2 October 2015

Military battles unusual foe called vacancies

Friday , October 2 , 2015 |


New Delhi, Oct. 1: Crucial posts in the higher echelons of the military, including that of the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), have fallen vacant with the government unable to announce replacements in time.

The officers are usually named weeks, if not a month, in advance.

The office of the DGMO - that is a 24x7 job - may have fallen vacant for the first time. The DGMO, who is one of the principal staff officers to the Chief of Army Staff and monitors minute-to-minute counter-insurgency operations and developments on the borders with Pakistan and China and reports administratively to the vice Chief.
It is rare for such senior offices to be vacant. Sources in the army, asked for an explanation, said "these are minor issues of cadre-management". Other sources suggested that with the change of government and the change in the army top brass taking place around the same time last year, there was an intensified effort to find "new, fresh faces".

All the posts are recommended by the defence ministry and require the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Appointments headed by the Prime Minister.
The Narendra Modi government took over on May 26 last year. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag took over as the army chief two months later on July 31 from Gen. Bikram Singh though his appointment was announced by the outgoing UPA II regime.

Lt Gen. P.R. Kumar, who was the last DGMO, retired on September 30. Lt Gen. Subrata Saha, who headed the Kashmir Valley-based 15 Corps till a month back and was then attached to the Udhampur-headquartered Northern Command, was widely tipped to take over as the DGMO. Before commanding the 15 corps, Saha had served as an additional director general of military operations in the rank of a major general.
The DGMOs of India and Pakistan are tentatively slated to meet for talks on easing tensions along the Line of Control and the border in the third week of this month. The decision was taken at the meeting of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Ufa.

Although there is uncertainty over the DGMO-level talks since the talks between the national security advisers was cancelled, hopes rose after a scheduled meeting of the chiefs of the Pakistan Rangers and the Indian Border Security Force was held last month in New Delhi.
It was known that Lt Gen. Kumar would retire as the DGMO on September 30 this year since he took over the office 18 months back.

Lt Gen. Saha was also informed by the political establishment that he would be DGMO. But a last minute tweak in the postings could now see him taking over as the deputy chief of army staff (planning and systems).
The current ADGMO, Maj. Gen. Ranbir Singh, has been asked to officiate as the DGMO pending a new appointment. This can lead to functional problems because the DGMO has always been a lieutenant general who has finished command of a corps. Maj. Gen. Ranbir Singh is yet to be approved for the rank of lieutenant general and command a corps.

The other office in army headquarters that is also held by a principal staff officer is that of the military secretary. Lt Gen. Rajiv Bhalla also retired on Wednesday without a successor being named. The military secretary is responsible for all promotions, transfers and postings of officers from the rank of lietenant colonel upwards.
The military secretary's branch reports to the chief. Bhalla's retirement on September 30 was also known since his appointment as military secretary last year.

On Thursday, the Rashtriya Rifles, raised on October 1, 1990, specifically for counter-insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir marked its 25th raising day without a director-general. Lt Gen. Sandeep Singh who headed it also retired on Wednesday.
The office of the director-general, defence intelligence agency, is also vacant with the retirement of Lt Gen. Anil Bhalla.

Why Facebook's internet.org plan isn't such a bad idea at all

Girish Shahane 

Zuckerberg is overestimating the impact his Free Basics will have on the world's poor, but his critics are misreading his intentions.

Facebook has become what Microsoft used to be, a giant near-monopoly whose product is used widely enough to raise the spectre of world domination and spawn dozens of conspiracy theories. Its founder Mark Zuckerberg has begun to attract the kind of hatred that Bill Gates faced two decades ago before an image makeover that was an unintended consequence of his shift from software to philanthropy.

UAVs in the Neighbourhood

By Air Commodore KB Menon
Issue: Vol. 29.3 Jul-Sep 2014 | Date : 30 Sep , 2015

Reports of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) being used for private and commercial use are a regular feature in the media. Does it mean that there is going to be sudden surge of UAVs flying in the Indian skies trailing advertising banners, delivering pizza or monitoring traffic? This is highly unlikely considering that unregulated use of UAVs for private and commercial use in civil airspace will result in chaos and accidents. In 1944, Clarence Johnson, the legendary founder of Lockheed’s Skunk Works and the designer of the SR-71 and U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, predicted that the future of military aviation would belong to the UAV. It appears that the prediction is slowly but surely coming true; now the market for civil and commercial applications of UAVs is poised for spectacular growth.

The last 25 years have seen the emergence of UAVs as ubiquitous weapon systems around the world…

Reports of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) being used for private and commercial use are a regular feature in the media. Does it mean that there is going to be sudden surge of UAVs flying in the Indian skies trailing advertising banners, delivering pizza or monitoring traffic? This is highly unlikely considering that unregulated use of UAVs for private and commercial use in civil airspace will result in chaos and accidents.

Pashtunistan: A nation across Afghanistan and Pakistan may not be too far off

Sep 30, 2015 

After the fall of Kunduz, the Afghan Taliban appears destined to once again rule the Pashtun homelands in Afghanistan. But will it stop just there?

The fall of the Afghan city of Kunduz, astride the road from Kabul to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, signals a major milestone in the resurgence of the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban. It raises several questions about the future of the country and the region, but perhaps the most valid one is this: what will happen in Afghanistan after the Americans lose interest and cut off their engagement with the country?

Afghan Military Effort to Recapture Kunduz Fails, Taliban Continue to Advance

Joseph Goldstein and Mujib Mashal
September 30, 2015

Afghan Crisis Grows as Push to Retake Kunduz From Taliban Fails

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan was plunged deeper into crisis a day after the Taliban seized the northern city of Kunduz, as the insurgents on Tuesday kept assaulting the reeling Afghan security forces and the government struggled to mount a credible response.

Not only did a promised government counteroffensive on Kunduz not make headway during heavy fighting on Tuesday, but the day ended with yet another aggressive Taliban advance, with insurgents surrounding the airport to which hundreds of Afghan forces and at least as many civilians had retreated, thinking it would be safe.

After more than a day of relative silence as the situation worsened around Kunduz, the American military showed the first signs of increased involvement in what the Pentagon called “a setback,” conducting at least two airstrikes, and reportedly more as attacks continued at the airport late Tuesday.

Beyond the Taliban’s gains in Kunduz, there was evidence that the insurgents were also pushing a broader offensive in northern Afghanistan, officials said. One particular point of concern was Takhar Province, just east of Kunduz, where the insurgents were said to be heavily assaulting military checkpoints and government facilities in several districts over the past two days.

U.S. and NATO SOF Troops Taking Part in Combat Operations Outside Kunduz

Tim Craig
September 30, 2015

U.S. troops dispatched to Kunduz to help Afghan forces

KABUL — Special forces from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan fought Taliban militants early Wednesday after being dispatched to the northern city of Kunduz to help Afghan forces re-take it from insurgents who seized it earlier this week, a coalition spokesman said.

The forces were on a mission near Kunduz airport where hundreds of Afghan forces based themselves after retreating from the city, the spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

The report came shortly after the coalition announced that American troops had been dispatched to the embattled city of Kunduz, which the Taliban seized during a lightning strike Monday, dealing a major blow to Afghanistan’s Western-backed government.

The key city of Kunduz is the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since 2001.

“Coalition special forces advisers, while advising and assisting elements of the Afghan Security Forces, encountered an insurgent threat in the vicinity of the Kunduz airport at approximately 1 a.m., 30 September,” Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the coalition, told Reuters.

U.S. Airstrikes on Kunduz Continue; Intel Agencies Were Taken by Surprise by Taliban Offensive

September 30, 2015

US airstrikes back Afghan push to retake city from Taliban 

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – U.S. airstrikes hit Taliban positions overnight around a key northern city seized by insurgents this week as Afghan troops massed on the ground Wednesday ahead of what is likely to be a protracted battle to retake Kunduz.

The Taliban were also gearing for the long fight and their fighters were seen planting bombs and mining roads in and out of the city on Wednesday to slow down Afghan forces.

Also overnight, there was fierce fighting for control of Kunduz’s airport, a few kilometers (miles) outside the city, before the Taliban retreated under fire, several residents said. The airport remained in Afghan government hands.

U.S. Army spokesman, Col. Brian Tribus, said there were two new airstrikes and that U.S. and NATO coalition advisers, including special forces were at the scene “in the Kunduz area, advising Afghan security forces.”

The Taliban captured Kunduz, a city of 300,000 people, on Monday. It was the first major urban area they seized since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted their extremist regime.

Afghan Military Counterattack to Recapture Kunduz Experiencing Difficulties

Mujib Mashal
September 29, 2015

Afghan Forces Seek to Regain Kunduz, Major Northern City, From Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — A day after the Taliban took their first major city in 14 years, a counterattack was underway Tuesday, but ground forces sent from other provinces to recapture the northern city, Kunduz, were delayed by ambushes and roadside bombs, officials said.

American forces carried out an airstrike outside the city Tuesday morning, said Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the United States forces in Afghanistan. He did not specify the target, but said the strike was carried out to eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces.

Ghulam Rabbani, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, said ground forces from Kabul and the northern province of Balkh had been repeatedly ambushed by the Taliban on their way to Kunduz. Some of the reinforcements were waiting in nearby Baghlan to meet with the forces from Kabul, said Col. Abdul Qahar, an Afghan Army spokesman in the north.

Other Afghan security forces at the outlying Kunduz airport, including about 300 commandos who had arrived by air, began to press toward the city center early Tuesday morning, but their progress was slow, officials said. Most of the city remained under Taliban control, with security forces having taken back only a few government buildings.

Taliban Gaining Ground in Another Province in Northern Afghanistan

September 30, 2015

Shaken by Taliban Victory in Kunduz, Afghans Flee Another Provincial Capital

KABUL, Afghanistan — The test facing the Afghan government now is not just whether it can quickly mount a counterattack and retake Kunduz, the northern city that fell to the Taliban on Monday, but whether it can prevent a nearby provincial capital from falling as well.

Accounts from the neighboring province of Baghlan on Wednesday showed that the collapse of government forces in Kunduz against less numerous Taliban forces was prompting a crisis of confidence in the neighboring province of Baghlan, where wealthier citizens and those with government connections have begun to leave for the relative safety of their hometowns.

In the midst of one of the gravest moments for the American-backed government in Kabul, military leaders spoke for a third day about launching a decisive counterattack against the Taliban in Kunduz. But it was becoming clear that most of the reinforcements for such an attack had been waylaid in Baghlan.

The reinforcements “will not be able to reach Kunduz without a big fight,” said Ted Callahan, a Western security adviser based in northeastern Afghanistan.

Will Pakistan's army chief get an extension?

Rohan Joshi 
September 25, 2015 

Will Gen. Raheel Sharif retire after just one term of three years or will he get an extension?

The campaign to seek an extension to the tenure of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, is well under way. Imran Khan’s party, the Tehreek-e-Insaf Pakistan(PTI) said that it would support an extension being granted to Raheel Sharif. Influential writers have churned out article after article aggrandizing the army chief in an effort to build public sentiment in favor of an extension. Even Pakistan’s former dictator Pervez Musharraf took to the media and advocated an extension (Gen. Sharif is known to be close to Musharraf and had previously served as Military Secretary to Musharraf). 

The position of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is appointed by the President of Pakistan based on the recommendation of the Prime Minister for a period of three years. However, we are hard-pressed to find in recent history a Pakistani COAS who transitioned power to his successor upon the completion of his three-year tenure. Indeed the last Pakistani COAS to retire after the completion of his three years in office was Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar in 1996. Kakar himself was offered a three-year extension by Benazir Bhutto, but declined the offer. 

Kakar’s successor, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, was forced to resign by Sharif after differences between the two came to a head over the role of the armed forces in Pakistan. In 1998, Sharif hand-picked Gen. Pervez Musharraf to replace Karamat (and in the process, broke the Pakistan Army’s chain of seniority). 

Pakistan and the Taliban: Past as Prologue?

By C. Christine Fair
September 30, 2015

To understand the significance of the Taliban to Pakistan, it is important to understand the historically fraught ties not only between India and Pakistan, but also between Pakistan and Afghanistan. While it is commonly believed that Pakistan’s relationship with groups such as the Taliban emerged during the anti-Soviet jihad, this is a considerable understatement of the relationship. In fact, Pakistan’s dalliance with Islamist politics and Islamist militant groups in Afghanistan dates back to the earliest days of Pakistan’s independence. This attests to the enduring security challenges that Pakistan perceives in Afghanistan. Whether these fears are founded or not, Pakistan acts upon them as if they are fact.

Pakistan – unlike the United States – is asymmetrically motivated to stay the course in Afghanistan. Having successfully manipulated jihadi groups for decades, Pakistan has grown insouciant about its ability to continue riding this tiger. However, recent developments such as the announced death of Mullah Omar and the splits within the Taliban, as well as the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan, raise the stakes for Islamabad. It is unlikely that Pakistan will be able to regain the kind of control that it exercised over the Taliban in the past. The most likely outcome is ever-deepening violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, as the world saw on 9/11, the sequelae of these developments are not likely to be confined to Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Asia’s Food Supply Weathers California’s Drought

By Asit K. Biswas, Matthew J. Kastner and Cecilia Tortajada
September 30, 2015

California is well known for its celebrities and tech companies. A lesser known fact is that California has more agriculture than any other state in the U.S., at almost $50 billion. The last time you ate an almond, artichoke, date, pistachio, or any of another eight crop commodities produced in the U.S., it probably came from California. With such a large market share for many specialty crops, one would think the drought that is now in its fourth year would send crippling supply shocks through Asia. Yet even though East and Southeast Asia import over $6 billion of food from California alone, the smart allocation of scarce water by Californian farmers has resulted in little change in food supply and prices.

California agriculture consumes 80 percent of the state’s water and so it is especially vulnerable to prolonged droughts. The state has had lower than average precipitation, as well as higher than average temperatures since 2011. The effects of this were not felt until 2014 when reservoir levels dropped on average to 50 percent of historical averages. This year, reservoir levels are even lower and the impacts of the drought are more severe. 2014 was the first year major changes in crop production were seen relative to previous years and those changes have continued through 2015.

The South China Sea Showdown: 5 Dangerous Myths

September 29, 2015

Myths about the South China Sea and related U.S.-China strategic interaction have been multiplying in Washington like fruit flies of late. There is the curious notion that China’s recent actions in the South China Sea portend a spasm of aggression spanning East Asia, spilling into the Indian Ocean and then through the Middle East, Africa and beyond. Almost as fanciful is the idea that Beijing is about to erect figurative toll barriers around the South China Sea, only admitting the ships of nations that agree to perform the infamous 磕头[kowtow]. Presumably, naval vessels requesting admittance would require either multiple prostrations or at least some very fat 红包 [red envelopes].

Some delirious neo-liberals may have actually thought that Beijing would go along with, or at least not react negatively to the decision of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas regarding the Philippines arbitration. Another all-too common analytical blunder has been the belief that China’s recent economic “hiccup” will cause it to soften its approach toward the South China Sea. Also comical is the now fashionable notion that U.S. aircraft or vessels patrolling ever closer to China’s reclamation projects would finally bring the Dragon to heel. All “Dragon Tamers” of the increasingly similar neo-liberal or neo-conservative stripe may cease reading at this point, but fellow realists are invited to press on to consider five really dangerous misconceptions regarding the evolving South China Sea cauldron.

The Trillion-Dollar Question: Who Will Control the South China Sea?

September 29, 2015

Recent developments in the South China Sea have lumbered U.S. strategic planners with a number of pressing quandaries. Should the United States send warships through sea lanes claimed by China as territorial waters? How can Washington signal resolve and reassurance to its allies in the region without unduly antagonizing China’s political and military leaders? What is the right mix of diplomacy, military, and political engagement?

These short-term decisions will rightly preoccupy teams of Washington-based Asia hands for months and, perhaps, years to come. But focusing on the short term alone risks obscuring the true nature of the strategic problem facing the United States. Properly understood, the future of the South China Sea is a long-term geopolitical question of perhaps unparalleled significance in East Asia. Policy should not be made in response to short-term exigencies but rather with long-term strategic objectives in mind. In turn, this means a full and frank understanding of what exactly is at stake in the South China Sea.

US CIA's Operations in China Take a Step Back in Wake of OPM Breach

October 01, 2015

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has pulled its officers from the U.S. embassy in Beijing. The move was undertaken by the agency a “precautionary measure,” the report notes, to avoid any possible retaliation against these officers in the wake of data acquired by Chinese hackers in a breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The OPM breach, announced earlier this year, resulted in the theft of over 20 million records, includingfingerprints and SF-86 security clearance forms. The source of the hack has been widely attributed to the Chinese government, though the United States has not officially said so.

The CIA’s move is necessary to protect officers who may be discovered by a simple cross-referencing of the State Department records obtained in the OPM breach against declared U.S. Embassy personnel records in Beijing. “Anybody not on that [State Department] list could be a CIA officer,” the Post report notes.

What US Experts Get Wrong About Economic Espionage

September 30, 2015

In reporting on the recent agreement between China and the United States not to undertake commercial espionage against each other, many leading commentators, such as those at the Washington Postand in Council on Foreign Relations blog, have referred to this as an agreement not to undertake economic intelligence collection. It is not.

The CFR blog went so far as to claim imminent global application of a norm against economic espionage. There is no international legal norm of any kind against economic cyber espionage if the act is confined to merely collecting of information. There are international legal agreements that apply penalties or redress options for unauthorized commercial applications of intellectual property (often called industrial espionage).

And there are norms against disturbing the peaceful domestic order of a sovereign state but no state interprets this to prohibit, in international legal terms, covert espionage where the domestic disorder that results is confined only to the theft of the information and unauthorised access to buildings or networks.

It's Official: China, Not Japan, Is Building Indonesia's First High-Speed Railway

October 01, 2015

After months of speculation, Indonesia has chosen China over Japan for a lucrative high-speed rail contract. The high-speed rail line, estimated to cost from $5-6 billion, will connect Jakarta and Bandung, the capital of West Java province. It will be Indonesia’s first high-speed railway.

Japan and China have been vying for the contract since Indonesia announced that China submitted a bid in April 2015, much to Japan’s dismay. Things took a strange turn in early September, however, when Indonesia scrapped the idea altogether. Minister Rizal Ramli said Jakarta had decided not to request a high-speed train at all, but a “medium-speed” one that allows for more stops along the route.

Ramli also said that the Indonesian government did not want to use any state funds for the project. According to Bloomberg, Japan’s bid was based on getting funding from Indonesia’s government and a low-interest loan offered by Japan; China offered to provide a loan and have Indonesian state-owned firms provide the remainder of the costs.

China Detains 2 Japanese Suspected of Spying

October 01, 2015

Japan announced on Wednesday that two of its citizens have been detained in China, and Beijing confirmed media reports saying the two Japanese citizens were suspected of being spies.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that two Japanese nationals were detained by Chinese authorities in May. The two citizens, both men in their 50s, according to Suga, were being held in Zhejiang and Liaoning provinces respectively. Suga said that neither man was a Japanese government official, but were both from the private sector. He denied that Japan sends spies to China (or any other country, for that matter).

“Absolutely, our country hasn’t done such a thing,” Suga said, according to Kyodo News Agency.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei briefly addressed the report in a regular press conference. “Relevant authorities of China arrested in accordance with the law two Japanese on suspicion of acting as spies in China,” Hong said. “The Japanese side has been informed of that.”

U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Islamic State’s Global Network

SEPTEMBER 29, 2015

Washington lays out new details on the Islamic State's reach as world leaders at the U.N. seek a winning strategy to countering extremism.

In its latest effort to choke an apparently rapidly expanding Islamic State, the U.S. on Tuesday slapped sanctions on 25 people and five groups associated with the Sunni extremist network in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The sanctions came right as 100 countries and 130 civil society groups huddled at the United Nations to try and better coordinate efforts to counter violent extremism.

The Su-34 Strike Fighter: Russia's Ultimate Weapon to Destroy ISIS?

September 29, 2015

Russia has deployed at least four advanced Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft to Syria as it works to shore up the besieged regime of Bashar Al-Assad and to combat ISIS terrorist. Pentagon officials have confirmed the deployment according to reports. The Fullback, which is a dedicated strike derivative of the Su-27 series, is the most advanced ground attack aircraft Russia has committed to its nascent Middle Eastern campaign. It is the jet’s first combat deployment outside Russia.

Originally conceived in during the last decade of Soviet rule, the Su-34 was designed primarily as a replacement for Russia’s increasingly decrepit fleet of Cold War-era Su-24 Fencer strike aircraft. Like the Fencer, the Fullback has side-by-side seating. Unlike the Fencer, the Su-34—taking full advantage of its Flanker lineage—is provisioned with a formidable air-to-air self-defense capability. In addition to short-range R-73 high off-boresight dogfighting missiles, the Su-34 carries the long-range radar-guided R-77 air-to-air missile. That means like its nearest Western equivalent, the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle, the Fullback able to conduct “self-escorted” strike missions. It also has an unorthodox rearward facing radar to warn the crew about an threat approaching from behind.

UNGA: Assad’s Coming Out Party?

September 29, 2015

This year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has been particularly colorful with presidents Hassan Rouhani, Raul Castro and Vladimir Putin all escaping the arctic winds of past diplomatic stand-offs and experiencing a diplomatic Indian summer in New York. Only North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un was left in the cold.

President Rouhani, a potential “shoe-in” for the Nobel Peace Prize, was eagerly courted by a number of European powers hoping to snap up commercial deals with Tehran. Meanwhile, a reunion of old friends occurred between U.S. secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif where they touched delicately on the subject of Syria. Despite this warm atmosphere,Rouhani and U.S. president Barack Obama were still not ready for a meeting (a highlight potentially of UNGA 2016).

After Washington’s attempts to keep Putin isolated in the north, the Russian president arrived with a certain spring in his step. He delivered a thunderousUNGA speech and held a direct meeting with President Obama, which neither man had ever imagined doing only weeks before. 

Anti-ISIS Coalition: Testing Russia’s Intentions in Syria

September 30, 2015

Decades of Cold War–era Soviet expansionism have conditioned Washington to recoil reflexively when Russia’s military strays outside its borders. Amid reports that Russia is expanding its military and intelligence role in Syria, President Obama had little choice but to meet with Russian president Putin on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, but he made clear that the United States harbors deep reservations about Putin’s call for an “international coalition” to fight against ISIS. Before rejecting this call altogether, however, we should consider three important realities.

First, air power alone cannot defeat ISIS. Success requires ground operations. Who will supply the troops to destroy ISIS in Syria? The American public would rightly block sending U.S. ground forces, worried that we have already spent too much blood and treasure in the region. Plus, our entry would likely prove a rallying point for ISIS, which would relish the opportunity to fight Americans in Syria or Iraq.


SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

Amid the bloodshed of Syria, one group, Ahrar al-Sham, has begun to challenge the premises of the Salafi-jihadist ideology that underwrites the actions of groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. What does it mean for the unceasing war?

War-torn Syria has become a battleground for competing ideologies as much as rival militias. The ultra-extremist Salafi-jihadism of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been the loudest and most visible of these ideological contenders, but Syria has also seen the birth of a revisionist trend within Islamist militancy. This trend has emerged as a reaction to the worst excesses of Salafi-jihadism and has been championed by the rebels in Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyyah (the Islamic Movement of the Freemen of al-Sham, usually just called Ahrar al-Sham). Ahrar al-Sham has by now emerged as not just a populist revolutionary force and the most powerful non-ISIL rebel faction in Syria, but also the vanguard of a revisionist school that is contesting the nature of the jihadist movement.January 2012 announcement of Kataib Ahrar al-Sham (Ahrar al-Sham Battalions)

Chuck Spinney: Saudi Arabian Collapse — Bad Rulers, No Water? A Case Study…

Chuck Spinney

I want to flag and discuss two articles. The first, Saudi Royal calls for regime change in Riyadh, is a report in the Guardian by Hugh Miles. He describes the four immediate factors that have stimulated the now famous letters by the anonymous 3rd generation prince calling for the replacement of King Salman and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: (1) the double tragedy at Mecca that killed 800 people, (2) the collapse of oil prices, (3) the war in Yemen which, according to Miles, few Saudis support, and (4) King Salman’s elevation of his young son, the inexperienced and impetuous Mohammed bin Salman to the peculiar but powerful post of Deputy Crown Prince, making him second in the line of succession.

The second is an op-ed analysis entitled The collapse of Saudi Arabia is Inevitable by Nafeez Ahmed. He takes a somewhat longer view, summarizing deep-seated long-term problems that threaten to destabilize and possibly destroy Saudi Arabia. While I think his discussion suffers from two weaknesses, it is nevertheless a very sobering analysis and well worth careful reading, although the conclusion implicit in his title is far from certain.

Chaos in Syria: Russian Warplanes Conducting Airstrikes on Rebel Targets

September 30, 2015

Russia Launches Airstrikes in Syria, Adding a New Wrinkle

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered a round of airstrikes inSyria on Wednesday, adding an unpredictable and potentially destabilizing element to a complex sectarian war that has drawn in the United States and regional powers while creating millions of refugees.

While Moscow’s stated purpose in Syria is to fight Islamic State militants, Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships dropped bombs north of the central city of Homs, in an area held by rebel groups opposed to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally. The attacks were unleashed hours after Mr. Putin pushed a measure through the upper house of Russia’s rubber stamp Parliament authorizing the use of force abroad.

At a meeting of government officials in Moscow on Wednesday, Mr. Putin defended the Russian intervention as a broad stroke against terrorism. “The only right way to fight international terrorism — and it is gangs of international terrorists that are fighting in Syria and in neighboring countries — is to act preventively,” he said, “to fight and destroy militants and terrorists on the territories that they already occupied, not wait for them to come to our house.”

Western diplomats warned that Russia would be sending a dangerous message if its attacks were aimed primarily against opponents of Mr. Assad, rather than the Islamic State.

Revealed: China Can't Build Lethal Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carriers

September 29, 2015

China may have started construction on its second aircraft carrier according to new satellite imagery. The images—which were obtained by the British defense trade journal IHS Jane’s from Airbus Defence and Space—shows that a new ship is under construction in the same dry dock that was used to refurbish the former Soviet carrier Varyag during its conversion into China’s Liaoning. This would be China’s first indigenous flattop—if it were indeed a carrier.
The Jane’s analysis indicates that the ship might be between 558ft and 885ft long with a beam greater than 98ft. That’s a little small for a conventional aircraft carrier—and the Jane’s analysts note that they can’t conclusively say the new ship is a carrier. But that length—assuming the Jane’s analysts are correct—would be about the same as India’s Vikramaditya. The beam, however, is somewhat narrow—most carriers are much wider—which means this could be an amphibious assault ship or something else entirely.

It should be no surprise that Beijing might be building new carriers. Indeed, the Pentagon’s 2015 annual report to Congress on Chinese military power states: “China also continues to pursue an indigenous aircraft carrier program and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years.” Indeed, Taiwanese and Hong Kong media have reported that China could launch its first indigenous carrier —the Type 001A—on Dec. 26 to mark the 122th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birthday. Chinese papers have also previously reported that an indigenous carrier is being built in Dalian.

The Birth of Military Strategy: Enter the Battle of Salamis

September 29, 2015

The dichotomy of strategy and tactics in war did not solidify as a concept until the publication of Carl von Clausewitz’ On War in 1832. Since then the relationship between the two has been hotly debated, along with the subsequent interjection of the operational level of war. What is not debated are the concepts themselves. Tactics and strategy are related but they are not the same thing. Strategy, of course, comes from the word ancient Greeks used for their generals, strategos. Clausewitz’s ideas were intended to be applicable for all of military history so it can be instructive to look into the past — at the genesis of strategy itself.

A strategos was not solely concerned with winning battles — the tactics. He was, in the later words of Clausewitz, concerned with the use of battle to further the political ends of his city. In other words, the strategos had to keep the long-term goal in mind and ensure that the tactics work to further that goal. A tactician would never abandon key terrain without a fight; it makes little tactical sense. But strategy may demand that very thing and tactics must be subordinated. This exact situation occurred during the Persian Wars in Fifth Century Greece. The first major Greek strategist, and perhaps the most gifted, was Themistocles.

A Cold War Nightmare Weapon: 'Manned' Nuclear Missiles?

September 30, 2015

The first American astronauts had to show their "right stuff" in Atlas and Titan ICBMs converted from lofting bombs on to Moscow into lofting people into orbit. By all accounts, it wasn't the most comfortable way to ride into space
But in 1952, the U.S. military considered launching men on real ICBMs to bomb Moscow.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation's Bomi (Bomber-Missile) would have used a rocket to send a bomber into space, after which the bomber made an unpowered glide back through the atmosphere and over the target. If this sounds familiar, it's because 30 years later, the Space Shuttle used the same concept.

As with much of Cold War rocketry, the idea traces back to the Third Reich, which not content with trying to conquer the world, also wanted to conquer space. The proposed A9/A10 was a multi-stage rocket that used a flesh-and-blood navigation system. "After cut-off of its engine at 390 km [kilometers] altitude and 3,400 m/s[meters per second], the A9 would re-enter and begin a long glide to extend the range," notes the Encyclopedia Astronautica. "The pilot was to be guided by radio beacons on surfaced German submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. After reaching the target the pilot would lock in the target in an optical sight, then eject. Death or internment as a prisoner of war would follow."

The Next Phase Of European Power Politics

The recent battle over a plan to relocate asylum seekers across the European Union did little to appease the already deep fault lines among member states. The proposal was eventually approved, but only after a succession of threats, unilateral moves and violations of EU rules.During the negotiations Berlin was unusually uncompromising - an attitude it also showed during the discussions over Greece's third bailout program.

Although the economic crisis has made Germany the single most powerful country in Europe, Berlin is often unwilling or unable to completely shape the direction of the Continental bloc. Germany tends to lead its relatively weaker partners without having complete control of the process. In recent months, Berlin has decided to take a more visible role in decision-making in the European Union, increasing frictions with other member states.

Changing power relationships and polarities have defined Europe's geopolitical history; the Continent traditionally has had multiple power centers competing and sometimes cooperating with each other. Situations where a single power controls the rest are very rare. Berlin's recent behavior therefore raises questions about the future of the distribution of power in Europe.
Germany's Shifting Position

Australia: Change at the Top

September 30, 2015

Tony Abbott lost his job as Australian prime minister to Malcolm Turnbull in the fourth leadership “knifing” in a decade. Though media in Australia and worldwide reacted with shock, was it always inevitable? Abbott’s confusion and poor planning were responsible but so was his status as a figure of ridicule. It is his ridiculousness that people will remember most and it was that which often helped to drive down his ratings in opinion polls. Turnbull, the urbane millionaire, stands in contrast.

Before memes categorized and explained politics, people still kept track of George W. Bush’s varied and excitingly original aphorisms. Bushims, if you remember. How, so many in America and across the world asked, can this man be in charge of anything? The more cynical wondered whether the missteps and maladroit gargles were intentional: Distract the intelligentsia with a carnival of stupid and maybe they won’t notice what he’s really doing. They noticed both.

Beware Japan’s Coming Nuclear Problem: Report

September 30, 2015

A surplus of Japanese plutonium over the next few years could pose significant nuclear dangers for the region and the world unless it is addressed now, a new report released this week by a Washington, D.C.-based think tank has warned.

Japan is the only non-nuclear-weapon state which extracts plutonium from the spent fuel produced in nuclear reactors – a process called reprocessing – to fabricate more fuel, a controversial practice since the plutonium can also be used to make nuclear weapons. While Tokyo has pledged not to produce more plutonium than it consumes, the fallout from the 2011 Fukushima incident makes it likely that Japan will violate that commitment in the next decade, with a plutonium conversion facility still in the works and only a portion of its reactors that consume plutonium likely to be restarted before the reprocessing plant is at full capacity.

Japan’s resulting plutonium glut, argues James Acton, a longtime nonproliferation analyst, must be averted by Tokyo and its partners because it would set a damaging precedent, exacerbate regional tensions and increase the likelihood of nuclear terrorism.

Broadband is the key infrastructure for the 21st century

Broadband is coming to be seen as crucial infrastructure for the 21st century, as were roads and electricity for the 20th. But what does a genuinely 21st century broadband network look like?

Earlier this month, the US Broadband Opportunity Council declared that broadband is “taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities”.

Imp Papers

by Rana Banerji, Senior Fellow, DPG

1) Pakistan: Recent Political Developments (September 2015)
Rana Banerji analyzes the latest changes to Pakistan’s political scene and considers developments in its judiciary and the latest military promotions. 
The publication can be accessed here.

2) Issue Brief by Ambassador Jayant Prasad, Advisor, Foreign Policy Program and Sabika Zehra, Research Associate, DPG

Connectivity in South Asia: Transforming the Cooperation Discourse (September 2015)
Connectivity and infrastructure lie at the very core of regional cooperation and integration, their key enablers. This paper first assesses the state of South Asian economies, comparing relevant indices concerning trade and transportation relative to Southeast Asia, and the lacunae in their mutual connectivity, and suggests possible remedial action.
The publication can be accessed here.

DPG is also pleased to present two Issue Briefs on China's One Road, One Belt initiative:

3) Issue Brief by Ambassador Jayant Prasad, Advisor, Foreign Policy Program, DPG

One Belt and Many Roads: China’s Initiative and India’s Response (September 2015)

Analyzing China's One Belt One Road initiative, Ambassador Prasad explores whether there is a consonance between the respective visions of China and India about the future geo-economic and geo-strategic configuration of Asia, and whether the two countries can work together on this initiative. 

The publication can be accessed here.

4) Issue Brief by Ravni Thakur, Senior Fellow, DPG

One Belt, One Road: China’s New Strategic and Trade Policy (September 2015)
Surveying Chinese views, Ravni Thakur considers the goals and implications of China's One Belt, One Road initiative and takes a look at India's policy options in response to the changing geopolitical realities. 
The publication can be accessed here.

how the mysterious dark net is going mainstream

Jamie Bartlett: 

How the mysterious dark net is going mainstream 

There’s a parallel Internet you may not have run across yet — accessed by a special browser and home to a freewheeling collection of sites for everything from anonymous activism to illicit ctivities. Jamie Bartlett reports from the dark net.