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Libya after Gadhafi

Libya and Iraq: The Price of Success

October 26th 2011

Libya - Rebels Advancing on Tripoli

In a week when the European crisis continued building, the White House chose publicly to focus on announcements about the end of wars. The death of Moammar Gadhafi was said to mark the end of the war in Libya, and excitement about a new democratic Libya abounded. Regarding Iraq, the White House transformed the refusal of the Iraqi government to permit U.S. troops to remain into a decision by Washington instead of an Iraqi rebuff.

Though in both cases there was an identical sense of “mission accomplished,” the matter was not nearly as clear-cut. The withdrawal from Iraq creates enormous strategic complexities rather than closure. While the complexities in Libya are real but hardly strategic, the two events share certain characteristics and are instructive.

Libya After Gadhafi

Let us begin with the lesser event, Gadhafi’s death. After seven months of NATO intervention, Gadhafi was killed. That it took so long for this to happen stands out, given that the intervention involved far more than airstrikes, including special operations forces on the ground targeting for airstrikes, training Libyan troops, managing logistics, overseeing communications and both planning and at times organizing and leading the Libyan insurgents in battle. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Possible Scenarios for the Saudi Succession

October 25th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

It is not clear who will succeed King Abdullah upon his death. The picture is complicated by the advanced age and poor health of Saudi Arabia’s senior princes and the unpredictable order in which they will die, the lack of knowledge regarding how the remaining sons of Ibn Saud will form a consensus, and the unknown extent to which the newly formed Allegiance Council will have a role. All twenty surviving sons of Ibn Saud are older than sixty-five—past what would be considered normal retirement age in most parts of the world. Of these sons, eight are in their seventies and six are in their eighties.

With an established precedent in the kingdom for age-based seniority, multiple transitions could occur within a short period of time, a state of affairs reminiscent of the last years of the Soviet Union. Whether the system can tolerate the deaths of successive kings at such close intervals is questionable, given the politics involved in deciding on a new crown prince and heir apparent at the same time. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Global and Unconventional Strategic Reach of Iranian Terrorism

October 20th 2011

Iran - The 12th Imam

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that two men had been charged in New York with taking part in a plot directed by the Iranian Quds Force to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, on U.S. soil.

Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri face numerous charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives), conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national borders and conspiracy to murder a foreign official. Arbabsiar, who was arrested Sept. 29 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, is a U.S. citizen with both Iranian and U.S. passports. Shakuri, who remains at large, allegedly is a senior officer in Iran’s Quds Force, a special unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) believed to promote military and terrorist activities abroad. Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Windfalls of War: Pentagon's No-bid Contracts Triple in 10 Years of War

October 19th 2011

Military - Damage to Pentagon, 9-11
Pentagon cleanup (credit: DoD/Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill)

As U.S. military deaths and injuries from roadside bombs escalated after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon rushed to find solutions.

Competition is normally the cornerstone of better prices and better products, but the urgency of dealing with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, has been cited to justify a number of sole-source contracts to companies promising quick solutions over a decade of war.

One such company was Tucson-based Applied Energetics, which markets a futuristic weapon that shoots beams of lightning to detonate roadside bombs. The company won over $50 million in military contracts for their lightning weapon, all without full and open competition, even though there was another company marketing similar technology. Despite test failures, the company, in part thanks to congressional support, continued to get funding.

In August, the Marine Corps, which was on the verge of awarding the company yet another sole-source contract for the lightning weapon, cancelled the latest $3 million deal after the commander of the unit in Afghanistan decided it didn’t meet their needs. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Anatomy of a Deal--The Shalit Swap

October 17th 2011

Israel Topics - Cohen (Shin Bet) and Pardo (Mossad)
Yoram Cohen and Tamir Pardo (credit: Gil Yohanan)

The military impasse, the stands taken by the Shin Bet and the Mossad, Hamas elasticizing its stance, the Arab Spring and the Palestinian bid in the UN—all of these contributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to present the cabinet with the current Shalit deal, which would bring about the release of about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Several architects can take credit for the decision: First and foremost new Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen, followed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz and Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo.

Hamas’s architects include Ahmed Jabari, head of its military wing, who was given the go-ahead by Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal. On Egypt’s part, the credit goes to Egyptian Intelligence Minister Murad Muwafi and German mediator Gerhard Konrad. Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Windfalls of War: Pentagon Buys Choppers from Russia to Equip Afghan, Iraqi Militaries

October 16th 2011

Military - Russian M17 Helos
Russian Mi-17s

If military operations in the early years of Iraq and Afghanistan justified the use of sole-sourcing contracting for support services, then the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan created a new justification for steering contracts to a single bidder: the need to quickly equip the militaries there.

The rush to equip the new military forces in these countries was used to justify sole-source procurements for a host of weapons and equipment, particularly for what is called “non-standard” equipment—in this case, Russian. Those countries, so the argument went, were more familiar with Russian equipment. Even in Afghanistan, a country which fought off a Soviet occupation in the 1980s, U.S. officials argued that the Northern Alliance and Afghan pilots were more familiar with Russian helicopters, which are regarded as rugged and reliable. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Pine Nut Truce: Temporary Peace in Afghanistan

October 16th 2011

Afghan Topics - Islamist terrorists

Some say all is fair in love and war, but for guerrilla warfare between the Taliban and Haqqani in Afghanistan, there are limits. Guns go down for pine nut season. Delicious pine nuts are a staple in pesto, browned and sprinkled over hummous, and in other Middle Eastern dishes. In the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, near its border with Pakistan, insurgents put down their guns so the able bodied can collect the pine cones which house the little nuts.

The New York Times reports that this year, as villagers started picking pine cones in front of the new American-Afghan outpost, the Taliban and Haqqani fighters declared a cease-fire. Called the “pine nut truce,” the ceasefire illuminates some of the basic cultural differences between the east and the west. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

New York City's Balancing Act of Civil Liberties and the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Bureau

October 13th 2011

Terrorism - NYPD and flag

In response to the 9/11 attacks, the New York Police Department (NYPD) established its own Counter-Terrorism Bureau and revamped its Intelligence Division. Since that time, its methods have gone largely unchallenged and have been generally popular with New Yorkers, who expect the department to take measures to prevent future attacks.

Preventing terrorist attacks requires a very different operational model than arresting individuals responsible for such attacks, and the NYPD has served as a leader in developing new, proactive approaches to police counterterrorism. However, it has been more than 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, and the NYPD is now facing growing concern over its counterterrorism activities. There is always an uneasy equilibrium between security and civil rights, and while the balance tilted toward security in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it now appears to be shifting back.

This shift provides an opportunity to examine the NYPD’s activities, the pressure being brought against the department and the type of official oversight that might be imposed. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Iran’s Botched Act of War in Washington

October 12th 2011

Saudi Topics - Adel Al-Jubeir
Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.

For the Iranian regime to attempt a terror strike on American soil, and particularly in Washington DC, including a high profile assassination and blowing up two important Middle Eastern embassies, it means that the Ayatollahs have crossed the conventional red line separating them from the previously cautious strategies of Terror. Indeed, on October 11, 2011, according to Federal officials as reported by ABC, FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a “significant terrorist act in the United States” tied to the Iranian regime.

US officials said the plot included the killing of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, to be followed by bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies within the beltway. According to the report, strikes against the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also in the plans. This terror case, coined ”Operation Red Coalition,” started last May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, sought a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to law enforcement officials. Manssor Arbabsiar, who in fact was intercepted by the DEA who thought he was communicating with the powerful Zetas Mexican drug organization.

According to US officials, the alleged terrorist claimed he was being “directed by high ranking members of the Iranian government,” including as reported, a cousin who was “a member of the Iranian army but did not wear a uniform.” Officials believe he is connected to the Revolutionary Guard, the Quds force. This announcement has dramatic consequences on American national security and on the state of confrontation between the US and the Iranian regime. Read more ..

Mideast Energy on Edge

Storm Clouds Over Eastern Mediterranean

October 12th 2011

Turkish Topics - KemalRais
TCG KemalReis (credit: Turkish Navy)

In early October, US-based Noble Energy Company began exploratory drilling for offshore gas deposits off the coast of Cyprus. They did so with the agreement of the Nicosia authorities, in an area indisputably located within Cypriot territorial waters. Despite this, there was real concern that the drilling could face interference from Turkish navy ships on maneuvers in the area.

The explorations proceeded undisturbed. The Turkish ships observed procedures from a discreet distance. But Cyprus’s defiance of recent Turkish warnings against beginning the search for natural gas in this area is unlikely to be the last word on the matter.

Muscle-flexing in the eastern Mediterranean forms part of Ankara’s broader combined strategic and economic ambitions. Israel is part of the picture and is drawing closer to the Cypriots. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Death of al-Awlaki may Hamper Radicalization of English-speaking Muslims

October 6th 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist

U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an ideologue and spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen, was killed in a Sept. 30 airstrike directed against a motorcade near the town of Khashef in Yemen’s al-Jawf province. The strike, which occurred at 9:55 a.m. local time, reportedly was conducted by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and may have also involved fixed-wing naval aircraft. Three other men were killed in the strike, one of whom was Samir Khan, the creator and editor of AQAP’s English-language magazine Inspire.

Al-Awlaki has been targeted before; in fact, he had been declared dead on at least two occasions. The first time followed a December 2009 airstrike in Shabwa province, and the second followed a May 5 airstrike, also in Shabwa. In light of confirmation from the U.S. and Yemeni governments and from statements made by al-Awlaki’s family members, it appears that he is indeed dead this time. We anticipate that AQAP soon will issue an official statement confirming the deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

Mexican Cartels and the Pan American Games: A Threat Assessment

October 4th 2011

Mexican Topics - Guadalajara

The 2011 Pan American Games will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico October 14–30. The games will feature 36 different sports and will bring more than 6,000 athletes and tens of thousands of spectators to Mexico’s second-largest city. The Parapan American Games, for athletes with physical disabilities, will follow from Nov. 12 to Nov. 20.

Like the Olympics, the World Cup, or any other large sporting event, planning for the Pan American Games in Guadalajara began when the city was selected to host them in 2006. Preparations have included the construction of new sports venues, an athletes’ village complex, hotels, highway and road infrastructure, and improvements to the city’s mass transit system. According to the coordinating committee, the construction and infrastructure improvements for the games have cost some $750 million.

The preparations included more than just addressing infrastructure concerns, however. Due to the crime environment in Mexico, security is also a very real concern for the athletes, sponsors and spectators who will visit Guadalajara during the games. The organizers of the games, the Mexican government and the governments of the 42 other participating countries also will be focused intensely on security in Guadalajara over the next two months. Read more ..

Laos on Edge

Decades after War, Millions of Unexploded U.S. Bombs Haunt Laos

October 4th 2011

Laos - UXO at the Plain of Jars
credit: Adam Jones

Liangkham Laphommavong has one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.

Her 9-year-old son knows this and protested when, at the start of a recent morning, Laphommavong set off to join a crew of 17 other women who routinely put their lives at risk.

Throughout Laos, people like Laphommavong tramp into bucolic rice paddies, woods and rolling hills—landscapes that belie the hazards of their jobs. Laphommavong is a bomb sweeper, covering terrain, inch by perilous inch, in search of unexploded ordnance.

There are an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs scattered around Laos—still-lethal remnants of a secret war against communists waged by U.S. forces four decades ago. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

World Tensions Grow as Iran Sends Warships to America's East Coast

September 28th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

Iran has upped the ante in its perennial conflict with the West. On September 28, Iran’s Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi says the Islamic Republic has begun large-scale production of domestically-developed cruise missiles capable of destroying “giant warships” – according to Iran - and has a range of 124 miles (200 kilometres). Vahidi said an unspecified number of "Ghader," or "Capable" as the missile is called in Farsi, were delivered to the Revolutionary Guard's navy, which is assigned to protect Iran's sea borders in the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. This development, and the prospect of Iranian warships entering sea lanes near the United States, has raised concern. In addition, Iran also has short and medium range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Mideast targets such as Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Shiite Jurisprudence, Political Expediency, and Nuclear Weapons, Part 1

September 20th 2011

Iran - Khameni and Khomeini

Islamic law exists to serve the interests of the Muslim community and of Islam. [Therefore,] to save Muslim lives and for the sake of Islam’s survival it is obligatory to lie, it is obligatory to drink wine [if necessary].
– Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

For a number of years, now, diplomats and officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have stated that Islam forbids the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons, and that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, to this effect. Such statements have led some commentators in the West to claim that this fatwa, which reflects the fundamental tenets of Islam, might well prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb. Given the importance of this issue to the security and stability of the Middle East and to U.S. interests in the region, it is important that we subject this claim to critical scrutiny, inquire into the significance and nature of this fatwa, and understand to what extent Iran’s decisionmakers are restrained by Islamic principles and laws. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Evolution of a Pakistani Militant Network

September 18th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistan anti us protest

For many years now, security experts have been carefully following the evolution of “Lashkar-e-Taiba” (LeT), the name of a Pakistan-based jihadist group that was formed in 1990 and existed until about 2001, when it was officially abolished. In subsequent years, however, several major attacks were attributed to LeT, including the November 2008 coordinated assault in Mumbai, India. Two years before that attack we wrote that the group, or at least its remnant networks, were nebulous but still dangerous. This nebulous nature was highlighted in November 2008 when the “Deccan Mujahideen,” a previously unknown group, claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks.

While the most famous leaders of the LeT networks, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, are under house arrest and in jail awaiting trial, respectively, LeT still poses a significant threat—a threat that comes not so much from LeT as a single jihadist force but LeT as a concept, a banner under which various groups and individuals can gather, coordinate and successfully conduct attacks. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Taliban Strike Deep In Kabul

September 13th 2011

Afghan Topics - Kabul attacks map 2011-09-13

A team of as many as 10 Afghan Taliban militants armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades mounted an assault September 13 in a high-security zone in the capital Kabul against the U.S. Embassy among other targets. At least four of the attackers were likely suicide bombers and detonated themselves during the attack. The attack began at 1:30 p.m. local time and has been underway for close to two hours. The militants took over a building in an area near Abdul Haq Chowk Square, a location in close proximity to Afghan government and Western security installations, including NATO headquarters. Read more ..

Inside the Mideast

Iran, Israel, and the New Middle East Reality

September 12th 2011

Iran - Iran Iraq Syria

In recent years, Israeli strategists have identified an Iran-led regional alliance as representing the main strategic challenge to the Jewish state. This alliance looks to be emerging as one of the net losers of the Arab upheavals of 2011. This, however, should be cause for neither satisfaction nor complacency for Israel. The forces moving in to replace or compete with Iran and its allies are largely no less hostile.

The Iran-led regional alliance, sometimes called the muqawama (“resistance”) bloc, consisted of a coalition of states and movements led by Tehran and committed to altering the US-led dispensation that pertained since the end of the cold war.

It included, in addition to Iran itself, the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, the Sadrist movement and other Shia Islamist currents in Iraq, Syria’s Assad regime, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organisation. It appeared in recent years also to be absorbing Hamas. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Laser Technology to Deflect Heat-Seeking Missiles from Military Helicopters

September 2nd 2011

Military - Blackhawk helo

Protecting helicopters in combat from heat-seeking missiles is the goal of new laser technology created at the University of Michigan and Omni Sciences, Inc., which is a U-M spin-off company.

"Battlefield terrain in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can be so rough that our troops have often had to rely on helicopters, and they can be easy targets for enemies with shoulder-launched missiles," said Mohammed Islam, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

"Our lasers give off a signal that's like throwing sand in the eyes of the missile."

Using inexpensive, off-the-shelf telecommunications fiber optics, Islam is developing sturdy and portable "mid-infrared supercontinuum lasers" that could blind heat-seeking weapons from a distance of 1.8 miles away. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Has The Obama Administration’s Outreach Affected Muslim Attitudes toward Terrorism and Terrorists?

August 30th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Arab Street Obama Cairo

Prominent U.S. officials have claimed that only dwindling numbers of isolated extremists support terrorists engaged in violent attacks against Americans. Survey research on Muslim publics’ attitudes reveals a different picture, one that undermines this interpretation. Evidence from key Arab states and some other important Muslim states (Pakistan, Nigeria) is reviewed. Markedly hostile views toward the security interests of the United States and its allies are shown to exist, despite efforts of the Obama administration. Since anti-U.S. terrorism retains the support of significant minorities, recruitment of much smaller numbers of actual terrorists should be expected to continue.


In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the national security of the United States and its allies continues to be threatened by mass casualty terrorism arising from non-state actors, militants inspired by their particularly extreme reading of the tenets of Islam. Recruitment to this cause is a global phenomenon not localized to the several venues in which U.S. armed forces currently are engaged in combat operations. Thus, improving cooperation with U.S. objectives has become a high priority in relations with Muslims in general, as well as with Muslim populations in key foreign states. How effective have recent steps taken by the United States been? Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

America's Warriors to Get Boost from Antennae in Clothing

August 23rd 2011

Military - Soldiers In Afghanistan

To make communications devices more reliable, Ohio State University researchers are finding ways to incorporate radio antennas directly into clothing, using plastic film and metallic thread. In the current issue of the journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters, they report a new antenna design with a range four times larger than that of a conventional antenna worn on the body – one that is used by American soldiers today.

"Our primary goal is to improve communications reliability and the mobility of the soldiers," said Chi-Chih Chen, a research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State. "But the same technology could work for police officers, fire fighters, astronauts – anybody who needs to keep their hands free for important work." Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libyan Rebels Approach in End-Game and Advance to Tripoli

August 21st 2011

Libya - Libyan rebels

Reports of explosions and heavy gunfire in Tripoli on Aug. 20 indicate that rebel fighters may be beginning an attempt to lay siege on the Libyan capital with the aim of removing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Based on the limited information available so far and the immense complications entailed in trying to seize a metropolis like Tripoli, however, it does not appear that the rebels are in a position to wage a final assault against Gadhafi.

Rebel fighters based of out of Libya’s Nafusa Mountains appear to have made considerable progress over the past week in advancing toward Tripoli. After several days of fighting, the rebels seem to have gained the upper hand in the town of Zawiya west of Tripoli — a key point along Gadhafi’s supply line and the possession of which could enable the rebels to choke off supplies to Tripoli — and now seem poised to begin an assault on the Libyan capital. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Unrest Continues to Grow Unabated

August 10th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria protests Apr 2011

The Assad regime’s brutal assault on the town of Hama should serve to dispel any notion that the struggle in Syria is nearing its end, or that the Assad regime has accepted its fate.The general direction of the revolts in the Arab world now suggests that the region’s worst dictators have an even chance of survival, on condition that they have no qualms about going to war against their own people. Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to have internalized the lesson.

Military theorists today are divided regarding the role of the main battle tank in the battlefield of the future. Assad over the past 48 hours has demonstrated that whatever the outcome of this debate, the role of the tank as an instrument of war against civilians remains highly relevant in the Middle East. The Syrian President’s elite 4th Armored Division would be unlikely to last long against the IDF’s 7th Brigade on the Golan Heights. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Iraq's Hybrid Insurgents -- The JRTN

August 10th 2011

Iraq - Terror -- Insurgents

The stabilization of Iraq has become wedged on a plateau, beyond which further improvement will be a slow process. According to incident metrics compiled by Olive Group, the average monthly number of insurgent attacks between January and June 2011 was 380. The incident count in January was 376, indicating that incident levels remained roughly stable in the first half of 2011. One reason behind this stability is the ongoing virulence of northern and central Iraqi insurgents operating within Sunni Arab communities. Five predominately Sunni provinces and western Baghdad were responsible for an average of 68.5% of national incidents each month in 2011. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran's Ambiguous Nuke Policies Complicate Matters

August 10th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

Unless the United States reverses the current dynamic, Iran could reap the perceived benefits of being a nuclear power even without building a bomb.

In recent weeks, the Iranian government has made a number of statements regarding its nuclear intentions: that it will move production of more highly enriched uranium to an underground facility near Qom by year's end; that although it has forsworn nuclear weapons, if it did go for the bomb, no one could stop it; and that it has deployed Shahab missiles in hardened underground silos. Taken together, these statements add new wrinkles to Tehran's policy of nuclear ambiguity. The regime's goal is to confound efforts to halt the nuclear program while creating the impression that it is a de facto nuclear power, thereby enhancing its regional influence. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

What Should the bin Laden Files Tell Us?

August 9th 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin-Laden preaching

The free world has waited patiently for ten to twenty years to learn the master plan of international jihadism’s “al-Za’im,” (English: “the leader”) Osama bin Laden.

Because Seal Team Six dropped in on the al-Qaida leader’s Abbottabad domicile unannounced, he was unable to marshal a defense or dispose of the stockpile of strategic documentation he had preserved on digital storage media and in paper files. It is safe to assume that the information he had accumulated over a period of years is in the U.S. being thoroughly scrutinized by members of the intelligence community. U.S. officials characterized the files seized from bin Laden’s vault as a veritable cornucopia of actionable intelligence that should keep analysts and Arab language translators busy for a very long time.Analysts, who have monitored Osama’s activities since the mid-1990s, have had to rely on sometimes-obfuscated statements he has made in his speeches in their intelligence estimates. Now they have a mountain of hard data to excavate. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Nano Detector for Deadly Anthrax

August 4th 2011

Science - anthrax

An automatic and portable detector that takes just fifteen minutes to analyze a sample suspected of contamination with anthrax is being developed by US researchers. The technology amplifies any anthrax DNA present in the sample and can reveal the presence of just 40 microscopic cells of the deadly bacteria Bacillus anthracis.

B. anthracis, commonly known as anthrax, is a potentially lethal microbe that might be used intentionally to infect victims through contamination of food and water supplies, aerosolized particles, or even dried powders, such as those used in bioterrorist attacks in the USA. Detection is crucial to preventing widespread fatalities in the event of an anthrax attack.

However, the complexity of the microbe's biology have so far made it difficult to build a portable system that can be employed quickly in the field. That said, there are several systems available that use PCR to amplify a particular component of the genetic material present in anthrax and then to flag this amplified signal. These systems are fast and sensitive but do not integrate sample preparation and so are not as convenient as a single detector unit would be. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Ordinary Citizens Are First Defense Against Terrorism

August 4th 2011

Terrorism - DanielPatrickBoyd
Danial Patrick Boyd

In the wake of the  July 22 Oslo attacks, as I have talked with people in the United States and Europe, I have noticed two themes in the conversations. The first is the claim that the attacks came from an unexpected source and were therefore impossible to stop. The second theme is that detecting such attacks is the sole province of dedicated counterterrorism authorities.

Even in so-called “unexpected” attacks there are specific operational tasks that must be executed in order to conduct an operation. Such tasks can be detected, and unexpected attacks emanating from lone wolf actors can indeed be thwarted if such indicators are being looked for. Alleged Oslo attack perpetrator Anders Breivik reportedly conducted several actions that would have made him vulnerable to detection had the authorities been vigilant and focused on those possible actions.

This is why it is critical to look at the mechanics of attacks in order to identify the steps that must be undertaken to complete them and then focus on identifying people taking such steps. Focusing on the “how” rather than the “who” is an effective way for authorities to get on the proactive side of the action/reaction continuum.

Considering this concept of focusing on the how, one quickly reaches a convergence with the second theme, which involves the role and capabilities of dedicated counterterrorism resources. The primary agency tasked with counterterrorism in most countries tends to have limited resources that are stretched thin trying to cover known or suspected threats. These agencies simply do not have the manpower to look for attack-planning indicators — especially in a world where militant actors are increasingly adopting the leaderless-resistance model, which is designed to avoid detection by counterterrorism forces. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Europe's Challenges and Vulnerabilities Following the Attack by Norway's Lone Wolf

July 28th 2011

Terrorism - Norwegian terrorism victim

On the afternoon of July 22, a powerful explosion ripped through the streets of Oslo, Norway, as a large improvised explosive device (IED) in a rented van detonated between the government building housing the prime minister’s office and Norway’s Oil and Energy Department building. According to the diary of Anders Breivik, the man arrested in the case who has confessed to fabricating and placing the device, the van had been filled with 950 kilograms (about 2,100 pounds) of homemade ammonium nitrate-based explosives.

After lighting the fuse on his IED, Breivik left the scene in a rented car and traveled to the island of Utoya, located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Oslo. The island was the site of a youth campout organized by Norway’s ruling Labor Party. Before taking a boat to the island, Breivik donned body armor and tactical gear bearing police insignia (intended to afford him the element of tactical surprise). Read more ..

Paraguay on Edge

Paraguay Faces a Challenge as Insurgents Mount Unsettling Kidnappings and Attacks

July 26th 2011

Latin American Topics - Paraguay president Lugo
President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay

The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army, or EPP) has now become a household name in Paraguay as well as among security agencies in neighboring countries. For the moment, it has focused its field of operations on kidnapping wealthy Paraguayans, only occasionally attacking Paraguay’s security forces. One of the most prominent victims of the EPP has been Fidel Zavala, who was held captive for 94 days until he was finally freed on January 17, 2010. Unfortunately, as the history of insurgent movements in general seems indicate, there is ample room for “growth” when it comes to their possible future operations. From kidnappings to murder, along with armed raids and other major attacks, this group also has been accused of kidnapping and subsequently brutally murdering Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of former Paraguayan president Raúl Cubas. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The Consequences of Terrorist Attacks in Norway

July 22nd 2011

Terrorism - Oslo bombing

At least 17 people have died and more have been injured in an explosion in downtown Oslo and a shooting at a Labor Party youth camp outside the Norwegian capital. Norwegian police arrested the shooter at the camp and believe he is connected with the explosion, though others could be involved.

The significance of the events in Norway for the rest of Europe will depend largely on who is responsible, and the identity of the culprits is still unclear. However,one can extrapolate the possible consequences of the attacks based on several scenarios. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran's Incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan Signals Escalation in the Coming Weeks

July 21st 2011

Iran - Iranian military on parade

A border dispute between Iran and the Kurdish region of Iraq underwent a significant escalation this week, as Iranian Revolutionary Guards crossed the border to engage with guerrillas of the PJAK (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan) organization. The incursions began on Saturday night. Fighting continued throughout most of Sunday. By late Sunday afternoon, a tense quiet had returned to the border area.

Reports differ regarding the number of casualties, and the areas of engagement. The official Iranian news agency (IRNA) said that five PJAK members and one Revolutionary Guardsman had been killed in fighting in the area of Sardasht, a Kurdish town close to the border. The Iranians also claimed to have captured a wounded PJAK member. A Colonel of the Revolutionary Guards, Delavar Ranjbarzadeh, told IRNA that PJAK had suffered a ‘heavy and historic defeat.’ Read more ..

Edge on Iran

The U.S.-Saudi Dilemma: Iran Reshaping Persian Gulf Politics

July 19th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad-Abdullah buddies

Something extraordinary, albeit not unexpected, is happening in the Persian Gulf region. The United States, lacking a coherent strategy to deal with Iran and too distracted to develop one, is struggling to navigate Iraq’s fractious political landscape in search of a deal that would allow Washington to keep a meaningful military presence in the country beyond the end-of-2011 deadline stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, dubious of U.S. capabilities and intentions toward Iran, appears to be inching reluctantly toward an accommodation with its Persian adversary.

Iran clearly stands to gain from this dynamic in the short term as it seeks to reshape the balance of power in the world’s most active energy arteries. But Iranian power is neither deep nor absolute. Instead, Tehran finds itself racing against a timetable that hinges not only on the U.S. ability to shift its attention from its ongoing wars in the Middle East but also on Turkey’s ability to grow into its historic regional role. Read more ..

Military on Edge

House Offers Budget Boost to Troubled Pentagon Agency Fighting Roadside Bombs

July 17th 2011

Military - Unexploded IED in Iraq
An Unexploded Roadside IED

Despite unprecedented budgetary pressures, a recently passed House appropriations bill would both increase the overall defense budget and boost funds for a controversial Pentagon organization set up to combat roadside bombs.

That agency, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) has since 2006 been given more than $21 billion dollars to spend on combatting improvised explosive devices and now employs 1,800 people. But it has not managed to substantially reduce IED-related casualties among U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

IED attacks kill or maim hundreds of American soldiers each year. As of May, the most recent month for which IED figures were available, a total of 2,894 U.S. service members have been killed and another 27,502 injured by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Czech Republic Opts Out of US Ballistic Missile System for Europe

July 12th 2011

Military - Standard Missile 3

The Czech Republic has decided not to participate in the U.S. ballistic missile system for Europe. The United States’ plan for a ballistic missile defense system in Europe has gone through several changes over the past few years. The original Bush administration proposal called for deploying 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic. That project addressed Iran’s long-range ballistic missile threat.

But the Obama administration took a different view. U.S. officials said the threat comes from Iran’s short and medium-range weapons. And so in September 2009, President Barack Obama cancelled the Bush plan, opting for what experts describe as a more adaptable approach.

The new proposal involves putting SM-3 ground-based interceptors in Poland by 2015 and in Romania by 2018. These are still being developed. Analysts say SM-3 missiles are already aboard U.S. navy ships, giving the Obama plan a flexibility the Bush proposal did not have. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

US Suspends $800 Million in Military Aid to Pakistan

July 12th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani military brass

A top White House official says the United States is suspending some $800 million in military aid to Pakistan, a move some analysts say is being made to pressure the Pakistani military to step up cooperation. The decision comes as ties between the two countries are under intense strain in the wake of the U.S. raid on a compound in Pakistan that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

White House Chief of Staff William Daley says that while the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is difficult and complex, it must be made to work over time. Read more ..

Military on Edge

Boeing Pocketed Millions by Overcharging the Army, IG Report Charges

July 5th 2011

Military - Chinook and Apache
Chinook and Apache (credit: SSG M.J. Quarterman)

Boeing Co. overcharged the U.S. Army by about $13 million for Apache and Chinook helicopter parts, according to a Pentagon inspector general report obtained by the Project on Government Oversight .

The report also found that the Army could fulfill more than $200 million worth of current and future Boeing orders with its own inventory, but that there are no Pentagon policies compelling the use of inventory rather than making outside purchases.

Boeing, the second largest Pentagon contractor in fiscal year 2010, overcharged the Corpus Christi Army Depot for 18 different parts, including $3,369.48 for a plain stud available from Army inventory for $190, a 1,673 percent markup over the Army price. A roller assembly available for $7.71 from another Army inventory was billed at $1,626.49 by the Chicago-based aerospace company. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Canada Faces Expensive Choices over F-35 Lightning II Fighter-Bomber

July 4th 2011

Military - F-35 Military Plane

Will the F-35 Lightning II cost the Canadian tax-payers $29.3 billion or $14.7 billion for 65 aircraft? The controversy remains between the PBO and the DND. The F-35 is designed for the U.S. Air Force to meet their needs and goals. Its main function is a “day one stealth” bomber. Experts contend that Canada does not require the aircraft.

During the 2011 Canadian federal election, there was an intense focus on Conservative party Prime Minister Stephan Harper’s decision to purchase 65 new F-35 Lightning II fighter planes. The story around the F-35 is filled with controversy over the cost and appropriateness of the aircraft.

Both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP) promised to halt the purchase of the aircraft and re-examine its suitability in relation to the military’s budget. The F-35 contract is a key cornerstone of the Conservatives’ plan to revitalize the Canadian armed forces. One of the crucial issues has been the disagreement over the already high price of the F-35, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) and the Department of National Defense (DND) calculated two different figures. The PBO estimated the total cost of the F-35 is $29.3 billion or $148 million per unit, while the DND assessed the total program would cost $14.7 billion or $75 million per unit. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The Growing Al-Qaeda Crescent in Strategic Yemen

June 29th 2011

Yemen Topics - Yemen sheik your mamy

The key battle with al-Qaeda in Yemen is in the countryside, where the U.S. government is paying too little attention.

The June 22 jailbreak of dozens of al-Qaeda-linked prisoners in southern Yemen's Hadramawt province is the latest evidence that the main battle with the group has been taking place in the countryside. Although conflicts in the capital -- such as the ongoing faceoff between supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and members of the Hashid tribal confederation -- will affect Yemen's future course as a nation, efforts to control the provinces more directly affect U.S. national security interests. Read more ..

Military Edge

Pentagon Spends Billions on Incentive Pay—but Doesn’t Measure What Works

June 29th 2011

Military - Army in Afghanistan

The Pentagon spent $5.6 billion in 2010 on special pay incentives for active-duty service members, including $1.2 billion for enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses. But the Pentagon has no way of measuring whether it is setting bonus amounts wisely.

DOD allows military branches to offer a bonus to any occupation they have difficulty recruiting or retaining. From 2006 to 2010, the services spent a total of $11 billion for bonuses—52 percent went to the Army, 24 percent to the Navy, 16 percent to the Marine Corps, and 9 percent to the Air Force.

About $4.5 billion of the $11 billion was used for enlistment bonuses and $6.6 billion for re-enlistment bonuses. During this same period, all branches met their enlistment goals and quality, with the exception of the Army in 2006 through 2008. Read more ..

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