29 February 2024

The Coming Showdown Over Rafah


The war between Israel and Hamas is approaching a key moment of decision. Will the powerful Israel Defense Forces (IDF) smash their way into calamitously crowded Rafah? After destroying many thousands of homes elsewhere in the strip, Rafah would be the IDF’s final target. That’s where Hamas leaders are believed to be hiding in their vast network of tunnels, probably with more than 130 hostages kidnapped from Israel on October 7 as part of a terrorist attack that killed around 1,200 people.

Or perhaps Hamas will end this war by freeing all the hostages? That could be part of a deal in which the Islamic radical group’s leaders would be allowed to leave for exile, probably in some Arab country—which is what the PLO’s Yasser Arafat chose to do, departing Lebanon after the IDF invaded that country in 1982.

President Joe Biden has pointedly told Israel that Rafah—where the usual population of 400,000 Palestinians has swelled by an additional million who fled there to escape Israeli bombings and fighting—should not be the next battleground, unless Israel can carry out a detailed plan to evacuate the civilians.

The result, so far, is a game of chicken. Who will blink first?

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—but also retired General Benny Gantz, his political rival who joined an emergency war cabinet after October 7—have declared that the IDF has to go into Rafah: to finish the job of destroying Hamas’s governing power, to kill or capture the group’s leaders, and to rescue as many hostages as possible. Gantz even suggested a deadline of March 10.

Yet so far, the refugees in their tents have not been leaving: not going back to damaged or destroyed homes, and certainly not being allowed by neighboring Egypt to cross the border into the Sinai peninsula. Those displaced Palestinians understandably tell aid workers and reporters that there is no place safe in the Gaza strip. Many say they are entrusting their fate to God.

Why Is Hamas Not Conducting More Suicide Attacks? - Opinion

Joseph Mroszczyk

Historically, Hamas has been known for its use of suicide attacks in their campaigns of terror targeting Israel since the early 1990s. The group conducted approximately 40% of the 135 suicide attacks during the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005 and has killed 857 people in their suicide bombings between 1987 and 2020. Given this record of employing suicide tactics to deadly effect, it is puzzling to observe that Hamas did not use suicide tactics during its October 7 attacks on Israel and is not using them more frequently in subsequent fighting against Israeli forces in Gaza. What can explain this apparent shift in tactical approach?

Terrorism scholars have long cited the operational advantages of suicide attacks to explain why terrorist groups—particularly jihadist groups—have adopted this tactic around the world. Despite the costs associated with this tactic, namely the loss of a trained operative from a group’s ranks, terrorist groups might derive significant tactical benefits that outweigh those costs. These benefits include uniquely high lethality rates, the ability to instill more fear into a targeted population, and the attention-grabbing quality of suicide attacks that nearly guarantees media attention. Assuming terrorist group leaders are rational actors seeking to maximize the effects of their violence, it is not surprising why this tactic has proliferated worldwide.

Yet, despite this presumed record of effectiveness, Hamas has apparently made the strategic decision to limit the use of suicide tactics against either Israeli civilians or security forces. It is challenging to gather data on how many suicide attacks the group has carried out since fighting began in Gaza as reporting is largely unconfirmed or anecdotal, but this tactic has not been a prominent component of their campaign and was not part of their siege on Israel on October 7. For now, it is impossible to know for sure why Hamas has not been using suicide attacks widely in their recent operations. The study of suicide terrorism is plagued by a number of methodological problems, particularly the lack of access to group leaders to discuss their decision-making criteria. However, based on existing research on terrorism, at least three factors may have contributed to this decision to not rely on suicide tactics.

The Economics Behind India’s Farmers Protest

Bibhudatta Pradhan

India’s farmers are on the warpath again, just a few weeks before the country’s general elections.

More than 20,000 farmers, riding on tractors and trucks, have been trying to head toward New Delhi since February 13, in an attempt to pressure Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government into meeting their demand for guaranteed minimum support prices for crops.

The farmers tried to push through multi-layered barricades of concrete blocks, barbed wire, and spikes erected by the police. Security forces stopped them by dropping tear gas shells from drones and firing rubber bullets.

Farmers are camping at two locations, about 200 kilometers away from Delhi, with bulldozers, hydraulic cranes, and thousands of tractor trolleys loaded with dry rations and water-proof sheets. Four rounds of talks between the government and representatives of the farmers have failed. The protests have intensified after a farmer died following clashes with police.

In India, farmers’ demands are ambitious and complex. Here’s why.

Who Are the Protesting Farmers?

About 200 farmers’ unions from the northern state of Punjab, known as India’s grain bowl, are spearheading the agitation, along with cultivators from neighboring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The 1960s Green Revolution – which made the country self-sufficient in food for the first time – took off from Punjab.

Punjab farmers extensively used free electricity and subsidized fertilizer to produce water-guzzling crops such as wheat and rice because of assured state purchases. They later became reluctant to cultivate less water-consuming crops. Their incomes gradually declined with the rising cost of production, decreasing yields, and wild fluctuation in market prices.

How Would India Respond in a Taiwan Contingency?

Jagannath Panda

In mid-February, a month after the Taiwanese presidential and parliamentary elections, India and Taiwan signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on migration and mobility, which garnered controversial headlines and had the makings of a diplomatic fracas. On the surface, the pact is largely uncontroversial, with both sides benefiting without crossing diplomatic red lines: India’s surfeit of global migrant workers can help Taiwan’s labor shortage woes amid an aging population while easing India’s employment problems. Yet the potential for deeper exchanges between India and Taiwan has seemingly unnerved China.

Last year, after a report publicized some details on the potential recruitment of up to 100,000 Indian workers by Taiwan, a frenzy of racist attacks on social media forced the Taiwanese government to intercede. Taiwan’s Labor Minister Hsu Ming-chun alleged Chinese interference, calling the social media posts a form of “cognitive warfare,” and even denied some reported claims as “false information.”

That the MoU was only signed after Lai Ching-te, the candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election highlights that the DPP’s third consecutive win has strengthened India’s and Taiwan’s intent to give impetus to their continuing strategic cooperation. By the same token, it will also sharpen escalation with Beijing. India and Taiwan will expect China to use coercive, misleading means, including intimidation tactics, to disrupt any constructive mechanisms; both sides understand the need to counter such moves deftly, as the aforementioned incident clearly highlighted.

Taking the growing bilateral relationship into account, and in view of the ongoing tensions in the Indo-Pacific maritime arena, including in the Taiwan Strait, the Indian Ocean region (IOR) and the South China Sea, it is critical to examine India’s evolution, or lack of it, in relation to the Taiwan question.

The Deadly Border Between Bangladesh and India

Saqlain Rizve

It was a typical day in April 2018, the hottest month in Bangladesh. Rasel Miah, a 14-year-old boy hailing from Phulbari Upazila in Kurigram, accompanied his father Md Hanif Uddin, a farmer, to their field near the Bangladesh-India border, just beyond the 150-yard No Man’s Land. As the sun began to set, Miah and his father were wrapping up their work to go home. Miah was holding onto the rope of their cow when out of nowhere two members of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) rushed toward them.

“I was dressed in a lungi [a traditional garment worn by men in Bangladesh and various Asian countries] along with a t-shirt while holding our cow’s rope. As they started to run to us, I ran with our cow. At one point, I jumped into a river, and suddenly, a BSF member fired chita guli [rubber bullets],” Miah, now 20 years old and studying philosophy at Uttar Bangla College in Lalmonirhat, another northern bordering district of Bangladesh, recounted to The Diplomat.

“For a few minutes, I couldn’t see anything, and to this day, I still don’t see with my right eye,” he said.

“They claimed I was cutting the barbed wire fence. How could a 14-year-old boy cut the barbed fence of an international border? After returning home, the people who were working alongside us in the field mentioned that the BSF member appeared to be drunk at that time.”

There was extensive media coverage of the encounter and Miah’s injury. Following a diagnosis at a nearby hospital, Miah’s family transferred him to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where he underwent a month-long examination at a government hospital. Unfortunately, despite the efforts, he never regained vision in his right eye.

After the incident, the Indian foreign secretary at the time, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, promised to Miah’s family that India would bring the BSF member responsible to justice. Additionally, the Indian government provided him with the opportunity to seek more advanced treatment at a hospital in New Delhi. Despite two visits, his eye remained unable to see.

Ukraine war: Indians ‘duped’ by agents into fighting for Russia

Imran Qureshi and Neyaz Farooquee

At least a dozen Indians have been duped by agents into fighting for Russian forces in the country's war with Ukraine with reports saying one of them was killed in a missile strike.

Hemal Ashwinbhai from Gujarat state died in a missile attack last week, The Hindu newspaper reported over the weekend.

Hemal's father had told the BBC on 23 February that he spoke to his son three days ago. He said that he was posted 20-22km (12-13 miles) inside Ukraine's border and called him every few days when he got access to the mobile network.

The distraught families of the remaining men have now appealed to the federal government to get them back home.

The duped men, aged between 22 and 31 and hired as "helpers in the military establishment in Russia," were allegedly sent to the battlefield under the pretext of "training," according to their families.

Indian sources in Russia suggest dozens of Indians have joined the Russian army. However, a Russian defence ministry source informed The Hindu that the actual number recruited in the past year is approximately 100. The BBC has reached out to the Russian Embassy in Delhi, but there has been no response yet.

India's foreign ministry has acknowledged "that some Indian nationals have enlisted for support roles with the Russian army".

US Admiral Warns China Could Launch Surprise Attack From Military Drills

Micah McCartney

China's military is perilously close to being able to launch a surprise offensive against Taiwan, the commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet has warned.

Adm. Samuel Paparo, whom President Joe Biden has nominated as the next head of the Indo-Pacific Command, said the U.S. military will need to leverage innovations like machine learning and drone swarming technology to get a "stare instead of a blink" on China's military movements.

U.S. intelligence said last year Chinese leader Xi Jinping had ordered the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027. Many U.S. analysts have said Chinese preparations for war with Taiwan would likely be obvious months, if not a years, before any attack. However, former senior CIA intelligence analyst John Culver warned the potential for a smaller-scale campaign against outlying islands just off the Chinese coast, like Kinmen, is often overlooked.

In spite of a range of domestic headwinds facing Beijing, from a cooling economy to corruption at the highest levels of its military, the Chinese authorities "are undaunted in their ambitions for their excessive claims or their desire to coerce—if not effect—through the use of force its ambitions, notably in the West Pacific but worldwide," Paparo said at a summit hosted by the Department of Defense's Defense Innovation Unit earlier this month.

This aerial photo taken on January 2, 2017, shows a Chinese navy formation, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, center, during military drills in the South China Sea. China's aircraft carrier buildup is part of Beijing's efforts to seek greater global power.

China Looks to Ukraine War for Guidance on Attack Helicopters

Lyle Goldstein and Nathan Waechter

In shaping patterns of future warfare, there is little doubt that militaries across the world will be seeking to absorb the key lessons of the Russia-Ukraine War, ranging from the employment of tanks to the use of anti-ship cruise missiles and the ubiquitous drones. For the Chinese military, these lessons might even assume a greater importance, since the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lacks recent major combat experience. It has also leaned heavily on Russian weapons and doctrine for its rapid modernization over the last few decades.

Chinese media coverage of the war in Ukraine has been extensive. The close nature of the China-Russia “quasi-alliance” means that Chinese military analysts have not engaged in the ruthless critiques of Russian military performance that have been commonplace in the West. Yet, Chinese military analyses are still probing deeply for lessons to understand the shape of modern warfare. They have taken particular interest in the U.S. employment of novel weapons and strategies.

To fully grasp the scope and depth of these Chinese analyses it is important to take assessments from a full range of Chinese military media, which is more extensive than is often appreciated in the West. These articles are generally associated with research institutes that are directly involved in the Chinese military-industrial complex.

This exclusive series for The Diplomat will represent the first systematic attempt by Western analysts to evaluate these Chinese assessments of the war in Ukraine across the full spectrum of warfare, including the land, sea, air and space, and information domains. Read the rest of the series here.

As the stalemate in the Ukraine War seemed to harden during late 2023, military strategists wondered if 2024 could see breakthroughs driven by enhanced airpower. Many are focused, for instance, on the apparently imminent deployment of the first Ukrainian F-16 fighters to the battlefield. Likewise, Kyiv has celebrated its first apparent shootdown of a large Russian air battle management Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS)-type A-50 aircraft.

Hackers for sale: what we’ve learned from China’s enormous cyber leak

A enormous data leak from a Chinese cybersecurity firm has offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Beijing-linked hackers.

Analysts say the leak is a treasure trove of intel into the day-to-day operations of China’s hacking programme, which the FBI says is the biggest of any country. The company, I-Soon, has yet to confirm the leak is genuine and has not responded to a request for comment. As of Friday, the leaked data was removed from the online software repository GitHub, where it had been posted.

From staff complaints about pay and office gossip to claims of hacking foreign governments, here are some of the key insights from the leaks:

Who got hacked?

Every day, workers at I-Soon were targeting big fish.

Government agencies of China’s neighbours, including Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Cambodia, Mongolia and Vietnam, had websites or email servers compromised, the leak revealed. There are long lists of targets, from British government departments to Thai ministries. I-Soon staff also boasted in leaked chats that they secured access to telecom service providers in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Thailand and Malaysia, among others. They named the government of India – a geopolitical rival of Beijing’s – as a key target for “infiltration”. And they claimed to have secured back-end access to higher education institutions in Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. But they also admitted to having lost access to some of their data seized from government agencies in Myanmar and South Korea.

Other targets are domestic, from China’s north-western region of Xinjiang to Tibet and from illegal pornography to gambling rings.

China’s New Military Commanders Reflect Xi Jinping’s Naval Ambitions

Andrew S. Erickson

National leaders generally want capable militaries, but no other nation’s leader is overseeing increasing military capabilities at anything remotely approaching the scope, scale, and speed we are witnessing under Xi Jinping. China’s paramount leader is a man in a hurry, determined to resolve disputed sovereignty claims—none more important than achieving control over Taiwan and ensuring unification on his terms. Xi would prefer to recover Taiwan and achieve other top-priority objectives without initiating outright conflict. But he believes that the capability to do so is essential to coercing adversaries into submission, if possible, and compelling them militarily if not. Two new military leadership appointments reflect Xi’s deadly serious aims.

First, the world’s largest navy by number of ships has a new helmsman. On December 25, 2023, as Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman, Commander-in-Chief Xi promoted Vice Admiral Hu Zhongming (胡中明) to three-star Admiral in rank and Theater Command Leader in grade and appointed him Commander of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. Second, Hu’s predecessor, Admiral Dong Jun (董军),[1] was named the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Defense Minister four days later.

Embodying Xi’s requirement that his armed forces prepare credible warfighting capabilities, Hu and Dong are the latest in a trend of PLA Navy (PLAN) leaders bringing increasing operational expertise and focus. Hu is well-positioned to capitalize on his predecessors’ foundation and marshal future efforts toward closing key warfighting gaps. The goal is for the navy to offer increasingly specialized contributions within an ever-more-integrated military capable of waging and winning modern wars, within which naval forces have a vital role.

Huge China Data Dump Disappears


That big data leak of 571 files of data posted on GitHub had researchers and journalists salivating for five days—but on the sixth day, GitHub's Terms of Service were invoked. The biggest leak of data ever from any Chinese hacking organization was replaced overnight on 21-22 February with this notice:

“This repository has been disabled. Access to this repository has been disabled by GitHub Staff due to a violation of GitHub's terms of service. If you are the owner of the repository, you may reach out to GitHub Support for more information.”

A GitHub spokesman told SpyTalk: “We removed the content as it was found to be in violation of GitHub's Acceptable Use Policies on doxxing and invasion of privacy.”

But the bigger bottom line reason is obvious. GitHub, a company founded in 2008 and headquartered in San Francisco, was acquired by Microsoft in 2018 for $7.5 billion. It operates as an independent platform and maintains its own brand while integrating with Microsoft's other products.

Microsoft has operated in China since 1992, is headquartered in Beijing, and has over 9,000 employees there. It is not hard to imagine how hard the Chinese government rapped the knuckles of Microsoft's Beijing office to have those embarrassing files removed.

China’s Ministry of Public Security, or MPS, has operated in the shadow of its CIA rough equivalent, the Ministry of State Security, or MSS. Last year, however, saw the exposure of “overseas police stations” run by the MPS in 14 countries, including the U.S., supposedly to help Chinese citizens abroad renew driver’s licenses and the like, but in reality focused on suppressing the activities of Chinese dissidents abroad.

But earlier this week came the bombshell leak revealing why and how China’s national police have been enrolled in state espionage and sabotage operations on the world stage—through hacking.

Why the U.S. and Saudis Want a Two-State Solution, and Israel Doesn’t

Hussein Ibish

Amid the war in Gaza, a major crisis has been brewing, largely behind the scenes, between the United States and Israel over the need for a Palestinian state. The two governments’ positions have long diverged—except during the administration of Donald Trump, whose peace proposal envisaged Israel annexing an additional 30 percent of the occupied West Bank and enveloping a conditional Palestinian state in an even more empowered Greater Israel. Now that divergence has a harder, sharper edge than ever: Washington’s strategic goals in the region require a Palestinian state in the long run and Israeli acknowledgment of that aim in the short run; the Israeli government is having none of it.

Much expectation attends a purportedly comprehensive peace proposal that the U.S. and its most important Arab partners have reportedly been working on, soon to be unveiled and then implemented as the Gaza war winds down. The centerpiece of the plan would be a firm commitment to, and timeline for, the creation of a Palestinian state—a process that President Joe Biden has already mapped out in remarks. This agenda is especially important to Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister has made clear that a commitment to the two-state solution is a prerequisite for normalizing relations with Israel. The plan for a new postwar dispensation that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released on Friday made no such commitment, though it left just enough ambiguity about a possible “permanent arrangement with the Palestinians” not to foreclose that scenario.

This contradiction between U.S. and Israeli policies raises troubling quandaries. The Biden administration appears to be working to confront Israelis with the stark choice they face: security through an agreement with Palestinians and normalization with Saudi Arabia (and other Arab and Muslim countries), or inviting further conflict by clinging to occupied Palestinian lands at a heavy cost of antagonized regional relations and declining American sympathies.

But if confronting Israel with that scenario is not enough to move its leaders, will Washington be prepared to make Israeli cooperation with Palestinian statehood a demand rather than a hint?

Europe’s Strategic Moment

George Friedman

It’s been two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, so it’s time to lay out the strategic situation as I see it. In February 2022, I argued that Russia invaded Ukraine primarily to enhance its strategic depth. The wars on Russia prosecuted by Napoleon and Hitler were foiled by the great distances the invaders had to travel to reach Moscow – and by no small amount of Russian blood. That distance exhausted the attackers, breaking them by the time they reached the Russian heartland. The events of 2022 to me were no different: The war was intended to put more miles between Moscow and the West, especially NATO. Russia’s suspicion owes to the Maidan uprising in Ukraine in 2014, which toppled a pro-Russian leader and installed a pro-Western government and for which Moscow believes Washington was responsible.

In my opinion, America’s intentions were not to launch an eventual invasion of Russia, though it did have a small interest in limiting Russian influence. Russian intelligence is competent, and it is unlikely that the Kremlin received reports of American invasion plans ahead of the war in Ukraine. But in statecraft, intention is simply the quacking of ducks. Intentions can change in minutes. What Russia paid more heed to was capabilities. Whatever their intentions, the U.S. and NATO were in no position to invade Russia. Yet Russia feared that their intentions could change, as could their capabilities. A war should begin when the enemy has no intention to fight and has limited capability.

This calculation led Russia to invade Ukraine and thus acquire a vast buffer against American incursion if the U.S. changed its stance. The attack on Ukraine has been a failure. Moscow clearly meant to overrun Ukrainian forces quickly, before the U.S. or NATO could join the fray. Instead, Russia has experienced a significant number of casualties, a coup attempt from a private military group, significant economic losses and a reckoning with its own demographic problems.

Achieving extraordinary growth: Myths and realities

Jaidit Brar, Raunak Shah, and Shivanand Sinha

As India anticipates a century of independence in 2047, it is committing to sustainable and inclusive growth in its goal of becoming a developed economy. This ambition is likely to see 600 million jobs created, income rising sixfold to over $12,000 per capita and GDP growing to $19 trillion.1 In realizing this goal, the private sector is an indispensable partner.

We set out to understand how Indian enterprises can achieve the extraordinary growth necessary for them to propel India towards its centennial aspirations. We analyzed the performance of 837 Indian publicly traded companies between 2012 and 2022.2 The results of the research were clear. Most companies performed in line with national economic growth, over the period.3 However, what’s impressive is that one in every five companies (top quintile) were able to double their revenue every five years and quadruple it in ten, achieving revenue growth of 15 percent or more, compounded annually. This extraordinary growth rate is more than two and a half times4 the GDP growth rate during the same period, and it has the potential to act as a GDP growth catalyst (Exhibit 1).

We strive to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to our website. If you would like information about this content we will be happy to work with you. 

Our research clearly indicated that extraordinary growth rates such as these are achievable for Indian enterprises, but persistent myths abound that deter companies from pursuing such growth. This article debunks those myths and proposes enablers for companies aspiring to such growth.

Russia Claims American-Made M1 Abrams Tank Killed in Ukraine by Drone

Peter Suciu

Summary: The recent destruction of an American-made M1 Abrams tank in Ukraine, shortly after its deployment, has sparked significant attention and controversy. Russian sources were quick to celebrate the event, highlighting the effectiveness of low-cost drones against such advanced military hardware. The incident underscores the evolving dynamics of modern warfare, where the use of drones and anti-tank weapons can challenge even the most sophisticated and heavily armored vehicles. Despite this setback, experts argue that main battle tanks (MBTs) like the M1 Abrams remain crucial for high-intensity conflict, playing a vital role in both defensive and offensive operations. The loss of a single tank, while notable, reflects the broader context of war where both sides experience significant losses. The continued use of tanks, including the M1 Abrams, is essential for Ukraine's efforts to counter Russian aggression, illustrating the complex balance between technological advancement and tactical innovation on the battlefield.

Russian propagandists were quick to praise the tank's destruction, after it came under attack from units of the 15th Motorized Rifle Brigade from Samara near the eastern city of Avdiivka. That urban center fell to Russian forces last week.

A so-called "kamikaze drone" or other form of "loitering munition" reportedly targeted the MBT, ­and that point was further noted due to the relatively low cost of the unmanned aerial system (UAS) compared to the vehicle it destroyed.

"A beautiful tank burns beautifully: The first American M1 Abrams Tank on fire. Congratulations to Russian brothers!," wrote @SlavFreeSpirit on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

On Friday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (@DefenceU) also took to X to announce that the M1 Abrams was rolling into action with the 47th Mechanized Brigade. The United States first pledged to send the M1 Abrams to aid Kyiv in early 2022, and 31 of the MBTs reportedly arrived in Ukraine last fall

Ukrainian Army loses ground due to severe gap in ammunition

Dylan Malyasov

The Ukrainian military is facing dire challenges on the battlefield as a result of a critical gap in Western artillery ammunition needed to withstand Russian attacks.

Russian forces have capitalized on this vulnerability, exploiting the moment when Ukrainian troops find themselves grappling with a severe deficit of essential munitions.

Reports from the frontline paint a grim picture of the deteriorating situation, with Ukrainian forces struggling to hold back the advance of the Russian army. Already, Ukraine has been forced to relinquish positions in key locations in the Donbas region, such as Avdiivka and Lastochkine.

Against the backdrop of this ammunition crisis, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has called upon Europe to halt the export of ammunition from European countries to any destinations other than Ukraine. In an interview with RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND), Kuleba emphasized the urgency of redirecting all European-produced ammunition to Ukraine for the defense of Europe’s eastern borders.

“All contracts for the export of ammunition manufactured in Europe to third countries must be suspended, and all such munitions must be directed to Ukraine. Every cartridge produced in Europe should serve the purpose of defending Europe,” stressed Kuleba.

Military families brace for another government shutdown deadline

Scott MacFarlane

Besa Pinchotti was juggling tasks in her car, returning calls on her cellphone in between dentist visits for her children, when, after pausing for a moment, she said into her phone, "Military families are sick of feeling like political pawns."

She waited a beat and then emphasized the word "sick."

Pinchotti, the wife of a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, operates an email list of hundreds of thousands of military families from her post with the National Military Family Association, based in Virginia. For a third time in less than six months, Pinchotti has been warning families about the potentially blistering impact of a government shutdown.

Congress is racing toward March 1 and March 8 deadlines to fund the federal government. If no deal is agreed upon this week, a series of key programs and services for military service members and their families will shutter. If a deal isn't reached by March 8, the Pentagon itself is at risk of disruption.

Short-term continuing resolutions were agreed upon by Congress just hours before the prior two deadlines for federal government shutdowns, creating a disruptive rhythm for federal workers and servicemembers who worry their paychecks and services will be interrupted. The brinkmanship has returned again.

"With continuing resolution after continuing resolution after continuing resolution, our families keep feeling the uncertainty," Pinchotti said.

The first of the two deadlines, which arrives at 11:59 p.m. Friday, endangers the federal government's WIC program, which provides food and nutritional assistance for women and children. The National Military Family Association estimates more than 200,000 military families rely upon WIC services.

A shutdown also risks disruptions in April to the SNAP program, which helps provide food for other low-income families, including those with connections to the military.

Navy awards HII $1.2B contract to overhaul long-sidelined sub Boise


The Navy today awarded HII a $1.2 billion contract to begin the engineering overhaul on the Los Angeles-class submarine Boise (SSN-764), a boat that has been sidelined for years due to the service’s ongoing maintenance backlog, according to the Pentagon’s daily contract announcements.

The work will be done at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., and the award allows for maintenance to begin “immediately,” according to the company.

“The NNS team looks forward to leveraging our experience in nuclear-powered submarine maintenance to begin this important engineering overhaul (EOH) of USS Boise (SSN 764),” Todd Corillo, an HII spokesman, said in a statement to Breaking Defense. “The contract covers work that will include maintenance and restoration of the ship’s hull structure, tanks, propulsion systems, electric plant, auxiliary systems, armament and furnishings, as well as numerous ship alterations.”

Originally launched in 1991, Boise has sat in port since 2017 due to a series of delays that denied it a timely availability at a public shipyard. If the Navy’s expectation of work being completed by September 2029 holds, that means there is a potential 12 year gap between missions for the Boise, a nuclear-powered, fast-attack sub.

Another One Of Russia’s Prized A-50 Radar Planes Shot Down, Ukraine Claims


Ukraine claimed today that Russia lost another A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft — which would be the second such loss of the conflict so far. Among the first rumors of the incident to circulate came from Russian military bloggers, saying that the Mainstay was a victim of friendly fire over the Sea of Azov. Meanwhile, Ukrainian accounts suggested that the aircraft was shot down in a joint operation by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian intelligence services.

Subsequently, the Ukrainian Air Force and Ukrainian Defense Forces posted separately on X stating that an A-50 had been destroyed, the Air Force noting that this had occurred at around 7:00 P.M. local time, while the Defense Forces quoted the unit cost of the aircraft, said to be $330 million.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, or GUR, also says it was involved in the operation to bring down the A-50 and has released maps, seen below, showing the approximate location of the claimed shootdown.

While these various claims are yet to be independently verified, videos have appeared on social media showing what is said to be the burning wreckage of the aircraft.

Ukraine: the balance of resources and the balance of resolve

Nigel Gould-Davies

The third year of Russia’s war in Ukraine has begun. What are the results of the first two years, and what lessons follow for the future?

2022 was a year of Russian aggression and failure. Not only was Russia unable to seize Kyiv and install its own regime in the first week of the war, but in the autumn it lost huge swathes of occupied territory around Kharkiv and Kherson. By the end of the year, it held just 17.5% of the country – an area equivalent to 0.6% of its own legally recognised territory.

2023 began with a new Russian offensive that petered out. Ukraine then spent months preparing for a counter-offensive, which, despite expectations, barely shifted the front line – though Kyiv’s ingenious Black Sea campaign continues to inflict losses on Russia’s navy.

It might thus be tempting to say that 2022 and 2023 showed, respectively, the limits of Russian and Ukrainian power, and that 2024 should be a year of compromise and peace-making supported by the West. This would be a grave error for three reasons.

Firstly, neither side is ready to compromise. There is no evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin has abandoned his initial goal of subordinating Kyiv. Having failed to win a short war, he has formed a theory of victory for a long one: wear down Ukraine militarily and outlast the West politically. As he told senior officers last December, Russia’s military production is increasing while the Ukrainians ‘are running out. … They don’t have their own foundation. When you have no foundation of your own … then there is no future. But we do have one.’

Putin seeks victory, not negotiation, because he sees events moving in his favour. Domestic constraints are looser than he expected. Over 300,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in Moscow’s war of aggression, yet this has not sparked major protest. Despite huge losses, Russia now has more forces in Ukraine than at the start of the war. The capture of Avdiivka, civil–military friction in Kyiv and a more anxious mood in Ukraine embolden Russia to push further. Europe’s under-delivery of weapons, the United States’ failure to pass a new Ukraine aid bill and the prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the White House all cast doubt on the future of Western support.

How Two Years Of War In Ukraine Have Changed Central Asia – Analysis

Reid Standish

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third year, its effects have been global as the grinding conflict upended political assumptions, battered economies, and opened the door to geopolitical realignment.

Perhaps nowhere have the ripple effects from Russia’s invasion been felt stronger than in Central Asia, where Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have found themselves navigating a very different looking world since February 24, 2022.

Moscow has long been the region’s leading external player, but the war has changed perceptions about Russia within Central Asia that has created openings for China, Turkey, the United States, and the EU.

But after two years of important economic, social, and political changes in Central Asia, what’s next?

To better understand how the war in Ukraine has altered Central Asia, RFE/RL asked five leading experts and journalists to explain how they think the region has changed and where it may be going in the future.

Finding A New Normal With Russia

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Russia-Eurasia Center in Berlin

Initially, there was a prevailing belief in Central Asia that Russia would become a toxic partner, meaning that cooperation with it would be impossible. However, the past two years of war have revealed a different reality, one where despite Russia’s isolation and economic challenges, it remains an important partner for the region.

Two years on, there are still some sectors of partnership where Moscow is a valuable partner for the authoritarian regimes in Central Asia, while Russia itself also finds the region’s five countries increasingly useful as a window to the unsanctioned world.

US leading global alliance to counter foreign government disinformation

Patrick Wintour

A global coalition of democracies is being formed to protect their societies from disinformation campaigns by foreign governments, the US special envoy on the issue has said.

James Rubin, the special envoy for non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts at the US state department’s global engagement centre (GEC), said the coalition hoped to agree on “definitions for information manipulation versus plain old opinions that other governments are entitled to have even if we disagree with them”.

The US, UK and Canada have already signed up to a formal framework agreement, and Washington hopes more countries will join.

The GEC focuses solely on disinformation by foreign powers. Apart from trying to develop global strategies, it works to expose specific covert disinformation operations, such as a Russian operation in Africa to discredit US health services.

The US, UK and Canada signed the framework to counter foreign state manipulation this month with the aim of addressing disinformation as a national security threat that requires coordinated government and civil society responses. “Now is the time for a collective approach to the foreign information manipulation threat that builds a coalition of like-minded countries committed to strengthening resilience and response to information manipulation,” the framework says. It also encourages information-sharing and joint data analysis tools to identify covert foreign disinformation.

A hugely experienced US official and journalist who has worked with diplomats such as Madeleine Albright in the past, Rubin admitted his first year as special envoy had been one of his most intellectually taxing because of the complex definitions surrounding disinformation.

Navy Explores Next-Generation Ship-Based CounterDrone Weapons


US Navy ships in the Red Sea have demonstrated a mature, consistent and highly effective counter-drone system, informed by a series of layered defenses, countermeasures, interceptor weapons supported by robust, precise ISR. (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance)

This continues to become apparent, and yet these recent maritime drone attacks underscore the growing importance of counter-drone operations at Sea, as there are certain to be much more advanced attack drone threats capable of threatening US Navy ships in the future. Navy warships will need to be further protected from new generations of drone threats, as the Houthi-drones do not appear very accurate. The threat of drone swarm attacks upon US Navy warships would likely be much more sophisticated in the future. The reality of this threat is inspiring a new generation of counter-drone weaponry.

New Counter-Drone Innovations

Ship integrated counter-drone innovations could supplement the standard Bushmaster Mk-38 25mm auto-cannon, which is limited by its deficient mobility (with a maximum weapons station elevation of 40-degrees), and thus, ill-suited for any aerial defense task. By replacing this auto-cannon with a platform designed specifically for aerial defense, such as the German Rheinmetall Skyranger (which has a near-vertical maximum angle of elevation of 85-degrees), these air-defense vessels would be able to repurpose a standard, basic capability (all warships have auto-cannons) to respond to an emerging threat.

Additionally, many of these auto-cannons utilize programmable exploding shells which, as they near the drone target, release hundreds of small tungsten cylinders — not unlike a shotgun on steroids, firing bird-shot. The German model, which is mentioned only as a prominent example because alternatives may exist, fires a larger projectile than the Mk-38 (35mm or 30mm, versus a 25mm cartridge out of the Mk-38), at a significantly faster rate (1,000 - 1,200 rounds per minute compared to the Mk-38’s 168 rounds per minute). Auto-cannons are not perfect anti-drone weapons, as they can only target a single drone – or a tightly-formed cluster – at a time, and this range is limited to an approximate maximum of two miles, however, they could provide useful additional layers of defenses to the last-resort emergency Close-in Weapons System (CWIS).

Acquisition chief sees autonomous satellites as wave of the future for Space Force


Cutting back on ground stations and operators, embracing autonomous satellites and experimenting with “strange” orbits, could be the wave of the future for the Space Force, a top acquisition official suggested.

Service leaders have warned about the risks to the ground segments of U.S. military space architectures from cyber threats or other adversary methods, seeing them as a potential “backdoor” way of attacking American satellite communications.

Additionally, delays in delivering ground systems from industry can set back space programs.

“I’ve always been an advocate that probably our biggest threats are ground. And I would love to see a future — and I’m thinking way out there — that more satellites are autonomous. I really see a future where there are autonomous satellites with onboard processing. I mean, you think about what’s in your iPhone today, I mean, there’s no reason why we can’t be doing much more stuff onboard processing, and just downlink and tasking to whoever we need it to,” Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, said Friday at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“So, I envision a day down the road, maybe 20 years, where there’s a lot less ground stations and a lot less operators. Right? And then if you think about where all these commercial companies are going with direct-to-phone kind of service from space, you can almost envision you don’t need ground terminals anymore, you can go directly to a commercial provider or commercial providers, right in terms of these … systems. So, I see a future that’s very autonomous and very much more onboard processing — and I think that makes us much more resilient and survivable than a ground station with lots of people and lots of network connections inside that could be vulnerable to cyber. But that’s just my personal view of the future,” he said.

These 4 inmates have been on military death row for a combined 80 years

Blake Stilwell

Every service member knows the result of not living up to the expectations placed upon them by donning the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. Most will never receive a punishment beyond Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, non-judicial punishment. For repeat offenders, the threat of "turning big rocks into little rocks" at Fort Leavenworth looms large.

Actually being sent to the Kansas-based U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth is, in reality, a tall order. The facility houses only the worst offenders. It's the only maximum-security facility in the U.S. military and hard time there is reserved for commissioned officers, enlisted personnel with sentences longer than ten years, and those who are convicted of crimes related to national security. It's reserved for the worst of the worst — which includes those on the military's death row.

Since the end of World War II, the facility has executed some 21 prisoners, including more than a dozen Nazi German prisoners of war convicted of war crimes. The last time an American troop was executed for his crimes was in 1961, when Army Pfc. John Bennett was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of a young Austrian girl after spending six years on death row. There are currently four inmates awaiting execution at Leavenworth, but these four will not face the gallows.

Executions for military personnel will likely be by lethal injection and performed at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

28 February 2024

Houthis order ‘ban’ on Israel, US and UK-linked ships in the Red Sea

Yemen’s Houthis have announced they have “banned” vessels linked to Israel, the United States and United Kingdom from sailing in surrounding seas, as the rebels seek to reinforce their military campaign, which they say is in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

The Houthi’s Humanitarian Operations Coordination Center sent formal notices of the ban to shipping insurers and firms operating in the region on Thursday, the Reuters news agency quoted a statement as saying.

The Houthis’ communication, the first to the shipping industry outlining a formalised ban in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, came in the form of two notices, Reuters said.

It affects vessels wholly or partially owned by Israeli, American and British individuals or entities, as well as those sailing under their flags.

The warning came amid continuing Houthi attacks that have disrupted international trade on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, and counterattacks by US and British forces hoping to deter the rebels.

The Iran-aligned Houthis have launched repeated attacks on ships in the region since November.

They said the attacks were a response to Israel’s military operations in Gaza, which have killed almost 30,000 people in four months. They have promised to continue their campaign in solidarity with Palestinians until Israel stops the war.

On Thursday, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi also said the group had introduced “submarine weapons” in their attacks.

How to avoid nuclear escalation as a confident Iran and insecure Israel square off

Assaf Zoran

Last November, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provided insights into the sustained and unprecedented progress of Iran’s nuclear program, including the alarming update about a speed-up in its uranium enrichment. While the ongoing conflict in the Middle East continues to capture both regional and global attention, the IAEA report serves as a striking reminder that the Iranian nuclear challenge persists, and with it a substantial risk of regional escalation.

Two opposing dynamics are at play in the region: a growing Iranian confidence in its long-term strategy, and the erosion of Israeli confidence in maintaining its national security. These create fertile and perilous ground for a potential direct confrontation, in which the nuclear issue would be central.

It is time to change course, find alternatives to the ineffective current policies, and avoid a strategic mistake that will enable Iran to get closer to a nuclear weapon.

The United States and its allies should present Iran with a final proposal to return to an agreement framework for Tehran’s nuclear program; if declined, talks must be halted. This approach must be accompanied by alternative measures to diminish Iran’s confidence in the efficacy of its current aggressive strategy. Such measures should include clearly communicating a red line to Iran regarding progression toward weaponization of its nuclear program—and also communicating, through private back channels, that the United States has developed contingency plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and other targets important to the Iranian regime should the red line be crossed. It is equally crucial, however, to avoid cornering Iran in a manner that further incentivizes nuclear advancement, recognizing its need to maintain counter-leverage.

At the same time, any plan regarding the Iranian nuclear program must address Israeli concerns to help mitigate the risk of unilateral actions originating from Jerusalem. A provisional solution that sustains rivalry but establishes well-defined rules could prove advantageous for all parties involved and may pave the way for future substantial de-escalation.


LTC Jay Figurski

  • There are notable similarities between Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks of 7 October 2023 and the U.S. response to 9/11. In both scenarios, leadership immediately came under intense public pressure to respond with overwhelming military force to exact retribution—which led to combat power being deployed before clear military objectives had been articulated. Consequently, objectives have been required to change to fit the situation on the ground.
  • Israel, a small country with limited resources, does not have the manpower or the financial capacity to occupy and rebuild Gaza by itself. It should look to the lessons the United States learned during the Global War on Terrorism—determine the end game; consider the war for hearts and minds and the cost of “going it alone”; avoid a multi-front war; and beware unintended consequences.
  • It is imperative to U.S. interests and regional stability that Israel sets attainable objectives and meets them as soon as possible. If it doesn’t, the progress made in normalizing Israel’s diplomatic relationships with its Arab neighbors over the last few years will be increasingly difficult to restore.

As the initial fog of war began to clear in southern Israel on 7 October 2023, and the scope of Hamas’ attack became clear, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went live on national TV around 11:00 a.m. In front of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu proclaimed, “Citizens of Israel, we are at war. . . . I am initiating an extensive mobilization of the reserves to fight back on a scale and intensity that the enemy has so far not experienced. The enemy will pay an unprecedented price. . . . We are at war and will win.”1 As head of state, Netanyahu’s desire to convey the gravity of the moment and to show the world that his government was prepared to use the overwhelming force of the IDF is certainly understandable. That day—7 October—has become Israel’s 9/11, and Netanyahu’s speech harkened back to President George W. Bush’s address to the nation on that fateful day. The president captured the mood of the country by declaring, “Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. . . . Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared.”2

US should wade carefully into the Indian Ocean


The strategic significance of the Indian Ocean region is considerable and growing.

Consisting of vast and diverse maritime geography of several subregions, including the Indian subcontinent, parts of Australia and Southeast Asia, West Asia, and Eastern and Southern Africa; it is home to 2.7 billion people — over a third of the global population — with an average age of 30 years old; it is resource-rich; and it is comprised of some of the fastest growing countries.

The region also connects peoples and economies worldwide via sealines and telecommunication fiber optic submarine cables; significantly, 80% of global maritime oil shipments traverse Indian Ocean waters.

The region, of course, faces major challenges, including actions by nefarious non-state actors such as pirates, smugglers, and terrorists. The ongoing attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red and Arabian Seas that are wreaking havoc on global maritime trade exemplify this problem.

Other challenges include the impact of climate change, which affects the region disproportionately, and growing naval competition, notably as China is increasingly flexing its muscles in the region.

How should the United States approach the Indian Ocean region?

Ambitions and realities

The United States recognizes the importance of maintaining a peaceful, secure and prosperous Indian Ocean region.