25 August 2014

ISIS offered to swap Pak scientist for slain US journalist Foley

Shyam Bhatia in London

A highly educated Pakistan-born woman has emerged as the jewel in the crown of Islamic State (IS) terrorists who seek world domination by creating their version of a caliphate that stretches from South Asia to the borders of Rome.

Before his barbaric beheading, IS offered to free James Foley and other Western hostages still in captivity if Washington sanctioned the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008.

A mother of three, known in Pakistan as the "Grey Lady of Bagram", she is currently serving an 86-year prison sentence in a Texas jail for attempting to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. When she was being questioned back in 2008, she tried to shoot her interrogators and was shot and wounded in return.

At the time of her arrest she was also caught with plans for a 'mass casualty attack' against key US targets, including such New York landmarks such as the New York Metro, Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. Her plans also involved infecting innocent citizens with Ebola and a dirty bomb.

Siddiqui's expertise dates back to her time at Brandeis University in the US where she obtained a Ph.D in biology before training as a neuro-scientist at the Massachusets Institute of Technology (MIT).

Karachi-born Siddiqui, who has a PhD from Brandeis University, before training as a neuro-scientist at MIT, is married to a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It was he who first mentioned her name to US interrogators.

The irony of Siddiqui's significance is that her gender marks her out as part of a lesser breed in the Islamic caliphate where women must be veiled and banned from driving and where goats grazing in the fields are required to have their genitals covered.

The Pakistani authorities usually try to distance themselves from suspected terrorists, but when Siddiqui was arrested Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani called her the "daughter of the nation" and begged the US to let her go. Violent protests also took place outside the US consulate in Karachi.

Former CIA analyst John Kiriakou commented about Siddiqui in 2008, "Her education troubled us. We know that she's extremely bright. She's radicalised. We know that she had been planning, or at least involved in the planning, of a variety of operations, whether they involved weapons of mass destruction or research into chemical or biological weapons, whether it was a possible attempt on the life of the President."

Deborah Scroggins, author of 'Wanted Women: Faith Lies and the War on terror" describes Siddiqui as "the poster child for jihadists around the world."

She was sentenced at a time when US legislators had approved new rules saying anyone trying to kill US personnel would get special, strict sentencing.

The attempts to free Siddiqui in exchange for Foley highlight the perils facing other hostages held by IS which seeks to extract maximum benefits from their governments before they are released.

The hostages include some 90 Indian, Turkish, American and British nationals who are being held at various locations in Northern Iraq and Syria.

Washington and London have said that where their nationals are concerned, they never negotiate with terrorists, but that is a policy that is selectively implemented.

When US soldier Bowe Bergdahl was kidnapped earlier this year by the Afghan Haqqani network, the Americans released five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for his release. When British hostages Paul and Rachel Chandler and Judith Tebbutt were taken hostage in Somalia in the past four years, London allowed millions to be paid to secure their freedom.

Earlier this year, the governments of France, Spain, Italy and Denmark are each alleged to have paid lucrative sums to secure the release of their own hostages held in Syria. Small wonder then that hostage taking is now classified as one of the world's most lucrative professions.

According to some estimates ransom taking in recent years has generated more than $1560 million for hostage takers. But money remains only one element when it comes to saving lives. When British IT consultant Peter Moore was kidnapped in Iraq in 2009 by an extremists Shia group, London agreed to release the group's leader from prison in exchange for Moore's own freedom.

Knowing Dr Aafia Siddiqui — ‘The Grey Lady of Bagram’

Omar Abdullah to Centre: Hold talks to end Pak firing

Aug 25, 2014

SRINAGAR: J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah on Sunday controversially linked the shelling of border villages by Pakistan to the calling off of the foreign secretary-level talks between the two countries by the Narendra Modi government. 

A desperate Omar, perhaps trying to offset anti-incumbency in state elections later this year, appeared to bat for the separatists while telling reporters here soon after returning from a holiday in London, "I hope there is some rethink on this (calling off of talks with Pakistan)."

He added, "The cancellation of talks was a result of 'cup of tea' that has continued every year since 1994. It is part of Pakistan's, what they call, moral support. To expect that Pakistan would stop this before an overall settlement of the Kashmir issue, is I think to expect too much of Pakistan." 

BJP reacted sharply to Omar's comment with senior leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi telling TOI in New Delhi, "Abdullah has been soft on the separatists despite their pro-Pakistan stand, and despite their being against the election process, which they refuse to join... With assembly polls coming up in the state, the CM is taking a soft stand on the separatists and (has) said the border firing is a result of India-Pakistan talks being called off." 

Omar said he doesn't see talks with Pakistan resuming soon because of the Centre's unwillingness to engage with Islamabad as long as it accords primacy to meeting the separatists. 

On ceasefire violations, Omar said, "The violations are increasing in intensity. They are no longer confined to BSF posts. By design now, civilian areas are being targeted and civilians are being killed and injured. People are being forced to migrate from border areas."

Women walk past a residential building with bullet marks allegedly fired from the Pakistan side at the India-Pakistan international border area of RS Pura on August 22, 2014. (AP photo)
Until Sunday, 150 instances of ceasefire violations were reported by Pakistani troops this year. A total of 195 violations were reported in 2013 but this year's breaches are learnt to be the highest in the last eight years till August, a government reports says. 

Naqvi added, "Pakistan is walking with the separatists and talking with the government in India. This does not work with the Narendra Modi government. As for the firing at the border by the Pakistanis, it's in all probability because of Pakistan's domestic compulsion given its internal situation. The firing that has killed people in the border villages must stop, otherwise Pakistan will have to face the consequences."

A jawan keeps watch near NHPC's hydropower project LoC at Uri in Jammu & Kashmir 

Nawaz Sharif won’t quit, deadlock still on

Aug 25, 2014
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) march during a demonstration in support of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Karachi. AFP

With Pakistan government rejecting the protesters’ demand that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down for 30 days to allow an independent probe into the alleged rigging in 2013’s polls, the political deadlock entered the 11th day on Sunday with no breakthrough in sight.

On Sunday, minister for planning and development Ahsan Iqbal said the government has accepted basic demands of the PTI for electoral reforms and transparent investigation into 2013 general elections.

He however said the PTI’s demand for resignation of the Prime Minister is not acceptable.

He said the judicial commission will probe into allegations of rigging and if these accusations were proven, the government will not only step down but also fresh elections will be announced.

Earlier, on Sunday, federal minister for railways Khawaja Saad Rafique held a meeting with Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) chief Tahir-ul-Qadri to discuss end of the sit-in.

“During the meeting, Saad Rafique forwarded the message of PM Nawaz Sharif”, said an official.

The PAT chief said that he is ready for dialogue even if it is with the Prime Minister Sharif and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, adding that no power in the world, including United States’ President Barrack Obama, can stop him from his mission.

Addressing the “Inqilab March” participants in Islamabad, he said, “Our foremost demand has been the investigation over the Model Town tragedy and justice for the martyrs.”

US journalist freed by Syria militants

A US journalist abducted in October 2012 was released Sunday in Syria to UN representatives.

Peter Theo Curtis, 45, who appeared in a video on June 30 reading a prepared script saying that he was a journalist from Boston, was initially abducted in Antakya, Turkey.

Curtis was handed over to UN peacekeepers Sunday evening in al-Rafid village in the Quneitra area of the Golan Heights, the UN said. He received a medical check-up and was delivered to US government representatives.

Curtis’ handover was arranged through Qatari mediation, according to a report by broadcaster Al Jazeera.

“We join his family and loved ones in welcoming his freedom,” said Susan Rice, national security advisor to US President Barack Obama.

“Theo is now safe outside of Syria, and we expect he will be reunited with his family shortly. Just as we celebrate Theo’s freedom, we hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria.” She said the US “will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed.” Curtis’ release follows Wednesday’s publication of a video showing the beheading of US photojournalist James Foley by Islamist militants calling themselves the Islamic State. Foley went missing in November 2012 in Syria.

US officials believe three US citizens remain captive in the hands of Islamic State, which operates in Syria and Iraq.

Curtis’ family said Sunday that they believed he was held by al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra or allied splinter groups. Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Nusra Front, was previously allied with the Islamic State militants before a bitter split.

Curtis’ mother, Nancy, said she was “eternally grateful” to the US and Qatari governments and “incredible people” both public and private who helped gain her son’s release.

“While the family is not privy to the exact terms that were negotiated, we were repeatedly told by representatives of the Qatari government that they were mediating for Theo’s release on a humanitarian basis without the payment of money,” she said.

Theo Curtis studied Arabic years ago in Damascus and returned to Syria during the civil war out of “deep concern and regard for the people of Syria,” his mother said.

“He wanted to help others and to give meaning and to bear witness to their struggles,” she said. “I am very fortunate that I do not have to tell his whole story. He eventually will be able to do so himself.” Nancy Curtis said her “entire focus” was now on caring for her son and “helping the other families of those still being held in Syria.” International press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has said that three foreign journalists are still being held hostage in Syria, alongside some 50 Syrian professional or citizen journalists, either by armed groups or President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The New York—based Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed Curtis’ return from “harrowing captivity” but remained “deeply concerned for the safety of all the journalists who remain hostages in Syria,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator for the group.

CPJ said that at least 70 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian conflict, including some who died over the border in Lebanon and Turkey. The group estimated that more than 80 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria with about 20 currently missing in Syria, the majority of whom are Syrian.

“Syria has been the most dangerous country in the world for journalists for more than two years,” CPJ said.

ISIS Is No Longer a “Junior Varsity” Terrorist Organization; But Is It a Threat to the U.S.?

Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper 
New York Times 
August 23, 2014 
U.S. Isn’t Sure Just How Much to Fear ISIS 

WASHINGTON — Earlier this year, President Obama likened the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to a junior varsity basketball squad, a group that posed little of the threat once presented by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. 

But on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.” 

With the rapid advance of ISIS across northern Iraq, and the release this week of a video showing one of the group’s operatives beheading an American journalist, the language Obama administration officials are using to describe the danger the terrorist group poses to the United States has become steadily more pointed. But some American officials and terrorism experts said that the ominous words overstated the group’s ability to attack the United States and its interests abroad, and that ISIS could be undone by its own brutality and nihilism. 

“They have a lot of attributes that should scare us: money, people, weapons and a huge swath of territory,” said Andrew Liepman, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation and former deputy head of the National Counterterrorism Center. “But when we’re surprised by a group, as we have been in this case, we tend to overreact.” 
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria an “imminent threat.” Credit Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

These notes of caution from inside the government and from terrorism watchers come as the White House considers expanding military action against ISIS, including possibly striking across the border in Syria. 

American intelligence agencies are working on a thorough assessment of the group’s strength, and they believe that its ability to gain and hold territory could make it a long-term menace in the Middle East. Intelligence officials said there were indications that ISIS’ battlefield successes had attracted defectors from Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa, who are eager to join a group with momentum. 

But experts say ISIS differs from traditional terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and its affiliates, primarily because it prefers enlarging what it calls its caliphate over discrete acts of terrorism. It has captured dams and oil fields, and has seized spoils of war like armored personnel carriers and tanks. 

Bin Laden’s goal was also to create an Islamic caliphate, but he often said that it was years away and could be achieved only under the proper conditions. ISIS, on the other hand, has renamed itself “Islamic State” and declared that the caliphate has arrived. 

“This is a full-blown insurgent group, and talking about it as a terrorist group is not particularly helpful,” said William McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

Iran Sends Tanks Into Iraq to Fight Islamists M-60s could devastate militants’ trucks

As American jets flew top cover, in mid-August Kurdish Peshmerga militia and Iraqi special forces troops recaptured the strategic Mosul Dam from Islamic State militants. Meanwhile Iraqi Golden Brigade commandos liberated parts of Tikrit from the Islamists.

But the militants counterattacked—and that drew Iran into the fighting. In a move that could have far-reaching consequences, Tehran has sent tanks into northern Iraq.

As the Kurds and Iraqi commandos gained ground in the north, Islamic State fighters launched a surprise counterattack toward Baghdad. Local fighters resisted the militants north of Balad air base, formerly the center of the American occupational force.

On Aug. 12, Islamic State also recaptured Jalawla, just 20 miles from the Iranian border. In its initial rampage through northwestern Iraq in June, the militants had taken Jalawla for the first time—and even had struck a nearby Iranian border post. The Kurds quickly took back the town and held it until the Islamists’ mid-August counterattack.

Now the Peshmerga have launched yet another effort to liberate Jalawla. And this time the Iranians are helping them. On Aug. 21, Kurdish social media activists published pictures that appear to depict elements of the Iranian 81st Armored Division entering southern Kurdistan via Khaneghein, north of Jalawla.

This photo reportedly depicts an 81st Division M-60A1 in Khaneghein. Via social media

The 81st is a battle-hardened division that fought hard during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. And before that, it had fought Kurdish insurgents in Iran’s restive northern provinces. Today the 81st Division is fighting alongsidethe Kurds.

After the Iran-Iraq War, the division reorganized and re-armed. As other units gained Russian T-72 tanks, the 81st gathered up all the leftover, American-made M-60s, M-48s and M-47s. More recently, the 81st broke into three largely independent brigades—the 181st and 281st Armored Brigades plus a mechanized brigade.

The units the activists spotted in Kurdistan most likely are elements of the 181st, as it’s responsible for defending the Sar-e-Pole Zahab border town near Khaneghein. Previously, there had been a build-up of armored units on the Iranian side of the border.

Could Social Media Blow Special Operations Like the Failed Foley Rescue?


Journalists didn’t report on the mission to save James Foley and more ISIS hostages, but Syrian social media did—in July. Is it just a matter of time before an operation is compromised? 

It’s getting harder to do anything these days without someone tweeting out the details. More than a month before the unsuccessful top-secret mission to rescue American hostages held by ISIS was revealed by the White House, the operation appears to have leaked on Syrian social media accounts. 

Going back at least to the raid on Osama bin Laden, which was live tweeted at the time by a curious neighbor, social media users have been publicizing details of top secret U.S. military operations. So far, there’s no evidence of a mission being compromised by social media, but the possibility exists. And though the military has developed techniques to monitor and counter cellphones during active operations, it’s not clear what strategy exists to deal with the newer communications technologies. 

In the case of the bin Laden raid, the tweeter knew only that something involving helicopters and explosions was happening in his suburban Pakistani neighborhood, not that it had anything to do with the al Qaeda leader or a U.S. special operations mission. But those tweets drew early attention to a highly classified mission and revealed details, including a timeline of events, that may never otherwise have gone public. 

Something similar may have happened in early July, when accounts of the secret military operation to free hostages in Syria began spreading on social media. Those early reports describe an American-led raid on an ISIS compound in Syria. They can’t conclusively be said to refer to the U.S. mission, but the description seems to broadly match, and they surfaced months before the government acknowledged that any such mission had taken place. 

The covert mission to rescue James Foley, a photojournalist reporting on the war in Syria who was captured in November 2012 and imprisoned along with other hostages, had failed, and Foley’s ISIS captors killed him this week and released a video of his execution. But the U.S. government managed to keep the existence of the rescue mission a secret—at least from the American public. Some members of the Western press, tipped off by Syrian witnesses or military sources, may have known about it before the White House made it public the day after the video’s release, but they chose not to report on the story given the sensitivity of the situation. 

Inside Syria, however, there was no blackout on reporting the mission. 

US Hitting ISIS Forces in Iraq, But Studiously Ignoring More Dangerous ISIS Forces In Syria

Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay
Obama’s approach in confronting Islamic State overlooks Syria
August 22, 2014

WASHINGTON — Despite two weeks of U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, the Islamic State retains its bloody grip on roughly half of the country and is rolling up new conquests in Syria, piling pressure on President Barack Obama to develop a comprehensive, cross-border strategy to crush the group.

The lack of such a response to the Islamic State’s use of Syria as a springboard for attacking Iraq is the most glaring omission of Obama’s approach to the current crisis. Hitting the group in Syria carries huge risks, not the least being aiding the Assad regime in its war with the Islamic State and other insurgents. Yet not quickly eradicating what senior U.S. officials concede is a terrorist threat without precedent means the danger to international security likely will metastasize.

“There is no policy,” said a senior U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The absence of a comprehensive approach that includes Syria reflects the White House’s desire to extricate the United States from 14 years of foreign wars. It also underscores the administration’s tardy response to numerous U.S. intelligence warnings about the Islamic State, dismissed by Obama as recently as January as a “J.V. team.”

Yet Obama’s top military advisers implicitly acknowledged this week that trying to hold the line against the Islamic State in Iraq won’t work, and that only by eliminating the group’s Syrian strongholds can it be eliminated.

“They can be contained, not in perpetuity,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no.”

Following the gruesome slaying by the Islamic State of American journalist James Foley, the White House opened the door to targeted airstrikes _ possibly using missile-firing drones _ against the group in Syria.

“We’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with that threat, and we’re not going to be restricted by borders,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday.

At the same time, Rhodes said, the Pentagon hasn’t given Obama “specific military options.”

For now, the administration’s military plans don’t go beyond giving air support and advice to Iraq’s problem-plagued army and the militia of the autonomous Kurdish region as they fight to blunt the offensive that has swept the al Qaida spinoff from the northern city of Mosul to the suburbs of Baghdad.

Instead, Obama appears to be gambling that Iraq’s incoming prime minister, Haider al Abadi, can rebuild the mostly defunct Iraqi military, reconcile with the aggrieved Sunni Muslim and Kurdish minorities, and convince Sunni tribal leaders to drive the Islamic State from their territories.

FBI Says No Credible Evidence That ISIS Poses a Terror Threat to the US Homeland… Yet

Islamic State backers under scrutiny in US
Associated Press
August 22, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Officially, the FBI agents who swarmed Donald Ray Morgan at Kennedy Airport this month were there to arrest him on a mundane gun charge. But they whisked him away to their Manhattan office and grilled him for two hours on an entirely different topic: Islamic State extremists.

Over and over, they asked Morgan, a 44-year-old North Carolina man, converted Muslim and author of pro-extremist tweets, whether he had traveled to Syria to support the militant group. More important, they wanted know whether he could identify any fighters with U.S. ties who had left the region to return to America.

The questioning, recounted in a recent court hearing, offered a glimpse into U.S. law enforcement’s intensifying efforts to identify Islamic State sympathizers who could help export the group’s brand of violent jihad to the United States.

They come amid a new barrage of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State group that beheaded American journalist James Foley. The group called Foley’s killing revenge for previous strikes against militants in Iraq.

Federal and New York Police Department officials have estimated that at least 100 Americans could be fighting with the Sunni extremists who have seized territory in northern and western Iraq. In April, a Colorado woman and convert to Islam was arrested before she could travel to Syria to marry a fighter she had met online. More recently, a Texas man who was arrested trying to board a flight to Turkey pleaded guilty to terror charges alleging he wanted to join the group.

In a Pentagon news conference, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called the Islamic State an “immediate threat,” in part because of the number of Europeans and other foreigners who have traveled to the region to join the group.

"And those folks can go home at some point," he said.

An FBI and Homeland Security Department intelligence bulletin issued Friday said there were no credible or specific threats from the Islamic State against the U.S. homeland. However, it cautioned that “violent extremists who support (the group) have demonstrated the capability to attempt attacks on U.S. targets overseas with little-to-no warning.”

NYPD counterterrorism officials, long wary of another al-Qaida strike since the Sept. 11 attacks, have increasingly turned their attention to the Islamic State threat and efforts to recruit supporters through social media.

The group used hashtags like #BewareAmerica and #CalamityWillBefallUS to make threats against the United States, NYPD analyst Rebecca Weiner said at a recent briefing for private security officials.

"What we’ve seen in these hashtag campaigns is a lot of pictures of U.S. cities, including New York," she said.

Weiner cited the arrest this year of a Frenchman — radicalized after spending a year in Syria — in a fatal shooting of three people at the Brussels Jewish Museum. An AK-47 found in his possession was wrapped in a flag with inscriptions from the Islamic State — giving more cause for concern about “about returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria,” she said.

Morgan, who once worked as a reserve police officer in North Carolina, spent eight months before his arrest in Lebanon, where his wife lives. He caught the attention of federal authorities in July with his Twitter rants under the name “Abu Omar al Amreeki.” In one, he pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi. Another asked Allah for martyrdom.

Others read, “To the brothers inside Syria and Iraq, be humble and grateful. Many of us are trying to come. Some are arrested and others are delayed,” and “Honestly, can we not kill one piece of crap Zionist?”

Surprise: American Firepower Doesn’t Make Countries More Peaceful

An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter loads a gun on the front line in Khazer, near the Kurdish checkpoint of Aski kalak, 40 km West of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on August 14, 2014.

In addition to airstrikes against ISIS militants in Iraq, the U.S. has also ramped up its already substantial assistance to Iraq’s military. This effort has only accelerated since the removal of controversial Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to theWall Street Journal, this aid will come in the form of thousands of hellfire missiles and, if Congress agrees, new F-16s and Apache attack helicopters.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer atSlate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

U.S. military assistance to allied governments is a common way of restoring stability in fragile states suffering from internal violence. But its track record isn’t great.

A recent paper from economists Oeindrila Dube of NYU and Suresh Naidu of Columbia takes a look at the effectiveness in a very different context: the decades-old insurgency in Colombia.

Colombia is a good testing ground for this question, having received more than $5 billion in U.S. military aid since 1988 with the aim of stamping out the drug trade and pacifying the insurgency led by left-wing guerilla groups. American aid and weaponry was also distributed unevenly among local bases throughout the country, making it possible to assess the impact of varying amounts of assistance.

American aid was only supposed to end up in the hands of the Colombian military, but that’s not how things worked out. While not allied with the government and formally banned, right-wing paramilitary groups, frequently accused of human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, often received “informal assistance from military and police officers through unofficial channels” as the officers put it.

The authors found that in the areas they studied, a 1 percent increase in U.S. aid increases the frequency of paramilitary attacks by about 1.5 percent above the mean. On the other hand, it had no measurable effect on attacks by the guerillas or homicides. In other words, the aid seemed to increase the amount of violence perpetrated by pro-government armed groups without decreasing the amount committed by anti-government fighters.

Obama Drafted to Fight Bush's War


Let’s remember who got us into this mess in Iraq, despite plenty of warnings—from Republicans, even—that this is where it would all lead us. Blame Bush? In this case, absolutely. 

A picture is coming into focus now, is it not? As I write the United States has launched more than 80 air strikes against the Islamic State. As the strikes have already expanded—and in my view properly so—beyond the original goals of saving the Yazidis and protecting American people and property in Erbil, there’s no clear telling of where and when they will end. 

So let me run this depressing thought by you: They have every chance of ending with Barack Obama, and undoubtedly his successor as well, having to prosecute the war that George W. Bush and his geniuses made inevitable with their lies and errors and perversions of law and criminally irresponsible fantasies about this Iraq that they promised us would reveal itself before our eyes as painlessly and quickly and even beautifully as a rose coming to bloom in time-lapse photography. 

Conservative readers are already tweeting: Here we go, blame Bush again. Well, in a word, yes. I’m afraid these dots are preposterously easy to connect. But first, we have a date with the wayback machine. 

I have been looking back over a few predictions about the Iraq War from back in 2002 and 2003. Recall Dick Cheney: “Weeks rather than months.” Also “we will be greeted as liberators.” Paul Wolfowitz: “There's a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” Wolfowitz again, since he was to my mind the most Satanic of the bunch: “It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.” 

Well, you know the rest. I could fill a book with these little memories. I could also fill another book—but a slenderer one, since so many of our “leading intellectuals” and so much of our foreign-policy establishment types noted the prevailing winds and hyped themselves into a pro-war frenzy—with grim predictions. But I’ll limit myself to two.

Ukrainian Air Force Has Lost 18 Combat Aircraft in Fighting With Rebels Since April 2014

Mark Rachkevych
Kyiv Post
August 22, 2014
Eighteen military aircraft worth $250 million lost in war zone
A Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum jet.

Ukraine’s military has lost 18 aircraft since April 7 as part of the government’s efforts to rid eastern Ukraine of Kremlin-backed insurgents and Russian mercenaries, resulting in 89 deaths, and causing at least $250 million in damages, a statistical analysis by UNIAN news agency states. 

Sixteen of the aircraft were shot down, while a Su-25 bomber jet crash landed in Dnipropetrovsk, and a Mi-8 helicopter crashed in Kharkiv Oblast for unexplained reasons.

According to UNIAN, a total of 10 helicopters were lost: five Mi-8s and five Mi-24s.

Eight planes perished: one An-30B, one An-26, one Il-76, one Su-24M, two MiG-29s, and two Su-25s.

The worst death toll took place on June 14 when 49 people died aboard an Il-76 transport plane. An additional 26 people died aboard five Mi-8 helicopters. Eleven servicemen were also wounded aboard aircraft and two remain missing in action.

Financially, Ukraine lost $75 million from five lost Mi-24 helicopters, according UNIAN’s calculations. An additional $60 million worth of damage was sustained over the two downed MiG-29 jets.

According to the Defense Ministry, two Su-25 jets were shot down while returning from completed missions.

The latest aircraft to get shot down was a Mi-24 helicopter on Aug. 20 over Luhansk Oblast. All the crew members died, stated National Security and Defense Council spokesperson Andriy Lysenko without specifying how many. Then on Aug. 17, pro-Russia separatists shot down the second MiG-29 Fulcrum in eastern Ukraine. The first was shot down on Aug. 7. Both were assigned to the 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade.

The majority of aircraft were downed using shoulder-fired rocket launchers and anti-aircraft installations, according to various government agencies. The National Security and Defense Council has also accused Russia of shooting down aircraft from inside its territory with aircraft and radar-guided surface-to-air missile systems. Kremlin-backed insurgents are suspected of having used a “Buk” surface-to-air missile supplied from Russia to shoot down a Malaysian airliner in Donetsk Oblast on July 17 killing all 298 people on board, including 80 children.

Russia has vehemently denied any involvement in the eastern Ukrainian military conflict, including the downing of the commercial airliner.

Loophole Allows NSA to Collect Communications of Americans From Abroad

Marcy Wheeler
August 22, 2014
“Checks and balances” thrown in the garbage: A new out-of-control spying loophole

It has been a month since former State Department section chief for Internet freedom John Napier Tye wrote a Washington Post Op-Ed warning about Executive Order 12333 — the order the executive branch uses to self-authorize spying overseas. “The order as used today,” Tye wrote, “threatens our democracy.” Since that time, his concerns have generated enough attention — in part because of his testimony to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and a New York Times article on the order — that the Director of National Intelligence Civil Liberties Officer Alexander Joel has seen fit to try to rebut Tye’s claims.

In a column at Politico, Joel engages in some of the same old misleading jargon the intelligence community has used for 14 months, emphasizing that the NSA won’t “target” an American without the assertion he has some tie to a foreign power. To his credit, Joel – unlike some others who have adopted this argument – admits that U.S. communications get picked up in the process of targeting others (though he implies those are communications about Americans, not by them).

Then Joel makes a boast that President Obama has implemented reforms to rein in EO 12333, which actually reveals the real problem with this claim. He points to Presidential Policy Directive 28, which Obama issued in January in response to Edward Snowden’s leaks. Joel applauds the limits Obama placed on bulk collection in the PPD.

What that PPD actually permits, however, is the collection of communications in bulk — that is, the collection of all communications from a cable or switch – “temporarily … to facilitate targeted collection,” and more permanently, in search of espionage, terrorism, weapons proliferation, cybersecurity threats, threats to U.S. or allied armed forces or personnel, and transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions violations. In fact, the limits on “bulk” collection are so expansive, PPD 28 would be better understood as an admission that Joel’s reassurances about “targeting” are pretty meaningless, because so much collection happens in bulk.

Moreover, Joel doesn’t address a key point Tye made in his PCLOB testimony. “Because of the structure of the global Internet,” Tye explained, “a very large portion of Americans’ communications are available for collection outside of our borders.” To illustrate this, Tye described how an email sent two blocks from where he was speaking to the White House would be available for foreign collection on servers overseas. “Let’s say hypothetically I was using Gmail, or Yahoo, or another big email provider, and sitting right here I sent an email to the President at that White House just two blocks away,” Tye imagined. “It’s almost certain that that email would be stored on servers around the world.”

Why you might want to ditch your e-reader and go back to printed books

August 21 

If you’re one of those Luddites who still clings, technophobically, to the printed page, then a team of European researchers has some good news for you: 

You have again been vindicated. 

This latest study on the differences between e-readers and printed books — which was presented at an Italian conference last month and reported this week in Britain’s Guardian newspapaer — asked 50 people to read a short story and take a comprehension test afterwards. Half the readers got the story on a Kindle; the other half got paperbacks; everybody got the same story. But when it came to the test, results diverged: The Kindle readers, it turned out, were far worse at remembering the story’s plot than were the print readers. 

To be clear, this isn’t reason to chuck your Kindle (or Nook or iPad) forever. After all, the study only included 50 participants — and of the 50, only two were experienced Kindle-users. But regardless of those methodological quibbles, the results add to a growing pile of evidence on how new technology affects the way we read. 

The short answer, for you distracted digital souls: It’s not good. 

NATO Sources Reveal That Russian Army Artillery Units and Support Personnel Now Operating Inside the Eastern Ukraine

Michael R. Gordon 
New York Times 
August 22, 2014 
Russia Moves Artillery Units Into Ukraine, NATO Says 

WASHINGTON — The Russian military has moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory in recent days and is using them to fire at Ukrainian forces, NATO officials said on Friday. 

The West has long accused Russia of supporting the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, but this is the first time it has said it had evidence of the direct involvement of the Russian military. 

The Russian move represents a significant escalation of the Kremlin’s involvement in the fighting there and comes as a convoy of Russian trucks with humanitarian provisions has crossed into Ukrainian territory without Kiev’s permission. 

Since mid-August NATO has received multiple reports of the direct involvement of Russian forces, “including Russian airborne, air defense and special operations forces in Eastern Ukraine,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO. 

“Russian artillery support — both cross-border and from within Ukraine — is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces,” she added. 

NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, criticized the Russian moves in a statement issued in Brussels on Friday. 

“I condemn the entry of a Russian so-called humanitarian convoy into Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian authorities and without any involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Mr. Rasmussen’s statement said. 

“These developments are even more worrying as they coincide with a major escalation in Russian military involvement in Eastern Ukraine since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces,” the statement continued, adding: “We have also seen transfers of large quantities of advanced weapons, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery to separatist groups in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, NATO is observing an alarming buildup of Russian ground and air forces in the vicinity of Ukraine.” 

Fighting continued as a Russian humanitarian convoy advanced toward Ukraine, the latest update to the current visual survey of the continuing dispute, with maps and satellite imagery showing rebel and military movement. 

3 Political Lessons from theMahabharat

August 23, 2014

An ancient epic’s lessons for India ring true today. 

This past weekend, the Indian television show theMahabharat finished airing. The show, which began airing in 2013, was a version of the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and was widely successful, garnering millions of viewers daily. Its success followed that of another televised version of the epic that ran from 1988 to 1989.

The Sanskrit epic itself is the world’s longest epic poem, at 100,000 couplets or 1.8 million words. It is ten times the combined length of the Iliad and Odyssey and three times the length of the Bible. Structurally, the Mahabharata is a compendium of ancient Indian mythology, history, political theory, and philosophy, and has sometimes been described as an ancient encyclopedia of Indian knowledge. The holy Hindu scripture, theBhagavad Gita, which is considered a summary of the vast Hindu religious and philosophical literature, is also contained within the Mahabharata. Historians believe that the epic is based on certain core events that occurred in 10th to 8th century BCE India, which then grew over time to become the epic, while on the other hand traditionalist Hindus believe it to be a true reflection of historical events. In any case, the Mahabharata is considered the most representative work of the diversity of Indian and Hindu thought in existence.

However, despite its encyclopedic nature, there is an underlying plot and storyline throughout the entire epic that holds it together. Philosophical and political works are scattered throughout the epic as dialogues between characters, most of who are involved in political and military situations. At the risk of oversimplifying an incredibly complex epic, the Mahabharata is similar to an ancient Indian Game of Thrones, with numerous factions competing for political power in a variety of states. The main story of the work is a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura (located between modern Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh), the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. Two branches of cousins of the Kuru family struggle for the throne: the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Although the father of the Kauravas is the elder brother of the father of the Pandavas, he is initially disqualified from ruling in favor of his younger brother due to being blind. His eldest son, Duryodhana, claims to be the rightful heir to the Kuru throne on the basis of being the eldest son of the eldest son even though the eldest Pandava, Yudhisthira, is older and is considered the legitimate heir apparent. Eventually, the struggle between the Kauravas and Pandavas culminates in the great battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas are ultimately victorious. Throughout the epic, it is implied that the Pandavas are in the right because they followdharma (righteousness).

It is fortunate that the show, the Mahabharat was so well received because it serves as a reminder to Indians and the rest of the world that the Indian tradition contains more than just the idealism and non-violence typified by figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. It contains advice that is similar to the wisdom and realpolitik of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli – practical strategies that serve the ultimate goal of political and military triumph. The two main figures in the Mahabharat, who expound on these strategies are Shakuni, the maternal uncle of the Kauravas, and Krishna, the maternal cousin of the Pandavas, who is considered the avatar of a Hindu god in Hinduism. Together, these two characters expound on a variety of political strategies that could be of practical political relevance today. This is especially important, since it gives Indians a realistic way of looking at the world that is rooted in their civilization.

Here are some important political takeaways from the show and epic:

There’s no point in occupying the high moral ground if you lose in the process

'Made in China' Now Being Made in Africa


The cost of labor in China is going up, so Chinese manufacturers are moving to Africa, and they’re playing all the angles. 

HONG KONG — Sun Qiaoming is a trader from Jiangsu. He operates his import-export business on the Eastern coast of China, where there is plenty of space for a man with his drive and skills to prosper. Already fairly successful, he recently set his sights beyond his country’s borders. “There’s been much talk about the Chinese Dream in the past few years, but I have an African Dream.” he said. “African gold will fill my next bucket of gold.” 

He wasn’t referring to the natural resources that President Obama recently hinted as the reason for China’s presence on the African continent. After all, Sun is a private entrepreneur, and receives no direct support from the government in his business endeavors. His “gold” is the labor in Africa—cheap, trainable, abundant, and ready to work. They may not have the decades of know-how that the Chinese developed during their meteoric rise in global production, but Sun is confident that with time and proper training, they will be able to match the efficiency and productivity of workers in China. 

With rising labor and energy costs, as well as tightening environmental restrictions, it is becoming increasing difficult for Chinese industrialists to churn out cheap goods at a massive scale in their own country. Even as fresh university graduates suffer a high unemployment rate, few want to take jobs on factory floors. “The post-90s generation wants office jobs, not blue collar work,” Sun explains. “It’s understandable. Life is much easier now. Factory work is stable but I want my children to have other options.” 

The result is an exodus of Chinese manufacturing to places where labor is cheaper and financial incentives like capital subsidies are offered to foreign-owned factories. 

But vibrant industry requires solid infrastructure, which is where the Chinese government enters the equation. Last year, over 214,000 workers were posted in Africa to build highways, bridges, dams, and power plants. That’s about a quarter of all Chinese workers who are sent abroad to work for state-owned enterprises. 

“As much as I want to work there,” says a Chinese entrepreneur, “I can’t look for a wife—marrying an African is marrying down—so I will need to do that here.” 

For decades, the Chinese government has had a foothold on the African continent. During the Mao era, the Chinese government funded and executed massive infrastructure projects like a railway connecting Tanzania and Zambia, reaping benefits on multiple levels. Not only does China have access to the wealth of natural resources in a multitude of African countries, the support from those nations was necessary for the People’s Republic of China to gain membership to the United Nations, opening up a plethora of opportunities in international diplomacy and trade. 


By Rajni Bakshi

Ongoing protests against the government in Pakistan bring to the fore a question that dogs democracies across the world.

Should civil disobedience, a method which was crafted on the Indian subcontinent to militate against colonial regimes, be used to oppose democratically elected home-grown governments?

If yes, then what are the parameters of civil disobedience in a democracy? Is civil disobedience always creative and progressive, or can it be used as a tool by forces that could undermine equality and due process?

If, on the other hand, civil disobedience is deemed to be inappropriate as a tool in critiquing or opposing elected governments, then what is the future of dissent?

Political turmoil in Pakistan triggered by the “Azadi March” (Freedom March), provides an interesting context in which to address these questions.

Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (PTI), and Canada-based cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, chairman of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) have brought together tens of thousands of protesters to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Both camps are agitating against the poor shape of the economy, rampant corruption, growing militancy, and failure to deliver core services such as a steady electricity supply.

On the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, on August 14, Khan gave Sharif’s government an ultimatum to resign within 48 hours, failing which he would declare civil disobedience which would take the form of people not paying taxes, electricity or gas bills.

In the general election last year, Sharif’s party Pakistan Muslim League (M) won 190 of the 342 seats, while Khan’s party got 34 seats. Khan alleges that the election was rigged.

Commentators in the Pakistani media have criticised both Khan and Qadri for taking a populist approach that could jeopardise Pakistan’s hard-won democracy. As one commentator noted, the Nawaz Sharif government may not have quickened the pulse of the public with any displays of strong governance, but that is not sufficient reason to dislodge an elected government, and weaken the country’s already fragile constitutional process.

A painful dilemma underlies these tussles. There is no doubt that mass protest is an important tool of a democratic society. However, there is also a danger that if a large enough group ‘occupies’ public spaces until a government resigns, it can undermine the very basis of electoral politics. This danger is further heightened if the groups leading the protests are themselves partisan-players with a political stake – rather than a broad mobilisation of citizens fighting for some fundamental ideals.

The test of civil disobedience within a democracy is whether it broadens and deepens spaces for negotiation, participation and eventually cooperation across ideological divides.