26 February 2015

The Military Needs To Overhaul Its Personnel Management Practices


February 23, 2015

The military needs to base personnel management on the best practices of today's corporate world, not the 1960s.

Personnel management is not just a problem in the military, it is a problem everywhere. A 2014 study released from the Society for Human Resource Management found that more than half of human resource professionals graded their company either a C+ or B in how they manage performance. Given the strong lack of faith in leadership highlighted by the recent Military Times series and the 2014 Navy Retention Study, the military would probably be lucky to get grades like that. The Air Force’s current effort to change the enlisted performance report and promotion system is just one example of how the military is trying to change its ways. Unfortunately, the problem with these changes is that they are often a generation behind current practices in human resources circles.

One of the cornerstones of military personnel management is stratification. Because the service operates unders an up or out promotion system, there is the constant need to determine where the cut line is among a group of individuals. This means that the primary question is how best to stratify individuals. The Air Force spent years revamping the enlisted performance review system in order to fight against grade inflation known as “Firewall 5s,” one system that made it impossible to tell which individuals are truly superior performers. Though many details have not been released, it’s clear that the prevention of inflation in the new system will be implemented through a quota system. When preparing to make promotion recommendations, commanders will have four possible categories to place an individual in and only a certain percentage of individuals will be allowed in the top two categories.

Forget Drones - This Is the US Arms Export to Watch

February 24, 2015

A little-known material has the potential to revolutionize weapons technology. 

Writing for Breaking Defense, Sydney J. Freedberg, pointed out an underreported recent change in Washington’s arms export policy. Last week, the U.S. government authorized American defense contractor Raytheon to export a radar upgrade of its Patriot missile defense system to 22 countries. This new upgrade for the Patriot’s land-based radar contains a little-known material called gallium nitride (GaN), whichaccording to Raytheon’s Vice President of Research and Development, John C. Zolper, is a, “wide band gap semiconductor material with special properties that are ideal for applications in optoelectronics, and high-power, high-frequency amplifiers.”

Breaking Defense quotes defense consultant Loren Thompson, who underlines the importance of GaN: “The gallium nitride story is an under-reported and really revolutionary development. People are saying it’s the biggest invention in semi-conductors since silicon.”

The specific upgrades are two extra panels that give the radar increased range and a 360-degree field of view for little extra cost. Gallium nitride can carry higher voltages than other semiconductor materials, meaning higher efficiency, which in turn means less power is required for the operation of the radar. This, according to Patriot upgrade program director Norm Cantin, makes the radar system more reliable and cheaper to maintain in the long-run.

Jack Cartland, technical director for missile defense at Raytheon, noted the uphill battle his company had to fight with the government bureaucracy: “What we were asking for permission to export was pretty state of the art technology, and so getting export approval… took a little bit longer. The low observable/counter low observable tri-service committee [the committee which had to approve the export request] did not have [a] policy on what would be permitted in terms of these high-technology AESA [active electronically scanned] arrays [a type of phased array radar].”

Amidst the recent announcement that the United States will authorize for the first time the export of drones to allied nations, Loren Thompson argues that the media has missed the importance of the gallium nitride export authorization:“The policy on exporting armed drones is quite restrictive. It is only a loosening in the sense that previously there were no exports to anybody other than Britain. There are so many strings attached.”

25 February 2015

The revolution begins: With Finance Commission recommendations, Centre-state relations set to undergo dramatic change

February 25, 2015, 

Any big change requires big ideas, decisive leadership and happy coincidence of circumstances. Nothing illustrates this better than the unfolding story of cooperative federalism in India. 

As chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi had often argued that the central government implemented schemes were at odds with the state’s needs and priorities. For example, schemes that provided funds for electrification were at best of limited value to Gujarat since it had already achieved near 100% electrification. This state could have spent the money provided for such a scheme more productively if allowed to use it for other purposes. 

In advancing this view, Modi was joined by other chief ministers such as Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan who argued that the vast numbers of central schemes further restricted their fiscal space because many of them required matching contributions by them from their otherwise untied funds. Once these matching funds were committed to access central schemes, states were left with very limited funds for even the most important expenditure items such as enforcement of law and order. 

Nevertheless, this system has remained entrenched in one form or another in the last several decades on account of coincidence of three factors. First, outside of state leaders and a few economists and policy analysts, advocates of the view that true federalism means giving greater fiscal space to states and trusting them in setting their own priorities have been few and far between. 

Second, the Finance Commission – appointed once every five years – plays a key role in the division of tax revenues between Centre and states. Consistent with the first point, successive Finance Commissions held untied funds to the states at or below 30% of the divisible tax pool. Only the 13th Finance Commission exceeded this mark, setting the states’ share at 32%. 

Food insecurity and statistical fog

Jean Drèze 
February 25, 2015 

The implementation of the National Food Security Act is mired in apathy and confusion. A grave injustice is being done to millions of people who live on the margin of subsistence. It is not too late to remove the roadblocks, but this requires a sense of urgency 

An odd silence has surrounded the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in the last few months — as if food insecurity were a thing of the past. It may be recalled that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), far from opposing the Act, vociferously demanded a more comprehensive law when the NFSA was being discussed in Parliament in 2013. In some States, notably Chhattisgarh, the BJP had taken the lead in guaranteeing entitlements that were later included in the Act, and also in showing that the Public Distribution System (PDS) can be reformed. Today, however, the Modi government’s urge to “get things done” does not seem to extend to the NFSA. 

Step towards food security 

This is unfortunate because the nutrition situation in India remains critical. Very few countries if any, had higher levels of child undernourishment in 2005-6, the last time India collected reliable nutrition statistics at the national level (under the third National Family Health Survey). What happened since then is hard to tell. Some surveys, including a government-sponsored UNICEF survey, suggest significant improvement. Others, notably the second India Human Development Survey, point to very limited progress. This statistical fog, largely due to the failure of the fourth National Family Health Survey, does not help matters. What is clear is that even if substantial progress took place since 2005-6, undernutrition levels in India remain higher than almost anywhere else in the world. 

It is no one’s claim that the NFSA is an adequate answer to this problem. The Act has serious flaws, and leaves out some important requirements of good nutrition (e.g. sanitation). Still, effective implementation of NFSA would make an important contribution to food security and improved nutrition. Recent experience shows that a well-functioning PDS makes a big difference to people who live on the margin of subsistence. The Act is also an opportunity to strengthen valuable child nutrition programmes such as school meals and the Integrated Child Development Services. 

Chinese Takeaway: Railway Lessons

The total span of the rail network is only one measure of India’s slowdown relative to China.

As the NDA presents the rail budget this week, it is worth reflecting on the growing gap between the Indian railway system and that of its Asian peer, China. Thanks to the British Raj, India had a head start over China in the 19th century. The British built the first experimental rail line in the subcontinent near Chennai in 1836. In China, it was a British company, Jardine, Matheson and Company, which laid the first tracks in Shanghai in 1876. The line connected British and American territorial settlements with the Wusong docks on the Huangpu River. But the local governor of Shanghai quickly dismantled it, accusing the British of building the line without the permission of the emperor in Beijing.

By the turn of the 20th century, the subcontinent had nearly 15,000 km of railway track, in comparison to just 600 km in China. After Partition and Independence in 1947, India’s rail network was nearly 54,000 km. China, in contrast, had about 27,000 km, of which barely 8,000 km was usable because of the civil war. Since Independence, China has nearly quadrupled its rail network to about 1,10,000 km. India has added barely 11,000 km of track.

The total span of the rail network is only one measure of India’s slowdown relative to China. Once the leader in the development of railways in the non-Western world, India is no longer at the cutting edge. As far back as the late 19th century, the Indian Railways was laying tracks in distant lands of Africa and surveying potential rail routes to China through Burma. New Delhi now desperately needs foreign collaboration to come up to speed with the rest of the world, thanks to misguided policies of self-reliance and massive mismanagement over the last many decades.

Secret histories - Ministers get away with what peons can't, when it comes to oi

Diplomacy - K.P. Nayar
Source Link


My first encounter with an Indian "official secret" from the petroleum ministry - which is making front-page headlines this week - was in the 1980s. It took me only minutes to realize that almost the entire "secret" document had been plagiarized from an oil and gas industry newsletter published every week from Cyprus.

I was visiting New Delhi and called on a senior official with whom I had developed an association during his frequent work-related visits to oil-producing countries in the Gulf. He always made transit halts in Dubai, where I lived then, because it was his "approved route". This meant that he was required to fly on Air India from New Delhi to Dubai, and could only take another airline to his final destination if the State-run Indian national carrier did not fly on that sector. His overnight hotel stay in Dubai and other transit expenses meant that the government spent more on his trips than it would have cost the exchequer if the official had taken, say, an Iran Air direct flight from Mumbai to Tehran or an Iraqi Airways flight from Delhi to Baghdad. But then, those are still the ways of the government of India.

On this particular trip of mine to New Delhi, the official in question thought that he was doing me a professional favour by passing on a petroleum ministry document on crude-oil fundamentals, including international market-price assumptions. Now, this was a time when the Iran-Iraq war was raging. The price of "sweet" crude, for instance, had gone up from $14 a barrel before the start of the war to $35 a barrel at the worst phase of the conflict in terms of falling production by the two warring oil-producing states.

The document I received was prominently classified as "SECRET" on the right-hand side of its opening page. India's foreign-exchange reserves were a far cry from today's comfortable levels and an increase in oil import prices by two and a half times imposed an unbearable burden on the treasury. But when I went through this so-called secret document which supposedly had a bearing on critical oil imports by India in my hotel room, I instantly knew that I had read it a few weeks before in the Middle East Economic Survey, better known by its industry acronym of MEES.

Me and my mandate

Rahul’s inner circle seemed full of people who were so concerned about expiating their guilt at being privileged that they refused to see the ways in which India was changing.

Deep metaphysical truths about politics often emerge in a hyper-politicised state like Bihar. I remember a conversation with a group of Nitish Kumar supporters who were upset when he broke his alliance with the BJP. One interlocutor said, “Inka gunah hai ke yeh paristhiti mein aur apne mein bhed nahin kar pa rahe hain (his besetting sin is that he cannot distinguish between his circumstances and himself)”.

Politicians are vulnerable when they are unable to distinguish what is due to circumstances and what is due to them. Instead of seeing how objective reality impinges on them, they begin to think reality is an extension of their will. In Nitish’s case, the specific charge at the time was that he had begun to believe whatever good was happening in Bihar was due entirely to him. He forgot the circumstances that allowed him a modicum of success. Nitish’s first term was unusual because, after decades, caste polarisation had been taken off the explicit agenda. His government had a wide social coalition, of the top and the bottom. One of the conditions of effective governance is to have a wide social coalition behind you, or else some social force or the other will devour the best administrative acumen. This is a deep truth.

A subsidiary point was that Nitish had picked all the low-hanging governance fruits. The tougher decisions that Bihar needs to take on topics as diverse as land and education will require even more broad-based support. The wicked challenges now facing Bihar need even broader social negotiations. Bihar had precariously created the possibility of such a moment. Will any political party be able to recreate it?

‘India should be a model for genetic research’

February 25, 2015 

Interview with Professor Eric S. Lander on how India, ‘perhaps the single most interesting country’ in terms of genetic diversity, is not as active as it should be in genomic studies 

On April 25, 2003, a group of geneticists representing six countries announced that it had mapped every one of the three billion letters making up the human genome. What had taken scientists of the Human Genome Project 13 years and $3 billion to achieve can be done today for $3,000. With thousands of human genomes now sequenced, one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, Eric S. Lander, says that in just five years the world could have “a complete catalogue for most of the important diseases.” 

In an interview with Divya Gandhi in New Delhi, where he delivered the first of a three-city Cell Press-TNQ Distinguished Lectureship Series, Professor Lander, President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, cautions against the “hype” around genomic research but also explores the promises it has shown in targeting cancer, heart disease and schizophrenia. Excerpts: 

In which areas of medicine are genomic revolutions most imminent? 

Cancer leads the way because cancer is a disease of the genome. Hundreds of drugs are making progress against genomic targets, and dozens have been approved already for use in humans. Drugs against melanoma, for instance, are directed against mutations in the BRAF gene. 

But there is important work going on in diabetes, in early heart attacks. And for the first time it has become possible to find genes that play a role in the causation of schizophrenia. That is a big deal because schizophrenia has been a black box for a very long time. To try to figure out how to treat a disease where you don’t know what is wrong is like trying to fix a car if you can’t actually pop the bonnet. 

How big a setback to genetic research has the cut in U.S. biomedical funding been? 

India's New Aircraft Carrier Plans May Get a Boost

February 24, 2015

New Delhi wants to expedite and upgrade its new aircraft carrier currently in the works. 

On Monday, The Times of India reported that India is trying to “fast-track” the finalization of its ambitious plan to launch its largest-ever aircraft carrier.

The newspaper cited defense sources as saying that the ongoing detailed naval study for the indigenous aircraft carrier-II (IAC-II), which will be called INS Vishal, has gained urgency.

The renewed urgency allegedly comes amidst the confirmation earlier this month New Delhi is set to retire one of its two current aircraft carriers, the INS Viraat – which was acquired from the United Kingdom in 1987 – in early 2016 following the International Fleet Review in Visakhapatnam. This will then leave the Indian navy with just one aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya which was procured from Russia in 2013. The new INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, is currently under construction in southern India and is expected to be ready only by around 2018 or 2019. India’s ultimate goal, former rear admiral Ravi Vohra recently said, is the eventual establishment of a five-carrier fleet comprising a mix of large and small carriers.

Despite media reports of the fast-tacking of the proposed 65,000 ton INS Vishal – which would be India’s largest aircraft carrier – it is unclear exactly what this “urgency” may actually mean for the project’s timeline. One officer told The Times of India that a few more months will be needed to finalize specifics like the exact tonnage, the type of propulsion as well as other parameters, following which the Indian government will “take the final call.” Indian officials have reportedly said that it will take at least 10 to 12 years to construct it.

Aside from the timeline, Indian officials also say that they are seriously considering boosting the INS Vishal’s capabilities. Most of the recent attention has been focused on the prospects for equipping the carrier with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). EMALS, which was developed by the US firm General Atomics (GA) for the US Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class carriers, would enable aircraft to be launched both faster and easier, thus allowing India to carry larger, bulkier and more heavily armed aircraft relative to a ski-jump launch system.

NEPAL’S DIRTY LITTLE WAR: COUNTERINSURGENCY AND THE FALL OF A HINDU KING

Aditya Adhikari
February 23, 2015 


On February 1, 2005, Nepal’s Shah King Gyanendra suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament, and assumed direct rule of a Hindu kingdom besieged by Maoist insurgency. Before severing communication lines and posting army personnel to the capital’s newsrooms, the monarch lamented the fissiparous, stunting tendencies of competitive politics. According to Gyanendra, “Nepal’s bitter experience over the past few years tends to show that democracy and progress contradict each other.”

When the King assumed direct rule, the country’s decade-long war had entered a critical stage. A series of battles the previous year had demonstrated the strategic and operational parity of the Nepalese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and The Royal Nepal Army (RNA), despite the arms and training the latter received from foreign powers under the rubric of the Global War on Terror. Civilians continued to bear the brunt of a low-intensity conflict that was fought far outside the laws of war.

The monarch’s gambit was the defining moment in Nepal’s modern political history. Within the country’s three-way power dynamic, the king’s decision was a strategic blunder from which the 240-year-old Shah monarchy would never recover. Just over a year after the royal takeover, the political parties and Maoists toppled the monarch in a people’s movement that paved the way for the formation of a Constituent Assembly and brought the Maoists above ground. In 2008, the former rebels assumed state power via the ballot box, though their government soon came to an abrupt end after an unsuccessful attempt to sack the country’s chief of army staff. More than eight years after the signing of a peace agreement, Nepal remains mired in political instability and is yet to draft a constitution.

Is the Indian Rafale MMRCA Purchase Really Dead?

February 23, 2015

Senior Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials’ recent statements to local media regarding a potential $20 billion procurement of 126 new-build French Dassault Rafale jet fighters as being "effectively dead" have led to confusion and speculation. Whether or not these statements accurately portray the mindset in the Defense Ministry, or are a negotiating ploy, remains to be seen. Yet there is little doubt that in terms of finalizing a deal, crunch time is fast approaching.

India chose the Rafale over the Eurofighter Typhoon on Jan. 31, 2012, following a two-round competition to meet the Indian Air Force's (IAF) medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) requirement. The Rafale won out over its competitors due to a variety of reasons, including favorable technology transfer guarantees, the aircraft's overall performance and India's longstanding defense trade relationship with France.

But the most important of the reasons came down to Dassault’s lower life cycle cost estimate.

Now, after three years of frustrating negotiations for both sides, the culmination point is fast approaching – with no deal signed.

Under the terms of the MMRCA, the first batch of 18 aircraft is to be produced by the selected vendor and arrive in India in flyaway condition. The remaining 108 units are to be licensed-produced by India's state-owned aerospace giant, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Transition in Afghanistan: Losing the Forgotten War?

FEB 23, 2015 

The Burke Chair has previously circulated a report on the Transition in Afghanistan. It covers the civil and military lessons of the war, the trends at the time of transition, and the risks inherent in the current approach to supporting Afghanistan in 2015. We have since received further comments on the revised edition, and an update is being circulated in final draft form before becoming a CSIS E-book. This report is entitled Transition in Afghanistan: Losing the Forgotten War? It is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/files/publication/150223_Losing_Forgotten_War.pdf.

The report focuses on the lessons that need to be learned from the US experience in Afghanistan to date, and the problems Afghanistan faces now that most US and allied combat forces have left. It builds on more than a decade’s worth of reporting and analysis of the Afghan war. It examines the recent trends and problems in Afghan governance, the trends in the fighting, progress in the Afghan security forces, and what may be a growing crisis in the Afghan economy.

It supports the analysis with extensive metrics on every major military and civil aspect of the war, a detailed analysis of the fighting, and the lack of political unity of the country and the problems in the effectiveness of its government. It provides a detailed analysis of the problems resulting from the recent election, a growing Afghan budget crisis, and critical problems with power brokers and corruption.

The report draws on new UN data issued in mid-February that indicates that the military situation is far worse than the US Department of Defense and ISAF have reported, and provides detailed graphs and maps showing the real risks in the current security situation.

It raises serious questions about the integrity of some of the reporting issued by ISAF and the Department of Defense, and the lack of meaningful reporting by the State department and USAID. It strongly supports the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) objection to the growing lack of transparency in US reporting on the war, and the over classification of the data needed to assess US efforts and strategy.

It also provides a detailed analysis of the problems in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the limits in their capability, as well as the weaknesses in past and planned US and allied force development and training efforts.

3 US contractors killed in shooting at Kabul airport

January 29, 2015

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter sits on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport on Dec. 8, 2014. Three contractors working with the international military coalition in Afghanistan were shot and killed Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, on the military side of the airport.

As the United States declares an end to its war in Afghanistan, the American-led coalition has taken steps to classify most of the indicators of how Afghan forces are faring after more than a decade of assistance. 

Many Afghans would like to see a greater American role after this year than is currently planned, while a majority believe that last year’s runoff election that led to a U.S.-brokered power-sharing government was "mostly fraudulent," according to a national poll released Thursday. 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Three U.S. contractors were killed and a fourth wounded Thursday in a shooting in Kabul, a U.S. defense official said.

Two media outlets reported that the shooter was an Afghan in an Army uniform.

U.S. Army Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, said the shooting occurred at about 6:40 p.m. at the military side of Kabul’s international airport.

The shooting is under investigation, he said.

What Went Wrong in Afghanistan? Oh, let me count the ways…


Hindu Kush

Last week, Best Defense’s Jim Gourley issued a daunting challenge: explain what went wrong in the United States’ venture into Afghanistan in 500 words or less. That’s like asking someone to drink two gallons of milk in five minutes while doing handstand push-ups. Still, the gauntlet was thrown, and a challenge cannot go unanswered. Chris Zeitz outlined his points in an excellent piece that articulates some of the key issues: resilient enemy, divided population, and “one size fits all” policies.

The ever-articulate Doctrine Man gave the most succinct answer: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” Sound advice.

My take is slightly different and, like Afghanistan itself, frustrating. The US went to war in 2001 with the goal to drive Al Qaeda terrorists out of Afghanistan, deny the country as a safe-haven for terrorists, and bring Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind, to justice. By 2003, two out of three goals had been nominally met. Sadly, 2003 was also the year that the US turned its focus to Iraq. The Global War on Terror became a two-front war. Operation Iraqi Freedom overshadowed Afghanistan, where complacency and mission creep set in. Assets were focused on Iraq, allowing Taliban fighters, leadership, and other hostiles to infiltrate the country again.

Secondly, we began the policy of “we broke it, we bought it” in Afghanistan, that we would also use in Iraq. This involved, for lack of a better term, nation building. Military goals and political goals became confused and tangled. The endstate for Afghanistan turned into a democratic, self-sufficient Afghan government, predicated by the notion that this was the only way to deny terrorists safe-haven. Simply put, the mission for US forces became protecting the Afghan people.

Next, we embarked on fighting the war in Afghanistan one troop-rotation at a time. Instead of fighting one fourteen year war, we fought fourteen one year wars. Security varied from region to region and year to year, depending on the policies and tactics of the units assigned. This prevented long-term gains.

Can The Chinese Army Fight a Modern War? Expert Says No.

Jane Perlez
February 23, 2015

U.S. Expert Finds Faults in Chinese Military Command

As exchanges between the American and Chinese militaries increase, so, too, do the reports of publicly available research on the People’s Liberation Army by American experts working outside the Pentagon.

This month the California-based RAND Corporation published a lengthy report on the weaknesses of the P.L.A. that focused on the human dimension rather than weapons.
Much of the research was based on open-source material in the Chinese military press. Now, a former Army attaché at the United States Embassy in Beijing, Dennis J. Blasko, has published a piece on the Chinese military not doing so well, and he draws on the military press for his conclusions.

In his article, “Ten Reasons Why China Will Have Trouble Fighting a Modern War,” published on the military affairs blog War on the Rocks, Mr. Blasko cited an antiquated chain of command, too many military personnel assigned to nonmilitary duties such as communications and transport, and too few officers trained in joint command operations.
In the past two years, Mr. Blasko wrote, Chinese Navy and Air Force officers have commanded joint exercises, but these appear to have been limited in scope and number. In late 2014, he said, the P.L.A. publicly recognized the lack of experience of its top officers in joint commands and announced a new program for the selection, training and appointment of joint operation commanding officers.

Like the RAND report, Mr. Blasko’s article stresses a lack of realistic training for the P.L.A. Efforts are being made to rectify this shortcoming, but some problems can sound rather quaint. One Chinese military journal referred to throwing away “night lanterns” during training. The Chinese often write in parables, Mr. Blasko said in an interview, and in this case the night lanterns were apparently a reference to flashlights that needed to be replaced with night-vision goggles.

Carter summons U.S. military commanders, diplomats to Kuwait

February 22 

Calling ground troops one of the tools that may be used in the complete defeat of Islamic State, the defense secretary cautioned that all steps in a plan must be thoroughly thought through. (AP)

KUWAIT CITY — New Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, seeking to put his imprimatur on the U.S. fight against the Islamic State, has summoned about 30 high-ranking military commanders and diplomats to Kuwait for an unusual session to review war plans and strategy. 

The summit, which is scheduled to take place Monday, will include the U.S. military’s combatant commanders for the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the three-star Army general in charge of the war in Iraq and Syria, the head of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, several ambassadors in the region and other key players from Washington. 

Defense officials said Carter called the gathering immediately upon taking office last week so he could more fully familiarize himself with the strategic underpinnings of the U.S.-led international campaign against the Islamic State. They said Carter was not necessarily seeking to change the fundamentals of the strategy, but they made clear that he would ask hard questions and press commanders and diplomats to justify their current approach. 

“This is absolutely not coming from a place of his concern about the strategy,” said a senior defense official involved in planning the summit, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon. “He’s just the kind of guy who likes to dig.” 

The senior official said the summit will focus less on basic military operations and more on complex issues such as sectarian political divisions in Iraq, the spread of Islamic State affiliates into North Africa and Afghanistan, the slow pace of training and equipping Syrian rebels, and fissures within the U.S.-led military coalition. 

ISIS Used a U.S. Prison as Boot Camp


02.23.15 

In an excerpt from their new book on ISIS, Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan show how jihadists used a U.S.-run Iraqi prison to coordinate with al Qaeda. 

In ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, American journalist Michael Weiss and Syrian analyst Hassan Hassan explain how these violent extremists evolved from a nearly defeated Iraqi insurgent group into a jihadi army of international volunteers who behead Western hostages in slickly produced videos and have conquered territory equal to the size of Great Britain. Beginning with the early days of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of ISIS’s first incarnation as “al Qaeda in Iraq,” Weiss and Hassan explain who the key players are—from their elusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the former Saddam Baathists in their ranks—where they come from, how the movement has attracted both local and global support, and where their financing comes from. 

The following excerpt concerns Iraq midway through the first decade of this century. 

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic state of Iraq (ISI) weren’t only using U.S.-run prisons as “jihadi universities,” according to Major General Doug Stone; they were actively trying to infiltrate those prisons to cultivate new recruits. In 2007, Stone assumed control over the entire detention and interrogation program in Iraq, with an aim to rehabilitation. Not only had the internationally publicized and condemned torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison left a permanent stain on the occupation and America’s credibility in the war, but theater detainment facilities had also been used as little more than social-networking furloughs for jihadists. Camp Bucca, based in the southern province of Basra, was especially notorious. 

Justice Department: We’ll Go After ISIS’ Twitter Army


02.23.15 

Not all speech is free - if it’s in support of ISIS. Helping the terror group spread the word online is a violation of anti-terror laws, a top Justice Department official says. 

Help spread ISIS propaganda on Twitter or Facebook, and you could go to jail. That’s the message the Justice Department sent Monday, as a top official said that he is willing to indict people who assist ISIS with its use and production of social media. The announcement raises questions about where the government would draw the line between support for a terrorist group or legally-protected free speech. 

Provocative tweets, Facebook posts, and grisly online beheading videos have all been a key part of ISIS’ recruitment and propaganda strategy, and one of the hardest elements of the terror group’s rise for U.S. national security agencies and technology companies to combat. And ISIS has attracted supporters online who, while they don't participate in attacks or killings, endorse the group's actions and proliferate its message. The Obama administration devoted much of last week to a summit on countering extremism -- especially extremism online. 

Did Turkey Cut a Deal With ISIS to Save Soldiers?


02.23.15 

The Turks’ mission to rescue an ancient Ottoman corpse and its guardians near Aleppo was not a step toward war with ISIS, but a step away. 

Turkish leaders have presented their weekend mission to rescue dozens of troops guarding an ancient Ottoman tomb inside Syria as a military triumph. But critics see Saturday night’s hit and split operation involving 600 Turkish soldiers, tanks and warplanes as more evidence of Ankara’s readiness to coordinate with the militants of the so-called Islamic State to avoid taking a major role in the fight against the jihadists. 

Facing sharp criticism from opposition politicians and accusations from Damascus of “flagrant aggression” for the nighttime incursion, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu congratulated the country’s military intelligence service and the army for the mission 23 miles inside Syria. He called the operation to relieve the garrison surrounded by ISIS “extremely successful,” even though one soldiers was killed, he said, by accident. 

Davutoğlu, speaking at a news conference in Ankara, said the operational force had to confront “an environment of conflict bearing every kind of risk” in order to repatriate the tomb’s honor guards, as well as the remains of Süleyman Şah, the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman empire. 

“I want to stress that a nation can build a future only by laying a claim to its past,” the Turkish prime minister added. 

IRAQ AFTER THE ISLAMIC STATE: POLITICS RULE

February 18, 2015

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – known by most people in the Middle East as Daesh – will lose its battle to hold territory in Iraq. It may well take one to two years to reduce their defenses in cities like Mosul, Tikrit, and Fallujah, but the ultimate outcome is no longer in serious doubt. This does not mean there will not be sizeable battles — and perhaps ISIL tactical victories — in the coming months. This does not mean that ISIL will be eliminated as a cell-based terrorist group in Iraq. This does not mean that groups from Afghanistan to Libya may not decide to affiliate themselves with ISIL. And above all, it does not mean that there is a plan to eject ISIL from Syria. But the outcome in Iraq is now clear to most serious analysts.

However, the occupation of about one-third of Iraq’s territory by ISIL has changed the fabric and politics of Iraqi society, perhaps forever. Politics will, as always, remain primary. All three major ethno-sectarian groups in Iraq have been shifted by the ISIL earthquake, but too few are thinking at this macro political level. Instead most analysts tend to focus on the latest micro-level event, but good analysis must look beyond day-to-day headlines and, indeed, beyond the horizon. Changes at Iraq’s macro-level, combined with older trends, provide reason for both pessimism and optimism for the future of Iraq.

Iraq’s Sunni Arabs

Any discussion of ISIL and its impact has to begin with Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, roughly one-sixth of the population. There is no sugarcoating their situation. The occupation of the Sunni regions of Iraq by ISIL is a cataclysm from which the Sunni will not recover for a generation or more.

While many — probably most — of Iraq’s Sunni citizens are appalled by the ascendance of ISIL, the stubborn fact remains that a significant proportion of this population cooperated and collaborated, some to the point of being co-belligerents, with ISIL. It has become fashionable, even commonplace, to blame this sympathy for ISIL with the abuses of the Maliki government, but the root causes are far deeper. While the security forces of the last government did act harshly in Sunni areas, these actions were very much in line with the reaction of almost all non-Western governments (and some Western ones) to terrorism and insurgency.