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The Defense Edge

Pentagon Calls Most Civilians Back to Work

October 5th 2013

Marines

The Pentagon has ordered roughly 400,000 furloughed civilian employees back to work. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the worker recall in a department-wide memorandum issued Saturday.

After consulting with the Justice Department and Department of Defense legal counsel, Hagel noted furloughed employees could be brought back to the Pentagon, while still complying with federal guidelines governing the shutdown, according to the memo.

Civilian workers at DOD shown to play a role in the "morale, well-being [and]...readiness" of U.S. forces could be brought back, under federal rules, Hagel wrote. Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale is scheduled to hold a briefing on the details of the recall later today. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior

October 3rd 2013

Rowhani

Iran's new president Hassan Rohani, who for years led-on the West as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, skillfuly demonstrated by his conduct during his visit to New York, and speech at the U.N. General Assembly, that Iran didn't veer off the path laid by the Mullahs and the Supreme Leader.

This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.

Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders. Read more ..


The New Libya

Widespread Libyan Torture

October 2nd 2013

Libyan freedom fighter

Widespread torture of jailed Libyans by so-called Brigades is routinely occurring in detention centers throughout the North African nation, according to a report released by the United Nations' Geneva office on Oct. 1, 2013. The Libyan Brigades is merely a new term to describe the country's numerous militias. Libyan detention facilities being run by independent Brigades began during the 2011 revolution that culminated in the overthrow of the dictatorship of Moamar Khadhafi. The U.N. report urges the Libyan government headquartered in Tripoli to control all of the detention or prison facilities within the country.

Tuesday's report was issued by the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Heart of Darkness: Inside Syria's Los Alamos

October 1st 2013

pro-Assad Rally Damascus

The implications were chilling. In the summer of 2012, as murder and mayhem reigned on both sides of Syria's civil war, someone—likely from the opposition—released a list of 32 names on Facebook. These weren't people invited to a wedding; they weren't members of the Syrian national soccer team; and they weren't guests for a weekend jaunt to a fancy seaside resort in Latakia. These were people someone wanted dead.

"This is a last warning," the list read. "If you don't stop executing your criminal projects against the Syrian people and announce your defection from the regime by July 20, 2012, we'll start giving away specific details on each and every one of you to the FSA [Free Syrian Army]."

The details included names of neighborhoods where people lived and the models of cars they drove. "Janan Lhussein," one entry read. "Resides in Assad's suburb and drives a white Kia Forte." Read more ..


Broken Government

Senate Rejects House Funding Bill, Shutdown in Clear Sight

September 30th 2013

Harry Reid

Congress took another step toward a government shutdown Monday as the Senate voted 54-46 to strip language from a House funding bill that delayed ObamaCare by a year.

Senate Democrats called on House Republicans to pass a clean government funding resolution and warned the GOP would take the brunt of the public backlash if government services become severely curtailed.

Democrats also eliminated language allowing employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage of contraception if doing so violates their moral or religious principles.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needed only a simple majority vote to cut the House language delaying ObamaCare and repealing the medical device tax because the amended stopgap came from across the Capitol as a message to the Senate. Monday's vote was strictly on party lines. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

What If Insurgents Close the Suez Canal?

September 28th 2013

Container Ship at Sea

Most of the attention these days is on Syria, but there is also a growing problem in Egypt with global implications. Nine Egyptian policemen were wounded by a bomb in the northern Sinai Peninsula on Monday. The week before, suicide bombers killed nine soldiers in the peninsula. Shootings, kidnappings and bombings -- roadside, car and suicide -- have become routine occurrences in Sinai. And the burgeoning Islamist insurgency is spreading to other parts of Egypt. In early September, the interior minister narrowly survived a car-bomb attack in Cairo reportedly perpetrated by a Sinai-based jihadist group.

Already reeling from more than two years of civil insurrection, a spike in crime, an epidemic of sexual assault and the military's killing in August of nearly 1,000 Islamists protesting the coup that removed the elected Muslim Brotherhood president from office, the insurgency is bad news for Egypt.

But things could get worse. Read more ..


Broken Government

Shutdown Looms as House Seeks One-Year ObamaCare Delay

September 28th 2013

john boehner

House Republicans plan to attach a one-year delay of ObamaCare and a repeal of its medical device tax to a stopgap spending bill on Saturday, a move that could ensure much of the federal government shuts down on Tuesday.

GOP leaders set a second conference meeting for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday to update their members on the timing of the vote, which was expected late at night. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) outlined the maneuver to Republicans in a closed-door conference meeting on Saturday; members could be heard cheering outside the room in a Capitol basement.

Republican lawmakers inside the meeting chanted, "Vote! Vote! Vote!" after hearing the plan, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. Republicans exiting the meeting applauded Boehner's decision and said the ball was in Senate Democrats' court. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Scientists 95% Certain Climate Change Is Man-made

September 27th 2013

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

Scientists are more certain than ever that the planet is warming and that humans are to blame. That’s the finding of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The assessment will help inform policy makers and the public as they consider what action to take on climate change.

One hundred and ten governments adopted the scientific consensus that, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

At a news conference in Stockholm Friday, World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michael Jarraud underscored the importance of the finding. “It should serve as another wake-up call that our activities today will have a profound impact on society, not only for us, but for many generations to come,” Jarraud said.  Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Widespread Problems in Security System Used by Navy

September 25th 2013

File Folders

For years, hundreds of thousands of contractors seeking regular access to key Navy installations have merely paid a fee and typed identifying information into ATM-like machines installed on those bases. They were then able to gain temporary access without first going through a background check, even though Navy and White House regulations require such checks be completed beforehand.

Known as Rapidgate, the access control system is now in operation for contractors, vendors, service workers, and suppliers who regularly pass through not just Navy checkpoints — but also those at more than 150 military and government installations around the country, including the Washington Navy Yard, the site of the Sept. 16 shooting rampage.

Last week, an internal Pentagon report called into question how the Rapidgate system became so widely used by the Navy and urged its immediate cancellation at those sites, saying it provides a false sense of security that puts government personnel at risk. The Navy, it said, had contracted for the system through irregular acquisition practices. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Five Things To Know About Al-Shabab

September 23rd 2013

Al Shabaab

The Islamist fundamentalist Al-Shabab group in Somalia is little known outside Eastern Africa. But its attack on a Nairobi mall reveals it to be one of the strongest and most capable Al-Qaeda affiliates.

What Is Al-Shabab?
Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth" in Arabic, emerged in war-torn Somalia in 2006.

It is a radical Sunni group, which, at its peak of power, ran much of southern Somalia but has now been pushed back into rural areas by African Union forces, predominantly Kenyan, which are trying to stabilize Somalia and support its weak government.

The group enforces strict Shari'a law in the areas it controls, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves.

Al-Shabab has twice struck back at neighboring countries supplying forces to stabilize Somalia. It coordinated a bombing attack against Uganda that killed 76 people in Kampala in 2010. Now it is claiming responsibility for this week’s attack on a mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which has killed at least 69 people. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Israeli Special Forces Enter Nairobi Mall to End Massacre

September 22nd 2013

Hellicopter & troops

Israeli forces on Sunday joined Kenyan efforts to end a deadly siege by Somali militants at a Nairobi shopping mall, a security source has told AFP. "The Israelis have just entered and they are rescuing the hostages and the injured," the source told AFP on condition he not be named. In Israel, foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson refused to confirm or deny that its forces were involved. "We don't make a habit of commenting on security cooperation of any kind that there may or may not be," he told AFP. The attack on the part Israeli-owned upmarket mall has left at least 59 dead and around 200 wounded, Kenyan officials said. The intervention came 26 hours after gunmen walked into the complex, tossing grenades and spraying gunfire at shoppers and staff. Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack. Read more ..


Significant Events

Pivotal Jewish Group Toasts its Fifty Year Existence

September 20th 2013

Malcolm Hoenlein
Malcom Hoenlein

An historic gala will soon unfold in New York, when on October 15, 2013, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations holds its fiftieth anniversary commemoration. The so-called “President’s Conference” is the pivotal Jewish communal organization in the United States. The October 15 gala night will honor past presidents of the pivotal Conference, each of whom has had to juggle a demanding personal and communal identity. The select group includes Melvin Salberg, Amb. Ronald S. Lauder, Alan P. Solow, Richard B. Stone, Harold Tanner, James S. Tisch, June Walker, and Mortimer B. Zuckerman. The body has been led for four decades by executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, who will be honored in a special tribute. Hoenlein has eloquently enunciated the Jewish communal voice like none other in America.

Many people do not know the President’s Conference by name—but it has played a key role in American and world Jewish history. From mass public events to private diplomacy, the Conference has been in the forefront of mobilizing support for Israel and educating the public in times of war and conflict, and in the pursuit of peace.

Today, the Conference of Presidents remains American Jewry’s recognized locus for consensus policy, collective action, and maximizing the resources of the American Jewish community. When events in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere affect the American Jewish community, the Conference of Presidents take the lead to explain and analyze issues, provide a link between American Jewry and the U.S. government, and marshal a coordinated community response.

The pivotal and authoritative advocate for organized American Jewry for more than half a century, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Fund advances the interests of the American Jewish community, sustains broad-based public and diplomatic support for the State of Israel and addresses the critical concerns facing world Jewry. Read more ..


Germany on Edge

What to Expect After Germany's Elections

September 19th 2013

Angela Merkel

Germany's economic performance is tied strongly to external developments because of the country's reliance on exports. According to Eurostat, exports were equivalent to nearly 52 percent of Germany's gross domestic product in 2012. Europe is Germany's largest customer, so the German economy depends on the strength of the European consumer base. Germany's political and economic stability largely depends on its access to foreign markets, hence its unwavering support for the eurozone and the free trade agreement within Europe.

So far, German exports have mostly survived the tumult of the European crisis. This is partly because German businesses diversified their export markets relatively successfully. Since 2007, exports to the European Union and the eurozone have declined in favor of other countries, particularly Asian countries and the United States. In fact, the United States is the second-largest destination market for German exported goods. In 2012, nearly 30 percent of all the European Union's exported goods to the United States came from Germany. Roughly 16 percent of German goods exports went to Asia, with China being Germany's fourth-largest export market. Read more ..


The Edge of Violence

At Least 12 Killed in Shooting at Washington Navy Headquarters

September 16th 2013

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

At least twelve people, including a gunman, were killed in shootings on Monday in and around the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Gray said at a news conference Monday afternoon that there was no known motive for the rampage, but authorities do not have any reason to think that it was a terrorist event.

Washington Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier initially said there could be two shooters still at large. “We potentially have two other shooters that we have not located at this point,” she said, adding that “this is not confirmed.”

Lanier described two men who were wanted for questioning, one a white male between 40 and 50 years old, wearing a tan naval uniform, and one a black male of about 50 years of age, wearing an olive-colored military uniform. The second suspect is approximately 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds, she said. Read more ..


Broken Elections

D.C. Corruption Probe Spreads To Hillary Clinton's 2008 Campaign

September 15th 2013

Hilary Clinton

New York City businessman Troy White today pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington, D.C., to one misdemeanor count of failing to file corporate tax returns that showed $608,750 paid for services performed to clandestinely support Democrat Hillary Clinton during her unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton was not identified in court records, but Lyn Utrecht, a lawyer for the Clinton's 2008 campaign, later released a statement confirming the fact.

White's firm, Wytehouse Marketing, Inc., which specializes in "marketing in urban areas through the use of 'street teams,'" was utilized starting in February 2008, ahead of the Texas two-step primary and caucus in which Clinton and Barack Obama battled for the Democratic nomination.

Court documents show that White's firm was ultimately paid not by the Clinton campaign, but rather by an unnamed D.C. businessman who used two companies to bankroll payments to White through Belle International, Inc., a D.C.-based firm owned by Jeanne Clarke Harris. Harris pleaded guilty last year on corruption charges related to an alleged "shadow campaign" that helped elect Democratic D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.

The unnamed businessman is widely believed to be Jeffrey Thompson, a staple in D.C. local politics and a close associate of Harris. Thompson ran an accounting firm that federal prosecutors have called an “assembly line for illegal campaign contributions.” He has not been charged with any crime but is under federal investigation for allegedly steering hundreds of thousands of dollars into the off-the-books campaign to elect Gray. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Voyager Enters Interstellar Space

September 14th 2013

Random Radio Telescope Array

New data from NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, which has been hurtling away from the Sun since it was launched in 1977, indicates that the spacecraft has indeed left the comfort of the heliosphere—the bubble of hot, energetic charged particles surrounding the Solar System—and entered into a region of cold, dark space, known as interstellar space. Based on these new measurements, which show that plasma densities around the spacecraft are consistent with theoretical predictions of the interstellar medium, researchers suggest that Voyager 1 arrived in this cold, unexplored interstellar region on or about 25 August, 2012.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft uses myriad instruments onboard to send data back to Earth, and scientists have been waiting for certain measurements—namely, a drop in solar particles and a spike in galactic ones—to alert them to Voyager 1's passage through the heliopause, or the boundary between solar plasma and the plasma of interstellar space. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Warm Ocean Rapidly Melting Antarctic Ice Shelf From Below

September 13th 2013

Glaciers

For five years, a scientific expedition tried reaching Pine Island Glacier ice shelf in a remote, wind-ridden corner of Antarctica. The obstacles to get to the ice shelf were extreme, but the science goal was simple: to measure how fast the sea was melting the 37-mile long ice tongue from underneath by drilling through the ice shelf.

The international team, led by NASA's emeritus glaciologist Robert Bindschadler and funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, had to abort their mission in 2007 due to logistical challenges after becoming the first people to ever land on the ice shelf. On their next try, in 2011, bad weather prevented the scientists from reaching the ice shelf until it was too late in the field season to carry out their science. It wasn't until December 2012 that the team was finally able to install scientific instruments. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Northeast: The Kurdish Minority and The Oil Card

September 12th 2013

Saudi Oil

In a thought provoking essay titled "The P-Word" published in the American Thinker blog, Ben Cohen offers a précis of the history of a multi-ethnic multi-cultural Middle East.  He suggests that a solution to the present Syrian cataclysm would be "to partition Syria into separate states which would allow the different sides to live under laws and governments of their own choosing;" a large Sunni Arab state controlling the vast majority of Syria, with small Alawite, Druze, and Kurdish states controlling the rest.
 
Cohen notes that Druze are concentrated in the south and Assad's own Alawite minority along the coast near Latakia.  He notes, almost en passant, that the Kurds concentrated in Syria's far northeast could be "given a small area in the north where they could live according to their customs and make Kurdish the official language.  Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

9/11 and Future Jihad

September 11th 2013

WTC on Fire (credit: Macten)
credit: Macten

When the second jet slammed into the north World Trade Center Tower in Manhattan, I immediately told students standing next to me, “It’s a jihad Ghazwa ... they have chosen the Yarmuk option.” The eyes of a few students around me opened wide. That Tuesday morning the world was changing at a record rapid pace—and yet in a sense it was moving in slow motion for most Americans.

During that agonizing half hour from 8:45 A.M. to 9:15 A.M., my students, my colleagues, and I belonged to two different worlds. In the corner of the campus where I was teaching on that day of infamy, I felt very much alone: What I had known, researched, and watched building year after year was finally here, ravaging my new homeland. I was as shocked as anyone, but unlike many I was not surprised. What had come to pass was something I had studied and tried to warn others about for more than two decades. It made me more determined to impact the future of what I knew was coming from that point on. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Rouhani and Iran's Nuclear Progress

September 8th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran, which the organization's board of governors will discuss in Vienna next week, shows that Tehran has continued to build its nuclear capabilities, particularly its capacity to suddenly break out from its treaty commitments and build a nuclear weapon if it so desired. Although Iran denies having a nuclear weapons program, this growing potential to dash toward a bomb will likely complicate diplomatic discussions in the next few weeks, especially after President Hassan Rouhani's expected September 23 arrival in New York for a UN General Assembly meeting. Iranian officials are also scheduled to meet with the IAEA in Vienna on September 27.

Interpreting the significance of the IAEA's August 28 report has proven difficult for non-experts: for example, compare the recent New York Times headline ("Iran Slows Its Gathering of Uranium, Report Says") with one from the Financial Times ("Iran Boosts Advanced Uranium Enrichment Capacity, UN Report Shows"). The core of the report -- which covers developments across the whole range of Iran's known, declared nuclear activities since the previous report in May -- is the series of sections assessing Tehran's progress on uranium enrichment, its construction of a reactor that could produce plutonium, and its degree of cooperation (or lack thereof) in explaining the program's "possible military dimensions." Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Obama Administration Props Up Afghanistan's Health System Despite Waste and Fraud

September 7th 2013

Medical bag

The U.S. Agency for International Development is propping up Afghanistan’s national health care system with millions of dollars in direct assistance even though its effort lacks the sort of controls and oversight needed to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, according to the U.S. government’s chief auditor of financial assistance to the country.

The funds are being disbursed to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health for doctor’s salaries, immunizations, prenatal care, hospitals, rural health care facilities and other urgent medical needs. They constitute a small but critical portion of the more than $90 billion Washington has pumped into the country since 2001, the lion’s share of which has gone to direct assistance for the Afghan military and police forces. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Veterans in Congress Line Up Against Obama's Syria Intervention

September 7th 2013

The majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans serving in Congress are lining up against President Obama's plan for military action in Syria. Of the 16 veterans of those two conflicts serving in Congress, only GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have publicly supported the White House's plan.

Three other members — Iraq War veterans and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) are undecided. A fourth, Scott Perry (R-Pa.), said he hasn’t made up his mind either, though he told a town hall this week he wasn’t inclined to support a resolution authorizing force.

Ten of the remaining members have announced their opposition to a military strike. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt's Interior Minister Survives Assassination Attempt

September 5th 2013

Egypt Flag @ 6.2013 Anti-Morsi Protests

A bomb exploded near a convoy carrying Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Wednesday in Cairo, an attack authorities are calling an assassination attempt. Several people were wounded but officials say the minister was unhurt. Ibrahim was leaving his home in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood when the blast struck near his convoy. Authorities initially pointed to a car bomb, but later said they suspected an explosive was thrown from a nearby building.
 
State media described the attack as a failed assassination attempt, though there is no word on who is responsible. Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag condemned the assassination attempt on Ibrahim. "The bombing allegedly targeting the minister of interior today is regrettable and the alliance strongly condemns it,'' Darrag said in a statement on behalf of the "Anti-Coup Alliance'', led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
Resident Raouf Mahmoud, who lives close to the minister, said he was parking his car when he heard a "massive explosion."
 
"People were running randomly. And just after that there were two cars or three cars, black BMW's from the security guard cars, they were on fire," he said. "Just after that, like three or four minutes, gunshots."

Hours later, Ibrahim appeared unharmed on state TV to denounce the attack as a "cowardly assassination bid". Security guards and a child were among the injured in the attack, which took place near his home in Nasr City.

No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Muslim Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag said the group "strongly condemned" what happened.

Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Senate Panel Votes 10-7 for Military Strike on Syria

September 4th 2013

B-2 Bomber

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 10-7 vote has approved a resolution authorizing military force against Syria. The panel first voted to expand the use-of-force resolution by specifying the goal of U.S. military intervention in Syria should be to bolster the Free Syrian Army. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 10-7 vote has approved a resolution authorizing military force against Syria. The panel first voted to expand the use-of-force resolution by specifying the goal of U.S. military intervention in Syria should be to bolster the Free Syrian Army. 

Justin Sink adds:

President Obama on Wednesday said he didn’t set a red line on Syria — the world did. He also said it wasn’t his credibility that was on the line if there was no response to what his administration contends was a chemical attack by Syria’s government that killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

McCain says Syria's Assad 'Euphoric" and Iranians 'Happy'

September 1st 2013

Rowhani

McCain criticized Obama for setting a red line, and then not backing it up. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday said President Obama thrilled Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad by seeking approval for Congress for a military strike on Syria. McCain argued Obama had made himself look weak by first promising tough action in response to the use of chemical weapons, and then pausing to ask Congress for approval. “[Syrian President] Bashar [Assad] and his people are euphoric. The Iranians are happy. When the president of the United States said that it was a red line, he didn’t say that it’s a red line and by the way I am going to have to seek the approval of Congress,” McCain said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

McCain did not say how he would vote on Obama's request for approval, and reiterated that he believes the administration lacks a broader, coherent plan for addressing the Syrian crisis. In a statement on Saturday, he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) signaled they could oppose Obama's call to action. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Obama to Seek Congressional Approval for Syrian Military Strike

August 31st 2013

Obama

President Obama announced Saturday that he’s seeking congressional authorization for a limited military strike against Syria over the Bashar Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against Syria.

Obama said he had made the decision that military action was justified by U.S. intelligence showing the use of chemical weapons. He also said he had the authority under his executive powers to launch an attack, but argued seeking the blessing of Capitol Hill was a better route.

“I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “The country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be more effective,” Obama said. Obama said congressional leaders have agreed to schedule a debate and vote when Congress comes back into session. It is unclear whether Congress would grant authorization for a strike. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Obama Declares Syrian Chemical Weapons Use Threat to US Interests

August 30th 2013

Barack Obama in Thought

U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he has not made a final decision on attacking Syria, but made clear he thinks doing so would be in the interest of national security.

Syria has become a threat to the United States, he said, "by violating well established international norms against the use of chemical weapons, by further threatening friends and allies of ours in the region, like Israel, and Turkey and Jordan, and it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future, and fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us."

Speaking briefly at the White House, Obama said he has consulted with the U.S. military, members of Congress and U.S. allies, as well as the wider international community. He also made clear his frustration with the United Nations' inability to agree on a course of action against Damascus. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

America Continues to Fail its Post-911 Veterans

August 29th 2013

Click to select Image

In the 12 years since American troops first deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 2.6 million veterans have returned home to a country largely unprepared to meet their needs. The government that sent them to war has failed on many levels to fulfill its obligations to these veterans as demanded by Congress and promised by both Republican and Democratic administrations, a News21 investigation has found.

Many of these combat veterans, returning from war with what will be lifelong illnesses and disabilities, are struggling to get the help they were promised in the form of disability payments, jobs, health care and treatment for such afflictions as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, physical disabilities and military sexual trauma. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas, U.S. Spies Say

August 28th 2013

al-Assad and Generals

Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime -- and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days.

But the intercept raises questions about culpability for the chemical massacre, even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? "It's unclear where control lies," one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. "Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?" Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Kurdish Awakening in Syria: Could It Lead to Regional War?

August 27th 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority have moved decisively to claim control of Kurdish-populated areas. In July 2012, Syrian opposition activists reported that a group called the Free Kurdish Army had taken control of several towns in northeast Syria on the Turkish border, such as Amuda and Qabani. Few analysts paid attention to this news at the time, since most observers were focused on what appeared to be the disintegrating Assad regime.

Today, for the first time in modern Syrian Kurdish history, Kurds have created an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave.1 Kurdish-liberated areas are being administered by local councils, and Kurdish spokesmen have indicated they are planning to form a provisional Kurdish government due to the absence of any central authority.

The Kurds have faced resistance to their new gains, not just from the Assad regime, but from other rebel forces, namely the jihadist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The jihadists are prepared to fight to maintain control of the Syrian border areas with Turkey and Iraq, respectively, in order to ensure that arms continue to flow into their hands.

The border areas are no less important to the Kurds. For them, control of the border regions means that there can be territorial continuity between Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish, and possibly Iranian Kurdistan – the necessary condition for an independent and united Kurdistan.

In July 2013, the jihadists carried out a series of attacks on Kurdish towns. They killed a respected Kurdish leader, Issa Hassou, with a car bomb.2 Kurdish forces reacted swiftly, and after some major battles with the jihadists, regained lost territory and expanded their control to new areas. 

The Domino Effect

News of the fighting between Syrian Kurds and jihadists spread east to Iraq. The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, was livid. He heard rumors that the jihadists were ransacking Kurdish villages and holding hundreds of Kurds captive. Therefore, for the first time since the start of the Syrian civil war, Barzani threatened to intervene on behalf of Syrian Kurds.

He said if Kurds were “under threat of death and terrorism,” then Iraqi Kurdistan would be “prepared to defend them.”3 Barzani accused al-Qaeda of being responsible for the slaying of innocent Kurdish women and children and urged all Kurdish parties to go to Syria – “Western Kurdistan,” as he called it – in order to verify the tragic news.

Immediately after Barzani’s statement, Iranian Kurds also announced they were ready for battle. The Iranian wing of the Kurdish Labor Party, known as the Party of Free Life, said they were prepared to send men to join their Kurdish “brothers” in the fight against the jihadists.4

In parallel, the Kurdish leadership in Syria is trying to convince young Kurdish fighters who have joined jihadist groups to return to Kurdish militias or to Kurdish units within the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Kurdish Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) published a “fatwa” with their plea. One such group, the Kurdish Front Brigade, was formed at the beginning of the Syrian revolt against Assad and functions as part of the FSA.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has expressed his concern at the deteriorating situation.5 He said that an ethnic conflict would be detrimental to all interests, meaning that Iraq would not agree to the establishment of a united Kurdish entity on its border.

Turkey Threatens Intervention

Another Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD in Kurdish), has established in Syrian Kurdistan what it calls “People’s Defense Units,” which have fought against the jihadists. The PYD is unique among Syrian Kurdish groups for one important reason: It has historical links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK, which is regarded by Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization.

The Turks, who have been at war with the PKK for decades, have been monitoring developments in Syria with increasing concern. “Only a week ago, we had a 400 kilometer ‘Kurdish border,’” wrote a columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet. “Now, 800 kilometers have been added to this.”

The Turkish government has delivered a blunt warning: “We will not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey.”6

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear that Turkey will take any step necessary against a terrorist presence in northern Syria. He delivered a personal warning in a meeting in Istanbul with his intelligence chiefs and PYD leader Saleh Muslim. The meeting was called after Muslim declared his intention to create an independent council in the “liberated areas” of Kurdistan.7

The Turks are deeply worried that the emergence of a “Greater Kurdistan” is no longer a remote possibility. This reality poses enormous challenges not just for Turkey, but for all the other states with large Kurdish populations: Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Competing Interests

Kurdistan is a potential land bridge for many of the conflicts in the Middle East. It provides a ground route for Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Syrian Kurds as they seek greater autonomy from Damascus. Iran, too, is seeking a corridor to supply its Syrian surrogates as well as Hizbullah in Lebanon. Whichever power can control the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey will be able to control Kurdistan’s supply corridors.

With all these competing interests in mind, it is easy to see why the fate of Kurdistan will help shape the future of the Middle East.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/the-kurdish-awakening-in-syria-could-it-lead-to-regional-war/#sthash.BqYO2a0d.dpuf

After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority have moved decisively to claim control of Kurdish-populated areas. In July 2012, Syrian opposition activists reported that a group called the Free Kurdish Army had taken control of several towns in northeast Syria on the Turkish border, such as Amuda and Qabani. Few analysts paid attention to this news at the time, since most observers were focused on what appeared to be the disintegrating Assad regime.

Today, for the first time in modern Syrian Kurdish history, Kurds have created an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave.1 Kurdish-liberated areas are being administered by local councils, and Kurdish spokesmen have indicated they are planning to form a provisional Kurdish government due to the absence of any central authority.

The Kurds have faced resistance to their new gains, not just from the Assad regime, but from other rebel forces, namely the jihadist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The jihadists are prepared to fight to maintain control of the Syrian border areas with Turkey and Iraq, respectively, in order to ensure that arms continue to flow into their hands.

The border areas are no less important to the Kurds. For them, control of the border regions means that there can be territorial continuity between Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish, and possibly Iranian Kurdistan – the necessary condition for an independent and united Kurdistan.

In July 2013, the jihadists carried out a series of attacks on Kurdish towns. They killed a respected Kurdish leader, Issa Hassou, with a car bomb.2 Kurdish forces reacted swiftly, and after some major battles with the jihadists, regained lost territory and expanded their control to new areas. 

The Domino Effect

News of the fighting between Syrian Kurds and jihadists spread east to Iraq. The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, was livid. He heard rumors that the jihadists were ransacking Kurdish villages and holding hundreds of Kurds captive. Therefore, for the first time since the start of the Syrian civil war, Barzani threatened to intervene on behalf of Syrian Kurds.

He said if Kurds were “under threat of death and terrorism,” then Iraqi Kurdistan would be “prepared to defend them.”3 Barzani accused al-Qaeda of being responsible for the slaying of innocent Kurdish women and children and urged all Kurdish parties to go to Syria – “Western Kurdistan,” as he called it – in order to verify the tragic news.

Immediately after Barzani’s statement, Iranian Kurds also announced they were ready for battle. The Iranian wing of the Kurdish Labor Party, known as the Party of Free Life, said they were prepared to send men to join their Kurdish “brothers” in the fight against the jihadists.4

In parallel, the Kurdish leadership in Syria is trying to convince young Kurdish fighters who have joined jihadist groups to return to Kurdish militias or to Kurdish units within the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Kurdish Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) published a “fatwa” with their plea. One such group, the Kurdish Front Brigade, was formed at the beginning of the Syrian revolt against Assad and functions as part of the FSA.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has expressed his concern at the deteriorating situation.5 He said that an ethnic conflict would be detrimental to all interests, meaning that Iraq would not agree to the establishment of a united Kurdish entity on its border.

Turkey Threatens Intervention

Another Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD in Kurdish), has established in Syrian Kurdistan what it calls “People’s Defense Units,” which have fought against the jihadists. The PYD is unique among Syrian Kurdish groups for one important reason: It has historical links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK, which is regarded by Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization.

The Turks, who have been at war with the PKK for decades, have been monitoring developments in Syria with increasing concern. “Only a week ago, we had a 400 kilometer ‘Kurdish border,’” wrote a columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet. “Now, 800 kilometers have been added to this.”

The Turkish government has delivered a blunt warning: “We will not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey.”6

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear that Turkey will take any step necessary against a terrorist presence in northern Syria. He delivered a personal warning in a meeting in Istanbul with his intelligence chiefs and PYD leader Saleh Muslim. The meeting was called after Muslim declared his intention to create an independent council in the “liberated areas” of Kurdistan.7

The Turks are deeply worried that the emergence of a “Greater Kurdistan” is no longer a remote possibility. This reality poses enormous challenges not just for Turkey, but for all the other states with large Kurdish populations: Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Competing Interests

Kurdistan is a potential land bridge for many of the conflicts in the Middle East. It provides a ground route for Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Syrian Kurds as they seek greater autonomy from Damascus. Iran, too, is seeking a corridor to supply its Syrian surrogates as well as Hizbullah in Lebanon. Whichever power can control the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey will be able to control Kurdistan’s supply corridors.

With all these competing interests in mind, it is easy to see why the fate of Kurdistan will help shape the future of the Middle East.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/the-kurdish-awakening-in-syria-could-it-lead-to-regional-war/#sthash.BqYO2a0d.dpuf

After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority have moved decisively to claim control of Kurdish-populated areas. In July 2012, Syrian opposition activists reported that a group called the Free Kurdish Army had taken control of several towns in northeast Syria on the Turkish border, such as Amuda and Qabani. Few analysts paid attention to this news at the time, since most observers were focused on what appeared to be the disintegrating Assad regime.

Today, for the first time in modern Syrian Kurdish history, Kurds have created an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave.1 Kurdish-liberated areas are being administered by local councils, and Kurdish spokesmen have indicated they are planning to form a provisional Kurdish government due to the absence of any central authority. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Iranian Official: Israel Will Be First Victim of U.S. Strike in Syria

August 26th 2013

Executed Pile of Syrian Men

A senior member of Iran’s parliament said on Monday that a U.S. attack on Syria was unlikely, but if it were to occur, Israel would be the first victim of ensuing violence, Iran’s national FARS news agency reported.

“No military attack will be waged against Syria,”  Director-General of the parliament for International Affairs Hossein Sheikholeslam said. “Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”

Sheikholeslam claimed that the Syrian army is highly capable of defending itself against military action, and that it could attack and raze parts of Israel, which he said, would not be in the interest of the U.S.

FARS also cited Mohammad Esmayeeli, member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, who said the U.S. is not ready for another war, but if it declared war on Syria, it would also have to contend with Russia, which he claimed, will support Damascus. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Questions Raised about Source of Syrian Chemical Attack

August 24th 2013

Corpses in Homs

Syrian state television said troops found chemical agents in rebel tunnels in a Damascus suburb on Saturday and some soldiers were "suffocating", intensifying a dispute over blame for a reported nerve gas attack that killed hundreds this week.

The top U.N. disarmament official arrived in Damascus on Saturday to seek access for inspectors to the site of the attack and the United States was realigning naval forces in the region to give President Barack Obama the option for an armed strike on Syria.

Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed by gas in munitions fired by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and video footage of victims' bodies, have heightened calls in the West for a robust, U.S.-led response after 2-1/2 years of international inaction on Syria's conflict. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Chemical Weapons Attack Kills Over 1,000 in Syria

August 23rd 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Syrian opposition activists claim more than 1,000 people were killed after government forces launched rockets with toxic agents in the Damascus suburbs early Wednesday. While the U.S. has not independently confirmed that chemical weapons were used, Israel's minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, told Israel Radio that it believes the reports of the attack are credible.

Videos apparently showing the graphic and disturbing aftermath of the alleged attacks on the rebel-held eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta were posted to social media but could not be independently verified. The clips showed children choking and vomiting, while adults writhed in agony, appearing not to have any visible wounds. Read more ..


China Rising

In China, an Unprecedented Demographic Problem Takes Shape

August 22nd 2013

Chinese man smoking

Two reports in Chinese media highlight different aspects of China's unfolding demographic crunch. The Ministry of Education reported Aug. 21 that more than 13,600 primary schools closed nationwide in 2012. The ministry looked to China's dramatically shifting demographic profile to explain the widespread closures, noting that between 2011 and 2012 the number of students in primary and secondary schools fell from nearly 150 million to 145 million. It also confirmed that between 2002 and 2012, the number of students enrolled in primary schools dropped by nearly 20 percent. The ministry's report comes one day after an article in People's Daily, the government newspaper, warned of China's impending social security crisis as the number of elderly is expected to rise from 194 million in 2012 to 300 million by 2025.

The Communist Party is already considering measures to counter, or at least limit the short-term impact of, demographic changes in Chinese society. On one hand, the Party continues to flirt with relaxing the one-child policy in an effort to boost fertility rates, most recently with a potential pilot program in Shanghai that would allow only-child couples to have another child. On the other hand, the government has proposed raising the national retirement age from 55 to 60 for women and from 60 to 65 for men. If implemented, this would bring China's retirement policy more in line with international norms and delay some of the financial and other social pressures created by the ballooning number of retirees dependent on government pensions and the care of their children. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Manning Sentenced to 35 Years in WikiLeaks Conviction

August 21st 2013

Bradley Manning

Former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for carrying out what the Pentagon says is the largest leak of classified information in U.S. military history.

Army judge, Col. Denise Lind handed down her ruling during Manning's sentencing hearing at Ft. Meade, Md. on Wednesday, according to news reports. Manning was spared life in prison in July, when Lind acquitted the 25-year-old ex-Army analyst of providing aid to the enemy by leaking highly sensitive and classified information to the website WikiLeaks.

Army prosecutors argued that, by making that information public, Manning essentially hand-delivered U.S. state secrets to American adversaries like al Qaeda, the Taliban and other global terrorist organizations. But Lind did find Manning guilty on five counts of espionage and five federal counts of theft, as well as various lesser charges. He had already pleaded guilty to 10 other offenses prior to the July verdict. The convictions carried a maximum sentence of 136 years in federal prison. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

European Hi-Speed Rail Targetted by al-Qaeda

August 20th 2013

Italian Hi-Speed Rail

Al Qaeda has been plotting attacks on high-speed rail networks in Europe, according to a German media report. The information reportedly came from the US National Security Agency (NSA) listening in on top operatives. A report by the German daily newspaper Bild on Monday said that al Qaeda leaders have been plotting attacks on high-speed rail networks across Europe. The group was possibly targeting trains and tunnels or planning to sabotage railway tracks themselves and the electric cabling serving them.

The terrorist attacks were reported to have been a "central topic" of a conference call intercepted by the NSA, involving high-ranking al Qaeda operatives.

Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Mubarak May Go Free

August 19th 2013

Hosni Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's imprisoned former ruler, has been cleared in a corruption case by prosecutors.

Judicial officials told the AP news agency that a court on Monday ordered the 85-year-old be cleared in the case that alleged he embezzled funds for presidential palaces.

Mubarak, who was arrested after his overthrow in 2011, still faces charges in another corruption case where he is accused of accepting gifts from state newspapers, but he has already paid back the value of the gifts. Mubarak is also awaiting retrial after appeals against his conviction and sentence to life in prison last year over his complicity in the deaths of protesters during the uprising.

Mubarak's lawyer, Fareed el-Deeb, told the Reuters news agency that the second corruption case would be settled swiftly. "All we have left is a simple administrative procedure that should take no more than 48 hours. He should be freed by the end of the week," Deeb told the agency. Read more ..


The Battle for Egypt

Brother of al-Qaeda chief Al-Zawahri Nabbed by Egyptian Cops

August 18th 2013

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Egyptian police officers on Saturday arrested the brother of al-Qaeda's top leader Ayman al-Zawahri (also spelled Zawahiri). Mohammed al-Zawahri, the head of the radical Muslim group the Salafists, was apprehended by the Egyptian police at a security checkpoint in the city of Giza, which has been the scene of sectarian strife in the aftermath of the military's ouster of the Muslim Brother-Morsi government.

Mohammed al-Zawahri's organization is considered more radical than most of the hard-line Islamists. Besides Egypt, the Salafists have perpetrated terrorist attacks in the Palestinian territory in Gaza against Israel, according to Asher.

Mohammed al-Zawahri and his group are allies of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist, for whom supporters have created an uprising against the government officials installed by the Egyptian military, according to Philip Graham, a former anti-terrorism task force member in the U.S. Read more ..


The Battle for Egypt

Egypt Continues to Burn as Scores are Killed

August 16th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood bus burning 10 2012

Scores of people have been killed in Egypt as a "day of rage" called by opponents of the country's military-backed leadership turned to bloodshed with security forces opening fire to foil what they described as a "brutal terrorist plot". In the worst of the violence on Friday, at least 95 people were killed and hundreds injured in Cairo's Ramses Square as anti-coup protesters were fired on by government forces. A correspondent for Al Jazeera described lines of bodies in a makeshift hospital in the nearby Al-Fath mosque.

A protester, Said Mohammed, told Al Jazeera that the crowds were shot at by snipers and by men in helicopters. "Helicopters started to shoot us as we were walking. My friend took a shot in the neck and he died," he said. "This was the first time we saw helicopters shooting. There were people shooting from the windows." Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egyptian Security Ousts Morsi Suuporters in Violent Clash

August 14th 2013

Security Forces Riot Gear

Security forces have moved in on two Cairo protest camps set up by supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi, launching a crackdown that quickly turned into a bloodbath with dozens dead. Conflicting reports have emerged over the number of people killed on Wednesday. However, one correspondent counted 94 bodies in Rabaa al-Adawiya's makeshift hospital, while some members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood said the death toll was as high as 2,200, with about 10,000 injured.

Ammar Beltagi, the son of Mohammad Beltagi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, said that his 17-year-old sister was killed in the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in in Nasr City. The Health Ministry has put the figure at 56 people killed, including six members of the security forces, and a further 526 people injured. At least 66 security forces were injured. Read more ..



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