Friday, February 19, 2010

Iwo Jima 2-19-45

From the site of the USS Enterprise CV-6, The Most Decorated Ship of the Second World War

No other battle is as strongly associated with the United States Marines as is Iwo Jima. Between the time the assault began - precisely 0900, 19 February 1945 - and the time the island was declared secure on March 16, 4,189 Marines were killed and 19,938 wounded. The toll eventually reached nearly 26,000. Japanese defenders numbered about 21,000, but only 1083 survived. To this day, the debate continues: was Iwo Jima - eight square miles of foul-smelling volcanic ash and cinders, with three precious airfields - worth the price paid for it?

"Victory was never in doubt. Its cost was."
Marine Major General Graves Erskine, March 14, 1945

Living with Robots

An interesting short film about robotics research at Honda. They've created a robot named "Asimo" that can walk and run (although its walk looks more like it's sneaking up on you). They mention something curious: at first there was an assumption that people would be more comfortable with a bipedal robot, because it was similar to human beings. So, the Japanese developed a bipedal robots, and, assuming that more comfort would result from further similarities, gave the robots more anthropic features, which led to a creep-out effect. So, in essence, they backed off the similarity train, retaining bipedalism, and working hands, but took faces away, etc.. The result is a very remarkable machine.

The film has other interesting bits: briefly, it is mentioned that robotic technology is getting quite small, and mobile. The military applications for reconnaissance purposes is worth development. In house to house fighting ala Fallujah, 2004, many lives could be saved. Imagine machines the size of dragonflies, buzzing about, into windows, doors, up stairs, in and around enemy held territory. Functionally this could dissipate the 'fog of war' at least to some extent.

Mention is made of AI and the goal of creating autonomous robots, something that is a goal in the future, but which seems to present steep challenges. How to mimic human discriminative and rational abilities in machine code? Your guess is as good as mine.

Taliban "Shadow Governer"? There must be a more appropriate term.

This article, detailing the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, designates him the second in command of the Afghan Taliban. It also lets us know that some others, directly under him in rank were also captured:

Among those arrested were Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Mohammad — the “shadow governors” of the northern Afghan provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan respectively.

They were detained ten days ago by Pakistani intelligence agents in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, according to Engineer Mohammad Omar, the Governor of Kunduz.

“Two other Taleban who seem to be their bodyguards were also captured with them,” he told The Times.

Additionally, we learn several AQ leaders were taken.

The news story, not atypically, describes these individuals using terminology that carries with it, if not very strongly, a positive connotation, "commanders," "shadow governors". OK, so, 'shadow' does bit shady, but "governor?" When was this guy duly elected by the general populace? Sounds a bit too legit.

Note, the NYT also scare quotes the term:

The capture of Mullah Baradar was followed by the arrests of two Taliban “shadow governors” elsewhere in Pakistan. While the arrests showed a degree of Pakistani cooperation, they also demonstrated how the Taliban leadership has depended on Pakistan as a rear base.

This got me to thinking "might there be a better family of terms to use in connection with these vermin?" Family...wait a minute. La Cosa Nostra..

Well, according to my cursory reading of the chart, I think these "shadow governors" are probably better labeled as "capos"

That would make Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar the underboss, leaving at the Boss level Don..that is.. Mullah Omar.

Thinking about this set the neurons firing, with all sorts of associations. Who would be the Consigliere? In the Islamist world, that would have to be the religious expert wouldn't it? Religion and law are tightly intertwined in this universe. Is that the role the Al Qaeda bosses play in Tali-world? Or do the Mullahs play a dual role? Likely a bit of both.

Also, note this interesting bit of info concerning the capture and interrogation, from the NYT piece:

Jostling over the prize began as soon as Mullah Baradar was identified. Officials with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy agency, limited American access to Mullah Baradar, not permitting direct questioning by Central Intelligence Agency officers until about two weeks after the raid, according to American officials who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity.

“The Pakistanis are an independent partner, and sometimes they show it,” said one American official briefed on the matter. “We don’t always love what they do, but if it weren’t for them, Mullah Baradar and a lot of other terrorists would still be walking around killing people.”

Bruce Riedel, an expert on Afghanistan at the Brookings Institution, who advised the Obama administration on Afghan policy early last year, said the tensions surrounding Mullah Baradar were inevitable. “The Pakistanis have a delicate problem with Baradar,” Mr. Riedel said. “If I were in their shoes, I’d be worried that he might reveal something embarrassing about relations between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani government or Inter-Services Intelligence.”

A Pakistani official expressed impatience with questions about past conflicts over the Afghan Taliban, saying, “It’s high time now that we move beyond that.”

Mullah Baradar is talking a little, though he is viewed as a formidable, hard-line opponent whose interrogation will be a long-term effort, according to American and Pakistani officials.

Two weeks is a very long time. So, what went on in that two week period? The Paks use interrogation methods that go well beyond what we now do or did. They have a very hardened and ideologically driven subject who no doubt had actionable intelligence. Chances are non-coercive techniques would be to no avail. We have to ask; what information did the Pakistanis extract, how much of that information have they actually shared with us, and what did they threaten him with if he were to divulge to us the unsavory and compromising information that the NYT piece mentions?

I can well imagine that the ISI folks pulled a Jimmy Malone on MAG

SCTV: Philosophers at Work

Tackling the difficult topics because someone has to.