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The Battle for Syria

Shia Foreign Fighters in Syria

April 15th 2014

Syrian Jihadis

The Shi’ite foreign fighters fighting in Syria can be divided into two main groups: one consists of Hezbollah operatives, of whom there are several thousand, sent by the organization to participate in offensive and defensive operations in Syria. The other consists of Shi’ite foreign fighters from Iraq and other Arab-Muslim countries who are sent to Syria to fight in support of the regime. In our assessment there are between 4,000 and 5,000 such fighters, most of them from Iraq. In retrospect, it can be seen that the Iraqis exported fighters to Syria, both those who established the Al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al-Qaeda fighting against the Syrian regime, as well as some Shi’ite foreign fighters who fight for the Syrian regime. The Shi’ite fighters from the Arab-Muslim countries are organized into military units, the most prominent of which is the Abu al-Fadhel al-Abbas Brigade. There are also smaller military formations. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Air Force Seeks Less Perfection In Its Nuclear Missile Corps

April 14th 2014

Nuclear Missile in Silo

Every day, 90 uniformed men and women in their mid-twenties ride elevators forty to sixty feet below remote fields in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, and Nebraska in rote preparation for improbable nuclear Armageddon.

They spend some of their 24-hour alerts seated in front of steel Minuteman III missile launch control panels mounted on shock-absorbers, with toggle switches capable of hurling ten to fifty nuclear warheads — each with twenty times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb — to the other side of the globe, at speeds of 15,000 mph.

But their day-to-day enemy, for decades, has not so much been another superpower, but the unremitting boredom of an isolated posting that demands extreme vigilance, while also requiring virtually no activity, according to accounts by missileers and a new internal review of their work. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Terrorist Bombings in Nigeria Bear Hallmarks of Islamist Boko Haram

April 13th 2014

Click to select Image

Dozens of people were killed in two explosions in Abuja, a city in central Nigeria, on the morning of April 14. Commuters were about to board buses and taxes at crowded bus station for their trip to work in central Abuja when the detonations took place. Witnesses say that dozens of bodies are scattered about the area in a sea of carnage. It is feared that this may have been yet another attack by the armed Muslim sect known as Boko Haram, which has sworn to impose Muslim law throughout the multi-ethnic multi-religious nation. Witnesses say that at least 40 bodies have been taken to makeshift morgues in the city, while rescue works and police are gathering body parts.

The blast tore a hole at least 4 feet deep in the ground at Nyanya Motor park, which is about 10 miles from the center f Abuja. More than 30 vehicles, including buses, have been destroyed. Secondary explosions, caused by ruptured fuel tanks, added to the destruction. Panic ensued as the flames rose throughout the bus station.

The dead and wounded are being taken to area hospitals, including Asokoro General Hospital in Abuja. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

IDF Combat Cameramen Deployed to Counter Propaganda--Years Late

April 10th 2014

Palestinian Girl Provokes IDF Solder Nov 2012
Palestinian Girl Trained to Provoke Israeli Soldier

The Israel Defense Forces has trained 24 soldiers to work as “combat cameramen,” a special division of the IDF Spokesperson’s unit, that was created two years ago, to document IDF operations from the inside, generating the visual evidence to combat false accusations that make their way into reports based on second or third-party propaganda.

In a feature on the unit, Israel’s Globes wrote on Wednesday:

“Years later than it should have, the IDF has come to understand that stealth fighters and smart bombs are not enough to win the battle for public opinion, and that one good picture can save commissions of enquiry and a few other international headaches. En route to this victory, the IDF decided to forego one or two guns on the battlefield, and to replace them with still or video cameras that will make it possible to tell the same story to the world, in an entirely different way.” Read more ..


The US and the Ukraine

Some US Lawmakers Call for Military Assistance, Advice to Ukraine

April 8th 2014

Congress-senate

As tensions escalate in Ukraine, a number of U.S. lawmakers are calling on Washington to do more to help protect the people of Ukraine from a possible Russian invasion after Moscow's recent annexation of the Crimean peninsula. 

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck Mckeon, and Representative Mike Turner introduced new legislation condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine and calling on the Obama administration to take more decisive action.

Chairman Mckeon said he believes Russia is provoking unrest in eastern Ukraine to create a reason to invade.  He outlined new legislation which would condemn any further action by Russia, and go further than providing economic aid to Ukraine.  Republican congressman Mike Turner explained: Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Hagel Confirms US Support for Japan, Asian Allies

April 6th 2014

Chuck Hagel

The head of the U.S. Defense Department says Washington plans to send two more missile defense warships to Japan to counter the threat posed by North Korea's actions.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a news conference in Tokyo Sunday after meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, that two AEGIS missile defense ships will be sent to Japan by 2017, bolstering the U.S. missile defense force to seven ships.

On his second day in Japan, Hagel announced that the United States will increase military support to its Asian ally.

Hagel said, "In response to Pyongyang's pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions, including recent missile launches and violations of recent U.N. security council resolutions, I can announce today that the United States is planning to forward deploy two additional Aegis ballistic missile defense ships to Japan by 2017." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Army, Boko Haram Working Together in Parts of Nigeria?

April 5th 2014

Boko Haram

A Nigerian soldier says he has witnessed incidents that suggest some Nigerian military commanders are working with Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group blamed for thousands of deaths since 2009.

In an exclusive interview with VOA's Hausa service, he described how his military unit, based in the northeastern Borno State region, was ambushed by Boko Haram fighters.

The soldier, who did not want to be identified, said the commander of a nearby military unit, based in the town of Bama, recently sought assistance from his unit in carrying out a raid.

The soldier said when the two military units joined up, they were given different uniforms. The Bama unit commander gave his own troops green uniforms. The soldier said his unit received tan "desert camouflage" uniforms. When the troops reached the battle area, the soldier said the commander of the better-equipped Bama unit suddenly withdrew his forces, leaving the remaining troops to fend for themselves against Boko Haram fighters. Read more ..


Pakistan and Afghanistan

Pakistan Closes Border to Boost Security for Afghan Vote

April 4th 2014

Taliban in Pakistan

Pakistan says it has closed all border crossings and deployed additional troops to help Afghanistan conduct Saturday’s presidential polls peacefully.

The Pakistani military said late Friday that all crossing points into Afghanistan will remain closed until conclusion of polling there on Saturday.

It added that border security arrangements have been stepped up in close coordination with Afghan security forces.

The military says patrols in Pakistani border areas have been increased, while immigration checks have been enhanced.

The army says that all routes leading toward the border with Afghanistan are being strictly monitored and aerial surveillance will be carried out to prevent "any untoward cross-border movement."

The increased security comes after Afghan allegations that the Pakistani spy agency is behind recent deadly attacks on election officials and facilities to disrupt the historic vote.  Pakistani officials rejected the allegations as unfounded. Pakistan’s foreign policy and national security advisor, Sartaj Aziz, said in a interview that peace in his country is linked to stability in Afghanistan. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

US Needs Russian Choppers

April 3rd 2014

Russian M17 Helos

The top lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee said the United States needs to continue buying Russian-made helicopters for the Afghan air force despite tensions over the annexation of Crimea.

Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who recently took a trip to Afghanistan, said the country’s soldiers are used to the Russian-made helicopters, which he said are easier to operate and maintain than American choppers.

“I met with the colonel that’s training their air force. They’ve been flying those helicopters for 20 years,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Our machines are just much more sophisticated and complicated,” he said. “It’s cheaper, [Afghans] understand them, they know how to fly them, they know how to repair them.”

Some members of Congress have renewed a push for the Pentagon to end the $550 million contract with Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport and instead buy American-made helicopters for the Afghan air force. They say the move makes even more sense now that Russia has defied the United States and other world powers by moving into Ukraine. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Suicide Blast at Afghan Interior Ministry Kills 6

April 2nd 2014

Kabul Car Bomb

A suicide bomber tried to ram his way into Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday, killing at least six police officers who were outside the compound. This latest attack is likely to add to the tension surrounding the April 5 presidential election.

The large explosion shook the Afghan capital. A suicide bomber dressed in a military uniform detonated his explosives at the entrance of Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just hours after the militants reiterated they would disrupt Saturday's vote with more violence and warning Afghans against heading to the polls. The Interior Ministry said the suicide attacker blew himself up after security personnel recognized him as he tried to enter the highly fortified compound. A number of people were waiting at the entrance when the bomb went off. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

1,500 Nigerians Killed in Boko Haram Violence in 2014

March 31st 2014

Boko Haram

Amnesty International says 1,500 people have been killed this year in an escalating armed conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and Nigerian security forces.  Amnesty says more than half the victims were civilians.

Amnesty International calls the rising number of Boko Haram attacks “truly shocking” and the reaction of Nigerian security forces, “brutality.”

The rights group says both sides may have committed acts that “may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity."  It calls for an investigation by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group based in northeastern Nigeria, has been attacking government forces, churches, schools, markets and mosques since it began violent operations in 2009. Three northeastern states have been under emergency rule for nearly 11 months but Elizabeth Donnelly of the Africa Program at the London-based policy institute Chatham House says the attacks continue to get worse. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

The Growing Problem of a Shrinking Military

March 30th 2014

Navy Seal Team 6

The military’s most recent budget request provides even more detail about the consequences of continued automatic spending cuts. Yet the U.S. military’s challenges did not start with the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration; they have been underway for years, as the Armed Forces struggle to meet ever-increasing global demands and challenges with fewer forces and resources.

This growing strain prompted Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, U.S. Pacific Command chief, to tell Congress that the Navy’s attack submarine requirements are going unmet in the Pacific right now. With the Navy’s attack submarine fleet on a path to drop from 55 today to 42 by 2029 — under the most optimistic scenario — outcomes only promise to get worse.

This was not the first time the Navy has confessed it lacks the capacity necessary to carry out all of its missions. As Rear Admiral Thomas Moore argued last year, “We’re an 11-carrier Navy in a 15-carrier world.” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed a similar concern in his assessment of recent Pentagon strategy, warning that “the smaller and less capable military outlined in the [Quadrennial Defense Review] makes meeting [strategic] obligations more difficult.” Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Taliban Uses Violence to Intimidate Before Elections

March 29th 2014

Taliban

Taliban gunmen attacked a luxury hotel in Kabul Sunday, killing nine civilians including children. The Serena Hotel, previously one of the most secure spots in the Afghan capital, frequently hosts high ranking diplomats and other foreign officials. Sunday's shooting not only targeted Westerners inside the capital, but also seeks to delegitimize upcoming elections before a NATO withdrawal.

Taliban forces have increased their attacks in order to disrupt elections scheduled for April 5th. Following the shooting, election observers who were staying at the hotel from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have left the country. The European Union's monitoring mission maintains the only sizeable presence left inside Afghanistan. But the EU's mission during the polls will be limited, as it is too dangerous for most Western observers to leave urban areas. Early Thursday the Taliban claimed a series of strikes in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, that left a Radio Television Afghanistan facility badly damaged. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

The Origins of Boko Haram: Nigeria's Islamist Menace

March 28th 2014

Click to select Image

The Western influence of British colonialists caused a division among the people of Northern Nigeria, who were once united by Islam. This division saw, on one side, the so-called "civilized" -- by Western standards -- elite who were used by the British as agents of colonization; and on the other side, the commoners, who vehemently resisted Western influence in the region.

Dissatisfaction with Western influence also led to an emergence of Islamist fundamentalists among people of the Northeastern region of Nigeria.

The reason Mohammed Yusuf founded Boko Haram appears to be that he saw an opportunity to exploit public outrage at government corruption by linking it to Western influence in governance. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Palestinians Still Dream of Israel's Destruction

March 26th 2014

Click to select Image

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may be able to force Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, under threats and pressure, to sign a "framework agreement" with Israel. But as this week's rally of hatred in the Gaza Strip shows, even after the signing of a Palestinian-Israeli "peace" treaty, a large number of Palestinians will not abandon there dream of destroying Israel.

"Jihad in Palestine is not terrorism. Jihad in Palestine is a sacred duty." — Yusef Rizka, representative of Hamas

A mass rally held in the Gaza Strip on March 23 showed that Hamas continues to enjoy popular support among Palestinians. Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to attend the rally commemorating the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Hamas officials claim that nearly one million Palestinians attended the rally in the center of Gaza City. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

New Sunni Insurgency in Iraq

March 25th 2014

Revolutionary Guards

Largely ignored by the global media, Iraq today stands on the brink of a renewed Sunni insurgency.  The emergent insurgency in Iraq is following the same sectarian pattern as the civil war in Syria and the growing violence in Lebanon. It also involves many of the same local and regional players.

The rising violence in Iraq is not, however, simply the result of a spillover from the Syrian war. It derives also from internal Iraqi dynamics. But these are themselves in significant ways comparable to the Syrian and Lebanese situations.

Over 9,000 people were killed in fighting in Iraq in 2013.  This is not yet up to the levels of violence just prior to the surge, in the very worst days of the insurgency against U.S. forces and the sectarian bloodletting that accompanied it.  But it’s the highest since 2007.  This year, more than 2000 people have already lost their lives as a result of political violence in Iraq. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

U.S. Strategy After Ukraine: From Estonia to Azerbaijan

March 25th 2014

Click to select Image

As I discussed last week, the fundamental problem that Ukraine poses for Russia, beyond a long-term geographical threat, is a crisis in internal legitimacy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent his time in power rebuilding the authority of the Russian state within Russia and the authority of Russia within the former Soviet Union. The events in Ukraine undermine the second strategy and potentially the first. If Putin cannot maintain at least Ukrainian neutrality, then the world's perception of him as a master strategist is shattered, and the legitimacy and authority he has built for the Russian state is, at best, shaken.

Whatever the origins of the events in Ukraine, the United States is now engaged in a confrontation with Russia. The Russians believe that the United States was the prime mover behind regime change in Ukraine. At the very least, the Russians intend to reverse events in Ukraine. At most, the Russians have reached the conclusion that the United States intends to undermine Russia's power. They will resist. The United States has the option of declining confrontation, engaging in meaningless sanctions against individuals and allowing events to take their course. Alternatively, the United States can choose to engage and confront the Russians. Read more ..


The Ukraine Crisis

Obama Gives Assurances that Europe and America are On the Same Page

March 24th 2014

President Barack Obamas said the United States and Europe are united in holding Russia to account for its actions in Crimea. "Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people," he told reporters after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Amsterdam on March 24. "We are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far."

Obama told the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that his message to European leaders is that Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to "understand the economic and political consequences of his actions in Ukraine" but that "it's important that Ukraine have good relations with the United States, Russia, and Europe." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Fighting Spills Into Northern Lebanon

March 20th 2014

Bomb Damage

Syrian warplanes bombed areas along Lebanon's northern border Thursday amid bitter fighting between rebels and government forces in a historic border town.  Scores of civilians and fighters were reported to be fleeing into Lebanon.

Ambulances ferried victims of the fighting to hospitals in northern Lebanon. Rebel fighters and civilians forded a border river to enter Lebanon after the regular crossing was closed.

Syrian state TV reported that government forces had captured the besieged old Crusader fortress town of Qala'at al-Hosn by mid-afternoon, but the report could not be confirmed. Syrian fighter jets reportedly strafed areas near the border, causing a number of casualties. A young man who lives on the Lebanese side complained that the Syrian conflict had spilled onto Lebanese soil. Read more ..


Internet Edge

Serious Global Approach Needed to Attack Data Thieves

March 19th 2014

Stopping massive data breaches like the one that hit Target will require a more sophisticated, collaborative approach by law enforcement agencies around the world, a Michigan State University cyber security expert argues.

In a new research report for the National Institute of Justice, Thomas Holt found many hackers and data thieves are operating in Russia or on websites where users communicate in Russian, making it easier to hide from U.S. and European authorities. All countries need to better work together to fight hacking and data theft campaigns, he said, and use undercover stings in which officers pose as administrators of the Internet forums where stolen data is advertised.

The Target breach, which comprised 40 million credit- and debit-card accounts during the 2013 holiday shopping season, may have originated in Russia, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. “This is a truly global problem, one that we cannot solve domestically and that has to involve multiple nations and rigorous investigation through various channels,” said Holt, associate professor of criminal justice. Holt authored the 155-page report with Olga Smirnova from Eastern Carolina University. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Shi'a Jihadis in Syria

March 19th 2014

Syrian Jihadis

The Arab Spring, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the war in Syria have contributed to the rapid escalation in the number of Sunni and Shia jihadists. Their threat expands far beyond the Arab countries to the rest of the world.

During the Soviet-Afghan war, (1979-1989) jihadi operations were concentrated in Afghanistan.  In his book "Taliban," Ahmed Rashid estimated that 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Muslim countries in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central Asia and the Far East fought for the Afghan Mujahideen.  Eventually, Rashid said, "more than 100,000 Muslim radicals were to have direct contact with Pakistan and Afghanistan and be influenced by the jihad." After the Soviets departed, tens upon tens of thousands of jihadis went home to spread violent Islamism. Afghanistan's role as cradle of jihadism continued through the period of U.S. and NATO involvement, to this day. Read more ..


The Weapon's Edge

Acoustic Invisibility Cloak Tricks Sound Waves and Sonars

March 18th 2014

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank

Using clever design rules and crunching numbers through computational simulations, Researchers from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University (North Carolina), have managed to engineer a hollow structure that could cloak any object placed inside, from sound.

The cloak is made of sheets of plastic, designed into a structure with precisely repeating perforation patterns and specifically engineered to process sound waves as they pass by, so as to interact with them in a way that conceals both the cloak and what’s inside.

“To give the illusion that it isn’t there, the cloak must alter the waves’ trajectory to match what they would look like if they had not come across it”, explains professor Steven Cummer, leader of the project at Duke University. The cloak effectively works from all directions, it takes the sound wave "processes it mechanically" and restores it in its original wave front as if no obstacle had been encountered by the sound wave. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Not Quiet on the Northern Front

March 17th 2014

Golan Heights

The disintegration of the Syrian state into warring enclaves is bringing with  it new challenges and threats for Israel. Alarm bells have now been sounded on  Israel’’ shared northern border with Syria.

“For the moment, they [Jihadis] are not fighting us, but we know their  ideology. . . . It could be that, in the coming months, we could find ourselves  dragged into confrontation with them,” said a top-level Israel Defense Forces  officer.

In addition to the Jihadi threat, the Iran-sponsored terrorist entity  Hezbollah remains Israel’s most potent security threat in the north. Just last  month, Israel reportedly struck a Syrian weapons convoy on its way to  Hezbollah. Evidence is now beginning to emerge of the methods the Jewish state is  adopting to meet this new reality.

Since mid-2012, Syria has been effectively divided into three enclaves. The  first of these is the area controlled by the Bashar Assad regime, supported by  Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. The second is an area under the rule of a confusing  mass of rebel forces, mainly consisting of Sunni Islamist militias. The third,  in the far north-east, is an area controlled by Syria’s Kurds. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Security Plans Under Review With No BSA

March 16th 2014

Karzai

U.S. and NATO military commanders in Afghanistan are reportedly developing plans to deploy a NATO military force in Afghanistan this year designed to assume a training mission in 2015, but small and nimble enough to be withdrawn if the Afghan government does not sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that lays out conditions for NATO’s continued security presence in the country.

President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the BSA even though it has popular support and was approved by a traditional grand council or Loya Jirga.  The U.S. has warned if the BSA is not signed it will proceed with the so-called “Zero Option” and pull all U.S. forces from the country by the end of the year.

Karzai has said he objects to BSA provisions that allow night raids by NATO forces and also any U.S. initiatives to negotiate with the Taliban.  He has also said his successor should sign the agreement because it will be up to him to deal with the consequences.

U.S. officials say they do not expect the BSA to be signed until after presidential elections in April, but President Obama recently warned Karzai in a phone call the longer the wait the less effective a BSA will be.  “We will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year. However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S mission,” Obama said in his phone call with Karzai, adding that “Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.” Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria’s Boko Haram 'Increasingly Monstrous'

March 15th 2014

Boko Haram

The U.N. says nearly 500,000 people in northern Nigeria have fled their homes in fear of what it calls an “increasingly monstrous” insurgency that threatens food security in many parts of the country.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who visited Nigeria this week,  warned that what was formerly an internal conflict has become a regional crisis. The insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has “spilled across borders” into neighboring West African countries along with nearly 60,000 refugees, Pillay said.
 
“With thousands of refugees fleeing from Nigeria, and arms and fighters reportedly flowing across international borders in the other direction, this terrible conflict is no longer solely an internal matter," she said.

Pillay urged Nigeria to broaden its counter-terrorism strategy and work more closely with neighbors and the international community to stop the Islamist militant group known as Boko Haram. Inside Nigeria, she adds, farmers have abandoned their fields as they flee the insurgents, threatening food security in many areas. Read more ..


Isreal on Edge

Netanyahu Excoriates Seized Weapons

March 14th 2014

Bibi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the media in front of a stockpile of seized weapons in Eilat on Monday. Israeli intelligence had been tracking the weapons which were flown from Damascus to Tehran and then put on a Panamanian flagged ship. The arsenal was ultimately captured last week by the Israeli Navy in the Red Sea near Port Sudan and taken to Israel for further examination. The shipment contained 40 M-302 missiles as well as 400,000 rifle shells and 180 mortar rounds.

Israel believes the weapons were bound for Gaza via smuggling tunnels in Egypt. Islamic Jihad a terrorist group with stronger ties to Iran, and not Hamas, was the most likely intended recipient. However, smuggling the missiles over land has become somewhat more difficult since the Egyptian security crackdown in the Sinai region. For this reason, some analysts speculate the shipment was not actually going to Gaza, but would stay with terrorists in the Sinai. No matter where the shipment was meant to go, M-302 missiles have a range of roughly 100 miles and would have inflicted major damage over wide swaths of civilian territory, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa - or Cairo - if successfully launched. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban Splinter Groups Add To Election Fears In Afghanistan

March 13th 2014

Taliban soldiers

The deadly reemergence of a little-known militant group in Afghanistan has prompted fears that rogue insurgents could be an added source for concern ahead of a crucial presidential election.

The Feday-e Mahaz, or "Suicide Brigade," announced its return by claiming responsibility for killing Swedish-British journalist Nils Horner in Kabul on March 11. In a brazen attack that has sent shockwaves through the international community in Kabul, Horner was gunned down in broad daylight in the Afghan capital's heavily fortified diplomatic district.

Feday-e Mahaz said in a statement posted on March 12 on its website that it targeted Horner because the Taliban splinter group believed he was a spy for Britain's MI-6 spy agency, and not a journalist. The mainstream Taliban, meanwhile, denied any involvement in the killing as well as any affiliation with Feday-e Mahaz. Afghan officials consider the crime unsolved and are hunting for two suspects as part of their investigation. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

The Cyberspies Who Don't Love Us

March 12th 2014

hacker keyboard

President Obama’s recent defense strategy and budget proposal have made clear that five years of defense cuts are reducing the American military’s capacity to protect our many interests around the world. With still more than a half-decade of sequestration left to go, Pentagon leaders are bracing for a challenging future as outlined in stark terms by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently.

Unfortunately, smaller budgets are not the only tests the Pentagon must deal with as it attempts to recruit, train and equip the force of today and tomorrow. Increasingly, the military is confronting a variety of cyber- and espionage-related threats that could undermine, and in some cases already is damaging, the safety of American forces and the effectiveness of contingency plans. Read more ..


Air Travel on Edge

Malaysia Plane Disappearance Prompts Security Discussion

March 10th 2014

USAir ditch in Hudson

It is still unclear why a Malaysia passenger jet vanished on its way to China early Saturday from Kuala Lumpur. But as authorities investigate apparent security lapses, analysts say they should be a catalyst for bolstering airline safety in the region. 

The little information that has emerged from the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has frustrated increasingly desperate families and authorities who are still searching for the plane.

In Malaysia Monday, transport minister Hishammuddin Bin Tun Hussein urged people to refrain from repeating rumors until authorities are able to verify what happened.

"I would like to plea, make a plea, especially to the media and the public at large, not to spread and disseminate unverified and false news for two reasons, One because it affects our exercise of search and rescue because unverified news or false news will distract us from work at hand," said Hussein. "And secondly to be fair to the families who are hoping against hope." Read more ..


The Battle for the Ukraine

Jones Urges Obama to Avoid Military Escalation

March 9th 2014

F15 in Afghanistan

Gen. James Jones, President Obama’s former national security adviser, on Sunday urged his one-time boss to avoid a tit-for-tat escalation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Crimean Peninsula.

Jones warned the situation could spiral out of control and lead to a military confrontation.
“I think we don’t want to knee-jerk and overreact,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“A lot of the things that we’re talking about in terms of some of the tit-for-tat gestures that only tend to exacerbate the situation,” he said.

Jones said the administration should focus more on economic steps than military exercises, an option endorsed earlier on the program by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

“This is a strategic question I think that has long-term strategic consequences,” he said. “And it’s more about economies and about the future of the region than it is about troop displacements right now.” Read more ..


Groups on Edge

Armed Groups Target Students, Teachers

March 7th 2014

Student at Blackboard-Togo

A new report says attacking schools and universities has become a weapon of war. It says in the last five years hundreds of students and teachers have been killed and many more injured. The report – Education Under Attack – identifies 30 countries where “there was a pattern of deliberate attacks between 2009 and 2013.”

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack published the 250 page study. Diya Nijhowne, the group’s director, said, “Attacks on schools, teachers, students, professors, academics [are] much more widespread than previously documented. Schools are being burned, bombed, torched. Teachers are being extorted, abducted. Students are being recruited into armed forces in schools and universities in conflicts across the world.” But why attack schools? Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Defense Cuts Anger US Lawmakers

March 6th 2014

U.S. Naval Carrier

Plans to shrink the United States military to levels not seen since World War II are not sitting well with many U.S. lawmakers.  Some expressed their frustration and anger to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill. 

With U.S. troops in Afghanistan, waiting to come home, anger is boiling over in Washington over the Defense Department's proposed budget cuts. 

Pointing to events in the Middle East and Ukraine, lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee challenged Hagel.

"This budget lacks a realistic assessment of the increased risks," said Senator James Inhofe. "President Obama seems unwilling to accept that the tide of war is not receding." Fellow Republican Senator John McCain was equally blunt. "Your timing is exquisite. You're coming over here with a budget that we agree on, at least on the number, at a time when the world is probably more unsettled than it has been since the end of World War II," he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Israeli Navy Captures Iranian Boat Loaded With Syrian Missiles Destined for Gaza

March 5th 2014

Israeli Navy

Israeli Naval commandos on Wednesday intercepted an Iranian ship in the Red Sea weighed down with missiles that was en route to the Gaza Strip, the IDF said in a statement.

The boat, named KLOSC, was stopped by the elite naval commando unit Shayetet 13 as it was heading to Sudan, 1,500 miles from Israel.

Once on board the KLOSC Israeli soldiers found cement bags, behind which were hidden dozens of M-302 missiles which, the IDF said, were loaded onto the boat in Iran. Had the boat reached the Port of Sudan, its next stop would have been the Gaza Strip.

The M-302 missile is made in Syria and is based on Iranian technology, Israel’s Walla reported. M-302 missiles have a range of up to 200 kilometers and were used during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 to bomb several Israeli cities, including Haifa. Read more ..


China on Edge

Amid Regional Worries, China Plans 12 Percent Boost in Defense Spending

March 5th 2014

Soldiers

China plans to boost defense spending to $130 billion, a 12 percent increase. At the opening of the National People's Congress in Beijing Wednesday, a major political meeting, officials also said they expect the economy to continue to see stable growth of around 7.5 percent this year.

China's leaders say they faced tough challenges in 2013 including a slowing global economy, fluctuating exports, and natural disasters. Premier Li Keqiang says risks and hidden dangers remain for the world's second largest economy.

"There are still many problems people are unhappy with," Li said. "Serious and industrial accidents occur frequently. The social safety net needs strengthening and problems of corruption crop up time and time again." Li attributes some of the some problems to China's status as a developing country, but acknowledges the government could do a better job. Read more ..


El Salvador on Edge

MS-13's Secretly Backing Ruling Party in El Salvador

March 4th 2014

Guatemala narco gang bangers

The ultraviolent Mara Salvatrucha street gang, a.k .a. MS-13 — whose 10,000 members sow murder and mayhem in dozens of American cities — has been secretly backing El Salvador’s ruling party for several years, according to evidence that has emerged in recent weeks.

President Mauricio Funes has admitted to personally approving payoffs, prostitutes and other privileges for gang kingpins in exchange for their political support. If Funes’ FMLN party, which originated as a guerrilla movement in the 1980s, wins the March 9 presidential election, El Salvador may become a haven for gangs and narco-traffickers, with dire consequences for the United States.

MS-13’s violent thuggery plagues communities across America. For example, last September, 14 members of its Plainfield, NJ, branch were indicted for waging what US Attorney Paul Fishman called a “reign of terror,” including multiple murders and extortion. On Feb. 21, a 21-year-old convenience-store worker, herself a Salvadoran immigrant, was murdered in a Washington, DC, suburb by three presumed MS-13 gang members. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Chilly Washington D.C. Greets Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu

March 3rd 2014

Click to select Image

Despite the snowy chill hanging over Washington D.C., diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel are expected to be warmed by friction this week. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet on March 3 to discuss a variety of issues. In advance of their meeting, the two were blunt in their respective assessments for the prospect of peace in the Mideast.

Upon arrival in Washington, Netanyahu said that the ball is in the Palestinians’ court so as to make progress towards peace in the Mideast. Netanyahu said upon arrival in the United States "The tango in the Middle East needs at least three." Netanyahu added, "For years there have been two -- Israel and the US. Now it needs to be seen if the Palestinians are also present. In any case, in order for us to have an agreement, we must uphold our vital interests. I have proven that I do so, in the face of all pressures and all the turmoil, and I will continue to do so here as well." Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Chechnya Seeks to Bolster Russian Presence in Crimea

March 2nd 2014

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov

Never one to pass up an opportunity to comply demonstratively with orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov affirmed on February 28 his readiness to dispatch a consignment of humanitarian aid to Crimea. The cost of that relief will be borne by the Akhmat-haji Kadyrov charitable fund named for Kadyrov's late father.

Kadyrov had earlier condemned the revolution that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych as "a coup d'etat" and "a deliberate attempt to exert pressure on Russia through Ukraine." At the same time, Kadyrov placed the blame for the current situation on Yanukovych who, in Kadyrov's opinion, "failed to assume in time total responsibility for the fate of the people." Read more ..


The US and Afghanistan

US, Afghan Officials Debate Country's Future Security

March 1st 2014

Afghanistan Spec Forces

There is debate over the future of U.S. - Afghan relations after U.S. combat forces withdraw later this year. In particular, there is concern over whether Afghanistan will be able to maintain security and stability if the government decides against signing a security agreement that could allow a residual U.S. force to remain in the country. U.S. and Afghan officials discussed the issue at a forum co-sponsored by VOA.

After 12 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. combat mission is coming to an end this year. The U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to help stabilize the country and protect civilians. There is uncertainty over whether U.S. troops will have a post-2014 role that would consist of continued training of Afghan forces and helping in sustaining counterterrorism operations. Read more ..


The Ukraine on Edge

In Crimea, A Simmering Cauldron

February 28th 2014

Protest in Ukraine

This week's standoff in Crimea was a long time coming. The emerging crisis pitting ethnic Russians seeking integration with Moscow and Crimean Tatars who wish to remain in Ukraine is emblematic of the smoldering tensions that have been a fact of daily life on the sunny Black Sea peninsula for the last quarter-century.

Because of the region's unique and tortured history, Crimean Tatars are afraid, says Igor Semivolos, director of the Center for Near East Studies in Kyiv. He says that the Tatars feel "threats from the Russian-speaking population, or more concretely, from groups of Cossacks and other formations that are now being created under the conditions of political hysteria that we see now in Crimea. And [Tatars] see a threat to themselves from these groups -- including a physical threat." Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Denies Protecting Pro-Taliban Haqqani Network

February 27th 2014

Terrorist Bombing

Pakistan claims its “precision” air strikes against suspected militant bases in and around the volatile North Waziristan border region are “successfully” underway. It denies reports in the American media, however, that the country plans no action against the Haqqani network, a key ally of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is entrenched in the tribal territory and known for staging attacks on Afghan and U.S. forces.

During the past week, Pakistani jets and helicopter gunships have repeatedly bombed hideouts of militants of the outlawed Terik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as the TTP. The attacks focused on parts of tribal areas in the northwest, including the militant-dominated North Waziristan district. Security officials say the action killed more than 100 Islamist militants, some of them belonging to the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, and destroyed a number of their strongholds. Read more ..



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