19 March 2019

Afghan Official, U.S. Publicly Clash Over Envoy's Conduct In Taliban Peace Talks

Hamdullah Mohib

A senior Afghan official has accused the U.S. special envoy to his country, Zalmay Khalilzad, of "delegitimizing" the Kabul government by excluding it from peace negotiations with the Taliban and acting like a "viceroy."

The comments on March 14 by Hamdullah Mohib, who serves as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's national-security adviser, drew immediate rebuke from Washington, with the State Department saying that his remarks "only serve to hinder" U.S.-Afghan ties and the peace process.

Speaking during a news conference at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, Mohib, a former ambassador to Washington, directed his attacks at Khalilzad's conduct of peace talks with the Taliban.

Kabul has been excluded from the talks, held in Qatar, because the Taliban refuses direct negotiations with the Afghan government, insisting it is a puppet of the West and demanding that foreign troops pull out of the country before bilateral talks can begin.

How Terrorist Groups Learn: Implications For Al-Qaeda – Analysis

By Colin P. Clarke*

(FPRI) — With the Islamic State (IS) losing the last of its territory, the global jihadist movement is now entering a new phase. The question on the minds of many is whether al-Qaeda will be able to capitalize upon the moment and reclaim the dominant position as the most capable Sunni jihadist terrorist organization. The most important factor determining al-Qaeda’s future trajectory is what the group has learned over the past five years and how it seeks to implement change in its organization. If a review of what is known about terrorist groups and organizational learning is any indication, al-Qaeda will build upon its recent experience in Syria and elsewhere to reassert itself as a dominant force.

A host of contextual and circumstantial factors affect organizational learning. The environment in which an entity operates is one of the most dominant factors influencing its will and capacity to learn. The environment is the laboratory where learning takes place, and it helps shape the opportunities available for the terrorist group to pursue. It also impacts how successful the attempt to learn might be. The context includes obstacles or challenges that must be overcome, or at least mitigated, for the group to learn. For the last five years, Western counter-terrorism forces have been obsessively focused on combating IS, furnishing al-Qaeda with the operational space to maneuver, plan, and train.

Afghan Official Blasts U.S. Talks With Taliban

By Deb Riechmann & Matthew Lee

WASHINGTON (AP) — Afghanistan’s national security adviser on Thursday blasted the U.S. talks with the Taliban, saying the Trump administration has alienated the Afghan government, legitimized the militant network and is crafting a deal that will never lead to peace.

“If we are to make peace, it cannot be just a mere deal out somewhere far away where were not in the loop,” Hamdullah Mohib said at a blunt and candid briefing with reporters that prompted a scolding by State Department officials.

Mohib, the former Afghan ambassador to the United States, also took aim at Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. point man negotiating with the Taliban. He suggested that the negotiations conducted by Khalilzad, a veteran American diplomat who was born in Afghanistan, are clouded by Khalilzad’s political ambitions to lead his native country.

“The perception in Afghanistan and people in the government think that perhaps — perhaps — all this talk (with the Taliban) is to create a caretaker government of which he will become the viceroy,” Mohib said, adding that Khalilzad had eyes on the Afghan presidency in both 2009 and 2014 when Ghani was elected.

China steps up efforts to develop military technology to challenge US dominance

Kristin Huang

Two J-20 stealth fighter jets perform at an air show in Guangdong province last year. Although they are among China’s most advanced planes, they still rely on Russian engines. Photo: AP

China is stepping up its efforts to develop new weaponry ranging from guns to fighter jets to challenge US dominance, according to Chinese military officials.

The effort is in line with Beijing’s drive to modernise its military and improve combat readiness as the armed forces prepare for a high-profile show of strength later this year in a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.

“We are now more focused on boosting indigenous research and development capabilities in all possible ways, especially precision,” Huang Xueying, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference said on the sidelines of the legislative gathering in Beijing.

China's dam-building rage is threatening the whole of Asia, and India has the most to lose


China is the world’s biggest dam builder, with the country boasting more dams than the rest of the world combined. China is also the world’s largest exporter of dams.

In Nepal, where China-backed communists are in power, Beijing has just succeeded in reviving a lucrative dam project, which was scrapped by the previous Nepalese government as China had won the contract without competitive bidding. The reversal of the previous government’s cancellation of the $2.5-billion Budhi-Gandaki Dam project has come after Nepal’s communist rulers implemented a transit transport agreement with China, to cut dependence on India.

China is building dams in two other countries neighbouring India — Myanmar and Pakistan — including in areas torn by ethnic separatism (northern Myanmar), and in a United Nations-designated disputed territory like the Pakistan-occupied portion of Jammu and Kashmir.

Google's work in China benefiting China's military: U.S. general

Idrees Ali, Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States’ top general said on Thursday that the Chinese military was benefiting from the work Alphabet Inc’s Google was doing in China, where the technology giant has long sought to have a bigger presence.

“The work that Google is doing in China is indirectly benefiting the Chinese military,” Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“We watch with great concern when industry partners work in China knowing that there is that indirect benefit,” he said. “Frankly, ‘indirect’ may be not a full characterization of the way it really is, it is more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military.”

Last year Google said it was no longer vying for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the U.S. Defense Department, in part because the company’s new ethical guidelines do not align with the project.

In June, Google said it would not renew a contract to help the U.S. military analyze aerial drone imagery when it expires, as the company sought to defuse an internal uproar over the deal.

Peak China

China is beset by a trade war, pushback against its global infrastructure plans and allegations of industrial spying. Growth in factory production appears to be at its weakest in 24 years.

Parag Khanna, a Singapore-based global strategist, says that all of this may signal that, after years of forecasts of a Chinese juggernaut, we may have reached what he calls "peak China."

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Breaking down China’s electronic warfare tactics

By: Mark Pomerleau

A US Marine (R) talks over his radio next to his Philippine counterparts during a mock beach assault as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT 2014) along the beach at a Philippine naval training base facing the South China Sea in San Antonio, Zambales province, north of Manila on June 30, 2014. Naval forces from the US and Philippines engaged in an amphibious landing on June 30 on Luzon island amid a tense territorial row with China. In the wake of Russia's demonstrations of advanced electromagnetic spectrum and communications jamming capabilities, most recently displayed in their incursion into Ukraine, China also is upping its game in this space, demonstrating similar capabilities in the Pacific.

The Silk Road and the Gulf: A New Frontier for the RMB

Michael B. Greenwald 

Many view the Belt and Road Initiative as the most geoeconomically significant infrastructure project since the Marshall Plan. Promising alternative trade routes, abundant capital flows, and advanced infrastructure to the developing world, the program has scaled significantly since its inception in 2013.

Standing at the crossroads of Eurasia, the Gulf States and broader Middle East are an important link between the economies of East Asia and Western Europe.

Yet the region’s chronic and destabilizing conflicts pose a challenge for Beijing, which has distanced itself from entangling alliances outside its core periphery. In the Middle East, China will find it much harder to invest neutrally, especially within the context of the Saudi-Iran conflict and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) dispute. In the case of the former, China is Tehran’s key economic benefactor, with sanctions now being re-imposed. With Iranian oil locked out of European and American markets, the country’s reliance on China and India has been exacerbated.

The Relationship Between the Size of China’s Economy and Its Military Posture

By Robert Farley
It’s been widely accepted for a very long time that a significant portion of China’s economic growth is effectively fictional. A recent Brookings Paper on Economic Activity by Wei Chen, Xilu Chen, Chang-Tai Hsieh, and Zheng (Michael) Song tried to determine, as closely as possible, how much Chinese economic figures have been inflated. The report suggests that Chinese growth was 1.7 percent lower from 2008-2016 than reported by authorities. Much of this is not intentional obfuscation on the part of the central government, but rather inflated figures provided by provincial authorities.

If accurate, the report offers a handle on the question of how big China’s economy is compared to that of the United States, which has long been at the core of questions about great power competition in East Asia, and the existence of a “Thucydides Trap.” A related but equally important implication of China’s smaller GDP is that Chinese defense spending looks larger. If the report is correct that China has overstated its GDP by as much as 16 percent, then China’s defense spending as percentage of GDP looks correspondingly larger. Indeed, since China is also widely believed to have significantly understated its defense budget, the overall commitment of the Chinese economy to defense might range above 2 percent, considerably higher than many analysts have suggested.

Ask China: What role can China play to ensure regional security?

China's national defense policy is a topic that never fails to capture international attention.

To make more people understand China's national defense policy, we have had the honor of inviting Xu Hui, Major General and Commandant of the International College of Defense Studies at the National University of People's Liberation Army (PLA), to answer those questions.

“The U.S. military budget is 3x than that of China, so how can the U.S. be ‘scared' of China?”

The defense budget is one of the core elements of measuring a country's defense policy. China's defense budget for 2019 will be about 177 billion U.S. dollars, meaning the growth rate has lowered from 8.1 percent in 2018 to 7.5 percent, which prompted their questions. According to newly released data, the U.S. 2019 National Defense Authorization Act authorized a top-line budget of 716 billion U.S. dollars, which is more than four times that of China. It left some netizens wondering, “How can the U.S. be ‘scared' of China?”

How China and Russia Could Defeat the U.S. in War

BY: Aaron Kliegman

American pundits and politicians often call the U.S. military the best fighting force in the world, and they are right. The United States spends far more money on defense than any other country, and its military capabilities outclass all rivals, with unmatched air and naval power. Most importantly, the United States has dozens of allies around the world that act as force multipliers, allowing Washington to project power in far-flung regions. Americans should not get cocky or complacent, however. Despite maintaining military supremacy—albeit by a smaller margin than in recent decades—the United States could still lose wars against China and Russia, both of which have developed concepts of defeating a more powerful America in armed conflict. This notion may sound crazy, but it is all too real. Indeed, Beijing and Moscow could actually triumph if the United States does not plan and adjust accordingly.

China Intensifies Efforts to Diminish Dalai Lama’s Influence

Jayadeva Ranade

There has been a visible acceleration over the past many months in the efforts of the Chinese authorities to diminish and undermine the XIVth Dalai Lama’s influence over Tibetans inside China. Additionally, this year is marked by a number of anniversaries in China's political calendar including the 70th year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October, the founding anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in April as well as the sensitive 30thanniversary of the Tiananmen ‘incident’ in June and 60th anniversary of the XIVth Dalai Lama's flight from Tibet on March 10. The latter two would be cause for the most unease to China’s leadership. The current strain in Sino-US relations has added to Beijing’s worries.

Despite the investment of billions of dollars in development of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and steady tightening of the already stringent security measures in Tibetan populated areas, the Tibetans continue to be restive with occasional incidents of protest and self-immolation.

What Next? Islamic State After The ‘Caliphate’ – Analysis

By Romain Quivooij*

The ongoing battle for Baghouz, a hamlet reported as the last stronghold of IS in Eastern Syria, marks the conclusion of the military campaign launched by the United States and its partners against the insurgent organisation. Ousted from the towns and villages it used to control, IS has lost a great deal of soldiers, commanders, and, more importantly, the momentum that was initially associated with its expansion.

This development raises questions about the impact of the ‘Caliphate moment’ on the strategies and tactics favoured by IS, not to mention its ideological approach and the ways it communicates online.
Turning Point & Lessons Learned

Failure to preserve territorial gains has highlighted the value of clandestine warfare IS has been prompt to revert to. The sharp fall of the ‘Caliphate’ leads to question how the religious ideology of Salafi-Jihadism will evolve to remain as attractive as it has been for prospective recruits. Additionally, changes in the production and dissemination of online contents will have a lasting effect on the architecture of virtual Jihad.

The Terror Attack is New Zealand’s Darkest Day

by Curt Mills 

It’s happened again. In a fresh terror attack at least forty-nine people were gunned down in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday—a white supremacist terrorist attack streamed on social media. Two mosques, during Friday prayers. One assailant, in custody, said the dastardly acts were a “revenge on invaders.” Three others are being held.

“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques,” President Donald J. Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning. “49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!”

Said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “I want to offer my personal condolences to the nation of New Zealand, in the wake of the grotesque, mosque attacks in Christchurch. … The United States condemns this hateful assault.”

Drone Damage: Why Trump's Terror Tactics Could be Costly

by Paul R. Pillar

The Trump administration has discontinued an annual report, which President Barack Obama had instituted by executive order, that made public the number of counter-terrorist strikes by manned or unmanned U.S. aircraft outside declared war zones, along with an estimated number of civilian casualties from such strikes. The report had shed at least a small amount of light on the continued waging of a “war on terror” across vast swaths of Asia and Africa, including in countries that many Americans may never have heard of. In fact, most Americans are probably unaware that their own country is waging a war in these countries. The Trump administration argues that the report is unnecessary because a separate congressionally mandated report requires the Department of Defense to tally civilian casualties from all military activities. Left unsaid is that the change will leave unreported any strikes conducted by U.S. agencies other than the Department of Defense—a component of this global air war that the administration reportedly has been expanding, at least in Africa.

A Mass Murder of, and for, the Interne

By Kevin Roose

Before entering a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, the site of one of the deadliest mass murders in the country’s history, a gunman paused to endorse a YouTube star in a video that appeared to capture the shooting.

“Remember, lads, subscribe to PewDiePie,” he said.

To an untrained eye, this would have seemed like a bizarre detour.

But the people watching the video stream recognized it as something entirely different: a meme.

Like many of the things done before the attack on Friday — like the posting of a 74-page manifesto that named a specific internet figure — the PewDiePie endorsement served two purposes. For followers of the killer’s videostream, it was a kind of satirical Easter egg. “Subscribe to PewDiePie,” which began as a grass-roots online attempt to keep the popular YouTube entertainer from being dethroned as the site’s most-followed account, has morphed into a kind of all-purpose cultural bat signal for the young and internet-absorbed.

Britain Looks Into the Trade Abyss


One day after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan suffered a second historic parliamentary defeat, Britain’s go-it-alone trade future is starting to become a little bit clearer—and it is far from a pretty picture.

Instead, the emerging future landscape is one of permanent isolation, ever-rising prices, and long-term economic eclipse, some experts said.

“We’re in a complete and utter shambles,” said Roderick Abbott of the European Centre for International Political Economy. “The bottom line is that there is nothing you can do that would be better than what you had as a member” of Europe’s customs union and single market. “So why did you want to leave?”

The British government has sought to put the best gloss on its prospects. On Wednesday, the same day Parliament narrowly voted against even the thought of a “no deal” exit from the European Union, the government released its trade policies in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The one-year government plan calls for most British imports to be tariff-free, except for a handful of strategic sectors including agriculture and cars, where tariffs will be increased.

Withdrawing From Syria Leaves a Vacuum That Iran Will Fill

By Colin P. Clarke and Ariane M. Tabatabai

One of President Trump’s final foreign policy decisions of 2018 was also among his most controversial: the withdrawal of the remaining 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The order was an astonishing reversal of U.S. policy, and it raised concerns among Washington national security professionals that the Kurds—who have served as U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS—will suffer losses while the Assad regime, Russia, and Turkey gain. This weekend, the president’s national security advisor, John Bolton, seemingly reversed course again, announcing that U.S. forces would remain in Syria until ISIS was defeated and the Turks provided guarantees that they wouldn’t strike the Kurds.

The actor who perhaps benefits above all others from the administration’s back and forth on Syria is Iran. An American withdrawal would provide the Iranians with the operational space to expand their growing network of Shiite foreign fighters, who can be mobilized and moved throughout the Middle East. The recent announcements send Tehran the message that Washington will no longer be an obstacle in the way of these designs. Indeed, according to Bolton, the administration’s preconditions for withdrawal have to do with the Kurds and ISIS: the national security advisor made no mention of the presence or expansion of Shiite militias trained and equipped by Iran.