1 July 2023

The secrets of the border standoff between the Taliban and Pakistan

Roland Jacquard

After all that Pakistan did for the Taliban over the two decades they were fighting against the US-backed Afghan Republic, there was a legitimate expectation in Islamabad that this time around the Taliban would show much greater gratitude and accede to Pakistan’s wish-list on a range of issues.

Ever since the Taliban have re-established their Emirate in Kabul, there is not a single issue on Pakistan’s wish-list that has been ticked by the Taliban : Accepting Durand Line as Border? No; Expelling Baloch insurgents? No; Dismantling, degrading and destroying Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)? No; Keeping India out? No; Inclusive government? No; Allowing education for girls and giving women rights? No!

With every passing day, frustration is mounting in Pakistan as its leverages are reducing. Many analysts are now questioning the entire strategic framework which made Pakistan defy the West and support the return of Taliban in Afghanistan. But Pakistan is caught in a cleft stick, it can neither act against the Taliban, nor can it afford to allow Taliban to string it along endlessly on critical issues that impact its own security and stability and safety of its citizens.

One of the most intractable issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been the controversial Durand Line that divides not just the two countries but also the Pashtuns. Since Pakistan came into existence, no Afghanistan government – whether monarchy , nationalist, communist, Islamic or Islamist (Taliban) – has endorsed the Durand Line. The only difference between the various dispensations ruling Kabul has been that some have been aggressive about this issue, others have agitated over it but have not stirred the broth, and still others have kept quiet but refused to sanctify it when demanded by Islamabad.

Meta is playing a game of whack-a-mole with the Taliban as the isolated Afghan government increasingly attempts to use WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption for official business


The New York Times reported Taliban government officials increasingly use WhatsApp to communicate.

Sanctions restricting US businesses from aiding the Taliban have existed for more than two decades.

Since their takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, Taliban government officials are increasingly turning to WhatsApp to communicate, relying on the encrypted messaging app for everything from identifying raid targets to sending official ministry memos.

The New York Times reported that — despite their reliance on the app — officials for the newly established radical government struggle to maintain access to their WhatsApp accounts and can be cut off from their essential communications without notice.

Taliban officials then try finding workarounds to access the app, like buying new SIM cards and creating new accounts, prompting a cyclical cat-and-mouse game.

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Meta, the California-based parent company that owns WhatsApp, must ban Taliban-affiliated users in order to comply with US sanctions that have been in place for over two decades against the militant group known for its connections to terrorism and poor civil rights record.

"WhatsApp is so important to us — all my work depends on it," Shir Ahmad Burhani, a police spokesman for the Taliban administration in Baghlan Province, told the Times. "If there were no WhatsApp, all our administrative and nonadministrative work would be paralyzed."

End Game in Central Asia

S. Frederick Starr 

While the U.S. has rightly focused on Ukraine and the nearby members of NATO, Russia and China have launched serious threats to Russia’s other former colonies in Central Asia. Washington has all but ignored these initiatives. If this does not change, the entire zone between the East China Sea and the Middle East could end up under the domination of these two authoritarian powers, which are hostile to America.

Besides its numerous threats to invade Kazakhstan, Moscow is actively courting the five Central Asian states. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has brought all five presidents twice to Moscow and personally visited the region several times. His goal is to preserve what he can of what he calls the “Russian realm” at a time when it is crumbling in Ukraine, and to counter Beijing’s hyper-active initiatives in the region.

Meanwhile, China’s Xi Jinping convened the five presidents in Beijing on May 21st, at which time he announced the creation of China’s own grand development plan for the region, which will be launched when he again meets all five presidents in Tashkent later this year.

Reporting on these developments, Central Asians never fail to note that, since their new nations gained independence in 1991, no U.S. president has ever visited the region and that there are no prospects for such a visit until at least after the American elections in the Fall of 2024.

That is a mistake. Like the Baltic states and Ukraine, all five Central Asian countries are struggling to preserve their independence. While they have no choice but to build good relations with their superpower neighbors, they have all actively sought American help in balancing the aspirations of China and Russia.

Washington, however, has never really brought Central Asia into focus. For more than two decades, U.S. strategy subordinated the entire region to its concerns in Afghanistan. Central Asians cooperated by opening their territories to the transport of NATO war materiel, but the U.S. and NATO did not reciprocate. These landlocked countries urgently pleaded for the West to open a transport route across Afghanistan to the southern seas, India and Southeast Asia. Without it, they argued, they would remain dependent on Russia and China for access to world markets. But Washington turned a deaf ear.

A world where China is Number One


The three key things about China we need to keep in mind are thatit is strong, not weak;

it has become a sea power; and

its values are both different from those of the West and not necessarily what Europe and America think they are.

“When we are discussing anything to do with the People’s Republic of China in the contemporary context, therefore, these three factors are good places to start,” writes Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London, in the first chapter of his new book, “China Incorporated: The Politics of a World Where China is Number One.”

The title reminds us of Japan Inc, the words used to describe Japan’s combination of industrial policy and mercantilism since the 1980s; and “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America”, the popular book by Ezra Vogel published in 1999. Brown’s book even has a chapter entitled “The Enigma of Chinese Power,” which echoes Karel Van Wolferen’s “The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation,” published in 1990.

But the book does not explain Chinese industrial and trade policies; it does not tell us what the West can learn from China’s rapid modernization; and it is certainly not about what the writer imagines is the hollow political center of a great economic power.

Rather, Brown examines the more important issue of how Western misunderstanding of Chinese thinking about the role of government and international relations has magnified the problem of dealing with a different civilization that has grown big and strong enough to reject our criticism and push back.

Snubbed by Biden, Israel’s Netanyahu will visit China as it expands influence

Rina Bassist

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shake hands ahead of their talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on March 21, 2017 in Beijing, China. - Etienne Oliveau/Pool/Getty Images)

Opinions are divided in Israel’s Foreign Ministry over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday announcement on traveling soon to China, with some diplomats warning that such a trip could harm the country’s relations with the United States.

Meeting in Jerusalem with US congressional delegation members, Netanyahu informed them he has been invited by Chinese authorities to visit Beijing and intends to travel there in the near future. Israeli media reports said the trip could happen as soon as next month, marking the first for the Israeli prime minister since 2017.

Netanyahu, a skilled operator who has navigated ebb and flow relations with successive US presidents, has been snubbed by President Joe Biden and has not received an invitation yet to visit the White House — a rare occurrence for Israeli prime ministers. Lacking such an invitation, Netanyahu banned Defense Minister Yoav Gallant from traveling to Washington, who instead had to travel to Brussels, to meet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on the margins of the NATO ministerial meeting this month. On the other hand, Israeli President Isaac Herzog is expected to travel to the United States at the end of July for a first official visit to meet with Biden and to deliver a speech before the American House of Representatives.

Some of Netanyahu's Cabinet ministers — especially Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir — have become persona non grata of sorts in the eyes of the Biden administration, which refuses any contact with them.

But on Tuesday, Netanyahu tried to play down the rift between him and Biden and reassured Congress members about the relationship.

Your Monday Briefing: The Aftermath of a Russian Revolt

Mariah Kreutter

The day after an armed rebellion by Wagner mercenaries against Vladimir Putin’s government was defused at the last minute, neither Putin nor the mercenary leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, made a public appearance, adding to the sense of uncertainty and confusion pervading Russia. The swirl of events over the last few days has left questions about Putin’s authority and the future of the war in Ukraine.

The armed uprising, which Prigozhin led, called into question Russia’s justifications for its war in Ukraine and the competency of its military leadership. Wagner forces marched toward Moscow with the aim of challenging Russia’s military leadership, and while they took control of a midsize Russian city, Rostov-on-Don, they failed to gather much public support.

By Saturday night, Aleksandr Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, had stepped in and arranged for Prigozhin to go to Belarus and avoid criminal charges, and for the Wagner fighters to avoid repercussions.

Reaction: Residents cheered and embraced the mercenaries as they left Rostov-on-Don on Saturday. My colleague Roger Cohen writes that Prigozhin’s description of his actions as a “march for justice” will have resonated with some, perhaps many, Russians.

Aftermath: The impact of such a direct challenge to the Kremlin, which went unpunished, might not be felt for days or weeks. It could have profound implications for Russia’s global standing as partners like China reassess the strength of Putin’s authority.

Analysis: Peter Baker writes that the disarray in Russia could lead to a breakdown of its war effort but that chaos in a nuclear-armed nation is always cause for concern.

What’s next: The future of the Wagner group and Prigozhin’s continued role in it remains unclear. The uncertainty extends to the group’s operations in Africa, where it has thousands of fighters.

The Russian Mutiny Through a Chinese Lens

Howard Chua-Eoan

One of the more notable observations from this past weekend of Russian chaos emerged from Chinese social media. It doesn’t go anywhere toward explaining what happened on the road to Moscow, but it does say a lot about the way ordinary Chinese regard the chaos in their immense neighbor and ally. That popular perspective will likely factor into how Xi Jinping recalibrates his “friendship without limits” with Vladimir Putin.

On Saturday, in the middle of the mess, Eunice Yoon, CNBC’s China bureau chief, tweeted a sampling of Chinese commentary about Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny, including the results of an online poll. The question: Which historical event do you think is most like what’s happening in Russia now? 

More commonly known as the An Lushan rebellion in Western books about China, the 8th century uprising was one of the most cataclysmic upheavals not just in that country but in global history. In The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity, Stephen Pinker describes it as the “worst atrocity of all time… an eight-year rebellion during China’s Tang Dynasty that, according to censuses, resulted in the loss of two-thirds of the empire’s population, a sixth of the world’s population at the time.”

That may be an exaggeration — collecting accurate statistics in the wake of a civil war is hazardous. But the apocalyptic sentiment is consistent with the Chinese historical imagination, heavily inculcated with millennia of lore. The parallels are startling. Just as Prigozhin broke with his apparent patrons to march on Moscow, An Lushan was a favorite of the imperial court in Chang’an (now Xi’an) whose ambitions led him to war against erstwhile allies and march on the capital, forcing the emperor to flee.

Until that moment in 755, the monarch — Xuanzong, also known as the Ming (or brilliant) emperor — had reigned over what was the richest and perhaps most powerful empire on earth, stretching from provinces on the Pacific to military protectorates deep into Central Asia. All too comfortable on the throne for more than four decades, Xuanzong allowed prosperity to get in the way of governance — and thus put at risk the Mandate of Heaven, the philosophical principle that recognized a dynasty’s right to rule. He’d fallen under the influence of his beloved concubine Yang Guifei (who had been married to one of his sons) 1 and by extension her family, many of whom were appointed to high office.

US delivers 'tough talk' to Israeli officials over West Bank escalation

Ben Caspit

TEL AVIV — Shocking settler violence against West Bank Palestinians has polarized Israeli society and antagonized an already exasperated Biden administration.

Israel’s top three security officials issued a joint communique on Saturday condemning the recent rampaging by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. “These attacks go against every moral and Jewish value and are nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term, and we are obliged to fight them,” wrote Israel’s top soldier Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet security agency head Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.

Their use of the term "nationalist terrorism," almost always reserved for Palestinian violence against Israelis, found widespread condemnation among settlers and the government ministers who back them.

“It is as if the government supports the settlers rather than the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet,” a former senior defense official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

National Missions Minister Orit Struk of the Religious Zionism party, herself a settler, went as far as to call the security agency heads “the Wagner Group” in a radio interview. She subsequently apologized for equating them with the notorious Russian mercenaries, but said she stands by her condemnation of equating settlers with terrorists.

Her remarks reflect widespread sentiment within Israeli society, including top government figures. Responding to the murder of four Israelis by Palestinian gunmen in near the Eli West Bank settlement last week, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urged his fellow settlers to “run and settle on the hills and everywhere possible.”

The latest developments could have widespread repercussions. They prompted some tough talk by Assistant US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Barbara Leaf in meetings in Israel this week with national security adviser Tzahi Hanegbi, Foreign Ministry Director Ronen Levy, the Defense Ministry’s top liaison with the Palestinians Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian and others.

Russia’s New Time of Troubles

Vladislav Zubok

In the midst of the mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s brief rebellion on June 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the “treason” of the Wagner paramilitary leader with the revolutionary turmoil of 1917. “Intrigues, squabbles, politicking behind the back of the army and the people led to great calamity, destruction of the army and the demise for the state, the loss of enormous territories, and, in the end, the tragedy of civil war,” Putin said in a televised address, blaming “internal betrayal” for Russia’s defeat in World War I and the collapse of its empire. “What we’re facing is exactly a betrayal.”

As if taking his cue, some Western analysts compared Prigozhin to Lavr Kornilov, the imperial Russian general who, in August 1917, sent his troops from the frontline to Petrograd, then Russia’s capital, to clear it of revolutionaries—only to be accused of attempting a coup and imprisoned. More than 100 years later, many of Putin’s enemies asserted, Russia was imploding again. After seizing a major Russian military headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Prigozhin’s mercenaries moved north toward Moscow in an orderly column, passing one region after another without meeting any resistance. Meanwhile, not a peep was heard from the Kremlin, and rumors spread that Putin had flown out of Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that the Russian president was no longer in control. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian dissident in exile, suggested that ordinary Russians should arm themselves because a civil war was afoot.

Within a few hours, however, Prigozhin had called off his drive to Moscow and agreed to a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko: Prigozhin would avoid prosecution for treason by leaving for Belarus, and Wagner’s fighters could either go with him or agree to sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense. What had seemed to be a drama that might culminate in Putin’s demise suddenly looked more like a farce.

The Wagner Group Rebellion: What Happens Now?

Daniel Davis

On Monday night, in the aftermath of last weekend’s attempted putsch by Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin announced that he was giving Wagner fighters “the opportunity” of signing a contract with the Russian army, going home, or joining Prigozhin in Belarus. On Tuesday morning Putin ordered all charges dropped against any Wagner member. As more details emerge from the chaos of the aborted rebellion, some things are becoming clearer – while others remain shrouded.

Many in the West have already firmly concluded the incident has permanently damaged Putin and that his end is now only a matter of time. While such Western views are understandable to a degree, the reality is more complicated and uncertain. Some things are known, others aren’t, and the ultimate consequences could still end up both positive and negative for Putin. First, the knowns.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko held extensive talks with both Putin and Prigozhin on Saturday, the critical day when Wagner troops occupied central Rostov. Though the details of those phone calls have yet to be fully revealed, Lukashenko later acknowledged that Prigozhin had been given “(s)ecurity guarantees, as (Putin) promised yesterday,” and then confirmed this morning that, yes “indeed, (Prigozhin) is in Belarus today.”

Lukashenko also revealed key parts of his negotiations with Prigozhin on Tuesday that had previously not been reported. Russian Telegram channel Operation Z reported that Lukashenko was partly sympathetic to Prigozhin and his plight, conveying that the Wagner chief was tremendously upset because the Russian MoD allegedly withheld ammunition Wagner needed in Bakhmut, resulting in unnecessary casualties by his men. When Prigozhin said one of his main conditions for ending the uprising was the removal of Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff, Valery Garasimov, Lukashenko flatly told him “no one will give you either Shoigu or Garasimov, especially in this situation.”

US and Allies Continue Training Ukrainian Troops Amid Counter-Offensive


The U.S. continues to train Ukrainian infantry battalions and has plans to prepare yet more troops now that 12 trained brigades have returned to Ukraine for the counter-offensive, according to the U.S. military officials.

European nations are training three brigades, with nine different countries supporting the training, said Cmdr. Lenaya Rotklein, a spokeswoman for the unit responsible for coordinating security assistance to Ukraine, the Security Assistance Group-Ukraine.

The U.S. is also training one tank battalion and two national guard battalions on combined arms, said Col. Martin L. O'Donnell, a spokesperson for U.S. Army Europe and Africa. Combined arms training teaches soldiers how to coordinate with tanks, artillery, and planes during combat.

And the U.S. is planning to train additional units, Rotklein said. “We will continue to provide Ukraine with the means to fight and defend itself,” Rotklein said.

The U.S. combined arms training for Ukrainian soldiers began in mid-January as part of a U.S. push to help prepare them for a large-scale counter-offensive against Russia, which still occupies around 17% of Ukrainian territory.

The 12 trained brigades that have returned to Ukraine are expected to play a major part in the ongoing counteroffensive. Ukraine’s attacking forces face long-entrenched Russian positions defended by soldiers, tanks, artillery, and aircraft.

The training for these brigades included attacking mock Russian defenses, Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa, said at the Conference of European Armies last week.

The Ukrainian army swelled from a pre-February 2022 force of 250,000 to 700,000 soldiers following Russia’s full-scale invasion. Many troops receive just a month of training in Ukraine before reporting to the battlefield.

Russia drops charges against mercenary leader and others involved in brief rebellion

In this handout photo taken from video released by Prigozhin Press Service, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, records his video addresses in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023.AP

Russian authorities said Tuesday they have closed a criminal investigation into the armed rebellion led by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, with no charges against him or any of the other participants.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, said its investigation found that those involved in the mutiny "ceased activities directed at committing the crime."

Over the weekend, the Kremlin pledged not to prosecute Prigozhin and his fighters after he stopped the revolt on Saturday, even though President Vladimir Putin had branded them as traitors.

The charge of mounting an armed mutiny carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Prigozhin escaping prosecution poses a stark contrast to how the Kremlin has been treating those staging anti-government protests.

Many opposition figures in Russia have received length prison terms and are serving time in penal colonies notorious for harsh conditions.

The whereabouts of Prigozhin remained a mystery Tuesday, The Kremlin has said Prigozhin would be exiled to neighboring Belarus, but neither he nor the Belarusian authorities have confirmed that.

An independent Belarusian military monitoring project Belaruski Hajun said a business jet that Prigozhin reportedly uses landed near Minsk on Tuesday morning.

On Monday night, Putin once again blasted organizers of the rebellion as traitors who played into the hands of Ukraine's government and its allies.

We can work it out, say US and EU, but trade disputes linger


BRUSSELS — Top U.S. and European officials insist their trade relationship is stronger than ever, but negotiations on two key agreements have become bogged down in disagreement, raising questions about whether the West is really as aligned as it says.

Negotiators are hustling to hammer out high-stakes agreements on critical raw materials as well as green steel and aluminum, aiming to resolve nagging disputes that threaten to undermine the longtime allies' efforts to present a united front in the face of China’s market dominance and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

But some diplomats and industry observers worry that too little progress has been made and that the myriad efforts to enhance relations since President Joe Biden took office — most notably the formation of a new body called the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council — have yet to yield tangible results on trade.

“There is still a lot on the table and you notice that the progress is very slow,” Dutch Trade Minister Liesje Schreinemacher told reporters after a meeting of EU trade ministers last month.

An EU diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly, told POLITICO that “people are getting nervous and starting to ask questions” about the ongoing negotiations: “There is a positive agenda between the EU and the U.S., but we need results.”

The anxiety is compounded by the changing nature of global trade.

While the U.S. and EU have long squabbled over issues such as food labels and export requirements, today's trade disputes center on more existential questions about whether their schemes for combating climate change, supply chain disruptions, and foreign economic threats will lead to more harmony or conflict across the Atlantic.

After successive U.S. administrations hobbled the ability of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to adjudicate in trade disputes, there is little margin for error.

After mutiny, Putin says Wagner can go to Belarus, go home or fight for Russia

Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina

Their other options were to return to their families or sign contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry, he said.

Putin’s speech came hours after Wagner chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin resurfaced in a video posted online, declaring that his motive on Saturday was to save the group from being subsumed by the Russian military — not to topple the Russian president.

In a tone both stern and conciliatory, Putin said that Wagner’s mutiny would have been crushed by Russian security forces if it had not halted its advance on Moscow, but also that the “vast majority” of Wagner fighters were patriots.

Delivered after 10 p.m. Moscow time, the address appeared to be an effort by Putin to reassert control over a shaken nation and to stem concerns that the mutiny had exposed deep flaws in Russia’s security. It also seemed designed to quiet critics of his move to drop insurgency charges against Prigozhin, with many hard-liners saying it was wrong to compromise with traitors.

“All the necessary decisions were immediately taken to neutralize the threat that had arisen,” Putin said. “An armed rebellion would have been suppressed in any case.”

Prigozhin said he ordered the rebellion after Russia’s military killed about 30 Wagner fighters in a missile strike on one of their camps. He accepted a deal, he said in an 11-minute audio address posted Monday on Telegram, to avoid prosecution and move to Belarus because Wagner could continue its operations there. He did not disclose his whereabouts or the location of his fighters.

Prigozhin’s brazen revolt confronted Putin with the fiercest challenge he has faced in more than 23 years as Russia’s supreme leader — calling into question the stability of a system where the rule of law is readily dispensable and oligarchs and officials jostle constantly for presidential favor, state benefits and influence. It also laid bare the bitter divisions over Putin’s handling of the war in Ukraine and could have serious repercussions on the battlefield.

U.S. Suspected Prigozhin Was Preparing to Take Military Action Against Russia

David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes

American intelligence officials briefed senior military and administration officials on Wednesday that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, was preparing to take military action against senior Russian defense officials, according to officials familiar with the matter.

U.S. spy agencies had indications days earlier that Mr. Prigozhin was planning something and worked to refine that material into a finished assessment, officials said.

The information shows that the United States was aware of impending events in Russia, similar to how intelligence agencies had warned in late 2021 that Vladimir V. Putin was planning to invade Ukraine.

But unlike with the initial invasion, when U.S. officials declassified the intelligence and then released it to try to deter Mr. Putin from invading, intelligence agencies kept silent about Mr. Prigozhin’s plans. U.S. officials felt that if they said anything, Mr. Putin could accuse them of orchestrating a coup. And they clearly had little interest in helping Mr. Putin avoid a major, embarrassing fracturing of his support.

In this case, the information that the long-running feud between Mr. Prigozhin, who got his start as “Putin’s chef” in St. Petersburg, and Russian defense officials was about to devolve into conflict was considered both solid and alarming. Mr. Prigozhin is known for his brutality, and had he succeeded in ousting the officials, he would likely have been an unpredictable leader. And the possibility that a major nuclear-armed rival of the United States could descend into internal chaos carried with it a new set of risks.

While it is not clear exactly when the United States first learned of the plot, intelligence officials conducted briefings on Wednesday with administration and defense officials. On Thursday, as additional confirmation of the plot came in, intelligence officials informed a narrow group of congressional leaders, according to officials familiar with the briefings who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. By Friday night, Mr. Prigozhin had dramatically escalated his feud, launching a march on Moscow that the Russian government described as an attempted coup. On Saturday, he called his fighters off and agreed to flee to Belarus.

Understand Russia’s 36-Hour Rebellion

Russian forces hit Kherson Oblast with 500-kilogram guided bombs

Alexander Khrebet

Russian forces attacked southern Kherson Oblast with KAB-500 guided munition over the past day, Ukraine’s military Southern Command reported on June 25.

The attack with at least two 500-kilogram bombs targeted the villages of Kozatske and Vesele on the west bank of the Dnipro River, just north of the destroyed Kakhovka Dam.

Russian attacks destroyed one house while damaging several others, according to the report.

Russia's KAB “smart” bombs, ranging from KAB-250 and KAB-500 to KAB-1500, can be laser-guided or satellite-guided. The KAB-500L, equipped with a high-explosive warhead, is frequently used in Russia's war against Ukraine, although multiple versions of KAB bombs have been used.

No casualties were reported in the June 25 attack.

However, Russian artillery fire killed one civilian and injured two others in the region, the military reported.

Kherson Oblast Governor Oleksandr Prokudin reported on the morning of June 25 that a 44-year-old man was killed as one of the Russian artillery rounds exploded just inside the living room.

Military AI’s Next Frontier: Your Work Computer

IT’S PROBABLY HARD to imagine that you are the target of spycraft, but spying on employees is the next frontier of military AI. Surveillance techniques familiar to authoritarian dictatorships have now been repurposed to target American workers.

Over the past decade, a few dozen companies have emerged to sell your employer subscriptions for services like “open source intelligence,” “reputation management,” and “insider threat assessment”—tools often originally developed by defense contractors for intelligence uses. As deep learning and new data sources have become available over the past few years, these tools have become dramatically more sophisticated. With them, your boss may be able to use advanced data analytics to identify labor organizing, internal leakers, and the company’s critics.

Gabriel Grill is a researcher at the Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing at the University of Michigan.

Christian Sandvig is Director of the Center for Ethics, Society and Computing and the McLuhan Collegiate Professor of Information at the University of Michigan.

It’s no secret that unionization is already monitored by big companies like Amazon. But the expansion and normalization of tools to track workers has attracted little comment, despite their ominous origins. If they are as powerful as they claim to be—or even heading in that direction—we need a public conversation about the wisdom of transferring these informational munitions into private hands. Military-grade AI was intended to target our national enemies, nominally under the control of elected democratic governments, with safeguards in place to prevent its use against citizens. We should all be concerned by the idea that the same systems can now be widely deployable by anyone able to pay.

There’s no winning the cyber war — but that’s OK


For the last decade or more — as cyber threats emerged from the shadows into broad public view — commentators and the media have told us we are losing a “cyber war.” Look at the headlines: “America Seen Losing Cyber War,” “Why Are We Losing The Cyber War,” “Why We’re Losing the Cybersecurity War,” and “How the United States Lost to Hackers.” The unintentional message is stark: abandon all hope, ye who cyber here. But these headlines are based on a false premise, because there is no bounded conflict to “win” or “lose.” Worse, the incessant drumbeat of panicky, defeatist rhetoric delivers a message that enables criminals and adversaries. Who could blame the average person for wondering why they should even try to secure their phones and computers if the most powerful nation in the world has already admitted defeat in the “cyber war?”

Of course, some very bad stuff has happened in our increasingly connected society. Criminals and nations have stolen billions of dollars; Russia took down parts of the Ukrainian power grid (at least twice); the East Coast had gasoline shortages when Colonial Pipeline shut down its operations after a ransomware attack; countless hospitals have been crippled for days or longer; Sony Pictures saw its deepest secrets published for the world. All of these incidents bring with them significant costs — physical, financial and psychological. Some are genuine disasters.

But there was no “Battle of Colonial Pipeline,” and the breach itself was not part of some grand conflict. In fact, Colonial was not specifically targeted; it was one of many companies that a relatively unsophisticated hacker tried to ransom, and he was only able to breach Colonial because it wasn’t using a basic security tool. If this was a battle in a grand cyber war, then our troops didn’t put up a fight. And if we continue to define “victory” as a complete absence of bad cyber things, then this is just another unwinnable war on a noun — like the “wars” on drugs, terrorism, and teen pregnancy. We continue down this path at our own peril.

Cyber Security: Threats from Within and Without

Ruairí Fahy

A stacked, one-sided panel discussed the issue of Cyber Security at the Government’s Consultative Forum on Security Policy. As Ruairí Fahy outlines, the make-up of the panel meant that important viewpoints were not heard and the conclusions that can be drawn from it are highly limited.

The “Consultative Forum on International Security Policy” has been called out as a “stitch-up” as the views of those chosen to speak on the panels mostly support further Irish integration with projects and operations led by NATO and PESCO.

On many panels this makes the conversations almost worthless as the views of those on the panel align, but there is little or no agreement with those who have weren’t given a place to outline their position in the debate on basic facts that underline the spread of war and violence or what is needed to move towards peace.

In the case of the “New and emerging threats: Cyber security” panel, the objective facts put forward as to what the perceived threats are and how to defend against them are likely agreeable to those on the panel, to most software engineers and to those who would describe themselves as anti-war and against growing militarism. However, the lack of anti-war voices weakens the debate and limits the value of the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

Since the facts surrounding cyber threats and causes are widely accepted I’ll highlight some of the more interesting points of difference brought up during overviews by panellists and in response to questions from the floor.
“What would the AI answer be to Irish neutrality?”

Chris Johnson of the UK National Cyber Advisory Board said he fears that “within 10 years it will be almost impossible to buy high level munitions without machine learning in them. Does neutrality provide you with sufficient defence against adversaries that are equipped with these sorts of weapons?”

A letter making similar claims about the perceived threats of machine learning, or Artificial Intelligence as it’s described in companies’ marketing material, was signed by the CEOs and senior figures within some of the world’s most highly funded companies developing machine learning tools.

For all their talk these companies have not agreed to stop working on tools that they believe are a threat to all of humanity. If they truly believe that there’s a threat and won’t stop of their own accord the question of security isn’t one of starting a new arms race but of states using their coercive arms of police and courts to shut them down.

How 5G Is Enabling Autonomous Military Inspector Drones in the Pacific


A future fight against China will likely involve a network of bases spread out across small islands in the Pacific—a potential logistics nightmare. To prepare, the Air Force is working with Boeing on drones, AI, and augmented reality—empowered by 5G—that can make some basic maintenance inspection tasks faster and less complicated.

At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, members of the Air Force’s 15th Maintenance Group at last May tested a new way to perform maintenance tasks: using autonomous drones for routine inspections of aircraft, to look for things like corrosion, missing rivets, etc.. and inform maintainers. That could drastically cut down on the time and complexity of inspections.

The drones, operated by a company called Near Earth Autonomy in collaboration with Boeing, could drastically cut down on the time and complexity of inspections—inspecting just the tail of a C-17 can take six hours, Scott Belanger, who works product support for Boeing Global Services, told reporters Tuesday.

“That includes getting everyone together, finding all the lifts, doing the safety briefs, putting the harness on, getting the helmet, realizing the lift doesn't work. I mean, there's just a whole process,” He said. And that timeline assumes the service doesn’t have to fly an inspector from another location.

Boeing’s early experiments in autonomous aircraft inspection show that an autonomous drone flying around the aircraft, finding trouble spots using image recognition artificial intelligence, and then pinging a human maintainer elsewhere to verify findings cuts the overall time down considerably: a routine inspection can be as short as 30 minutes.

Autonomous inspections would also give the Air Force a more up-to-date digital database of maintenance issues service-wide, which could help the force better predict where to station materials and maintainers in the future.

How the ‘Stormbringers’ are Preparing for War in Space


As the U.S. Space Force prepares for conflict in space, the service’s orbital warfare unit is training its guardians to respond to provocations from Russia or China.

Based at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, Space Delta 9 aims to “cultivate a deep understanding” of “offensive and defensive fires” so it can preserve access to space and respond to on-orbit threats if necessary, said Space Delta 9 Commander Col. Mark Bigley.

Since most military space technology remains classified, the Pentagon has not been explicit about what “offensive” weapons might look like in the space domain—or whether it would involve jamming or physically destroying an adversary’s spacecraft.

Regardless, Bigley told Defense One the Space Force must prepare its satellite operators to respond, because both Russia and China have demonstrated they are “capable and willing” to develop systems that disrupt peaceful space operations.

“As we've seen them demonstrate those capabilities, [that] has given us some insight into what those countries’ systems are capable of and understanding how we may have to protect and defend against those in the future,” Bigley said.

Russia in 2021 conducted a hit-to-kill anti-satellite test, creating more than 1,500 pieces of debris. China has proved its ability to grab and tow spacecraft with its S-J 21 satellite, which recently took a defunct Chinese satellite out of geostationary orbit.

There’s no longer any question of whether space has been weaponized, Maj. Gen. David Miller, U.S. Space Command director of operations, training, and force development, said Monday during a Mitchell Institute event.

JUST IN: U.S. Desperately Needs Cyber Talent, Congress Says

Cambrie Eckert

With almost 700,000 cybersecurity job openings, the United States doesn’t have enough cybersecurity experts to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure and federal networks from cyber threats, according to members of industry and Congress.

Representatives and witnesses painted an alarming picture of the shortfall in cybersecurity talent during a June 22 House Homeland Security Committee subcommittee on cybersecurity and infrastructure hearing.

“We need not only enough people, but the right people with the right skills in the right jobs to meet the growing cyber threat,” said Rep. Andrew Garbarino, R-N.Y. “In April, the FBI director testified to Congress that even if all FBI cyber-agents and [intelligence] analysts focused on the China threat, Chinese hackers would still outnumber our FBI cyber personnel at least 50 to one. That is extremely concerning.”

Will Markow, vice president of applied research at labor market analytics firm Lightcast, told members that the cybersecurity talent pipeline is severely broken.

“In the past 12 months, there are over 660,000 cybersecurity job openings in the United States, but we only have 69 skilled cybersecurity workers for every 100 that employers demand,” he said. “This means we are stepping onto the digital battlefield missing nearly a third of our army, and the consequences of this talent shortage echo across our country.”

The consequences manifest in the economy, increasing hiring costs and salaries for cybersecurity workers, he added. Meanwhile, cybersecurity jobs take 21 percent longer to fill than other IT roles, which can lead to cybersecurity position vacancies as cyber threats increase.

Inside The Army’s Plan To Simplify AI For Intel Systems


PHILADELPHIA—The Army wants to build an AI pipeline with proven and trusted tech to fuel new programs in the service’s shop for intelligence and electronic warfare programs.

“The data available to intel analysts at speed and scale is impossible to leverage in real time, so they're gonna have to have models and algorithms just to help sort through this giant amount of data. And that's where Linchpin comes in,” Col. Chris Anderson, the program manager for ​​intelligence systems and analytics at Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors, told Defense One. “There will always still be a human in the loop. But we're gonna have to have AI and [machine learning] to filter out the stuff that doesn't matter.”

At its core, Project Linchpin aims to help program managers seamlessly integrate AI and machine learning capabilities in their portfolios without having to build a pipeline themselves.

“Program managers build the bridge across the valley of death. We've seen time and time again, a really good idea and it'll get some initial resources and some initial stakeholder support. But then as folks rotate out and priorities change, if it's not a program of record, it tends to go away,” Anderson said.

The plan is to make Project Linchpin a program of record by 2026 and start awarding contracts by April 2024. The Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, or TITAN program, which will help commanders parse information on the battlefield, will be the first to use Linchpin, he said.

Defense One sat with Anderson at the Army’s Technical Exchange Meeting to learn more about the burgeoning program and what it means for the service, industry, and AI on the battlefield.

Why does Linchpin matter?

Senate committee advances bill that may kill Army Combat Fitness Test

Davis Winkie

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed the chamber’s fiscal 2024 defense policy bill Friday, which according to an official summary, “restores the Army’s Physical Fitness Test (APFT) as the test of record.” Although the bill has a long road ahead before it becomes law, the move signals powerful lawmakers’ frustration with the Army Combat Fitness Test.

The combat fitness test, after a years-long pilot and implementation period, became the official test for active duty soldiers on Oct. 1, 2022.

But should the Senate committee’s proposal eventually receive President Joe Biden’s signature, which would first require full Senate approval and then agreement from the House of Representatives to include it in the joint version of the bill, the Army couldn’t implement a new test without a three-year pilot and waiting period that includes mandatory briefings to Congress.

The House’s version of the fiscal 2024 policy bill, which is yet to pass the chamber’s Armed Services Committee, currently would task the Army with creating “sex-neutral physical fitness standards” for combat jobs on the test, but stops short of killing it entirely.

The Army’s top NCO, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, spoke to reporters Monday morning in the wake of Congress’ move. While he declined to speak in direct response to the bill, Grinston was blunt about the impact reverting to the old fitness test would have on the force.

How this unit could shape the future of infantry battalions for decades

Todd South

A battalion from one of the oldest continuously active Marine regiments will conduct experiments in the next two years that could define how the infantry battalion operates for decades to come.

That unit is 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, out of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California.

And it’ll be doing that work with a reconfigured, slimmer battalion of 811 Marines and 69 Navy support personnel, for a total manning of 880 personnel, according to figures provided by Marine officials.

That’s down from the standard battalion requirement of 965 Marines and sailors prior to Force Design 2030 efforts that kicked off in 2019, and the current 877 Marines and sailors that are currently the infantry battalion standard manning, officials said.

But the figure remains higher than one of the three experimental battalions that worked through Phase I infantry battalion experiments with only 735 Marines.

Those numbers came from the annual update to Force Design 2030, Commandant Gen. David Berger’s plan to restructure the Marine Corps, and requests made by Marine Corps Times to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Warfighting Lab and Manpower & Reserve Affairs.

The Force Design 2030 aims to have the Corps operate more dispersed in littoral zones with precision long-range fires, reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance and a host of new capabilities that Berger and his supporters say war-gaming has shown will transform how Marine units operate in future wars.