14 March 2015

South Asia's Hinge Moment

March 13, 2015

Don't look now, but South Asia is getting its act together.

Nightmares of despair and disaster are an occupational hazard for those who follow developments in South Asia. But for once, the news from the region is not uniformly grim. Washington should take note.

National elections throughout the region have produced victors who, compared to their predecessors, appear to be agents of change. Elections last year in India and Afghanistan fit this pattern. But the starkest example is also the most recent: Sri Lankan voters, in an outcome anticipated by almost no one, summarily dispatched an autocratic ruler who had appeared entrenched for the long run this January. 

The encouraging signs go beyond elections. By some measures, India has surpassed China to boast the fastest growing economy in the world. The new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has taken a meat cleaver to bureaucracy and venality. In Pakistan, the army’s offensive against extremists in North Waziristan has proved far more sustained than most observers had expected. The December 16 massacre of 150 people in Peshawar, most of them young schoolchildren, seems to have reinforced Pakistan’s commitment to combating terrorist violence.

Internationally, the region is experiencing a remarkable degree of change. The Modi government has demonstrated vitality and a capacity for surprise—Modi’s invitation to Pakistan’s prime minister to attend his inauguration, for instance. India-Pakistan relations remain glacial, but India’s top diplomat visited Pakistan last week. An early sign of thawing relations between the two states would be progress on long-stalled plans for cross-border trade liberalization.

Narendra Modi's Grand Plan for Kashmir

By Jhinuk Chowdhury
March 12, 2015

Contrary to former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s approach, Modi has his own plans for Kashmir. 

Months after calling off scheduled bilateral talks following a Pakistani representative’s talks with India-based Kashmiri separatists, diplomatic interactions between New Delhi and Islamabad resumed with Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s trip across the border to meet his counterpart, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry. Jaishankar’s trip comes as part of a broader push for increased diplomatic interactions with countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The circumstances under which the talks were called off and their subsequent resumption raises a key question about the Kashmir issue and the role it continues to play in India-Pakistan bilateral relations: to what extent should separatist factions play a role in this relationship?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi clearly has been trying to align New Delhi more closely with all Indian regions bordering Pakistan, notably Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. That area has received special attention from Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, with frequent visits, political rallies, and, ultimately, the formation of a coalition government in the state along with the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

However, the BJP has a longer history in the region. During BJP’s previous term in power, former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Kashmir policy was hailed as an effective approach toward dealing with the problems of the region.

Vajpayee approached the Kashmir issue from multiple dimensions, seeking to engage both Pakistan as well as with Kashmiri separatists simultaneously. His approach was guided by the three principles of Insaaniyat (humanism), Jamhooriyat (democracy), and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s age-old legacy of amity).

Can Modi follow in the footprints of his BJP predecessor?

India Objects to Their Diplomats Based in Pakistan Being Tailed 24/7 by Pakistani Spies

March 12, 2015

Indian diplomatic staff in Pakistan ‘tailed’ by intelligence agencies: Sushma Swaraj

Indian High Commission staff in Pakistan are being subjected to “intrusive surveillance” and “tailing” by intelligence personnel of that country, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said today.

“The matter has been taken up strongly with the Government of Pakistan at various levels,” she told the Lok Sabha during Question Hour.

“Members of the High Commission of India have been subjected to intrusive surveillance, including tailing by the intelligence and security personnel of the Pakistan government,” the Minister said.

Replying to a question on “ill treatment of Indian diplomats”, she referred to several incidents in Pakistan and other countries in the past few years and said after the issues were raised with the respective governments, such actions have not been repeated in these countries “except Pakistan”.

She also said the government was making all efforts to ensure that the United States drops all charges against IFS officer Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest in New York two years ago had led to a diplomatic standoff between the two nations.

“India and the US have initiated an official dialogue to comprehensively address all aspects related to the case against hobragade and all issues arising from differing perspectives on diplomatic privileges and immunities.

“Our government is making all attempts so that all charges levelled against her are dropped,” Swaraj said, adding

that the US government has expressed regret over the incident. The former Indian diplomat, then serving in the US, was

arrested in New York on December 12, 2013 on charges of “visa fraud” and “false statement” and released on bail the same

Does Pakistan Have a Sea-Based Second-Strike Capability?

March 13, 2015

The Daphne class submarine Ghazi (S-134) decommissioned in 2006.

Much about Islamabad’s sea-based nuclear deterrent remains a mystery, including its future submarine force. 

Back in 2012, Pakistan announced the creation of a Naval Strategic Force Command and hinted that the country now possessed a sea-based second nuclear strike capability.

Today, almost three years later, Pakistan’s alleged maritime deterrent continues to puzzle analysts. The overall consensus of opinion is that the country has not acquired a sea-based second nuclear strike capability just yet. Another thing that most experts agree is that the delivery vehicle of an ocean-launched Pakistani nuclear warhead would be a submarine-launched variant of the Hatf-7 (Babur) cruise missile.

According to a 2013 policy brief on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Pakistan already indicated in 2005, when the missile was first tested, that the system was designed to deploy in submarines. The Hatf-7 is a medium-range subsonic cruise missile with a reported range of 700km (430mi).

Yet, the Washington Post notes, that Western experts, “are divided over whether Pakistan has the ability to shrink warheads enough for use with tactical or sea-launched weapons.” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear and nonproliferation scholar is a skeptical: “They may have done so, but I can’t imagine it’s very reliable,” he states.

Shireen M. Mazari, a nuclear expert and the former director of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a Pakistani-government-funded think tank, acknowledged that the 2012 announcement may have been too premature: ”We are on our way, and my own hunch is within a year or so, we should be developing our second-strike capability,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post in September 2014.

One expert notes that in order to achieve a sea-based second-strike capability, “Pakistan will require a significant expansion of its submarine fleet [surface vessels would be too easy to detect], which will impose an enormous burden on the struggling Pakistan economy.” In 2013, the Pakistani government had to agree to a $ 6.6 million IMF bailout with various strings attached to what the country is allowed to spend money on.

When Will the Afghan Air Force Be Ready to Fight the Taliban?

March 12, 2015

Afghan Air Force newly graduated pilots at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan.

It will take another year for Afghan ground forces to be able to call in indigenous close air support on a grand scale. 

The Afghan National Security Forces will be without its own fixed-wing close air support this fighting season, according to the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, who testified last week in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on the current situation in Afghanistan.

Gen. Campbell noted that the first out of 20 Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucanos, aka A-29s, will be delivered by the end of 2015. The Brazilian-made A-29 Super Tucano is a turboprop aircraft specifically designed for counter-insurgency operations and can be equipped with a wide array of bombs (including precision guided munitions) and machine guns. One hour of flying time usually only costs $1,000, a big cost advantage for the cash-strapped Afghan Air Force.

The United States Air Force, responsible for the training of Afghan pilots, allocated $427 million for the A-29 Super Tucano planes. Only a handful of aircraft will arrive in 2016, with the majority being delivered in 2017 and 2018, according to Campbell. “In hindsight, I wish we would’ve started that years ago,” he said, yet “we are where we are.” “Quite frankly, we can’t get it out there quick enough for them,” he stated when talking about the controversial aircraft procurement process.

Afghan forces will still have some indigenous close air support during this year’s battle with insurgent forces. “We’re working MD530s, which is a ‘Little Bird’ that has two .50-caliber machine guns on the sides,” Campbelltold the Armed Services Committee. The ANSF are also using Mi-24/35 attack helicopters but they are rarely operational.

In his testimony Gen. Campbell emphasized that aviation is one of the most critical capability gaps of the Afghan National Security Forces during this year’s fighting season, set to begin in a few weeks. During the hearing Campbell noted the overreliance of Afghan forces on U.S. close air support.

The most often heard request from Afghan commanders is “I need close air support, I need close air support,” he noted, according to military.com.

Why Saudi Arabia Needs Pakistan

March 12, 2015

Pakistan may be Saudi Arabia’s best bet for a strong long-term security guarantee. 

As the likelihood of a rapprochement between Iran and the West grows, Saudi Arabia is quietly shoring up its relationship with Pakistan.

According to various reports in the Pakistani media, Saudi Arabia requested an infusion of Pakistani soldiers following Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Riyadh last week. Despite enormous defense spending, the Saudi military is unlikely to see sustained battle or gain combat experience anytime soon. As former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gatesquipped, the Saudis are only willing to “fight the Iranians to the last American.” In other words, the Saudis are notoriously unwilling, or unable perhaps, due to poor training and morale, to solely use their own forces to protect their country.

This is where Pakistan, with its relatively well-trained and professional military, comes in. Pakistan has long had a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and has been involved in protecting that country and the House of Saud. Pakistan has much friendlier relations with Iran than Saudi Arabia does, but ultimately it is more dependent on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, for example, gave oil to Pakistan in 1998 to help Pakistan weather international sanctions against it for conducting a nuclear test. The Saudis also saved Nawaz Sharif after he was overthrown in a coup in 1999, and he is thus beholden to them.

There are already Pakistani troops deployed in Saudi Arabia, though the number is said to be modest. These facts are generally kept quiet to avoid undue attention, but many scholars agree that there is definitely some sort of security commitment from Pakistan toward Saudi Arabia. After all, Pakistani soldiers have previously deployed in Saudi Arabia: in 1979, after the Iranian Revolution, and to help out during the Grand Mosque siegein Mecca. The security commitment may include a “nuclear dimension.”

It is clear that Saudi Arabia is getting increasingly jittery, but cannot go public about this to avoid the impression that it is siding with Israel or sowing dissension in the Islamic world. Counting on Pakistan is one way it can shore up its own security while keeping a low profile. Saudi economic and educational strategy certainly seems to be aimed at increasing its leverage in Pakistan. There is no doubt that Pakistan will assist Saudi Arabia on security issues that are relatively minor, like preventing a militant seizure of Mecca. But it remains to be seen if Pakistan will get involved in a bigger way, other than to guarantee the continued existence of the Saudi state. Pakistanis most definitely do not want to get caught up in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, especially when they have their own pressing regional and domestic issues to worry about.

Remembering CIA Officer Jacqueline K. Van Landingham, Killed by Terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan in March 1995

March 12, 2015

Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Jacqueline K. Van Landingham

This is part of our series about CIA employees who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Here we will look at the lives of the men and women who have died while serving their country.

Currently, there are 111 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall. The wall stands as a silent, simple memorial to those employees “who gave their lives in the service of their country.” The CIA has released the names of 83 employees; the names of the remaining 28 officers must remain secret, even in death.

On an early March morning in 1995, two terrorist gunmen attacked a van transporting US Government workers to their jobs at an American Consulate in South-East Asia. The most severely wounded passenger, Jacqueline K. Van Landingham, died shortly afterward at a local hospital.

Jackie’s smile, sense of humor, and unyielding devotion inspired not only her family, friends and colleagues, but also a new generations of officers who followed in her footsteps. She was one of the first African Americans at the CIA to lose her life in service to her country, and her memory will never be forgotten. Here is her story.

Early Years

Jackie grew up in Kershaw County in Camden, South Carolina. She graduated from Camden High School in 1979 and attended Virginia State University (VSU) in Petersburg, where she majored in food marketing and management. She graduated from VSU with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1984.

In college, Jackie worked part-time every semester—full-time during summer breaks—at the VSU bookstore. She handled a wide range of clerical and some managerial responsibilities, including cashiering, ordering merchandise, handling customer complaints, training new employees, and preparing employee payrolls. Jackie also played intramural softball—a sport she loved—and excelled at. Before graduating in 1984, she took advantage of a student internship opportunity and worked in an advertising and marketing agency in Richmond, Virginia.

Life at the CIA:

How Can the Chinese Reform Their Intelligence System When They Won’t Even Admit It Exists?

Yang Hengjun 
March 11, 2015 

Fixing China’s Intelligence System 

This text is a forward written to accompany a proposal for the National People’s Congress from a group of netizens. The original proposal read, “In order to face complex situations at home and abroad, China’s intelligence agency is badly in need reforms aimed at transparency and a supervision mechanism.” In this piece, I’ve swapped “intelligence agency” for “secret service” – not to make a sensational headline, but to make the authorities aware that, under the current situation, we cannot allow such as indispensable thing as an intelligence agency become a “secret service” hated by the people. 

In every organization within the Party, the government, and the military, there’s already a quiet prelude to adjustments and functional reforms. Recently, we also saw reforms aimed at the public security system. But one organization, so mysterious that it officially doesn’t even exist, often attracts my attention. Intelligence work is particularly important for China’s rise. Even after “reform and opening up” began (and let’s not mention the period between then and 1949), obvious gaps in intelligence or mistaken intelligence repeatedly caused the authorities to make wrong decisions. Because an intelligence agency wasn’t even allowed to officially exist, there was naturally no way for the public and even relevant government agencies to hold such an agency responsible – much less reform it. 

Most countries with a population exceeding 5 million worldwide have set up intelligence agencies. Even Hong Kong, before it was returned to Chinese control, had a “political department” responsible for collecting intelligence. These intelligence agencies secretly collect information relating to politics, economics, and military affairs at home and abroad; information that serves as the basis for leaders’ decisions. In various languages around the world, “intelligence agency” has become a neutral and often-heard term, not that different from the terms “tax bureau” or “foreign ministry.” But in China, a major country with a population of 1.3 billion, this organization seems to be a taboo topic, whether in official documents or in the mass media – it’s as if there’s no such organization at all. The authorities are pretending that they are above such affairs, that they don’t take part in the shady affairs of espionage work at all. But in reality, it gives people the impression of a cover-up, actually drawing attention to what the authorities intend to hide. The situation has also lead people to talk about the intelligence agency using openly derogatory terms like “secret service.” 

China-Japan-South Korea Relations Inching Forward

March 13, 2015

A trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting, the first in nearly three years, is scheduled for this March. 

Yesterday, China, Japan, and South Korea held discussions at the deputy foreign minister-level in Seoul, setting the stage for a full-fledged ministerial meeting later. The talks apparently went well — afterward, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed that a trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting is scheduled for “late March.” Japanese media gave a more exact date: March 20-21.

China, Japan, and South Korea used to hold regular trilateral discussions, including an annual summit between their top leaders. The trilateral platforms were effectively abandoned beginning in 2012, when China-Japan relations took a sharp nosedive after the Japanese government nationalized the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Trilateral discussions at the deputy-minister level resumed in September 2014, when Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin met in Seoul with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Lee Kyung-soo and Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama.

Those three gathered again in Seoul on Wednesday for the grandly named “10th Trilateral Senior Foreign Affairs Officials Consultation among China, Japan and the ROK.” The major purpose of the talk was to pave the way for a meeting among foreign ministers, the first since May 2012. “If the trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting is held soon, it will undoubtedly give us the opportunity to re-establish the groundwork for trust-building and common prosperity,” Deputy Foreign Minister Lee said after Wednesday’s talks.

According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, Vice Foreign Minister Liu said the upcoming ministerial meeting is “a hard-won result that should be cherished by all.” China “sets great store by this foreign ministers’ meeting,” Hong said, “and hopes that the three countries can hold this meeting in the spirit of actively pushing forward cooperation and not shying away from problems.”

However, Hong declined to comment on the possibility of a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Abe met briefly with both Xiand Park on the sidelines of last year’s APEC summit in Beijing, but has not had a formal bilateral summit with either.

China and Pakistan’s All-Weather Friendship

By Huma Sattar
March 12, 2015

Much to the befuddlement of the rest of the world – and as ironic as it is – Communist China and Islamic Pakistan are fast friends. It’s all hail to China in Pakistan and as other partnerships wither and die, these two countries continue to devote energy to strengthening their relationship. China has historically come to Pakistan’s rescue with economic, political, military and nuclear assistance and perhaps what was once a relationship founded on a mutual disillusionment with India has moved toward one with more aspirational intentions on both sides.

It would appear that Pakistan has been the greater beneficiary of this friendship – from military to economic assistance, China has stood by Pakistan, but is the friendship really that sustainable? Andrew Small from the German Marshall Fund certainly seems to think so. An Asia expert, Small recently published a book examining what he calls the unusual nature of the secretive relationship between China and Pakistan and argues that it is much more promising than Pakistan’s erratic ties with the U.S. And indeed, history supports this. On a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured Islamabad that China and Pakistan were in sync on all matters and have an “iron-clad” understanding between them, one that has taken years to hone and fortify.

Wang also announced at a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart that Chinese President Xi Jinping would be visiting Pakistan soon to discuss economic cooperation and support. Indeed, Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road initiative – in which the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a part – running from China across South and Central Asia, makes a strong case for Chinese involvement and interest in Pakistan. The CPEC involves a major overhaul of infrastructure, with rail, roads, pipelines and ports in a bid to ease the energy crisis and increase investment in Pakistan. This is in addition to the China-Pakistan agreement on fiber optic cable that would connect Pakistan’s capital with Chinese borders, along with a $6.5 billion commitment to build a new nuclear power plant in Karachi. In fact, economic opportunities for Pakistan look endless, but given the increasingly serious state of terrorism in Pakistan, some find Beijing’s confidence in its “all-weather” friend a tad perplexing.

In fact, China and Pakistan function in a partnership carefully conditioned on their usefulness for each other. Beijing is mindful that Pakistan can play a significant role in China’s quest to establish itself as a strategic global power. An economic corridor in Pakistan would not only allow it to connect with South and East Asia, it would also serve as an alternative transportation network for Chinese energy into the Western world. Pakistan is not the only one to benefit.

A little known but important example is the Pakistan China Free Trade Agreement signed in 2006. Trade between Pakistan and China rose quickly, and China had become Pakistan’s top source of imports by 2009. China’s relative importance in Pakistan’s global trade has only increased, with total bilateral trade growing eight-fold in the past decade, whereas Pakistan’s total trade with the world only tripled in this time period. However, trade patterns paint a troubling picture for Pakistan: While China utilized 57 percent of the tariff concessions offered by Pakistan, Pakistan’s use of Chinese reductions was just 5 percent. This trickled down to local industries complaining that cheaper Chinese products were hurting high-cost local products. A second-phase China-Pakistan FTA is being negotiated, with Pakistan hoping for larger coverage and more immediate concessions. What Pakistan does not realize, however, and perhaps what Chinese negotiators use to their advantage, is that it is not such much the number of concessions, but their target.

China's Plan to Dominate World Markets

March 13, 2015

China hopes SOE mergers can result in internationally-respected brands. 

China will consolidate state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into mammoth companies, all with the hopes of winning China more of the global market share in key sectors – and the international prestige that entails.

SOE reform is only one piece in Beijing’s larger attempt to create globally attractive Chinese brands. During his work report to the National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang introduced the “Made in China 2025” initiative. That’s only the first leg of a 30-year plan to transform China “from a big manufacturing power to a strong manufacturing power,” as China Daily explained. China may be the “world’s factory,” but its own domestic products and companies are not internationally competitive. The “Made in China 2025” plan aims to fix that, by focusing on “an innovation drive, intellectual property and green development.”

The initiative also called for “enterprises’ merger and reorganization” to promote competitiveness in global markets. That’s precisely what will happen to China’s SOEs, Reuters reports.

Beijing will pay particular attention to boosting China’s competitiveness in a number of key sectors, including railways and nuclear power plants, two areas where China is already actively promoting exports abroad. Those sectors will see the first round of consolidations, according to Reuters, beginning with previously announced mergers between China CNR Corp. Ltd. and China CSR Corp. Ltd (two locomotive manufacturers) and between China Power Investment Corp. and State Nuclear Power Technology Corp.

China also hopes to expand its competitiveness in other fields, including automobiles and aircraft (see, for example, the media push anticipating the first flight by China’s domestically-produced commercial jet, the COMAC C919). Shipbuilding is another field where China might pursue mergers to boost competitiveness.

A report in Beijing News (republished by People’s Daily) also referenced previous rumors that China will merge its two largest oil groups, Chinese National Petroleum Corp and Sinopec. China’s state-owned oil giants have recently come under heavy fire. They were fingered as a leading contributor to China’s air pollution by Chai Jing in her documentary Under the Dome (banned from Chinese websites after amassing 200 million views). Chinese state media have also warned repeatedly about a corrupt “petroleum clique” formed under ousted politician Zhou Yongkang during his time at CNPC. Merging CNPC and Sinopec might be a way to drastically shakeup current leadership, but Reuters sources believe this is unlikely.

U.S. Officials Say That ISIS Is Still Growing Despite Heavy Losses in Iraq and Syria

Helene Cooper, Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt
March 13, 2015

ISIS Still on the Attack, Despite Internal Strife and Heavy Losses

WASHINGTON — The Islamic State is facing growing dissension among its rank-and-file fighters and struggling to govern towns and villages it has seized, but the militant Sunni group is still managing to launch attacks and expand its ideological reach outside of Iraq and Syria, senior American officials said.

In the seven months since allied warplanes in the American-led air campaign began bombing select Islamic State targets, the Sunni militancy, while marginally weaker, is holding its own, senior defense and intelligence officials said.

Pentagon officials expressed only cautious optimism on Thursday after the Islamic State lost much of the central Iraqi city of Tikrit following more than a week of fierce fighting, warning that it would be as difficult for Iraqi forces to hold the city as it was to liberate it. And even as the militants had a last stand in Tikrit, Islamic State fighters were mounting one of the fiercest assaults in months in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad. 

But in recent months tensions have become apparent inside the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh. The troubles stem from new military and financial pressures and from the growing pains of a largely decentralized organization trying to hold together what it views as a nascent state while integrating thousands of foreign fighters with Iraqi and Syrian militants.

Swords of Justice: Charging ISIS with Crimes against Humanity

March 13, 2015

Since the Islamic State (IS) ’s unprecedented land grab in June 2014, in which it seized an expansive territory between Aleppo, Raqqa, Mosul, and Baghdad, thousands of Christians, Yazidis and Muslims have been mercilessly slaughtered in the most inhumane way. Survivors are either subjugated asdhimmi, or are internally displaced, lacking life’s bare essentials. A recent addition to the Islamic State’s catalogue of atrocities is their Libyan franchise’s recent snuff film, featuring the meticulously choreographed, ritualistic beheading of twenty-one Coptic Christian migrant workers, as a message to the ‘people of the cross.’

It has become plainly evident that Christians are being dragged toward extinction in the Middle East, and that the Islamic State is savagely hastening that trend. In the wake of World War II, following the Holocaust, the world community made its first collective declaration outlawing genocide. The Convention on the Prevention & Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) entered into force in 1951, and has since enabled the prosecution and conviction of former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda. It has become clear that the Islamist campaign to cleanse the Islamic world of its Christian population is nothing short of genocide, even by the strictest interpretation of the 1951 convention. The CPPCG defines genocide as the intent to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group by: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily/mental harm to members of the group; inflicting conditions to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Man Allegedly Connected to Canadian Spy Agency Helped 3 British Girls Reach ISIS in Syria From Turkey

March 12, 2015

British girls were helped into Syria by spy from U.S.-led coalition

(Reuters) - A spy who worked for a country in the U.S.-led coalition that is fighting Islamic State had helped three British girls to cross into Syria to join the militants and has been caught, the Turkish foreign minister said on Thursday. 

The minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told broadcaster A Haber in an interview: “He was caught. It turned out to be someone who works for the intelligence of a country from the coalition.”

He didn’t say which country the spy was working for, but said it was not the European Union or the United States. The coalition also includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, Australia and Canada.

A European security source familiar with the case of the three girls said the person in question had a connection with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency.

A Canadian government source in Ottawa said the person was not a Canadian citizen and was not employed by CSIS. The source did not respond when asked whether the person had been working for CSIS.

The spy agency did not respond to requests for comment. The office of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney - in overall charge of law enforcement - said it did not comment on operational matters.

A Turkish official who declined to be identified told Reuters the spy was now in custody.

"The person was working for the intelligence agency of a coalition country but is not a citizen of that country. The person was not a Turkish citizen either," he said.

Islamic State seized large swathes of land last June, including territory close to the Turkish border. The U.S.-led coalition is using mostly air power in an attempt to push the Sunni militant group back.

Battle for Tikrit Shows Iraqi Amy Still Cannot Stand On Its Own

March 11, 2015

Battle for Tikrit: Despite billions in aid, Iraqi army relies on militia, and Iran

The campaign to retake the city of Tikrit from ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, involves a curious mixture of Iraqi forces — the army and air force, federal police, powerful Shia militia as well as Sunni tribal fighters.

It’s a cast of about 30,000 fighters with an opaque command structure. And that makes it tough to be precise about numbers — but by several estimates only one-third of those fighters are from the regular army.

A CNN team that’s seen the offensive at close quarters noted that Iraqi army commanders appeared to be taking a subordinate role to leaders of the Shia militia, notably Hadi al Ameri, leader of the Badr Organization. Iranian military advisers are also on hand, and highly influential on the battlefield.

As ISIS fighters in the area probably number in the low thousands, it might seem odd that the Iraqi army is unable to take them on alone. After all, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) received $20 billion of U.S. money between 2005 and 2012— for equipment, bases and training.

So just why are the ISF incapable of reclaiming territory seized by ISIS? And how long will it be before they can stand on their own feet? The answers go back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; Iraq’s military is starting over — for the second or third time in a decade.

After Saddam, Iraqi army scrapped

ISIS' Shocking Assault on History

March 11, 2015
The terrible spectacle of Islamic State (ISIS) members destroying ancient Mesopotamian statuary in the Mosul Museum and at the Assyrian site of Nimrud has shocked the world, as intended. These actions were met with swift condemnation from the world’s scholars and cultural authorities, as well as its political authorities. To Western eyes, the perpetrators’ self-evident glee was especially bizarre. From childhood, we are taught to tread carefully in museums lest we damage artifacts. So what comes next for archeological treasures in the Middle East?

The problem is that in its accompanying statements, the Islamic State made it perfectly clear its motivations derived from Islam. A spokesman for the group, speaking at the scene of destruction, said:

“Oh Muslims, the remains that you see behind me are the idols of peoples of previous centuries, which were worshipped instead of Allah. The Assyrians, Akkadians, and others took for themselves gods of rain, of agriculture, and of war, and worshipped them along with Allah, and tried to appease them with all kinds of sacrifices. The Prophet Muhammad shattered the idols with his own honorable hands, when he conquered Mecca. The Prophet Muhammad commanded us to shatter and destroy statues. This is what his companions did later on, when they conquered lands. Since Allah commanded us to shatter and destroy these statues, idols, and remains, it is easy for us to obey, and we do not care [what people think], even if this costs billions of dollars.”

Israeli Army On High Alert for Terrorist Attack in Eilat Area

Abraham Rabinovich
March 13, 2015

Israeli Army Braced for Attack by Islamic State

JERUSALEM—The Israeli army is braced for an attack in the Eilat area by an Islamic State-affiliated group based in the Sinai Peninsula, an Israeli officer said today.

In a tour of the region for Israeli military correspondents, the officer, Col. Arik Hen, said that the Ansar Beit al Maqdis terror group, which has engaged in bloody battles with the Egyptian army in Sinai in recent years not far from the border with Israel, is expected to attempt a large-scale attack on southern Israel. Their targets, he said, would include the resort of Eilat. Their tactics could include simultaneous penetration of the border fence at a number of points by large numbers of terrorists, cross border rockets, and the use of hang gliders and speedboats, according to Israel Radio.

“The scenario we are preparing for,” said Col. Hen, in a blunt briefing, “is a terror threat directed against our forces and civilians in the Eilat area. The scenario is a multi-pronged attack, not just at one site, and we will likely have to deal with this challenge without prior warning.”

The officer did not indicate when such an attack could be expected. Col. Hen indicated that it is difficult for the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to obtain reliable intelligence concerning Ansar Beit al Maqdis. The group, believed to number several hundred, is made up of Bedouins from tribes based in Sinai, which is Egyptian territory and difficult even for Egyptian intelligence to penetrate. Several months ago the group announced that it was pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.

Its members have inflicted heavy casualties on Egyptian troops who have been unable to track down the group’s leaders, whose lairs are believed to be in the mountainous central part of Sinai. In the past year alone, some 350 Egyptian soldiers, police officers, and intelligence personnel have been killed in the fight against the organization.

French and German Governments Think U.S. Officials Exaggerating Russian Role in Ukrainian War

Matthew Schofield
March 13, 2015

Europe, U.S. at odds over size of Russia’s intrusion in Ukraine

BERLIN — A diplomatic divide between the United States and Germany over the extent of Russian military involvement in Ukraine and how to respond to it threatens to hinder hopes of providing greater support to the beleaguered nation.

The dispute comes as the United States agreed this week to provide $75 million in nonlethal aid to Ukraine, including 30 armored Humvees and up to 200 unarmored ones. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the $75 million a “substantial supplement” to the assistance the United States already has provided, including some $120 million that’s gone to the Ukrainian military, but he stopped short of saying lethal aid might be considered.

Whether to provide additional military assistance to the Ukrainian military remains an open question. The U.S. administration is concerned that it could never provide enough military support for Ukraine to defeat Russia and that doing so would only encourage pro-Russia fighters in eastern Ukraine to violate a tenuous cease-fire.

Still, in recent weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has appeared frustrated with proposals emanating from Congress and parts of the Obama administration to send weapons to Ukraine, saying that could scuttle the chance of finding a diplomatic solution and escalate the crisis.

German officials, including some in Merkel’s office, have recently referred to U.S. statements of Russian involvement in the Ukraine fighting as “dangerous propaganda,” and the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel went so far as to ask: “Do the Americans want to sabotage the European mediation attempts in Ukraine led by Chancellor Merkel?”

No End in Sight: Syria's Wicked Civil War Rages On

March 12, 2015

With over 200,000 Syrians killed, tens of thousands missing or in detention camps, millions displaced, and a generation of Syrians growing up stateless in refugee camps in the region, the world watches as the fourth year of a civil war passes that has left over 80 percent of the country without electricity and a majority of the country’s towns decimated.

Syria’s cultural heritage, notably in Aleppo, has been decimated. Regional government sources calculate the costs of rebuilding Syria to exceed one hundred billion dollars. The effects of this regional conflict increasingly strain Syria’s neighbors’ financially, politically, and socially. While much coverage has focused on Iraq and Daesh’s surge, Lebanon is in a tenuous balance with militants operating in the state, sectarian fighting, and over a million Syrian refugees..

At the same time, the larger diplomatic process is dead--with no definable way forward to bridge the gap, on the one hand, between the increasingly confident President Assad who has expressed his own renewed confidence about winning this four years old conflict and his growing number of opponents. on the other. Syria’s opposition has been pulverized.

What’s more, groups such as Daesh and Al Nusra have consolidated their control over strategic parts of north and eastern Syria and oppose any peace process. While UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura has attempted to broker local cease fires (“freezes”), these efforts have failed so far to make any tangible changes on the ground and arguably, at times, tend to benefit Damascus more so than its opponents.

Here's How Congress Can Help the Iran Nuclear Talks

March 13, 2015

Politics and nuclear-nonproliferation policy making are sometimes an explosive combination. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and five Republican Senators, along with six Democrats have introduced legislation they are selling as a simple up-or-down vote on a possible agreement between the P5+1 and Iran that would verifiably constrain that country’s worrisome nuclear program.

A closer look at the Corker bill, S. 615, reveals it is more than a simple up-or-down vote. The bill is an unhelpful initiative that could complicate the delicate P5+1 and Iran talks at a critical juncture.

It could also provide an opportunity to those partisans on the Hill who want to blow up the effective diplomatic solution that the majority of the U.S. public says it wants. Without this agreement, the risk of an Iran nuclear crisis will escalate, the risk of a military conflict would grow, and chances of a nuclear-armed Iran would increase.

Yet the unprecedented March 9 “open” letter from forty-seven Republican Senators to Iran’s Supreme Leader warning him that he can’t count on the United States to follow through on any comprehensive nuclear deal makes it clear that many of them would like to blow such a deal up if given the chance.

Senate Democrats, including those who have co-sponsored the Corker bill, would be foolish to enable Republicans reckless enough to kill the best diplomatic opportunity to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Russian Military Pushing More Troops and Resources Into the Arctic

Matthew Bodner
March 12, 2015

MOSCOW — In order to secure its large swath of the resource-rich Arctic, Moscow has created a new Northern Command structure under which ground, sea and air units are being deployed to reopened Soviet-era bases along Russia’s northern frontier.

The Soviet Union maintained a formidable presence in the Arctic. It established a stretch of air bases for long-range strategic bombers and radar stations and anti-air batteries to keep American bombers at bay.

With the Arctic becoming increasingly contested, and Russia’s economy continuing its deep dependence on resource exports, Moscow has been beefing up its military presence in the region to assert control over as much territory as it can, reopening old Soviet bases and constructing new ones.

"These efforts cannot be explained by any requirements that exist today or will arise in the near future," Anton Lavrov, an analyst at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies wrote in Moscow Defense Brief, the center’s monthly publication.

"Russia is not facing any direct military threats from the north. Its military buildup in the Arctic pursues long-term goals rather than any immediate objectives," he added.

Northern Joint Strategic Command

The flagship project of Russia’s Arctic pivot was President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of April 2014 that a new Arctic command structure would be established to coordinate every military unit operating in the theater.

This command went live on Dec. 1, and is known as the Northern Joint Strategic Command.

Despite New Intelligence on Russian Military Intervention, Obama Resisting Calls for Arming Ukrainian Military

Peter Baker 
March 11, 2015 

Obama Said to Resist Growing Pressure From All Sides to Arm Ukraine 

WASHINGTON — As American intelligence agencies have detected new Russian tanks and artillery crossing the border into Ukraine in recent days, President Obama is coming under increasing pressure from both parties and more officials inside his own government to send arms to the country. But he remains unconvinced that they would help. 

Democrats joined Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday in unanimously pressing the administration to send weapons to Kiev. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly urged Mr. Obama to consider such a move last week, joining Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence But the president has signaled privately that despite all the pressure, he remains reluctant to send arms. In part, he has told aides and visitors that arming the Ukrainians would encourage the notion that they could actually defeat the far more powerful Russians, and so it would potentially draw a more forceful response from Moscow. He also wants to give a shaky cease-fire a chance to take hold, despite a reported 1,000 violations so far, and seems determined to stay aligned with European allies that oppose arms for Ukraine.

“If you’re playing on the military terrain in Ukraine, you’re playing to Russia’s strength, because Russia is right next door,” Antony J. Blinken, the deputy secretary of state, told an audience in Berlin last week. “It has a huge amount of military equipment and military force right on the border. Anything we did as countries in terms of military support for Ukraine is likely to be matched and then doubled and tripled and quadrupled by Russia.” 

That argument seems to most closely channel the president’s, according to people familiar with the internal debate. Mr. Obama continues to pose questions indicating his doubts. “O.K., what happens if we send in equipment — do we have to send in trainers?” said one person paraphrasing the discussion on the condition of anonymity. “What if it ends up in the hands of thugs? What if Putin escalates?” 

But while Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, shares his skepticism, the president finds himself increasingly flanked inside and outside his government by others urging him to do more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves. 

Can This Man Save Nigeria from Boko Haram?

March 11, 2015

Muhammadu Buhari could be the answer to Nigeria's prayers.

Muhammadu Buhari could be the answer to Nigeria’s Boko Haram problem.

Later this month, Nigeria will head to the polls to vote for the country’s next president. The contest pits Buhari, a former military general from Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northern regions, against current president Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the country’s Christian south.

The two candidates ostensibly agree on the necessity of defeating Boko Haram. However, they profoundly disagree on how to achieve that objective. Like many observers, Buhari believes that Jonathan’s government failed to devote sufficient resources to finding the school girls Boko Haram kidnapped in early 2014, and hasn’t properly funded the counterinsurgency effort more generally. In particular, he criticizes Jonathan for allowing much of the military’s $6 billion budget to fall into the pockets of corrupt officials, rather than ensuring it be put towards training troops and beefing up materiel.

In some respects, Buhari may not be much different from Jonathan. After all, like the current president, he is Western educated and, as Time magazine stated, Boko Haram’s followers “kill [Western-educated] students because they hate Western civilization.” Indeed, the group’s name does mean: “Western education is forbidden.”

Back on Broadway: The Hillary Clinton Show Returns

March 11, 2015

Can the Clintons' 1990s tactics still work today?

Hillary Clinton gave a press conference for the ages Tuesday—and one that could remind voters that she is from another age politically.

Clinton's team gave the press little advance notice, resulting in snarkier than usual coverage. Then the former secretary of state, senator and first lady showed up late for the press conference.

While everyone anticipated an explanation of her emails, Clinton opened with remarks about females. The Democrat who would like to be the first woman to serve as president of the United States thanked the United Nations for "putting the challenge of gender equality front and center on the international agenda."

Clinton then shifted her focus to a mode of communication that predated email: snail mail. She addressed the Senate Republicans' letter to Iran, calling the missive "out of step with the best traditions of American leadership." She said, "[O]ne has to ask, what was the purpose of this letter?"

Treason, or something awfully close, Clinton answered her own question. "There appear to be two logical answers," she said. "Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy."

You can think the letter was unhelpful and that most Senate Republicans' Iran views risk another Iraq-like disaster, as I do, and still marvel at Clinton's brazenness.

Venezuela's Obnoxious Regime Is Not a Security Threat

March 12, 2015

President Obama just issued an executive order branding Venezuela a national security threat and imposing sanctions against seven officials of Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government.

Obama’s action continues an unfortunate U.S. foreign policy habit of promiscuously invoking the concept of national security. Too often, Washington purports to believe that if a foreign government is corrupt or treats its own citizens badly, it automatically menaces the American republic. That notion is not only absurd, it foments international instability and in some cases even entangles the United States in unnecessary conflicts.

The executive order directed against Venezuela is a textbook example of an overly broad definition of national security. The White House stressed that the order targeted officials whose actions undermined democratic processes or institutions, abused human rights, were involved in prohibiting or penalizing freedom of expression, or were guilty of corruption. White House spokesman Josh Earnest declared that the United States now had the tools to block the financial assets of Venezuelan officials “past and present” who dare “violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption.”

There is little question that Venezuela’s government is corrupt and autocratic. My Cato Institute colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo has ably documented the abuses committed by both Maduro and his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chávez. Venezuela today is an economic mess presided over by an increasingly insecure, undemocratic political elite.