21 February 2015

Every Insurgency Is Different

FEB. 15, 2015 

CHICAGO — America faces a wide array of insurgencies across the globe, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to the Taliban in Afghanistan, each one different in its aims, structures and strategies. So why do the United States and its allies take pretty much the same approach to all?

A “surge” briefly stabilized Iraq, but the same strategy failed in Afghanistan. Internationally backed negotiations succeeded in Bosnia, but have so far failed in Syria. Israel’s targeting of Hamas leaders has not degraded the group, even as the deaths of factional leaders have sowed confusion within the Pakistani Taliban.

This track record is spotty because the insurgents themselves vary tremendously, particularly in the social networks among their leaders, and between those leaders and the local communities in which they operate. All insurgents are not created equal, and so strategies need to be matched to the specific strengths and weaknesses of a group.

That said, it is possible to categorize insurgent groups as one of three primary types. The first, what we might call “integrated groups,” like the Afghan Taliban, rely on robust social networks to link leaders to one another and to local communities. They are resilient and cohesive: Despite various local feuds and internal disagreements, the Afghan Taliban have never collapsed into internecine warfare.

That cohesion helps to explain why the huge, decade-long American investment in counterinsurgency in Afghanistan has largely failed. Integrated groups can survive many of the standard prescriptions of counterinsurgency doctrine, leading to long, bloody conflicts. Only intense, often brutal, warfare, like Sri Lanka’s campaign against the Tamil Tigers, is likely to destroy or contain them.

Not the Map You’re Looking For:

As long as we all remain obsessively focused on the drawing and re-drawing of borders in the Middle East, it is easy to conclude that indeed, the region’s problems come from artificial states mapped out by careless imperialists with little regard for the inhabitants’ ethnic and religious affinities.

But I would argue this view becomes much harder to maintain when looking at the history and cartography of the Balkans and Central Asia, both of which exemplify different approaches to the problem of national delimitation. In Central Asia, the Soviet Regime drew up a new set of borders with cynically excruciating attention to the inhabitants’ ethnic and religious affinities, leading to the impossibly convoluted borders in the region today. And in the Balkans, locals were largely left to draw their own borders, leading to vicious fighting in the First Balkan War, Second Balkan War, First World War, Second World War, and whatever you want to call the conflict that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s. Set against these alternatives, blaming borders for the Middle East’s problems seems a more complicated proposition.

The Balkans: Conflicting Claims and Conflicting Categories

Another formerly Ottoman region that achieved its independence only slightly earlier than the Middle East, the Balkans provide a striking counter-example to the idea that the alternative to externally imposed “artificial” borders are locally-drawn authentic and stable ones.

Inset of map showing conflicting national claims to the Balkans following the Second Balkan War titled “Konigreich Bulgarien und die zentralen Balkanlander (Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Central Balkan Countries), Edited by Dr. Karl Peucker, printed Anst v. Th.Bannwarth, Wien, February 1913. 

Between the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and the conclusion of the Second Balkan War in 1913, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, and Romania all became independent states, often with Russian support. The problem, of course, was that none of these new countries could agree where their new borders should be. The image above comes from a German map showing the conflicting claims of the Balkan States in the region around Macedonia. This mess of intersecting lines proved more than anyone could resolve at the negotiating table. Almost as soon as a Greek-Serbian-Bulgarian alliance had finished driving the Ottomans out of Europe as allies in the First Balkan War, they turned against each other to resolve their conflicting territorial claims by force.

Orde Wingate and Combat Leadership

Dr Simon Anglim is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He has authored over a dozen papers on insurgency and special and covert operations and the role of educators in the British Army on combat operations. His book, Orde Wingate: Unconventional Warrior was published in October 2014.

Major General Orde Wingate was the most controversial British commander of the Second World War, and can split opinion seventy years after his death, not least every time something new is published about him. This is unsurprising: a man who ate six raw onions per day, ordered all his officers to eat at least one and who conducted press conferences in the nude while scrubbing himself with a wire brush is bound to leave an impression. However, much of the controversy runs deeper than this, stemming from his performance as military commander and leader, specifically during three episodes occurring late in a military career beginning with passing out from the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1923 and ending in death in an air crash in Burma in 1944.

First came the Palestine Arab uprising of 1936-1939, when Wingate, a captain on the Staff of General Headquarters in Haifa, was authorised by two British General Officers Commanding (GOC) Palestine, General Sir Archibald Wavell and General Sir Robert Haining, to train Jewish policemen, in British organised counterterrorist units known as the Special Night Squads. Wingate, a passionate Zionist, politicized this mission, turning it into the backbone of a personal campaign for a Jewish state, deploying his Night Squads in politically explosive pre-emptive and reprisal attacks on Arab villages believed to be hiding insurgents and using ‘robust’ methods to extract intelligence from prisoners.

Despite this — or perhaps because of it — Wingate was summoned by Wavell, now Commander in Chief, Middle East, in late 1940 to take over an operation organised by the MI(R) covert warfare branch of the British War Office aimed at escalating and steering guerrilla resistance in Italian occupied Ethiopia. Wingate succeeded far beyond MI(R)’s ambitions, raising and commanding ‘Gideon Force’, a purpose organised regular formation for operations deep inside hostile territory, which cooperated with local tribal irregulars in the Gojjam region of western Ethiopia to defeat an Italian force at least ten times its size and participated directly in restoring the Emperor Haile Selassie to the throne taken from him by the Italians five years before.

20 February 2015

Defence modernisation: Let not glitz get better of rationale

Lt Gen Anil Chait (rtd)
Feb 20, 2015: 

In both the geographic and strategic contexts, India is located in the most dangerous region of the world. The threats it faces are manifold – conventional threats from traditional adversaries who are nuclear powers with a very low professed threshold to escalate a prospective combat to a nuclear conflagration. 

There are, in addition, longstanding and ongoing threats of internal disturbances-past insurgencies, which are lying dormant, but not subdued. More recent and alarming is the threat of the non-conventional Fourth Generation Warfare with prospects of causing crippling damage to institutions and systems extending far outside the military strategic sphere, for which proactive preclusive deterrence is the only practical defence.

To be effective in accomplishing their duties, the armed forces need to maintain a concept led, capability based modernisation even while remaining threat aware and resource conscious. This is feasible only if threats in all their manifestations are carefully understood and capabilities needed to accomplish operational and strategic requirements identified. 

The operational roles of our forces is not one monolithic task. On the other hand, it is diverse and diffused, akin to three or four armies rolled into one combating conjointly, a proxy war in J&K, insurgency in the North East, keeping vigil and generating response against Chinese probes across Himalayas, besides the day to day border management role on the border and LOC with Pakistan. For each of these roles, training, equipment, plans and tactics are vastly different and call for our forces to make deliberate and harsh choices in modernising within the constraints of budget priorities.

To do so effectively, there is first, a need for a new military doctrine that takes into consideration the changing environment that denominates a new generation of equipment to counter the myriad threats growing in the South Asian region. The doctrine should outline ways to defend and secure India, deter near-term aggression and generate and maintain long-term conventional military parity/supremacy.

A book that never ceases to ask questions

Rudrangshu Mukherjee
February 20 , 2015

It was quite early in the morning, perhaps a few hours after dawn. Two vast armies, one much larger than the other, were arranged for battle on two sides of a huge rolling field. The warriors in their glittering armour were all ready for battle, to kill their own kinsmen, now made into enemies over a kingdom or even over five villages. The cymbals had clashed when, most unexpectedly, it was the great warrior, arguably the greatest warrior in Kurukshetra, who suffered the pangs of conscience. How could he kill his own relatives, his guru, the person whom he had called his grandfather and the young men he had grown up with? He posed this question to his charioteer, Krishna. The latter's answer, running into seven hundred verses, has become a classic. It is known to the world as the Bhagavad Gita or often more simply as just the Gita.

This exchange between Krishna and Arjuna is tucked away in the sixth book or parva of the Mahabharata, the book named after the grandfather, Bhishma. It is the pause before the bloodshed. Readers of the epic are expected to willingly suspend their disbelief. What did all the generals and soldiers do as Arjuna and Krishna, warrior and charioteer, protégé and mentor, devotee and god, inseparable friends who are also brothers-in-law, went through this expostulation and reply, the dialogue to end all dialogues, as some Hindus would like to believe? The suspension of disbelief would have us yield to the illusion that the rest of the armies just stood by in bewildered silence. Or was this that enchanted moment when time was frozen and not a soul moved as seven hundred verses were gone through? How long did it take? Did the battle begin only in the late afternoon? Such mundane questions are perhaps best not asked of an epic.

There are, however, other features of the epic style that have to be noted. The Mahabharatahas 18 parvas, the Gita18 adhayas. The telling of the Mahabharata is through a framed narrative. So is the Gita. As a prelude to the battle, the writer of the epic, Vyasa, gives to Sanjaya the gift of the divine eye so that he can observe every aspect of the battle and describe it to the blind king, Dhritarashtra. It is through Sanjaya's narration that we learn about Krishna's discourse on life, on duty, on dharma, to Arjuna. It needs to be underscored that the first word of the Bhagavad Gita is ' dharma'. And it closes with Sanjaya telling Dhritarashtra that its supreme secret comes to them by "Vyasa's grace."

Band-aid solutions for health problems

Shamika Ravi, Rahul Ahluwalia
February 20, 2015 

The Draft National Health Policy 2015 fails to tackle head-on the core problem of the Indian health system: its management, administration and overall governance structure

The Draft National Health Policy of 2015 released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, is a comprehensive document. So comprehensive, in fact, that it says too little by saying too much. A National Heath Policy is commonly read as a political statement which is meant to provide a vision to the long-term health strategy for the country. The latest health policy speaks about a wide variety of issues that plague our health-care system — low public health expenditure, inequity in access, and poor quality of care. It also suggests a variety of ways to address them, mainly focussed around increasing government spending on health and expanding the public delivery system. However, the health policy fails to tackle head-on the core problem of the Indian health system — its management, administration and overall governance structure, without which the measures it suggests are merely symptomatic treatments, akin to putting a “Band-aid on a corpse.”

Far from the horseshoe table

February 19, 2015 

Each time an Indian dignitary goes abroad or a foreign one visits India, both sides scramble for a formulation on India’s candidature for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This pleases India, though it doesn’t move us any closer to New Delhi’s diplomatic holy grail. If China or the United States is involved, the excitement is even higher. But the fresh formulations are mostly old wine in a new bottle: the substance is the same, though the presentation is appealing and open to different interpretations. The tantalising horseshoe table of the UNSC remains elusive, except for the occasional two-year rendezvous. The net result of our 35-year campaign is that we are elected to the UNSC less often these days than before, despite our increased geopolitical and economic importance.

US President Barack Obama thought he was giving India the next best thing after the nuclear deal when, in 2010, he declared in Parliament: “In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member”. The US had not said anything similar before. But Obama’s futuristic and conditional formulation had no practical meaning. Worse, news leaked that the US intelligence agencies were keeping a watch on India’s activities on UNSC reform. Unless the US proposes to build consensus on a particular package for expansion, verbal support has no meaning. The reality is that there is no plan that could enjoy the support of two-thirds of the General Assembly, including the permanent members — not even the latest proposal by Kofi Annan and Gro Brundtland.

Obama did not improve the quality of his support during his visit this year. He just repeated the 2010 formulation in a different way. The message was loud and clear: the US is not ready for UNSC reform.

Whose biryani is it anyway?

February 20, 2015

Food has often been invoked to make a political point in India. “Khichdi sarkar” — the norm for the past 25 years — can suggest derision for a mixed-up sarkar, or a stomach-healing sarkar, depending on how one looks at it. “No free lunch” has been invoked often enough, and the “mango people” have their own unfortunate history. But “biryani” is special. Those in the know claim that the history of biryani is really a crash course in Indian history. And now, it would seem, in politics.

Coast Guard DIG B.K. Loshali, under fire for saying several things about exploding boats, admitted to being averse to feeding the mysterious Pakistani boatmen “biryani”, clarifying that biryani had somehow made it to the list of things that signal an acceptable worldview in today’s India. He ended up invoking the one food item that has historically stood for welding cultures and spices together. But, as recent political culture goes, it has been used singularly to call out “traitors/ anti-nationals”. Biryani, one of the most popular dishes in the country, irrespective of one’s faith, is used cynically here to berate meat-eaters — that is, hint at its Muslim origins — and to equate violence and terror with a community. The word has come to telegraphically convey what people with a polarising position want to chew on, but prefer not to spell out.

In 1995, before sieges were telecast live, when Charar-e-Sharif was taken by terrorists and five people were held hostage and given food by the authorities — as they would have to be — the BJP’s tallest leader at the time invoked the idea of the Congress-led Narasimha Rao government sending in trays of “biryani” to make a point about “national security” and biryani being at opposite ends of the spectrum.

It’s time to talk of the fourth evil

F.S. Aijazuddin
Feb 20 2015 

The fourth evil that no one talks about is obsolete technology. Poor countries like Pakistan get hand-me-downs. Technologically, Pakistan will have the same DNA as its imported arsenal, the single child born of Chinese parents and Russian grandparents

IT is not sound policy to treat Chinese presidents with the same casual insouciance that we reserve for our own Mamnoon Hussain. Each head of state is the symbolic apex of the nation. The difference is that China's President Xi Jinping owes his pre-eminent position to the collective confidence the Chinese leadership has in him to propel their country into the 21st century, while President Mamnoon Hussain owes his sinecure and “grace and favour” residence in Islamabad to the personal generosity of the Sharifs.

Nothing could offer a starker contrast to the norms of reciprocal hospitality than the treatment each host country has shown its esteemed guest recently. The Chinese president received Mamnoon Hussain on a state visit in February, and again in May 2014. President Xi Jinping had to cancel “on security grounds” — his return visit to Pakistan, scheduled for Sept 14-16. It was a shabby quid pro quo, especially after Xi Jinping had singled out Pakistan as China's unique “iron brother”.

The relationship between Pakistan and China invites such euphuistic analogies. It also defies rational analysis. Even though both countries became independent within two years of each other (Pakistan in 1947 and China in 1949), China's role over the past five decades has emerged as that of an unstinting donor, Pakistan’s the voracious, insatiable donee.

India’s Defence Industrial Complex

19 Feb , 2015

For India the urgent reorganisation of the MoD needs to be undertaken; it is important – not only for optimising the defence-industrial complex but also to leverage the defence of the country. It would be prudent to replace the MoD by a Department of Defence (DoD) staffed by military professionals with the DoD placed directly under the Prime Minister. Military (user) professionals must also be inducted at all levels of DRDO, DPSUs and OFs including at the managing and decision making levels. We must holistically review our defence technology roadmap with requisite focus on developing cutting edge technologies replete with plans to leapfrog technologies of the future.

As per one report, only ten per cent of the projects undertaken by the DRDO have MoD clearance…

The fulcrum of India’s defence – industrial complex hinges on the 50 plus laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), nine Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) and 42 Ordnance Factories (OF). All these together employ an overall manpower of 180,044 employees as on date. Many countries do not have this type of luxury. Private companies hitherto supplied equipment that was not manufactured by the DRDO, DPSUs and OF. The rest of private sector participation in defence was mostly ‘through’ DRDO-DPSUs that left the private sector frustrated while the defence forces ended up paying more money. Also, the equipment arrived in later timeframe than it would have if orders were placed with the private industry.

In the recent past, some projects such as Defence Communication Network (DCN) albeit minus the software, the Tactical Communication System (TCS) and the Battlefield Management System (BMS) the Developing Agency (DA) did finally go to the private sector. However, with the opening up of the defence sector to private companies by the new government already the concept of indigenisation appears to be catching on with Tata, Reliance and Mahindra all taking steps to establish military hardware production facilities in the country.

Time to Bid Adieu to World Bank

India has been one of the largest beneficiaries of World Bank assisted schemes in the last few decades and due to this, several health and educational schemes were implemented.But in the life of every society and country, there comes a time to say that we can stand on our own feet particularly if the country has ambitions to become an important power. Since India cannot be both a supplicant and also a candidate for the high table of global powers, it is perhaps time to say good-bye to World Bank assistance by India.

During the tenure of the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, a decision was taken to forgo bilateral assistance from several countries. At that time, it was received with skepticism by many. But the burgeoning foreign exchange reserves justified that decision and it also facilitated larger benefits to some poorer countries.

“First, taking advantage of our comfortable foreign exchange reserves and lower domestic interest rates, the Government has effected premature repayment of ‘high-cost’ currency pool loans of the World Bank, and of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) totaling around $ 3 billion. We intend to continue with this policy of prudently managing the external liabilities and of proactively liquidating relatively higher cost component of our external debt portfolio. “ [From the Budget Speech of the Finance Minister – 2003-2004]

The then Finance Minister Mr. Jaswant Singh initiated the following steps in the light of the above. The Government decided to (i) discontinue receiving aid from other countries except the following nine: Japan, UK, Germany, USA, EU, France, Italy, Canada and the Russian Federation and (ii) to make pre-payment of all bilateral debt owed to all the countries except the ones mentioned above.

India-Pakistan: The Teflon Terrorists

February 10, 2015: Another new enemy for the Pakistani Taliban are members who have defected to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and gone to war with a Taliban they see as sell-outs and reactionary Islamic radical pretenders. There have already been some fatal clashes between ISIL and Taliban in northwest Pakistan. ISIL has also attracted recruits from the Afghan Taliban and released a video showing a former leaders of a Pakistan Islamic terrorist faction now becoming a leader of the Pakistani branch of ISIL. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to get a better idea of how many Islamic terrorists and their families have fled from Pakistan to Afghanistan since June 2014. What has been discovered so far is that not all of these Islamic terrorists fled to eastern Afghanistan. Some are showing up in Taliban controlled areas in the south (Helmand). Most of these recent Islamic terrorist refugees from Pakistan are al Qaeda or groups from Central Asia (especially Uzbekistan). In December American, Afghan and Pakistani military leaders met in Pakistan and agreed to coordinate operations against Taliban operating on both sides of the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan. Many Islamic terrorists, including leaders have fled the Pakistani offensive in North Waziristan and headed for neighboring Afghanistan. These terrorists believed they would be safer but that proved to be untrue.

 Another problem these displaced Pakistani Islamic terrorists have had is growing armed resistance by local Afghan tribesmen. The Pakistani Taliban have always tried to get along with their fellow Pushtun tribesmen just across the border but over the years the constant violence (including the American bomb and missile attacks and thousands of rockets and mortar shells fired from Pakistan by the army and police there into these border areas) turned the tribes against the Pakistani Islamic terrorists and that is reflected in increased sniping, ambushes and armed confrontations on roads. 

The tribes are also supplying the Americans and Afghan security forces with more information, which often leads to precise UAV missile attacks or helicopter raids by commandos on Pakistani Taliban hideouts. This is causing heavy losses among key people in the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamic terrorists in the area. This has led to discussions about moving to a safer area. The options are not good. Going back to Pakistan is dangerous and given the feuding between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, moving to other parts of Afghanistan (except the south) is not a good idea. Meanwhile the Islamic terrorists in eastern Afghanistan are getting hammered as the Pakistani offensive against North Waziristan that began in June grinds on. 

Iron Dome: The Game-Changer

19 Feb , 2015

The Iron Dome Concept

The name ‘Iron Dome’ evokes an image of a protective bubble. The Iron Dome is an Israeli ground based, truck towable, short-range, ground-to-air air defence system in operation since 2011. Currently operated only by Israel and Singapore, it has been operationally tested in Operation Pillar of Strength in November 2012 and Operation Protective Edge, the two conflicts against Hamas in Gaza. It is designed and manufactured jointly by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (Rafael) and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd (IAI), in close coordination with Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). At a unit cost of $50 million per battery, every missile launch costs approximately $50,000. With a weight of 90 kg, the missile is three metres long and is carried in groups of 20 in each launcher. The warhead is believed to carry 11 kilograms or 24 pounds of high explosives. It is designed to destroy short range rockets and up to 155 mm artillery shells during day or night, at distances between four to 70 km. It can be operated in all weather conditions including in fog, dust storm, low clouds and rain. The lethal range may one day be increased to 250 km.

The Iron Dome has changed the face of the battle and released the military to other operational tasks…

Procurement: Pakistan Goes Russian

February 18, 2015

Pakistan has agreed to go through with a Russian offer to sell it Mi-35 helicopter gunships. This is the export version of the most recent upgrade of the Mi-24. Back in November Russia agreed to sell Pakistan up to twenty Mi-35s. The recent Pakistani decision to go through with the purchase did not mention quantity. 

The Mi-35 is a twelve ton helicopter gunship that also has a cargo area that can hold up to eight people or four stretchers. The Mi-24/35 can carry rockets, missiles bombs, and automatic cannon. It is used by over thirty countries and has a pretty good reputation for reliability. The design is based on the 1960s era Mi-8 transport helicopter. 

The quantity of Mi-35s to be obtained by Pakistan may be related to the army calling for all the helicopter gunships it can get, as these aircraft have proved a key weapon in the battles against Islamic terrorists in the tribal territories. The government, however is short of cash at the moment. The Russians are not known for offering generous credit terms like they did in the Cold War, but deals can be made if the long term benefit is attractive enough. 

For several years Pakistan has been seeking more helicopter gunships, in particular it wanted some new helicopters rather than used stuff to supplement, and replace the 35 American AH-1S and AH-1F gunships it already has. Over ten percent of these have been lost in the last few years in the tribal territories where helicopter gunships are badly needed, heavily used and frequently shot at. Second-hand gunships are what the government has been used to paying for. There may still be some uncertainty over the price for the Mi-35s and Russia may heavily discount the price on the first batch, just to get Pakistan addicted. . 

Warning Signs: Report Says That Afghan Military Losing Control of the Countryside to the Taliban

Brooks Tigner
February 18, 2015

Kabul is losing control of Afghan countryside, EU report states

Afghanistan’s government is losing control of its territory outside major population centres to the country’s insurgent groups, says the EU’s asylum agency.

"The overall trend is one of decreasing government control outside the larger towns and cities, escalating violence and more insurgent attacks," observed the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).

In its latest report, Afghanistan Security Situation , released on 13 February, EASO noted that Taliban, Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan, and other insurgent groups operating in the country are carrying out more large-scale attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Referring to the 31 December 2014 termination of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the 211-page report says the withdrawal of foreign troops “has had an impact on the areas that they used to secure. In those areas, which are now left to the ANSF, insurgents increasingly take control of territory and attack administrative centres and security installations”.

According to EASO, the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Nangarhar suffered the most violent incidents for the first 10 months of 2014, with Kunar being the most volatile province, although Faryab is rising in violence “with a high number of civilian casualties”.

Noting that Afghanistan’s security forces bore their highest numbers of casualties in 2013-14 since the insurgency started, the report says that “for the first time in the conflict, insurgents have been able to inflict nearly as many ANSF casualties as they suffered themselves”.

More than 13,000 ANSF personnel have been killed in the conflict - the majority since 2010 - according to Afghan government data.

Afghanistan’s insurgents increasingly use pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs), activated by the victim, as well as remote-controlled devices “which [are] mostly used to target the ANSF, but cause a lot of collateral damage,” EASO said.

Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Rise by 22 Percent in 2014

February 19, 2015

Afghan National Army Platoon Leader 'confiscating' a motorcycle of a suspected Taliban in 2012.

More face to face combat is behind a steep rise in conflict-related deaths and injuries among Afghan civilians in 2014. 

Today, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its 2014 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, highlighting the increasing death toll among Afghan civilians during last year. According to the report, there has been a 22 percent rise in war-related death and injuries of Afghan civilians in 2014. This is mostly due to an increase in heavy ground engagements between Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and insurgents, highlighting the changing nature of combat in the country caused by the gradual withdrawal of NATO and U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Deaths from ground operations surged 54 percent and were the biggest killers of Afghan women and children in 2014. Also, for the first time since 2009, more civilians were killed from injuries directly sustained during combat than from improvised explosives devices (IEDs). The report notes that both sides have frequently been indiscriminately using mortars, grenades, and rockets in civilian-populated areas with often devastating consequences for local inhabitants. The report attributed 72 per cent of all civilian casualties to Taliban insurgents and 14 per cent to the ANSF and U.S. and NATO forces.

UNAMA documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries recorded in a single year since 2009. Included in the toll were 3,699 civilian deaths (up 25 percent) and 6,849 civilian injuries (up 21 percent) from the previous year. Since 2009, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has caused 47,745 civilian casualties with 17,774 Afghan civilians killed and 29,971 injured.

The UNAMA report’s conclusions are supported by an extensive study conducted by the European Asylum Office (EAO) on the security situation in Afghanistan in 2014. The EAO report also notes – partially based on collaborative research with U.N. institutions – that ground combat in the country is on the rise and that the Taliban are growing stronger: “The insurgents have been increasingly successful in conquering and holding territory, but the ANSF generally still manage to control large city centres and towns in most of the country.”

Why Trade With China: An Arctic Perspective

By Heidar Gudjonsson and Egill Thor Nielsson
February 18, 2015

China, the world’s largest trader and second largest economy, has in recent years increased its outward investments and is dependent on international trade for its energy and food security. It should therefore come as no surprise that Chinese companies are looking for new growth opportunities in the Arctic, one of the world’s most resource-rich regions. The Arctic holds as much as 20 percent of Earth’s remaining natural resources, including energy (renewables and fossil fuels), minerals, fresh water and seafood; it also plays an important role in international transport networks, with the vast majority of global trade taking place in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Arctic can offer diverse opportunities with a potential marriage of resource utilization in the North and rising buying power in the East playing a key role. Some Arctic projects will take time and deep pockets to develop. It is hard to see who other than Chinese companies currently has the stamina to wait up to 10 years for investments to yield profits. Moreover, China, like other great powers in history, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, has established itself as a proponent for free trade and of freedom of navigation.

Historically, the relationship between Europe and the Arctic has been strong. The pioneers of Arctic exploration came from Europe and trade, ever since the Viking era, has been very active. This may now be changing, for several reasons. The biggest factor could be advances in transportation, where costs have been coming down tremendously, opening up new markets for resources and shifting world economic growth away from Europe. Demographics are a very strong indicator of future growth. Around 1950, Europe had roughly half a billion people, the U.S. had 150 million, and the world 2.5 billion. Today, Europe is more or less unchanged, the U.S. has doubled, and the world tripled. This trend is continuing and is diminishing the role of Europe in world markets.

The ISIS Social Media Machine

Alyssa Bereznak
February 18, 2015

Terror Inc.: How the Islamic State became a branding behemoth

When Robin Williams died last August, people around the world rushed online to mourn the loss of the actor. “Oh dear God. The wonderful Robin Williams has gone,” Bette Midler tweeted. “No words,” added a somber Billy Crystal. “Shame. I liked Jumanji,” tweeted one England-based Twitter user. “Good movie. Loved it as a kid,” replied an account with the handle @Mujahid4life.

“Mujahid,” for those unfamiliar, roughly translates to “jihadist warrior.” And this particular handle belonged to a 19-year-old British-born guy by the name of Abdullah, who happened to be both a supporter of the Islamic State and a big Robin Williams fan.

Abdullah’s opinion of the fallen star unleashed a torrent of blog posts, most of which marveled at the fact that a member of an organization that openly beheads its enemies could also have the emotional capacity to mourn a U.S. comedian on Twitter. But however surreal it was to watch Hollywood actors and terrorist sympathizers tangle online, those voyeuristic bloggers missed a larger point. That moment encapsulated a key pillar of the group’s now infamous social media fortress: Spreading extremist ideology doesn’t need to start with religious screeds and beheadings. It starts — as a social media 101 instructor might say — by simply taking part in the conversation.

It’s been less than a year since IS burst onto the stage, seizing large amounts of territory and shocking the world with its brutally violent tactics. During that time, the group has evolved into a highly sophisticated multimedia organization, boasting slick social media strategies that could give major corporate marketing teams a run for their money. IS knows how to package its extremist ideology in the form of well-produced videos, attractive graphics, polished magazines and strategic online posts. It’s also strikingly savvy at spreading them online, tailoring their presentation and message to media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Vine. The messages are hypercustomized in language, tone and content to reach as many people possible and ultimately go viral. As Marshall Sella recently wrote in Matter, IS is “an entire brand family, the equivalents of the Apple logo’s glow … terrorism’s Coca-Cola.” There’s no need to hold an IS-stamped watch or baseball hat in your hands to face the truth: IS is a powerful and terrifying brand that we were not prepared to reckon with.

Pentagon and Intel Community Trying (Again!) to Counter ISIS Propaganda Machine

Eric Schmitt
February 17, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is revamping its effort to counter the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, acknowledging that the terrorist group has been far more effective in attracting new recruits, financing and global notoriety than the United States and its allies have been in thwarting it.

At the heart of the plan is expanding a tiny State Department agency, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, to harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.

The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, and who may have more credibility with ISIS’ target audience of young men and women than the American government. 

With the Islamic State and its supporters producing as many as 90,000 tweets and other social media responses every day, American officials acknowledge they have a tough job ahead to blunt the group’s digital momentum in the same way a United States-led air campaign has slowed ISIS’ advances on the battlefield in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Syria.

“We’re getting beaten on volume, so the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating and amplifying existing content,” Richard A. Stengel, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said by telephone on Monday. Until now, he said, the efforts to counter ISIS could have been better coordinated.

Many of the plan’s details are still being worked out, but administration officials are expected to describe at least its broad outlines during three days of meetings, sponsored by the White House and beginning Tuesday, intended to showcase efforts underway in the United States and abroad to combat what the authorities call violent extremism.

Ukraine's Other War: Parliament Advances Anti-Corruption Fight

FEBRUARY 13, 2015

Members of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, overwhelmingly passed a bill to end their own legal immunity from prosecution, one of the main laws that for years helped Ukraine to the top of Europe’s corruption charts. Article 80 of Ukraine’s constitution protects all Rada members from prosecution for any crimes, and “opinion surveys consistently show that 90 percent of Ukrainians favor cancellation” of the law, writes the Atlantic Council’s Kyiv-based senior fellow, Brian Mefford.

The bill now goes to the Constitutional Court for review. While the Rada will have to confirm its vote twice (winning a minimum of 301 votes—two thirds of the parliament deputies—each time) “to finally eliminate the hated provision from the Constitution, it is an important first step,” Mefford writes in his blog on Ukraine politics.

“Following the 2007 parliamentary campaign, in which the Our Ukraine bloc [of former President Viktor Yushchenko] campaigned almost entirely on the issue but failed to get anywhere near the 301 votes necessary to make it law, this is a welcome sign,” Mefford writes. If the bill passes the Constitutional Court’s review, the final vote may be taken in September.

Anti-Corruption Bureau Still Waiting