15 September 2014

Arab states mull air strikes on ISIS

Michael R Gordon,NYT News Service 
Sep 15, 2014

US secretary of state John Kerry is on a weeklong trip to mobilize international support for the campaign against ISIS.
PARIS: Several Arab countries have offered to carry out airstrikes against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, senior US state department officials said on Sunday. 

The offer was disclosed by American officials traveling with US secretary of state John Kerry, who is approaching the end of a weeklong trip that was intended to mobilize international support for the campaign against ISIS. 

"There have been offers both to Centcom and to the Iraqis of Arab countries taking more aggressive kinetic action," said one of the officials, who used the acronym for the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East. 

Kerry, who is in Paris to attend an international conference the French are hosting on Monday on providing aid to the new Iraqi government, has already visited Baghdad; Amman, Jordan; Jidda, Saudi Arabia; Ankara, Turkey; and Cairo. 

During Kerry's stop in Jidda on Thursday, 10 Arab countries joined the United States in issuing a communique that endorsed efforts to confront and ultimately "destroy" ISIS, including military action to which nations would contribute "as appropriate." 

American officials said that the communique should be interpreted as meaning that some, but not all, of the 10 Arab countries would play a role in the military effort. 

The United States has a broad definition of what it would mean to contribute to the military campaign. 

"Providing arms could be contributing to the military campaign," said a second State Department official. "Any sort of training activity would be contributing to the military campaign." 

Still, while the United States would clearly have the dominant role in an air campaign to roll back ISIS's gains in Iraq, it is clear that other nations may also participate. 

President Francois Hollande of France told Iraqi officials that his country would be willing to carry out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, senior Iraqi officials said. 

"We need aerial support from our allies," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq said during a joint news conference with Hollande on Friday. "The French president promised me today that France will participate in this effort, hitting the positions of the terrorists in Iraq." 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia has also said that his country will join the air campaign and is sending as many as eight FA-18 attack planes, as well as an early warning aircraft and a refueling plane. 

***** It’s Not Airpower Vs. Boots On Ground Any More

September 12, 2014

As the Air Force Association girds for its annual conference, which starts Monday here in Washington, I was struck by several comments from several experts that the traditional dichotomy between air power and ground forces — often the focus of internecine budget battles between the Army and Air Force — isn’t that relevant any more. Aircraft have begun to generate their own targeting grids using sensors. The model of Special Forces troops working closely with strike aircraft, as in the early days of Afghanistan, has moved further along as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors and processing power have improved. As Dave Deptula argued in our pages recently: “Today, virtually every combat aircraft brings some degree of precision intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to the fight, allowing airmen the ability to find, fix, and finish a target without ground assistance.” Robbin Laird argues below that the debate between boots and planes just isn’t that relevant anymore. The Editor.

As the Ukrainian and Middle Eastern crises roil our world, the debate quickly turns on which path will work best to deal with the evolving threats: boots on the ground, or planes in the air operating without boots on the ground. The specter of responses to the 9/11 attack and the various engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq naturally shade everyone’s perspectives.

But changing capabilities and concepts of operations are obliterating the classic distinction. The Marines have become the only tiltrotor enabled force in the world; the Air Force and Navy have shaped highly integrated air grids, and advances in both the lethality and effectiveness of manned and unmanned aviation have grown.

The past decade’s experience of the need to shape a very large and expensive ground grid from which to feed Special Forces and ground operations is not one the US is going to repeat anytime soon.

At the same time, conflict is evolving as well. The evolving pattern of 21st century conflict is emerging. It is a pattern in which state and non-state actors are working to reshape the global order in their favor by generating conflicts against the interests of the democracies but which the democracies are slow to react.

The assumption of ISIS terrorists, Putin as he invades Ukraine, and the Chinese leadership expanding their sovereignty beyond the limits recognized by international law is that the slow decision-making cycles of democracies can be exploited. Their diplomatic, policy and territorial gains are being achieved on a piecemeal basis, rather than going for the big grab because that might allow democratic leaders to rapidly mobilize public opinion, respond and generate resources.

**** Reflections on the Modern Battlefield: A Discussion with General Anthony Zinni

September 12, 2014

Reflections on the Modern Battlefield: A Discussion with General Anthony Zinni

Together with Tony Koltz General Zinni co-authored the just released book “Before the First Shots are Fired. How America Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield”, published by Palgrave Macmillan, September 2014.

Anthony Zinni is a retired United States Marine Corps general and a former Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM). In 2002, he was selected to be a special envoy for the United States to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The modern general must not only be expert in his military profession of arms, he must also be part anthropologist, part economist, part sociologist, part political scientist, part everything else that brings expertise to the structuring of a stable and viable society capable of thriving in the twenty-first century. When he exits the battlefield, he is now expected not only to leave behind a vanquished enemy, but a functioning, stable society. A president can no longer just look for a good fighter to plot the operational scheme that leads to victory in arms. He must also find a person who can reconstruct a society.

SWJ: You open your book with a blunt statement: “that wars are not always decided entirely on the battlefield”. Having in mind the post 9/11 decade, what are the other variables, the off the battlefield components that must be in sync in order to wage war successfully?

General Zinni: I think that one of the things that are important off battlefield is the political context. Clausewitz said that a war is basically just an instrument of politics so you have to be clear why the decision has been made, what interests are being protected or promoted, what threats you are dealing with, and how significant are those threats to require the use of military force. The way you decide to approach it is also very important. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam we went in there to try to rebuild nations - remodel governance systems, social programs and economic systems. Is this feasible, what is the cost? Do you have the support of the American people, of the international community for what you do? And how do you correlate the strategic and political goals? What do you want to achieve? Before that first soldier puts his boots on the ground you may have already created through all these decisions I mentioned the environment that helps him succeed or handicaps to a point failure. People, especially the Americans, when they look at these interventions look only on the battlefield to determine whether we succeed or fail by the performance of the military on the ground when there are so many other conditions and variables that go on off the battlefield - mainly at the level of political leadership, civilian and military leadership that could shape whether we are going to win or lose.

SWJ: What does it take for the US to produce good civilian strategic leadership schooled in the Clausewitzian art of understanding that war is a political instrument and a political responsibility? What does it take to produce good civilian strategic leadership, more Marshalls, more Kennans?

General Zinni: You hit the problem right on the head. We don’t put enough emphasis on the need for a strong and viable strategy. Often times we launch these interventions without an understanding of what the strategic goals are, what the approaches we are going to use are. Just look at what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Part way through we declared mission accomplished, than it’s not, than we add more troops and the surge, we never understood how this is going to pan out in terms of the governance of Iraq, our future relationships and our sustained military presence. We were making it up as we went along. I would say the same thing happened in Afghanistan as happened in Vietnam. Without a clear strategy you have this problem. In our system every 4 years we turn over an administration. And we are fascinated with bringing in people outside Washington that desire to change Washington. The problem is that they come with no experience on the international scene or in understanding the implications in using the military. We don’t talk in terms of strategy, we talk in terms of military programs, we put budgets together, and provide funding. It is almost as if our political leadership sees no relationship between their political responsibilities and their military responsibilities. They miss Clausewitz’s most important point. War is a political act from start to finish. The political leadership, the policy developers and the operational commanders must be in sync. We should never fail to align policy, politics, strategy, operational design and the tactics in the field.

PM gives clarity to security, writes Anil Chait

Anil Chait | Mail Today | New Delhi

September 11, 2014

As the NDA government completes a hundred days in office, it has set an affirmative pace and tone in several areas of policy formulation and actions. Significantly, these include peeling off many layers of ambiguity and complexity to bring clarity to our national security perspective.

Some of the responses of the government to security related developments provide a clear glimpse of how it seeks to secure India and Indians and the message it conveys to our nation's adversaries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to military personnel at Ladakh on August 12 was the occasion he used to spell out the first, notable policy shift. This was followed by the Government's support to the 'tough' posturing in dealing with ceasefire violations and later, the decision to put off the Foreign Secretary talks, after the Pakistan High Commissioner arranged meetings with Kashmiri separatist leaders, changed the status quo in quick time. While departing for Japan on Aug 31 he cautioned Islamabad, to keep the environment free of terrorism and violence and assured Japan, that there will be no change to India's nuclear doctrine, while he seeks to build security and trade pacts with them.

Finally recommending 'vichar' instead of 'vistar' to those possessing the 18th Century expansionist mindset, he decided to sit with Japan as he stands up to China's President Mr Xi Jinping.


Indian soldiers patrolling the LoC.The contours of the new approach towards national security should emerge from an examination of the measured words and actions in each case. Take first, the address to troops. Delivered at Kargil, a militarily significant location, the Prime Minister spelled out his assessment that Pakistan now had no strength to fight an open conventional war, which is why it has taken recourse to a proxy (terror) war against India. In strategic terms, this meant the 'conventional' warfare route by a belligerent neighbour has been abandoned in favour of the 'sub conventional', and 'asymmetrical' warfare route to deal with India. Coming from the Prime Minister, this is an observation of immense significance.

The lowering of the tolerance threshold for indiscriminate firing across the IB and LoC was another index of change. Message out to Pakistan is clear, that India is no more a soft state and that the costs of bleeding it, would have to be borne by blood. The Forces have also been asked to give a befitting reply. While Pakistan daily, Jung, reports heavy losses on the Pakistani side, cautionary messages in content are unambiguous - "escalating tension is not good; Pakistan should mend its ways because if it does not then it will not be good for them; environment is not conducive for talks", etc. The decision to call off Secretary level talks with Pakistan follows the caveat 'either talk to us or to separatists'. Reversing Pakistan's perception of India being defensive, soft and conceding, political parties in J&K such as National Conference and PDP stood isolated on the eve of state elections whatever be their stand for the political remedy of the Kashmir dispute.

Service before self: Army camps submerged as soldiers save Kashmir

Army men repair fence along the border damaged by floods in Jammu and Kashmir. Photograph: PTI

When calamity strikes, it does not discriminate. This was on ample display when floods ravaged Kashmir.

Along with civilian population, security forces deployed in Srinagar from various parts of the country were also hit badly. They lost their belongings and their weapons were damaged or left useless after water entered their camps across the Kashmir Valley.

Hundreds of AK rifles, INSAS rifles and SLR rifles, along with their ammunition, are still submerged at various places across the Kashmir Valley, so are bombs, hand grenades etc.

Some reports said 26 AK rifles from an army camps have been washed away in the floods. In the area of Gogji Bagh in uptown Srinagar, one of the worst hit parts of the Valley, about 400 personnel of a central paramilitary force had to leave their camp after gushing waters engulfed it last Sunday night.

“We got orders to leave everything and save our lives," said one of them, explaining how weapons remained in the submerged building complex.

A view of army vehicles damaged by floods at Bonyar in Baramulla. 

Whatever You Do, Don’t Buy Your Aircraft Carrier From Russia India learned the hard way with INS ‘Vikramaditya’

Like a lot of countries, India wants the best weapons it can afford. But ideological and financial concerns mean there are a lot of things it won’t buy from the United States or Europe. That pretty much leaves, well, Russia.

India has been a big buyer of Russian weapons for 50 years. Those haven’t been easy years for New Delhi. India’s defense contracts with Russia have consistently suffered delays and cost overruns. And the resulting hardware doesn’t always work.

Of all India’s Russian procurement woes, none speak more to the dysfunctional relationship between the two countries than the saga of INS Vikramaditya. In the early 2000s, India went shopping for a new aircraft carrier. What followed was a military-industrial nightmare. 

Soviet helicopter carrier Baku, pre-makeover. Note missile armament, guns. Photo via Wikipedia

In 1988, the Soviet Union commissioned the aircraft carrier Baku. She and her four sisters of the Kiev class represented a unique Soviet design. The front third resembled a heavy cruiser, with 12 giant SS-N-12 anti-ship missiles, up to 192 surface-to-air missiles and two 100-millimeter deck guns. The remaining two-thirds of the ship was basically an aircraft carrier, with an angled flight deck and a hangar.

Baku briefly served in the Soviet navy until the USSR dissolved in 1991. Russia inherited the vessel, renamed her Admiral Gorshkov and kept her on the rolls of the new Russian navy until 1996. After a boiler room explosion, likely due to a lack of maintenance, Admiral Gorshkov went into mothballs.

A Negotiable Nuclear Deal

By B B Singh
15th September 2014

India-Japan nuclear cooperation still seems to be in limbo despite almost four years of deliberations. But it is very much within negotiable skills. Both countries are equally keen and need it considering the socio-economic and geopolitical situations. Japan sees in it a great potential for nuclear business in India and in return India would immensely gain from the vast experience of Japan in advanced nuclear technology and management of accidents/incidents in nuclear power reactors. Technologically, many of the reactor components including the most crucial reactor vessel are best manufactured in Japan and may be used by the foreign suppliers of nuclear reactors to India. In the absence of any cooperation agreement with India, it would be difficult if Japan decided to impose end-user restrictions.

While the Indian nuclear liability law and reprocessing of the Japan-supplied nuclear fuel continue to haunt, it is the non-proliferation issue that dominates Japan’s stand. It is a termination clause in the agreement if India conducted any nuclear tests, which has become the main bone of contention. It is understandable since Japan is unique and singular having faced nuclear calamities twice, the wrath of two nuclear bombs that were unwarranted and the peace-time disaster from the Fukushima nuclear reactor. Japan wants no further proliferation. It would like to see a still more stringent inspection machinery overseeing India’s peaceful nuclear activities than the currently accepted International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Japan would also wish to ensure the highest safety standards are practised in civil nuclear reactors and Fukushima or Chernobyl are not repeated.

Japan is not unaware of or is unconcerned with the present situation in Southeast Asia, as India faces two hostile neighbours with nuclear capability and that the two countries are also friendly to each other. Japan has realised India’s safety and security concerns and its need to acquire a credible minimum deterrence. Japan has appreciated India’s responsible behaviour when soon after the 1998 nuclear tests, India declared voluntary moratorium on further testing and also the “no-first-use” pledge. Japan is also sensitive to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki events that were not militarily required and realises that there may never be any such devastating use of nuclear energy in future. History supports this contention since during the Cold War era several conflicts arose approaching the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons but the matters were sorted out without resorting to it. No country’s polity in its senses would like to use nuclear weapons against any other country.

Still the situation that India is faced with today, a credible minimum deterrence would ensure peace in the region but such a credible deterrence does not come merely on possessing and stocking a few nuclear devices. It requires periodical testing of the stockpile against aging; for improving the structural material and design of the device to fit into the newer, faster and longer range missiles as delivery vehicles and to withstand the associated velocity and vibrational stress. In addition, nuclear testing is also required for maximising the explosion yield for a given mass of the explosive material.

Taliban Fighters Have Returned in Force to Sangin In Helmand Province

Taliban advance into Sangin threatens British military gains in Helmand

Emma Graham Harrison

The Observer, September 14, 2014

Royal Marines launching an attack in 2007 to remove Taliban insurgents from Sangin, Afghanistan. Photograph: Corporal Adrian Harlen/PA

The gains from Britain’s bloodiest battles in Afghanistan are now at risk afterTaliban fighters swarmed into Sangin and nearby parts of northern Helmand, taking control of villages, overrunning checkpoints and threatening the dusty towns that serve as the only government outposts in the area.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured and thousands have fled their homes because of the fierce fighting, less than a year after David Cameron declared “mission accomplished”. The military setback in an area that became symbolic of the wider battle for Afghanistan raises uncomfortable questions about Helmand’s future and the British sacrifices meant to secure it from insurgent fighters.

"These attacks have been going on for around three months now," said Sulaiman Shah, Sangin district governor, after reluctantly agreeing to a telephone interview. He had been ordered not to speak to journalists. "There are some places which are under Taliban control," he said, naming several villages and warning that the situation was deteriorating. "We have had security problems over the last two or three years, but now it is much worse – the Taliban are getting stronger."

Sangin became a death trap for foreign forces from the moment they arrived in 2006. The first unit in the area endured the most intense ground fighting British soldiers had seen since the Korean war.

Nearly a quarter of the 453 British soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan died in Sangin or from injuries inflicted during fighting there, and when American troops replaced UK forces in late summer 2010 they initially had an even higher casualty rate.

By the time the last US marines left in the late spring of this year, the road north to a major dam had been cleared and the government was in control of the entire area. It was a shaky security, though, based on soldiers who had already tried to strike non-aggression deals with the Taliban, and police who were ill-prepared to protect themselves against battle-hardened insurgents.

The ceasefire holds uneasily, but tension in eastern Ukraine will still trouble the governments in both Kiev and Moscow

Sep 13th 2014

Time for a cigarette break, at least

THE war in eastern Ukraine has quietened, for now. Its disparate factions have as much reason to keep fighting as to put away their guns. But a ceasefire signed on September 5th in Minsk is so far mostly holding. Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, does not want to fight an unwinnable war against Russia, which is the situation he would have been in had he pressed on with Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation” in the east. His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is happy to see Donetsk and Luhansk turn into breakaway territories that can serve as instruments against Kiev.

From the outset the Kremlin has been advocating a permanent ceasefire, not from humanitarian impulses but because it likes the idea of frozen conflict-zones in the east of Ukraine. The political mood in Kiev spurred Mr Poroshenko to press on as long as Ukrainian forces had momentum. But the incursion by Russian troops with heavy weapons in late August showed that Mr Putin would not allow Kiev a military victory. Without direct NATO aid, Mr Poroshenko felt forced to make a deal.

In the short term this will seem like a victory for Moscow. It has a mechanism to influence Ukrainian politics, much as it has in Moldova and Georgia. For as long as the status of Donetsk and Luhansk are undefined Ukraine cannot possibly join NATO. Mr Putin will have noted that his insertion of regular Russian soldiers met criticism but little action from abroad. Barack Obama declined to call it an invasion, but rather “a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now”. The European Union will apply new sanctions next week, but describes them as “reversible”, perhaps to show that it is reluctant to isolate Russia. This week Russia’s Gazprom cut gas supplies to Poland in an effort to stop resupply back to Ukraine.

The war has felt distant to most Russians. State television has manipulated its narrative of the conflict to soothe viewers’ feelings of inadequacy and imperial nostalgia, while talking up Western plots and machinations. A poll by the Levada Centre found that 77% of those surveyed said America was the main initiator of Kiev’s operations in the east. The secret burials of Russian paratroopers killed in Ukraine, only to be disavowed by the Russian state, have proved uncomfortable. But compared with the short-lived season of protest three years ago, Russian society seems docile and unthreatening. Another Levada poll found only 8% willing to join protests if they started, against 21% in 2011.

Yet Mr Putin’s adventurism and revanchism will create new dangers for his regime. A falling rouble and a Kremlin-imposed ban on food imports from America and Europe means that inflation could hit 8% next year. That may spur a level of social discontent which the war itself has not. Existing sanctions, and the prospect of more to come, are dragging down Russia’s already faltering economy. Morgan Stanley forecasts a recession in 2015. Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer, has asked the government for $40 billion to refinance its debts. Global oil prices have dipped below $100 a barrel, whereas the Russian budget is calibrated to balance at a price between $110 and $117 a barrel. Plugging those holes will be costly: Mr Putin must make awkward choices over what interests to offend. His likely response to economic hardship will be to blame Russia’s enemies abroad for starting a new cold war.

In Kiev Mr Poroshenko faces his own difficulties—which may materialise well before Mr Putin’s. He says he will introduce a law next week to create a “special status” for Donetsk and Luhansk. Many questions remain, however: not least, whether Ukraine will manage to regain control over its eastern border with Russia, a decisive factor in assessing if the pro-Russian insurgency can ever be pacified. All sides disagree over how much territory should fall under Mr Poroshenko’s self-rule provision. Kiev sees only areas under rebel control—around a third of the two regions—with this status, but the rebels’ leaders lay claim to the whole of Donetsk and Luhansk. Such issues will weigh on Ukraine’s parliamentary election next month. Yuriy Yakymenko of the Razumkov Centre, a Kiev-based think-tank, says that, though most voters support peace in principle, the fate of Mr Poroshenko and his political block will come down to the question, “Peace at what price?”

More immediately, much hinges on whether the ceasefire will keep holding. Mr Poroshenko says that Russia has pulled back 70% of the troops it had inside Ukraine. Yet fighting has flared up and then died down in Mariupol, around Donetsk airport and in several other places. At the same time prisoners are being exchanged. A bigger upsurge in violence could easily reignite the entire conflict.

On the Ukrainian side of the lines most soldiers appear relaxed, but few believe the ceasefire is anything but a respite. Visiting Mariupol on September 8th, Mr Poroshenko said the war was over and now Ukraine had to win the peace. That may be wishful thinking. Rebel leaders still aim to separate from Ukraine. Sergei Baryshnikov, a member of the rebel “parliament”, says a long military and political fight lies ahead. The rebel state of Novorossiya, he says, should eventually comprise all of the Black Sea coast to the borders of Romania and Moldova. And then it will become part of Russia, he adds.

"Cargo 200": Russian Government Trying to Suppress Information About Deaths of Russian Soldiers in Combat in the Ukraine

Special Report-Moscow Stifles Dissent as Soldiers Return in Coffins

September 12, 2014

MOSCOW — Late last month Yelena Tumanova was handed the body of her son in a coffin at her home in Russia’s Western Volga region. Anton Tumanov was 20 and a soldier serving in the Russian army in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya.

The documents Yelena Tumanova was given with the body raised more questions than they answered - questions about how her son died and about the Russian government’s denials that its troops are in Ukraine. The records do not show Anton Tumanov’s place of death, said human rights activists who spoke to his mother after she got in touch with them.

"Medical documents said there were shrapnel wounds, that is he died from a loss of blood, but how it happened and where were not indicated,” said Sergei Krivenko, who heads a commission on military affairs on Russia’s presidential human rights council.

Yelena Tumanova could not be reached for comment and Reuters was unable to review the documents. But more than 10 soldiers in her dead son’s unit told Krivenko and Ella Polyakova, another member of the presidential human rights council, that Anton Tumanov died in an Aug. 13 battle near the Ukrainian town of Snizhnye. The battle, the soldiers said, killed more than 100 Russian soldiers serving in the 18th motorised rifle brigade of military unit 27777, which is based outside the Chechen capital of Grozny.

Rolan, 23, a fellow soldier who served with Tumanov, told Reuters that his comrade died on the operating table after he was hit by shrapnel from rockets. Rolan said he was steps away in an armoured personnel carrier when the rockets struck. He said two in his group died, including another soldier, named Robert.

"I was inside an APC, hatches were open, and as a result I was lightly stunned and shell-shocked," said Rolan.

"Robert and Anton were outside two or three steps away and they simply did not manage to hide. Robert died right there. We gave first aid to Anton, he was already on the operating table when he died," said Rolan, now at home in Russia’s Krasnodar region where he is recovering from an injury.

Human rights workers and military workers say some 15 other Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine, with hundreds more now in hospital.

The fact that Russian soldiers have died in a war in which they officially have no involvement is a problem in Russia. Chatter about young soldiers returning home in coffins has begun to spread over the past few weeks. Though still limited, such talk has powerful echoes of earlier Russian wars such as Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said this week that Russia had moved most of its forces back across the border into Russian territory after a ceasefire between Kiev and the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. But a NATO military officer said on Thursday that Russia still had 1,000 troops in the country.

The idea of an outright invasion of eastern Ukraine by Russian troops is highly unpopular in Russia. A survey by pro-Kremlin pollster Fund of Social Opinions said 57 percent of Russians support the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, but only 5 percent support an invasion of Ukrainian territory. 

Russian authorities have worked to systematically silence rights workers’ complaints over soldiers’ deaths, intimidating those who question the Kremlin’s denials that its soldiers are in Ukraine.

Krivenko and Polyakova, who is also the head of an organisation representing soldiers’ mothers in St. Petersburg, filed a petition on Aug. 25 asking Russian investigators for an explanation for the deaths at Snizhnye.

How Good Is the Evidence That Russian Troops Took Part in the Fighting in the Eastern Ukraine

Best evidence Russians are in Ukraine? How good separatist fighters are

Matthew Schofield
McClatchy News
September 9, 2014

BERLIN — The uneasy truce in southeastern Ukraine appears, mostly, to be holding, a development that the Russian government in Moscow is celebrating as a hopeful sign for a besieged region.

Moscow, the word comes, has been deeply troubled by the fighting in the region, and particularly its effect on civilians trapped between the warring Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists calling themselves the People’s Republic of Donetsk.

The problem with best wishes from Moscow is that _ in the eyes of everyone not beholden to the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin _ there would be very little fighting in the region were it not for the Russian weapons and troops. Some experts even think that Russian soldiers are responsible now for nearly all the fighting.

While Putin’s government continues to deny any involvement in hostilities, the evidence is overwhelming. There are, of course, the numerous videos and photos of Russian military equipment and personnel in Ukraine today. There are the growing numbers of Russian troops taken captive in Ukraine or returned to Russia in body bags.

In July, time and again, Ukrainian forces found themselves trapped between shelling coming from separatist-held positions as well as from Russia. Just weeks ago, as Ukrainian forces were advancing, and appeared to be having some success, there was a sudden new flow of troops and arms. Ukrainians and Americans say the new forces were Russian military.

There are also satellite images of Russian artillery batteries set up in traditional Russian military formations and using traditional Russian tactics.

Most glaring of all, experts say, is the timeline that would have been required to establish a separatist fighting force as effective as the one that’s fighting Ukrainian government troops now.

The so-called Donetsk republic didn’t exist even as a movement before April 7, and yet it was fighting, and fighting effectively, before summer. That means that within a couple of weeks, the separatists not only had managed to recruit a sizable force, but also had armed it and trained it.

As Canadian army Lt. Col. Jay Janzen, the chief of media operations for NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, noted, that isn’t possible.

The separatist force isn’t fighting as a ragtag, insurgent force. It’s mechanized, armored and very well armed. It shoots a lot of artillery, but doesn’t run out of shells. It moves, a lot, throughout the region, but doesn’t run out of fuel. Its troops don’t go hungry and don’t go home during duty. And when the separatists need reinforcements, those “new recruits” not only arrive but also operate like a unit.

“With NATO, at the most basic level and if all the stars align, it takes us a year to get a private up to this level, meaning highly supervised,” Janzen said. “For the officers, for the more complicated command and coordination aspects, it would require at least five years of training.”

Who won the Russia-Ukraine war?

BRUSSELS - The Ukraine ceasefire might collapse any day. But if it sticks and the war ends here, it poses the question: who won?

In military terms, the answer looks clear: Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

In March, the Russian army seized Crimea. Last week, it routed Ukrainian forces in east Ukraine.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko had asked EU and Nato leaders for weapons. They said “there is no military solution to the conflict”.

But Putin showed there is - several thousand Russian infantry, fighting as formed units, supported by tanks and artillery.

The Russian invasion and the lack of Western support is why Ukraine signed the “Minsk protocol” - a 12-point peace plan - last Friday (5 September).

It creates a big chance the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics will become de facto states which stop Ukraine from getting EU, let alone Nato, membership for decades.

The Minsk paper says pro-Russia rebels can stay if there is no new fighting, with Ukraine to pass a law “prohibiting the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events”.

It also gives two rebel leaders - Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Ihor Plotnitskiy, the “prime ministers” of Donetsk and Luhansk - an air of legitimacy.

Last Thursday they were “terrorists”. But on Friday they became co-signatories of a document endorsed by Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, a European multilateral body.

The Minsk accord obliges them to “remove unlawful military formations, military hardware … from the territory of Ukraine”. It adds that the OSCE will monitor the Russia-Ukraine border.

It sounds good. But there could be long debate on what is “unlawful”.

Plotnitskiy, speaking on Sunday, said: “We believe the military equipment of the Ukrainian army is illegally present on both Luhansk and Donetsk territories”.

On OSCE monitoring, he added: “If this is some kind of plan to try and take the republic by surrounding us again, it won’t work”.

Al-Qaeda India branch’s first attack ends in dismal failure as jihadists 'raid wrong ship'

By Dean Nelson, South Asia Editor
12 Sep 2014

The group established only last week attempted to storm a ship in the Karachi port on the anniversary of 9/11, but reports suggest the mission ended in disaster
The jihadis were thwarted by Pakistan Navy troops Photo: AFP/Getty

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the new group announced last week by Ayman al-Zawahiri to bolster his flagging fortunes, suffered a setback when three of its fighters were killed and seven arrested in its first ever terror attack.

Heavily armed militants attacked a naval dock in Karachi's sea port on Saturday night and targeted what they believed was an American aircraft carrier, but instead found a Pakistan Navy frigate and were overwhelmed before they could cause any damage, investigators said.

Three jihadis were killed in the attack, four were captured and another three arrested the following day on information from interrogations. Two Pakistan Navy guards were wounded in the fighting.

"It was a complete failure, they did not do any kind of damage, some were captured and we caught more, seven so far and may be more to come. They were well-equipped and came with the intention of taking a ship into their custody but they were caught in the initial stages," a senior source close to the investigation told the Telegraph.

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the militant group unveiled by Zawahiri last week to demonstrate his clout despite the rise of Islamic State (Isil), claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday and said former Pakistan Navy men had carried it out.

"The Naval officers who were martyred on Saturday in the attack on Karachi were al-Qaeda members. They were trying to attack American marines and their cronies", the group said in a statement.

It added that militants had successfully seized an American vessel but were thwarted by Pakistan Navy troops. "The Pakistani military men who died defending enemies of the Muslim nation...are cursed with hell", it added.

Investigators denied that the all the attackers had belonged to the Pakistani Navy and said only one militant, who was killed in the fighting, was a former naval rating.

Kashmir: India-China-Pakistan Triangular Conflict

13 Sep , 2014

“Poor Kashmir, it lies in the Himalayan ramparts where the borders of India, Pakistan and China rub together. Reality mocks its beauty. There is no escaping the permeating meloncholy of a land that lies under the gun.” — Trevor Fishlock

Kashmir’s ‘locational’ relevance for India, China and Pakistan has always been significant and it has become a driver in its own right for the perpetual state of conflict with Pakistan and a reality which has the potential for keeping the Sino-Indian relations adversarial.

The indelible factors of geography in terms of ‘location,’ ‘space’ and ‘terrain’ in shaping the destiny of nations remains profound. The conflict that has been going on ‘for’ and ‘in’ the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for seven decades is a prime example; it is the State’s locational position on the face of the earth for China, India and Pakistan that is driving the triangular competition in which Pakistan’s virulence is being used both as the means to ‘contain’ India, and her territory, including what she occupies to act as a spring board for China’s regional outreach.

Contributing to the factors of geography are vestiges of the past. Shadows of history fall long and keep festering if the end state is allowed to remain open ended and if actions are not grounded in strategic logic. Such has been the case of Kashmir – both in handling Pakistan and China and failing to integrate the Kashmiri people. In the absence of the national will to correct what the Chinese call as ‘historic mistakes,’ outrages in the form of periodic sabre rattling and violence would continue – Keran and Samba are merely the recent of the many examples. While mistakes of the past cannot be undone and war is never a good option, corrective measures within a well calibrated operating matrix are always possible.

Observations from Tibet: Part 2 Chinese rule

September 12, 2014

The Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950 with the Dali Lama fleeing in 1959: I am not going to go into the rights and wrongs of China‘s involvement in Tibet other than to state the Chinese have had cultural and political links with the area for centuries. As the post implies these are observations from my recent trip. 

On my first trip to China I was struck by the extent American companies had penetrated the domestic market. Mcdonalds, KFC, Pepsi, Coke and many other Western brand names were everywhere you looked. In subsequent trips, its seemed to me, that capitalism and the accumulation of money was the new mind-set of the Chinese people and its Government.

I have never felt the communist bogey-man looking over my shoulder at any time during my visits there; sure there were armed soldiers at the entrances to what appeared to be government buildings, standing as stiffly as the starched collars on their shirts, but I always felt relaxed and began to feel that the autocratic dehumanising image of the Chinese Government was a fictional narrative pedalled by the West’s own propaganda machine. 

As a result the sense of sinister that I had been expecting on my first couple of visits never materialised. China looked to me as if the massive influx of Western companies and ideas was having a positive effect- whether it is or isn’t is subjective. If you live in the urban areas on the east coast of China you are more likely to be doing better than one of your compatriots living in the more impoverished rural areas.

So it was with great interest to see for myself what the Chinese were up to in one of the more troubled areas of their nation—Tibet. The purpose of the trip was to punish my alcohol starved liver, and visit Everest Base Camp with some close mates. To be honest I didn’t expect Tibet would feel or look any different from any other part of China. I’m not referring to the countryside (it is dramatically different), but to the atmosphere the Chinese are creating by their presence in a country that want to be rid of them.

Observations from Tibet: Part 1 Buddhism

September 11, 2014

As an atheist, Buddhism held some promise of being able to salvage a modicum of respect for mainstream religions worldwide; unfortunately I was to be bitterly disappointed. Buddhism, in the West has a carefully cultivated image of respect for life, personal growth and peaceful coexistence with your fellow man. This isn’t anything new; Abrahamic based religions like our own Christianity and Islam are based on similar tenets—The Ten Commandments being an excellent example.

In my travels I have visited The Vatican, The Blue Mosque, Agia Sophia and many of Greece’s Byzantium era monasteries and the one image that has burned itself in my mind from most of these sites is the crass display of wealth disguised as a spiritual experience. In Christian centres of worship like The Vatican and Orthodox monasteries, the veneration of long dead Popes and sacred artefacts like vials of blood, knucklebones and locks of hair from so called saints and martyrs give me cause to think my own Christian background is nothing more than a cult of death. Having now added Tibet and its most famous monasteries to the list, the Potala Palace the most famous of these, it did not take me long to come to the conclusion that Buddhism and its gentle meditative spiritual message is just as greedy and spiritually bankrupt as its Western counterparts. I have no issue with the message of religion; there is nothing wrong with telling people not to steal or seduce your best friends wife, it is the machine behind it all that I find offensive.

There are differences that set Buddhism apart from Western religious practice, the major one being Christians believe in and worship a single God entity while Buddhism is non-theistic and concentrates on practice over belief by encouraging its flock to realise truth for themselves, and assists in this by setting out a methodology for attaining this truthful enlightenment via disciplined enquiry into the teachings of the Buddha. To my surprise there are three—the Buddha of Past, the Buddha of Present and the Future Buddha—that devotees can offer prayers and gifts to. Of course one visit to Tibet doesn’t make one an expert on Buddhism, however it did serve to destroy the image that, rightly or wrongly was in my head.

Philippines Wages 'Mapfare' Against China

September 12, 2014

With a new map exhibit, the Philippines tries to repudiate China’s historical claims to South China Sea territories. 

On Thursday, the Philippines took aim at China’s capacious claim to almost the entirety of the South China Sea by exhibiting 60 ancient maps which it claims demonstrate that Beijing’s territorial assertions are recent fabrications — not immutable historical facts. To borrow a term, it seems that Philippines is playing China’s “mapfare” game, fighting fire with fire. The Philippines and China have been engaged in a protracted dispute over islets and shoals in the South China Sea. In 2012, following a stand-off, China seized control of the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. Recently, the Philippines put forth a proposal at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) that sought to ban all construction activities in the South China Sea. The proposal did not pass and China continues to remain engaged in the region.

According to Reuters, the exhibit contained maps that demonstrate that “from the Song Dynasty in the year 960 until the end of the Qing Dynasty early in the 20th century, China’s southernmost territory was always Hainan island, just off the Chinese coast.” The maps in the exhibit also note that the Scarborough Shoal — the most significant disputed territory between China and the Philippines — makes no appearances on maps prior to 1636. In maps published after that date, the shoal is shown as Filipino territory. The exhibit takes aim at China’s repeated claim that its territorial claims are based on historical fact. Philippines officials are trying to cast light upon what they perceive to be “historical lies,” as Philippines Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio put it. This exhibit also follows on the heels of China revealing its new official map earlier this summer — the same map in which it “upgraded” its dashed line claim to the South China Sea to include ten lines instead of nine.

With its recent actions, including its ARF proposal and its decision to take a case to a U.N. arbitrator in The Hague, the Philippines has made it amply clear that it takes its dispute with China quite seriously. However, unlike Vietnam, it has chosen not to meet Chinese provocations by investing in asymmetric military strategy or by building its naval capacity. “Mapfare” may seem like an ineffective response to real, kinetic assertive moves by China in the South China Sea, but it plays in important role in defining the parameters of the Filipino government’s narrative. Additionally, it makes matters thornier for Beijing as it effectively means the Philippines is willing to play China’s game. It isn’t defending its claim to these territories by means of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), or international norms. It sends the message that Filipino officials reject China’s historical justification for irredentism.

Cartophile readers can take a look at the maps, which are being hosted online by the Philippine’s Institute for Maritime and Ocean Affairs.

Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin Meet Ahead of SCO Summit

September 12, 2014

Ahead of the SCO summit, Xi and Putin discussed energy ties, the Ukraine crisis, and regional affairs. 

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Tajikistan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, a regional multilateral gathering that includes leaders from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Before the summit proper began, Xi met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for bilateral talks.

The meeting in Dushanbe was the fourth between Xi and Putin so far this year, and the ninth since Xi took office in 2013. Xinhua pointed to the frequency of these meetings as proof of “the high level and distinctiveness of China-Russia relations.” Close ties between Xi and Putin in particular has raised speculation that China and Russia might be moving toward an alliance. The two countries have promoted their bilateral relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” and hope to work together to create a “more just” (i.e., less Western-dominated) international order.

In their meeting on Thursday, both Xi and Putin stressed China-Russia energy cooperation. In May, the two countries signed a massive natural gas deal after a decade of negotiations. Part of that deal involved the construction of the China-Russia East Route pipeline from eastern Siberia to China, a task that began on September 1. Xi thanked Putin for his personal attendance at the ground-breaking ceremony for the East Route natural gas pipeline and expressed hope for quick progress on a corresponding West Route natural gas pipeline. Putin and Xi agreed that the two countries will continue to work together on major energy cooperation projects — fulfilling China’s growing energy needs and offering Russia an alternative market as Europe continues to sanction Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Speaking of the Ukraine crisis, it was a major subject of discussion in the Xi-Putin meeting, according to Xinhua.Putin said that Russia “attaches importance to and appreciates China’s stances and proposals on the Ukraine issue.” He said that Russia was willing to continue to communicate with China over the situation in Ukraine. Xi, meanwhile, repeated China’s call for a political solution, calling for Ukraine “to launch inclusive dialogues at an early date.”

China's Island Factory

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
09 September 2014

New islands are being made in the disputed South China Sea by the might of the Chinese state. But a group of marooned Filipinos on a rusting wreck is trying to stand in the way.

The boat pitches up and down and rolls from side to side in the heavy swell. The noise of the big diesel motor, just below the floor, is hammering at my head.

My nose is filled with the smell of dried fish and diesel fumes, my T-shirt glued to my chest with sweat. Proper sleep is impossible.

For more than 40 hours it has been like this. Our wooden fishing boat has tossed its way across the South China Sea. Most of the time we barely exceed walking pace. “Who would be a fisherman?” I wonder out loud.

I stare out at the endless rolling waves. On the horizon the sky is dark and threatening. Then my eye is caught by something sticking up above the waves. It looks like an oil or gas-drilling platform. What on earth is it doing here?

As we get closer, to my right, I am sure I can now see something pale and sandy beside the platform. “That looks like land!” I say. It can’t be. I look at my GPS.

There is no land marked anywhere near here, only a submerged reef of the Spratly Island chain. But my eyes are not deceiving me. A few kilometres away I can now clearly see the outline of an island.

“What is this place called?” I ask our Filipino skipper.

“Gaven Reef,” he says.

“Get closer!” I shout over the din of the engine.

He turns the boat directly towards the islet. But the dark clouds are rolling in fast. Moments later we are enveloped. Water cascades off the fishing boat’s roof. The islet disappears.

“How long will the rain last?” I ask the skipper.

“Four or five hours, maybe longer,” he says.

My heart sinks. All this time, all this way, only to be beaten by the weather. But I know I have seen it, an island where there wasn’t one just a few weeks ago – even the skipper has never it seen before.

The captain turns the boat back to our old course – south, into the rain. We plough on. The waves are getting bigger. After four hours the rain begins to recede. Ahead I can see another island.

This one I am expecting. This place is called Johnson South Reef. On my GPS it again shows no land, just a submerged reef.

But I’ve seen aerial photographs of this place taken by the Philippine navy. They show the massive land reclamation work China has been doing here since January.

Millions of tonnes of rock and sand have been dredged up from the sea floor and pumped into the reef to form new land.

Along the new coastline I can see construction crews building a sea wall. There are cement-pumping trucks, cranes, large steel pipes, and the flash of welding torches.

On top of a white concrete blockhouse a soldier is standing looking back at us through binoculars.

I urge the skipper to get even closer, but a volley of flares erupts in the sky – it is a Chinese warning.

The appearance of these new islands has happened suddenly and is a dramatic new move in a longstanding territorial struggle in the South China Sea.