The Fog of War, Moon Shots, and Apps for Dying National Leaders

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U.S. troops on night patrol in Afghanistan's Paktika province along the Pakistan border

The Pentagon concludes Thursday that the air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops on the Afghan frontier last month was due to errors by both sides. Soldiers call this “the fog of war,” and it’s real. But the Pakistanis, at least in public, will reject any responsibility. “You Americans have been to the Moon,” one told me following the Nov. 26 attack. “You can do anything you want.” Rough translation: you don’t hit targets you don’t want to hit.

The probe, by Air Force Brigadier General Stephen Clark said that “inadequate coordination” by both sides ended up giving the attacking U.S. forces the wrong target to strike. “There was no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military,” a Pentagon statement said, “or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials.”

That language shows just how poor relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have become. Without trust there can be no alliance. It also shows how ignorant people can be about intelligence.

Yet that’s not something confined to foreign commanders. In Thursday’s NightWatch blog post, former Defense Intelligence Agency veteran John McCreary lets the New York Times have it for its reporting on Kim Jong Il’s death:

The New York Times published an absurd article about a massive intelligence failure because the US did not know that Kim was dying in his villa in Pyongyang, and learned of his death from official North Korean press statements … as it did when Kim Il-sung died in 1994.

The intelligence failure thesis reveals an ingénue’s complete misunderstanding of US intelligence. No one knows or can know when a national leader is dying suddenly, including the Chinese, even in a Web 2.0 world. There is no App for dying national leaders.

You could say pretty much the same thing about night-time aerial attacks amid mountains and murky borders.