fighting. The real problem was those who set the fires intentionally. Looters were unpoliced by a police force that had abandoned their posts when their source of income had dissolved. Eventually, the fires would just burn themselves out. Imagine the time before this where for months, every breath was partially choked with the raspy irritation of soot, burning rubber, ash and smoke from distant fires burning from every direction of the city all around.

Then there is the fact that none of the public utilities are in operation. One element that many people know little about war is that it rarely takes anyone by surprise. The signs of it happening in Iraq were more than six months long. This resulted in what many called a “brain drain” effect among the Iraqi educated, where all the scholars, engineers, civil servants, and major leadership just disappeared prior to the war beginning or not long after. It happens in every major war. Part of why we couldn’t get power back up and running, along with so many other basic services we consider necessary for human civilization, wasn’t because of lack of effort. It was much more because everyone from Iraq who had the means to run the country from the middle, the managers, the engineers, the doctors, all had fled abroad. This meant that even basic problems were magnified when there were no educated and experienced individuals left to take care of it. Children die of the common cold. Power plants that weren’t even hit suffer catastrophic failures because a low level engineer hired three weeks ago is now the senior manager. Honestly ask yourself what exactly is the President of the United States and the US Military are supposed to do about jittery electrical grid in the town of Hīt in Al Anbar? Is some Lance Corporal supposed to just hook a generator to the central grid and solve all that? What if someone blows that up, again, and again, and again? What then? I’m honestly curious why people think combat statecraft is supposed to be easy.

That said, this brain drain had it’s own unique odor. Basic plumbing ceases to be a reality. It’s hard to keep pumps running without power, or knowledgeable people who know how the system works. Really, when you’re government is gone and you are unsure of getting a paycheck next week, why would you shovel human feces from the deep pipes? The system backs up and the putrid aroma hangs distantly, in the air, distant if you’re lucky. It was the same on base. We didn’t use the regular in ground systems where they existed because most needed too many engineers and support we didn’t have to keep them working. There were more pressing matters, war you know. Instead, we had hundreds of port-o-johns keeping our needs met. In the summers they were the worst possible inconvenience. We called them BLIS units: the Blue Water Iraqi Saunas. By the second deployment in 2007, we had a much better infrastructure in place. By 2005 though, the smell of sewage was a weekly recurrent. I am willing to bet that for the Iraqis beyond my base, the smell was etched in their memory of that time period, as well as billions throughout history of their wars.

Along with police work and firefighting, other crucial services of government fail and leave those who witness war in its early phases with an unforgettable memory. At its worst war has the faint odor of putrescine and cadaverine. You probably aren’t familiar with these two chemicals, but your body instinctively know them. When you first experience it, you experience a visceral sensation in your gut and you may feel the desire to vomit as they give off a putrid aroma. These are chemicals released as the body decomposes. It has a sickly sweet scent that you will recognize very quickly. It is the smell of death and your body knows it because you are evolved to stay away from the dead as an innate safeguard to not spread disease. Your olfactories know this scent and your body will react to it as is natural. It could be an animal killed on the side of the road after a few days or, during times of war, of people, insurgents killed in an active battlefield or civilians with no one to safely remove their bodies. This is the end result of a nation caught in war, there are no government agencies or rescue workers who can safely remove of the dead with dignity and protect others from disease, no one left ensure the streets are clean and fires burning everywhere.


Thanks for reading. This is a post presented by the Quora blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts. If you would like to support the author, please visit: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

The Lion and the Lights of Al-Baghdadi

Seven years ago, I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. During that time, I deployed to Iraq twice. The second of these missions took me to the base known by the Marines as Al Asad.

Al Asad, or Ain Al Assad, is the Arabic term for “The Lion”. The base was built in response to the failures of the Arab world against the Israelis in the early 1970’s as a super base to empower Iraq for the future. It now houses elements of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division, along with 300 United States Marine Corps military advisors and trainers. The base is located in the Hīt District of Al Anbar Governorate, about 100 miles (160 km) west of Baghdad and 5 miles (8.0 km) west of the village of Khan al Baghdadi. That means that Al Asad has been in the center of the contested ISIS held lands since their initial invasion in June of 2014.

Today Al Asad is back in the news. Beginning last week, insurgent forces occupied the nearby town of al Baghdadi. Al Baghdadi serves a key strategic point for the base as control of the town means control of access to the nearest highway and the only land connection to the rest of the country, as well as access to the Euphrates River. It is also of tactical importance because the town lies within range of numerous rockets, some acquired from the fallen and abandoned Iraqi bases, some bought from overseas, and some – homemade. This shows the base, the vicinity to the town of Al-Baghdadi, and the fact that it is in range of the rockets.

What it doesn’t show is why I care so much about this particular battlefield. As I said before Al Asad, was one of the bases I was stationed during my two tours to Iraq. On the Eastern edge of the base, along the long road snaking in, is an entry control point. At least there was in 2008. I spent every day of my seven month deployment checking trucks and vehicles for contraband and explosives at that control point. Beside that point was a very large tower where, if I was lucky I could spend the night alone to watch the shifting sands and be alone with my thoughts. On many cold Iraqi nights, I remember staring out that tower into the open desert. From it, I could see the distant lights of the town that lay just beyond the hills to the Northeast. These were the lights of Al-Baghdadi. The town was so small and so insignificant then.

Today, those lights still shine, but illuminate a different town. Insurgents with the Islamic State have occupied it in a bold move, hoping to put pressure on the Iraqi government. According to reports, the Islamic State have been shelling the base since their arrival. So far, there has been no damage reported to the base. This doesn’t surprise me because this kind of rocket fire is more of a nuisance than a real threat. I can say this from personal experience. After you have survived a few of them, it really is just an interruption to the flow of events before long. That may change very soon, however. It was reported that last Friday, a suicide squad of eight men, four with suicide vests, attempted to infiltrate the base. It is probable that they wanted to sneak onto the base and inflict either massive casualties against the Iraqi army or destroy many of the important assets crucial to maintaining security in Al Anbar and the fight against ISIS housed therein. This squad was intercepted by the Iraqi army without achieving their goals, later confirmed by a Marine attack helicopter, observing the area where the fighting had already ended.

This attack, while ending with a victory for the Iraqi Army, marks another crucial event where Islamist jihadi fighters took the initiative to what appears to be a passive Iraqi force. It symbolizes the Islamic States’ ability to mount just outside the walls of the Iraqi army and deliver attacks at the time of their choosing. Though it ended in their failure it was only one of many so far, and we will most likely see many more to come in the future, as well. In what is being called the Siege Al-Asad, the base has endured such attacks since October. Months ago, the base was reportedly surrounded by ISIS fighters, hopeful to destroy a key asset to defense of the nation of Iraq. That invasion was pushed back by Iraqi forces with the aid of US Marines and again, attacks took place in December which were also met with the pushing back of Islamic State forces.

What can be sure is that news of my old home will continue to come so long as the Islamic State exists in Iraq and the Al Anbar province. It will remain an important strategic point for Iraqi defense and a handsome target for jihadist insurgents. Even in the event of unsuccessful attacks like last Friday’s, the continued fighting around Al Asad and the town of al-Baghdadi showcase the Islamic States’ willingness and ability to mount attacks against the Iraqi forces at their most fortified locations. As Islamist forces grow more desperate and more bold with the coming of warmer whether, we should expect to see more of the Lion in the months to come.


Thanks for reading. If you would like to support JDT, please visit my Patreon fan support page: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

A Look at the Tactics of Charlie Hebdo by a Military Veteran

We’ve had very well planned assaults happening for a very long time now. People just haven’t been paying attention.

 


Historical Context

Consider all the way back to 9/11. You had 19 men who were all deep agents of Al Qaeda. That means that many served as troops with the Islamic Mujahideen of Afghanistan against the Soviets and were elite warfighters of that force. They were all extremely vetted, meaning that they either served directly with the core of Al Qaeda’s founders or were family. Furthermore, these were not just poor and ignorant farmers. They were all highly literate, highly educated men of connected backgrounds. For example, Mohamed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the operation, was an architect trained in Cairo and Hamburg. Others also held professional degrees. Logistics were an important factor, as well. For the operation to be a success, the 19 had to all be brought into the United States and housed for several months. They had to be trained, each in their various roles for the operations. They were organized into cells. There was no way they would be left in one 19 man house for fear of detection. So they had to be split up. That would also mean that there needed to be an overwatch for them to make sure that they didn’t back out or blow the operation. This meant communication lines had to be created and a bureaucracy of agents supporting the would be suicide bombers. All this, the planning, the coordination, the admin, logistics, and the leadership, required a vast network of handlers and overseers for the operation. It went far beyond 19 men, themselves qualifying easily as special forces, operating for months, implementing a plan years in the making.

This had the masterful effect of pulling the Americans into a prolonged war in the Middle East, unsettling the US, but more importantly, throwing the entire region into turmoil and disarray. By bringing in Western intervention, through the manipulation of American sentimentality and reactionary mentality, they destabilized longstanding semi-secular governments of the Middle East, making way for the caliphate that was always their real primary goal.

Skip to a while later and you see Madrid. In 2004 Spain was in active support of the American presence in Iraq. On the morning of 11 March 2004 – three days before the general elections in Spain, a series of nearly simultaneous, coordinated bombings against the Cercanías commuter train system of Madrid took place. The explosions killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. This also involved a massive and sophisticated planning method where Madrid’s security system had to have been compromised completely for months. The result was the nation’s complete turnaround in the elections, pulling favor away from the Iraq War and isolating the United States from European support.

Al Qaeda is not, in the least, unsophisticated in their attacks. Every major operation they make is implemented by the best and most vetted troops able to be recruited from among various jihadi forces. Their attacks are planned and coordinated with the intent to manipulate Western sentiments to their favor toward destabilizing the Middle East. They further increase their leverage by using this propaganda to build a death cult of fanatics willing to sacrifice themselves in the realization of a grand dream of the new Caliphate, as the “heroes” of 9/11 did.


The Raid on Charlie Hebdo

One eye witness account, that of Corinne Rey, a designer known as Coco, has told L’Humanité said that she was forced to let the attackers into the Charlie Hebdo building. She said:

I had gone to pick up my daughter from daycare. Arriving at the door of the newspaper building, two hooded and armed men brutally threatened us.

They wanted to enter, go up. I typed the code. They shot Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes … I had taken refuge under a desk …
They spoke French perfectly … claiming to be Al-Qaida.

Other reports have stated that the men knew the individuals whom they were targeting precisely. In one account I’ve seen, attackers called for the editors and cartoonists by name, recognized them and shot them on the spot while ignoring many others. The fact that they did this doesn’t mean it was an inside job by any means, but means that they most likely had very large intelligence profiles on these men. These files were no doubt collected and groomed prior to the operation and delivered to the two. This also indicates a larger network of administrators and intelligence gatherers, perhaps even utilizing known connections with intelligence services of many Islamic nations, a practice seen in the past. I say it wasn’t inside because of a few mistakes made, namely the two first went into the wrong building, two buildings down from Charlie Hebdo. They demanded from a local delivery person direction to the right building, where they encountered Corinne Rey, who they needed to open the door.

In a video of the incident taken by an onlooker in the wrong place at the right time, shared by the Guardian, two gunmen are seen exiting a car presumably near the Charlie Hebdo building. This can be speculated because a news van is seen near where the shooters brutally gunned down a police officer, himself a fellow Muslim.

From what we can see plainly, the two shooters are well armed, both carrying what appear to be AK-47’s, as well as well armored with additional gear. He is wearing what appears to be either some form of load bearing vest, which the military uses to carry additional ammunition, or a bullet proof vest of desert coloring. The truth is, probably both. At the very least, he has lots of ammunition easily available.

More concerning than his equipment, which could be bought and given to any suicidal maniac, is his tactical carry and use of the weapon. The shooter nearest the camera concerns me. As a former US Marine Corps marksmanship instructor I see many things that speak of advanced military style tactical discipline. Both shooters seem to wield the Russian made AK-47 adeptly. These weapons are readily available by many avenues, and abundant in the Middle Eastern conflict, but the ability to fire it well is in less supply. The weapon is capable of automatic fire and fires a larger round than the US made M-16. This means that the weapon has extremely deadly potential, but also requires greater skill to use well in delivering accurate fire. The two assassins demonstrate a knowledge of the weapon’s use, obvious by the casualty count, but also displayed in their carry. Note how the nearer shooter holds his weapon with elbows inward pressed against his body. He also has his body firmly behind the weapon to absorb recoil and raises the weapon to eye level as he is sighted-in while searching around corners for his victim. This shows some degree of military style training and discipline in weapons use.

In reading a profile of the two suspects put together by CNN, this is exactly the type of attack they would have been prepared for.

 

Both brothers [Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi] were in the U.S. database of known or suspected international terrorists, known as TIDE, and also had been on the no-fly list for years, a U.S. law enforcement official said.  BFMTV reported that like his brother [Cherif], Said Kouachi was born in Paris and was known to police.

The younger of the two brothers [Said] has spent time in jail for links to terrorism. He was arrested in January 2005, at age 22, when he and another man were about to set off for Syria en route to Iraq. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for being part of a jihadist recruitment ring in Paris that sent fighters to join the conflict in Iraq. Kouachi didn’t actually go to prison after the trial because half his three-year sentence was suspended and he had already spent enough time in pretrial detention, Bloomberg reported. He was released from custody before the trial. In 2010, Kouachi was charged in connection with a foiled plot to aid the escape of Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, an Algerian Islamist imprisoned for bombing a Paris commuter rail station in 1995. But public prosecutors later dropped the charges, according to Le Monde.

Of the older brother, Cherif, little is known. He kept a much lower profile than his younger brother.

A U.S. official says the United States was given information from the French intelligence agency that Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen as late as 2011 on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliate there. Once in Yemen, the older brother received a variety of weapons training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the affiliate in Yemen — the official said, including on how to fire weapons.

Mohammed Benali, who runs the mosque in Gennevilliers, the suburb where Cherif Kouachi’s apartment is, said the two brothers used to come to Friday prayers there “not assiduously but regularly.” He told Le Figaro that he knew Said Kouachi better, but that he hadn’t seen either of the brothers at the mosque in at least two years.

Charlie Hebdo shooting: Who are the suspects? – CNN.com

The question remains, though now seems obvious, about the location of the two during the last two years. Various reports differ on speculating between one or both of the brothers recently visited Yemen. A French source close to the French security services told CNN that investigators have evidence to suggest one of the brothers — it is unclear which — traveled to Syria sometime in the past year. USA Today reported that they both returned from Syria in the summer. I say obvious, because wherever these two men were, they were very close to terrorist networks which provided them with ample ability to transform from none-to-special ordinary Parisians to fantasized jihadists.

Other images also showcase the extent of their capabilities.

In shooting circles a “tight group” refers to a shooter’s ability to place a collection of rounds near to the same central aiming point. As shown by the damage to this police vehicle, the shooter was able to deliver two very good groups with only a few strays. This is impressive shooting for shoulder fired, automatic weapons with such large calibers.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, their plan was so complete, they have yet to be caught. The fact that so much time has gone by, probably means that the men are already safe and sound in the Middle East. The gunmen were seen escaping into a black vehicle and going to the Paris suburbs where they abandoned their car and jumped into another. Tactically speaking, the whole event exists to spell out a very clear message to many: Islamic terrorists have the power to create an extremely complex and sophisticated raid and assassination against any Western soft targets, in any cities they want and they could do it again without suffering harm.

 


The Raid on Charlie Hebdo

The big question, at least the big question to me, is “Why?” I understand the obvious answer, they wanted to avenge the blasphemous portrayal of their prophet. Having two homegrown Parisian jihadists just arrive on the scene may have simply been too good of an opportunity to let go. Perhaps, all they really did want was to send a message to the West, as well as their own people. Disrespect of their prophet or their organization won’t be tolerated, and retribution will be too grand not to be showcased. Perhaps they wanted to raise tensions in France, the nation with the largest Islamic population in Europe. France has a full 10% Muslim population which, if properly motivated by revenge and retribution attacks by overzealous Frenchmen, could produce many new converts for jihad. Observe what was done with two. Imagine twenty.

Al Qaeda, though, doesn’t ever just do something for the “obvious” reason. They are very nuanced and their planning is many layers deep. As with 9/11 being used to generate rage in Americans to destabilize the entire Middle East, and Madrid being used to encourage Spain to vote against a government which would support the Iraq war, Al Qaeda has shown that they have mastered the art of manipulating Western mentalities to greater, yet less obvious purposes. What I wonder is, what are these purposes?

I’m free to speculate, as it is asked by the OP. Charles Stuart Forstall also brings to the table a theory that is very valid so I will start there.

You have to keep in mind that the primary audience for the terrorists is on their home turf and they are seeking whatever advantage they can gain with those whom they might woo either to their cause or to their support. I am of the mind, though I know this is a somewhat contentious idea, that the attack was meant to provide the terrorists with western provided media items, memes, that they can use to grow their support base.

Westerners outside of France seem to have a hard enough time grasping the proper context of the cartoons and I think that this is also part of the strategy. The images will circulate in places where people don’t have access to the internet or to “fact checking” methods like we do. In the end all that matters will be the image and not the unintelligible speech bubbles.

Another theory, lending itself to Charles’, is that the attacks may have been used to encourage additional funding and support from Arab patrons, the long time financiers of global Islamic terrorism. In recent months we have seen drastic changes in the Arabian Peninsula in two forms; one the reduction of the price of oil has upset many of the economies in the oil dependent region and frozen expendable funds for terrorist donations, and two being that these donations have finally been outlawed by the Saudi Arabian monarch. I haven’t done the research to see how successful that initiative has been, but the fact of the matter is that the two mean dangerous times for jihadists abroad if they don’t adapt soon.

Lastly, there is one more motive I would like to pose. From its inception the group known in the West as ISIS has been a force for great destruction and havoc in the region of Iraq and Syria. It was actually born of Al Qaeda in Iraq before breaking off to take part in the Syrian Civil War where it evolved. During that time they reinvented themselves as the “Islamic States” a modern day Caliphate. Al Qaeda, Arabic for “the base” disagreed with this. They felt that the creation of a true Islamic State was premature and should be held off. At that point, the two were at odds with one another. Recently, however, there has been news that the two groups have reconciled. In another answer I said that it should be noted that the attack took place seemingly in response to the unexpected boldness of French bombing offensives in Syria and Iraq over the last few months. There, the allied bombing campaign has had tremendous effect in breaking key points of the battlespace and opening the way for advances by Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army. For the French to decide to back off, would very much relieve front line fighters in Syria and Iraq. All I’m saying is that we haven’t heard a great deal from Al Qaeda in quite a while, so why such a bold move? Why now? Why France?

As I have said, everything is speculation at this point. What Western readers need to understand, though, is that this raid on Charlie Hebdo was not just some rogue terrorists who got lucky. It was not the act of some “lone gunmen”. It was an advanced and well planned, well supported military raid. Not only this, but it isn’t the first. It is the continuation of a very long history of these raids. What might be scary though, as many have feared, insurgents trained and blooded in combat in Syria and Iraq are returning home to Europe and the West. This probably won’t be the last time we see a story like this. This time though, they are good enough to get away, rather than just blowing themselves to pieces.


unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

Citizens of the Free World – In the Name of Freedom, Demand to See “The Interview”!

In a rare moment for me, I am getting into the entertainment industry. That’s because Seth Rogen and James Franco have created an unprecedented international incident by making a movie about killing the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

I personally was looking forward to it, but it seems that is going to be much harder to do now. That is because of a string of events that began with what I imagine to be a very plump crew-cut dictator throwing the mother of all tantrums, and I now can’t see my movie.

Why this is important: The movie centers on the exploits of Rogen, who plays a journalist and his celebrity friend (Franko) being invited in a rare opportunity to North Korea. This mirrors some actual events such as the much publicized visits to the RPK by basketball superstar Dennis Rodman beginning in early 2013. Where it differs, is that this time, the hapless duo are tasked by the CIA to kill Mr. Jong-un.

Well that sounds hilarious, but what happened next wasn’t. Apparently, Sony Pictures was hacked by what now appears to be a group backed by the North Koreans (which reads more clearly as “Just Plain The North Koreans”.) These hackers have been rumored to have leaked the scripts to several movies yet to be released such as the new James Bond film, among others. That was kind of a dick move, but then they went so far as to threaten terrorist actions against Sony Pictures and various movie theaters if they went ahead with filming.

Well now that’s just rude. Actually, it is an international crime, but we’re splitting hairs. What we have is a direct threat by foreign agents to cause “terrorism”, which we can only assume means intentional acts intended to cause grievous harm to Americans and American property if demands are not met. This act has caused Sony Pictures to cancel their premiere of “The Interview” and Carmike Theaters, a company with over 200 theaters in the United States, has opted not to showcase the movie at all.

For that reason, more so than just threats, grievous harm has already been made against Americans. American companies now are being terrorized into capitulating to the whims of some impossibly immature, maniacal dictator. Forget for a moment that actual American lives were threatened and focus on the concrete damage that has been done. The North Koreans, (you’ll note I’m intentionally no longer still pretending it was some random hacker group who just so happens to absolutely adore Kim Jong-un) deliberately stole industry sensitive information that cost one American company, Sony Pictures, headquartered in California, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars. It destroyed the premiere of one Hollywood picture and devalued many others. Thousands of people connected to the films industry are going to suffer because of this. If I haven’t been clear, this was a deliberate act of economic warfare, terrorism rather, from one sovereign nation to the United States.

And now those who regularly follow me see why I am interested. This attack demonstrates particular failures in the United States national defense strategy that must be addressed. The attack demonstrates the power that nationally backed hacking programs have to disrupt and damage American and allied country’s economic spheres. Showcasing the vulnerabilities of individual companies and individuals, the North Korean attack on Sony Pictures clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the United States government’s response to attacks on its economic sector. Obviously, it is providing an inefficient level of defense for companies housed in the United States, because, as it seems, threats like the attack on Sony Pictures aren’t actually considered a threat to national security.

In case you think I going overboard, this isn’t even the first time Americans have been targeted like this, either. It has long been known that the Chinese have used commercial intelligence and espionage to silently break into the networks of American companies, steal their patented trade secrets and deliver them to Chinese owned corporations. Other nations even have entire departments and special third party agencies (like the one in question) dedicated to the endeavor of cyber-espionage and signal based attacks. Have you ever heard of Syrian Electronic Army? They are a group who does nothing but commit acts of cyber terrorism and espionage in the name of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iran and the United States, among others have even been trading blows in a cyber pseudo-war for years. Lest we not forget my favorite subject, the group known throughout the world as ISIS. Their exploitation of social media has been used to target American Veterans and active service members at their homes, encouraging Islamic radicals to target them and their families.

The point here is that there is a major threat to American interests. Individual lives as well as the economic security and strategic corporate advantages of thousands of companies, the very lifeblood of United States national security itself, have been compromised. I am not someone who agrees with others that Sony failed by giving into the terrorists. If people were somehow attacked at a theater, it would be those executives blamed for the deaths, along with the North Koreans. Furthermore, a company, any company, like Sony Pictures have absolutely no defense against the ongoing threat of future revenge attacks like this, leaking all of their sensitive trade information, the secrets like unreleased scripts they need to keep their company going for years to come, given the enemy they are defending themselves is North Korea.

Do I honestly think that the RPK is going to bomb some movie theater because of a stupid movie, possibly starting a war that they will definitely lose? No, I don’t, but I do think that Sony Pictures Entertainment faces an existential threat by way of North Korea. Are we supposed to blame Sony Pictures because they can’t defend against a whole country? Switching gears, imagine if Providence Health and Services, a major healthcare company with hundreds of hospitals under its umbrella, were to face a similar cyber attack. Tens of thousands of people could have their sensitive health data, valuable information in itself, made public. Are we really going to blame Providence when the perpetrator of the attack was Iran? If all the lights went off in Santa Maria (just outside Vandenberg Air Force Base) is the city of just over one-hundred thousand people at fault, when the attack originated from inside Russia? No. How could every single company, agency, state, city, and individual in the United States be expected to protect itself, and by extension be responsible for the combined security of everyone else in the United States, against entire nations set to steal their valuable information, damage their property, or worse, end their lives?

What we need, in the lowly opinion of this former United States Marine Corps tactical data and networking communication specialist, is a deeper look into our signal defense architecture. More projects and agencies which specialize in SIGDEF need to be given priority in the coming years. Far more if even movie companies are more afraid of a dictator 5,600 miles away than they were of our own President. Frankly, the future of warfare is going to look very similar to events like the attack on Sony Pictures. Weak points in very large systems are going to be exploited with the few things that they are vulnerable to. Each time they are, the gears of industry are grind down just a little bit slower.

In the case of Sony Pictures, this attack was a direct hit on two fronts. The first is money. By threatening the movie maker, they lost the company millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars. More so, many millions, perhaps billions more may have been lost now that valuable scripts have been made public. I don’t fault Sony Pictures though, for making the decision to pull the premiere. They showed their values there. They believed the threat of terrorism on American movie goers was true and for that reason, they chose not to risk lives of people at the cost of many millions of dollars. That decision, from my point of view, is admirable and the commitment to protecting innocent people over making money, should be recognized and commended. Perhaps they did it just because so many of the movie theaters decided to pull the movie too. I can’t honestly say for sure. All I know, is that I don’t blame them for the decision they finally were forced to make.

As for Americans though, I’d like for us to make it clear that we don’t give credence or credibility to the tyrannical tirades of any post-pubescent dictator. This isn’t something we need to call in the military, or spin up the missile batteries, though we have been at peace now for about two weeks, so it’s about that time again. All kidding aside, letting North Korea know simply how impotent we view them militarily by not putting our own troops in the front is the way to go. I mean honestly, what is the NPK going to do? Start a war over a friggin movie? Do you really think China would back you after bombing an American movie theater over something this petty? This whole scenario doesn’t even make sense. If they were though, I’m reminded of the line from 300 delivered ever so eloquently by  Gerald Butler:

No, the right move for Americans right now isn’t to force our military to take action. It isn’t to scold Hollywood either, for doing what they thought was the right thing to do to keep people safe.

For Americans, and the rest of the free world for that matter, the right thing to do is to march up to the box office and demand to see something that some North Korean dicktator threatened you not to see. We need to stand up in the roar of many voices and let it be known that we the people, will not capitulate, cower, or suffer the whims of tyrannical brats. We the people won’t be pressured, bullied, threatened, or crossed. We’re Americans dammit and we don’t get told what to do. We are Leviathan.

Thank you Sony Pictures for your concern, but I for one, am willing to risk the potential attack on US soil and would like to see your movie, if for nothing else than to give a big and hearty American one fingered salute to our friends over in Pyongyang.

(That’s not the salute I’m talking about, BTW.)


Thanks for reading!

Everything I write is completely independent research supported by fan and follower assistance. If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, please follow Jon’s Deep Thoughts. Please also show your support by visiting my fan donation page here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life. Once again, thanks for reading and supporting independent writers.