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Iraq on Edge

Car Bombs Strike Baghdad, Killing Army Recruits

January 12th 2014

Kabul Car Bomb

Iraqi police say three bomb explosions killed at least 13 people and wounded several dozen more Sunday in Baghdad.  The most serious blast was at a bus and taxi depot that hit a group of Iraqi Army recruits.

Fire crews doused blazing vehicles after the latest bombings in the Iraqi capital, during a wave of violence aimed mostly at pro-government and Shi'ite targets.  The most powerful blast Sunday hit the Merab Alawi car park where dozens of army recruits were milling around.

It was the second major blast targeting army recruits in four days. Another Sunday explosion, apparently from a car bomb, caused casualties in the Kadhimiyah district of the capital.

The attacks came as Iraqi Army forces continued to shell targets in and around the town of Ramadi, part of which is held by Islamic militants loyal to the pro-al-Qaida group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Pro-government Sunni militiamen are fighting, with army support, to dislodge the militants. Read more ..


South Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Army Says it Has Recaptured Bentiu

January 11th 2014

South Sudan soldier

South Sudanese government troops have recaptured the town of Bentiu in oil-producing Unity state, army spokesman Philip Aguer said Friday.

Government troops retook the town at 2:30 p.m. after a two-hour battle with rebel forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, Aguer said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the claim.

Aguer said the army's next target will be to recapture the capital of Jonglei state, Bor. South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer at a press conference in 2013, says government forces recaptured Bentiu on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Bentiu and Bor fell to forces loyal to Machar days after South Sudan was plunged into conflict on Dec. 15 when renegade soldiers attacked an army headquarters building in Juba. Read more ..


Libya on Edge

Libya Chaos Worsens

January 10th 2014

Libyan opposition fighters

Libya is plunging deeper into political turmoil with the country’s beleaguered government warning foreign shippers against loading crude oil from terminals in the East of the country controlled by federalist militias, and a majority of Libya’s fractious parliamentarians seemingly wanting to dismiss Prime Minister Ali Zeidan but unable to agree on a replacement.

Gripped by months of political turmoil analysts fear the country is edging closer to a possible break-up.  A defiant Zeidan in a bid to head off a vote of no confidence by the country’s parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), told a news conference on Wednesday a vote of no confidence won’t solve the country’s problems.

“I would be happy for a vote of no confidence, but we would not be happy for the government to be left to a caretaker government. I have asked the GNC to choose a Prime Minister. I will not leave the country in an executive vacuum,” Zeidan said. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Sochi Challenge

January 9th 2014

Russian M17 Helos

The Russian city of Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympics from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23 and the Paralympics from March 7 to March 16. Russia is no stranger to hosting high-profile global events; it hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics and is preparing for the 2018 World Cup final.

Though the 2014 games seemingly offer Moscow a perfect platform for showcasing the strength of its security apparatus, Russia will have to work overtime to protect athletes and spectators. This in turn could leave surrounding regions such as the Northern Caucasus and major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg exposed to militancy, terrorism and organized crime. Militants from the Caucasus striking elsewhere in Russia during the games to avoid the intense security that will be present in Sochi and to capitalize on news coverage of the highly publicized event pose the greatest threat to the games.

Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Sunni-Shiite Divide Widens as Iran Offers to Fight al-Qaeda in Iraq

January 8th 2014

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Quoting Iran's official news agency, Agence France-Presse reported on 6 January that General Muhammad Hejazi, Iran's Deputy Chief of Staff, had just announced that, if asked, the Islamic Republic of Iran was "prepared to provide military equipment and advice to Iraq to help it battle al-Qaida." Only arms and advice was contemplated as it was said that the Iraqis "have no need of manpower."

Hejazi claimed there had been no request from Iraq to "carry out joint operations against the 'takfiri' terrorists," a term used to describe al Qaida and its various fraternal allies. In this case it would be to assist in the attack on the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which leads the Sunni Muslim conflict in both Syria and Iraq. The ISIL has just taken control of Fallujah, a major Iraqi pivot in the Middle East conflict. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Hezbollah Intensifies Fighting in Syria

January 8th 2014

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

In late 2013, Hezbollah had intensified its military involvement in the civil war in Syria, suffering heavy losses. The main three sites of Hezbollah fighting were the eastern rural area of Damascus (Al-Ghouta al-Sharqiyya), the Al-Qalamoun mountain range, north of Damascus, which runs along the Syrian-Lebanese border (the Homs - Damascus route), and the grave of Al-Set Zaynab, south of Damascus.

In these three sites, Hezbollah operates as an auxiliary force, aiding the Syrian army and the Syrian security forces, and not as a military unit with independent missions (as was the case in the Al-Qusayr campaign).This fighting was closely coordinated with the Syrian army:according to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai (December 12, 2013), the Syrian army and Hezbollah maintain a joint operations room for managing the campaign. We estimate the number of Hezbollah operatives in the fighting at several thousand, an estimate similar to the scope of the Hezbollah force in the Al-Qusayr campaign (May 19 - June 5, 2013). Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Brazil Beefs Up Security in Advance of Soccer's World Cup Tournament

January 7th 2014

Click to select Image

The Brazilian government has established a special unit to complement police to subdue demonstrations that are expected to be held during the World Cup, which begins in June. Ten thousand members will be selected from state police forces nationwide and stationed in the dozen cities that will host World Cup games, Col. Alexandre Augusto Aragon, who heads the elite National Security Force, told reporters. “We have been concerned with this [security during the World Cup] since before the protests that took place last year, because we don’t wait around for things to happen,” he told the website G1. “The violence of recent protests is what scared us.”

The Brazilian government is taking steps to preclude any incidents should protests occur during the World Cup. During last year’s Confederations Cup, more than a million people demonstrated on the streets nationwide in a single day. The demonstrators were protesting the billions that have been spent on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, at a time when funding for social services is lacking. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

General: 'Wait and See' Before Sending Troops to Iraq

January 7th 2014

US troops in Iraq

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said Tuesday the United States should "wait and see" before sending U.S. troops to Iraq, where Al Qaeda militants recently seized parts of two cities.

"This is certainly not the time to put American troops on the ground," Gen. Odierno said at the National Press Club in Washington. "We just have to wait and see if it becomes part of our national security interest to put people on the ground."

There are currently about 200 U.S. troops in Iraq who provide embassy security and advise Iraqi defense officials. An additional 1,600 defense department contractors provide training and maintenance for U.S. foreign military equipment sales to Iraq. Gen. Odierno said it was important for the U.S. to continue working with the Iraqi army on counterinsurgency, but that it was also important to stay politically involved. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

GOP Rep.: US Should Aid Iraq with Air Power

January 6th 2014

F15 in Afghanistan

The United States should assist the Iraqi government with limited air power and intelligence operations in its fight against al Qaeda, a Republican lawmaker and Iraq War veteran said Monday.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan in the Air Force, said in a statement Monday that the resurgence of violence in Iraq was a “direct result of the Obama administration’s short-sighted policy decisions and hurried withdrawal from the region.”

In a follow-up response to The Hill, Kinzinger said he does not support sending any U.S. ground troops back to Iraq but does think the U.S. can play a role with air power and intelligence. “While we cannot reintroduce ground soldiers in Iraq after leaving, I do support robust intelligence operations and, in some cases, limited air power in assisting the Iraqi government,” he said.

Kinzinger is the latest Republican to criticize the Obama administration’s handling of Iraq in the wake of al Qaeda-affiliated forces retaking Fallujah, the western Iraqi city where U.S. Marines took heavy casualties. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Syrian Regime's Military Solution to the War

January 5th 2014

al-Assad and Generals

It has become commonplace to say that "there is no military solution" to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition.

The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and "game changers" could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible -- and that is what the regime is counting on. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

NSA's Code-Breaking Quantum Computer

January 4th 2014

Click to select Image

Quantum computers that can perform vast numbers of calculations simultaneously may be closer to science fiction than reality, but previously unpublished documents indicate the secretive U.S. National Security Agency is working hard to build a real quantum supercomputer, powerful enough to decode virtually every form of encryption now known.

Such a computer, many times faster than today’s fastest machines, could easily solve codes now considered "unbreakable" - the type of ciphers currently used worldwide by scientific and financial institutions and governments to protect their data.

The basic principle of quantum computing is a physical phenomenon that is not yet fully understood: certain subatomic particles can simultaneously exist in two different states. A conventional computer works with binary "bits" of information that are represented as either zero or one; quantum bits could be both zero and one simultaneously. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Israel Releases More Palestinian Prisoners

January 3rd 2014

Prison bars

Israeli officials released 26 Palestinian prisoners into the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday, where they were met with cheering crowds. The latest amnesty for Palestinian inmates marks one step in a wider U.S. backed peace initiative and comes a day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the region.

Tuesday's commuting of sentences is the third of four stages where over 100 inmates will be released from Israeli jails. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to pardoning prisoners last July as part of a confidence boosting measure with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. All of those released were convicted of killing Israelis before the 1993 Oslo peace accord. Palestinians raised national flags and held posters to show their support for prisoners held in Israeli jails on December 28. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Cyber Security Concerns Soar in 2014

January 3rd 2014

Cyber Warfare

According to Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, the year ahead is one that should be filled with cyber security awareness. A wrap up from the INNS.

USA: U.S. Federal agencies to hire more cyber defenders in 2014

The Washington Post published on December 23, 2013, while some agencies may see staffing reductions to cut costs, one area of federal growth is cyber security. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in charge of preserving the federal civilian ".gov" domain, are quick to hire illustrated by recent legislation. The latest proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, requires the DHS secretary to regularly asses the readiness and capacity of the agency's cyber workforce to meet its cyber security mission and develop a comprehensive strategy to enhance readiness, capacity, training, recruitment and retention of the cyber workforce, including a five-year recruitment plan and 10-year projection of workforce needs. By contrast, the Pentagon seems to be having more success staffing the U.S. Cyber Command and uniformed services cyber command, primarily because they can commandeer uniformed personnel. Read more ..


CAR on Edge

Violence Threatens Doctors Providing Aid in CAR

January 2nd 2014

child being vaccinated

As violence continues in the Central African Republic, the conditions for aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders have become dangerous.  Twice in the last week, hospitals and clinics had to be evacuated when armed men entered the facilities.

In the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui, teams with Doctors Without Borders say the violence has been escalating, despite the increased presence of French and African troops.

Instability deepened in early December when Christian militias - known as anti-Balaka - stepped up revenge attacks against Seleka rebels who helped install the country’s Muslim president in a March coup.

Communal violence has killed more than 1,000 in the last month, including children who have been brutalized. 

Doctors Without Borders facilities have felt the impact.  Sylvain Groulx, the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in the Central African Republic, said medical staff had to temporarily evacuate their facilities on December 24th and 25th - due to threats by armed men and close gunfire. 

"Essentially they have been threatening medical personnel.  They have been threatening the staff as well…. It's been very, very difficult to manage those incidents and certainly what we are requesting as a medical organization is that there is a full respect by all of the combatants or individuals within the city and that there is a full respect for our patients’ rights," Groulx said. "They are no longer combatants, they are no longer part of a community or another. They are simply patients."  Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

In Wake Of Repeated Bombings, A Question: Why Volgograd?

January 1st 2014

Russian memorial to Moscow victims

Until this autumn, Volgograd was a relatively quiet Russian city, known best for its legacy as a World War II battlefield.

But that changed in October, when a female suicide bomber blew herself up on a city bus, killing six passengers, most of them teenagers.

Now, two back-to-back suspected suicide attacks just ahead of New Year celebrations -- a December 29 bombing at the city's main train station followed by a December 30 trolleybus blast -- have claimed 30 additional lives and left many to wonder why Volgograd has become an unlikely insurgent target. With the Winter Olympics less than six weeks away, the security spotlight has been focused on host city Sochi, nestled uncomfortably close to Russia's volatile North Caucasus republics and their ongoing Islamic insurgency. Read more ..


The EMP Threat

The Threat from the Gulf of Mexico

December 31st 2013

Minneapolis skyline

If you live near the Gulf of Mexico, you are the front line to an emerging existential threat to all Americans. The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear weapon exploded a hundred miles above the U.S. could kill 60-90 percent of all Americans. Though efforts in 2013 made progress in gaining awareness of this key problem, much remains to be done to get the powers that be to address this well-known threat that could be launched by Iran or terrorists from a ship in the Gulf. 

It is a fact that the EMP created by a single nuclear weapon exploded a hundred miles above the United States could lead to the death of several hundred million Americans. This kind of attack could be delivered by Iran or terrorist groups. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Five Weeks After Obama's Nuclear Deal with Iran

December 30th 2013

Simurgh booster

As the P5+1 nuclear negotiation with Iran was taking shape, Secretary of State John Kerry was irritated by the discomfort shown by Congress, Israel and the Gulf States of both Iran and of the Administration's decision making process. "We are not blind and I don't think we're stupid," he told "Meet the Press" on 10 November.

On 24 November, with the deal done, he crowed on CNN's "State of the Union," "I believe that from this day, Israel is safer." He added, "We are going to expand the amount of time in which they can break out… have insights to their program that we didn't have before. Israel, if you didn't have these things, would be seeing Iran to continue on a daily basis to narrow the breakdown (sic) time." Read more ..


South Sudan on Edge

U.S. Commits Troops to South Sudan

December 30th 2013

Click to select Image

According to comments made by two unnamed military officials on December 23, approximately 150 U.S. Marines will soon be sent to South Sudan. The troops will provide additional security for the U.S. Embassy in Juba and help evacuate Americans following an eruption of violence in the world's newest nation. Soldiers will also be sent to neighboring states to ensure the safety of American missions and displaced citizens.

The announcement comes after three American Osprey CV-22 were attacked after trying to evacuate U.S. citizens from the central city of Bor. During the incident gunfire injured four U.S. troops as they approached a UN base where the Americans had gathered for protection. A subsequent government mission successfully removed all Americans from Bor without further incident.

Fighting broke out in South Sudan on December 15th after a coup attempt against the President Salva Kiir. The country's military then split along ethnic and political lines, with many ethnic Dinka adhering to President Kiir and ethnic Neur following former Vice President Riek Machar. Rebels lead by Machar, the alleged coup leader, quickly consolidated power in much of the country. Most notably, the central government no longer controls the northern regional capital of Bentiu. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Linking the Syrian Conflict to the Iranian Nuclear Agreement

December 29th 2013

Iranian clerics

Back in 2006, during a particularly low point in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group issued a report in which the central contentious proposition was that "all key issues in the region are inextricably linked." Accordingly, to stem the deterioration in Iraq and "achieve its goals" in the Middle East, the report posited the U.S. would have to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Seven years on, while the conceit linking Iraq to the Arab-Israeli peace process is no longer relevant, the concept of linkage appears to be making a comeback -- this time in the context of Iran and war in Syria. During a recent trip to Lebanon, a concern I heard repeatedly voiced was that if Tehran played ball and signed onto a nuclear deal, the Obama administration might be prepared to acknowledge Iranian interests in Syria and drop its demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down. Read more ..


America and Qatar

U.S. Signs Defense Agreement with Qatar

December 28th 2013

SS Independence

Qatar signed a ten-year Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the U.S. Tuesday that allows Washington to continue keeping American troops in Qatar and launch military operations from there. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Qatari Defense Minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah to sign the deal. Marking just one stop in Hagel's visit to the region, he reassured Arab allies of ongoing U.S. support, despite dismay among the Gulf States over American policies regarding Iran and Syria.

Currently, the U.S. government keeps over 35,000 civilian and military personnel in and around the Gulf. Qatar's central location, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, allows the U.S. easier access to the entire region. The presence of American military forces in the country also provides Sunni Qatar with guaranteed defense and national security against threats from Shiite Iran.

Despite this renewal of cooperation between Washington and Doha, Western countries have scrutinized Qatar's abuse of human rights. As one of the richest countries in the world, Qatar also has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens. Foreign workers face abusive working conditions, dreadful living standards, and low wages, according to international human rights organizations. Activists have demanded an end to worker exploitation, especially as the emirate accelerates construction for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, local officials claim laws are already in place protecting workers from mistreatment. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Military Conscription May No Longer be Optimal for Turkey

December 27th 2013

Click to select Image

A large, conscripted military may no longer be the most appropriate way for Turkey to protect its interests and defend against external threats. Ankara appears to have acknowledged as much Oct. 21, when it voted to reduce the length of time conscripted soldiers are required to serve. The measure, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, will effectively shrink the military by 70,000 members. This is no small diminution, considering that Turkey, with its 750,000 soldiers, has the second-largest military among NATO members. Political and economic considerations may have informed Ankara's decision, but ultimately the move was made to reflect the changing geopolitical conditions under which Turkey now finds itself.

Historically, Turkey's location and geography has necessitated a robust military. Located at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, the country was critical terrain during the Cold War. In 1952, Turkey became a member of NATO, serving as the southwestern bulwark against the Warsaw Pact. It mustered a large standing military by establishing compulsory service for all Turkish men. Though the Cold War ended two decades ago, Turkey has maintained this practice. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Administration Seriously Underestimates Cost of Nukes

December 27th 2013

The Obama administration's plan for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal will likely cost around 66 percent more over the next decade than senior Pentagon officials have predicted, according to a new assessment by the independent Congressional Budget Office.

Under the administration’s plan, operating, maintaining and upgrading the nuclear stockpile will cost a total of $355 billion from 2014 through 2023, said the CBO report, published just before the holidays and shortly after Congress finished action on a 2014 budget bill that restored some planned Pentagon spending cuts.

James Miller, the Pentagon’s outgoing policy chief, had said in 2011 congressional testimony that the 10-year tab would be around $214 billion, or an average of $21 billion a year, an amount he pegged at around 3 percent of the Pentagon’s likely overall budget for that period. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Bombs Targeting Christians Kill 35 in Iraq

December 25th 2013

Iraqi church bombed

Christmas Day bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 50 in an area where many Christians live.  Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako said, however, that he does not believe Christians were the specific target.

Workers swept shards of glass and rubble from two bomb blasts at a Baghdad market in a neighborhood with a large Christian population.  A third bomb exploded near a church but well after the day's Christmas service had ended.

Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako said he had finished the service at the Saint John Church in Dora more than an hour before the bomb went off near the church and a police station. "Today, at nine o'clock we had a Mass and the Mass was finished at 10.  At 11:15 there was an attack against a police post in the area and poor people in the area.  Among the dead there were no Christians. It had nothing to do with the church," he explained. Read more ..


Broken Government

Leaker Snowden says 'Mission Accomplished' regarding NSA

December 24th 2013

Edward Snowden says his “mission’s already accomplished.” In an interview with The Washington Post from Moscow, Snowden said he believed he had won his fight with the U.S. government and said that he didn't defect from his country, he defected from his government.

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

“If I defected at all,” Snowden said, “I defected from the government to the public.”

Snowden made the comments in 14 hours of interviews he conducted recently with Post reporter Barton Gellman, one of the first journalists Snowden began leaking National Security Agency documents to in June. Read more ..


South Sudan on Edge

Marines Deploy to Africa Amid Surge in South Sudan Violence

December 23rd 2013

Joint Task Force Bravo in Action

About 150 Marines arrived in Djibouti on Monday to be ready to quickly protect U.S. interests amid the growing South Sudan violence.

U.S. Africa Command said the Marines were deployed from Morón Air Base in Spain to the U.S. base in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier, so they could better guard against potential threats to U.S. personnel and facilities in South Sudan.

“By positioning these forces forward, we are able to more quickly respond to crisis in the region, if required,” an AFRICOM spokesman said in a statement. “One of the lessons learned from the tragic events in Benghazi was that we needed to be better postured, in order to respond to developing or crisis situations, if needed. These precautionary movements will allow us to do just that.” AFRICOM said that Marine deployment to Djibouti was made with full knowledge and cooperation of the Djibouti government. Read more ..


The US and Israel

Israel’s Strong Stance on Iran Has Helped the U.S.

December 22nd 2013

Hillary Clinton in blue

Israel’s vocal criticism of the international community’s dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue is actually beneficial to the United States, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently, according to Israeli daily Ma’ariv.

This surprising announcement was made during a private meeting in Washington over the weekend, the paper reported. Clinton’s statement contravenes the official U.S. policy to date, which has been to repeatedly and bluntly reject Israel’s vociferous objections to the substance of talks held in Geneva between Iran and world powers – convened in order to find a peaceful way to convince the Islamic Republic to curb its nuclear activity.

According to Clinton, as cited by Ma’ariv, Israel is perceived as a close ally of the United States and therefore Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated warnings of possible military action against Iran are taken seriously. Clinton also noted that Israeli criticism helps the U.S. in its dealings with Russia and China – two countries with relatively warm relations with Iran. Read more ..


The US on Edge

Are Americans Fighting in Syria a Future US Security Threat?

December 21st 2013

Jihadist

The recent arrest of a young American who was on his way to Syria to allegedly join Jihadist fighters seeking to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad may add to worries among U.S. law enforcement circles. Basit Javed Sheikh, a 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant living in North Carolina, was arrested as he attempted to board the first in a series of planned flights to Syria. He had told an FBI informant on Facebook that he was going to join the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

In a recent background briefing for reporters, U.S. intelligence officials said dozens of Americans have joined the thousands of other foreigners who have flocked to Syria to fight against al-Assad’s forces. Intelligence officials say that more Americans will likely follow as the conflict continues and they worry that these ‘American jihadists' could pose a grave threat once they return to the U.S.  Who are these American fighters?  Should the U.S. be concerned—or are these fears overstated? Read more ..


Defense Edge

Senate Passes Defense Bill Authorizing $607 Billion in Spending

December 20th 2013

The Senate on Thursday evening passed the $607 billion Defense authorization bill that will reform the way the military handles sexual assault cases and loosen the restriction on transferring Guantánamo Bay detainees to foreign countries.

The Senate sent the bill to the president’s desk for the 52nd straight year in a 84-15 vote, after some legislative maneuvering was needed to extend the streak and quickly get a compromise bill through both chambers this month.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans joined most Democrats in voting for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes $527 billion in base defense spending and $80 billion for the war in Afghanistan.
Twelve Republicans and three Democrats voted against the legislation, including Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), and potential 2016 hopefuls Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Read more ..


CAR on Edge

African Union Wants to Stabilize CAR Security Situation

December 18th 2013

African Rebels and Guns

The African Union (AU) says it wants to help stabilize the security situation in Central African Republic (CAR) to help stabilize the country, which has been wracked by violence recently according to AU spokesman, El Ghassim Wane.

Wane says the AU supports all efforts including dialogue between the transitional government and militia groups to resolve the security challenges the CAR faces.                      

Interim President and former rebel leader Michel Djotodia said officials of his administration are in contact with militias to address the security situation in the country. CAR has faced increasing sectarian violence including torture and killings following the overthrow of President Francois Bozize last March.

“The priority for us currently is to improve the security situation in light of the recent incidence in Bangui, [where] hundreds of people were killed. And it is important that every effort is made to bring the situation under control so as to facilitate the political foundation,” said Wane. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Yemeni Government Bans U.S. Drone Strikes

December 17th 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Yemen's lawmakers on Sunday gave their thumbs up to banning U.S. counterterrorism operations using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. The ban comes just after the United States pumped more resources into the Yemeni military and police forces to fight terrorists. The Yemeni government reacted to reports that collateral damage in the battle against Islamists included dozens of civilians killed by drones, according to Middle Eastern news organizations. Yemen's leaders said that protecting innocent civilians from airstrikes is necessary to preserve justice and that nation's sovereignty.

The Yemeni parliament's decision on Sunday comes just three days after a U.S. UAV accidentally attacked a Muslim wedding convoy on Thursday, an attack that left 18 civilians dead and 21 others wounded.

Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Is North Korea Imperiled?

December 16th 2013

Kim Jong Un

Yesterday’s brutal, abrupt execution of the second ranking ruler of North Korea, Jang Song-thaek, culminated a stunning week in Pyongyang, perhaps the world’s most isolated and repressive capital. For much of its history, North Korea has posed acute threats to the outside world. It is the most militarized regime on earth and in recent years has repeatedly threatened South Korea and persisted in the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, while sustaining a highly repressive course toward its own citizens.

However, the execution of Jang, by marriage a member of the ruling Kim dynasty, represents a very different threat to the system’s viability. For decades, North Korea (though mired in economic dysfunction and international isolation) has sought to maintain a façade of unity within its ruling elites. On Sunday, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, presided over an enlarged session of the Party Politburo, where Jang was accused of a wide array of crimes, including the building of a “factional group” within the leadership and a variety of lesser sins. At the staged trial prior to his execution, Zhang was explicitly charged with plotting the overthrow of the Kim regime. Though Jang was not as close to Kim Jong-un over the past year, he seemed the indispensable fixer of the North Korean system, and among the handful of senior politicians who had meaningful international experience, most notably with China. Read more ..


Afghanistan and Pakistan

Despite Tensions, Some Signs of Progress in Afghan-Pakistan Relations

December 15th 2013

Afghanistan Spec Forces

While Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to disagree on many key issues, they reported progress in their bilateral relations in 2013. Close cooperation between the two neighbors is considered crucial for ending the Afghan war as NATO prepares to wind up its combat mission by the end of next year.

Pakistan’s alleged links to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan have been a major source of tension ever since the Islamist group was forced from power in Kabul in 2001.

Many Afghans say Islamabad supports some militant groups to retain influence in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops withdraw. Pakistani leaders have repeatedly dismissed the allegations. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

North Korea Could Be in Store for a Purge - and Destabilization

December 14th 2013

Kim Jong Un

A striking feature of North Korean communism has been the remarkable measure of physical security enjoyed by the uppermost reaches of this brutal and repressive regime.

Elsewhere in the communist world, the highest tiers always enjoyed physical comforts. But the tumultuous, cut-throat nature of communist politics meant that their physical fate, up to and including cause of death, remained perilously contingent. (As the Bo Xilai affair in China underscores, this is still the case under “reform socialism.”) By contrast, North Korea’s “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung laid down a system of dynastic succession that protected not only the revolutionary royals but also those aristocrats closest to them.

Consider the case of Choe Kwang, chief of the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army in the late 1960s. In 1968, Kim Il Sung personally denounced Choe for “anti-party activities,” and the man disappeared. Under Stalin or Mao, those particulars would have been a death sentence. Yet Choe — whose family had close connections to the Great Leader’s — not only lived but went on to prosper. By the late 1980s, Choe was once again chief of the army general staff. By 1997, when he died of natural causes, he had been elevated to defense minister. Read more ..


America and Qatar

U.S. Signs Defense Agreement with Qatar

December 13th 2013

B-2 Bomber

Qatar signed a ten-year Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the U.S. Tuesday that allows Washington to continue keeping American troops in Qatar and launch military operations from there. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Qatari Defense Minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah to sign the deal. Marking just one stop in Hagel's visit to the region, he reassured Arab allies of ongoing U.S. support, despite dismay among the Gulf States over American policies regarding Iran and Syria.

Currently, the U.S. government keeps over 35,000 civilian and military personnel in and around the Gulf. Qatar's central location, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, allows the U.S. easier access to the entire region. The presence of American military forces in the country also provides Sunni Qatar with guaranteed defense and national security against threats from Shiite Iran.

Despite this renewal of cooperation between Washington and Doha, Western countries have scrutinized Qatar's abuse of human rights. As one of the richest countries in the world, Qatar also has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens. Foreign workers face abusive working conditions, dreadful living standards, and low wages, according to international human rights organizations. Activists have demanded an end to worker exploitation, especially as the emirate accelerates construction for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, local officials claim laws are already in place protecting workers from mistreatment. Read more ..


Edge of Piracy

Random Cash Resulting from African Piracy

December 12th 2013

Nigerian Pirates

Somalia-based pirates off the coast of the Horn of Africa have made close to a half-billion dollars in their abduction-for-ransom operations that have an adverse impact on global shipping, according to a new report released in Europe on Saturday.

The report, titled "Pirate Trails," was a joint project conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and INTERPOL. The researchers gathered data and evidence through interviews with former pirates, government officials, bankers and others involved in countering piracy in order to investigate the flow of the ransom cash paid to Somali pirates operating off the African coast in the Indian Ocean.

“The vast amounts of money collected by pirates, and the fact that they have faced virtually no constraint in moving and using their assets has allowed them not only to thrive, but also to develop their capacities on land,” said the Chief of the Implementation Support Section in the Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Branch at UNODC Tofik Murshudlu. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Tijuana Will Use High-Flying Drones Made-In-USA

December 12th 2013

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If Tijuana's new municipal government has its way, drones will fly over the northern Mexican border city in 2014. In an interview with the Mexican press, Mayor Jorge Astiazaran Orci, a member of President Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party who took office at the beginning of December, said his administration is working with a California firm to deploy small drones as a means of fighting crime and carrying out other public safety tasks like detecting fires.

“It’s a strategy against delinquency. The public complains about home burglaries and robberies on mass transportation,” Astiazaran said. “These aircraft are very inexpensive compared with other types of technological instruments.” Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

9/11 Link To Saudi Arabia Is Topic Of 28 Redacted Pages In Government Report-- Congressmen Push For Release

December 11th 2013

Since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, victims' loved ones, injured survivors, and members of the media have all tried without much success to discover the true nature of the relationship between the 19 hijackers - 15 of them Saudi nationals - and the Saudi Arabian government. Many news organizations reported that some of the terrorists were linked to the Saudi royals and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any connection, and neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama has been forthcoming on this issue. 

But earlier this year, Reps. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., were given access to the 28 redacted pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) of 9/11 issued in late 2002, which have been thought to hold some answers about the Saudi connection to the attack. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

In the Cyber Domain, the Best Defense Is Defense

December 10th 2013

Downtown LA Neighborhood

The media's pre-occupation with Edward Snowden's stolen NSA documents contributes to furthering our vulnerability to cyber attack, if only because it sucks the air out anything else reported. If the damage caused by stripping the U.S. of its national secrets isn't enough, headlines with new revelations.

Since the media thrives on bad news, it could raise the public's awareness by changing their focus from Snowden to exposing the lack of protection of the civilian infrastructure.

This Administration, which famously failed to create a working website for ObamaCare, has done little, if anything, to build a solid, fast-responding defense mechanism to shield the country's infrastructure from being hacked. A constant diet of headlines exposing these failures should not only sell more newspapers, but also create a public outcry, hopefully pressuring the government into action. Read more ..


Broken Government

Evidence Emerges that NATO Allies Assisted in NSA Eavesdropping

December 9th 2013

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NSA Building

National Security Agency (NSA) chief General Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on October 29 that the collection of European phone records occurred as part of a NATO intelligence sharing program. Washington gathered these phone records with help of allies in the region, according to the intelligence officials.
U.S. surveillance programs had already faced increased criticism set off by reports that the NSA had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone and those of up to 34 other world leaders.

This was followed by media reports that the NSA had collected millions of French and Spanish phone records and intercepted millions of calls, stirring outrage and intense criticism from Europe. French President François Hollande voiced a diplomatic protest in a phone call with President Obama during the week of October 20-26, saying that espionage should not occur between allies and friends. Spain's prosecutor's office said it had opened a preliminary investigation on the NSA's surveillance techniques. Read more ..


The Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Police Move Against Pro-Europe Demonstrators

December 9th 2013

Ukraine

Ukrainian riot police moved Monday to curb pro-European demonstrators in Kyiv by dismantling barricades set up by protesters outside government building and storming the headquarters of the largest opposition party.

The actions came a day before a senior EU official is to visit. Police broke doors in the headquarters of the Fatherland Party run by Yulia Tymoshenko. She is a former prime minister who narrowly lost the 2010 presidential election and was later put on trial for abuse of power and jailed.

Monday’s crackdown looked like an attempt to roll back opposition gains made Sunday during a demonstration by hundreds of thousands in the nation’s capital.

In that protest, masked militants from Svoboda, or Freedom Party, used steel cables to pull down a Soviet-era Lenin statue. The statue has stood in central Kyiv for 66 years. The fall decapitated the statue, then young men took turns bashing the polished granite into pieces.  Protesters grabbed chips as souvenirs.

Monday’s police action appeared designed to restore access to government offices downtown without causing major bloodshed. On Tuesday, President Viktor Yanukovych plans to welcome EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for a two-day visit. Ashton plans to meet with government officials and opposition leaders in an effort to defuse the political standoff. Read more ..



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