12 October 2015

Technology, Mr Modi, is the god with clay feet

Last updated on: October 08, 2015 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may discover from the experiences of his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi that there are limits to what technology can achieve, notes Kanika Datta
Technology is back in the political pantheon as the leading deity to be invoked to rid the country of centuries of poverty and backwardness.

First, it was Rajiv Gandhi, who worshipped at its altar with his Technology Missions.

Now it is Narendra Modi; and he has acquired the most powerful of high priests in the CEOs of the world’s leading IT companies, and such liturgy as Digital India and Make in India to aid these devotions.
No one can doubt the sincerity of both leaders in their desire to deliver India unto that haven we call the First World.

But as Mr Modi may discover from the experiences of his predecessor who occupied the prime ministerial office 30 years ago -- also with a historic mandate and the same atmosphere of fervid expectation -- there are limits to what technology can achieve.
Technology can certainly gain India membership in the comity of modern nations in the 21st century.

Pakistan: A society of endless contradictions

By Jemima Khan

Sunday Times

The day I’m leaving for Pakistan a round-robin e-mail pings into my inbox from an address I don’t recognise, Wise Pakistan. The message reads: “It is important you watch this to see what’s coming.” Ten men are lined up and each one is filmed talking inaudibly to camera. The first man is pinned to the ground by four others. His throat is slit like a goat at Eid and his head held aloft by his hair. The Urdu subtitle reads: “This is what happens to spies.” It’s a Taliban home video —to jaunty music — of serial beheadings. There are plenty of these doing the rounds nowadays. I’m off to Pakistan for the children’s half-term. They visit their father there every holiday. I lived in Pakistan throughout my twenties. Now it’s a different place — the most dangerous country on Earth, some say — and my friends and family are worried.

For my last four years in Pakistan we lived at the quaintly named House 10, Street 1, E7. Two months ago a bomb exploded 100 yards from the house, killing four people; about 1,500 have been killed this year in terrorist attacks. It’s hardly a tourist destination these days so I’m surprised to find that the flights are all full. I am an aerophobe; my real fear is getting there. The only direct flight is on PIA, otherwise known as Please Inform Allah. British Airways stopped flying there after the Marriott bomb attack in Islamabad last September. As I’m packing, my London neighbour, the comedian Patrick Kielty, drops off a parcel containing The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook with a note pointing out the pages on how to escape when tied up, how to take a bullet and how to survive if you wake up next to someone whose name you don’t remember.

I arrive in Islamabad at 3am on a Sunday. With everything that’s going on in Pakistan these days — violent civil war in the northwest, 2.5m internally displaced people, a separatist uprising in Baluchistan, a hostile neighbour, corruption, recession, inflation, unemployment —I’m surprised anyone has the energy for swine flu paranoia, particularly as Pakistan is strictly a pork-free zone. Yet before disembarking we are obliged to fill out two forms. Recent proximity to pigs and/or Mexicans will result in an obligatory spell in quarantine. It must be the name of the virus that’s causing alarm.


Posted by Fareed Zakaria on October 9, 2015  

Recent setbacks in Afghanistan — from the fall of Kunduz to the errant U.S. bombing of a hospital in that city — again raise a question. Why, after 14 years of American military efforts, is Afghanistan still so fragile? The country has a democratically elected government widely viewed as legitimate. Poll after poll suggests that the Taliban are unpopular. The Afghan army fights fiercely and loyally. And yet, the Taliban always come back.

The answer to this puzzle can be found in a profile of the Taliban’s new leader, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. It turns out that Mansour lives part time in Quetta, the New York Times reports, “in an enclave where he and some other Taliban leaders . . . have built homes.” His predecessor, Mohammad Omar, we now know, died a while ago in Karachi. And of course, we remember that Osama bin Laden lived for many years in a compound in Abbottabad. All three of these cities are in Pakistan.

We cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan without recognizing that the insurgency against that government is shaped, aided and armed from across the border by one of the world’s most powerful armies. Periodically, someone inside or outside the U.S. government points this out. Yet no one knows quite what to do, so it is swept under the carpet and policy stays the same. But this is not an incidental fact. It is fundamental, and unless it is confronted, the Taliban will never be defeated. It is an old adage that no counterinsurgency has ever succeeded when the rebels have had a haven. In this case, the rebels have a nuclear-armed sponsor.

Pakistan has mastered the art of pretending to help the United States while actually supporting its most deadly foes. Take the many efforts that U.S. officials have recently made to start talks with the Taliban. It turns out that we were talking to ghosts. Omar has been dead for two years, while Pakistani officials have been facilitating “contacts” and “talks” with him. This is part of a pattern. Pakistani officials, from former president Pervez Musharraf down, categorically denied that bin Laden or Omar was living in Pakistan — despite the fact that former Afghan president Hamid Karzai repeatedly pointed this out publicly. “I do not believe Omar has ever been to Pakistan,” Musharraf said in 2007.

Vlad and Yuri: How Putin is applying the lessons of Afghanistan to Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) gives an interview to US journalist Charlie Rose in Moscow, Sept. 20, 2015. 

Vladimir Putin is following in the footsteps of his old KGB boss Yuri Andropov, who took the Soviet Union into Afghanistan in 1979 to shore up a failing client in Kabul. To succeed where Andropov failed, Putin will need to devote considerable resources and manpower to save Bashar al-Assad. But there are also significant differences in the challenges the two faced that favor Putin. Saudi Arabia will be his constant enemy, just as it was Andropov's.

In the fall of 1979, Andropov was the principal advocate in the Kremlin of a Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan to keep the communist Afghan government in power. The Marxist Afghan party was rapidly losing control of the country to the mujahedeen, and KGB chief Andropov warned defeat in Afghanistan would destabilize all of Soviet Central Asia. Andropov convinced an ailing Leonid Brezhnev that it would be an easy and cheap victory. In 1956, Andropov had been the Soviet ambassador in Hungary who called for Soviet intervention there, which had kept Budapest in the Warsaw Pact.

But the Islamic world is not Eastern Europe. The Soviets faced a firestorm of Islamic opposition in Afghanistan. Days after elite Soviet airborne forces secured Kabul (replacing one communist protege with another after a shootout in the presidential palace), Saudi King Fahd promised Pakistan he would fund the mujahedeen resistance to Soviet aggression. Fahd put then-Prince Salman, governor of Riyadh, in charge of raising private funds for the Afghans. Salman raised tens of millions of dollars, initially exceeding the money the CIA and Saudi intelligence provided the mujahedeen and their Pakistani allies. The entire Islamic world was mobilized by Fahd against Moscow.

The Soviets never resourced the war properly. At their peak effort, the Soviets deployed just over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, far too few to pacify the country. Andropov escalated the war considerably when he became party boss, but the number of boots on the ground was never enough. Russia had put double the number of troops into Hungary, a flat plain easy to conquer, and had a huge army in 1979, but the Kremlin never brought enough resources to the fight in the Hindu Kush.

How America can counter Putin’s moves in Syria


By Condoleezza Rice and Robert M. Gates,  October 8

Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state from 2005 to 2009. Robert M. Gates was defense secretary from 2006 to 2011.

One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events? Whether it’s in Ukraine or Syria, the Russian president seems always to have the upper hand.

Sometimes the reaction is derision: This is a sign of weakness. Or smugness:He will regret the decision to intervene. Russia cannot possibly succeed. Or alarm: This will make an already bad situation worse. And, finally, resignation: Perhaps the Russians can be brought along to help stabilize the situation, and we could use help fighting the Islamic State.

The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well because he knows exactly what he wants to do. He is not stabilizing the situation according to our definition of stability. He is defending Russia’s interests by keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. This is not about the Islamic State. Any insurgent group that opposes Russian interests is a terrorist organization to Moscow. We saw this behavior in Ukraine, and now we’re seeing it even more aggressively — with bombing runs and cruise missile strikes — in Syria.

Putin is not a sentimental man, and if Assad becomes a liability, Putin will gladly move on to a substitute acceptable to Moscow. But for now, the Russians believe that they (and the Iranians) can save Assad. President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry say that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. That is true, but Moscow understands that diplomacy follows the facts on the ground, not the other way around. Russia and Iran are creating favorable facts. Once this military intervention has run its course, expect a peace proposal from Moscow that reflects its interests, including securing the Russian military base at Tartus.

We should not forget that Moscow’s definition of success is not the same as ours. The Russians have shown a willingness to accept and even encourage the creation of so-called failed states and frozen conflicts from Georgia to Moldova to Ukraine. Why should Syria be any different? If Moscow’s “people” can govern only a part of the state but make it impossible for anyone else to govern the rest of it — so be it.

And the well-being of the population is not the issue either. The Russian definition of success contains no element of concern for the dismal situation of the Syrian people. Refugees — that’s Europe’s problem. Greater sectarianism — well, it’s the Middle East! Populations attacked with barrel bombs and Assad’s chemicals, supposedly banned in the deal that Moscow itself negotiated — too bad!
Putin’s move into Syria is old-fashioned great-power politics. (Yes, people do that in the 21st century.) There is a domestic benefit to him, but he is not externalizing his problems at home. Russian domestic and international policies have always been inextricably linked. Russia feels strong at home when it is strong abroad — this is Putin’s plea to his propagandized population — and the Russian people buy it, at least for now. Russia is a great power and derives its self-worth from that. What else is there? When is the last time you bought a Russian product that wasn’t petroleum? Moscow matters again in international politics, and Russian armed forces are on the move.

Let us also realize that hectoring Putin about the bad choice he has made sounds weak. The last time the Russians regretted a foreign adventure was Afghanistan. But that didn’t happen until Ronald Reagan armed the Afghan mujahideen with Stinger missiles that started blowing Russian warplanes and helicopters out of the sky. Only then did an exhausted Soviet Union led by Mikhail Gorbachev, anxious to make accommodation with the West, decide that the Afghan adventure wasn’t worth it.

So what can we do?

First, we must reject the argument that Putin is simply reacting to world disorder. Putin, this argument would suggest, is just trying to hold together the Middle East state system in response to the chaos engendered by U.S. overreach in Iraq, Libya and beyond.

Putin is indeed reacting to circumstances in the Middle East. He sees a vacuum created by our hesitancy to fully engage in places such as Libya and to stay the course in Iraq. But Putin as the defender of international stability? Don’t go there.

Second, we have to create our own facts on the ground. No-fly zones and safe harbors for populations are not “half-baked” ideas. They worked before (protecting the Kurds for 12 years under Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror) and warrant serious consideration. We will continue to have refugees until people are safe. Moreover, providing robust support for Kurdish forces, Sunni tribes and what’s left of the Iraqi special forces is not “mumbo-jumbo.” It might just salvage our current, failing strategy. A serious commitment to these steps would also solidify our relationship with Turkey, which is reeling from the implications of Moscow’s intervention. In short, we must create a better military balance of power on the ground if we are to seek a political solution acceptable to us and to our allies.

Third, we must “de-conflict” our military activities with those of the Russians. This is distasteful, and we should never have gotten to a place where the Russians are warning us to stay out of their way. But we must do all that we can to prevent an incident between us. Presumably, even Putin shares this concern.

Finally, we need to see Putin for who he is. Stop saying that we want to better understand Russian motives. The Russians know their objective very well: Secure their interests in the Middle East by any means necessary. What’s not clear about that?

Spying Case Against U.S. Envoy Is Falling Apart, and Following a Pattern


Robin L. Raphel, right, a State Department adviser, meeting with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s national security adviser, in Islamabad in 2013. Ms. Raphel has been the target of a spying investigation. CreditB.K. Bangash/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Last fall, federal agents raided the home and office of Robin L. Raphel in search of proof that she, a seasoned member of America’s diplomatic corps, was spying for Pakistan. But officials now say the spying investigation has all but fizzled, leaving the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute Ms. Raphel for the far less serious charge of keeping classified information in her home.

The fallout from the investigation has in the meantime seriously damaged Ms. Raphel’s reputation, built over decades in some of the world’s most volatile countries.
If the Justice Department declines to file spying charges, as several officials said they expected, it will be the latest example of American law enforcement agencies bringing an espionage investigation into the public eye, only to see it dissipate under further scrutiny. Last month, the Justice Department dropped charges against a Temple University physicist who had been accused of sharing sensitive information with China. In May, prosecutors dropped all charges against a government hydrologist who had been under investigation for espionage.Continue reading the main story

Ms. Raphel, in negotiations with the government, has rejected plea deals and has been adamant that she face no charges, according to current and former government officials, particularly because the Justice Department has been criticized in recent years for handing out inconsistent punishments to American officials who mishandle classified information.

Both the Justice Department and a lawyer for Ms. Raphel, Amy Jeffress, declined to comment.
The Raphel case has also been caught in the crosswinds of America’s tempestuous relationship with Pakistan, a strong Cold War alliance that has frayed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks amid recriminations between Washington and Islamabad. Ms. Raphel has for decades been at the center of shaping American policy toward Pakistan, and she has maintained close ties to Pakistani officials even as many of her colleagues became disenchanted with what they saw as Islamabad’s duplicity in the fight against terrorism.

Why the U.S. Owns the Rise of Islamic State and the Syria Disaster


Posted on Oct 8, 2015,  By Gareth Porter

An Islamic State militant waves his group’s flag as he and another celebrate in Fallujah, Iraq.(AP)

Pundits and politicians are already looking for a convenient explanation for the twin Middle East disasters of the rise of Islamic State and the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. The genuine answer is politically unpalatable, because the primary cause of both calamities is U.S. war and covert operations in the Middle East, followed by the abdication of U.S. power and responsibility for Syria policy to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni allies.

The emergence of a new state always involves a complex of factors. But over the past three decades, U.S. covert operations and war have entered repeatedly and powerfully into the chain of causality leading to Islamic State’s present position.

The causal chain begins with the role of the U.S. in creating a mujahedeen force to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama bin Laden was a key facilitator in training that force in Afghanistan. Without that reckless U.S. policy, the blowback of the later creation of al-Qaida would very likely not have occurred. But it was the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq that made al-Qaida a significant political-military force for the first time. The war drew Islamists to Iraq from all over the Middle East, and their war of terrorism against Iraqi Shiites was a precursor to the sectarian wars to follow.

The actual creation of Islamic State is also directly linked to the Iraq War. The former U.S. commander at Camp Bucca in Iraq has acknowledged that the detention of 24,000 prisoners, including hard-core al-Qaida cadres, Baathist officers and innocent civilians, created a “pressure cooker for extremism.” It was during their confinement in that camp during the U.S. troop surge in Iraq 2007 and 2008 that nine senior al-Qaida military cadres planned the details of how they would create Islamic State.

The Obama administration completed the causal chain by giving the green light to a major war in Syria waged by well-armed and well-trained foreign jihadists. Although the Assad regime undoubtedly responded to the firebombing of the Baath Party headquarters in Daraa in mid-March 2011 with excessive force, an armed struggle against the regime began almost immediately. In late March or early April, a well-planned ambush of Syrian troops killed at least two dozen soldiers near the same city. Other killings of troops took place in April in other cities, including Daraa, where 19 soldiers were gunned down.

During the second half of 2011 and through 2012, thousands of foreign jihadists streamed into Syria. As early as November 2011, al-Qaida was playing a central role in the war, carrying out spectacular suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. Obama should have reacted to the first indications of that development and insisted that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar keep external arms and military personnel and funding out of Syria in order to allow a process of peaceful change to take place. Instead, however, the administration became an integral part of a proxy war for regime change.

Russia's Aim in Syria Is to Strategically Defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda


Fmr. MI-6 agent; Author, 'Resistance: The Essence of Islamic Revolution'
Posted: 10/10/2015 

BEIRUT -- As soon as Russia launched the first stages of its military campaign in Syria, world media erupted with epic slights on President Vladimir Putin and the deprecation of Russia's strategic motives in Syria. Is this information operationsimply a recrudescence of Cold War neuralgia, or is there something more profound at work here?

One can see, too, that the U.S. administration's response to Russia's initiative has oscillated uncertainly. Initially, Washington took a "business as usual approach," suggesting that it and its allies' air campaign would proceed unchanged. But the administration then seemed blindsided by the speed and extent of the Russian action. Last week, a Russian official arrived at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to announce the immediate start to the Russian air operation in Syria, and to insist that the U.S. keep its aircraft (and personnel) out of Syrian airspace altogether that day. Since then, the Russian tempo of air attacks has been impressive, leaving little or no space to others.

Clearly, "business as usual" in these circumstance was impractical (if some calamitous air incident in the Syrian skies was to be avoided). And President Obama's opponents immediately pounced: Putin was wrong-footing America (again). Secretary of State John Kerry hotly demanded military coordination that would at least keep the U.S. coalition flying -- and in the game.

In this photo made from footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website on Oct. 1, a bomb explosion is seen in Syria. (AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)
The second approach has been to try wrest at least the political initiative back into American hands -- by conceding to Russia its military role -- whilst trying to set parameters (essentially President Bashar al-Assad's removal), that would require a major reworking of the Syrian leadership, in which America would have a major say. (Britain and France similarly lifted a leg, to mark their territory of having a claim in any final outcome, too.)

Putin's Next Conquest Why Iraq Wants Russian Help

REUTERS   July 22, 2015. 

Frustrated with the United States’ slow progress against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Iraq is flirting with the idea of taking on Russia as its primary partner in the battle. The Iraqi military announced last week that it had reached an intelligence-sharing deal with Iran, Russia, and Syria. Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, recently said that he would be open to the idea of allowing Russian air strikes in Iraq. And the highly influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for greater international involvement in the fight against ISIS, hinting that he, too, would welcome Russian support.

Iraq has a history of seeking additional weaponry from Russia whenever it believes that U.S. efforts have fallen short. In 2013, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a $4.2 billion arms deal with Russia after the United States delayed the delivery of F-16s to Iraq, partly out of fears in Washington about how Maliki was planning to use the jets. And after an apparently unsatisfactory trip to the United States in April of this year, Abadi traveled to Russia to appeal for more arms—a request that the government of President Vladimir Putin granted.

The Iraqis have increasingly come to prefer dealing with the Russians. One source from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry complained to me of the U.S. insistence on training Iraqis in the use of antitank missiles, which, the source scoffed, “ISIS farmers can figure out how to use.” He added that the Russians would never insist

America's Fading Footprint in the Middle East

Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal - October 10, 2015

As Russia bombs and Iran plots, the U.S. role is shrinking—and the region’s major players are looking for new ways to advance their own interests

U.S. Army soldiers board a helicopter as they leave after the end of their one-year deployment in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, in March 2012. 

Despised by some, admired by others, the U.S. has been the Middle East’s principal power for decades, providing its allies with guidance and protection.
Now, however, with Russia and Iran thrusting themselves boldly into the region’s affairs, that special role seems to be melting away. As seasoned politicians and diplomats survey the mayhem, they struggle to recall a moment when America counted for so little in the Middle East—and when it was held in such contempt, by friend and foe alike.

“It’s the lowest ebb since World War II for U.S. influence and engagement in the region,” said Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as the Obama administration’s ambassador to Afghanistan and before that as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan.

From shepherding Israel toward peace with its Arab neighbors to rolling back Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and halting the contagion of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the U.S. has long been at the core of the Middle East’s security system. Its military might secured critical trade routes and the bulk of the world’s oil supply. Today, the void created by U.S. withdrawal is being filled by the very powers that American policy has long sought to contain.

Chaos and 2nd Cold War, Part I: Israel's Nuclear Strategy


It is likely that Israel has undertaken some very impressive and original steps in cyber-defense and cyber-war, but even the most remarkable efforts in this direction will not be enough to stop Iran altogether.

Published: Friday, October 09, 

(Part I of a 2 part article)

To fashion a functional nuclear strategy would be difficult for any state in world politics, but it could be especially challenging for one that keeps its bomb more-or-less securely "in the basement." Now, as the Middle East descends into an ever more palpable chaos,[1] Israel will have to make certain far-reaching decisions on this very complex task.

Among other nuanced and widely intersecting concerns, Jerusalem's decisions will need to account for a steadily hardening polarity between Russia and the United States.

Here, almost by definition, there will be no readily available guidebook to help lead the way. For the most part, Israel will need to be directed by an unprecedented fusion of historical and intellectual considerations. In the end, any resultant nuclear strategy will have to represent the prospective triumph of mind over mind, not merely of mind over matter.[2]

Conceivably, at least for the Jewish State that is smaller than America's Lake Michigan, an emergent "Cold War II" could prove to be as determinative in shaping its national nuclear posture as coinciding regional disintegration. Still, a new Cold War need not necessarily prove disastrous or disadvantageous for Israel. It is also possible, perhaps even plausible, that Jerusalem could sometime discern an even greater commonality of strategic interest with Moscow, than with Washington.

To be sure, any such stark shift of allegiance in Israeli geo-political loyalties ought not to be intentionally sought, or in any way cultivated for its own sake. Moreover, on its face, it would currently be hard to imagine in Jerusalem that a superpower mentor of both Syria and Iran could somehow also find strategic common ground with Israel. Yet, in these relentlessly tumultuous times, any normally counter-intuitive judgments could, at least on rare occasions, prove surprisingly correct.

The Middle East in 2015 Is a Lot Like Europe in 1914


How did that work out again?

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and US President Barack Obama. In the background, German Red Cross paramedics and a burned Sanitaetswagen, or ambulance, on a World War I battlefield, between 1914 and 1918.

Watching the events cascading in Syria makes it eerily easy to see how the political elites of 1914 stumbled into World War I while believing they were pursuing a sensible set of national interests.

The parallels are far from precise. The alliances bonding the players in today’s Middle East aren’t as interlocking as those in early 20th-century Europe. The war-mobilizing machinery isn’t as rigid. And, of course, today’s leaders have the precautionary example of World War I to rivet their attention: They know the pitfalls of escalation and the tragic consequences of unbounded warfare—though people don’t always heed the lessons of the past.

Like the Europe of 101 years ago, the Middle East today is a tinderbox, with plenty of kindling supplied by the combination of weak regimes, millenarian militias, and freelance rebels of various persuasion, each faction backed (or directly armed and aided) by larger powers, some engaged in proxy wars, others drawn in for converging motives while trying to resist the centripetal pull of deeper involvement (with diminishing success). It doesn’t require a wild imagination to envision the lighting of a match—some contemporary counterpart to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

Consider the array of elements:

President Obama stepped up airstrikes against ISIS one year ago, with the intent of focusing the effort in Iraq (which had a quasi-allied government and a familiar array of military commanders) while putting Syria (which had neither) on the back burner. When this plan proved infeasible (because ISIS was rooted in Syria), he started training and equipping some “moderate” rebels, if just so he could tell the region’s Sunni leaders that he was doing something about Syria. This approach backfired when these U.S.-trained rebels were pummeled on the battlefield, and it may have backfired further this week, when Russian cruise missiles destroyed a weapons depot of a CIA-funded rebel force in southern Syria. All of this puts Obama in a spot. Does he back away or go into wait-and-see mode to avoid the escalating the conflict, or does he rise to the challenge by pouring more resources into a mission that he’s never seen as particularly vital? The first choice risks alienating allies, who clamor for more tangible commitment from America (while, in some cases, shirking from seeing their own boys bloodied); the second risks inciting a war with Russia.

Murphy's Law: Blame Shifting In Afghanistan


October 6, 2015: American defense firm MD Helicopters has taken the unusual step of calling out the Afghan government over its complaints about the MD530F helicopter. This is intended to counter complaints from senior Afghan Army officers that the MD530F, which is somewhat similar to the AH-6 and MH-6 “Little Bird” helicopters used by the United States Army lacked range and failed to handle the “hot and high” environment in Afghanistan. Early versions of the MD500 series, as the OH-6 Cayuse, were first used in Vietnam and highly praised. The MD500 series has been in service (military and commercial) world-wide ever since.

Afghanistan is not easy terrain for helicopters. Both the high altitude and the hotter climate can degrade the performance of some helicopters, notably the amount of payload they can carry. The MD530F was equipped with a more powerful engine to help overcome the high altitude and hotter temperatures. The Afghan National Army’s problems may be more likely to stem from a lack of maintenance due to limited resources and a more lackadaisical attitude towards those tasks that help keep aircraft fully mission-capable. Naturally Afghan commanders do not want to admit that, so they will instead blame the manufacturers for selling them junk. There’s also a major problem with corruption which has already been identified as a major cause of problems maintaining any equipment that needs a steady supply of expensive spare parts. The money is often diverted (stolen) or the parts end up on the black market. Afghans don’t like to talk about that but they all complain about it.

The MD530F is one of MD Helicopters’s “Defender” series, which is capable of carrying two 7.62mm Gatling Guns, four BGM-71 TOW Anti-tank missiles, or unguided rockets. The helicopter has a top speed of 282 kilometers per hour, and a range of 430 kilometers. Over 4700 Hughes/MD 500 helicopters have been built. – Harold C. Hutchison



October 9, 2015: India recently revealed that in early September 2015 it had approved the purchase of ten Israeli Heron TP UAVs. This model is equipped to carry smart bombs and guided missiles. India is paying about $40 million each for the Heron TPs. India has been buying Israeli UAVs for over a decade. The recent purchase was revealed in response to Pakistani announcing its first use of an armed UAV.

The Heron TP was developed as an unarmed surveillance aircraft, but there has been so much demand for armed UAVs that in 2013 Israel modified the Heron TP to handle weapons. The Heron TP entered squadron service in the Israeli Air Force (with 210 Squadron) in 2009. The UAV's first combat service was in 2010, when it was used off the coast of Gaza, keeping an eye on ships seeking to run the blockade.

Development of the Heron TP was largely completed in 2007, mainly for the export market, and the Israeli military was in no rush to buy it. There have been some export sales and the Israeli air force eventually realized that this was an ideal UAV for long range operations or for maritime patrol. But it turned out there were few missions like that.

Equipped with a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turboprop engine, the 4.6 ton Heron TP can operate at 14,500 meters (45,000 feet). That is above commercial air traffic and all the air-traffic-control regulations that discourage, and often forbid, UAVs fly at the same altitude as commercial aircraft. The Heron TP has a one ton payload, enabling it to carry sensors that can give a detailed view of what's on the ground, even from that high up. The endurance of 36 hours makes the Heron TP a competitor for the U.S. 4.7 ton MQ-9 Reaper. The big difference between the two is that Reaper was designed as a combat aircraft, operating at a lower altitude, with less endurance, and able to carry a ton of smart bombs or missiles. Heron TP was designed mainly for reconnaissance and surveillance especially since Israel wants to keep a closer, and more persistent, eye on Syria and southern Lebanon

A Rush Of Blood
Two foreigners are killed; Bangladesh creeps towards a radical brink

Violence is a frequent visitor to Bangladesh. Its birth in 1971 had been through a particularly sanguinary civil war. Long spells of street demonstrations, state brutality and genocide and an India-Pakistan war had preceded its emergence as a new nation from the charred remains of East Pakistan. But the violence did not stop there. In the last four-and-a-half decades, not unlike its neighbours, Bangladesh has witnessed assassinations of two of its presidents, several political leaders and the violent deaths of hundreds of its citizenry. However, foreigners visiting or working in the country had largely remained unt­­ouched. That seems to be changing now.

On September 28, Cesare Tavella, an Ita­­lian working as the regional head of a Netherlands aid agency, was shot dead in Gulshan, the diplomatic area of Dhaka, by unidentified gunmen. Before people could recover from the shocking news, five days later, a Japanese national, Kunio Hoshi, who worked with an agency on advanced farming techniques, was gun­ned down by unidentified assailants in Rangpur, 330 km away from the capital. More recently, a Bangladeshi pas­­tor was attacked with knives by a group of micreants. Though he managed to escape with his life, the attacks have spread panic among Bangladeshis and the large number of foreign nationals living there.

The new terror had a ready claimant—the Islamic State (ISIS)—who posted statements on Twitter to take credit for both killings. The US-based site Inte­lligence Group, which monitors online activities of radical Islamic groups, cor­ro­borated ISIS’s claim of responsibility.
But many are sceptical about an ISIS hand. The most vocal doubter happens to be the Ban­g­ladesh government, which is keen to pin the blame on the opposition BNP and its ally, the radical Islamist Jam­aat-e-Islami, an acc­usation den­­ied by the BNP. Though people are uns­­­ure about who to blame for the att­­a­­­­cks or even their probable cause, Dhaka’s air swirls with conspiracy theories.

Israel: The Enemy Within


October 8, 2015: Palestinian leaders are trying to generate more popular enthusiasm for widespread violence against Israelis by continuing to organize violent protests around the al Aqsa mosque (which is just above the Wailing Wall, a popular Jewish holy place and tourist attraction) in Jerusalem. The current campaign began a year ago. Seeing an opportunity to grab more headlines , sympathy and, hopefully cash contributions from the Moslem world, the Palestinian leadership (Fatah) invested some effort and cash to get something going. It is working and angry Israelis soon persuaded the government to wake up and admit that many of the violent “protestors” were organized and should be arrested. The anger was because of the increasing number of attacks against Israelis. While there were fewer than ten terror related deaths a year in Israel in 2012 and 2013 (and only 21 in 2011) the war with Hamas raised this to 41 in 2014 and this made Fatah, which runs the West Bank, look bad. Thus the new campaign. Four Israelis have been killed in the last week and if the Palestinians can keep this up they can kill enough Israelis to justify Palestinians continuing to support Fatah rule in the West Bank.

Palestinian leaders don’t even try to hide what they are doing as Palestinian media regularly runs stories encouraging Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to use whatever kind of violence they can to attack and kill or injure Israeli Jews. Palestinian leaders get on TV and tell teenagers that throwing rocks and fire bombs at Israelis, especially those in cars or busses, is not breaking any law and is justified resistance to Israeli repression. The Palestinian politicians further encourage the teenagers by pointing out that if Israel uses force against rock throwers and kills or injures any of them it is the Israelis who will be guilty of war crimes. Naturally this encourages a lot more Palestinian teenagers to throw rocks and those that manage to injure or kill Israelis are considered heroes. Palestinians also know that in addition to praise and lots of media attention any Palestinians who are jailed or injured while trying to hurt Israelis receive large payments from Fatah. Payments to jailed Palestinians vary according to how many Israelis the prisoner killed or injured. Some of these convicts get over $70,000 a year. Palestinians who get killed see their families receiving payments. These economic and media attention incentives have always encouraged many Palestinian men (and some women) to join the violence.

In the face of these cynical tactics Israel has threatened to shut down Fatah and rule the West Bank directly. That does get some attention from Fatah. Normally the only thing the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) has to offer to avoid this (aside from halting its support of violence against Israelis) is written and unwritten agreements with Israel whereby Fatah helps Israel control Islamic terrorists in the West Bank and Israel helps keep Fatah in power. The current violence violates that understanding. But Fatah desperate in large part because it is regarded by most Palestinians as corrupt and self-serving. Fatah does provide some jobs and public services. With Fatah the Israelis know they are basically dealing with gangsters. For the Palestinians their inability to create competent, honest and efficient leaders is a great shame and the main reason why so many Palestinians want to emigrate, or support terrorism (against Israel or, in support of Hamas, against Fatah). Many Palestinians understand, but will not say out loud, that even if the Palestinians somehow eliminated Israel and the entire area became Palestinian the Palestinian people would still suffer from corrupt and ineffective government.

Here's How ISIS Keeps Selling So Much Oil Even While Being Bombed And Banned By The West

Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Reuters, Oct. 25, 2014, 

Thomson ReutersSmoke and dust rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc

AMMAN (Reuters) - Islamic State is still extracting and selling oil in Syria and has adapted its trading techniques despite a month of strikes by U.S.-led forces aimed at cutting off this major source of income for the group, residents, oil executives and traders say.

While the raids by U.S. and Arab forces have targeted some small makeshift oil refineries run by locals in eastern areas controlled by Islamic State, they have avoided the wells the group controls.

This has limited the effectiveness of the campaign and means the militants are able to profit from crude sales of up to $2 million a day, according to oil workers in Syria, former oil executives and energy experts.

"They are in fact still selling the oil and even stepping up exploitation of new wells by tribal allies and taking advantage of the inability of the enemy to hit the oil fields," said Abdullah al-Jadaan, a tribal elder in Shuhail, a town in Syria's oil-producing Deir al-Zor province.

U.S.-led forces want to avoid hitting the oil installations hard because it could hurt civilians more than the militants and could radicalize the local population, analysts say.

On Thursday the United States threatened to impose sanctions on anyone buying oil from Islamic State militants in an effort to disrupt what it said was a $1-million-a-day funding source.

Most of the oil is bought by local traders and covers the domestic needs of rebel-held areas in northern Syria. But some low-quality crude has been smuggled to Turkey where prices of over $350 a barrel, three times the local rate, have nurtured a lucrative cross-border trade.

"Our options are limited unless you hit the wells - but it does not just hit Islamic State, it hits the entire population and that is not something that the U.S. can do very easily," said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Washington Institute, who focuses on Syria.

Electronic Weapons: Cold War Masking Makes A Comeback


October 7, 2015: Russian warplanes flying into Syria since early September have been watched by NATO with great interest. This proved useful because soon NATO intelligence specialists discovered that the Russian warplanes were using stealth technique they had used before. This involved having warplanes with their transponders turned off fly close to a larger transport that kept its transponder on. By flying close to the transport the usual air traffic control radar would not show enough detail to reveal several aircraft but because the radar could see that something was there and there was a transponder signal coming from that blip on the screen all that was recorded was one transport. But when NATO fighters flew up for a closer look it was obvious what was going on.

This form of “masking” was used regularly at sea during the Cold War. Russian subs, which made more noise than their Western counterparts and were even easier to detect by Western subs with their superior passive (listen only) sonar found that by moving under a larger surface ship (military or transport) they could usually escape detection by Western subs or SOSUS (permanent underwater sonar systems the United States deployed). SOSUS had a network of passive sonars on the sea bottom in key areas of the Atlantic and Pacific during the Cold War and made life very difficult for Russian subs trying to reach the high seas.

SOSUS (SOund Surveillance System) consisted of several different networks. On the continental shelf areas bordering the North Atlantic was the CAESAR network. In the North Pacific there was COLOSSUS plus a few sensors in the Indian Ocean and a few other places that no one would talk about. The underwater passive sonars listened to everything and sent their data via cable to land stations. From there it was sent back to a central processing facility, often via satellite link. SOSUS was accurate enough to locate a submarine within a circle no wider than 100 kilometers. That's a large area, but depending on the quality of the contact, the circle might be reduced up to ten kilometers. The major drawback of the system was that it did not cover deep water areas more than 500 kilometers from the edge of the continental shelf. By masking their sound with an overhead ship Russian subs could often travel long distances undetected and then mysteriously show up. Once the United States figured out this technique methods were developed to make it less effective. But the tactic never completely lost its usefulness. Now the Russians are regularly using that masking technique in the air as well.

DoD sends cyber mission forces into the fray

By Scott Maucione |October 9, 2015 

Some cyber forces created as part of the Defense Department’s cyber strategy released this spring are trained, ready and participating in operations.

Forces tasked with defending the United States and its interest against cyber attacks of “significant consequence” now are working in real-life scenarios, said Maj. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of the Cyber National Mission Force.

The Cyber Mission Force is made up of 133 teams commissioned by DoD’s cyber strategy.
“Our mission … is to ensure that we are prepared if there are disruptive and destructive attacks against the nation that we can operate,” said Nakasone during an Oct. 9 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The cyber mission forces have drawn particular attention due to their ability to operate in combat missions, possibly in an offensive capacity.
Nakasone declined to go into detail as to the nature of the operations in which the Cyber National Mission forces have acted.

DoD’s goal is to have all of its mission forces trained, ready and capable by 2018. Lt. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command, said the forces are about halfway there.
Cyber National Mission Force makes up only part of the total cyber mission forces in protecting the homeland and DoD networks. Other mission forces will provide support to the combatant commands, and analytic and planning support to other cyber mission teams.

Nakasone said his forces are about 80 percent military and have an average age of 24 years old.
The force’s activity with cyber operations isn’t the first organization to take action across DoD.

The Defense Information Systems Agency’s Joint Force Headquarters – DoD Information Networks already has participated in seven named operations.

The Pentagon created JFHQ-DoDIN to take over operations and defensive work from U.S. Cyber Command. The headquarters reached initial operating capability in January and assumed 14 to 19 tasks from CYBERCOM.

Nakasone said he works closely with the joint force headquarters.
Pleading for Policy

Information Warfare: The Dukes Of Cyber Hazard


There are some things you wish you didn’t know. Case in point are the hidden risks of using computers to go online. Internet security researchers collect enormous amounts of data about software hackers create (malware) to break into networks and computers they are not supposed to be in. For example researchers have been finding more malware systems that share common characteristics that eventually reveal the origin and location of the authors. One group, based in Russia and apparently financed, supervised and protected by the Russian government has come to be called “The Dukes.” This is because the family of malware this Russian group created used “Duke” as part of the name given to each new bit of malware. Thus in 2012, before it became clear exactly who the Dukes were, a large scale Internet based attack against specific civilian, military, and government officials was discovered and provided enormous quantities of malware to be dissected. This turned out be a very clever piece of malware and was called MiniDuke. The attacks using MiniDuke were directed at specific individuals in Ukraine, Belgium, Portugal, Romania, the Czech Republic, the United States, Hungary, and Ireland. The targets in the United States and Hungary were initially only non-government organizations.

MiniDuke delivered a secret software program, via an infected PDF file that monitors PCs it gets into, that passes back keyboard activity and files to servers in Panama and Turkey. MiniDuke was unique in terms of the attention paid to keeping its presence secret from network security systems. MiniDuke stayed dormant until it senses it is not being monitored, then seeks out a specific Twitter feed that the hacker uses to communicate with infected machines.

MiniDuke carried out its attack using an official looking email, with a PDF file attached, sent to specific individuals. It is an email the recipients were not expecting. This is known in the trade as "spear fishing" (or "spear phishing"), which is a Cyber War technique that sends official looking email to specific individuals with an attachment which, if opened, secretly installs a program that sends data from the email recipient's PC to the spear fisher's computer. In the last few years an increasing number of military, corporate, and government personnel have received these official-looking emails with a PDF document attached and asking for prompt attention.

MiniDuke was one of the most sophisticated spear phishing attacks seen so far. It shared some characteristic of professional American–Israeli efforts like Duqu but also incorporates some new ideas (heavy use of Twitter, a very gradual infection process, and lots of scouting). At first it was unclear where it came from, or at least no one has released any information on that yet. But as more security researchers examined MiniDuke code that got left behind and compared that code to what had been found in other attacks, and subsequent ones, it eventually became clear that MiniDuke was one of over a dozen “Duke” malware systems that have been showing up since 2008 and are still being used and upgraded.

The world economic order is collapsing and this time there seems no way out Will Hutton

The refugee crisis is paralleled by the savage fallout from a global financial system running out of control
Refugees arriving on Lesbos, Greece, last month: the billions of dollars fleeing emerging economies are not accompanied by harrowing 

Sunday 11 October 2015 

Europe has seen nothing like this for 70 years – the visible expression of a world where order is collapsing. The millions of refugees fleeing from ceaseless Middle Eastern war and barbarism are voting with their feet, despairing of their futures. The catalyst for their despair – the shredding of state structures and grip of Islamic fundamentalism on young Muslim minds – shows no sign of disappearing.

Yet there is a parallel collapse in the economic order that is less conspicuous: the hundreds of billions of dollars fleeing emerging economies, from Brazil to China, don’t come with images of women and children on capsizing boats. Nor do banks that have lent trillions that will never be repaid post gruesome videos. However, this collapse threatens our liberal universe as much as certain responses to the refugees. Capital flight and bank fragility are profound dysfunctions in the way the global economy is now organised that will surface as real-world economic dislocation.

The IMF is profoundly concerned, warning at last week’s annual meeting in Peru of $3tn (£1.95tn) of excess credit globally and weakening global economic growth. But while it knows there needs to be an international co-ordinated response, no progress is likely. The grip of libertarian, anti-state philosophies on the dominant Anglo-Saxon political right in the US and UK makes such intervention as probable as a Middle East settlement. Order is crumbling all around and the forces that might save it are politically weak and intellectually ineffective.
The heart of the economic disorder is a world financial system that has gone rogue. Global banks now make profits to a extraordinary degree from doing business with each other. As a result, banking’s power to create money out of nothing has been taken to a whole new level. That banks create credit is nothing new; the system depends on the truth that not all depositors will want their money back simultaneously. So there is a tendency for some of the cash banks lend in one month to be redeposited by borrowers the following month: a part of this cash can be re-lent, again, in a third month – on top of existing lending capacity. Each lending cycle creates more credit, which is why lending has always been carefully regulated by national central banks to ensure loans will, in general, be repaid and sufficient capital reserves are held. .