25 October 2014

A Trilateral Whose Time Has Come: US-Japan-India Cooperation

The Asia-Pacific region is witnessing the increasing convergence of economic and security interests of the United States, Japan and India, and their burgeoning trilateral cooperation. Washington has leveraged its strong ties with Tokyo of nearly 70 years to deepen economic ties and to remain a net provider of security across Asia. Since returning to power in 2013, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has explicitly articulated his vision for an enhanced role of Japan in the Asia-Pacific region. Similarly, India's Look East Policy has seen it expand its economic and security engagement across Asia over the past decade, and the spring 2014 electoral triumph of Narendra Modi has injected a new level of dynamism and foreign policy activism from New Delhi.

In many ways, the three countries are natural partners. They are three of the world's largest countries by population (India is # 2, the US # 3, and Japan # 10), three of the largest democracies, and three of the largest economies (the US is # 1, Japan # three, and India # 10). They are linked by the Indo-Pacific strategic construct that makes explicit the geographical connections and overlaps that each of them shares. All three are part of a dynamic and growing region, with each government eager to find new partners, or old partners with new capabilities, to raise its profile and extend its reach. Each eyes the other two as economic and strategic partners, possessing assets and resources that it values.

India seeks US and Japanese investment and knowhow to accelerate its economic development. With each government working to create more business-friendly policies and regulations, there has been a substantial growth in cross-border investments, joint ventures, mergers & acquisitions, technology transfers, and other corporate activities. India is actively modernizing its military, and the United States has rapidly become its top defense supplier. Delhi and Tokyo have expanded the scope of their joint naval exercises and have elevated their defense dialogue to focus more attention on maritime security and anti-terrorism measures.

For the United States and Japan, India is becoming increasingly central to their economic and security calculations. India can emerge as a low-cost manufacturing hub for American and Japanese companies to sell to the large and rapidly growing Indian market, but also for exports to emerging markets across Asia, Middle East, and Africa. On the security front, an India with robust military capabilities can provide much-needed stability in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). South Asia is home to a large and growing population but also beset with protracted security challenges. India can also be a vital partner across the IOR in safeguarding and promoting US and Japanese interests, especially in ensuring freedom of navigation and other maritime security objectives. Conversely, Japan and India look at the United States as a potential energy supplier as the shale gas revolution turns the US into a major gas exporter.

The alignment of interests and ambitions is facilitated by the energy of the new governments in Tokyo and Delhi. Abe and Modi see each other as kindred spirits and both are eager to seize the moment. They are proving to be indefatigable diplomats and have reached out to each other to consolidate relations between their two countries. Meanwhile, in the Joint Statement released during Modi's visit to the US last month, the United States and India "committed to work more closely with other Asia Pacific countries through consultations, dialogues, and joint exercises." The statement highlighted trilateral dialogue with Japan, with the three agreeing to elevate the existing Trilateral to a minister-level dialogue. All the while, the US and Japan are modernizing and updating their alliance as well.

There is a lot the three countries can do together. The starting point, and a focal point of each country's engagement, is helping India develop faster. Its economic potential remains under-realized, and while the major causes of that underperformance are be found within India, businesses in both Japan and the US see great opportunities. Prime Minister Modi is initially focused on creating a stronger industrial base to complement India's world-class service sector. To meet this objective, Modi is putting much effort into upgrading India's infrastructure, with a focus on establishing multiple industrial corridors. Japan has committed substantial funds to upgrade the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor while the United States has outlined specific ways that it can contribute its expertise and resources to this massive Indian endeavor. 

Beyond the economic domain, the three governments can advance a diplomatic agenda that emphasizes the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence to international norms and legal standards. The US and India primarily, but increasingly even Japan, have a stake in a peaceful Afghanistan and stability throughout Central Asia. The three governments can work concertedly to promote democracy, peace, and prosperity across South and Central Asia. India has made notable contributions to UN peacekeeping missions over the decades, but can increasingly deploy resources to become a net provider of security across Asia.

The three governments have demonstrated prowess in civilian applications of space technologies, and can cooperate to create rules that ensure that outer space remains peaceful and not used for offensive or disruptive purposes. The US and Japan are also seeking to initiate civilian nuclear power cooperation with India. While such cooperation has important commercial benefits, the most striking aspect of sharing such sensitive technology is the level of trust that their cooperative endeavors engender.

Cyberspace is another area suitable for closer cooperation. All three nations face regular cyber-attacks from state and nonstate actors, and the intensity of such attacks is likely to increase. Sharing information on the sources of these attacks, targets, and methods of deterrence can help all three nations safeguard their defense and commercial interests.

U.S. Pivot to ASEAN: Where Are We Now?

By Peter T. Keo
October 22, 2014

With a new ambassador in place, can Washington sustain its commitment to a key region? 

The 25th ASEAN Summit is around the corner. One question worth asking is: How committed is the U.S. to the pivot to ASEAN?

Since establishing the ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue Relations in 1977, the bilateral partnership has developed quite slowly. In fairness, this may have been a factor of different American presidential administrations, coupled with political and economic instability throughout Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, under the Obama Administration, the U.S. has demonstrated a seemingly firm recommitment to the region. The proverbial needle has pointed squarely at ASEAN, with both parties standing to gain significantly from political-security and economic cooperation.

According to the ASEAN Secretariat, total trade between ASEAN and the U.S. increased 3.5 percent, from $200 billion to $206.9 billion, between 2012 and 2013. The U.S. was the third largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) to ASEAN, with a share of 9.7 percent, reaching $11.1 billion in 2012. In July 2009, the U.S. acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). Then, in September 2010, the U.S. Permanent Mission to ASEAN was established with David Lee Carden as the first U.S. resident ambassador to ASEAN. All of which would suggest a legitimate, if somewhat modest, commitment.

Despite progress, it’s reasonable to suggest that the ASEAN-U.S. relationship isn’t yet cemented. The first ASEAN-U.S. Summit – one of the first major platforms for serious dialogue at the highest levels of leadership – was only held in 2013. This is not to be confused with the ASEAN-U.S. Leaders Meeting. The summit was held only after both ASEAN and the U.S. had elevated their status to a strategic level, during the Leaders Meeting. At the strategic level, both parties can discuss plans to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

While this is a good step forward, it is a little too early to celebrate. There are too many moving pieces, especially east of the Pacific in the U.S. For one thing, it isn’t at all clear whether the next American president will share the same level of interest in strengthening ASEAN-U.S. relations.

For now, though, the relationship stands to benefit from a promising new development. In 2014, President Obama nominated Nina Hachigian, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, to be the next U.S. representative to ASEAN with the rank of Ambassador, replacing Carden. On September 14, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination.

Though a non-career diplomat, Hachigian has written extensively on foreign policy and Asia. Some of her works include, Debating China: The U.S.-China Relationship in Ten Conversations; The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise; and The Information Revolution in Asia. She also has covered the Asia-Pacific region in different leadership roles at RAND Corporation, a non-profit institution that provides research and analysis to policymakers.

Hachigian appears to understand the complex landscape that is ASEAN-U.S. relations. And while her research was never particular to ASEAN, she has written extensively on America’s bilateral relations with China. In dealing with ASEAN, it will be important for her to keep some key points in mind, particularly in pushing beyond the usual suspects of trade, investment, South China Sea, and terrorism: 
While political-security and economic cooperation is important, so too is socio-cultural cooperation. 
Socio-cultural cooperation is about investing in people, which includes investing in education, and is more than making English the lingua franca. 
Investing in people-to-people relations not only builds skills and capacity for locals, but is likely to strengthen and sustain ASEAN-U.S. relations because of shared commitments and values. 
Social innovation, a huge phenomenon that is helping the disadvantaged in the U.S., is disrupting markets in a good way. ASEAN is ready for this kind of innovation, and the U.S. should lead in this important effort throughout the region. 

While the 2016 U.S. presidential election could swing the pendulum away from ASEAN, Hachigian has two years to make her mark. Will she play it safe? Or will she be able to permanently solidify ASEAN-U.S. relations?

Peter T. Keo is a Southeast Asia/ASEAN-U.S. expert. He was educated at Harvard University, Columbia University and The University of Chicago. Follow him @GlobalASEAN.

Islamic State among world's richest militant groups: US

Oct 24, 2014

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by Islamic State (IS), near Mosul. (Reuters Photo)

WASHINGTON: The Islamic State has fast become one of the world's wealthiest terror groups, generating tens of millions of dollars a month from black market oil sales, ransoms and extortion, officials said on Thursday.

It earns $1 million a day alone by selling crude oil from fields captured when the group swept across Iraq and Syria earlier this year, said David Cohen, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. 

Because the group, also known as ISIS, has "amassed wealth at an unprecedented pace" from different sources than most terror groups, it presents a particular challenge to the US working to choke off money flows. 

"We have no silver bullet, no secret weapon to empty ISIS's coffers overnight. This will be a sustained fight, and we are in the early stages," Cohen said, outlining what he called a three-pronged effort. 

IS is now "considered the world's wealthiest and most financially sophisticated terrorist organization," said Marwan Muasher, vice-president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

Unlike al-Qaida, IS does not attract most of its funds from deep-pocketed rich donors, often in Gulf countries, or from state sponsors. 

Yet "with the important exception of some state-sponsored terrorist organizations, ISIS is probably the best-funded terrorist organization we have confronted," Cohen said, warning its revenue sources were "deep and diverse."

Oil sales alone from captured refineries are allowing the militants to produce some 50,000 barrels a day sold "at substantially discounted prices to a variety of middlemen, including from Turkey," who then resell it. 

Oil has also been sold to Kurds in Iraq, and Cohen said the administration was looking carefully at the middlemen involved in the smuggling. 

"At some point there is someone in that chain of transactions who is involved in the legitimate or quasi-legitimate economy. They have a bank account. Their trucks may be insured," he said. 

Even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is fighting IS as well as the moderate US-backed opposition, was buying oil from the militants, which in a bizarre twist comes from fields and refineries once under Syrian control. 

The group has also pocketed about $20 million this year from kidnappings, particularly of journalists and European hostages. 

And it demands money from local businesses in cities and towns through "a sophisticated extortion racket," plunders antiquities and sells off women and girls as sex slaves. 

US air strikes have begun impeding the militants' ability to produce oil, and Turkish and Kurdish authorities have pledged to stop smuggling on their territory. 

Cohen vowed the US would hit hard against those found buying illegal oil. 

Sanctions would follow, he said, and it would not just be a question of cutting them off from the US banking system. 

"We can also make it very difficult for them to find a bank anywhere that will touch their money or process their transactions," Cohen said. 

IS militants targeted in fiery air strike seen from Turkish border

Oct 24, 2014

MURSITPINAR: Coalition aircraft targeted Islamic State (IS) militants near the town of Kobane in an airstrike seen from the Turkish border Thursday, with the jihadists running away from the bombing raid, an AFP photographer reported. 

Four IS militants were walking around the Tilsehir hill in the western part of the besieged Syrian town before the air raid at around 6:00 pm local time, the photographer said. 

Having heard the sound of fighter jets overhead, the militants could be clearly seen running down the hill to hide in trenches most probably dug by Kurdish fighters who previously controlled the territory. 

After the bombardment, the photographer saw militants running away in a sign that Kurdish fighters had taken back control of the hill. 

IS and Kurdish fighters have regularly traded territory during the fight for the town, with neither side able to gain a decisive edge in the battle. 

US-led air strikes in Syria were reported Thursday to have killed more than 500 jihadists in a month, and reinforcements of Kurdish peshmarga forces from northern Iraq could potentially give another boost to the defenders of Kobane.

Has ISIS Peaked as a Military Power?


Gone are the days when ISIS could take down cities in an instant. Now the extremist movement is bogged down in a small Syrian town. Has the West found the way to beat the group back? 

For a few months, the marauding jihadis of ISIS might have looked like an unstoppable army. That’s when they were moving at high speeds, their power blurred by hype and velocity. Slowed down by real resistance, a clearer picture takes shape and the limits of ISIS’s military power come into focus. 

At the so-called caliphate’s edges, in areas like the Syrian border town of Kobani, ISIS’s march has stalled and its armor is starting to crack. We may be reaching the limits of ISIS as a conventional military force. 

Facing a small Kurdish resistance and Western airpower, ISIS has been unable to take Kobani, despite surrounding and besieging it for months. That doesn’t mean the group is giving up, though, or anywhere close to defeat. The façade of ISIS’s power as a conquering army may be wearing off, but they can still revert to terrorist form and continue killing even if they can’t take ground. 

Early on, ISIS leaders committed to a risky gambit: They decided to form a state, which put them in open conflict with other world powers. The group could have survived as a terrorist organization or a local insurgency as it had for years, but instead wagered on the caliphate. That decision provided an aura of authority that attracted new recruits and seemed to pay off in the short term. But it also transformed a regional threat into a global enemy that was easier to target in the areas it controlled. 

Since then ISIS had acted as part state, part Taliban-style insurgency, and part al Qaeda-style jihadi terrorist group. 

Despite the pathological absolutism of ISIS’s beliefs, it has proved flexible on the battlefield. As the tactics that won ISIS its most stunning early victories become harder to pull off in the face of warplanes and fierce local resistance, the group has adapted. 

Lauren Squires, a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War and former Army intelligence analyst, attributes ISIS’s successes to “their ability to conduct hybridized warfare—part conventional war and part terrorist guerrilla campaign.” Air power may blunt ISIS’s momentum, Squires said, but “it will only be in the near term, they will adapt to using the guerrilla side of the spectrum.” 

Depending on the enemy it faces, and its own vulnerabilities, ISIS moves along the state-terrorist spectrum of power. Blending into the local population in one area to operate in the shadows, while marching openly through the streets elsewhere. In battle, it means the ability to shift from suicide bombers to tank columns and maneuver warfare in the span of a day. 

The transition to statehood started with the June campaign that captured Iraq’ssecond largest city, Mosul, and put the jihadi army’s strengths on display. It showed effective planning that used a sustained preliminary attack to weaken the enemy before a blitz assault; good command and control over a large force combined with autonomy and initiative from small unit leaders; and the rapid repositioning of forces to seize new opportunities and maintain the element of surprise. All of those qualities together allowed an ISIS army of fewer than 10,000 to rout the better armed Iraqi Security Forces that numbered near 30,000. 

The façade of ISIS’s power as a conquering army may be wearing off, but they can still revert to terrorist form and continue killing even if they can’t take ground. 

But even in June it was clear that ISIS’s victories weren’t due to military prowess alone. The offensive that toppled Mosul also depended on another key factor: the will to fight. The ISIS attackers believed their own hype and were willing to die fighting while the mainly Shia security forces, led by corrupt commanders who weren’t ready to be killed defending Sunni areas far from their homes. 

Iraq analyst Michael Knights conducted a thorough study of ISIS’s military abilities in late August for West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center and concluded that ISIS “is a military power mostly because of the weakness and unpreparedness of its enemies.” 

Disturbing Similarities: Iraq in 2006 and 2014

Scary thought: The rise of ISIS, a minimum U.S. presence, a callous central government and a hollowed-out Iraqi army have all combined to produce a nearly identical picture of what Iraq was like in 2006. 

October 22, 2014It wasn't long ago when the streets of Baghdad, an historical center of Arab history, culture and politics, were literally running red with blood. Back in 2006, when the war in Iraq was at its worst and dozens of American soldiers were dying every month, the residents of Baghdad were experiencing their most devastating period of violence since the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Except, rather than two nations shooting at each other, the violence was Iraqi-on-Iraqi. Or, more accurately, Sunni-on-Shia and Shia-on-Sunni

As Meghan O'Sullivan, the point-person for Iraq on George W. Bush's National Security Council, said years later in a PBS documentary about the war, Baghdad in 2006 was "hell." Dozens of young Sunni men were found on the side of the road, butchered to death with their skulls crushed, every day. Suicide bombings and car bombings from ISIL's parent organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, would kill hundreds of people in Baghdad in virtually every corner of the city: restaurants, cafes, mosques, markets and traffic circles were all targeted. Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad, like Sadr City in the northeast and Shaab to the north, would be purposely targeted by Al Qaeda to inflict massive carnage on the Shia population. Shia militias, often with the blessing or acquiescence of the Iraqi army and national police, would retaliate by rounding up random Sunnis and executing them in the most brutal ways imaginable.

One would think that seven years later, all of that sectarian hatred and animosity would be either subsided to a significant degree or gone from the city entirely. Baghdad used to be a cosmopolitan city, after all—a microcosm of the many sectarian and ethnic communities that make up Iraq's population. The rise of the Islamic State, a minimum American presence, a callous central government and a hollowed out Iraqi army, however, have all combined to produce a nearly identical picture of what Iraq was like in 2006.

According to an investigation from Amnesty International, the kinds of violence that were once perpetrated by powerful and unaccountable Shia sectarian militias during the dark days of 2006 and 2007 are once again a fact of daily life in 2014. Young Sunni men are singled out for illegal detention, torture and execution by pro-government Shia militias on the mere suspicion that Iraqi Sunni communities are assisting or condoning the Islamic State's presence. Increasingly, young men are taken away from their homes in the middle of the night by masked militiamen without any explanation as to why they are being picked up. The lucky ones are freed after several hours or days of intense torture. Others are killed and dumped by the side of the road, only to be found by their family members in the morgue days or weeks later.

The killings themselves are random, but there is a kind of self-perpetuating cycle that exists. As Amnesty reports:

"Sunni men of fighting age who come from, go to or live near areas where there are IS groups tend to be considered by many militias to be terrorists or terrorist supporters and that is why they often get killed, whereas some militiamen target Sunnis in blind revenge for the crimes committed by Sunni terrorist groups."

If the cycle sounds familiar, it should—it’s precisely what happened in 2006 and 2007, when Sunnis were preyed upon by Shia death squads roaming the streets and Shia were blown to pieces by a radical Sunni terrorist organization.

What is equally disturbing as the type of violence that the Shia militias are levying is the power and leverage that they hold over the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi army is so disheveled and has been humiliated by the Islamic State for so long that Iraq's last government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki panicked and called on all able-bodied Iraqi men to enlist in the ranks of pro-government forces. Tens of thousands of Shia have volunteered to fight for the government against what many view as a takfiri revolution that aims to reclaim political power for a once-dominant Sunni minority, all the while pushing Iraq's Shia population back to second-tier status. The relationship between the Iraqi army and the informal militias has gotten so entwined that it's often hard for those arrested to determine who in fact is arresting them: Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi police officers or one of the powerful and unaccountable Shia militias that can do virtually whatever they want. After the collapse of several Iraqi divisions last June, Prime Minister Maliki needed all the men he could get to fill in for the desertions and casualties that the regular army suffered throughout the year. Shia militias like Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Brigade, Jaish al-Mahdi (now renamed the "Peace Brigades") and Kata'ib Hezbollah were more than happy to meet the call.

The Implications of Turkey’s Turn Toward Fighting ISIS

14 October 2014


This interview with Crisis Group’s Turkey and Cyprus Analyst, Didem Aykel Collinsworth, is adapted and republished here with permission from Syria Deeply and Katarina Montgomery, Syria Deeply’s Digital Producer.

In a significant expansion of its role in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), Turkey agreed to let the U.S.-led coalition use its territory to launch attacks and train moderate Syrian rebels.

The move comes after weeks of complaints that Turkey hasn’t done enough to combat ISIS, as it swept across Syria and Iraq and seized nearly half of the strategic border town of Kobani.

Didem Akyel Collinsworth, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, explains how and why Turkey has stepped up its cooperation with the international community in the fight against ISIS and what it can do in the future to contain the spillover from the fighting in northern Syria.

Syria Deeply: Turkey will now allow the U.S. and its allies to use its bases against ISIS. Why this move and why now?

Didem Collinsworth: Actually, Turkey said that agreement has not been reached yet. But it has already been taking steps to allay its Western allies. The agreement to train moderate Syrian rebels on its soil, the 1 October motion at the parliament to allow cross-border military operations into Iraq and Syria, and to allow foreign troop deployments on Turkish soil, were all such steps recently taken. From a public opinion perspective, the motion was to show some proactive steps towards ensuring the country’s safety and was a defensive rather than an offensive move.

The perception that Turkey was not assisting the coalition enough against IS has tarnished its image in Western media and there have even been comments calling into question Turkey’s NATO membership. These steps also show its Western allies that Turkey is not standing on the sidelines and that it is still a valuable ally.

Many of the reasons why Turkey has been shying away from direct military intervention and involvement in northern Syria are very understandable. Allowing use of its bases is one way that Turkey can contribute, but even before that, Turkey has allowed the use of its air space, opened up humanitarian assistance corridors to northern Syria, and shared information with allies.

To what extent is Turkey collaborating with the international community in the fight against ISIS? Would Turkey still consider committing troops to Syria?

I still think it’s possible for Turkey to take part in such an operation under an international umbrella, but there are reasons for its reservations.

The decision in Turkish parliament about cross border operations into Syria and Iraq is mainly a defensive measure in case there is an attack from these territories on Turkey. Direct involvement in the war in Syria would be extremely unpopular domestically. Turkey is still in an election cycle until Summer 2015, and the government’s goal is to keep everything normal until then.

Turkey is more vulnerable to spill over from the crisis than the other allies. Unlike the U.S. and European countries, Turkey shares a 900km border with Syria and experiences regular direct spill over from the conflict.

Direct military involvement against ISIS poses many security threats for Turkey. There is the obvious risk of retaliation from ISIS, which has a network inside Turkey. ISIS has infiltrated many Turkish cities, and it operates at many points along the border in northern Syria. The Europeans and Americans are talking about the risk of foreign fighters returning to their homelands and carrying out attacks, Turkey is also seeing this risk in combination with potential ISIS attacks on Turkish tourist resorts, which would devastate Turkey’s tourist economy, which accounts for 10% of its national economy.

Syrian Military Intensifying Attacks on All Syrian Rebel Groups EXCEPT ISIS!

Hugh Naylor
Washington Post
October 22, 2014

As U.S. attacks Islamic State, Syria steps up assaults on moderate rebels

BEIRUT — Syrian government forces have dramatically intensified air and ground assaults on areas held by moderate rebels, attempting to deliver crippling blows as world attention shifts to airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. 

Since Monday, Syrian aircraft have targeted Aleppo in the north, the eastern suburbs of Damascus and southern areas near the Jordanian border, launching more than 210 airstrikes, said Rami Abdulrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the civil war. 

Rebels in Aleppo say President Bashar al-Assad’s military has escalated attacks in northern areas of the city, trying to cut the supply lines of opposition fighters inside Aleppo. 

“During the last three days, we have been hit by over 120 barrel bombs,” said Ahmed Abu Talal, a rebel belonging to the Islamic Front group, referring toparticularly deadly high-explosive bombs that are often dropped by helicopter. 

Syria’s military has virtually encircled the city with the help of Shiite militias from Lebanon and Iran, the Assad regime’s chief ally. Iranian and Iraqi news sites reported that a general from Iran’s Basij militia, identified as Drisawi Jabbar, was killed fighting near Aleppo last week. 

Abu Talal said pro-government forces are trying to take the village of Handarat, which is located just north of Aleppo and next to one of the last roads connecting the city’s rebels with reinforcements and food brought in from the Turkish border. 

The fall of that road would constitute a major blow to Assad’s opposition in a three-year-old civil war that has killed nearly 200,000 people. 

“They are very close to the area now,” said Abu Talal, speaking via Skype from northern Aleppo. 

Rebels and analysts say Assad’s forces are increasing their attacks to exploit what the regime sees as a window of opportunity opened by a campaign that Washington and its allies launched last month against the Islamic State, a heavily armed al-Qaeda offshoot that is also known as ISIS or ISIL. 

The U.S.-led coalition, which includes Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against the radical Islamist group, which has captured swaths of territory from Iraq to north-central Syria. 

“The Assad regime senses opportunity at the moment because the world’s attention is shifting to ISIS,” said Emile Hokayem, Middle East analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. 

The regime has stepped up aerial bombardment of the rebel-held suburbs of eastern Damascus, as well as in areas near the city of Idlib. Government helicopters have dropped some 45 barrel bombs in recent days in the countryside near Idlib to halt rebel movements near two military bases on a strategic road connecting Aleppo with Hama, to the south, said Abdullah Jabaan, a resident of Idlib and journalist for the Syria Live News Network, which supports the opposition. 

He said 55 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded in those attacks. 

Meanwhile, Assad’s military has largely avoided territory held by Islamic State militants, instead striking moderate rebel factions that could be slated to receive weapons and military training from the coalition, said Riad Kahwaji, chief executive of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. 

“If the regime manages to fully besiege Aleppo at this time, they would block and undermine the plans of the alliance to use the opposition, or at least present the opposition, as the ultimate ground force to deal with ISIS,” he said. 

A successful routing of those rebels could position the Assad regime as the only force in Syria capable of fighting the Islamic State, he said. 

Syrian officials have welcomed the coalition strikes on Islamic State fighters in the country, but the United States says it rejects any coordination with the Assad government. 

Those airstrikes have mainly targeted Islamic State militants mounting an assault on the Kurdish town of Kobane, nestled along Syria’s northern border with Turkey. Starting over a month ago, the coalition attacks have helped Kurdish fighters fend off the onslaught, although the jihadists persist.

Toward a Lasting Ceasefire in Gaza

Middle East Briefing N°4223 Oct 2014


More than seven weeks after the most devastating war yet waged in Gaza, its underlying causes remain unresolved. Hamas did not achieve an end to Gaza’s closure; Israel did not attain the demilitarisation of the Strip or Hamas. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) remains unrepresentative and its credibility continues to fade. Fatah’s popularity has sunk while Hamas’s has increased to levels unseen since its 2006 electoral victory. Small steps toward reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO have been taken, but they are very distant from the end goal of a unified, representative Palestinian leadership. But in reconciliation lies the only hope of achieving a sustainable ceasefire and, more broadly, of bringing Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank under one authority.

Israel, much of the PLO and the international community fear the possible consequences of integrating Hamas into the Palestinian national movement, as is called for in the Hamas-PLO reconciliation agreement signed on 23 April 2014. At the same time, many recognise that thwarting even the partial implementation of that agreement pushed a desperate Hamas toward war. So they, together with Hamas, have settled for the time being on a temporary fix, which is forestall robust PLO reform while permitting some significant but limited steps toward Palestinian reconciliation, including allowing the new Palestinian Authority (PA) government, formed on 2 June 2014, to regain formal control of Gaza, patrol its borders, staff its crossings, and pay salaries to employees previously paid by Hamas, all while leaving Hamas’s military wing as the strongest power within Gaza and the true guarantor of security there.

This arrangement, should it crystallise, would allow all parties to pursue their short-term interests. Hamas would be able to rebuild its military capabilities (albeit faced with greater obstacles than in the past), and Gaza’s population would receive aid and reconstruction. The Palestinian Authority would have the opportunity to gain a toehold in Gaza. The PLO, though concerned that it will be helping to strengthen Hamas and reward its violence, will secure increased Western support and be able to more credibly claim that it represents all Palestinians. And Israel would enjoy quiet for a period of unknown but longer duration than in the past, as it and Hamas prepare for the next battle.

With Gaza and Israel having fought their third war in six years, a more lasting respite would be welcome. Of course avoiding another eventual war requires a longer-term strategy that helps establish a Palestinian state. But with two-state negotiations in hiatus, the best the parties can hope for today is a more stable, durable ceasefire. This will depend not only on ensuring that the reconciliation agreement is implemented, but also on a significant change in Israeli policy toward Gaza. There are nascent indications of a belated realisation among policymakers that constricting the territory has compromised Israel’s security and helped bring about the war. The extent of these indications will be crystallised in indirect ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas, scheduled for late October. Another set of upcoming negotiations, between Hamas and the PLO, will be no less important, as Gaza cannot hope for real change if the PA’s technocratic government of national consensus does not take up its responsibilities – at least regarding Gaza’s borders and the payment of its government employees.

In the Syria We Don’t Know

Contact Press Images

Supporters of Bashar al-Assad at a demonstration in Homs, May 2012

A young woman in Damascus produced a smart phone from her handbag and asked, “May I show you something?” The phone’s screen displayed a sequence of images. The first was a family photograph of a sparsely bearded young man in his twenties. Beside him were two boys, who appeared to be five and six, in T-shirts. The young man and his sons were smiling. Pointing at the father, the woman said, “This is my cousin.” The next picture, unlike the first, came from the Internet. It was the same young man, but his head was severed. Beside him lay five other men in their twenties whose bloody heads were similarly stacked on their chests. I looked away. 

Her finger skimmed the screen, revealing another photo of her cousin that she insisted I see. His once happy face had been impaled on a metal spike. The spike was one of many in a fence enclosing a public park in Raqqa, a remote provincial capital on the Euphrates River in central Syria. Along the fence were other decapitated heads that children had to pass on their way to the playground. 

The woman’s cousin and his five comrades were soldiers in the Syrian army’s 17th Reserve Division. The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) had captured them when it overran the Tabqa military airfield, about twenty-five miles from ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, on August 24. The family’s sole hope was that the young man was already dead when they cut off his head. There was no question of returning the body or holding a funeral. Only a few weeks later ISIS savagery touched the United States and Britain, as it already had Syria and Iraq, with the beheadings of the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning. 

The woman explained that her cousin had recently turned down a chance to leave his unit for a safer post near his home. It would not be right, he reasoned, for him, as a member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite sect, to desert his Sunni comrades. He stayed with them, and he died with them. 

The Syrian government does not publish casualty figures by sect, but martyrs’ notices pasted on the walls in Jabal Alawia, the Alawite heartland in the hills east of the port of Latakia, indicate that the Alawites have suffered a disproportionate share of deaths in the war to preserve the Alawite president. A myth promulgated by the Sunni Islamist opposition is that the Alawites have been the main beneficiaries of forty-four years of Assad family rule over Syria, but evidence of Alawite wealth outside the presidential clan and entourage is hard to find. The meager peasant landholdings that marked the pre-Assad era are still the rule in Jabal Alawia, where most families live on the fruits of a few acres. Some Alawite merchants have done better in the seaside cities of Latakia and Tartous, but so have Sunni, Druze, and Christian businessmen. This may explain in part why, from my own observations, a considerable proportion of Syrian Sunnis, who comprise about 75 percent of the population, have not taken up arms against the regime. If they had, the regime would not have survived. 

The rising number of Alawite young men killed or severely wounded while serving in the army and in regime-backed militias has led to resentment among people who have no choice other than to fight for President Assad and to keep their state’s institutions intact. Their survival, as long as Sunni jihadists kill them wherever they find them, requires them to support a regime that many of them oppose and blame for forcing them into this predicament. 

After my friend’s cousin and his comrades were decapitated at Tabqa and their corpses left on the streets of Raqqa, ISIS publicly executed another two hundred captured soldiers. It was then that someone, said to be an Alawite dissident, declared on Facebook, “Assad is in his palace and our sons are in their graves.” 

Alawite frustration is matched by that of the now-marginalized nonviolent opponents of Assad’s rule. The Damascus cafés where I met young anti-Assad activists early in the uprising are now mostly empty, and their original enthusiasm has dissipated. Some organizers are in prison, others have gone into exile, and the rest have given up, as disillusioned with the rebellion as many Alawites are with the regime. But like the Alawites who grumble off the record, they are powerless. One former protester told me, “I spent three days in jail, three days of hell. I’ve gone back to my job and stay out of politics.” He fears ISIS more than the security forces who arrested him, and he tries to avoid them both. 

The Cost of Non-Europe in the Single Market

PDF file 3.2 MB 


Cost of Non-Europe Reports identify the possibilities for economic or other gains and/or the realisation of a 'public good' through common action at EU level in specific policy areas and sectors. This Cost of Non-Europe Report seeks to analyse the costs for citizens, businesses and relevant stake-holders of remaining gaps and barriers in the European Single Market, building on and updating the 1988 Cecchini Report, which quantified its potential benefits. This particular study uses an econometric model to estimate the potential benefits of removing existing barriers to foreign direct investment and non-tariff trade barriers within the European Union. The removal of existing trade barriers could boost total intra-EU merchandise exports up to 7 per cent in the long-term. These effects will vary by Member State, and by sector of the internal market.

The Dawn of World War IV: America Under Cyber Attack

By Neal O'Farrell, Security and Identity Theft Expert for CreditSesame.com

Einstein was wrong. World War IV will not be fought with sticks or rocks. It will be fought with bits and bytes, Trojans and bots, APTs and zero-days — it's already started and we're already losing.

I'm not a fan of drama, especially as a tool to encourage the masses in a specific direction and even for a good reason. But I'm not a fan of sugar coating either. That's why I think we need to speak honestly about war. And the fact that we're in one —right now, and have been for some time. It's just that this war is so very different to every war before and many of us can't see, hear, smell or touch it. But it doesn't mean it's not there and it's not urgent.

China has been attacking the U.S. for years—attacking businesses, government and the military, probing networks, planting malware, stealing secrets. It's also believed that China is always looking for catastrophic weaknesses that could be exploited at an appropriate time—in our financial, communications, food supply and energy systems.

If it turns out that the Russian government orchestrated or even facilitated or encouraged the recent cyber attacks on JP Morgan Chase and a dozen other major financial institutions, that would be as clear an act of war on American interests as the invasion of Ukraine was to the people of that country.

And while America is constantly under cyber attack, it's not sitting on its hands. It's been speculated that the very advanced Stuxnet malware that is believed to have done significant damage to Iran's nuclear program in 2010 was created jointly by Israel and the United States.

There are many who think that the notion of cyberwar is simply hype or scaremongering, and others argue that cyberwar can never actually be called a war because it doesn't fit with traditional definitions or understanding of what a war is.

In an article from the Council of Foreign Relations in 2013, one noted author argued that "the hype about everything "cyber" has obscured three basic truths: cyberwar has never happened in the past, it is not occurring in the present, and it is highly unlikely that it will disturb the future."

Around the same time, InfoWorld took an opposite position in an article titled "Unseen, all-out cyber war on U.S. has begun" and concluded that "One thing is clear: The era of cyber warfare is here, and it's happening on the homefront."

How Is This Different From Other Wars? 

There will be no clear and official declaration of the beginning of hostilities (a bit late anyway). 
There will be few decisive battles, no clear winners or losers and no end. We might, therefore, want to call this one the Until-the-end-of-the-World War. 

We will never be sure who our friends and allies are, or when they switched sides. 

We are the battlefields too—our computers, our phones, our small businesses and our internet-connected homes. 

The war won't be fought by professional armies but mainly by mercenaries, home front militias and civilian volunteers. 

Our professional armies will be largely relegated to spectators, sitting in frustration on the sidelines as they wait for a call to arms that may never come. 

The battles will be largely stealthy, silent and bloodless, which will make it very hard to rally national support for or against. 

No LOL Matter: FBI Trolls Social Media for Would-Be Jihadis



When Basit 

Javid Sheikh told his new Facebook friend, a Syrian nurse, that he wanted to travel from his home in North Carolina to Syria to fight with the opposition group Ahrar ash-Sham, “she” messaged him back and suggested he instead join the Al-Nusra Front, a rival group affiliated with al Qaeda.

When, in a subsequent conversation via Skype, a “trusted brother” who was actually an undercover FBI employee, “told Basit that he could help get him inside Al-Nusra. … Basit stated that he did not want to be one of those brothers who kept sitting at home,” according to court records.

Sheikh, who apparently had romantic feelings toward the nurse and even proposed marriage at one point, according to his attorney, eventually agreed to join Al-Nusra, purchased a plane ticket to Beirut and prepared for his journey to jihad. But after clearing security at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Nov. 2, 2013, he was arrested and charged the next day with supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

American-Born Suicide Bomber Burns His Passport


Sheikh’s case and several other recent terrorism prosecutions shed light on the growing importance of social media in the battles unfolding in Syria and Iraq -- both as a recruiting tool for Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, and as a means for the FBI to pre-emptively nab the would-be jihadis.

But a review by NBC News of a dozen federal criminal cases related to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East also raises questions about the FBI’s conduct in attempting to head off terrorist recruits and whether they incited them to actions they wouldn’t have otherwise taken.

It shows that undercover FBI agents or informants first identified or connected with the suspects via social media in at least four cases, using fake social media identities to engage them and, in Sheikh’s case, possibly engaging in “catfishing” by luring him into a personal relationship with a phony online persona. Agents also created a “false-flag” or “honeypot” Facebook page to help snare him.

POLICE HANDOUT Basit Javed Sheikh of Cary, North Carolina, is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The number of cases in which social media was a key investigative tool for the bureau could be higher, but key parts of the proceedings in several cases have been sealed by federal judges out of concerns that revealing them could harm national security.

And in some cases, descriptions in the criminal complaints are not specific as to what kind of online contact investigators made with the subject. For example, in the case against Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, an 18-year-old from Aurora, Illinois, accused of trying to join the Al-Nusra Front,court documents state that, “During the investigation, the FBI published a webpage that purported to recruit individuals to travel to Syria and join Jabhat al-Nusra (Arabic for the Al-Nusra Front),” but offer no additional information about the nature of the site.

“ISIS has … been able to expand their reach far beyond the traditional jihadi recruitment pool to a much wider audience -- including English-speaking Western nationals."

Evan Kohlmann, a partner with the global security firm Flashpoint Intelligence and an NBC News consultant on counterterrorism, said law enforcement is rightly concerned that American Muslims who join groups like ISIS and Al-Nusra could one day return to the U.S. as battle-hardened terrorists and is merely updating techniques it has used since the early days of the Internet to engage the enemy on services such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“In contrast to past social media efforts by al Qaeda, which have focused on password-protected Arabic-language web forums that are focused on jihadi affairs, ISIS has made effective use of major commercial social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even VKontakte in Russia," he said. "As a result, they have been able to expand their reach far beyond the traditional jihadi recruitment pool to a much wider audience -- including English-speaking Western nationals."


Michael Sheehan, former assistant secretary of defense for special operations and now chairman of the Combatting Terrorist Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said ISIS is particularly effective in getting its message out, having mounted “the best and most sophisticated (propaganda operation) by any terrorist organization in the history of modern terrorism," he said.


October 22, 2014 

U.S. Defense Department leaders have called for a renewed effort to sustain America’s military technological dominance, but to do so they will have to fight an uphill battle against entrenched bureaucratic interests competing over a shrinking budgetary pie. Whether this initiative will be more than simply Pentagon pabulum depends on the future direction of the Navy’s carrier air wing. The Navy has two next-generation programs on the drawing board, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) drone and theF/A-XX 6th generation manned fighter. Squeezing two next-gen aircraft programs into the Navy’s budget will be difficult, particularly if, as the Navy currently plans, the UCLASS drone does not replace any manned aircrafton the deck.

UCLASS, as currently conceived, is an additional bill to pay with marginal benefit. The Navy’s current UCLASS concept, a modestly stealthy maritime surveillance drone, is largely redundant when compared to ground-based P-8 Poseidon and MQ-4 Triton aircraft. This makes little budgetary or strategic sense. In today’s fiscal environment, the Department of Defense (DoD) needs to be focusing on top priorities, including the need for longer-range aircraft to cope with a growing anti-access threat, which the current UCLASS does not address. Resetting the UCLASS program to develop a more capable drone would not only help address this operational need, but could actually save the Navy money. A higher-end UCLASS that is able to take on combat missions could replace some manned aircraft on the carrier. Because of the cost-saving advantages of unmanned aircraft, this swap would free up billions of dollars to be reinvested in other Navy priorities.

An unmanned carrier-based aircraft program could be significantly less expensive than an equivalent manned carrier aircraft program, even if the actual development and production costs of the aircraft are identical. Because of their high degree of automation, unmanned aircraft require significantly fewer flying hours than equivalent manned aircraft for initial qualification training and “currency” training to maintain pilot skills. This translates into reduced operations costs as well as reduced aircraft needed for training and attrition. Savings can be particularly large for carrier-based aircraft, on the order of 40-50% of total procurement and operations costs. Reduced procurement costs alone could save several billions of dollarsannually early in the program, translating to additional ships, submarines, munitions, or other aircraft. Recurring savings in operations costs could range in the hundreds of millions annually. Most importantly, unlike many promises of reduced costs that never materialize, these savings are based on real-world experiences with unmanned aircraft today.

A significant amount of flying for manned carrier-based aircraft is dedicated to training and maintaining the currency of pilots to land on an aircraft carrier. Landing an aircraft on a moving carrier, particularly at night and on rough seas, is no mean feat…for a human. Carrier pilots train rigorously and must keep their skills fresh, all of which leads to significant costs in flying hours. None of this training is needed for unmanned aircraft, whichland fully automated. Consequently none of these flying hours are needed, saving significant costs. Fewer flying hours, fewer crashes, and fewer aircraft purchased for training all equate to large savings over the life of a program.

Air Force unmanned aircraft programs today show how this is possible. While previous-generation unmanned aircraft like the Predator and Reaper are flown by stick and rudder, flight control for newer unmanned aircraft like the RQ-4 Global Hawk is largely automated, with a pilot directing the aircraft where to go via keyboard and mouse and the aircraft flying itself. As a result, training a person to control the Air Force’s highly automated Global Hawk unmanned aircraft requires 75% fewer flying hours than large manned surveillance aircraft like the E-8 JSTARS. When factoring in “undergraduate” training that pilots receive before aircraft-specific training, cost savings is magnified. Pilots moving through traditional undergraduate training pipelines to manned aircraft receive 100+ hours of flying trainer aircraft before even beginning training on their assigned aircraft. For unmanned aircraft, because there is no “seat of the pants” feel to be gained from being in the aircraft, much of this training is replaced with simulators. Graduates of the Air Force’s “remotely-piloted” (read: unmanned) aircraft undergraduate training pipeline receive less than 40 actual flying hours, or over 60% fewer than manned aircraft pilots. Again, fewer flying hours equates to direct savings in fuel and maintenance costs, but also fewer aircraft needed for training, reducing procurement costs.

Perhaps most radically, a full carrier-based unmanned aircraft program need not require the same number of aircraft to resource the traditional 10 operational carrier air wings (i.e., the aircraft that fly off the carrier). Today, the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers have 10 associated “air wings.” Carriers operate on a rotational cycle that moves the carrier and its air wing through phases of deployment, refit, and training for another deployment. At any given point in time, there are 2-3 carriers deployed, another 3-4 in a heightened state of readiness prepared to deploy relatively quickly, and the remaining carriers in maintenance that are unable to deploy quickly. Traditionally, the air wings also operate on the same cycle. Thus, the Navy normally is required to purchase 10 air wings of aircraft even though several of them will be unable to deploy for months in the event of a conflict because their carriers are not ready to deploy.