23 June 2014

A Largely Indian Victory in World War II, Mostly Forgotten in India

JUNE 21, 2014
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REMEMBRANCE AT THE BATTLEFIELDNingthoukhangjam Moirangningthou, still living in a house at the foot of a hill that was the site of some of the fiercest fighting, recalled the battle.CreditGardiner Harris/The New York Times

KOHIMA, India — Soldiers died by the dozens, by the hundreds and then by the thousands in a battle here 70 years ago. Two bloody weeks of fighting came down to just a few yards across an asphalt tennis court.
Night after night, Japanese troops charged across the court’s white lines, only to be killed by almost continuous firing from British and Indian machine guns. The Battle of Kohima and Imphal was the bloodiest of World War II in India, and it cost Japan much of its best army in Burma.

But the battle has been largely forgotten in India as an emblem of the country’s colonial past. The Indian troops who fought and died here were subjects of the British Empire. In this remote, northeastern corner of India, more recent battles with a mix of local insurgencies among tribal groups that have long sought autonomy have made remembrances of former glories a luxury.

Now, as India loosens its security grip on this region and a fragile peace blossoms among the many combatants here, historians are hoping that this year’s anniversary reminds the world of one of the most extraordinary fights of the Second World War. The battle wasvoted last year as the winner of a contest by Britain’s National Army Museum, beating out Waterloo and D-Day as Britain’s greatest battle, though it was overshadowed at the time by the Normandy landings.Photo
A military cemetery in Kohima, India. CreditGardiner Harris/The New York Times

“The Japanese regard the battle of Imphal to be their greatest defeat ever,” said Robert Lyman, author of “Japan’s Last Bid for Victory: The Invasion of India 1944.” “And it gave Indian soldiers a belief in their own martial ability and showed that they could fight as well or better than anyone else.”

The battlefields in what are now the Indian states of Nagaland and Manipur — some just a few miles from the border with Myanmar, which was then Burma — are also well preserved because of the region’s longtime isolation. Trenches, bunkers and airfields remain as they were left 70 years ago — worn by time and monsoons but clearly visible in the jungle.

This mountain city also boasts a graceful, terraced military cemetery on which the lines of the old tennis court are demarcated in white stone.

A closing ceremony for a three-month commemoration is planned for June 28 in Imphal, and representatives from the United States, Australia, Japan, India and other nations have promised to attend.

“The Battle of Imphal and Kohima is not forgotten by the Japanese,” said Yasuhisa Kawamura, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi, who is planning to attend the ceremony. “Military historians refer to it as one of the fiercest battles in world history.”

Hunting the Hunters

By Kim Wall

India’s Pardhis are poor outcasts—and the country’s finest tiger hunters. Some are now helping authorities track down the poachers in their midst. 
A Bengal tiger at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reservation in central India. The country is home to more than half the remaining 3,200 wild tigers in the world.

Each Friday, Roads & Kingdoms and Slate publish a new dispatch from around the globe. For more foreign correspondence mixed with food, war, travel, and photography, visit their online magazine or follow @roadskingdoms on Twitter.

BHORAMDEO, India—Rajesh was only 10 years old when he killed his first tiger, and 20 years later, he still remembers it vividly.

He was frightened. The tiger, a paw caught in a foot trap, was furious. The boy’s father said there wasn’t much time. First, Rajesh (a pseudonym) smashed the tiger’s head with a stick, but it remained conscious. Other hunters attacked the animal with thin spears as the boy stabbed through the tiger’s mouth down its throat. Then, piercing its ribs, he aimed for the heart.

That night, they ate as much tiger meat as they could. Cooked in a curry, it was similar to mutton, only softer. 

Rajesh’s tribe, a sub-clan of the Pardhi tribe, hunted as their ancestors had—a dangerous but effective strategy refined and handed down over generations. Shooting drew too much attention, and bullet holes decreased the value of the hide. Poisoning, a cheap and easy method often used by villagers in retaliation for killed cattle, risked ruining the fur. Instead they used homemade spears and traps, forged by nomadic blacksmiths over campfires. The community took great pride in its quiet hunting techniques, for a Bengal tiger is no easy kill. An adult weighs between 240 to 500 pounds and measures 7 to 9 feet head to tail, one of the largest tiger subspecies in the world.

Outside India, the Pardhi community is virtually unknown. But almost all of India’s tigers are poached by its tribesmen: an anachronistic, nomadic people whose primary link to the 21st century is the mobile phones on which they call the middlemen of the international poaching syndicates. Although exotic animal parts have become a multi-billion-dollar global business, the first link of the chain remains desperately poor societal outcasts. Inside India, the Pardhi tribe has long been synonymous with criminality and lawlessness.


JUNE 19, 2014

For five years or more, the United States has been urging Pakistan to clear North Waziristan, a semi-autonomous tribal agency along the Afghan border, of foreign fighters and Taliban. North Waziristan has been a deep haven for Arab, Central Asian, Punjabi, Taliban, and sectarian militants, and the headquarters of the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction that has repeatedly bombed and gunned down civilians in Kabul. Insurgents trying to overthrow the Pakistani state have also launched one bloody attack after another from North Waziristan. Most recently, a few weeks ago, a team of Uzbek fighters shocked the country by killing more than two dozen people during a suicide-by-police-style-raid on Karachi’s international airport.

This week, the Pakistani military finally moved. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, named in reference to a sword of the Prophet Muhammad. The Army, in its own announcement, called it a “comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists” who “had been disrupting our national life in all its dimensions.” It vowed to “eliminate these terrorists, regardless of their hue and color.”

In the opening days of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistani F-16s have bombed forested mountains where some of the groups have camps. The Army claimed to have killed about two hundred opposition fighters. The C.I.A. has apparently launched several drone strikes near Miran Shah and in other areas of the agency this week, reviving its secret air war over North Waziristan after a long period of quietude. These strikes were almost certainly commissioned and supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services; it would seem unthinkable for the Obama Administration to act unilaterally with drones just when Pakistan was at last doing what it had long urged.

Why now? The Karachi airport attack was a precipitating event, but there have been many such outrages. The deeper answer involves America’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to the military officers, advisers, and civilian analysts I’ve spoken to here.

I happened to be in Pakistan when Zarb-e-Azb began. The country’s proliferating cable news channels (absent the largest, Geo, which has been suspended temporarily for earlier broadcasting reports that the military found offensive) instantly rolled out colorful BREAKING NEWS and nation-at-war graphics that make Fox News look restrained. Animated tanks, fighter jets, and armed trucks zipped across the bottom of the TV screen at random moments during talk shows. As field reporters delivered standups in split-screen boxes, animated F-16s flew bombing runs, over and over, as if to induce hypnosis. The cartoon planes bombed into smithereens an artist’s rendering of a mud-walled desert compound.

Pakistani Politics and the Afghan Peace Process


Over the past few years Pakistan has been trying to signal that its foreign policy has changed, yet Pakistan’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan remain largely the same.

While Pakistan is signalling a change in its policy on Afghanistan, its strategic objective of undermining Indian influence remains. This entails strengthening its central control over the Taliban, but also reaching out beyond its traditional allies. 
Situation Report: Pakistan Over the past few years, Pakistan has been trying to signal that its foreign policy has changed and that interference in the political affairs of Afghanistan was a thing of the past. As evidence of this new brand of responsible behavior, Islamabad has reached out to its enemies in the former Northern Alliance (now largely working with the government or in the non-violent opposition), promoted a reconciliation process between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and called for regional discussion of a policy of non-interference in Afghanistan. Pakistan has moreover cooperated in the Afghan elections, allowing Afghan refugees to cross the border to vote and restraining its Afghan proxies from disrupting the poll.

Yet Pakistan's strategic objectives in Afghanistan remain largely unchanged, and there are few reasons to believe that the shift is anything more than a tactical adjustment to meet new regional and international realities. Islamabad's overarching goal is still to promote a relatively friendly government in Afghanistan, while preventing Indian influence from becoming too great. Islamabad is likewise attempting to re-enter the good graces of the United States by assisting in the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, though simultaneously exploiting the situation to weaken the strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi. Pakistan also wants Afghan refugees to be able to return to their country and so prevent their potential involvement in Pakistani politics. 

But on-the-ground realities in Afghanistan have demanded new policies to achieve these unchanged objectives. Islamabad now acknowledges that the prospect of a Taliban military victory is neither realistic nor desirable in the short term, so it has moved away from using the Taliban as a primary or sole proxy in denying India influence in Afghanistan. 

At the same time, Pakistan has strengthened its control over the Taliban by removing key commanders whenever they showed independence from Islamabad, and promoted a bilateral reconciliation process aimed at forging a power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and the government. This tactic has the additional benefit of helping to grow a perception of the Taliban as a legitimate interlocutor in the international community. 

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. 

FAS Strategic Security

May.15, 2014

As readers of the FAS Strategic Security Blog know, we have been concerned about the potential of the crisis in Ukraine to escalate, further worsening U.S.-Russian relations and possibly resulting in armed conflict involving NATO and Russia. As the May 25th presidential election in Ukraine is fast approaching, this post draws attention to advice and recommendations from the International Crisis Group, a highly respected non-governmental organization. Here’s the announcement of the major findings from the group’s newest reportUkraine: Running out of Time.

[As an organization comprising thousands of members with differing views, FAS headquarters reminds readers that this and other posts do not represent the position of FAS as an organization. Instead, these posts provide a platform for reasoned discourse and exchange of ideas. Constructive comments are welcomed.]

“Ukraine needs a government of national unity that reaches out to its own people and tackles the country’s long overdue reforms; both Russia and Western powers should back a vision for the country as a bridge between East and West, not a geopolitical battleground.”

The report “offers recommendations to rebuild and reform the country and reverse the geopolitical standoff it has provoked. The Kyiv government has been unable to assert itself or communicate coherently and appears to have lost control of parts of the country to separatists, emboldened if not backed by Russia. To prevent further escalation, Ukraine needs strong international assistance and the commitment of all sides to a solution through dialogue, not force.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are: 
Although conditions for the election are far from ideal, it must take place as planned and nationwide. The vote is needed to produce a new leader with a popular mandate to steer the country through a process of national reconciliation and economic reform. All presidential candidates should, before the polls, commit to establish a broad-based government of national unity; the new president’s first priority must be to form such a government. 
Ukrainian leaders should reach out immediately to the south and east and explain plans for local self-government and minority rights; they should also declare that they do not desire NATO membership. 
Ukraine’s damage goes far beyond separatism. It is the fruit of decades of mismanagement and corruption across security organs and most other arms of government. Far-reaching reform of the security sector and measures to strengthen the rule of law are crucial. 
Russia should declare unqualified support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and withdraw all troops from the borders, as well as any paramilitaries who have infiltrated from Crimea or elsewhere. It should persuade Russian speakers in the south and east to end their occupations of government buildings and attacks on local security apparatuses and disband their militias. 
The U.S. and EU need to convey a consistent and measured message, recognizing – even if not accepting – Moscow’s take on the crisis’s origins. This message should comprise political support for Kyiv to conduct elections; political, financial and expert support for a national unity government to carry out stabilization measures; measures to make Ukraine viable for investors; further sanctions to bite deeper into Russia’s economy if it does not change course; and quiet high-level talks with Moscow aimed at resolving the crisis. 
Both Moscow and Western powers should emphasize that the present situation can only be resolved by diplomatic means; express support for a post-election government of national unity; take all possible measures to avoid geopolitical confrontation; and insulate other mutual concerns from divisions over Ukraine. 

‘On the ground in Ukraine today, Russia has immediate advantages of escalation,’ says Paul Quinn-Judge, Europe and Central Asia Program Director. ‘Over time, the West likely has the economic and soft-power edge. A successful, democratic Ukraine – integrated economically in the West but outside military alliances, and remaining a close cultural, linguistic and trading partner of Russia – would benefit all.’”

Ukraine: Running out of Time

Pakistan Needs Regional and Global Alliances to Fight the Extremists

By Muqtedar Khan

Pakistan on Sunday launched another military operation — Zarb-e-Azb — against the extremists in Waziristan. The name of the operation means sharp and cutting or surgical. This is not the first such operation and perhaps will not be the last of its kind. But if this one is executed well, it may not warrant one for some time and it may give the beleaguered country an opportunity to recoup from the persistent terror attacks it faces nearly everyday.

This operation was inevitable given the public outrage at the dastardly attacks on Jinnah International airport in Karachi, which not only killed 26 military personnel and civilians but also underscored the dangerously fragile condition of security in Pakistan. The attack on Karachi airport clearly was a tipping point and the Nawaz Sharif government, which until now was willing to give diplomacy a chance, had to respond with use of force. Rhetoric aside, it remains to be seen how serious this military venture really is.

The military hopes to seriously damage the many extremist groups that operate out of this area.

Counter-Insurgency is Fraught with Peril

As Americans have discovered in Iraq and elsewhere popular insurgencies are hard to suppress. It is difficult to separate the civilian from the enemy; the innocent from the malignant and every misstep increases the intensity of the insurgency and undermines public support for use of force. Counter insurgency strategies, specially when employed at home also destroys the infrastructure of the nation, causes unemployment, slows the economy, exacerbates sectarianism, frightens away foreign investors and destroys internal and international trade.

Prolonged use of force also generates internally displaced refugees who will move away from the battle areas, towards Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad in search of safety. They will provide cover for flee militants and will bring the war to the very cities whose protection is the impetus for the military operation.

Chinese Nuclear Missile Upgrade Near Dalian

May.21, 2014
One of the last Chinese Second Artillery brigades with the old liquid-fuel DF-3A intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missile appears to have been upgraded to the newer DF-21 road-mobile, dual-capable, medium-range ballistic missile.

A new satellite image posted on Google Earth from May 4, 2014, reveals major changes to what appears to be a launch unit site for the Dengshahe brigade northeast of Dalian by the Yellow Sea.

The upgrade apparently marks the latest phase in a long and slow conversion of the Dengshahe brigade from the DF-3A to the DF-21.

The 810 Brigade base appears to be located approximately 60 km (36 miles) northeast of Dalian in the Liaoning province (see map below). The base is organized under 51 Base, one of six base headquarters organized under the Second Artillery Corps, the military service that operates the Chinese land-based nuclear and conventional missiles. 
The 810 Brigade is based approximately 60 km (36 miles) northeast of Dalian, and the launch unit approximately 17 km (10 miles) south of the base.

The launch unit appears to be using a remote site with four launch pads for training approximately 17 km (10 miles) south of the brigade base. A new commercial satellite image, dated May 4, 2014, and made available by Digital Globe via Google Earth, shows significant upgrades at the site since 2006.

This includes construction of new launch pads that in shape and size appear to match those recently seen at the 807 Brigade base launch unit near Qingyang (Anhui) and the 802 Brigade base at Jianshui (Yunnan).

The satellite image is particularly interesting because it was taken on a day when the launch unit was using the site for a launch training exercise. Three of the four pads are in use with what appears to be DF-21 launchers deployed on the 45-meter paved strip and support vehicles near by. Other vehicles are positioned near the fourth launch pad (see image below).

Five Indian Weapons of War China Should Fear

June 21, 2014 

India's rising military might could cause China severe angst if the unthinkable ever occurred.

India and China have been neighbors for thousands of years, and have traditionally enjoyed good relations. Only recently in their mutual history have the two sides come to blows. Despite that long peaceful history, the brief 1962 border war and subsequent disagreements over territory have chilled relations between the two.

China’s recent push to acquire what it considers historically Chinese territory has not been lost on India, and New Delhi has been stepping up modernization of its armed forces. Fortunately, the terrain on their mutual border makes a land war between the two a difficult—but not impossible—proposition. Although China soundly beat India in the 1962 war, the armies of both sides are now more evenly matched and the result could easily be a stalemate.

If India and China were to come to blows, the real war would be fought at sea. China imports large amounts of its oil from foreign sources, and two thirds of that must pass through the Indian Ocean. India sits astride important sea-lanes providing China with energy. In the event of increased tensions the Indian Navy could cause quite a bit of trouble in such vital sea-lanes—essentially a blockade on Chinese shipping—from the Persian Gulf and Africa.

Such a move could force the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to travel thousands of miles around the southern end of Asia, into the Indian Ocean to confront Indian naval forces. The fate of the Chinese economy would be in the balance. With that in mind, here our five weapons of such a potential conflict that China would fear most.

VIkramaditya Aircraft Carrier

India has operated aircraft carriers for more than fifty years, starting in 1961 with the carrier INS Vikrant. Commissioned in 2013, INS VIkramaditya is the latest and most powerful in a long line of Indian carriers.

The carrier was originally built for the Soviet Navy as the Baku. The original ship was an anti-submarine warfare carrier with the armament of a cruiser, including two 100mm deck guns, a staggering 192 SA-N-9 surface to air missiles and 12 giant SS-N-12 Sandbox anti-ship missiles.

Mothballed by the Russian Navy in 1996, Baku was purchased by India in 2004. The updated design deleted all cruiser armament, replacing it with a full-length angled flight deck and a ski jump to assist aircraft takeoffs. Vikramaditya’s air wing is expected to consist of 30 MiG-29K or Tejas fighters and 12 helicopters.

China’s Third Aircraft Carrier Could Be Nuclear And as big as American flattops

China’s first aircraft carrier—the refurbished Ukrainian-built flattopLiaoning—entered testing in 2011. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is building a second carrier itself—a conventionally-powered vessel likeLiaoning.

A third carrier currently in the planning stage could be bigger than her two predecessors—as big as an American Nimitz-class supercarrier, in fact—plus nuclear-powered, just like U.S. flattops. Atomic propulsion confers greater sailing range and supports more sensors, weaponry and other systems.

Lots of countries have one or two aircraft carriers. But none build flattops as big and capable as America’s 11 Nimitzs and new Ford-class CVNs. Evidence indicates that’s about to change.

In mid-June, Chinese Internet forum users circulated photos from an official event in Zhongshan. The photos depict what is “certainly a model of the first Chinese nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” according to China Defense Blog.
Like arms companies all over the world, Beijing’s state industries routinely show off scale models of new weaponry designs before beginning construction.

The model “represents a final design for the new CVN [that] has been approved by PLAN for production,” China Defense Blog asserted. The ship’s features apparently mirror those on the latest American carriers—three elevators for efficiently moving planes between decks and four electric catapults for quickly launching them.

China Defense Blog apparently guessed the flattop’s planned size by comparing the scale model to the miniature jet fighters on its flight deck. The blog likened the new Chinese CVN—hull number 18—to the AmericanNimitzs and Fords, meaning CVN-18 could exceed a thousand feet in length and displace 100,000 tons, a third bigger than Liaoning.

Tens of Thousands of Volunteers Join Shi’ite Militias in Iraq

June 22, 2014

Answering a Cleric’s Call, Iraqi Shiites Take Up Arms

C.J.Chivers, New York Times, June 22,2014

BAGHDAD — The long lines of Shiite fighters began marching through the capital early Saturday morning. Some wore masks. One group had yellow and green suicide explosives, which they said were live, strapped to their chests. A Mahdi Army rally in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad on Saturday. CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times .

As their numbers grew, they swelled into a seemingly unending procession of volunteers with rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, backed by mortar crews and gun and rocket trucks.

The Mahdi Army, the paramilitary force that once led a Shiite rebellion against American troops here, was making its largest show of force since it suspended fighting in 2008. This time, its fighters were raising arms against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Qaeda splinter group that has driven Iraq’s security forces from parts of the country’s north and west.

Chanting “One, two, three, Mahdi!” they implored their leader, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, to send them to battle.

“ISIS is not as strong as a finger against us,“ said one fighter, Said Mustafa, who commanded a truck carrying four workshop-grade rockets — each, he said, packed with C4 explosive. “If Moktada gives us the order, we will finish ISIS in two days.”

Large sections of Baghdad and southern Iraq’s Shiite heartland have been swept up in a mass popular mobilization, energized by the fatwa of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urging able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists. Shiite and mixed neighborhoods now brim with militias, who march under arms, staff checkpoints and hold rallies to sign up more young men. Fighting raged in northern and western Iraq on Saturday, with the Sunni insurgents making some gains near a strategic border crossing with Syria.

The Mahdi Army rally in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad on Saturday was the largest and most impressive paramilitary display so far, but there were also mass militia parades in other cities, including Najaf and Basra on Saturday, and smaller rallies in Baghdad on Friday, equally motivated by what participants described as patriotic and religious fervor.

Together, the militias constitute a patchwork of seasoned irregulars who once resisted American occupation, Iranian proxies supported by Tehran, and pop-up Shiite tribal fighting groups that are rushing young men to brief training courses before sending them to fight beside the Iraqi Army against ISIS.

It is a mobilization fraught with passion, confusion and grave risk.

Militia members and their leaders insist they have taken up arms to defend their government, protect holy places and keep their country from breaking up along sectarian or ethnic lines. They have pledged to work alongside the Iraqi Army.

But as Iraq lurches toward sectarian war, the prominent role of Shiite-dominated militias could also exacerbate sectarian tensions, hardening the sentiments that have allowed the Sunni militants to succeed.

Moreover, some of the militias have dark histories that will make it hard for them to garner national support. Some commanders have been linked to death squads that carried out campaigns of kidnappings and killing against Sunnis, including from hospitals.

Against this background, even as more armed men have appeared on the streets, Shiite clerics have taken pains to cast the mobilization as a unity movement, even if it has a mostly Shiite face.

“Our mission is to explain to the people what Ayatollah Sistani said,” said Sheikh Emad al-Gharagoli, after leading prayers Thursday afternoon at the Maitham al-Tamar Mosque in Sadr City. “He said, ‘Do not make your own army, this army does not belong to the Shia. It belongs to all of Iraq. It is for the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds and the Christians.’ ”

The clerics have also said the mobilization will be temporary, that the militias will be disbanded once the ISIS threat subsides.

The Mahdi Army marched through the streets of Baghdad following a call from the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

But given the swift gains by ISIS and the lax performance of the Iraqi Army, analysts do not expect the infusion of Shiite militias to quickly turn the tide. And as the militias focus on establishing themselves, their leaders face a host of daunting practical matters intended to convert a religious call to a coherent fighting force.

Update on Who Controls What in Iraq: A Review of the Battlefield Situation

June 22, 2014

Control of Terrain in Iraq

Institute for the Study of War

June 21, 2014

Iran's Important Role in the Future of the Middle East

How Iran is at the center of the new Middle East, and why the United States doesn’t mind 
In the past year, the cauldron that is the greater Middle East has finally reached a boil after simmering for decades. Iraq is close to the edge of disintegration while Syria’s brutal civil war grinds on. Egypt has reverted to a de facto military state and Kurdish independence seems all the more likely.
What does this all mean? What will the region’s future be like? David Fromkin, the author of A Peace to End All Peace said in 2007 that “the Middle East has no future.” I happen to disagree. I believe that the future of the Middle East is truly beginning now because the old, convoluted Middle East that wasn’t working is finally in the process of irreversible collapse. Like an old phoenix that must burn to ashes before giving rise to a newer, more vibrant creature, the current convulsions around the Middle East will eventually give rise to a most stable political configuration. Of course there will be a period of instability before this occurs. But the Middle East as it currently stands is inherently unstable and trying to forestall instability is to merely prolong the lives of barely functional regimes and states. If a collapse is coming, it is better to get it over with sooner rather than later.

As I argued in a previous article, states often do not fit the realities on the ground created by groups. This is natural and should not necessarily be resisted. Jeffery Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, concurs, arguing that “Westphalian obsessiveness — Iraq must stay together because it must stay together — just doesn’t seem wise.” Goldberg notes that “it is, of course, important to invest in plans that forestall the creation of permanent jihadist safe havens, and about this the U.S. should be vigilant, more vigilant than it has been,” but other than this obvious corollary, there is no point in Western intervention.

If there is one country to watch in order to understand the future of the region, it is Iran, the probable long term winner in the Middle East. Turkey is too remote, geographically and culturally, from the heart of the Middle East to ultimately reassert itself in the region and it does not have the extensive ground-level contacts that Iran has in many of the Arab states. Saudi Arabia is even less likely to be the region’s dominant power as it has a relatively low population, weak institutions, and is wholly dependent on oil. Iran’s likelihood of being the region’s main power should be fairly obvious from a study of history and geography, but there is a tendency in some circles in the United States to wish away these elements of geopolitics for idealism, a stance that has come back to haunt the world in the case of Iraq.

Nuclear Modernization Briefings at the NPT Conference in New York

By Hans M. Kristensen
Posted on May.05, 2014 
The first panel was on “Current Status of Rebuilding and Modernizing the United States Warheads and Nuclear Weapons Complex,” an NGO side event organized on May 1st by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). While describing the U.S. programs, I got permission from the organizers to cover the modernization programs of all the nuclear-armed states. Quite a mouthful but it puts the U.S. efforts better in context and shows that nuclear weapon modernization is global challenge for the NPT.
The second panel was on “The Future of the B61: Perspectives From the United States and Europe.” This GNO side event was organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on May 2nd. In my briefing I focused on providing factual information about the status and details of the B61 life-extension program, which more than a simple life-extension will produce the first guided, standoff nuclear bomb in the U.S. inventory, and significantly enhance NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.

A Deep Seated Division

Volunteers in the newly formed "Peace Brigades" participate in a parade near the Imam Ali shrine in the southern holy Shiite city of Najaf, Iraq after called for by the radical Shiite cleric Muqtatda al-Sadr to form brigades to protect Shiite holy shrines against possible attacks by Sunni militants.

In Syria and Iraq, ISIS exploits power voids, frustrations over minority rights, and Sunni-Shia divide. Obama’s call for inclusiveness will not work

Less than four months after being disowned by Al Qaeda because of ultra-extremist policies, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, has captured Mosul. Unwilling to fight the lightly armed but fanatic 800 fighters of ISIS, two divisions of Iraqi soldiers fled. After occupying the airport, TV stations and the governor’s offices, the invaders robbed banks of $480 million in Iraqi currency and loaded 75 trucks with small arms and ammunition destined for Raqqa in eastern Syria, the capital of ISIS. Another 200 armed trucks and Humvees followed this convoy.

Alarm bells ring not just in Washington and Brussels, but also Tehran, Ankara and Amman. They had underestimated earlier signs of ISIS extending to Iraq its Syrian policy of administering seized territory.

Offers of assistance from US President Barack Obama followed along with the homily on the need of “inclusiveness” by the embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Shia leader was told to reach out to the minority Sunnis who have felt alienated in the post–Saddam Hussein era inaugurated by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Who Won Iraq? Lost dreams, lost armies, jihadi states, and the arc of instability

Al-Qaeda inspired militants stand with captured Iraqi Army Humvee at a checkpoint outside Beiji refinery, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq.

As Iraq was unravelling last week and the possible outlines of the first jihadist state in modern history were coming into view, I remembered this nugget from the summer of 2002. At the time, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with “a senior advisor” to President George W. Bush (later identified as Karl Rove). Here’s how he described part of their conversation:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That's not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality —judiciously, as you will —we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

As events unfold increasingly chaotically across the region that officials of the Bush years liked to call the Greater Middle East, consider the eerie accuracy of that statement. The president, his vice president Dick Cheney, his defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, among others, were indeed “history’s actors.” They did create “new realities” and, just as Rove suggested, the rest of us are now left to “study” what they did.

And oh, what they did! Their geopolitical dreams couldn’t have been grander or more global. (Let’s avoid the word "megalomaniacal.") They expected to pacify the Greater Middle East,garrison Iraq for generations, make Syria and Iran bow down before American power, "drain" the global "swamp" of terrorists, and create a global Pax Americana based on a military so dominant that no other country or bloc of countries would ever challenge it.

It was quite a dream and none of it, not one smidgen, came true. Just as Rove suggested they would —just as in the summer of 2002, he already knew they would —they acted to create a world in their image, a world they imagined controlling like no imperial power in history. Using that unchallengeable military, they launched an invasion that blew a hole through the oil heartlands of the Middle East. They took a major capital, Baghdad, while “decapitating” (as the phrase then went) the regime that was running Iraq and had, in a particularly brutal fashion, kept the lid on internecine tensions.

They lacked nothing when it came to confidence. Among the first moves of L. Paul Bremer III, the proconsul they appointed to run their occupation, was an order demobilizing Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s 350,000-man army and the rest of his military as well. Their plan: to replace it with a lightly armed border protection force —initially of 12,000 troops and in the end perhaps 40,000 —armed and trained by Washington. Given their vision of the world, it made total sense. Why would Iraq need more than that with the U.S. military hanging around for, well, ever, on a series of permanent bases the Pentagon's contractors were building? What dangers could there be in the neighborhood with that kind of force on hand? Soon enough, it became clear that what they had really done was turn the Iraqi officer corps and most of the country’s troops out onto unemployment lines, creating the basis for a militarily skilled Sunni insurgency. A brilliant start!

Note that these days the news is filled with commentary on the lack of a functional Iraqi air force. That’s why, in recent months, Prime Minister Maliki has been calling on the Obama administration to send American air power back into the breach. Saddam Hussein did have an air force. Once it had been one of the biggest in the Middle East. The Bush administration, however, came to the conclusion that the new Iraqi military would have no need for fighter planes, helicopters, or much of anything else, not when the U.S. Air Force would be in the neighborhood on bases like Balad in Central Iraq. Who needed two air forces?

Be Careful What You Wish For

It was all to be a kind of war-fighting miracle. The American invaders would be greeted as liberators, the mission quickly accomplished, and “major combat operations” ended in a flash —as George Bush so infamously announced on May 1, 2003, after his Top Gun landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. No less miraculous was the fact that it would essentially be a freebie. After all, as undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz pointed out at the time, Iraq “floats on a sea of oil,” which meant that a “liberated” country could cover all “reconstruction” costs without blinking.

The Busheviks entered Iraq with a powerful sense that they were building an American protectorate. So why wouldn't it be a snap to carry out their ambitious plans to privatize the Iraqi economy, dismantle the country’s vast public sector (throwing another army of employees out of work), and bring in crony corporations to help run the country and giant oil companies to rev up the energy economy, lagging from years of sanctions and ill-repair? In the end, Washington’s Iraq would —so they believed —pump enough crude out of one of the greatest fossil fuel reserves on the planet to sink OPEC, leaving American power free to float to ever greater heights on that sea of oil. As the occupying authority, with a hubris stunning to behold, they issued “orders” that read as if they had been written by officials from some nineteenth-century imperial power.

In short, this was one for the history books. And not a thing —nothing —worked out as planned. You could almost say that whatever it was they dreamed, the opposite invariably occurred. For those of us in the reality-based community, for instance, it’s long been apparent that their war and occupation would cost the U.S., literally and figuratively, an arm and a leg (and that the costs to Iraqis would prove beyond calculating). More than two trillion dollarslater —without figuring in astronomical post-war costs still to come —Iraq is a catastrophe.

And $25 billion later, the last vestige of American Iraq, the security forces that, in the end, Washington built up to massive proportions, seem to be in a state of dissolution. Just over a week ago, faced with the advance of a reported 800-1,300 militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the opposition of tribal militias and local populations, close to 50,000army officers and troops abandoned their American weaponry to Sunni insurgents and foreign jihadis, shed their uniforms by various roadsides, and fled. As a result, significant parts of Iraq, including Mosul, its second largest city, fell into the hands of Sunni insurgents, some of aSaddamist coloration, and a small army of jihadis evidently funded by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both U.S. allies.

The arrogance of those occupation years should still take anyone’s breath away. Bush and his top officials remade reality on an almost unimaginable scale and, as we study the region today, the results bear no relation to the world they imagined creating. None whatsoever. On the other hand, there were two dreams they had that, after a fashion, did come into existence.

Many Americans still remember the Bush administration’s bogus pre-invasion claims —complete with visions of mushroom clouds rising over American cities —that Saddam Hussein had a thriving nuclear program in Iraq. But who remembers that, as part of the justification for the invasion it had decided would be its destiny, the administration also claimed a “mature and symbiotic” relationship between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda? In other words, the invasion was to be justified in some fashion as a response to the attacks of 9/11 (which Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with). Who remembers that, the year after American troops took Baghdad, evidence of the nuclear program having gone down the toilet, Vice President Dick Cheney, backed by George W. Bush, doubled down on the al-Qaeda claim?

It's Not Shi'as Vs Sunnis

Iraqi Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

It's Not Shi'as Vs Sunnis

The current conflict in Iraq is not what it is being described by most news agencies and analysts.

The current conflict in Iraq is not a battle between Sunnis and Shi‘as as most news agencies and analysts are claiming. The Islamic State for Iraq and Shaam or ISIS as they are popularly referred to are not representative of Sunnis and indeed their ideological position is closer to that of the 7th century Kharijite faction. In 657 AD, in the battle of Siffin between Ali ibnAbiTalib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, and Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, a faction of people broke off from Ali’s camp after declaring that he should not have entered into arbitration with Mu‘awiya. They deemed both Ali and Mu‘awiya’s sides to be kuffar (pl. of kafir) and it is perhaps to this act that we can trace the intellectual origins of takfeer or the act of declaring someone a disbeliever. Prior to this, as Maulana Mohsin Najafi of the Jaamiatul Kausar in Islamabad, recently pointed out, the act of takfeer was not even utilised for political opponents with the assassins of the third Caliph Usman not being the victim of takfeer. Speaking at the 10th annual Rabeeush-Shahada festival held under the aegis of the holy shrines of Karbala, Najafi tackled this sensitive question, which is not only religiously important but is now also increasingly politically relevant.

One of the most important fatwa concerning takfeer was that of ibn Taimiyyah in the 13th century in which he labelled the Mongol invaders as kuffar for ostensibly converting to Islam yet continuing to practice the Yasa Code. Notably he also did takfeer of various Sunni Sufi orders reserving particular venom for those who were affiliated to ibn al-Arabi’s school of philosophy. These fatwas proved to the ideological inspiration for Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab who also used takfeer in order to consolidate his political and theological position. In the 20th century the Egyptian Mustafa Shukri drew ideological inspiration from the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Hassan al-Banna and intellectual Sayed Qutb but later due to his increasing disenchantment founded the Jama’at al-Muslimoon. Founded in the 1970s, this group was later dubbed Takfeerwa’l Hijrah—excommunciation and exile— encapsulating his philosophy of deeming Muslims to be apostates and the need of ‘true Muslims’ to migrate in order to re-group and consolidate power. Another Egyptian Muhammad Abdus Salaam Faraj also founded a radical group at the end of the 1970s, which was eventually called al-Jihadbut disagreed with some of Shukri’s views. This group was behind Anwar Sadat’s assassination. In particular Faraj advocated an infiltration of the near enemy (Muslims) in order to fight them from within. Interestingly both groups also deemed it permissible for activists to breach the rules of the Sharia, such as drinking alcohol, in order to avoid detection. Faraj was a close friend and had a profound ideological influence on Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the ideologues of al-Qaeda. Today al-Qaeda in some part finds its roots in the mujahideen of the 19 70s and 80s who were given training and funding by various Western countries as well as Pakistan in order to counter the looming spectre of Russian communism.

'Shock And Awe' Never Works

Volunteers train at military base in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad

Don't trust the bombers: Where the enemy has some local support and is defending, air power has a long history of failure.

In March of 2003, we were treated to an intensive bombardment of Iraq, which the Bush White House propagandists termed “Shock and Awe.” As usual, the US Air Force practically promised us that if only they could throw down all their fancy munitions on the target country from the air, why, you might not even need those impossibly old-fashioned grunts in the US Army. We might be able to “decapitate” the nationalist, secular, state-socialist Baath regime that then ran Iraq, by killing its leader in an air strike.

Breathlessly, we were told that the US suddenly developed intelligence on Saddam’s whereabouts. The war began two days early because of this delicious possibility. The missiles were launched on a restaurant in Baghdad. Dozens of innocent diners were turned into red mist.

Saddam Hussein, of course, was never at the restaurant. Then the massive bombing campaign, 1,300 missiles, hit Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk. US military spokesmen insisted that the bombs were angled so as to reduce civilian casualties. But when you drop a five hundred pound bomb on a building, it creates shrapnel– the cement, the glass in the windows, go flying, into people’s skin and faces and eyes. Baath government and military buildings were targeted, in an attempt to destroy the Baath command and control.