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Israelis and Palestinians

Disturbing Trends Among the 'Anti-Normalization' Crowd in Palestine

January 21st 2014

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"Normalization [with Israel] is an act of treason." — Large poster outside Ramallah peace conference.

If Israelis and Palestinians are unable even to talk about peace, what would happen if and when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace deal with Israel? Might he, too, find himself being escorted out of Ramallah under police protection for daring to talk peace with Israel?

Israeli peace activists who arrived in Ramallah recently were forced to leave the city under Palestinian Authority [PA] police protection.

The activists were escorted out of Ramallah in police vans after Palestinian protesters attacked the hotel where a "peace conference" between Israelis and Palestinians was taking place. Read more ..


Defense on Edge

Previewing the Next Pentagon Budget

January 20th 2014

Pentagon aerial shot

Congress has provided a "sneak peek" at the forthcoming defense budget request by President Obama coming sometime in the next six weeks or so. While congressional appropriators were in the driver's seat in determining where the roughly $30 billion in defense cuts took place in the 2014 budget bill, staff worked closely with Pentagon officials so as not to diverge too wildly with where the 2015 budget is headed.

Pentagon leaders will continue to try to protect their largest programs as much as possible. That does not mean they will escape cuts, however. One notable trend from the past two budget years that will continue is that major programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will continue to absorb reductions but ultimately muddle along. Lawmakers cut over a half-billion dollars from the program and shrunk advance dollars for three aircraft in 2014. But Congress and the Pentagon are unlikely to make large-scale adjustments to the F-35 program as it marches toward initial operating capability. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram Attacks Near Border Spark Fear in Cameroon

January 19th 2014

Boko Haram

Border villages in Cameroon's north have been deserted following heavy fighting between the Nigerian army and the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Banki, Borno state. About 30 Cameroonians and Nigerians are said to have been wounded in the attacks, and five are feared dead.

The heavy firing between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram created panic in Cameroonian border villages, especially Amchide.

Residents there said the Nigerian troops fired heavily and indiscriminately at fleeing militants. Businessman Halidou Alirou told VOA the shooting created panic. Many people fled the area and Alirou said he got separated from his wife. He recalled that the firing was so heavy, many in the vicinity were forced to escape to the nearby wilderness. Many may not soon return, and an atmosphere of panic persists. The Nigerian army used both its infantry and air force in the attack. Resident Ayang Kaina said some Nigerians who were escaping from the crackdown are among the wounded. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban's Kabul Attack Kills 21, Heightens Security Concerns

January 18th 2014

Bomb explosion

The death toll from a Taliban attack on a restaurant in Afghanistan's capital has risen to 21. A suicide bomber who blew himself up and Taliban gunmen who rushed in behind him to shoot the survivors killed 13 foreigners, including U.N. employees, Americans and other Westerners.

The attack is seen as a critical blow to Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts, and it has raised serious concerns ahead of the political security transition that is due to begin in Afghanistan in April.

Authorities in Kabul say that investigations are under way to determine circumstances that led to what is being condemned as the deadliest assault on foreign civilians in Afghanistan since the start of U.S.-led military campaign (in 2001).

In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the attack, calling it senseless violence. A written statement said terrorists continue to demonstrate blatant disregard for life and a prosperous future Afghans are working hard to achieve. The message said the U.S. remains committed to peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Proposes Limits on NSA Data Collection

January 17th 2014

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Barack Obama unveiled reforms Friday in the vast surveillance being conducted by the country's clandestine National Security Agency.

Aiming to calm uproar over NSA telecommunications surveillance, Obama outlined plans to end government control of an enormous cache of bulk phone records about calls made by Americans and foreigners, and also announced steps to reassure foreign leaders about U.S. surveillance tactics.

In the highly anticipated Justice Department speech, which follows months of review by a special panel in the wake of damaging disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the president also said government access and search of any data held by telecommunications companies will require advance approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Read more ..


The US and Afghanistan

U.S. Eases Pressure To Keep Afghan Security Pact Hopes Alive

January 17th 2014

Taliban soldiers

After warning of imminent deadlines for Afghanistan to back a security deal or face a future without Western military help, Washington has recently taken a lower-key approach more likely to bridge remaining differences in the coming months, U.S. officials and outside experts say.

"The efforts to be as quiet as possible are calculated because I think to the extent we talk publically it just makes it harder to get to a deal privately," a U.S. diplomat involved in the issue says privately. "There is not a completely unified view, other than doing this completely in public doesn't help, only makes it much harder to get to an agreement."

Washington pushed hard to get Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by the end of 2013. Yet the Afghan leader has insisted he would sign the agreement only if the United States met his conditions, including an end to raids on Afghan homes and help with peace reconciliation. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Surveillance Speech Faces High Expectations

January 16th 2014

Barack Obama in Thought

President Barack Obama Friday will announce decisions about intelligence surveillance methods used by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

In the speech at the Department of Justice, the president will address 46 recommendations of a special review panel, including those aimed at imposing more accountability and transparency.  

Obama announced the comprehensive review in August, in the wake of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The president stressed his responsibility as commander-in-chief to safeguard the security of Americans, but recognized escalating public concerns about how the government goes about using signals intelligence. Obama also said he was mindful of how the issue is viewed overseas. Read more ..


CAR on Edge

CAR's Sectarian Divide: What's Behind It?

January 15th 2014

Victims of LRA

People in the Central African Republic say they had never seen anything like the violence between Muslims and Christians that has shaken the country in the past year.  Analysts are looking into how this religious divide emerged and what can be done to overcome it.

"Kilometre Cinq" is one of the neighborhoods in Bangui where Muslims have congregated since violence between Muslims, Christians and animists exploded in early December and at least 750 people in the capital were killed. Last week the violence flared again and a mob demolished the mosque in this district.

Local resident Eloge Alokaya says he saw them doing it. He says they were from this neighborhood, they were angry and they started by looting the imam’s house and finished by destroying the mosque. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

$571B Defense Bill Reverses Pension Cuts for Disabled Veterans

January 14th 2014

Pentagon aerial shot

The $571 billion Defense appropriations bill released late Monday would reverse cuts to retirement pay for medically retired veterans and survivor benefits that passed in last month’s budget deal.

The Defense bill included in the $1.012 trillion omnibus spending measure resolves a $600 million “technical error” that would have reduced the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for medically retired veterans. The omnibus does not, however, repeal the larger $6 billion in cuts to military pensions for working-age retirees that some lawmakers have vocally opposed.

The Defense appropriations bill funds $486.9 billion in base spending, with additional funds from other appropriations bills reaching the $520 billion Defense spending cap set by the budget deal. That’s roughly in line with the 2013 Defense spending levels, as the Pentagon avoided a $22 billion hit under sequestration thanks to last month’s budget agreement. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda’s Next Comeback Could Be Afghanistan And Pakistan

January 13th 2014

al Qaeda Fighters

Al-Qaeda has staged a remarkable comeback in Iraq in the last year. Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones has called it “al-Qaeda’s renaissance.” This year, most if not all American forces and those of our allies in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will finally come home from Afghanistan. Will al-Qaeda have another renaissance in South Asia?

There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before 9/11—the terror organization moved into Iraq only when Osama bin Laden saw George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were getting ready to invade Iraq in 2003. He set a trap. By 2006 Al-Qaeda in Iraq had plunged the country into civil war, pitting Shia against Sunni. Only the brave efforts of American Marines and GIs prevented the complete collapse of the state. Now al-Qaeda has come back in Iraq, raising its black flag over territory once fought over so hard by Americans. Read more ..


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

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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

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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

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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

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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 ..


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