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Edge of Terrorism

Iran in Thailand: Islamist Threat in Southeast Asia

January 20th 2012

Terrorism - Hussein Atris terrorist

On Jan. 12, Thai authorities arrested a man they say was a member of the Lebanon-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah who was plotting an attack in Bangkok. In uncovering the plot, Thai police cite cooperation with the United States and Israel going back to December 2011. Bangkok is indeed a target-rich environment with a history of terrorist attacks, but today Hezbollah and other militant and criminal groups rely on the city as more of a business hub than anything else. If Hezbollah or some other transnational militant group were to carry out an attack in the city, it would have to be for a compelling reason that outweighed the costs. 

The suspect was identified as Hussein Atris, who was born in Lebanon but acquired Swedish citizenship and a passport after marrying a Swedish woman in 1996. Atris was arrested on immigration charges as he was trying to board a plane at Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok's main international airport. Police said another suspect is still at large and possibly already out of the country. Atris's arrest on Jan. 12 was followed by a statement the next day from the U.S. Embassy warning U.S. citizens in Bangkok of the potential foreign terrorist threat in the country and encouraging them to avoid tourist areas. Other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Israel, issued similar warnings. Thai police have responded by increasing security in tourist areas like Bangkok's Khao San Road and the island of Phuket. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

How Iran Views a Possible Confrontation with the United States

January 19th 2012

Iran - Iranian women trample US flag

If Washington does not demonstrate through both word and deed the risks that Tehran faces, overly optimistic Iranian hardliners may wrongly decide that the benefits of a confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz outweigh the costs.

Victory in war means accomplishing one's political objectives, and some Iranian leaders seem to believe they could advance four of their main goals through armed conflict with the United States: namely, resisting "global arrogance," creating disorder in the oil markets, justifying nuclear breakout, and rallying the nation. If Iran were to make significant progress toward these objectives via hostilities against American forces, some in Tehran might conclude that they had won. More likely, however, the optimistic expectations of these overly confident, risktaking Iranian hardliners would not be realized, and war could turn out badly for the regime. Washington can do much to shape the perceptions of both Iranian leaders and world opinion regarding the risks Iran would face from such a conflict.


The Violent Roads of Mexico

Rooting Out Mexico's Narco-Terrorists need not Follow Colombia's Path

January 18th 2012

Mexican Topics - Cartel areas of control

The drug war in Mexico grows more brutal daily. It is practically impossible to read news from that country without exposure to a myriad of literal rolling heads, mass graves, shootouts, and grisly abductions. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on September 8, 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton qualified the situation in Mexico as “looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, when the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country.” In fact, both U.S. and Mexican policymakers have proposed tactics based on the Colombian experience. However, one must closely examine the practical differences between the two countries before applying Colombian tactics to Mexico indiscriminately, since in practice many of Colombia’s crime strategies might well be ineffective in the Mexican case.

Inequality, Drugs, and Violence: Colombia 2.0?
On the surface, similarities between the two countries are obvious: both are tainted by the almost uncontrolled presence of organized crime and a quickened tempo of violence. As in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s, urban violence has risen, and criminal groups have proliferated. The news regularly portrays drugs cartels slamming into each other and the state, usually through indiscriminate homicides and massacres that target innocent civilians. Such was the case in Monterrey in August 2011, when gunmen burst into the Casino Royale, burning down the building and killing over fifty people. In fact, Ciudad Juárez, the most dangerous city in the world, has surpassed Medellín’s homicide rate, reaching 10 to 11 deaths per day. Read more ..

Jordan and the U.S.

A Full Agenda for King Abdullah of Jordan's White House Visit

January 16th 2012

Jordan Topics - King Abdullah of Jordan
Jordan's King Abdullah II

King Abdullah's trip to Washington will provide ample opportunity for crucial talks on Jordan's stability, the Syrian insurrection, and the state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

President Obama will host Jordan's King Abdullah II Tuesday for a meeting in the Oval Office. The visit -- King Abdullah's second since the onset of last year's Arab uprisings -- occurs amid a backdrop of increased tension in the kingdom. Not only is Abdullah facing a spike in domestic economic and political foment, but violence across the northern border in Syria threatens to deteriorate into civil war. Making matters worse, across the river to the west, Israeli-Palestinian relations are facing yet another crisis that could see the Palestinians resume their controversial unilateral drive for statehood at the UN later this month, notwithstanding Abdullah's laudable mediation efforts. These developments, along with the general regional trend toward political change, are once again raising concerns about Jordan's stability. Although neither leader is likely to mention these concerns publicly, such issues will shape the context of the discussion. Read more ..

The Military Edge

Armed UAV Operations Ten Years On

January 14th 2012

Military -  The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
MQ-9 Reaper

One of the most iconic images of the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—as well as global U.S. counterterrorism efforts—has been the armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), specifically the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper. Unarmed RQ-1 Predators (which first flew in 1994) were flying over Afghanistan well before the 9/11 attacks. Less than a month after the attacks, an armed variant already in development was deployed for the first time.

In the decade since, the Predator has clocked more than a million flight hours. And while U.S. Air Force procurement ceased in early 2011—with more than 250 airframes purchased—the follow-on MQ-9 Reaper has already been procured in numbers and production continues. Predators and Reapers continue to be employed in a broad spectrum of roles, including close air support (CAS), when forward air controllers communicate with UAV operators to release ordnance with friendly troops in the vicinity (CAS is one of the more challenging missions even for manned aircraft because of the heightened risk of friendly casualties). Read more ..

Defense Edge

Doomed Quest for Radio

January 13th 2012

Military - soldiers and phone
Soldiers a tactical satellite radio antenna in Iraq. (Credit: DoD)

As several dozen soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Rock drove into Afghanistan’s Chowkay Valley one morning in March 2010, Taliban fighters immediately began moving into ambush positions along a higher ridge. The Force’s mission was to protect a U.S. reconstruction team as it met with local village leaders, but it was stuck in place as the Taliban reached their fighting posts. What tied them down was their radios: a forest of plastic and metal cubes sprouting antennae of different lengths and sizes. They had short-range models for talking with the reconstruction team; longer-range versions for reaching headquarters 25 miles away; and a backup satellite radio in case the mountains blocked the transmission. An Air Force controller carried his own radio for talking to jet fighters overhead and a separate radio for downloading streaming video from the aircraft.

Some of these radios worked only while the troopers were stationary; others were simply too cumbersome to operate on the move. “Not good,” said Spec. Geoff Pearman, as he watched farmers scurry indoors from their wheat fields — a sure sign that fighting was imminent. Task Force Rock’s vulnerability that morning is routine for U.S. forces in Afghanistan today. But it was never supposed to occur at all. Almost fifteen years ago, the Army launched an ambitious program, the Joint Tactical Radio System, aimed at developing several highly-compatible “universal” radios. Together, the JTRS radios would replace nearly all older radios in the American arsenal, greatly simplifying communications and freeing up combat units “to tap into the network on the move,” according to Paul Mehney, an Army spokesman. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

UN Rights Chief Urges Nigerian Leaders to Halt Violence

January 12th 2012

Nigeria - President Goodluck Johnson

U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called on Nigerian political and religious leaders to join together in efforts to halt sectarian violence in the country. In a statement Thursday, Pillay said it is especially important for Muslim and Christian leaders to "condemn all violence," including retaliatory attacks.  She said those efforts could help stop a dangerous situation from "spiraling out of control." Her comments come a day after the leader of the militant group Boko Haram promised more attacks.
Nigerian authorities blame Boko Haram for hundreds of deaths in bombings and shootings over the past 18 months.  The group has claimed responsibility for several of the attacks, including a Christmas Day bombing of a church near Abuja that killed more than 30 people. Pillay said if Boko Haram members are judged to have carried out systemic attacks against civilians, then the militants could be found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Edge on Caribbean

Jamaican Plan to Abandon Queen Raises Questions

January 12th 2012

Caribbean - Portia Simpson Jamaica
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller

Jamaica's new prime minister says she plans to cut ties with the British monarchy and make the country a republic. As Queen Elizabeth II prepares to celebrate 60 years on the throne, questions are being raised over the relevance of the monarchy to Britain's former colonies. But some analysts say the royal family remains popular across the Commonwealth. Jamaica is celebrating 50 years of independence from Britain. At her inaugural address, newly elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said the anniversary provides an opportunity for Jamaica. "As we celebrate our achievements as an independent nation we need to complete the circle of independence," said Miller. "In this regard we will initiate the process of our detachment from the monarchy, to become a republic with our own indigenous president as head of state."

Analysts say many Jamaicans see little point in retaining the Queen as head of state; it gives them no automatic right to British citizenship. There is lingering anger over Britain's role in the slave trade. Richard Fitzwilliams, an expert on the monarchy, says the Jamaican prime minister's announcement was met with surprise in Britain. "The republican movement in the Caribbean, one thinks of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, there are precedents for it," he said. "Equally Jamaica has a history of being very pro-monarchy. I suspect that this is something to do with the political infighting there. I would be surprised if it was actually put to the people, that you would be definitely sure that you would get a vote for a republic." Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran President Arrives In Nicaragua, Calls For Justice

January 11th 2012

Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

Visiting Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has called Daniel Ortega his "revolutionary brother” on his arrival for the inauguration of the Nicaraguan leader’s third term. Traveling to the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, after a stop in Venezuela, Ahmadinejad said both the people of Iran and Nicaragua were fighting to establish justice.

In Caracas on January 9, Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, accused the U.S. and its allies of using a row over Iran's nuclear program to threaten the country. The Iranian president also plans to visit Cuba and Ecuador on a trip to promote relationships with some of his close friends in Latin America.


The Defense Edge

Obama Announces New Military Strategy

January 8th 2012

Military - US troops in Iraq

The Pentagon on Thursday unveiled a sweeping new military strategy that jettisons plans for fighting two major wars at once while cutting the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The strategy describes a new approach to fighting al Qaeda and puts China and Iran on notice, while readying the military for reduced funding and more austere budgets. It will mean a smaller U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal as the Pentagon enacts $400 billion in cuts, as well as troop reductions, though these are not spelled out. “As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints - we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces,” President Obama said in prepared remarks for a Pentagon briefing laying out the new strategy.  “Yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know - the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” Obama said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the shedding of the two-major war planning framework was necessary because it was "an anchor" on the Pentagon that was designed for the Cold War. Senior Pentagon officials said the new planning construct will work better for the kind of leaner, more agile force that might be needed to quickly respond to a number of situations and conflicts. At the same time, Obama and the Pentagon’s new strategy argue that the U.S. military can effectively fight al Qaeda even with reduced funding. “We will keep our armed forces the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped fighting force in history,” Obama writes in the strategy. Read more ..

The Battle for Bahrain

A Testing Weekend in Bahrain

January 7th 2012

Terrorism - Bahrain victim

While international concern has focused on the strategic Strait of Hormuz and Iranian threats against U.S. Navy ships, tension is growing on the streets of Bahrain. The U.S. embassy in the capital, Manama, has relocated some of its personnel to safer areas, warning that it anticipates widespread demonstrations to continue throughout this weekend. Although the island state is usually not anti-American, the embassy has noted an increase in such sentiment observed on Bahraini websites and social media outlets. Moreover, part of the Shiite opposition to the Sunni ruling family has called for U.S. flags to be burned tomorrow. Despite finding "no indications that U.S. citizens are being directly threatened or targeted at this time," the embassy also warned that "an unauthorized demonstration" is planned near its compound tomorrow afternoon, and that heavy traffic and possible clashes should be expected.

Bahrain is approaching the first anniversary of troubles that broke out in February 2011. Although the protests were initially seen as an imitation of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, they quickly developed along sectarian lines. Fearing subversion from Shiite Iran, the government responded with a security clampdown supported by tanks and riot-control units from neighboring Saudi Arabia and police from the United Arab Emirates. Since then, a fragile calm has been restored and an independent inquiry has proposed reforms. Yet daily skirmishes continue between security forces and Shiite youths. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Islamic Narcoterrorism

January 6th 2012

Terrorism - Islamic NarcoTerrorism
An Afghan poppy field

Rogue Islamic regimes rank among the leaders of the unholy alliance of state-supported and state-sponsored global narcoterrorism. Narcoterrorism has become a most effective weapon – economically and operationally – in the battle against the most effective opponent of rogue regimes, the U.S. These regimes aim to undermine the U.S.'s homeland security, to injure U.S. morale, morality and social fabric, to instill fear and erode Americans' confidence in the capabilities of their own government, and to bankroll expanding global terrorist operations.

Driven by ideology and greed, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and other Palestinian, Arab and Islamic terror organizations have targeted the U.S. throughout the globe and on the mainland, establishing beachheads in Central and South America and setting sleeper cells in the U.S. and in Canada. Read more ..

Oil Addiction Without a Plan

Pentagon Dismisses Iran Threat On Persian Gulf Transit

January 4th 2012

Military - StennisB

The Pentagon has said it will continue sending U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups into the Persian Gulf, despite a threat by Iran's military to take action. Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement on January 3 that "the deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades.” The statement said that "these carrier strike group deployments are necessary to maintain the continuity and operational support to ongoing missions."

Earlier on the same day, the Reuters news agency quoted a U.S. defense official as saying that the United States will continue to deploy its warships in the Persian Gulf, after Iran threatened to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the region. According to Reuters, U.S. Commander Bill Speaks said that “these are regularly scheduled movements and in accordance with our long-standing commitments to the security and stability of the region and in support of ongoing operations." He added that the U.S. Navy “operates under international maritime conventions to maintain a constant state of high vigilance in order to ensure the continued, safe flow of maritime traffic in waterways critical to global commerce." Read more ..

The War in Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban Publicly Embraces Talks

January 3rd 2012

Afghan Topics - Afghani Taliban
Afghanistan'sTaliban soldiers

Afghanistan'sTaliban has confirmed it has reached an "initial agreement" with the United States to open a contact office in Qatar.

"We are now ready to open a political office outside the country [Afghanistan] along with our strong presence inside the country for negotiations with the international community," a Pashto-language statement issued to journalists said on January 3. "In this regard, we have reached an agreement with Qatar and other relevant sides."

The statement did not say when a Taliban office would open, nor did it specifically indicate a willingness to negotiate with the Afghan government.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland would not confirm that an agreement had been reached but indicated that the United States was willing to "play a role:"

"We are not aware of any formal decision [or] of any formal announcement, but we are prepared to support a process that the Afghans support," she said. "And with regard to any office, it would be a question for the host country, the Afghans, and the Afghan Taliban to agree on." Read more ..

Oil Addiction Without a Plan

Iran's Strait of Hormuz: A Challenge to U.S. Policy

January 2nd 2012

Iran - Strait of Homurz1

Rhetoric from Iran perceived as a threat to oil tankers passing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz has been countered by firm words from the U.S. Navy, which says it would not tolerate any disruption to maritime shipping. But the verbal clash serves as a reminder of how poorly prepared Arab Gulf exporters are for anything more than a limited blockage as well as of the possible effects of the Obama administration's policy of interfering with payments earned by Iran from its own oil exports.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in 2006: "If the Americans make a wrong move toward Iran, the shipment of energy will definitely face danger." At that time, the words were seen as an attempt to deter any U.S. military attack on Iran in relation to its suspected nuclear weapons program. In recent months, Iranian officials have described economic measures such as sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and boycotts of Iranian oil as economic acts of war. The proposition that drastic Iranian action would only come in response to U.S. military rather than economic action is now being tested. Read more ..

The Edge of Narco-Terrorism

The Growing Narco-Nexus of Terrorism: Hezbollah and Chavez' Venezuela

January 2nd 2012

Venezuela Topics - Chavez and Ahmadinejad

Press stories, as well as a television documentary, over the past two months have detailed the growing cooperation between South American drug traffickers and Middle Eastern terrorists, proving that the United States continues to ignore the mounting terrorist threat in its own “backyard” of Latin America at its own peril. A greater portion of financing for Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, is coming from Latin America, while they are also setting up training camps and recruiting centers throughout our continent, endangering American lives and interests globally.

Some Latin American countries that were traditional allies for the U.S. (including Venezuela) have now forged significant political and economic alliances with regimes whose interests are at odds with those of the U.S., particularly China, Russia and Iran. In fact Iran and Iran’s Lebanese asset, “the Party of God,” Hezbollah, have now become the main terror sponsors in the region and are increasingly funded by South American cocaine.
Venezuela and Iran are strong allies: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly call each other “brothers,” and last year signed 11 memoranda of understanding for, among other initiatives, joint oil and gas exploration, as well as the construction of tanker ships and petrochemical plants. Chávez’s assistance to the Islamic Republic in circumventing U.N. sanctions has got the attention of the new Republican leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, resulting in the May 23rd, 2011 announcement by the US State Department that it was imposing sanctions on the Venezuelan government-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as a punishment for circumventing UN sanctions against Iran and assisting in the development of the Iran’s nuclear program. Read more ..

Drug Wars

Caribbean is a Basin of Narcotrafficking and Increasing Use of Narcotics

December 31st 2011

Caribbean - Ganja man Jamaica mon
Jamaican marihuana production

The 1970s marked the dawning of the drug trafficking phenomenon in the Caribbean. Since then, the tentacles of this multibillion-dollar illegal industry has plagued the West Indian islands with expanding drug cartel ramifications from Central and South America which continue to make use of the islands as a channel to deliver supplies to high-demand markets in the United States and Europe. Drug cartels use the Caribbean as a mode of transit, mainly because of its geographic layout.

The cartographic projection of the Caribbean islands provides an advantage to drug cartels which make good use of its long coastlines to transport narcotics by means of fishing boats, speedboats, freighter shipments, yachts, and other modes of small commercial, as well as private sea transportation conveyances, along with light aircraft. For instance, the Bahamas is a favored transit point for Jamaican marijuana and South American cocaine cultivated and processed specifically for sale in the United States. Due to the far-flung Caribbean archipelago that contains over 700 islands spread across some 15,000 square miles, only thirty or forty of which are inhabited, thus making it difficult to regulate and detect such illegal activities taking place in such waters. In addition, “small commercial and private conveyances along short-distance maritime and aerial routes” also contribute to what has become a security dilemma. Read more ..

The Edge of Cyber-Warfare

The Internet and Latin America: The Rise of the Virtual World

December 30th 2011

Latin American Topics - internet cafe

Throughout the world, many regions have embraced the internet as a vital communication and business tool, and Latin America has been no exception. While demonstrably the expansion of internet usage has not rivaled that of the United States, Europe, or some Asian states like South Korea and Japan, the growth of the internet in the region continues at a steady tempo. Additionally, we are witnessing a rise in the importance of cyber security as cases of hacking and other cybercrimes proliferate.

Growth of the Internet in Numbers

In terms of numbers, the level of internet use in Latin America is certainly not as widespread as it has been in Europe or other highly developed regions, given constraints such as adverse economic indicators, poverty levels, and even geography, but the number of internet users in Latin America has grown over the past decade. Currently, the countries with the most internet users among Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America are Chile, Argentina and Venezuela. According to a June 2011 report by AMPARO, a project managed by the Latin American and Caribbean internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC), there are currently over 200 million users in Latin America and the Caribbean. Read more ..

The Weapon’s Edge

Buying the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus

December 24th 2011

Military - F-35b

It’s the steal of the century. For the price of buying a condo in Washington, D.C., you can support the political campaigns of members of Congress who support your trillion-dollar program. Talk about return on investment!

On November 9, Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) announced the formation of a Congressional Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Caucus that they are co-chairing. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive program in Pentagon history, and it has been plagued by delays, cost overruns, and defects that have raised eyebrows at the Pentagon and in Congress (the latest official report on JSF problems was made public by POGO on December 13). As of its announcement, the JSF Caucus had 48 members of the House on its roster.

According to Dicks and Granger’s press release, the Caucus will “provide members of Congress accurate and timely information on the development, testing and deployment of our next-generation fighter.” The announcement quickly dispels any notion of the group’s objectivity, noting that “the Joint Strike Fighter program is an absolute necessity.” The rhetoric emanating from these members of Congress shouldn’t be surprising given their ties to the companies benefiting from the billions of taxpayer dollars spent yearly on the JSF. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Egyptian Military - Last Obstacle to Cairo-Hamas Alliance

December 22nd 2011

Israel Topics - Sinai, Egypt-Israel Border
Israel-Egypt Sinaii Border

The Egyptian military's weakening grip on power is the last obstacle standing in the way of an alliance between a Cairo under Islamist rule and the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Two out of three phases in Egypt's parliamentary elections are now complete, and the results are unequivocal. A clear majority of Egyptians have so far voted for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party and the puritanical Salafist Al-Nour party.

The liberal secular parties are trailing far behind the Islamists, and look destined to play a marginal role in shaping the future foreign policy.

Much has already been said on what life inside Egypt could look like under an Islamist government. The passing of Sharia-inspired laws seems inevitable. The change will likely strike a major blow to Western tourism, which is already stunted due to instability. The prospect of an Egyptian economic recovery looks dim.

The Arab Fall

Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists: Same Goals; Different Strategies

December 18th 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

The two parties with the largest number of votes in Egypt have been the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party along with the Salafist al-Nour Party. Both are Islamist parties. Yet Western observers—including the Obama Administration—claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “moderate Islamist” group while the Salifists are radical.

There are indeed important differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists but they are really issues of timing and tactics rather than of goals or principles. One way to think of them is as Coke traditional formula and Coke Light. The Brotherhood seeks to transform Egypt into a radical state governed by the Sharia. It is, however, more cautious—one might say, smarter—in going slowly.

This caution is rooted in the organization’s history.  It began in 1928 as a revolutionary group to restore the caliphate and in the 1930s and during World War Two collaborated with the Nazis. After the war it launched a terrorist campaign against the government. When the military seized power in 1952, the Brotherhood was its main rival. The officers suppressed the Brotherhood, sending some leaders to concentration camps and others to the gallows. It would be 20 years before the regime allowed the Brotherhood to operate, and even then only illegally. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda vs the West: 2012 and Beyond

December 18th 2011

Terrorism - NYC in the crosshairs

Just over two years after al-Qaeda Core launched the most serious plot against the United States since 9/11 (the Najibullah Zazi NYC subway plot of September 2009), al-Qaeda’s leader and founder, Usama bin Laden; most recent “No. 3,” Attiyah Abd al Rahman; and Saleh al Somali and Rashid Rauf, the instigators of the Zazi Plot, are all dead, a result of combined efforts by U.S. Special Forces and drone strikes. In addition, this fall, Anwar al Awlaqi, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) dual-hatted English- language propagandist and chief of external operations, was also killed in a drone strike. As the calendar approaches 2012, the natural question to ask is: Whither the al-Qaeda threat?

The recent past may provide some useful insights. One of the most important findings of a forensic study of the sixteen most serious al-Qaeda plots against the West since 1993 is that al-Qaeda plots against the West are almost always underpinned and manned by Westerners who travel overseas to al-Qaeda or an ally/affiliate and then are turned around opportunistically and sent back to target the West. Whether it was the 1999 LAX Millennium Bomber (Montreal); the 9/11 Pilots (Hamburg); the Shoe Bombers (London); the July 7 and 21, 2005, London transit system bombers (Leeds and London); the 2009 NYC Subway Bombers (New York); or the 2009 Underwear Bomber (London), the key operatives from the plot originated in one of the great cities of the West. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Syria Crisis: Assessing Foreign Intervention

December 16th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria protests Apr 2011

The ongoing unrest, violence and security crackdowns in Syria have been the subject of major international attention since February. Our current assessment is that the government and opposition forces have reached a stalemate in which the government cannot quell the unrest and the opposition cannot bring down the regime without outside intervention.

In the Dec. 8 Security Weekly, we discussed the covert intelligence war being waged by the United States, Israel and other U.S. allies against Iran. Their efforts are directed not only against Tehran’s nuclear program but also against Iran’s ability to establish an arc of influence that stretches through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. To that end, the United States and its allies are trying to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq and to constrain Hezbollah in Lebanon. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Options to Consider for Syria: The Dead Man Walking

December 15th 2011

Syrian Issues - President Bashr el Assad of syria
Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad

The ongoing unrest, violence and security crackdowns in Syria have been the subject of major international attention since February. Our current assessment is that the government and opposition forces have reached a stalemate in which the government cannot quell the unrest and the opposition cannot bring down the regime without outside intervention.

In the Dec. 8 Security Weekly, we discussed the covert intelligence war being waged by the United States, Israel and other U.S. allies against Iran. Their efforts are directed not only against Tehran’s nuclear program but also against Iran’s ability to establish an arc of influence that stretches through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. To that end, the United States and its allies are trying to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq and to constrain Hezbollah in Lebanon. But apparently they are also exploring ways to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al Assad, a longtime ally of Iran whose position is in danger due to the current unrest in the country. In fact, a U.S. State Department official recently characterized the al Assad regime as a “dead man walking.” Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Iran, Hezbollah Tentacles Reaching Latin America

December 13th 2011

Terrorism - Hezbollah Troops

Prior to 9/11, no terrorist group had killed more Americans than Hezbollah. Like its patron, Iran, Hezbollah is committed to America's destruction. Now the two jihadist forces are spreading their tentacles throughout Latin America and, according to experts, could go operational at a moment's notice.

For more than two centuries, the United States has served as guardian of the Western hemisphere. That role only expanded with the Cuban missile crisis and the spread of Soviet communism into Latin America.

Iran and Hezbollah represent a new threat in America's backyard. "Over the last 10 years, we have seen a very concerted effort to expand," former Bush administration official Jose Cardenas saud. "They are using mosques in Argentina and all the way up through the continent to proselytize, to identify disaffected Latin youth, to recruit, to convert," he said. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

DNA found on Bombers' Backpacks may Thwart Terrorists

December 12th 2011

Transportation Topics - crowded subway

Catching terrorists who detonate bombs may be easier by testing the containers that hide the bombs rather than the actual explosives, according to pioneering research led by Michigan State University. Currently, law enforcement labs tend to test for DNA on the exploded bomb fragments – but this has a low success rate, said David Foran, an MSU forensic biologist and lead investigator on the research project.

Through the MSU-led study, researchers obtained DNA from eight backpacks that had been blown up with pipe bombs inside, and subsequently obtained full DNA profiles that matched all eight volunteers who had carried the backpacks for a week.

The findings could ultimately change the way law enforcement officials investigate bombings, Foran said. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Strategic (Mis)communication on Iran

December 11th 2011

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch

Given the alarms that have increasingly been sounded in recent months about Iran's nuclear progress and furor over its alleged plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington and the storming of the British embassy in Tehran, one might think that Iran's leaders would be worried about the prospect of a Western attack on their country.

However, their remarks suggest just the opposite. In recent days, Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei has boasted of "shatter(ing) the resolve" of the West, and the commander of Iran's paramilitary Basij forces -- who were responsible for the embassy rampage -- predicted that the U.S. would be too weak even to respond to an Iranian attack.
Perhaps this is just bluster; however, U.S. officials have done little to dampen the regime's overweening self-confidence and the proclivity for escalation which is fueled by it. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Government Fails to Keep Eye on Night-Vision Goggles in Mideast

December 10th 2011

Military - night vision goggles

When U.S. special operations forces killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani hideout in May, they relied on night-vision goggles, devices that the Pentagon describes as valuable and sensitive national resources.

Such goggles give U.S. forces a built-in advantage that other nations - including those in the Middle East - lack the ability to replicate. As a result, when the U.S. sells such equipment to friendly allies in the region, it generally requires strict precautions against theft or diversion, including a requirement that they be stored in protected depots with their serial numbers recorded and frequently checked.

But these precautions ordered in Washington are frequently ignored or poorly enforced by Defense and State Department officials in the field, and as a result, some of the night-vision goggles sent to the region have gone missing, according to a report by the General Accountability Office last month. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Undaunted, Senator Still Trying to Close Decrepit Schools on Military Bases

December 10th 2011

America Themes - Tom-Coburn

The Senate has decided not to take up a proposal that would close rather than repair decrepit Defense Department-run schools on military bases, creating a flood of thousands of students to nearby public school systems.

But the plan’s chief architect, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), is vowing to try again. He estimates potential savings to the Pentagon from closing “unnecessary” schools at more than $1 billion over four years.

Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt said the senator was “disappointed and frustrated that the Senate, yet again, chose to ignore the chance to achieve real savings in refusing to vote on a common-sense amendment.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Ambassador: Turkey 'Cannot Tolerate' Iran Getting Nukes

December 9th 2011

Iran - ahmadinejad_iran-nuclear.jpg

Turkey is committed to keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and has stopped other countries from taking materials in to help Iran’s nuclear program, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States said Thursday.

Speaking at an event sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan said, “We cannot tolerate Iran having a nuclear weapon.

“Even if one day you say we accept Iran, you understand Iran having nuclear weapons, we will be against it,” Tan said. “It’s as simple as that.”
But the Turkish ambassador stopped short of getting behind economic sanctions that Vice President Biden called for during a visit to Turkey last week. While Tan said that Turkey has not imposed unilateral sanctions against Iran, he emphasized it has always complied with sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

The ambassador said that Turkey has stopped other countries from importing materials that could aid Tehran’s nuclear program, though he declined to name the countries that were involved. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Russian City Moving from Tanks to Culture

December 9th 2011

Russian Topics - Russia military symbol

In the Soviet era, Perm was a closed city, lost in the gulag archipelago. For years, the city was called Molotov, after Stalin's foreign minister.
In the Perm region, thousands of prisoners worked and died in labor camps never marked on maps.

In Perm city, factories churned out tanks, cannons and rockets, arming Soviet allies in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

But, when the Soviet empire collapsed 20 years ago, weapons orders started to dry up.

And when this gray, industrial city opened to the world, city officials quickly discovered that no one wanted to come. Instead, about 10 percent of the population left. The population decline would have been deeper, but it was offset by people abandoning villages and towns for Perm city.

Seven years ago, the job of turning around Perm fell to a former KGB officer. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Asad's Armed Opposition: The Free Syrian Army

December 4th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria Protest

The growing armed opposition movement against the Asad regime is becoming an increasingly important element in the Syrian equation.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the armed opposition group that has emerged to confront the Asad regime, appears to be gaining in strength and effectiveness, and Damascus now faces both peaceful and armed resistance. So far, the FSA has proven resilient in the face of regime measures to suppress it.

Origins in Defection

The FSA was formally announced on July 29, but it can trace its origins to well before that. The group's formation was a reaction to regime brutality against peaceful mass protests. Desertion from the Syrian army increased as individual soldiers and small units refused to obey orders to shoot unarmed demonstrators or simply decided to abandon the regime. Although not all of these soldiers have joined the FSA, numerous media reports indicate a steady flow of defectors into the group's ranks Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt's Military Learns Its Lesson: How the Ruling Council in Cairo Contained a Second Revolution

December 4th 2011

Egypt - Egypt Riots #1

The second revolution has, supposedly, come to Egypt. Over the past twelve days, tens of thousands of Egyptians have gathered in Tahrir Square to demand that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cede power to a civilian-led National Salvation Government. Egyptian security forces responded by killing at least 40 people, wounding more than 1,000, and blanketing parts of downtown Cairo with weapons-grade tear gas. The ugly scenes recall the earliest days of the mass uprising in January and February, the first revolution, which ended Hosni Mubarak's reign.

But this second revolution has one major problem: so long as Egyptians avoid Tahrir Square, it is somewhat easy to ignore.
The sit-in began on November 18, when an Islamist-led mass demonstration withdrew from Tahrir Square, leaving behind a handful of protesters, including family members of people killed during the first revolution. When Central Security Forces violently dispersed this small sit-in, thousands of youth activists quickly mobilized, battling police for control of the square. Read more ..

The US and Pakistan

A Deadly U.S. Attack on Pakistani Soil

December 2nd 2011

Military - Apache

In the early hours of Nov. 26 on the Afghan-Pakistani border, what was almost certainly a flight of U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship killed some two dozen Pakistani servicemen at two border outposts inside Pakistan. Details remain scarce, conflicting and disputed, but the incident was known to have taken place near the border of the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar and the Mohmand agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The death toll inflicted by the United States against Pakistani servicemen is unprecedented, and while U.S. commanders and NATO leaders have expressed regret over the incident, the reaction from Pakistan has been severe.

Claims and Interests

The initial Pakistani narrative of the incident describes an unprovoked and aggressive attack on well-established outposts more than a mile inside Pakistani territory — outposts known to the Americans and ones that representatives of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had visited in the past. The attack supposedly lasted for some two hours despite distressed communications from the outpost to the Pakistani military’s general headquarters in Rawalpindi. Read more ..

The Afghan War

In Afghan North, US-Backed Militias Spur Local Backlash

December 2nd 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan Fighters

In an effort to counter a growing insurgency in northern Afghanistan, two U.S.-backed programs in Kunduz have recruited local militias to oppose Taliban militants in the area. But while the militias are better at fighting the Taliban on the battlefield, their methods turn local populations against them.

“I’m a farmer and work daily as a laborer,” said one man in Kunduz who left his village for 11 months to herd sheep and make money in nearby provinces. “My mom, my two brothers and even my sister are disabled and my dad passed away last year. It’s only me to support the whole family.”

The farmer, who does not want to use his name, returned to his village recently. But the U.S.-backed security forces that the local residents call Arbakai were suspicious of his long absence. He says the commander demanded he sell half his land to pay them off, but he refused. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

If Israel Strikes Iran: What Happens to Oil Prices?

December 1st 2011

Israeli Military - Israeli Jet Diving
Israel Air Force jets in flight

To a surprising degree, financial analysts are now beginning to price the cost to the world economy of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Far from the political arena, these economists and analysts are taking a common-sense approach to a potential Israeli strike and asking just how much it will affect the price of global oil.

Greg Sharenow, a portfolio manager at PIMCO, the global investment company, has recently penned a report outlining the four potential scenarios for global oil prices after an Israeli attack.

The following summary appeared Tuesday in the Financial Post.

First scenario: This is the most optimistic. In this scenario, oil initially spikes to US$130-$140 per barrel after Israel attacks Iran, and then settles around US$120-US$125. This would occur if the International Energy Agency steps in and fills any shortfalls in the oil supply. Mr. Sharenow adds, however, that markets need to price in an attack before one occurs for this scenario to play out. Read more ..

US and Pakistan

Pakistan, Russia, and the Threat to the Afghan War

November 30th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani protest Nov 2011

Days after the Pakistanis closed their borders to the passage of fuel and supplies for the NATO-led war effort in Afghanistan, for very different reasons the Russians threatened to close the alternative Russia-controlled Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The dual threats are significant even if they don’t materialize. If both routes are cut, supplying Western forces operating in Afghanistan becomes impossible. Simply raising the possibility of cutting supply lines forces NATO and the United States to recalculate their position in Afghanistan.

The possibility of insufficient lines of supply puts NATO’s current course in Afghanistan in even more jeopardy. It also could make Western troops more vulnerable by possibly requiring significant alterations to operations in a supply-constrained scenario. While the supply lines in Pakistan most likely will reopen eventually and the NDN likely will remain open, the gap between likely and certain is vast. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran, Stuxnet and the Aftermath

November 28th 2011

Iran - Iranian chador pageant

While President Obama has focused much of his foreign policy efforts on jump-starting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has been preoccupied with what its policymakers see as a much greater, even existential, threat. Iran’s continuing efforts to acquire nuclear technology likely led to the 2010 Stuxnet cyberattack on its nuclear infrastructure, and though no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, most experts agree on two things. First, that Israel’s involvement was highly likely, and second, that the computer virus attack was the first of its kind, in that it achieved a kinetic effect—causing actual physical damage to approximately 1,000 of 8,000 or more centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. As a consequence, Iran’s progress towards producing a sizable amount of weapons-grade uranium is estimated to have been slowed by two or more years.

Interestingly, speculation ran high during 2010 that some kind of Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure was likely in the coming months, even though most defense experts were confident that such a strike—envisioned more as an airstrike (with actual kinetic damage)—on Iranian nuclear infrastructure would only delay, and not prevent, Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Read more ..

The War in Afghanistan

Denying Safe Haven in Afghanistan

November 28th 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan Fighters

A full decade has passed since war came to American shores. As we commemorate that dark day, many will justifiably focus on our efforts against al-Qaeda to gauge success or failure. Just as important, however, have been our efforts in denying the terrorist group its traditional safe haven in Afghanistan by building the security forces there.

On that score, much remains to be done. Great strides have been made over the last two years, but simply handing a weapon to an individual does not make him a soldier or policeman. Building a professional and lasting Afghan national security system in the wake of conflict is a mission without equal. And of the many challenges facing the Afghan leadership in Kabul, among the most debilitating is the Taliban legacy of illiteracy, which plagues the vast majority of military-aged men. Read more ..

Iranian Terror

Iranian Cyber-Jihadi Cells in America plot Destruction on the Net and in Reality

November 27th 2011

Iran - Iranian jihadi geeks

Last September, Jihadists who call themselves “Cyber-Hezbollah” organised their second conference in Teheran. Islamist hackers and cyber-jihadists gathered there and decided to fight the U.S. and Europe. Hassan Abbasi, political strategist and adviser of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was present, and delivered an ardent and virulent speech.

Participants in the Cyber-Hezbollah Conference consisted of so-called “cyber-jihad activists”, “Cyber-Resistance” activists and “interested activists in the soft war”. Hojat Vahidi, head of the new “Committee of the Holy Defense Strategy in Europe”, attended via live online conferencing. A coordinator of Iran’s propaganda activities in Europe and the United States and veteran of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), Vahidi lives in an undisclosed location in Europe. Vahidi also leads the low-profile organization known as the “Association of European Muslims." Read more ..

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