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.


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


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


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?


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. 


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. 

Hammer and Anvil How to Defeat ISIS

JANUARY 2, 2015

An Islamic State fighter near Kobani, October 7, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

At the top of U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s agenda for 2015 is stopping the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Many critics assert that the current policy of limited air strikes is insufficient to defeat or seriously weaken ISIS and have offered radical alternatives. However, these “cures” are far worse than the disease. The best plan is to aggressively move forward within the broad parameters of the current strategy, building on its successes and vastly diminishing ISIS’ power and influence by the time U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office in two years.


There are two prominent (and nearly polar opposite) alternatives to current policy. At one extreme, CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot calls for the deployment of up to 30,000 U.S. ground combat troops, a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone, and incentives to enlist Turkey as an active military partner in the fight—all in order to push the Kurds, the Shia-dominated Iraqi security forces, and Sunnis to work together to roll back ISIS from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. At the other extreme, retired Air Force Lieutenant General David Deptula argues that a vastly expanded air campaign against ISIS’ leadership and economic and military centers of gravity can so weaken the group that a broad Sunni resistance will quickly rise up, making any U.S. Special Forces on the ground unnecessary.

These proposals are as unrealistic as they are ambitious. No doubt, Washington would love to find a silver bullet to quickly defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but neither of the proposals is likely to work as advertised. There are over 20 million Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, a large fraction of which are now cooperating (passively or actively) with ISIS and would fight hard to avoid Kurdish and Shia domination, much less American control. Meanwhile, sending in U.S. ground forces might help win bits of territory along the current perimeter of ISIS-held territory, but it is unlikely to weaken the group in the heart of the Sunni-majority areas. Even worse, marshalling a coalition of multiple enemies of the Sunnis could well deepen the local Sunni population’s cooperation with ISIS. The air-only option has the opposite flaw. It would possibly hurt ISIS in Raqqah and other parts of the Sunni heartland, but with little means to stop ISIS from responding by expanding its area of control elsewhere.

Spring Offensive to Recapture Iraqi City of Mosul: Are The Iraqi Forces Ready????

Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt
February 21, 2015

Battle to Retake Iraqi City Looms as Test of Obama’s ISIS Strategy

WASHINGTON — American intelligence agencies and the Pentagon are struggling to determine how difficult it will be to retake Mosul, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq, as planning intensifies for a battle that is becoming a major test of the Obama administration’s strategy to stop the spread of the terrorist group in the Middle East.

The assessment will be pivotal in driving important policy and military decisions that President Obama will need to make in the coming weeks, including whether the Pentagon will need to deploy teams of American ground forces to call in allied airstrikes and advise Iraqi troops on the battlefield on the challenges of urban warfare.

Reclaiming Mosul, which has a population of more than one million people and is Iraq’s second-largest city, will require 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces to clear it block by block, with many of the streets and buildings likely to be rigged with explosives, American officials said. The battle is planned for as early as April.

The city is being held by 1,000 to 2,000 Islamic State militants, according to United States military estimates. It sits astride one of the major infiltration routes that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has used to ferry troops and supplies into northern Iraq from Syria.
American intelligence agencies say they do not yet know whether Islamic State fighters will dig in and defend Mosul to the death or whether, fearing encirclement, most fighters will slip out of the city for other Iraqi towns or cross the border into Syria, leaving behind a smaller force and booby-trapping buildings with bombs to tie down and bloody thousands of Iraqi troops.

“We are looking at all the things that are out there, i.e., what is the final enemy disposition in Mosul?” said a United States Central Command official who briefed reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday. The briefing drew sharp criticism from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona

ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s Global Civil War

February 24, 2015

Al Qaeda and its rogue stepchild, the Islamic State, are locked in mortal combat. The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement—they are competing for its soul.

ALMOST OVERNIGHT, the Islamic State sent its enemies reeling—and turned U.S. policy in the Middle East upside down. Islamic State forces carved out a haven in Syria and, in June 2014, routed the Iraqi army, capturing large swathes of territory and prompting the Obama administration to overcome its long-standing aversion to a bigger U.S. military role in Iraq and Syria. Even in many Arab countries where the Islamic State does not have a strong presence, its rise is radicalizing those countries’ populations, fomenting sectarianism and making a bad region even worse.

But there is one person for whom the Islamic State’s rise is even more frightening: Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although the Al Qaeda leader might be expected to rejoice at the emergence of a strong jihadist group that delights in beheading Americans (among other horrors), in reality the Islamic State’s rise risks Al Qaeda’s demise. When Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rejected Al Qaeda’s authority and later declared a caliphate, he split the fractious jihadist movement. The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement: they are competing for its soul.

Who will emerge triumphant is not clear. However, the implications of one side’s victory or of continuing division are profound for the Middle East and for the United States, shaping the likely targets of the jihadist movement, its ability to achieve its goals and the overall stability of the Middle East. The United States can exploit this split, both to decrease the threat and to weaken the movement as a whole. Washington must also adjust its counterterrorism policies to recognize the implications of this rivalry.

Russia Offers to Sell to Iran Its Newest Air Defense Missile

February 23, 2015

Russian Offers Iran Latest Anti-Aircraft Missiles: TASS

MOSCOW — Russia has offered Iran its latest Antey-2500 missiles, the head of Russian state defense conglomerate Rostec said on Monday according to media reports, after a deal to supply less powerful S-300 missiles was dropped under Western pressure.

Sergei Chemezov said Tehran was now considering the offer, TASS news agency reported.

Russia scrapped a contract to supply Iran with S-300 surface-to-air missiles under Western pressure in 2010, and Iran later filed a $4-billion international arbitration suit against Russia in Geneva, but the two countries remain allies.

The United States and Israel lobbied Russia to block the missile sale, saying it could be used to shield Iran’s nuclear facilities from possible future air strikes.

There was no immediate response to Chemezov’s comments from Iran, Israel or the United States.

"As far as Iran is concerned, we offered Antey-2500 instead of S-300. They are thinking. No decision has been made yet," Chemezov was quoted as saying.

Rostec includes state-owned arms exporting monopoly Rosoboronexport, which has the sole right to export and import arms in Russia.

The Antey-2500 was developed from the 1980s-generation S-300V system (SA-12A Gladiator and SA-12B Giant). It can engage missiles traveling at 4,500 meters per second, with a range of 2,500 km (1,500 miles), according to the company that makes it, Almaz-Antey.

If Rebels Won’t Stop Attacks, Ukrainian Military Will Not Withdraw Heavy Weapons

Karoun Demirijian and Daniela Deane 
February 23, 2015

Ukrainian military says it won’t pull back until rebels attack stop

KIEV — The Ukrainian military said Monday it will not pull back its heavy weapons from the front-line until separatist rebels completely stop attacking them.

Continuing rebel attacks in the country’s embattled east are preventing a withdrawal of heavy weapons, a key component of a cease-fire deal which went into effect Feb. 15, Lt. Col. Anatoliy Stelmakh told reporters Monday.

Stelmakh said there were two artillery attacks overnight and although much fewer than in previous days, “as long as firing on Ukrainian military positions continues, it’s not possible to talk about a pullback.”

Under the internationally-brokered peace deal reached in Minsk, Belarus two weeks ago, both sides are due to withdraw their heavy weapons from the front line to create a buffer zone. Ukrainian officials said Sunday they were planning to begin the withdrawal.

The statement came one day after a bomb killed two people Sunday at a march in the city of Kharkiv commemorating the first anniversary of the ouster of Ukrainian former president Viktor Yanu­kovych. Ukrainian officials said Russia was behind the attack.

Yanukovych had enjoyed the Kremlin’s favor, and when he fled from Kiev a year ago in the face of the huge protests on the Maidan, or Independence Square, that set in motion Moscow’s seizure of Crimea and the beginning of the separatist fighting in the eastern part of the country.

The attack is the latest in a string of bombings in Kharkiv over the past few months, including explosions outside a courthouse that injured 14 last month, outside a national guard outpost, near a military hospital and at a bar frequented by Kiev supporters. Kharkiv is about 90 miles northwest of the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which pro-Russian separatists are seeking to claim as republics independent from Kiev. It was where Yanukovych made a brief stop on his flight into exile in Russia.

Ukrainian officials called the bombing an act of terrorism.

Carter: Cuts Make Strategy 'Not Executable'

By John T. Bennett

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's defense secretary nominee says he cannot execute the existing national defense strategy if more across-the-board budget cuts occur.

Ash Carter, a former deputy defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday he believes "the strategy is not executable under sequestration-level budget caps."

In written responses to questions posed in advance by the committee, Carter explained how he will gauge whether the US military is getting ample funding.

"The measure must be, can the department meet the security challenges of today, while also investing adequate resources to prepare for future security challenges, both the expected and the unexpected," Carter says.

"There has to be balance," he added. "The department should have sufficient capacity to deal with the wide range of challenges we face, yet not maintain more capacity than we can afford to modernize and keep ready, given that we also have a responsibility to the force of the future."

The president's 2016 budget calls for $35 billion more than spending caps allow at $534 billion, and his future years defense plan — the Pentagon's five-year planning document — is slated to leap over the caps set in place from 2016 through 2020 by $155 billion, according to budget documents released on Monday.

SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., both cited the sequester cuts among the myriad challenged Carter would face if confirmed by the full Senate. Reed called the automatic cuts to non-exempt accounts "mindless."

Sorry, Al Jazeera: A Leaked Mossad Cable Doesn’t Reveal Netanyahu Lied to the UN

February 23, 2015 

Qatari television network Al Jazeera has obtained a cache of secret intelligence cables, apparently from South Africa, and they’re eagerly promoting them as “the largest intelligence leak since Snowden.” Yet one of the first baubles plucked from this alleged treasure trove is fool’s gold—even with their attempts to represent it otherwise.

The Qatari-government-funded station argues that the cables reveal that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “misled” the United Nations in his famous September 2012 address to the United Nations General Assembly—that Israeli intelligence had an assessment of the Iranian nuclear program that “appears to contradict the picture painted by Netanyahu of Tehran racing towards acquisition of a nuclear bomb.” There were plenty of things wrong with that Netanyahu speech, and there’s plenty of evidence that Netanyahu and his intelligence services don’t always see eye to eye on Iran. But what the network has uncovered doesn’t contradict Netanyahu, and offers little that wasn’t already known to the public.

A cable from October 2012, apparently from the Mossad, assesses the state of Iran’s nuclear program. Al Jazeera notes that the document says that “Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons,” but “is working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment, reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time instruction is actually given.” They contrast this with “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 2012 warning to the UN General Assembly that Iran was 70 per cent of the way to completing its ‘plans to build a nuclear weapon’” and (in their video report) with his line that “by next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage.”

The Mossad report doesn’t actually contradict this.

A Lot of Russian Conscripts Don’t Want to Fight In the Ukraine

February 22, 2015

Fears arise among Russian conscripts over being sent to fight across the border in Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — When Alexander was due to finish his year of mandatory military service in October, his commander told him he had no choice: He had to sign a contract to extend his stay in the army and head to southern Russia for troop exercises.

The 20-year-old knew that meant he might end up fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Other soldiers he talked to had been sent there.

His commanders “didn’t talk about it, but other soldiers told us about it, primarily paratroopers who had been there,” Alexander said in an interview with The Associated Press, which is not using his surname for his safety.

The former private first class ended his military service earlier this month. He avoided being sent to Ukraine — although not without first being threatened with prison for desertion.

Human rights groups have received dozens of complaints in the past month alone from Russian conscripts like Alexander who say they have been strong-armed or duped into signing contracts with the military to become professional soldiers, after which they were sent to participate in drills in the southern Rostov region.

"We receive messages from all over in which (soldiers) say that they’re being sent again to Rostov for military exercises," said Valentina Melnikova, head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, a group with a three-decade history of working to protect soldiers’ rights.

"Those who have been there (to the Rostov region) before know that in actual fact it means Ukraine."

Because only contract soldiers can legally be dispatched abroad, worries are spreading among families that inexperienced young conscripts could be sent to fight in eastern Ukraine.

While Russia has denied it is sending arms and troops to support the separatists, since the summer dozens of soldiers have been reported killed by explosions during drills in the Rostov region — deaths that rights groups actually attribute to the conflict over the border in Ukraine. Weapons appear to flow freely across the frontier, and one group of Russian paratroopers was even captured in August, 50 kilometers (30 miles) inside the war zone.

Incidental Superpower: America Will Be Forced to Lead

February 23, 2015 

Even though America will intervene more selectively in the future, it can't escape its fate.

Since 1945, the United States has employed military force about every four years. Some deployments were high-intensity conflicts like Korea in 1950-3 or Iraq in 1990-1. Other deployments were long-term efforts to counter insurgencies and build functioning states such as Vietnam from 1959 to 1975 and Afghanistan since 2001. As U.S. foreign policy looks beyond 2016, with likely reductions in defense spending, and a general distaste from recent bouts of state-building efforts, the United States will be more selective when it chooses to use force and where to intervene.

This does not mean that the world has become a safer place. As the 2015 National Security Strategy makes clear, “there is no shortage of challenges that demand continued American leadership.” Nevertheless, fiscal austerity is a reality in the United States that will affect the expeditionary capabilities and global American military presence. The failure of grand plans to reshape the Middle East and Central Asia have instilled an appreciation for the risks involved in large, transformational international-security projects. Witness the restraint in postconflict reconstruction in Libya to include closure of the embassy in Tripoli and the reluctance to choose a side in Syria's civil war. Even the return to Iraq to combat the Islamic State focuses on the delivery of pinpoint strikes, rather than on the full-scale rehabilitation of the Iraqi state.

At the same time, technological innovation is striking at the heart of one of the key rationales for America’s global engagement—U.S. dependence on securing international trade routes for energy, other raw materials and manufactured goods. The United States can afford to be more self-selective in determining how much of the burden of keeping the global commons open it wishes to accept. This is glimpsed in the president's latest national strategy, which captures the zeitgeist of foreign policy: the preservation and expansion of domestic prosperity.