21 June 2014

Information Warfare: The Generals Get Schooled

June 18, 2014: On May 22nd the Thailand military staged another coup, their 12th since a constitutional form of government replaced an absolute monarchy in the 1930s. The last such coup was in 2006 and this time it was different. Since 2006 social networking sites like Facebook have become enormously popular in Thailand, where most Internet users have a Facebook account and use it heavily. Thus the military was not able to disrupt street demonstrations and opposition in general just by taking control of the traditional mass media. At first the military thought they could solve the Facebook problem by simply blocking Facebook access in Thailand. The generals were quickly informed that most of the troops and supporters of the military were heavy Facebook users and would not tolerate a shutdown. The military had this confirmed when they did block Facebook on May 28th and the adverse feedback was so immediate and personal (senior generals got complaints from family and friends) that Facebook was back on in Thailand less than an hour after the shutdown. 

The generals then came up with another idea, one that would take more time. The generals ordered that a new Facebook, just for Thailand, be created. The military Internet experts tried to explain that this would be “difficult” but were overruled and given several months and a lot of money to accomplish the task. Anyone with knowledge of how Internet software is developed and actually works understands this request is absurd and it has been tried before without much success. The generals were thinking of the Chinese bans without understanding that China is a different country and it really didn’t work as the Chinese leaders expected. While the Chinese ban kept Facebook out before a lot of Chinese became addicted, many Chinese still created troublesome social networking capabilities inside China despite all the government censorship. 

Meanwhile Facebook wasn’t the only new Information War problem the generals were confronted with. Another was the availability of more highly effective propaganda tools for their opponents, thanks to the Internet in general. For example, the opposition (the majority of Thais) quickly began using new, and highly effective, symbols. One was the three finger salute used by rebels in the “Hunger Games” movies. These films were enormously popular in Thailand and the three finger salute quickly became a widespread, and annoying to the generals, symbol of resistance.

16 things about ISIS and Iraq you need to know


SIS used to be al-Qaeda in Iraq

An Iraqi soldier during a fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq in January 2014. Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) used to have a different name: al Qaeda in Iraq.
US troops and allied Sunni militias defeated al Qaeda in Iraq during the post-2006 "surge" — but it didn't destroy them. The US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, described the group in 2010 as down but "fundamentally the same." In 2011, the group rebooted. ISIS successfully freed a number of prisoners held by the Iraqi government and, slowly but surely, began rebuilding their strength.
ISIS and al-Qaeda divorced in February 2014. "Over the years, there have been many signs that the relationship between al Qaeda Central (AQC) and the group's strongest, most unruly franchise was strained," Barack Mendelsohn, a political scientist at Haverford College, writes. Their relationship "had always been more a matter of mutual interests than of shared ideology."
According to Mendelsohn, Syria pushed that relationship to the breaking point. ISIS claimed that it controlled Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda splinter in Syria, and defied orders from al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to back off. "This was the first time a leader of an al-Qaeda franchise had publicly disobeyed" a movement leader, he says. ISIS also defied repeated orders to kill fewer civilians in Syria, and the tensions led to al-Qaeda disavowing any connection with ISIS in a February communiqué.
Today, ISIS and al-Qaeda compete for influence over Islamist extremist groups around the world. Some experts believe ISIS may overtake al-Qaeda as the most influential group in this area globally.

ISIS wants to establish a caliphate

Their goal since being founded in 2004 has been remarkably consistent: found a hardline Sunni Islamic state. As General Ray Odierno puts it: "They want complete failure of the government in Iraq. They want to establish a caliphate in Iraq." Even after ISIS split with al-Qaeda in February 2014 (in large part because ISIS was too brutal even for al-Qaeda), ISIS' goal remained the same.
Today, ISIS holds a fair amount of territory in both Iraq and Syria - a mass roughly the size of Belgium. One ISIS map, from 2006, shows its ambitions stopping there - though interestingly overlapping a lot of oil fields:
ISIS/Aaron Zelin
Another shows their ambitions stretching across the Middle East, and some have apparently even included territory in North Africa:
Ali Soufan/ISIS
Now, they have no chance of accomplishing any of these things in the foreseeable future. ISIS isn't even strong enough to topple the Iraqi or Syrian governments at present. But these maps do tell us something important about ISIS: they're incredibly ambitious, they think ahead, and they're quite serious about their expansionist Islamist ideology.

Is India Building Thermonuclear Weapons?

Is India Building Thermonuclear Weapons?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A new uranium enrichment facility is fueling concerns that India is intent on building thermonuclear weapons.

By Zachary Keck
June 21, 2014

India may be embarking on a covert uranium enrichment project aimed at producing thermonuclear weapons, a number of sources have recently speculated.

This week, Reuters reported that analysts at IHS Jane’s believe that the uranium enrichment facility at the Indian Rare Metals Plant is able to produce about twice as much weapons-grade uranium as New Delhi will need to fuel its nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines in the future.

“Taking into account all the enriched uranium likely to be needed by the Indian nuclear submarine fleet, there is likely to be a significant excess,” said Matthew Clements, editor of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, according toReuters. “One potential use of this would be for the development of thermonuclear weapons.”

The report goes to explain that it has made this assessment based on new commercial satellite images of the Mysore-based facility in southern India. These images revealed a new uranium hexafluoride plant that would significantly increase the uranium enrichment capacity of the plant. Specifically, India would be able to produce about 160 kilos of uranium enriched to 90 percent levels, about double the amount it needs to power its submarine fleet. The plant is expected to become operational sometime next year.

The plant’s excess uranium—which is enough to make about five nuclear bombs—could be used to produce thermonuclear weapons. Reuters explains: “By blending the uranium with its existing stock of plutonium, India could develop thermonuclear weapons that have a more complex detonation process and greater force than simpler weapons.”

The Nine-Dashed Line Isn’t China’s Monroe Doctrine

The Nine-Dashed Line Isn’t China’s Monroe Doctrine
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Don’t drink the kool-aid Beijing is peddling. The nine-dashed line is nothing like the Monroe Doctrine.
June 21, 2014

During his keynote address Tuesday in Newport, international man of mystery Robert Kaplan recounted a tale that’s all too common in dealings between Americans and Chinese. A PLA senior colonel, reported Kaplan, opined that what China wants to accomplish in the South China Sea is “no different” than what the United States wanted to accomplish in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the age of the Monroe Doctrine. Beijing wants to take charge of its nautical environs while cooperating with the preeminent sea power of the day elsewhere on the map.

See? To avoid hypocrisy, Washington should stand aside in China’s maritime quarrels with its neighbors.

Well, no. I don’t see. China’s methods resemble those America employed starting, say, after our Civil War (1861-1865). To a point. By the 1880s, the United States did embark on the construction of a great navy — a navy stronger than any European navy in the waters that mattered, namely the greater Caribbean. China has embarked on the construction of a great navy — a navy that, used in concert with shore-based weaponry, may surpass any Asian or outside navy in the waters that matter, namely the China seas.

So on Edward Luttwak’s technical and tactical levels of war, the good senior colonel has things more or less correct. Sea power: brilliant!

As the great Mark Twain wisecracked, though, the difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between a lightning-bug and the lightning. The same goes for historical analogies. Chinese interlocutors are forever trying to use facile comparisons with U.S. history to get Americans to commit to unilateral intellectual disarmament. If we did it in the Caribbean then, how can we object when China does it in Southeast Asia now?

Clever. But let’s beware of taking history lessons from representatives of a regime that managed to airbrush such misdeeds as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and Tiananmen Square out of official and popular memory while casting itself as the heir to the Confucian traditions it once sought to eradicate. These are folks set on convincing you the lightning-bug is the same thing as the lightning.

There are no good Taliban

June 21, 2014
Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, vowed to destroy terrorist sanctuaries ‘without any discrimination’ — a reference to the selective anti-terror operations Pakistan hasbeen accused of. ( Source: AP )

The audacious terror strike on June 8, 2014 at Pakistan’s Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, which killed 36 people — including 10 terrorists of the now Mullah Fazlullah-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who staged the assault — was perhaps the tipping point that propelled the Nawaz Sharif government to shed its reluctance to mount an all-out counter-offensive against one of Pakistan’s major terror conglomerates. That Prime Minister Sharif conscientiously strove for peace talks with Pakistan’s main terror “tanzeem”, the TTP — considering that his political formation, the PML-N, allegedly had durable links, since years, with some Pakistani extremists — was understandable. That a majority of these fundamentalist elements, especially in Punjab, electorally assisted the PML-N in the last general elections is hardly a political secret.

On the other hand, the Pakistani army and its notorious handmaiden, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — themselves formidable practitioners of the art of exporting terror to neighbouring India and Afghanistan — were persistently demanding strong action, exclusively against the TTP, for it had been striking at will against army assets all across Pakistan, including the daring and devastating attack on the strategic naval air base at Mehran, Karachi in May 2011. Meanwhile, the Pakistan army and the ISI, for decades, have conveniently disregarded other equally lethal extremists in anti-India terror groups, such as the Hafiz Saeed-led Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, as also the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda elements, which it considers its “strategic assets”.

Till last year, the Pakistani army had mounted only half-hearted attacks in the restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including the rugged Waziristan regions that have been a haven for terrorists of all hues — both indigenous Pakistanis and foreign militants operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan on both sides of the Durand Line. Most casualties inflicted on terrorists in the North and South Waziristan sanctuaries can be attributed to the US drone strikes since 2008, which have caused many deaths among both extremists and civilians. However, this year, under pressure from the Pakistan government, the US has resorted to only the odd strike. That Washington, with its planned draw-down in Afghanistan, has pressured the Pakistani military machine to up the ante against terror groups holed up in the Waziristan belt would be stating the obvious. Presumably, with Pakistan’s economy in the doldrums, coupled with an alarmingly deteriorating internal security situation and generous financial doles promised by the US, the army would have agreed to bite the bullet at long last and resolutely go after the TTP and, ostensibly, the other terror groups too.

A time for Arab, Asian statesmanship

Published: June 21, 2014
Talmiz Ahmad

The dramatic success of ISIS in Iraq shows that statesmanship is called for in the region or else West Asia could be consumed by jihadi and sectarian violence. This is also an opportunity for Asian countries that have high stakes in regional stability to promote dialogue and confidence-building measures in the Gulf

On June 10, the world awoke to the disquieting news that a shadowy jihadi group, till then known for its violent activity in the Syrian conflict, had captured Iraq’s premier town of Mosul. After this, over the next few days, there were reports of the capture of other towns — Baiji, Tikrit, and then north to Tal Afar on the Syrian border — so that within a week, the jihadis seemed to be grouping just outside Baghdad. The group was identified as ISIS — the “Islamic State of Iraq and [Greater] Syria,” a jihadi grouping affiliated with al-Qaeda.

According to observers, at least since 2012, ISIS has functioned more as a militia organised on military lines than as a terrorist organisation. Instead of random acts of violence against soft targets, ISIS cadres now launch “strategic attacks” to augment their food, weaponry and cash resources. While they avoid pitched battles, they were successful in Iraq in recent weeks because the Iraqi Army simply melted away in the face of their assault. In Mosul, they released Sunni prisoners, gained huge arms caches, and also got over $400 million from local banks and the treasury.The retreat of Iraq

How did Iraq, particularly its armed forces, reach this pathetic state? The origins of the current situation lie in the U.S.-led military assault on Iraq which destroyed the country’s infrastructure, and in the immediate aftermath of the occupation when the country’s two principal institutions were systematically destroyed, i.e., the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and the prohibiting of the employment of Baath Party members. The situation has further deteriorated during the eight-year rule of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, in the words of Fawaz Gerges, “delivered neither reconciliation nor security and prosperity,” but favoured a narrow and exclusivist agenda that aggravated the country’s sectarian and ideological divide, leaving the Sunnis marginalised and increasingly hostile to his government.

The Iraqi forces gave such a poor account of themselves because Mr. Maliki destroyed Iraq’s non-sectarian professional forces — non-Shias were purged and a poorly trained Shia element with low morale was left to face the ISIS onslaught. There was a further betrayal in that, during the ISIS attacks, the soldiers found that their military and political leaders had disappeared from the scene; hence, the soldiers saw no reason to fight ISIS zealots.

The lost moral of Islam’s divide

Published: June 21, 2014 
Shajahan Madampat

With the exception of the Quran, there are no religious or historical references that the Sunnis and Shias agree on

The Sunni-Shia divide is increasingly engulfing Muslim societies in many parts of the world in spasms of internecine violence. The latest developments in Iraq with the Islamic State of Iraq and [Greater] Syria (ISIS) making rapid advances towards Baghdad are an ominous reflection of the deepening of sectarian animosities within contemporary Islam. The potential impact of the current turbulence will be felt far beyond West Asia and North Africa. The developments also indicate — especially in light of the marginalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood and other mainstream Islamist outfits in Egypt, Syria and to a limited extent in Tunisia — that political Islam or Islamism will now be championed with much more lethal effect by groups that profess allegiance to radical Salafism, such as the ISIS.

Islamism, defined broadly, is an ideological construct based on a political reading of Islam in both its history and textuality. It argues that the primary duty of a Muslim is to strive for the establishment of an Islamic state, without which Islam will remain a ‘house half-built.’ Salafism (or Wahhabism) is a theologically puritanical approach that argues for a literal reading of the scriptures, shunning all accretions in matters of faith and life. What is common between the two, however, is that they both operate on a binary notion of the world.

The coming together of Salafism and Islamism is nothing new as al-Qaeda perfectly represented the merger of the otherwise irreconcilable worldviews of the two radical streams. In fact, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri personified this coming together of radical Salafism and uncompromising Islamism. The former’s worldview can be traced to the atavistic theology of the 18th century Saudi theologian-activist Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdul Wahhab, while the latter inherited the nihilistic fanaticism of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood icon Syed Qutub. But it is with the outbreak of civil war in Syria that we saw the ‘coming out’ of this dangerous concoction from its hideouts in Afghanistan, Yemen and North Africa. The giant strides they are now making in Iraq are indicative of the changing contours of Islamism on the one hand and the new-found role that this brand of Islamism invented for itself against the portentous backdrop of the Sunni-Shia divide.Origin of the divide

Iraq challenge to Modi govt India will have to reformulate its Middle East policy

Harsh V. Pant

Tribal fighters shout slogans while holding weapons in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, on June 18. Reuters

THE Middle East is back and back with a bang. For some time now, the West, the US in particular, has lulled itself into believing that if only it would ignore the region, its problems would go away. After all, at a time of diminishing economic resources in the West, the Indo-Pacific with a rising China at the centre of its changing strategic landscape was the region that deserved greater attention. The strategically diffident Obama Administration embraced this thinking with great enthusiasm partly for sound economic reasons and partly because it saw no need for the US to get bogged down in the millennium-old Shia-Sunni feuds. America needed nation-building at home first, argued Obama, before it could turn to Yemen, Somalis or even Afghanistan. If at all, the Islamist extremists had to be fought, they could be fought from a distance using drones with help from local forces.

It was in this wider context that Obama was quick to accept total withdrawal from Iraq. Behind the façade of the US not getting legal immunity from the Iraqi government, the Obama Administration was quite happy to get out of Iraq and be publicly sanguine about Iraq's future prospects as a stable state. And now the same Iraqi government is asking the US for intervention - at the moment only air strikes have been mentioned. The Obama Administration is clutching the straws. There is confusion all around as to how Washington should respond to the growing crisis in Iraq. After indicating that air strikes would be undertaken by the US the Obama Administration quickly backed off, preferring instead to pursue strategies such as providing intelligence to the Iraqi military, addressing the country's political divisions and seeking support from regional allies. A hands-off approach is preferred by many in Washington as it is viewed as the Iraqi government’s job to fix it. The Maliki government is being pressed to take steps to make Shia-dominated government more inclusive and if it fails to do that, there are reports that Washington is working towards removing Maliki from office. Washington is also reaching out to Iran, trying to use Tehran's leverage over the Maliki government to make a political resolution of the Iraqi conflict more tenable. But contradictions abound in the larger policy and it remains to be seen if Obama's confused and rather late move to douse the Iraqi fire will have any real impact on the situation on the ground.

The entire Middle East is sitting on a powder keg with a burgeoning civil war in Libya, a once-in-a-generation humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and a ruthless Islamist group on the verge of gaining control over Iraq. Formed in 2013 and led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has as its proclaimed aim the establishment of an Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq. The ISIS is a highly organised, motivated, resourceful and powerful group that wields violence without any compunction. It has been gaining ground steadily over the last few months — starting from the Syrian city of Raqqa, moving on to take control of the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah by capitalising on the growing tensions between Iraq's Sunni minority and the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, and finally seizing control of Mosul earlier this month. Ungoverned territories are dangerous and if the ISIS succeeds in controlling territory from Syria to Iraq, it would draw Islamist extremists who could threaten Western interests much like what happened before September 11, 2001. If Iraq collapses, there could be a knock-on effect on the rest of the Middle East as well, given the artificiality of the entire region.

Competitive Shia-Sunni Gas Pipelines Politics?

ByBrig Amar Cheema
IssueNet Edition| Date : 19 Jun , 2014

When combat soldiers are faced with a chemical attack, the military practice to exhale polluted air before donning a protective mask is by shouting ‘gas-gas-gas.’ By repeating the ‘G’ word many times over, it appears that USA and her allies have taken the first step: further action(s) against Assad’s Syria – justified or otherwise, are expected.

The Syria-Iran-Iraq Gas Pipeline, dubbed as the ‘Islamic Pipeline,’ is a $10 Billion project which was agreed upon by the three countries in July 2011.

While the western narrative for initiating actions against Syria is being justified as retribution for chemical attacks perpetuated by a diabolic President Assad, there is more happening ‘in’ and ‘around’ Syria than what meets the eye : control of natural gas reserves, its trade, distribution and the strategic advantages it bestows are alternative and cogent reasons meriting western military intervention? History has proved that the lure of energy resources is powerful and oil and gas bequeathed to the Islamic world has turned out more as a curse, rather than a boon for its people; Iraq, Libya and the division of Sudan are recent examples of the plunder of Middle Eastern nationhood. This energy rich region has been repeatedly crushed and mutilated with utter disregard for socio-ethnic concerns for gaining control over the oil ‘wells of power.’ The anticipated attack on Syria by an incensed ‘coalition of the willing’ portends to be the latest in this game of hardball played for gaining geo-political strategic advantage(s).

Since it is intended to provide an alternative narrative for the fast developing war-like situation, a brief background is required to be provided. Geographically located at the junction of the fuel starved European Union and energy rich Iraq and Iran, Syria, by virtue of her location alone has the potential to play a pivotal role in conduiting gas supplies to Europe. In addition, Syria now has recently struck gas off her coast, the closest to Europe from where she could now supply gas directly. Collectively, these advantages make Syria’s role pivotal and dominant in the future. At the same time, the spectre of direct supply supplemented by the gas pipeline from Iran through Syria would trip the dream of Qatar to supply gas to Europe directly. USA, a strategic partner of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and being the largest beneficiary of their oil revenues, seems willing to back her partners to knock out Syria and Iran from the energy equation. By doing so, she would concurrently stymie Russian and Chinese attempts to alter the status quo favouring the USA, western powers and the nations of the Sunni Muslim world as also favour herself and Turkey by ensuring alternative Qatari gas for their joint gas pipeline project.

*** Jordan Could Be the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's Next Target Read more: Jordan Could Be the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's Next Target |

June 17, 2014

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, buoyed by its recent successes in Iraq, wants to expand its regional reach. Reports that Iraq has withdrawn forces from western towns close to its 180-kilometer (110-mile) border with Jordan have left Amman feeling vulnerable, and the Hashemite kingdom, certainly a target of interest for the jihadist movement, has deployed additional security personnel along the border.

However, taking on Jordan would be tough for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The group has the ability to stage terrorist attacks in the country, but significant constraints will prevent it from operating on the levels seen in Iraq and Syria.


The June 15 edition of the Jordan Times reported that Amman had beefed up security along its border with Iraq amid fears that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant is inching toward the kingdom. Quoting unnamed Islamist sources, the report added that the jihadist group had established a branch within the kingdom as part of its plans to create a regional emirate.

The militant group's intent to expand into Jordan follows the region's geopolitical logic. After its push into Iraq, and already controlling significant swathes of Syrian territory, the jihadist group can try to push into the Hashemite kingdom from two directions. Jordan is the only opening available to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -- the group cannot move north into Turkey, nor could it move southwest into Lebanon. Even in Jordan, though, the group faces considerable challenges.

For starters, the Jordanian regime is far more stable than Syria or Iraq, and its security forces have proved to be quite effective. Furthermore, Jordan has strong backing from the United States and Saudi Arabia, especially since the kingdom became a critical staging ground for support to Syrian rebels. Washington and Riyadh can extend financial, intelligence and military assistance to Amman. But Jordan is also a key sanctuary for rebels, and this aids the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's cause.

Afghanistan: Exit Strategy Facts And Fiction

June 19, 2014: The runoff election result is in doubt because of fraud allegations. The two candidates are Abdullah Abdullah (a long time Karzai rival and believed to have lost the 2009 vote because of fraud) who had 45 percent of the votes in the first (April) election and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (a former finance minister and World Bank official) who had 31.5 percent. Abdullah Abdullah is part Tajik and backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban during the 1990s. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is a Pushtun from a powerful tribe. He was attending college in the U.S. when the civil wars and subsequent Russian occurred in the late 1970s. He was in exile until 2001. His family suffered many losses during this period, both because of the Russians and the civil wars. To Puhstuns Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is the more acceptable candidate because he is all Pushtun and the Pushtuns have traditionally been the kinds or leaders of Afghanistan, even though they are a minority (although the largest one at 40 percent of the population). Abdullah Abdullah was the victim of Pushtun voting fraud in 2009 when president Karzai was running for reelection and sees it happening again. This is a major political crises and its outcome will be in doubt for weeks or longer. There were a lot of foreign observers who reported that there was some fraud but not a lot more than the first election in April. There were nearly 600 formal complaints of fraud and there was an effort by Pushtun leaders to get out more votes for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. 

Taliban election violence left at least 60 Islamic terrorists dead and about half as many civilians and security personnel. There were over a hundred voters and voting staff wounded by the Taliban attacks. The Taliban had ordered everyone to stay away from the voting and that was a spectacular failure for the second time this year. Over the last decade the Taliban have generally failed in their efforts to disrupt elections. Such delusional behavior is nothing new for the Taliban as many Taliban leaders now believe that things will change and they will triumph once the foreign troops leave. This ignores the fact that an even higher proportion of Afghans hate the Taliban now than did before September 11, 2001. Moreover the northern tribes who were still fighting the Taliban on September 11, 2001 are now stronger and better organized to oppose any future Taliban attempts to gain control of the country. But these Taliban dreams have teeth and tend to generate a high body count before they fade. 

Now all Taliban are dreamers and the Taliban are having discipline problems as more and more members and mid-level commanders lose their enthusiasm for the job. To inspire more dedication the Taliban have apparently turned loose a group of Pakistani Islamic terrorist “enforcers” who are wandering around eastern Afghanistan executing (via videotaped hangings) Taliban accused of behaving badly. Some of the recent victims were accused of not doing enough to disrupt the presidential elections. 

The one bright spot for the Taliban has been the recent deal whereby the U.S. released five senior Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay (since 2002) in exchange for a U.S. Army deserter (PFC Bowe Bergdahl) who was, technically, the only American military prisoner the Taliban held. Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers accuse him of deserting and villagers around the base Bergdahl walked away from in 2009 reported that this deranged and unarmed American soldier had come through asking how to get in contact with the Taliban. The Taliban eventually got the message and took Bergdahl prisoner. The U.S. Army was in an embarrassing position here and tried to suppress the views of soldiers who knew Bergdahl while pretending Bergdahl was a legitimate prisoner of war. That all fell apart when Bergdahl was released and foreign journalists heard the complaints in Afghanistan (at all levels) about the absurdity of freeing five dangerous Taliban leaders in exchange for a deranged deserter. Meanwhile the Taliban declared the exchange a great victory and urged their men to kidnap more Americans so that the Taliban could push for more such trades. Foreigners working in Afghanistan complained that the Bergdahl exchange put them all in more danger. 

There are currently about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan (down from 60,000 a year ago and 100,000 in 2011). The United States recently announced that it was declaring victory and pulling its troops out of Afghanistan. NATO had already decided to be gone by the end of 2014 and the Americans are now planning to be gone by the end of 2016. The thousand or so “residual forces” (trainers and advisors) have no announced exit date yet. 

Both candidates in the recent presidential elections indicate that whoever wins is eager to sign a Status of Forces agreement by the end of 2014. Such “Status of Forces” agreements are standard practice for foreign troops overseas and, in the case of Afghanistan, are necessary to protect American troops from abuse by corrupt Afghan judges and prosecutors. Meanwhile the U.S. Army and the Afghan security forces are not happy about how the CIA is shutting down most of its operations in Afghanistan. In 2013 the CIA began shutting down facilities and reducing its personnel in Afghanistan. From a peak strength of over a thousand agency employees in 2011 (and several times that many in contractors and local hires), the agency is shrinking its Afghan presence down to about a third of its peak. About half the dozen (or so) CIA bases in Afghanistan are being closed. What bothers the Afghans the most is the fact that as the CIA pulls out of an area they take with them the payroll and other support they provided to local militias that helped with security (for the CIA base as well as local civilians). The Afghans have also come to value the intelligence work the CIA does, using a combination of local informants, electronic/aerial surveillance and analysis. While the U.S. Army is unhappy about the CIA (and their local militias) going away the CIA points out that this is often because the American army is shutting down bases that the CIA shared. The CIA doesn’t have the manpower or budget to build and staff (especially with security) purely CIA bases. Moreover the CIA is much in demand worldwide and more CIA personnel are needed elsewhere, especially in Africa, Syria and Yemen. 

Afghanistan is facing a lot of problems with the departure of most Western troops by the end of 2014. But the Afghan police and army are not missing the Western combat troops as much as they are the Western combat support. Right now over 90 percent of the combat operations against the Taliban are being handled by Afghan police and soldiers. But most of the support functions are still being supplied by the Western forces and nearly all those logistical, medical, communications and intelligence troops are being withdrawn. This will hurt the Afghans particularly hard because they have not got enough Afghans with technical skills to replace all those support goodies. Medical support will be particularly missed, as will air support (using smart bombs). This will hurt the morale of Afghan security forces, many of them veterans who have gotten used to the availability of Western levels of medical care for those wounded in combat. The Western air support will also be missed, and will result in more Afghan casualties. One or two smart bombs is often decisive when fighting the Taliban, warlords or bandits. The air surveillance capabilities of the Westerners is also a great help in defeating the enemy and limiting friendly casualties. All the other Western support services have a similar impact and all will be gone. Western military advisors and trainers are aware of this looming shortage and are advising their bosses to see about keeping some of those services in Afghanistan or helping the Afghans to replace them using Afghan or foreign contractors. Afghanistan has not got enough qualified people to provide a lot of those services and that is despite the fact that Afghanistan gone through a lot of changes since 2001. For example, life-expectancy had increased from 45 years in 2001 to 63 years now. This, plus the rapid economic growth since 2001 means Afghanistan is no longer the poorest country in Eurasia. The increased life expectancy is largely the result to improved sanitation and medical care, especially for newborns and children under five. One reason for the growing hostility towards the Taliban is the continuing efforts of these Islamic radicals to limit the spread of better health care and economic improvements in general. The most obvious example of this is the continuing Taliban opposition to vaccination programs, which the Taliban consider a Western effort to poison Moslem children. Then there is education, which has rapidly increased, despite constant, and often fatal, Taliban resistance. Better educated children are healthier because they learn about how to keep healthy in addition of how to read and count. Taliban insist that education concentrate mainly on religious matters and that girls be excluded. Islamic educators stress the importance of living like the original 7th century Moslems and avoiding modern technology. This is not popular with most Afghans. The problem with all this progress is that it encourages people to seek better paying and safer jobs in the civilian economy or overseas. No one wants to work for the government, which is seen as corrupt and dangerous. 

In the east (Nangarhar province) three suicide bombers attacked a truck stop near the Pakistan border. This was apparently a Taliban attempt to interfere with NATO supply trucks. The Taliban has been having a difficult time doing that but they keep trying. 

June 18, 2014: Southeast of the capital (Ghazni province) police detected a Taliban bomb building operation and seized a completed truck bomb before it could reach Kabul and be used. The Afghans have been pretty good at detecting and disrupting these attacks, in large part because most of the victims are civilians. 

June 17, 2014: The Pakistani president called his Afghan counterpart and asked for Afghan cooperation with the recent Pakistani offensive into the long-time Islamic terrorist sanctuary of North Waziristan. The Afghans had asked for this offensive for a long time and the Pakistanis want the Afghans to put more troops on the border North Waziristan shares with Afghanistan to catch or kill any Islamic terrorists fleeing into Afghanistan. 

June 14, 2014: The presidential runoff election was conducted without any of the interference the Taliban had promised. There were a lot of complaints about efforts to cheat. 

June 7, 2014: In the east (Kunar province) 32 rockets fired from Pakistan landed near a populated area but there were no casualties. A similar attack in January killed four children and there have been several other such attacks this year. In May Pakistani F-16s attacked targets in the area. The Afghan government complains to Pakistan but the attacks keep happening. That is because Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of doing nothing about the anti-Pakistan Islamic terrorists who take shelter in Afghanistan and regularly cross the border to carry out attacks in Pakistan. This time around it is all about Pakistan, which complains that there have been three attacks across the border since May 25th, causing dozens of casualties and it must stop. 

June 6, 2014: In Kabul a Taliban attack (with a roadside bomb and a suicide bomber) on a convoy carrying presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah left twelve dead but the candidate was unharmed. Police investigators uncovered evidence that this was another attack organized by ISI (the Pakistani CIA) but the Pakistanis denied it (they always do). Abdullah Abdullah, because he is part Tajik and backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, is seen as the candidate who could do the most damage to the Taliban and Pushtun interests in general. The ISI has always backed the Pushtuns in order to exercise maximum influence over Afghan affairs. 

June 4, 2014: Pakistan complained that rockets fired from Afghanistan had killed two soldiers on the Pakistani side of the border. 

June 1, 2014: In the east (Kunar province) at least 18 Taliban were killed by an American UAV missile attack and at least six wounded. While there have been fewer of these attacks in Pakistan in the last year there has been a big increase in such missile strikes and UAV surveillance in Afghanistan. 

May 31, 2014: Pakistan launched some air strikes into Afghanistan after Pakistani Islamic terrorists based in Afghanistan crossed the border and attacked in Pakistan. Afghanistan complained about this invasion while Pakistan complained about Afghanistan ignoring the terrorists camped out on the Afghan side of the border. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of doing the same for far longer and more extensively but Pakistan refuses to acknowledge that problem. 

May 28, 2014: In the north (Faryab province) three Turkmenistan border guards were killed by an armed group coming from Afghanistan. The intruders took the weapons of the dead Turkmen border guards and returned to Afghanistan. This is the second time in three months this has happened. 

May 27, 2014: The U.S. informed Afghanistan of plans for the withdrawal of American personnel and aid money. After this year there will only be 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and in 2016 only 5,000. After that there will be only about a thousand, plus some contractors, to advise, train and monitor how aid money is spent. After 2018 the U.S. will start to cut financial aid (currently nearly $5 billion a year) that supports the 325,000 Afghan soldiers and police. The U.S. is concerned that a lot of this aid is being stolen and that theft will increase once most American troops are gone. If that does happen, despite new efforts to detect and disrupt corruption, the U.S. will simply cut the aid and let the larcenous Afghan leaders decide how they want to proceed. The U.S. has found that increased American efforts to curb theft of aid is seen as a challenge by most Afghan officials who are often quite imaginative in finding new ways to steal.

Why Delta Force Waited So Long to Grab a Benghazi Ringleader

Why Delta Force Waited So Long to Grab a Benghazi Ringleader 

In echoes of the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Delta Force operators practiced the raid to capture Ahmed abu Khatallah on a mock-up of his compound at Fort Bragg before going into the real thing. 

The mission to capture Ahmed abu Khatallah, one of the ringleaders of the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya was more than a year in the making. 

In the months leading up to the raid, teams from the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, or Delta Force, practiced the extradition on a mock-up of abu Khatallah’s compound at Fort Bragg, according to a U.S. military contractor familiar with the planning for the mission. Eventually, it was a Delta Team with embedded FBI agents on Sunday that snagged the man wanted for the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. 

The Obama administration has come under withering criticism because the whereabouts of abu Khatallah have been generally known. Journalists in Libya were able to interview him, critics asked, so why couldn’t American special operators track him down, too? 

But other U.S. officials, who spoke to The Daily Beast anonymously because they were not authorized to talk to the press, said the mission to grab abu Khatallah had been planned for more than a year. Indeed, the Benghazi ringleader had been in the sights of Delta Force operators at the end of August, according to these sources, but no order was given at the time. A senior administration official told The Daily Beast that the delay in apprehending the suspect was due in part to requests from the Justice Department to gather appropriate evidence to prosecute him in criminal court. 

Russia Is Still Meddling in Ukraine, and It’s Getting Worse


Contrary to press claims that the Russian president has wound down his direct and indirect interference in east Ukraine, the opposite is the case—it’s getting much worse. 

When Russian tanks used to roll into a foreign country, it was known as an invasion. Today it’s known as a “failure by Russia to de-escalate [a] situation.”That was State Department spokesperson Marie Harf’s comment on widespread reports, since corroborated by NATO, that three T-64 tanks, along with multiple rocket launchers and armored personnel carriers (APCs), entered east Ukraine from Russia last week. And such are the gifts of diplomatic nicety still being bestowed upon Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States continues to treat him as a recalcitrant child at reform school rather than as a lying authoritarian who still seeks to partition or balkanize Ukraine. If only he’d behave himself… 


June 18, 2014

Fears of further escalation in Ukraine seem to be going away. President Vladimir Putin has moved his military back from the Ukrainian border, to the satisfaction of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Ukraine’s presidential elections took place more or less without incident and produced the expected result. Financial marketsdon’t seem to be too worried about the crisis anymore.

Maybe it’s not time to relax yet, though. Tanks of unidentified origin crossed the border and joined separatist forces on June 12. Fighting in the east of the country is escalating by the day. In Luhansk, government airstrikes have killed civilians, and the separatist rebels seized a border post after a long firefight. That city is now almost entirely under rebel control. In Slovyansk and Donetsk, multi-day battles between hundreds of rebels and Ukrainian troops using airstrikes and heavy weapons have left dozens killed, and the rebels have shot down helicopters using man-portable air-defense systems. On the rural roads in between the cities of southeastern Ukraine, rebels boldly ambush the Army’s large armored convoys. Does this sound like a conflict that’s winding down to you?

Don’t worry, the optimists say: Ukraine may bleed for a while, but the worst dangers of Russian intervention have passed. Eventually the conflict will be settled as part of a diplomatic agreement between the United States, European Union, Ukraine and Russia. Russia’s threats of interventions were merely a temporary ploy to advance its interests. But there’s reason to doubt Russian intentions. Russia’s foreign policy establishment is influenced by the theories of an ideological camp of reactionary “Eurasian pan-nationalists,” led by Alexander Dugin, an academic and author. Dugin and his compatriots are well regarded by some in Moscow, and they are openly calling for intervention in Eastern Ukraine.

China’s Deafening Silence on Iraq

The Iraq crisis again shows that even as China demands major power status, it remains entirely unwilling to act like one.

June 19, 2014
As Shannon noted earlier this week, China has remained remarkably silent as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated over the last week and a half.

In the middle of last year, many Western media outlets became aware of the fact that China had won the Iraq War. That is, while the Chinese contributed nothing to toppling Saddam Hussein’s government, or stabilizing the country afterward, it reaped the benefits of his removal by investing copiously in post-Saddam Iraq’s oil industry. The China National Petroleum Corporation alone has invested $4 billion in Iraq’s oil industry,according to the New York Times. China is also the destination for nearly half of Iraq’s oil exports. Additionally, roughly 10,000 Chinese nationals reside in Iraq working on oil and infrastructure projects.

Yet the Chinese government has been almost entirely silent about the crisis in Iraq, even as many other international powers have fixated on it. On Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did finally say a few words on Iraq, noting that Beijing does not want to see a repeat of the situation in Libya in 2011 when China had to evacuate 36,000 Chinese nationals in just over a week. Hua also promised that the Chinese government will “take all necessary measures to safeguard the security of Chinese citizens in Iraq.”

An Examination of Chinese Cyberspying

Kevin Fogarty
June 19, 2014
Is China the World’s Leading Cyberspy?

This is first of a three-part series examining the industry fallout from China’s alleged cyberspying, and specifically if the spying has hurt the tech industry. Today we review history, piecing together evidence of spying with China’s pattern of denial. Science writer Kevin Fogarty takes an in-depth look for EE Times.

Despite years of accusations and mounting evidence that its military intelligence divisions are among the most aggressive cyberspies in the world, China categorically denies digital spying of any kind. Period.

The US indictment of five Chinese military officers for attacks on US companies is an “absurd” effort based on “fabricated facts” made for “ulterior motives” against a country that is the “victim” of online espionage, not the perpetrator, according to a spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

"China is a staunch defender of cyber security" that has never "engaged or participated in the theft of trade secrets through cyber means," according to a published statement from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

No matter how serious the charges or how damning the evidence, the response from China is always an absolute denial, usually followed by counter accusations that China’s accusers are the real victimizers.

In April, for example, China deplored the “groundless accusation” in a US government report recommending tighter controls on space technology due to China’s efforts to steal it.

In 2013, China categorically denied spying on European diplomats, and went on to say the detailed report from security company Mandiant that laid out details of China’s digital spy operation lacked “technical proof” and was inherently flawed because it didn’t differentiate between cyberespionage and “everyday gathering” of online information.

Still, the evidence piles up.

The indictment announced by the Dept. of Justice May 19 charged five members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of stealing data from the networks of five US companies and one trade union.

The five are officers, senior staffers, or contractors working for the Shanghai-based Unit 61398 of the PLA, which is infamous for the high-volume, heavily automated attacks blamed for the theft of “hundreds of terabytes” of technology blueprints, negotiation strategies, pricing, and financial data and other information from 141 companies and organizations between 2006 and 2013, the vast bulk of them in the US, according to the February 2013 report from security firm Mandiant, which is the most detailed publicly available analysis of the attacks.

Is China Designing Its Own NIMITZ-Class Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier?

June 19, 2014
China Reveals CVN 18

In an unexpected development there recently appeared on the Chinese Internet photos of a carrier model being displayed at an official event. The detailed model had the hull number 18 and the ship looked similar to an American CVN (a Nimitzclass nuclear aircraft carrier). The Chinese CVN has four catapults and three elevators and much other evidence of being nuclear and very similar to the Nimitz class.

The first Chinese carrier, the Liaoning is hull number 16 and photos that appeared in 2013 showed sections of a new Chinese carrier under construction. This ship would probably have hull number 17. All this implies the third Chinese carrier, the second one built in China, would be nuclear and probably closer in design to the recently decommissioned American USS Enterprise (CVN 65). This was the first nuclear powered carrier and it served as the prototype for the subsequent Nimitz class. The Enterprise was an expensive design, and only one was built (instead of a class of six). While a bit longer than the later Nimitz class, it was lighter (92,000 tons displacement, versus 100,000 tons). The Enterprise was commissioned in 1961, almost 40 years after the first U.S. carrier (the Langley) entered service in 1923.

In the two decades after the USS Langley there were tremendous changes in carrier aviation. While the innovation slowed after World War II, major changes continued into the 1950s (jet aircraft, nuclear propelled carriers, SAMs). But in the ensuing half century there has been no major innovation in basic carrier design. This has not been a problem because the carriers have proven useful, at least for the U.S. Navy (the only fleet to use such large carriers) and no one else has maintained a force of these large carriers. Only the U.S. has felt a constant need to get air power to any corner of the planet in a hurry. More importantly, no navy has been able to give battle to the U.S. carrier force since 1945. The Soviets built new anti-carrier weapons and made plans to use them but that war never occurred. China is building carriers but does not yet seem committed to having a lot of them to confront the U.S. but rather just a few to intimidate its neighbors.