17 October 2015

Iranian nuclear deal: What it means for India


07 October 2015
By: Debalina Ghoshal

The recent much lauded nuclear deal has reduced the threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons. The deal allows Iran to pursue a nuclear program for peaceful purposes while lifting of economic sanctions, which could benefit several countries seeking to enhance economic ties with Tehran.

India is one of those nations, hoping to benefit both strategically and economically. Both nations are interested in enhancing their relations toward positive growth and development, evident from Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour’s visit to India in 2013 right after the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) came into force.

India’s gains from the deal

With the lifting of sanctions, Iran is now able to export oil to other countries, which would lead to a surplus supply of crude oil. Despite the declining demand for oil, the surplus crude oil is expected to bring down the price of oil. The sanctions impacted India’s oil imports from Iran at 7.2 percent of total oil imports in 2012-13, a sharp decline from 10.5 percent in 2011-2012. For Iran, this too is an opportunity to retain its position in the Indian oil market, happing slipped from being the second largest exporter of oil to the seventh largest exporter of oil to India.[1]

Following the nuclear impasse and the sanctions, trade between Iran and India deteriorated. The nuclear deal is expected to also boost to trade relations between the two countries. At present, India’s balance of trade is heavily tilted in favor of Tehran, whereby India imports $14 billion of oil from Iran and its exports to Iran are only worth $4.2 billion.

Post April 2015, New Delhi has expressed greater willingness and interest in economic ties with Iran and in developmental projects. Though India always adhered to the sanctions imposed on Iran, in the present circumstances, as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in August, “no longer would countries like India, who have been making a substantial sacrifice over the years, have any interest or incentive to continue to enforce those sanctions against Iran.”[2]

Operation Haymaker


Oct. 15 2015 — 

Afghanistan and “Failed State Wars”: The Need for a Realistic Transition

OCT 15, 2015

President Obama has decided on a limited change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He will keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2017, rather than reduce the number to a nominal 1,000 or less deployed around Kabul at the end of 2016. An article in the Washington Post indicates that this will cost about $15 billion a year, about $5 billion more than the smaller, 1,000-person Kabul-based force.

The problem is, that like so many of the President’s decisions, this is an awkward compromise with reality. It is not conditions-based and designed to meet Afghan needs, but rather than absolute minimum a U.S. military responding to the President’s clear desire to leave by the end of 2016 could have asked for.

Too Low a Number, No Real Strategy, and Media that Don’t Ask the Right Questions
The new number is almost certainly too low to be effective. Like all of the President’s previous manpower totals, it is not explained and exploits news media that never seems to realize that total personnel numbers are almost meaningless as a measure of effectiveness.

There is no way to no how many personnel are now in – and will remain in -- given aspects of the train and assist mission, be involved in the counter terrorism force, have a role in providing air support, be dedicated to protecting other U.S. forces and the Embassy, or be involved in various logistic and support functions. There is no indication of what other kinds of support the U.S. will really provide, the role it expects its allies to play, U.S. goals in trying to improve various parts of the Afghan security forces, and the scale and distribution of future military aid and equipment transfers.

China and Pak just finished an air drill in Tibet ; what are the lessons for India?


The Indian media largely missed the story about the recent Sino-Pakistani air exercise, dubbed Shaheen IV. In contrast to its confidence-building engagement with India, China held one the biggest and most complex air exercises inside the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Sino-Pak ties
- Pakistani, Chinese air forces just finished an air exercise in Tibet
- Pakistan gained the experience of working with Sukhoi jets, India's mainstay

India vs China ::
- China has been increasing its military tie-ups in south Asia
- India's military engagement with its neighbour are disappointing

More in the story ::
- How will India be affected by China's growing presence
- What should our course be

This week India and China will start 'Hand In Hand', a joint counter-terrorism exercise at Kunming Military Academy, Yunnan. From India, 350 Naga Regiment personnel will join the People's Liberation Army's 14th Group Army. The 11-day exercise will focus on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.

This will be the fifth such exercise in a series started in 2007. The drills are part of confidence-building measures put in place by both countries to address mistrust sprouting from regular standoffs along the disputed Line of Actual Control between India and China.

China, however, is not playing war games with India alone. The Indian media largely missed the story about the recent Sino-Pakistani air exercise, dubbed Shaheen IV. In contrast to its confidence-building engagement with India, China held one the biggest and most complex air exercises inside the Tibet Autonomous Region.

As Beijing and Islamabad strengthen their relationship, New Delhi must consider the security implications of a greater Chinese influence in south Asia.

The first Shaheen excercise was held in Pakistan in March 2011 while the second in China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in September 2013. The third episode again was in Pakistan - in its Punjab province - in May last year.

This year, it is Tibet. The location has political signals, given India's asylum to the Dalai Lama and India's increasing co-operation in the Indian Ocean Region with the United States, Japan and Australia.

There is little information in the public domain about the type of air exercises that were conducted. According to Pakistani daily 'Dawn', three different types of fighter aircraft from Pakistan participated.

There also have been information indicating up to six Pakistan Air force (PAF) squadrons were involved in Shaheen IV. Pakistan reportedly didn't deploy its US-made F-16s to prevent negative reactions from the United States. The exercises also saw the use of airborne early warning and control aircraft.

The Shaheen exercises have never been on such a scale. It gave the PAF access to Russian-made aircraft similar to the Indian Air Force's (IAF) Sukhoi 30 MKI. Training against Chinese Sukhoi 27 SK and Shenyang J-11 (Chinese-made Sukhoi 27) will help the PAF draw up tactics to effectively counter the IAF's mainstay Sukhoi 30 MKI.

China's relation with Pakistan has become one of the most comprehensive one that Beijing has with any country. The strategic imperatives of developing Pakistan as a bulwark against India has been among Beijing's overriding objectives in influencing the balance of power in South Asia.

War Not Won: Size of ISIS, AQ and Taliban Forces Growing in Afghanistan

Afghan Terror Threat Grows as Obama Reverses U.S. Troop Pullout

Bill Gertz, Washington Free Beacon, October 16, 2015

The Islamic terror threat in Afghanistan is expanding and poses new threats to the U.S. homeland as the Taliban, al Qaeda, and now the Islamic State build up forces inside the war-torn Southwest Asian state.

The persistent terrorist threat includes four separate Islamist groups inside the country and is one reason President Obama announced Thursday that he is reversing plans to pull all but 1,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of next year.

“Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be,” Obama said in announcing the decision to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2016.

“And meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains, particularly in rural areas, and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul,” he said, noting that the Islamic State is also emerging in the country.

“The bottom line is in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some places there is risk of deterioration,” Obama said.

The reversal on the troop drawdown is a setback for the president’s strategy and an indication that his policies over the past six years have not worked. Obama outlined in December 2009 three main goals for Afghanistan: Denying a safe haven to al Qaeda, reversing Taliban momentum, and bolstering Afghan forces.

The growing terror threat was outlined in little-noticed written testimony to the Senate earlier this month by Army Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who stated that Afghan forces remain weak as terrorists are gaining strength.

Leaked Docs Detail Failed U.S. SOF Campaign in 2001-13 to Destroy Taliban and AQ in Northeastern Afghanistan and Pakistan

Manhunting in the Hindu Kush

Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept,  October 15, 2015

From 2011 to 2013, the most elite forces in the U.S. military, supported by the CIA and other elements of the intelligence community, set out to destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that remained hidden among the soaring peaks and plunging valleys of the Hindu Kush, along Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan. Dubbed Operation Haymaker, the campaign has been described as a potential model for the future of American warfare: special operations units, partnered with embedded intelligence elements running a network of informants, pinpointing members of violent organizations, then drawing up plans to eliminate those targets from the battlefield, either by capturing or killing them.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY DOCUMENTS obtained by The Intercept, detailing the purpose and achievements of the Haymaker campaign, indicate that the American forces involved in the operations had, at least on paper, all of the components they needed to succeed. After more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, a robust network of intelligence sources — including informants on the ground — had been established in parts of the historically rebellious, geographically imposing provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The operators leading the campaign included some of the most highly trained military units at the Obama administration’s disposal, and they were supported by the world’s most powerful electronic surveillance agencies, equipped with technology that allowed for unmatched tracking of wanted individuals.

Despite all these advantages, the military’s own analysis demonstrates that the Haymaker campaign was in many respects a failure. The vast majority of those killed in airstrikes were not the direct targets. Nor did the campaign succeed in significantly degrading al Qaeda’s operations in the region. When contacted by The Intercept with a series of questions regarding the Haymaker missions, the United States Special Operations Command in Afghanistan declined to comment on the grounds that the campaign — though now finished — remains classified.

Russian Military Uses Syria as Proving Ground, and West Takes Notice


Russian soldiers with their plane, a Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighter, which NATO calls a Fullback, this month in Latakia, Syria. CreditRussian Defence Ministry Press Service, via European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — Two weeks of air and missile strikes in Syria have given Western intelligence and military officials a deeper appreciation of the transformation that Russia’s military has undergone under President Vladimir V. Putin, showcasing its ability to conduct operations beyond its borders and providing a public demonstration of new weaponry, tactics and strategy.

The strikes have involved aircraft never before tested in combat, including the Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighter, which NATO calls the Fullback, and a ship-based cruise missile fired more than 900 miles from the Caspian Sea, which, according to some analysts, surpasses the American equivalent in technological capability.
Russia’s jets have struck in support of Syrian ground troops advancing from areas under the control of the Syrian government, and might soon back an Iranian-led offensive that appeared to be forming in the northern province of Aleppo on Wednesday. That coordination reflects what American officials described as months of meticulous planning behind Russia’s first military campaign outside former Soviet borders since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Taken together, the operations reflect what officials and analysts described as a little-noticed — and still incomplete — modernization that has been underway in Russia for several years, despite strains on the country’s budget. And that, as with Russia’s intervention in neighboring Ukraine, has raised alarms in the West.

In a report this month for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Gustav Gressel argued that Mr. Putin had overseen the most rapid transformation of the country’s armed forces since the 1930s. “Russia is now a military power that could overwhelm any of its neighbors, if they were isolated from Western support,” wrote Mr. Gressel, a former officer of the Austrian military.

Russia’s fighter jets are, for now at least, conducting nearly as many strikes in a typical day against rebel troops opposing the government of President Bashar al-Assad as the American-led coalition targeting the Islamic State has been carrying out each month this year.

U.S. Intel Community Caught by Surprise by Taliban Capture of Kunduz in Afghanistan

Fog of Intelligence: How the Most Expensive National Security Operation in the World Was ‘Caught Off Guard’ in Kunduz

Tom Engelhardt, The Nation, October 15, 2015

Fifteen hundred. That figure stunned me. I found it in the 12th paragraph of afront-page New York Times story about “senior commanders” at US Central Command (CENTCOM) playing fast and loose with intelligence reports to give their air war against ISIS an unjustified sheen of success: “CENTCOM’s mammoth intelligence operation, with some 1,500 civilian, military, and contract analysts, is housed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, in a bay front building that has the look of a sterile government facility posing as a Spanish hacienda.”

Think about that. CENTCOM, one of six US military commands that divide the planet up like a pie, has at least 1,500 intelligence analysts (military, civilian, and private contractors) all to itself. Let me repeat that: 1,500 of them. CENTCOM is essentially the country’s war command, responsible for most of the Greater Middle East, that expanse of now-chaotic territory filled with strife-torn and failing states that runs from Pakistan’s border to Egypt. That’s no small task and about it there is much to be known. Still, that figure should act like a flash of lightning, illuminating for a second an otherwise dark and stormy landscape.

And mind you, that’s just the analysts, not the full CENTCOM intelligence roster for which we have no figure at all. In other words, even if that 1,500 represents a full count of the command’s intelligence analysts, not just the ones at its Tampa headquarters but in the field at places like its enormous operation at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, CENTCOM still has almost half as many of them as military personnel on the ground in Iraq (3,500 at latest count). Now, try to imagine what those 1,500 analysts are doing, even for a command deep in a “quagmire” in Syria and Iraq, as President Obama recently dubbed it (though he was admittedlyspeaking about the Russians), as well as what looks like a failing war, 14 years later, in Afghanistan, and another in Yemen led by the Saudis but backed by Washington. Even given all of that, what in the world could they possibly be “analyzing”? Who at CENTCOM, in the Defense Intelligence Agency, or elsewhere has the time to attend to the reports and data flows that must be generated by 1,500 analysts?

An About-Face on Afghanistan


President Obama has announced that U.S. troops will remain in the country past 2016.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP

OCT 15, 2015

President Obama announced Thursday that U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan past 2016.

The president said the U.S. will maintain 9,800 troops in the country through most of next year. They will focus on training Afghan security forces and counterinsurgency efforts. After that period, 5,500 troops will remain in a small number of bases, including Bagram, Kandahar, and Jalalabad, he said.

The “cessation of our combat role has not changed,” Obama said, adding: “This is consistent with the overall vision that we’ve had.”

But the move, on which we reported Wednesday, is a reversal of the president’s previous position that all U.S. troops withdraw from the country by the end of next year, but it comes as the Taliban continues to grow in strength, al-Qaeda remains in pockets, and the Islamic State gains ground in Afghanistan.

Obama said that while Afghan security forces continued to “step up, … they are still not as strong as they need to be.” He noted that the Taliban had made gains, particularly in rural Afghanistan. He said the situation in Afghanistan remained “still very fragile, and in some places there’s the risk of deterioration.”

The Obama administration had previously planned to reduced the number of troops in Afghanistan by about half, and then keep about 1,000 troops at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

“I expect that we’ll continue to evaluate going forward, as will the next president,” Obama said on Thursday’s decision.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter added that the decision on troop levels was made because “America’s national security remains very much at stake.” He said the U.S. was “not going to give up the gains we fought so hard to achieve.”

At the White House briefing, spokesman Josh Earnest was asked when the U.S. would reduce the number of troops to embassy-only levels. His reply: “I think the question you're asking is ultimately one that will answered by the next commander in chief.”

US had warned Zia of Indian strike on Pakistan n-sites


Reagan administration’s fears were based on a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysis about an Indian reaction to Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Written by Sushant Singh | New Delhi | Published:October 16, 2015  US President Ronald Reagan had written the confidential letter to General Zia-ul-Haq on September 12, 1984.

The recently declassified US State Department documents show that in September 1984, US President Ronald Reagan had warned Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq that “it is likely that at some point India will take military action to pre-empt your nuclear program”.

The warning was part of the talking points conveyed by Ambassador Hinton, US Ambassador to Islamabad, to the Pakistani President while delivering Reagan’s letter expressing concern about Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

The “Talking Points for Use in Delivering Letter to General Zia”, a four-page undated secret document, and President Reagan’s letter to General Zia of 12 September 1984 — a three-page secret and sensitive document — were produced by a mandatory declassification review request by the US National Security Archive to the US State Department. The letter and the talking points had not been revealed or published before this week.

Reagan administration’s fears were based on a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysis about an Indian reaction to Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
The CIA’s “Monthly Warning and Forecast Meetings for July 1984” explicitly noted that “some parts of the Indian government apparently view a Pakistani nuclear threat as imminent and it is our view that a pre-emptive military strike by India is a near-term possibility.”

The top secret CIA analysis also noted that “an Indian attack on Pakistani nuclear facilities would almost certainly prompt retaliatory strikes against Indian nuclear facilities and probably lead to a full-scale war.”

The Americans were also worried that it “could have very little additional political or military warning of an attack on Pakistani facilities”.

In his letter to Zia-ul-Haq, Reagan asked for a commitment to limiting the nuclear enrichment to five per cent. A section of Reagan administration considered five per cent as the “red line”, a breach of which should trigger sanctions on Pakistan. But Reagan’s letter did not directly threaten to cut aid in the event of non-compliance to the five per cent limit.

In December 1982, President Reagan had warned General Zia that the US would cut all aid to Pakistan if it took certain definitive steps toward a nuclear capability, for example by assembling or testing a nuclear device. More warnings were given by the US in 1984.

In his confidential letter of November 7, 1984 to President Reagan, General Zia did not mention Reagan’s request to limit uranium enrichment to five per cent. Responding to the points raised by Reagan, Zia’s stance was one of outright denial: “Pakistan has no intention whatsoever to manufacture or explode a nuclear device.”

Zia went to add that Pakistan’s uranium enrichment facilities were only for “research and fuel technology purposes,” and were not meant to “produce highly enriched weapons grade uranium.”

The CIA’s Secret Intelligence Assessment of September 1985, had noted that Zia and the Pakistani public were deeply committed to a nuclear weapons capability as security against India. If Washington cut aid for non-proliferation reasons, CIA analysts argued, Zia would reduce support for the mujahideen resistance in Afghanistan.

- See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/us-had-warned-zia-of-indian-strike-on-pakistan-n-sites/#sthash.mQfHJf0G.dpuf

How China Can Get Serious On Climate Change


Beijing needs to confront its coal problem.
By Anthony Kleven, October 16, 2015

“Each generation will reap what the former generation has sown.” So states a very wise and ancient Chinese proverb.

Although usually referred to in a more specifically domestic political context, never has that tried and tested saying been better utilized than in the case of current concerns over climate change. Especially as this economic giantis at last starting to approach that whole bag of issues with what would appear to be dedicated earnest – proven by recent commitments to introduce a national cap and trade scheme, to begin in 2017, widely applauded by analysts.

However, as with most cap and trade schemes, allowing firms who keep below state guidelines on carbon emissions to bank the difference and claim financial rewards is not the magic bullet in the fight against climate change but a soft option chosen in place of penalty-based controls. It is though a highly positive step forward for a nation that is the world’s largest producer of carbon emissions and one whose approach to environmental issues has thus far been lukewarm to say the least.

Historically, the west has viewed China’s environmental efforts with some suspicion: promises made in this direction were chaffed and perceived as glitzy public relations stunts. However, according to some sources, China is now five years ahead of its goals to combat climate change. Whereas the U.S. is struggling to meet its targets, it is estimated that China’s carbon emissions will peak in 2025 instead of the 2030 target previously agreed upon.

Not So Scary: This Is Why China's Military Is a Paper Tiger


Paul Dibb, October 15, 2015

It’s becoming commonplace to drum up the military threat from China and belittle America’s military capabilities. Much of this commentary reminds me of statements in the mid-1980s that the former Soviet Union was poised to outstrip the U.S. in military power. This isn’t to argue that China is in the final stages of disintegration like the USSR, but it is to assert that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) demonstrates all the brittleness and paper-thin professionalism of a military that has never fought a modern war and whose much-vaunted military equipment has never been tested in combat.

With a slowing economy, and with structural economic and social tensions becoming worse rather than better, China is a large but fragile power ruled by a vulnerable party that can’t afford any economic or foreign policy disasters, let alone war with the U.S. Its economy is fundamentally interdependent with that of free international trade and global supply chains. War for China would be an economic and social disaster.
Moreover, Beijing has very few powerful or influential friends in the region and suffers from strategic isolation, which is growing worse the more it throws its weight around.

Beijing has no experience whatsoever of modern war. Its last experience of armed conflict was in 1979 when it abysmally failed to teach Vietnam a so-called ‘lesson’. Border scuffles with India and the USSR in the 1960s and sending peasant armies into the Korean War in the 1950s scarcely rate as modern combat.

China Won't 'Militarize' the South China Sea -- But It Will Build Military Facilities There

The Foreign Ministry confirms that China will establish “necessary military facilities” in the South China Sea.
By Shannon Tiezzi,  October 16, 2015

During his state visit to the United States last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping famously pledged that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. This sparked a wave of analysis over what, precisely, Xi meant, given that there is are widespread expectations (both from other South China Sea claimants and the United States) that China will use newly constructed facilities in the Spratlys to host military assets (from combat aircraft to naval vessels and possibly even missile systems).

We received some slight clarification this week from China’s Foreign Ministry. Spokesperson Hua Chunyingtold reporters that “There is no such thing [as] China ‘militarizing’ relevant islands and reefs” in the South China Sea. “Construction carried out by the Chinese side on relevant islands and reefs of the Nansha [Spratly] Islands is mainly to satisfy civilian needs,” Hua said, pointing to two recently completed lighthouses on Cuarteron and Johnson South Reefs.

However, she also admitted that “there certainly are a limited amount of necessary military facilities for defense purposes only” as part of the construction on Chinese-held islands. This aligns with previous Chinese statements on the purpose of construction in the South China Sea: mainly for civilian purposes, but with theacknowledged goal of “better safeguarding [China’s] territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

How Good Are the Best Chinese Universities?


According to one survey, Tsinghua University is now the best engineering school in the world. Is this representative?
By Dingding Chen, October 15, 2015

In a surprising move, the most recent U.S. News & World Report ranking put China’s Tsinghua University ahead of the United States’ Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the world’s best engineering school. Together with the news that Chinese scientist Tu Youyou won the Nobel Prize in medicine, Tsinghua University’s ranking has led people to debate the rise of China’s educational system and its soft power.

Maybe one should be not surprised by Tsinghua’s success at all. It is not just Tsinghua that is moving upwards: several Chinese universities have surpassed traditional elite universities in Europe and Asia. Indeed, as the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities Rankings show, among the top 750 universities around the world, China has 65. Moreover, Chinese universities occupy five positions among the top 10 Asian universities ranked by the report. Chinese universities are expected to enter the global top 10 list in coming decades. As one Australian education expert explains, “When more Chinese journals are indexed by Thomson Reuters and when four million Chinese researchers start to cite one another, then we can expect Chinese universities to rapidly improve their position on various rankings.”

It’s not just paper citations that push Chinese universities upward. Prestigious Chinese universities’ global influence is rising fast too. For example, Tsinghua University has launched the Schwarzman Scholars program, with an aim to train the next generation of global leaders whose success must depend on a good understanding of “China’s role in global trends.” Already, 3,000 of the best and brightest from around the world have applied for the program and only about 100 would be selected, thus making the program one of the most competitive of its kind in the world.

The new game American dominance is being challenged

Oct 17th 2015 | 
A CONTINENT separates the blood-soaked battlefields of Syria from the reefs and shoals that litter the South China Sea. In their different ways, however, both places are witnessing the most significant shift in great-power relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Syria, for the first time since the cold war, Russia has deployed its forces far from home to quell a revolution and support a client regime. In the waters between Vietnam and the Philippines, America will soon signal that it does not recognise China’s territorial claims over a host of outcrops and reefs by exercising its right to sail within the 12-mile maritime limit that a sovereign state controls.

Facts on the groundFor the past 25 years America has utterly dominated great-power politics. Increasingly, it lives in a contested world. The new game with Russia and China that is unfolding in Syria and the South China Sea is a taste of the struggle ahead.
As ever, that struggle is being fought partly in terms of raw power. Vladimir Putin has intervened in Syria to tamp down jihadism and to bolster his own standing at home. But he also means to show that, unlike America, Russia can be trusted to get things done in the Middle East and win friends by, for example, offering Iraq an alternative to the United States (seearticle). Lest anyone presume with John McCain, an American senator, that Russia is just “a gas station masquerading as a country”, Mr Putin intends to prove that Russia possesses resolve, as well as crack troops and cruise missiles.

The struggle is also over legitimacy. Mr Putin wants to discredit America’s stewardship of the international order. America argues that popular discontent and the Syrian regime’s abuses of human rights disqualify the president, Bashar al-Assad, from power. Mr Putin wants to play down human rights, which he sees as a licence for the West to interfere in sovereign countries—including, if he ever had to impose a brutal crackdown, in Russia itself

America's Other Anti-Islamic State Efforts


from STRATFOR -- this post authored by Scott Stewart

U.S. C-17 cargo aircraft dropped 122 pallets of small arms and ammunition to rebel groups fighting the Islamic State in northeastern Syria on Oct. 12. The forces belong to the newly minted Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of anti-Islamic State Sunni Arab, Kurdish and Assyrian Christian militias.

Many have interpreted the recent U.S. supply drop to the Syrian Democratic Forces as an entirely new initiative - a desperate bid to salvage Washington's Syria strategy after ditching the Pentagon's train-and-equip program. These supplies, however, are just one small part of a longstanding U.S. effort in the area.

The now-defunct U.S. plan to train and equip rebel groups was only one of several programs initiated in Syria and was by no means the most important. Washington's efforts in the southern and northeastern parts of the country have proved far more successful, as has the not-so-covert CIA program to equip rebels battling the government of President Bashar al Assad in the northwest. The latter initiative supplied BGM-71 TOW missiles that greatly enhanced the rebel offensive in Idlib province. These advances against loyalist forces have heightened the threat to the Alawite heartland, which was one important factor prompting Russia to intervene in Syria.
What Success Looks Like

The U.S. programs in the northeast have been ongoing for some time and have in fact proven quite effective. The United States first airdropped weapons in October 2014 to the Free Syrian Army and to Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) during the defense of Kobani. Both are now involved in the Syrian Democratic Forces. Washington has since then continued to supply these forces with help from Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government. The only limit to the program's success and expansion has come from the Turkish government, which objects to assisting the YPG because the Kurdish militia has close ties with Turkey's militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

With the help of these weapons drops and a robust coalition air campaign, rebel forces managed to defeat the Islamic State at Kobani. The groups then continued their offensive in hopes of pushing the Islamic State completely out of the northeast. Many of these anti-Islamic State militias joined a coalition called Euphrates Volcano, the main coalition force north and east of the Euphrates River in Syria.

The Euphrates Volcano campaign to beat back the Islamic State in Raqqa province has been quite effective, and the rebel coalition has regained a great deal of territory. They have even managed to take all the Islamic State's border crossings east of the Euphrates River and lifted the Islamic State siege of al-Hasaka.The past year of cooperation has allowed the Euphrates Volcano forces and the U.S.-led coalition to develop an ad hoc but highly effective system to call in air support. The aerial assistance that brought victory at Kobani quickly became a critical component of the coalition's offensive operations.

The past year of cooperation has allowed the Euphrates Volcano forces and the U.S.-led coalition to develop an ad hoc but highly effective system to call in air support. The aerial assistance that brought victory at Kobani quickly became a critical component of the coalition's offensive operations.

What Are Russia's Grand Designs In Central Asia?


from The Conversation -- this post authored by David Lewis, University of Exeter

While international attention has focused on Russian military operations in Ukraine and Syria, Moscow has also been involved in a flurry of diplomatic and security initiatives to address the growing instability in northern Afghanistan.

But its moves to bolster regional security are more than just a response to local security concerns. Russia has a broader strategy that could leave it as the dominant security actor across much of Eurasia.

Even before the shock of the Taliban occupation of Kunduz in late September, Russian officials were concerned about the fragile security situation in northern Afghanistan, including the rise of Islamic State in northern Afghanistan and its potential spread to Central Asia and thence to Russia's large Muslim community. As if to emphasise the domestic threat, on October 12 Russian police announced that they had uncovered a terrorist plot in Moscow apparently involving a group of Central Asian militants.

Insecurity in Afghanistan may pose a potential security threat for Moscow, but it is being seized upon as a major geopolitical opportunity. Against a backdrop of failed Western policies across much of Russia's southern flank, Moscow is moving quickly to fill a security vacuum in the region. It is strengthening existing alliances to consolidate its hold over former Soviet republics in Central Asia and reshaping the security dynamics of the region around its own favoured security groupings - theCollective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The first step has been a series of meeting with Central Asian leaders, all on the front line in case of renewed Afghan insecurity. A meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Emomali Rakhmon, the president of Tajikistan, led to promises of more attack helicopters to bolster the existing Russian military based in the country, which has become the hub of a well-developed defence system against cross-border infiltration.
Crisis and opportunity

Putin also took time out of his birthday celebrations in Sochi to meet Almazbek Atambayev, the president of Kyrgyzstan, a country that has become the linchpin of Russia's security strategy in the region. Until 2014 Kyrgyzstan hosted a US airbase, but as I explored in a recent paper, Russia has been remarkably successful in ousting the Americans and turning Kyrgyzstan into a dependable ally in the region.

Joint Syrian-Iranian-Russian Offensive Achieves Only Limited Initial Gains

Oct 14, 2015 - Chris Kozak

Key Takeaway: The Syrian regime has not gained much terrain in the first week of its large-scale ground offensive against rebel forces, despite support from intensified Russian airstrikes and hundreds of Iranian proxy reinforcements. Operations against the Syrian opposition will likely prove harder and slower than anticipated by either Russia or Iran, protracting the conflict and exacerbating extremism.

The Syrian regime achieved only limited tactical gains in the week after it announced the start of a “vast offensive” that aimed to “defeat terrorist groups and liberate areas and villages that have suffered from terrorism” in northwestern Syria. The offensive reportedly included reinforcements in the form of “hundreds” of Iranian troops and proxy fighters, including members of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’a militias. Unverified images on social media indicated that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani personally oversaw operations in Latakia Province along the Syrian Coast. Meanwhile, pro-regime forces also received direct assistance from Russia in the form of airstrikes “synchronized” with the ground operations as well as artillery support from howitzer and multiple rocket launch systems (MRLS) on the ground. Senior rebel sources also alleged that Russian personnel participated in the clashes and directly supervised the operation via a joint Russian-Iranian operations room. The location and targeting of these operations underscore that Russia and Iran intend to bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than defeat ISIS.

Nonetheless, the Syrian regime and its allies have thus far failed to achieve significant gains. They are fighting against rebel forces along the three primary fronts in northern Hama Province, the al-Ghab Plain, and northeastern Latakia Province, creating a front line roughly 120 kilometers long. Confirmed reports indicate that pro-regime fighters have seized only six villages and towns, while rebel forces repelled heavy attacks against several key positions. At the same time, regime forces suffered heavy losses in manpower and materiel in the face of heavy rebel resistance. Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated rebels forces claimed to destroy at least twenty tanks and armored vehicles as well as a helicopter gunship in a “tank massacre” on the first day of the offensive. Meanwhile, pro-regime ground forces suffered several high-profile casualties with the deaths of two Hezbollah commanders including senior leader Hassan Hossein al-Hajj as well two Iranian veterans who had formerly commanded IRGC brigades. Continued heavy casualties may leave pro-regime forces vulnerable to a counterattack by Syrian rebels; the Idlib-based Jaysh al-Fatah Operations Room later released a statement on October 13 calling for a major rebel counteroffensive against Hama City.

Operations against the Syrian opposition will likely prove harder and slower than anticipated by either Russia or Iran. On October 2, head of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee Alexei Pushkov predicted that Russian operations in Syria would only last "three or four months" although he noted that there is "always a risk of getting bogged down.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has also suggested that Russian air support will be sufficient to "stabilize the legitimate authorities and create conditions for finding a political compromise” in Syria. Meanwhile, Iranian National Security and Foreign Policy Committee chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi insisted during a visit to Damascus on October 14 that cooperation between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia has already been “positive and successful.” The stiff defense mounted by rebel forces thus far belies this wishful thinking. The foreign allies of the Syrian regime may be forced to expend further financial and military resources in order to preserve their initial gains. The expanded interventions of both Russia and Iran will likely incentivize the Syrian regime to prioritize a military solution to the Syrian Civil War, protracting the conflict and leading to further bloodshed rather than movement towards a political solution. The heightened pressure being brought to bear upon the Syrian opposition may also drive moderate rebel factions towards closer relationships with Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and other malign Salafi-jihadist groups, further constraining U.S. policy options in the country.

Think Again: Myths and Myopia about the South China Sea


Alexander Vuving, October 16, 2015

As the world sets the spotlight on the South China Sea, myths about this issue also proliferate. Some myths exist because we lack knowledge. But many other myths persist because we use the wrong lens to look at things. The South China Sea conundrum is a challenging story to decipher because most of the common lenses we use do not get us to see the essence of this story.

For example, thinking in black-and-white terms is a useful way to simplify and highlight things, but this lens becomes useless for seeing what happens in the South China Sea, because things there mostly happen in gray zones. Another good way to understand human activities is to think of them as the search for resources. Much of what nations do is a struggle over resources, but if we focus on natural resources, we will lose sight of a key resource in the South China Sea: location.

We often use chess as a metaphor for the game nations play, and the chessboard is our common image of the arena where nations interact. But this metaphor won’t help us understand the game China is playing. As David Lai and Henry Kissinger have observed, Chinese strategy resembles not chess but a different Chinese board game named weiqi (which literally translates as the “game of encirclement” and is known in English under its Japanese name “go”). The underlying idea ofweiqi is the same as that of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Rather than concentrating on frontal battles with the enemy, the idea is to manipulate the propensity of things so that the situation will work for you. As I have shown in the National Interest, what China has done in the South China Sea is a classic example of how to play weiqi masterfully.

In a recent article, Lyle Goldstein has taken up the laudable job of debunking some of the common myths about the South China Sea. He also invited fellow realists to join the discussion. As a South China Sea watcher and a realist myself, I am delighted to accept his invitation. I will present a different realist view, but my purpose is not to make a difference. What I want is to understand what really is going on and its implications for strategy.



At the recent Democratic presidential debate, the candidates were asked to identify the biggest threat the U.S. national security. Hillary Clinton, the candidate on stage with the most federal government experience, stated that she most worried over “nuclear material that can fall into the wrong hands.” She continued, “I know the terrorists are constantly seeking it, and that’s why we have to stay vigilant, but also united around the world to prevent that.” Clinton’s answer came on the heels of an Associated Press report about a criminal organization in Moldova that tried to sell nuclear material to an Islamic State group. Predictably, the story received a lot of media attention.

The general public is afraid of radiation. It’s an irrational fear, driven by the imagination of what high levels of uncontrolled radiation might do to our bodies or to our children, and spurred by high-profile accidents in the nuclear energy business. However, no one died from radiation poisoning or acute diseases as a result of the radioactive releases at Three Mile Island or Fukushima. Even at Chernobyl, less than 30 people died within a few months from radiation sickness. Another 130 suffered high doses of radiation poisoning, most of whom recovered over a number of years. Cancer rates for those near nuclear accidents are in line with those of the general population. But we’re terrified of invisible radiation waves, despite being bombarded every day from a variety of natural and man-made sources of radiation.

The panic over low-risk radiation exposure is bad enough. Nuclear terrorism raises the specter of fear several notches, with the idea that some terrorist group might obtain fissile material from somewhere in the world and bring it to a United States city — someday. We don’t have any specifics as to who is pursuing the material, where loose piles of material exist, or which cities are vulnerable, but other than that, it could happen, right? This is not a partisan issue — both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have warned of nuclear terrorism, the latter saying in 2010that “The single biggest threat to U.S. security … would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon.” I disagree, considering there is more than one nation that could launch some seriously large-yield nuclear weapons at the United States today, and that the aspects of probability and consequence has to be included in any risk assessment. But I digress.


The United States is bombing in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most recently a hospital in the latter. Russia is bombing in Syria. Saudi Arabia is bombing in Yemen. What do all these have in common? Futility.

Bombing is now what a state does when it wants to appear to be doing something, but would really rather not. It is governments’ easy out. A faction at court is whispering that our interests are being slighted in Karjackistan? The opposition in parliament is saying we are a “do-nothing” government? But, good sirs, we are doing something. We’re bombing!
Does this mean the people killed and maimed by the bombs, and the airmen who put themselves at risk, are doing so for nothing? Not at all. They are giving their lives to protect politicians’ backsides. What cause could be more noble?

There is a test to determine whether a government is serious or is just playing at war. Is the bombing integrated with actions of a capable ground force? In Iraq and Afghanistan, the answer is obvious.
An aside: The U.S. Army, which has patches for everything, including digging latrines, designed a patch for the troops now back in Iraq. Regrettably, just before it was issued, some spoilsport noticed it was a virtual duplicate of the symbol for the Muslim Brotherhood. May I suggest an alternative? How about an American soldier desperately trying to rally a mob of fleeing Iraqi or Afghan troops?

In some parts of northern Syria, our bombing, at least some of it, has been in support of an effective army, the Kurds. But the Kurds’ reach is geographically limited, and the Turks are now bombing them. Were we serious, we would tell the Turks to stop, or if necessary give the Kurds some air cover.
The Saudis and their Gulf State allies have put ground forces into Yemen, but they haven’t attempt much, probably because the Houthis can kick their butt. The main effect of their bombing has been the usual one, i.e., make all the locals come together against them. When people are bombed by aircraft immune to any response, they get motivated to strike back in other ways.
That brings us to the Russians in Syria. Diplomatically, Russia’s bombing campaign has given her a seat at the table. The fighters she has deployed are a warning to the Turks and others not to bomb Assad’s forces. But Moscow, unlike Washington, is run by realists. Realists know bombs alone do little to attain any serious objective. That suggests Russia will also send in ground troops the aircraft can support.
As she appears to be doing. At first, the Marines, airborne, and Spetznaz the Russians sent into Syria seemed to be for airfield defense. That is certainly part of their mission. But reports suggest they are now entering into the ground fight. Moscow also announced Russian “volunteers” would be heading for Syria. The word “volunteer” has never had quite the same meaning in Russia as it does elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, Moscow’s realism is beating Washington’s drole de guerre. Iran and Iraq (yes, the Iraq 5000 Americans died to create; thank you George W.) just signed an alliance with Moscow, leaving us out in the cold. Why? Because when Moscow says it will help, the help starts arriving next week. It does not come with absurd “human rights” conditions attached telling the Iraqi government not to employ its most effective forces, the Shiite militias. Russain weapons are simple enough for the locals to use and maintain. Maybe Russians can even provide trainers whose trainees fight instead of running. The Army’s National Training Center discovered long ago that Russian tactics are easier to teach and learn, and more effective, than American tactics.
The story in Washington and in European capitals is the same in everything: rule by an incompetent and disinterested elite that lives in Disneyland, can’t make things work, and isn’t serious about anything but remaining the elite. At some point, drole de guerre will yield to a bottom-up feu do joie.

U.S. Will Hit Debt Limit No Later Than Nov. 3, Treasury Secretary Warns


Lew added that a remaining cash balance of less than $30 billion would swiftly deplete.

WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. government will hit a legal debt limit and be unable to borrow more money no later than Nov. 3, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Thursday.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Lew added that a remaining cash balance of less than $30 billion would swiftly deplete.

"In fact, we do not foresee any reasonable scenario in which it would last for an extended period of time," Lew said, as he urged Congress to raise the debt cap.

The federal government is currently scraping just under its $18 trillion legal debt limit. Lew previously had said two weeks ago that the United States would exhaust its ability to borrow more money around Nov. 5.

Disarray among Republicans over who will replace U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, who is retiring from Congress on Oct. 30, is complicating efforts to negotiate on the debt ceiling.

Boehner may try to pass a debt limit increase before he retires, one of his aides said on Wednesday.

Analysts and officials have warned that missing payments could lead to economic calamity. The Treasury already came close to missing payments in 2011 and 2013 when Congress delayed increasing the borrowing limit.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Timothy Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)



American military officers are a studious lot these days. A master’s degree is pretty much de rigueur for advancement. Many officers write books upon retirement and some even write important books while serving. We here at War on the Rocks are grateful, too, for the many American officers who have written for us.

Of course, the flip side of writing is reading. It’s hard to get a degree or write a book without doing a lot of reading. On top of that, service chiefs regularly issue recommended reading lists to their subordinates. Then-Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno noted in the introduction to his 2014 reading list that “a course of personal study and contemplation is an essential component of the individual development of every Army professional. Each of us faces busy schedules every day and finding time to read and think is a recurring challenging. But even as we train our units and physically condition our bodies, we must improve our minds through reading and critical thinking.”

All of this would have appalled 1st Lt. Matthew F. Steele, the author of this week’s document. In 1895, Steele wrote an article in the Journal of the United States Cavalry Association entitled “Military Reading: Its Use and Abuse.” He intended the article to combat the pernicious fad of reading that was sweeping the Army’s officer corps. “The whole service seems to have gone to letters, and our chief ambition, just now, appears to be to convince ourselves and the world at large that the pen is mightier than the sword — an undertaking not quite loyal to our craft.” Had not Francis Bacon pointed out that “to spend too much time in studies is sloth?” Steele continued that “the sloth that too much study induces is, apparently, of both mind and body. When too many books and authorities are to be recollected and pondered over, conclusions are slow to form. This may be of no consequence to the philosopher … but to the soldier in the field it is fatal. Cavalrymen, above all, have no time to ponder and weigh.” One of the few good things that Steele has to say about professional reading is that it is less destructive of military virtues than pleasure reading. Oddly, Steele eventually comes out in favor of broad reading, because one never knows what kind of task an officer might be called on to perform. He must know how to “bargain and trade; to teach any subject from grammar up to the science of war; to cultivate a garden or manage an eating house; to telegraph a message or run an engine; to draw up a contract or defend a criminal.”

Steele’s approach seems very alien today, even shocking. In fairness, this was not a phenomenon limited to the U.S. Army. The U.S. Naval War College faced some opposition in its early days, as well, from seniors who believed that officers should neither write nor read books. In the British Army being called an “inky-fingered” officer was not a compliment.

In part, however, Steele’s uneasiness with reading was probably a function of the fact that the U.S. Army at the time was in a bit of a crisis, lacking a clearraison d’être and called on to perform a wide variety of tasks. To that extent it may be defensible. However, it is also worth noting that the Army of Steele’s day was not among the world leaders in size or skill. True, the United States would win the Spanish-American War just three years later but that was against a sharply declining power and the bumbling of the Army and the War Department became literally the stuff of scandal. Today’s U.S. Army is the world’s leader. And it reads.

Imagining a New Security Order in the Persian Gulf

For over three decades, the question of who controls the Persian Gulf has formed the basis for America’s massive military buildup in the region. At the heart of the region’s security dilemma is a clash of visions: Iran seeks the departure of U.S. forces so it can exert what it sees as its rightful authority over the region, while the Gulf Arab states want the United States to balance Iranian power.

Resolving this impasse will not be easy. But the Iranian nuclear agreement presents an opportunity to take a first step toward creating a new security order in the Gulf, one that could improve relations between Iran and the Gulf Arab states and facilitate a lessening of the U.S. military commitment.
The Case for a New Architecture
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a key pillar of the existing order, excludes Iran, Iraq, and external powers with a significant role in the region. Moreover, it does not provide a platform for dialogue on many security challenges or for reducing tensions, managing crises, preventing conflict, and improving predictability.

A new and inclusive regional security dialogue would complement a U.S. regional strategy for balancing Iran. Iranian integration with regional structures could create opportunities to lower Arab-Iranian tensions in the Gulf while still allowing the United States to impose costs if Tehran continues behavior that threatens core American interests.

A more stable security regime would lessen Gulf state dependence on U.S. military presence and create a balance of power in the region more favorable to U.S. interests.
Recommendations for U.S. Policy
U.S. engagement in the region should elevate the priority of creating a new multilateral forum on Gulf security issues that includes the GCC countries, the United States, China, the European Union, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, and Russia. This forum should be the first step in realizing a long-term vision for a more formal, rules-based security structure.

Poll: 81% of Muslims around the world support Islamic State – Al Jazeera Arabic Poll


Posted on October 15, 2015 
by Jordan Schachtel, Breitbart

In a recent survey conducted by AlJazeera.net, the website for the Al Jazeera Arabic television channel, respondents overwhelmingly support the Islamic State terrorist group, with 81% voting “YES” on whether they approved of ISIS’s conquests in the region.

The poll, which asked in Arabic, “Do you support the organizing victories of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?” has generated over 38,000 responses thus far, with only 19% of respondents voting “NO” to supporting ISIS.

Al Jazeera Arabic’s television audience is largely made up of Sunni Muslims living in the Arab world. Its biggest viewership numbers come from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with a large amount of satellite television viewers in the United States, according to research estimates. AlJazeera.net is most popular in Saudi Arabia, the United States, Egypt, Morocco, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the Alexa webpage analytics site. Al Jazeeraclaims that it has over 40 million viewers in the Arab world.

The news that an overwhelming majority of respondents to the Al Jazeera Arabic poll strongly support ISIS may not surprise long-time trackers of the controversial network. The news outfit, which is run by Qatar’s ruling family and headquartered in Doha, has a track record rife with allegations that the organization supports the narratives of Sunni terrorist groups.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, the Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha proudly displayed silhouettes revering Osama bin Laden as a prophet-like figure, according to a New York Times investigation. In an Al Jazeera survey taken on September 11, 2006, 50% of respondents said they supported Osama bin Laden.

The Eroding Ethics Of Senior Military Officers: John R. Allen

If that is any consolation for IA!

-- Blogmaster


Ethics are “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.” In the Marine Corps we are guided by our core values: honor, courage, and commitment.
Unfortunately, there are numerous example of senior military officers abandoning their ethical underpinnings, see infra, but this article will focus on retired Marine Corps General John R. Allen.

General Allen served our nation and the Marine Corps for over 40 years. He was commissioned after graduating, with honors, from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976. During his extraordinarily successful career he held command from the platoon level to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), and almost every level in between. He commanded The Basic School, the initial training for all newly commissioned Marine Corps officers where new officers are inculcated in the esprit-de-corps and mandated exemplary character expected of all Marine officers.

Additionally, Allen was the first Marine Corps officer inducted as a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the first Marine to serve asCommandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. In sum, there was no limit to Allen’s abilities and regard in the Marine Corps.
It is this stellar record that makes the last few years of Mr. Allen’s career so troubling, and worthy of reflection by all Marines. During the last few months of his time as commander of ISAF, General Allen was caught up in the FBI investigation into Army General David Petraeus. That is when honor, that Marine Corps value that “empowers Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity” slipped from General Allen’s grasp.