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The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorism Against Israelis Defies Borders

February 20th 2012

Hezbollah Troops
Hezbollah Troops

The terror war against Israel and the Jewish people is not confined to the Middle East. For years PLO terrorists attacked Jewish targets around the world, hijacked airplanes, murdered Olympic athletes and targeted diplomats. This worldwide terror campaign appears to be escalating again with the support of Iran, aided by its proxy Hezbollah. As events of the past few months show, terrorism against Jews is neither a byproduct of "occupation", nor a response to specific Israeli actions but is bred out of wanton incitement to kill Jews wherever they are.

In February 2012, terrorists attacked official Israeli representatives abroad in India and Georgia, while in Thailand security officials were able to prevent Iranian and Lebanese cells from carrying out their planned strikes. Thai security officials arrested several Iranian men who likely were trying to attack Israelis in Bangkok. These incidents came on the heels of the January arrest of three Iranian men in Azerbaijan who had planned to kill two Israeli religious emissaries in Baku. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated unequivocally that Israel holds Iran responsible for the string of attacks. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Islamist Suicide Bomber Intercepted in Sting at the Capitol

February 18th 2012

US Capital Day

The FBI and Capitol Police arrested a man Friday that they say intended to detonate a suicide bomb at the U.S. Capitol. All across the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, police kept watch, wary after officials said they had foiled a plot - a plot that would have struck at the heart of the U.S. government. Police say 29-year-old Moroccan Amine El Khalifi - brought to a federal courthouse under heavy security - planned to shoot up the Capitol and then blow himself up. The news took many of the tourists walking around the Capitol by surprise. "Everything looked great, I mean, a perfect day for tourists and everything, so pretty scary," said New Zealand Tourist Hank Wang.

The arrest is the result of what authorities describe as an extensive investigation, during which El Khalifi lived illegally in nearby Virginia. Officials say El Khalifi wanted to join a terrorist group and thought he was working with al-Qaida. What he did not know, officials say, was that his suicide vest, filled with explosives, had come from undercover officers and could not go off. The arrest came on a day when lawmakers were in session and tourists flocked to the Capitol. But officials say no one was ever in any danger. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Pentagon Ignores, Misreports Long-term Weapons Costs

February 15th 2012

Military - F-35b

The Obama administration’s 2013 defense spending plan, detailed as part of its overall new federal budget, includes $178.8 billion to buy new weapons, ranging from jet fighters and artillery to naval cruisers and satellite systems. But the real costs of these programs to the federal budget are unlikely to be disclosed in its budget documents or dozens of detailed weapons program reports due on Capitol Hill in March, according to a recent federal audit report.

The true costs of some of the biggest pieces of the U.S. arsenal are mostly hidden, the audit concluded, because the Defense Department’s public documents typically list only how much has been spent or will be spent to acquire its fighters, ships, and vehicles. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Opportunities Aplenty for Jihadi Extremists in Conflicted Syria

February 14th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syrian Protesters

In an eight-minute video clip titled "Onward, Lions of Syria" disseminated on the Internet Feb. 12, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri expressed al Qaeda's support for the popular unrest in Syria. In it, al-Zawahiri urged Muslims in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to aid the Syrian rebels battling Damascus. The statement comes just days after a McClatchy report quoted unnamed American intelligence officials as saying that the Iraqi node of the global jihadist network carried out two attacks against Syrian intelligence facilities in Damascus, while Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi said in a recent interview with AFP that Iraqi jihadists were moving fighters and weapons into neighboring Syria.

Al Qaeda's long-term goal has been to oust Arab governments to facilitate the return of a transnational caliphate. Its tactics have involved mainly terrorism intended to cause U.S. intervention in the region. Al Qaeda has hoped such interventions would in turn incite popular uprisings that would bring down the Arab regimes, opening the way for the jihadists to eventually take power. But the jihadist network's efforts have failed and they have remained a marginal player in the Arab world. By addressing Syria, al Qaeda hopes to tap into the past year of Arab unrest, a movement in which it played little to no part. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Impersonating Anonymous: A New Form of Terrorism?

February 13th 2012

Computer Topics - Iran Anonymous

Since its earliest days the “Hactivist collective” known as Anonymous has declared “we are legion.” After attacks on PayPal, Amazon, Sony, and various banks and US Government websites, as in Roman times, the power of the legion is again feared. According to some, Anon’s latest target is Israel, with a specific threat of systematically removing Israel from the internet.

The evidence, however, suggests this is far more likely an impersonation. Though only circumstantial, the evidence suggests the possibility of Iranian sponsorship. If so, this would mark the first effort by a state, or perhaps its proxies, to infiltrate and manipulate Anonymous into pursuing a government’s agenda. If that effort backfires, I for one wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.

The allegations of an attack appear to emanate from a YouTube video, “Anonymous Message to the State of Israel” released by TheAnonPress. In the video the computer-generated voice declares “For two long we have tolerated your crimes against humanity and allowed your sins to go unpunished … You are unworthy to exist in your current form.” The anonymous voice goes on to speak of a “crusade against your reign of terror” which will start with a systematic removal of Israel from the Internet. Read more ..

The Afghan War

Obama Moves toward a Distant Endgame in Afghanistan

February 11th 2012

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan casualty

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested last week that the United States could wrap up combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2013, well before the longstanding 2014 deadline when full control is to be ceded to Kabul. Troops would remain in Afghanistan until 2014, as agreed upon at the 2010 Lisbon Summit, and would be engaged in two roles until at least 2014 and perhaps even later. One role would be continuing the training of Afghan security forces. The other would involve special operations troops carrying out capture or kill operations against high-value targets.

Along with this announcement, the White House gave The New York Times some details on negotiations that have been under way with the Taliban. According to the Times, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the senior-most leader of the Afghan Taliban, last summer made overtures to the White House offering negotiations. An intermediary claiming to speak for Mullah Omar delivered the proposal, an unsigned document purportedly from Mullah Omar that could not be established as authentic. The letter demanded the release of some Taliban prisoners before any talks. Read more ..

Iran's Ukes

Iranian President Ahmadinejad's Ominous Announcement of Nuclear 'Achievements'

February 11th 2012

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced today that Iran will soon unveil new nuclear achievements.

Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke at Tehran's famous Azadi (Freedom) square during a rally marking the 33rd anniversary of the country's Islamic Revolution.

"God willing, in the coming days, the world will see Iran showcasing some very big nuclear achievements," he said.

The Iranian president gave no other details about the nuclear work.

The West insists Iran's nuclear program is designed to create nuclear weapon. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

The Lure of Drug Money will make Mexico's Coming Elections Increasingly Combative

February 7th 2012

Mexican Topics - Mexico bullets crime scene

The Mexican Attorney General's Office seized a large amount of cash from Veracruz state government employees associated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on Jan. 27, an incident that follows the recent corruption allegations leveled against three former PRI governors in Taumaulipas state. The employees claimed the cash was intended as payment for a legitimate government contractor, and indeed cash is often used in official government business transactions in Mexico. However, the unusually large amount seized and the fact that federal authorities detected the transaction was notable. Taken together, these incidents may presage what will likely be a political campaign season marked by extensive corruption.

Officials from rival political parties in Mexico continued to exchange accusations Feb. 2 following the Jan. 27 seizure of 25 million pesos (about $1.9 million) in cash. Escorted by Veracruz state government employees from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the cash was discovered on a government-owned airplane by authorities from the Attorney General's Office (PGR). The PGR claims to have been conducting a random search of the plane. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda's Strength Lies in its Ideology, not its Leaders

February 6th 2012

Terrorism - Osama bin Laden in mufti

Ten years have slipped by since Osama bin Laden’s jihadists massacred thousands of men, women and children in the northeastern United States, prompting the start of what Americans came to know as the War on Terror. The current administration, however, insists on more benign terminology, choosing for political reasons to describe the conflict as an “overseas contingency operation,” and a “war against al Qaeda.” But are we making progress in this conflict, whatever the name? Gaining an objective assessment begins with asking the right questions.

Has the decade-long global confrontation with al-Qaeda been an actual war, or a series of U.S.-led military operations against a single terrorist organization? Has al-Qaeda been acting alone against the U.S., or is it merely one among many in an expansive network of jihadists? Is it U.S. policy that incites jihadists, or a sui generis ideology with a centuries-old agenda? How does the broad-based U.S.-led coalition to defeat al-Qaeda measure up to the jihadist alliance to destroy the U.S.? Have U.S.-led military efforts defeated al-Qaeda globally and within nation-states, or have the jihadists increased their penetration of democracies around the globe? These are the “right questions” that need to be asked. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Threat from Iran--A Timeline

February 4th 2012

Iran - Iran Long-Range Missile

Iran is one of the foremost, self-proclaimed enemies of the West and one of the most serious threats to stability in the Middle East.

The Iranian government’s extreme interpretation of Islamic law, and its anti-Western philosophy, inspire the rise of Islamic extremists across the world. Iran is also one of the principal state sponsors of terror, proudly delivering weapons to Hezbollah members in Lebanon and terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.

Additionally, the regime in Iran continues to provide safe haven for terrorists, including some of al-Qaeda’s senior leaders such as Yasin al-Suri, Saif al-Adel and Abu Muhammad al-Masri who have been hunted by the United States for over a decade. Moreover, Iranian agents have been implicated in many anti-Western and anti-Israel terrorist attacks, including bombings that have killed U.S. servicemen in Iraq and the foiled attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. in October 2011. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Threat to Close the Strait of Hormuz

February 3rd 2012

Iran - Iranian Warships
Iranian Warships

Just recently President Obama crossed the Potomac River and stopped at the Pentagon to rollout America's newest national security startegy-Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. The key idea behind the strategy is that after ten years of war in the Middle East, along with the current fiscal crisis facing the United States, we can no longer afford the "two major theater wars" doctrine of the last 50 years. This old strategy was developed after the Cold War for the military to fight two major conventional wars with large amounts of ground forces, ships and aircraft.

The new strategy calls for sufficient forces in one major conflict and a rebalancing of these forces toward the Asia-Pacific region. Some will question if this is a new strategy or just a precursor for the massive cuts in the military that are projected in the next decade. The Department of Defense has already commited to $450 million in reductions over the next several years. If Congress fails to act on the latest "sequestration", however, this number could grow to $1 trillion in cuts. The major problem with this strategy of course being, the enemy has yet to surrender.

The Arab Fall in Libya

Returning Malian Mercenaries Present a Challenge for Mali and the West

February 2nd 2012

Africa Topics - tuareg

Mali has experienced perhaps the most significant external repercussions from the downfall of the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The impact of the conflict in Libya on the wider region since international intervention began in March 2011.

Instability in Libya due to that country's deep internal fault lines meant that re-establishing a government would prove difficult. As we pointed out, that instability could spread to neighboring countries as weapons and combatants flow outward from Libya. Reports now indicate that thousands of armed Tuareg tribesmen who previously served in Gadhafi's military have returned home to Mali. The influx of this large number of well-armed and well-trained fighters, led by a former Libyan army colonel, has re-energized the long-simmering Tuareg insurgency against the Malian government. These Tuareg insurgents have formed a new group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In mid-January, they began a military campaign to free three northern regions of Mali from Bamako's control. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's New Government will have to Mind the Store before it Goes Knocking Elsewhere

February 1st 2012

Russian Topics - Kremlin

Russia's political landscape has been relatively calm and consolidated for the past decade under former President and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. However, recent months have seen instability rise sharply, with a purge in the government, a shift in parliamentary election results and large protests in the streets. None of these is new to Russia, but these and other factors are converging and creating changes in Russia's political landscape.

When Putin came to power in 1999, he ruled a country that was in utter political disarray, economically broken and threatened by internal and external forces. He aggressively consolidated the country politically, economically and socially and quashed the security threats. The country rallied around him as Russia's "savior," a sentiment that in recent years evolved into a cult based on the belief that Putin is the sole heartbeat of the country.

But Russia cannot survive indefinitely under one ruler; historically, internal dissent has risen and fallen inside the inherently unstable country. Such dissent had been under control for the last decade, allowing the country to strengthen. But now dissent is on the rise again, both outside the Kremlin and within Putin's circles of power. All of this comes as Russia is facing economic instability and national security concerns, and Russia's next presidential election -- in which Putin is running -- is a mere month away. Read more ..

Cyber Wars

Mideast Hackers Engage in Virtual War with Real Consequences

January 28th 2012

Arab Topics - Arab internet

A virtual conflict is developing in the Middle East, involving high speed internet connections and keyboards rather than missiles and tanks. It has been a victimless affair so far, though it carries the potential for more serious harm in the future, and serves as a wakeup call for the Israeli private sector to beef up its online defenses. At the start of January, an Arab hacker claiming to be from Saudi Arabia broke into an Israeli coupon website and stole tens of thousands of credit card numbers.

The hacker, calling himself 0xOmar, announced his hostility to Israel, and proceeded to publicize the credit card details, encouraging others to begin using the numbers to make online purchases. Israeli credit card companies and the Bank of Israel mounted a speedy defense, cancelling all affected accounts and issuing new cards overnight. But 0xOmar succeeded in firing the first shot in an escalating internet feud with Israeli hackers. Not long afterwards, a group of Israeli hackers fired back, releasing hundreds of hacked Saudi credit card numbers on the internet. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Pentagon Overtakes State Department on Security Aid

January 26th 2012

Military - The Pentagon

The current Defense Department budget again makes the DOD the premier funder of security assistance to foreign countries, giving it more than double the comparable budget of the agency popularly associated with America’s foreign aid, the State Department.

The $17 billion Pentagon aid budget for the 2012 fiscal year is the second in a row to exceed the State Department’s by $10 billion, a disparity that has begun to provoke debate among foreign policy experts in Washington. Seven years ago, circumstances were reversed, with the State Department spending triple the amount the Pentagon spent on such aid.

Some foreign aid experts have complained that, as a result of the shifting responsibilities, U.S. aid priorities have shifted from trying to establish good governance to supporting stronger foreign military partners. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram's Deadly Threats are Regional, for Now

January 26th 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria Oil

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram conducted a series of bombing attacks and armed assaults Jan. 20 in the northern city of Kano, the capital of Kano state and second-largest city in Nigeria. The attacks, which reportedly included the employment of at least two suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), targeted a series of police facilities in Kano. These included the regional police headquarters, which directs police operations in Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states, as well as the State Security Service office and the Nigerian Immigration Service office. At least 211 people died in the Kano attacks, according to media reports.

The group carried out a second wave of attacks in Bauchi state on Jan. 22, bombing two unoccupied churches in the Bauchi metropolitan area and attacking a police station in the Tafawa Balewa local government area. Militants reportedly also tried to rob a bank in Tafawa Balewa the same day. Though security forces thwarted the robbery attempt, 10 people reportedly died in the clash, including two soldiers and a deputy police superintendent.

In a third attack, Boko Haram militants attacked a police sub-station in Kano on Jan. 24 with small arms and improvised hand grenades. A tally of causalities in the assault, which reportedly lasted some 25 minutes, was not available. This armed assault stands out tactically from the Jan. 20 suicide attacks against police stations in Kano. The operation could have been an attempt to liberate some of the Boko Haram militants the government arrested following the Jan. 20 and Jan. 22 attacks. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Israel’s Options as Muslim Brotherhood Gains Power

January 22nd 2012

Israeli Military - Israeli Tank in Sinai

The political history of the modern Middle East can easily be divided into three eras. In 1952, a military coup in Egypt signaled the start of the period in which radical Arab nationalism dominated. The 1979 Iranian revolution began the challenge of revolutionary Islamism. And then, in 2011, in the wake of more revolutions, Arab nationalism collapsed completely.

In most of the Arab world we are now in the era of the Muslim Brotherhood. Finally, there is a new “Middle East,” but instead of being directed by moderation, peace, and a hunger for material prosperity, it is dominated by Islamists determined to transform their own societies and to conquer the region for their cause.

The Muslim Brotherhood is overwhelmingly the most powerful organization in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Tunisia, and very probably Libya, where its branches will control the governments. In Jordan, the brotherhood leads the opposition; in Syria, it plays an important role in the revolutionary upheaval. Read more ..

Cyber Wars

The Hack on Stratfor

January 20th 2012

Computer Topics - Anonymous Logo

In early December I received a call from Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president of intelligence. He told me he had received information indicating our website had been hacked and our customer credit card and other information had been stolen. The following morning I met with an FBI special agent, who made clear that there was an ongoing investigation and asked for our cooperation. We, of course, agreed to cooperate. The matter remains under active investigation.

From the beginning I faced a dilemma. I felt bound to protect our customers, who quickly had to be informed about the compromise of their privacy. I also felt bound to protect the investigation. That immediate problem was solved when the FBI told us it had informed the various credit card companies and had provided those companies with a list of compromised cards while omitting that it had come from us. Our customers were therefore protected, as the credit card companies knew the credit cards and other information had been stolen and could act to protect the customers. We were not compelled to undermine the investigation.

The FBI made it clear that it expected the theft to be exposed by the hackers. We were under no illusion that this was going to be kept secret. We knew our reputation would be damaged by the revelation, all the more so because we had not encrypted the credit card files. This was a failure on our part. As the founder and CEO of Stratfor, I take responsibility for this failure, which has created hardship for customers and friends, and I deeply regret that it took place. The failure originated in the rapid growth of the company. As it grew, the management team and administrative processes didn’t grow with it. Again, I regret that this occurred and want to assure everyone that Stratfor is taking aggressive steps to deal with the problem and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Read more ..

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 ..

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