6 February 2024

Decision dilemmas: Biden’s response options to the drone attack in Jordan and its repercussions

Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd)

The U.S. is now in a dilemma. It has to find the right balance between deterrence and escalation. If the U.S. fails to act decisively it sends a message of weakness that can encourage more attacks.

XThe author outlines Biden's Response Options to the Drone Attack and the potential repercussions. 

President Joe Biden said that he had decided on a U.S. response to the drone attack on a remote outpost in Jordan on January 29, 2024. He declined to provide further details. It is certain, sooner than later, the response from the U.S. will come. It is a complex situation. Any action will have effects on Iran, Iraq, Israel. Saudi Arabia, militia organisations of Axis of Evil, Houthis and other countries in the region. American interest overall in this region has to be factored in.

The U.S Secretary of State said, “We are not looking for a war with Iran, We are not looking to escalate the conflict in the region. … Obviously, these attacks keep coming. We’ll keep looking at the options. I can’t speak for the supreme leader or what he wants or he doesn’t want. I can tell you what we want. What we want is a stable, secure, prosperous Middle East, and we want these attacks to stop.”

The U.S. is now in a dilemma. It has to find the right balance between deterrence and escalation.

If the U.S. fails to act decisively it sends a message of weakness that can encourage more attacks. If it takes action too forcefully it could cause an escalatory response from Iran and its allies. The U.S. would like to respond forcefully enough to deter Iran’s allies from conducting further attacks on U.S. forces without getting bogged down in another war in the Middle East.

The Broader Significance of the ICJ’s Ruling on Genocide in Gaza – Opinion

Thomas Obel Hansen

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the reading of the 26 January ICJ Order in the South Africa v Israel case concerning alleged violations of the Genocide Convention involved the Court’s President, Judge Joan Donoghue of the U.S., citing statements made by senior Israeli officials. The Court had paid particular attention, she said, to remarks made by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, including the now infamous assertion that “we are fighting human animals” and “we will eliminate everything”, along with various statements made by Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, including an also widely distributed comment that “it is an entire nation out there that is responsible […] it is not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved” (para 52). Judge Donoghue’s reference to these statements counters a narrative endorsed by the Biden administration – echoed by several other governments in the West – that Israel acts with good intentions and that its actions should be viewed through the lenses of legitimate self-defense in a “hunt for Hamas”.

It brings no comfort for Israel, as Fionnuala Ni Aolain suggests, “seeing those words quoted in a provisional measures decision of the ICJ”. Neither does it bring any comfort to Israel’s closest allies, many of whom fiercely opposed South Africa bringing the case. While the U.S. and other allies of Israel have at times levelled critique at Israel’s methods in Gaza, any suggestion that the broader purpose of that campaign is illegitimate have been dismissed. That Israel’s actions could possibly constitute genocide was recently rejected by many members of the U.S. Congress as “grossly unfounded”, triggering their “disgust”. The ICJ’s holding that allegations of crimes under the Genocide Convention are being committed by Israel in Gaza are “plausible” (para 54) necessarily confronts and contradicts suggestions that the allegations of genocide brought by South Africa, are “meritless” and “completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”, as White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby had insisted, or “completely unjustified and wrong”, as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak argued through his spokesperson.

Israel–Hamas War’s Impact on Afghan and Pakistani Jihadist Ecosystem

Abdul Sayed

Executive Summary
  • The official reactions of key militant factions based in Pakistan and Afghanistan to the “al-Aqsa Storm” attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023 reflected an interesting array of agendas and priorities.
  • Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) issued an immediate response to Hamas’ attack, and tried to frame the event to promote al-Qaeda’s agenda of global jihad.
  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also voiced its support for Hamas on October 7, identifying with the group’s struggle against a stronger power while also highlighting the localized nature of its own fight with Pakistan.
  • The Afghan Taliban gave a somewhat delayed statement, and surprisingly appealed to the International Court of Justice to intervene, reflecting its increasingly internationalized outlook.
  • Islamic State in Khorasan province (ISKP) waited until the end of November to put out a statement regarding the attack, but used the opportunity to denounce the Afghan Taliban, Hamas, and Muslim countries in general for failing to unite under a caliphate before confronting Israel.
In the wake of the “al-Aqsa Storm” attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023, the global community found itself grappling with an unforeseen event that sent shockwaves through not only political circles but also Islamist militant groups. The official reactions of key militant factions based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Islamic State in Khorasan province (ISKP), the Afghan Taliban, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), reflected their individual agendas and priorities.

The most detailed response came from AQIS, including a press release, detailed statements by three key leaders, and a special issue of its Urdu-language flagship magazine Nawai Ghazwat Hind (NGH). In contrast, ISKP remained silent on the attack until late in the year, only publishing a statement on November 27. 

Breast Cancer Can Bring Financial Ruin in India

Sanjay K. Mohanty, Tabassum Wadasadawala, Suraj Maiti, and Soumendu Sen

Meenati* presented at the clinic with a painful lump in her left breast, which she had first noticed three months before. The 32-year-old West Bengal resident had never undergone breast cancer screening in her life. A local physician advised her to have a mammogram — a special X-ray of the breast and fundamental breast-imaging tool.

The report that came back said the lump was suspicious for malignancy. Meenati was advised to consult an oncologist at a cancer treatment center in Kolkata. She traveled with her husband for four hours to reach the state capital for evaluation and confirmation of diagnosis. A series of tests confirmed she had advanced stage (Stage IV) breast cancer, which had already spread to other organs.

Doctors referred her to a tertiary cancer center at Mumbai, which serves financially disadvantaged patients through public and philanthropic funding.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Indian women. It largely affects women of reproductive age. The median age of diagnosis in India is 47, meaning that half the women diagnosed with breast cancer are under 47 years old.

The mortality rate associated with breast cancer is high in India compared with any developed country, primarily due to lack of routine screening programs and health awareness. Social stigma associated with cancer diagnosis further leads to diagnosis in the advanced stage, which has lower cure rates.

A nationwide survey found that breast cancer screening among women aged 30-49 years in India is abysmally low, especially among the poor, less educated, and rural population.

India Has Good Reason to Be Concerned About China’s Maritime Research Vessels

Anushka Saxena

In September 2019, the Indian Navy drove away the Shiyan 1, a Chinese research vessel that had been caught operating without authorization in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the coast of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

This move was undertaken in line with Article 246 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which prohibits any country from conducting marine scientific research in the EEZ of a coastal state without consent. It also stipulates that such consent should be ideally granted in “normal circumstances.” But given the context – China’s research activities in the South China Sea, as well as the larger Chinese strategy of military-civil fusion, which has blurred the line between the scientific and military-related activities of its vessels – the circumstances were hardly normal.

More recently, alarms have again been sounded in India about the potential docking and port call of another Chinese “comprehensive research and survey ship,” the Xiang Yang Hong 03, in Malé, the Maldives.

The key source of concern is the ability of such a survey ship, while purportedly conducting peaceful research and maritime tracking activities in the Indian Ocean region (IOR), to map the ocean’s seabed and study maritime currents and oceanographic trends.

All this collected information can be used for military purposes. These uses can range from studying ideal seasonal deployment patterns for submarines, to gathering oceanographic data such as maximum depth for visualizing a mine warfare scenario. Similarly, continued collection of marine wind data can be utilized to extrapolate the ocean wind resources in coastal areas at given times, enabling an assessment of the enemy jets’ take-off and landing requirements, as well as those of China’s own airpower in the IOR.

Xi Jinping is playing deadly games with Myanmar and North Korea

Military coups and dictatorships rarely come to any good. But has any army takeover in recent times led to more utterly disastrous consequences than those suffered by the people of Myanmar since February 2021? For sheer, vicious stupidity and criminality, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the junta chief, and his bloodstained associates take some beating.

Yet a beating is what they are getting at the hands of Myanmar’s civilian resistance groups, known as people’s defence forces, and ethnic minority armed groups long opposed to discriminatory Buddhist-majority regimes. A big offensive begun in October has overrun swathes of the country, forcing the surrender and mass desertion of junta troops.

These setbacks have shaken the army’s confidence. Morale is reportedly low; there is open criticism of its leadership. But the generals are not giving up. Defying new western sanctions, they extended a state of emergency last week. Latest reports speak of an increase in indiscriminate air and artillery attacks on civilians, adding to a long list of documented war crimes.

The UN estimates that two thirds of Myanmar is experiencing conflict, with 2.6 million people internally displaced. Nearly 4,500 people have been killed. About 20,000 are imprisoned. One third of the population – about 18.6 million people – now requires humanitarian aid, a 19-fold increase since 2020. This is in addition to the 750,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled mass killings, rapes and village burnings in 2017 in what rights groups say was a genocide.

Myanmar’s unending agony represents a huge failure by the international community to uphold UN treaties and fundamental human rights. But while the US, Britain – the former colonial power – and other western democracies may be criticised for not doing enough, their leverage is limited. Shaming, too, is the inability (or refusal) of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take effective action. Some member states actively connive with the regime.

Three Years After Coup, Myanmar Crisis In ‘Freefall’


Myanmar’s coup and ensuing civil war – now entering its fourth year – have torn apart Phyo Phyo Aung’s family.

Her husband Lin Htet Naing – a longtime activist also known as Ko James – is in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison, where inmates are routinely tortured. He was sentenced to eight years for protesting against the military junta’s takeover on Feb. 1, 2021.

Some 16 months ago, 36-year-old Ko James’ mother was killed in a bomb blast while waiting to visit him at the prison – an attack that an anti-junta group claimed responsibility for.

Since then, Phyo Phyo Aung, 35, and her two young sons have fled Myanmar, where they get little news about Ko James’ fate – and yet she hasn’t given up hope that the junta will collapse.

“We will never accept the military coup. We will never accept military rule,” she told RFA from an undisclosed location.

As Myanmar’s bloody conflict drags into its fourth year, the fighting has taken an enormous toll on civilians like Phyo Phyo Aung’s family – including children.

More than 2.6 million people have been displaced, the United Nations says, and at least 4,423 civilians have been killed since the coup – nearly doubling the 2,826 deaths during the first two years, according to Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

Some 459 of the dead were minors, up from 265 at the end of February last year, the group said, and 159 of them were under the age of 10.

Security News This Week: China’s Hackers Keep Targeting US Water and Electricity Supplies


An indictment from the US Department of Justice may have solved the mystery of how disgraced cryptocurrency exchange FTX lost over $400 million in crypto. The indictment, filed last week, alleges that three individuals used a SIM-swapping attack to steal hundreds of millions in virtual currency from an unnamed company. The timing and the amount stolen coincides with FTX's theft. Meanwhile, in a letter obtained by WIRED this week, seven lawmakers have demanded the DOJ stop funding biased and inaccurate predictive policing tools until the agency has a way to ensure law enforcement won’t use them in a way that has a “discriminatory impact.”

In Florida, prosecutors say a 17-year-old named Alan Winston Filion is responsible for hundreds of swatting attacks around the United States. The news of his arrest was first reported by WIRED days before law enforcement made it public. It was the culmination of a multi-agency manhunt to piece together a trail of digital breadcrumbs left by the teenager. In Ukraine, unmanned aerial vehicles have been powerful tools since the Russian invasion began in February 2022. But as the war rages on, another kind of unmanned robot has increasingly appeared on the front-lines: the unmanned ground vehicle, or UGV.

For months lawyers affiliated with an India based hacker-for-hire firm called Appin Technology have used legal threats to censor reporting about the company’s alleged cyber mercenary past. The EFF, Techdirt, MuckRock, and DDoSecrets are now pushing back, publicly sharing details for the first time about the firm's efforts to remove content from the web. It’s a dangerous world out there, so we’ve also got a list of some major patches issued in January that you can use to update your devices to keep them secure.

And there’s more. Each week, we highlight the news we didn’t cover in-depth ourselves. Click on the headlines below to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

Chinese hacking operations have entered a far more dangerous phase, US warns


China’s cyber activity is moving beyond the last decade’s spying and data theft toward direct attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure, the directors of the FBI, NSA, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency told lawmakers Wednesday.

The Volt Typhoon hacking group is planting malware on network routers and other internet-connected devices that, if triggered, could disrupt water, power, and rail services, possibly causing widespread chaos or even injuring and killing Americans, they said.

While Russia is known for cyber attacks that cause real-world harm—for example, targeting U.S. political campaigns and Ukrainian power plants—China is viewed as far more risk-averse. It’s best known for cyber theft, of intellectual property or government information, such as the Office of Personnel Management hack uncovered in 2015. But Volt Typhoon, which Microsoft revealed last May, represents something far more threatening.

At a meeting with reporters last week, a senior NSA official put the issue in starker terms.

“They're in places that they are not there for intelligence purposes. They are not there for financial gain. Those are two hallmarks of Chinese intrusions in other sets and other lanes,” the official said.

China is still undertaking those activities, “but this is unique in that it's prepositioning on critical infrastructure, on military networks, to be able to deliver effects at the time and place of their choosing so that they can disrupt our ability to support military activities or to distract us, to get us to focus on, you know, a domestic incident at a time when something's flaring up in a different part of the world and they don't want us facing the foreign aspects of that,” the official said.

U.S. Can Respond Decisively to Cyber Threat Posed by China

C. Todd Lopez

The cyber challenge posed by China is unlike any challenge ever faced by the U.S. and its allies, said the commander of United States Cyber Command. 

Speaking yesterday before the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone told lawmakers that cyber actors in China have used malware to hold at risk critical U.S. infrastructure such as systems that provide water, electricity and fuel to U.S. citizens. He said those efforts are meant to provide options for the Chinese in crisis or conflict. 

"When we have discovered them in these critical infrastructures, the first thing that we need to do is to make sure that we get them out," Nakasone said. "The second thing is that we need to have a vigilance that continues onward. This is not an episodic threat that we're going to face. This is persistent ... we have to operate every day; we have to have a vigilance. We have to have offensive and defensive capabilities." 

Despite those threats, Nakasone said U.S. cyber warriors are more than adequate defenders of the nation's infrastructure. 

China Is Targeting U.S. Infrastructure and Could ‘Wreak Chaos,’ F.B.I. Says

Glenn Thrush and Adam Goldman

Christopher A. Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, warned on Wednesday that China was ramping up an extensive hacking operation geared at taking down the United States’ power grid, oil pipelines and water systems in the event of a conflict over Taiwan.

Mr. Wray, appearing before a House subcommittee on China, offered an alarming assessment of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts. Its intent is to sow confusion, sap the United States’ will to fight and hamper the American military from deploying resources if the dispute over Taiwan, a major flashpoint between the two superpowers, escalates into a war, he added.

Before his testimony, F.B.I. and Justice Department officials revealed that last month, they had obtained a court order that authorized them to gain access to servers infiltrated by Volt Typhoon, a Beijing-directed hacking network that has targeted a range of critical infrastructure systems, often by infiltrating small businesses, contractors or local government networks.

“China’s hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities, if or when China decides the time has come to strike,” said Mr. Wray, who pressed the committee to increase funding for the bureau.

“Low blows against civilians are part of China’s plan,” he added.

Hackers for Volt Typhoon compromised hundreds of Cisco and NetGear routers, many of them outdated models no longer supported by manufacturer updates or security patches, in an effort to embed an army of sleeper cells that would be activated in a crisis.

In May, U.S. officials warned business, local governments and foreign allies that the group was taking aim at “networks across U.S. critical infrastructure sectors” and was likely to apply the same techniques against other countries.

­­Where Erdoğan loses balance

Rich Outzen

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sought to be the world’s leading geopolitical balancer. So why is Turkey’s president so off-balance in the Gaza conflict?

The answer requires an understanding of the Turkish balancing act, which predates Erdoğan by decades—perhaps centuries. That act stems in part from the country’s central geographical position as a mid-sized power between Europe and the Middle East, Africa, and Eurasia, which necessitates and rewards flexibility toward all neighbors as threats and opportunities shift. It also stems from Turkish strategic culture, which has prioritized over many generations the pursuit of leverage in crises, peace deals, trade arrangements, and other geopolitical outcomes through patient, pragmatic, and often quite variable negotiating positions. To the frustration of great powers and neighbors who might prefer a more pliant and predictable approach, no one plays the balance and leverage game quite like the Turks.

And Erdoğan has become an adroit practitioner of this act. After idealistic (“zero problems with neighbors”) and unilateralist (“precious loneliness”) phases in his approach to foreign policy, he has over the past decade developed a mastery of balancing and realpolitik in a series of crises from Afghanistan to Ukraine. Erdoğan has returned a nation located figuratively at the center of the world to the center of global diplomatic activity and intrigue.

But the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians has defied this aspiration of leverage through balance. During the current war in Gaza, as during the 2008-2009 Gaza crisis, Erdoğan has abandoned careful rhetoric and engagement with both sides of the conflict and instead chosen to throw his weight overwhelmingly behind one side—in this case, that of the Palestinians.

Is the U.S. On the Verge of Another Forever War?

Jon Hoffman

This past weekend, three U.S. service members were killed in Jordan following a drone strike by Iran-backed militias operating out of Iraq and Syria. President Biden has vowed to respond, risking further escalation at a time when sustained hostilities already stretch across the Middle East.

From Gaza to Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Yemen, the political problems plaguing the Middle East cannot be resolved through military force. Across the region, we are seeing wars erupt without plausible political ends.

Israel’s onslaught in Gaza and the United States’ unwavering support for it lies at the heart of these conflicts. The hostilities in which the United States is currently engaged, from Yemen to Syria and Iraq, are directly related to U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza. A ceasefire in Gaza holds the best chance of ending, or at least considerably suppressing, those conflicts.

Israel’s war in Gaza is detached from its ostensible political aims. Following Hamas’ terror attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, Israel’s massive and indiscriminate military campaign has brought Gaza to the brink of destruction. Israel has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, roughly 70 percent women and children, and displaced more than 90 percent of Gaza’s population, with the risks of famine and disease spreading rapidly.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this campaign is aimed at his goal of “destroying Hamas.” But the group’s military and political capabilities remain largely intact. U.S. officials estimate only 20-40 percent of the tunnels used by Hamas across the strip have been damaged or rendered inoperable. There is no reason to believe that the elimination of Hamas—or Hamas-like political forces in Gaza—is within reach.

Nor has Israel’s military campaign succeeded in securing the release of the more than 100 remaining hostages held by Hamas. Rifts within Israel over the limited progress made against Hamas and failure to secure the release of the remaining hostages are increasingly becoming public. Several senior Israeli military leaders now publicly worry that the dual objectives of freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas are mutually incompatible.

Iran’s Economy At The Edge Of The Precipice – OpEd

Shamsi Saadati

The World Bank has presented a disturbing report on Iran’s economy, indicating that each sector is currently in a critical state and facing a potential disaster soon. On January 26, the state-run Rouydad 24 news website covered the contents of this report and indirectly warned the regime, with a prediction of a grim future. The article asked: “How has Iran’s economy come to the brink of a precipice?”

While international economic institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have long been criticized for appeasing the ruling regime in Iran and turning a blind eye to the blatant realities of the country’s economic situation by relying on manipulated statistics and the regime’s engineered narratives to downplay crises, they have gradually distanced themselves from this flawed approach in recent times.

The World Bank considers Iran’s statistics unreliable

On November 13, the Fardaye Eghtesad news website wrote,

“The World Bank has been comparing the statistical performance of governments by collecting a large set of indicators for several years. According to the evaluation of this international institution, Iran has a weaker statistical performance (SPI) compared to over 60% of countries worldwide. It is common in Iran’s economic space to witness protests the non-disclosure of statistics by the government or the provision of low-quality data. Recently, we have seen longer and more irregular statistical cover up and the presentation of certain national data.”

The precipice

On March 4, 2023, Tejarat News website wrote, “Iran’s economy is currently in an extremely critical state. We live in a country where chronic and escalating inflation, chronic unemployment, the normalization of budget deficits, and continuous currency depreciation are distinctive features of its economy. What we are experiencing today is unprecedented in the world, and this situation has made it unpredictable and insecure. Among the less discussed aspects are the disturbing psychological effects of these conditions. The increase in stress levels, the rise in anxiety, and depression among individuals living in Iranian society are concerning.”

How Conflict in the Middle East Has Fueled Iran’s Proxies

Ravi Agrawal

All roads seem to lead to Iran right now. The White House attributes last weekend’s attack that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of militias said to be backed by Tehran. Iran also is known to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, both of whom have played a role in worsening the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. And, of course, Iran backs Hamas, which started the latest round of fighting with its attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.

Shadow War With Iran Risks Turning Into a Direct Conflict

David S. Cloud

WASHINGTON—For decades, the U.S. and Iran have waged a shadow war across the Middle East following a rule understood by both sides: If you hit us, we will hit back, at least as hard.

But as the Biden administration prepares to retaliate for a drone strike by Iranian-backed militias that killed three American soldiers last weekend, the calculations of the two longstanding adversaries has changed. Neither Washington nor Tehran appears eager for a direct military confrontation.

Sunday’s drone strike against a small outpost in Jordan near its borders with Iraq and Syria was the first attack by Iran-backed proxies since October to cause U.S. fatalities, sparking calls in Congress for the White House to respond with military action targeting Tehran.

U.S. Misidentified Enemy Drone in Attack That Killed Three in Jordan

U.S. Misidentified Enemy Drone in Attack That Killed Three in Jordan

Play video: U.S. Misidentified Enemy Drone in Attack That Killed Three in Jordan

The U.S. failed to stop a deadly drone attack on Sunday that killed three troops on a military outpost in Jordan because the American forces confused the enemy drone with a U.S. drone. Photo: Planet Labs PBC/Associated Press

For the Biden administration, hitting Iran’s paramilitary forces risks a counterstrike against American troops or Middle East bases by Tehran’s formidable arsenal of advanced missiles and drones, expanding the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas into a wider regional conflict that the White House is seeking to avoid in a presidential election year.

Death from above: Ukraine's new suicide drones are the start of a 'terrifying' arms race British military chiefs fear could create the next 'weapon of mass destruction


On a scorched brown field pitted by blast craters, a lone Russian soldier cowers under the charred remains of his tank, sheltering from a terrifying new threat – one that already has him in its sights.

From the sky above comes the whining buzz that has become the nightmare of Putin's forces on the front line in Ukraine – that of a tiny suicide drone, no larger than a football but packed with enough explosives to level a house.

The noise sends the helpless soldier into a frenzied panic, as he desperately scrambles round his tank trying to escape, while the kamikaze death machine chases him in a deadly game of cat and mouse – one the Russian loses.

The aerial attacker hits Kremlin fighter with ruthless efficiency, detonating in a flash of orange flame and white smoke, leaving his bloodied body a lifeless wreck, smouldering on the muddy floor.

The brutal encounter - now common place at the front - was filmed by another UAV, with the kamikaze controlled from a bunker miles away by a Ukrainian soldier wearing special goggles that give him a first-person view (FPV) of the carnage.

In a hellish and war-torn Ukraine, a Russian soldier is spotted by a suicide down cowering under the main gun of a destroyed tank

From miles away, a Ukrainian operator wearing specialised goggles that give him a first-person view (FPV), chases the terrified Russian with the drone - which is packed with explosives

Unable to escape, the helpless Russian is hit by the drone, which explodes in a flash of orange

The U.S. economy is booming. So why are tech companies laying off workers?

Gerrit De Vynck, Danielle Abril and Caroline O'Donovan

SAN FRANCISCO — The first time Julian Chavez got laid off, from his job as a digital ad sales rep at web.com, didn’t turn him off from the tech industry. Neither did the second time, when he was laid off from ZipRecruiter. By the third time, though, Chavez had had enough.

“I really loved what I did,” said the Phoenix-based Chavez in a text message. “But the layoffs got me jaded.” Now he’s pursuing a graduate degree in psychology.

Chavez is one of hundreds of thousands of tech workers who’ve been laid off in the past two years in what seems like a never-ending wave of cuts that has upended the culture of Silicon Valley and the expectations of those who work at some of America’s richest and most powerful companies.

Last year, tech companies laid off more than 260,000 workers, according to layoff tracker Layoffs.fyi, cuts that executives mostly blamed on “over-hiring” during the pandemic and high interest rates making it harder to invest in new business ventures. But as those layoffs have dragged into 2024 despite stabilizing interest rates and a booming job market in other industries, the tech workforce is feeling despondent and confused.

The U.S. economy added 353,000 jobs in January, a huge boost that was around twice what economists had expected. And yet, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Discord, Salesforce and eBay all made significant cuts in January, and the layoffs don’t seem to be abating. On Tuesday, PayPal said in a letter to workers it would cut another 2,500 employees or about 9 percent of its workforce.

The continued cuts come as companies are under pressure from investors to improve their bottom lines. Wall Street’s sell-off of tech stocks in 2022 pushed companies to win back investors by focusing on increasing profits, and firing some of the tens of thousands of workers hired to meet the pandemic boom in consumer tech spending. With many tech companies laying off workers, cutting employees no longer signaled weakness. Now, executives are looking for more places where they can squeeze more work out of fewer people.

Is Washington Writing the Script for the Next Forever War?

Grace Segers

It’s been a few days since three U.S. service members were killed in a drone strike by an Iran-backed militia in Jordan. President JOE BIDEN has said that the U.S. “shall respond” but has not given details about what that response will be. Given the various ongoing conflicts in the Middle East—including Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and recent U.S. airstrikes against Houthis in response to their disrupting traffic in the Red Sea—reporter GRACE SEGERS wonders whether lawmakers are concerned that the U.S. might become embroiled in yet another “forever war” in the Middle East. She questions senators across the ideological spectrum about this possibility.

Enter Senator TIM KAINE, a Democrat from Virginia who has co-sponsored legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.

KAINE: We shouldn’t be in another war in the Middle East, but particularly without a congressional debate and vote. So self-defense is one thing, but escalating regional conflict with the U.S. involved and our troops at risk is something that should not happen without a congressional debate and vote.

Camera pans to the Senate basement. Grace asks Senator MIKE ROUNDS, a Republican from South Dakota, if he’s worried about the U.S. getting entangled in a larger conflict in the United States.

ROUNDS: Sure, everybody should be. If we continue down this policy of not dealing with the problem children in the Middle East, yes. It started with a very, very poor policy with regard to Afghanistan, and now it’s continued on … where if you don’t deal with these individuals that are causing the problem up front, then they just continue to test the waters.

GRACE: Isn’t there the threat that if you go down that route of responding, that then it could end up in a tit-for-tat?

Those Soldiers in Jordan Were Casualties of Bureaucracy

Christopher C. Miller

Sunday’s attack by Iranian proxies on U.S. forces serving in Jordan—the first time American soldiers have been killed by a conventional enemy air attack since the Korean War—serves as a stark reminder of the evolving threats that American forces face overseas. This event should highlight the importance of making sure our men and women in uniform have what they need to defend themselves. America will be burying more of its warriors if it doesn’t change the way the Pentagon does business.

This tragic loss of life didn’t need to happen. Our soldiers’ need for the materiel to defend against drone strikes has been obvious for months. Since October, U.S. forces have successfully defended against more than 160 attacks, many of them drone-based, from Iran-sponsored groups throughout the Middle East. Though our troops have performed admirably, the Defense Department has failed to provide them with the best available technology to defend against these attacks, even as its capabilities in the Middle East have diminished with its pivot to the Pacific. This, almost inevitably, led to the successful strike on our base in Jordan. Though the Pentagon knows what our forces need, it has let itself be too mired in bureaucracy to provide it.

This isn’t a partisan issue. I accept responsibility for failing to break the back of the hidebound bureaucracy when I served in the Army and ultimately led the Pentagon as acting secretary of defense. The Defense Department still adheres to its extant plodding and seemingly sacrosanct five-year budget-planning cycle, though it risks troops’ lives. If America’s military fails to change that, it risks defeat by the growing number of hostile powers intent on destroying the current international order.

Across my 37-year career, I’ve seen the U.S. military transform itself rapidly to face threats. It usually takes a crisis to drive urgency into the byzantine acquisition process. During the war on terror, America established rapid acquisition organizations to bypass the lethargic and impossibly complex contracting system to get our troops what they needed. Defense Secretary Robert Gates developed the playbook for quickly developing and procuring mine-resistant vehicles to protect U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon in 2006 created the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to defend against drones and improvised explosives while also using academia, laboratories, industry and private-sector investment to accelerate development of lifesaving solutions.

Trump-Proofing Europe

Arancha González Laya, Camille Grand, Katarzyna Pisarska, Nathalie Tocci, and Guntram Wolff

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third year, Europe has performed far better than expected. For decades after World War II, it counted on the United States to be the ultimate guarantor of its security. The continent relied on Washington to guide NATO policy, provide nuclear deterrence, and forge consensus among European countries on controversial questions such as how to resolve the 2009–12 European debt crisis. Europe continued to take the U.S. security umbrella for granted after the Cold War ended, slashing defense spending, failing to stop the Bosnian genocide in the early 1990s, and refusing to play a political role in resolving the crisis in Syria, even as it remained the region’s biggest provider of humanitarian aid. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, many anticipated that Europeans might balk at helping Kyiv. The last time Russian President Vladimir Putin marched over Ukrainian borders—annexing Crimea in 2014—Europe responded with weak sanctions and halfhearted attempts at diplomatic compromise while increasing its dependence on Russian gas.

But over the last few years, the world has seen a glimpse of a stronger Europe. European countries have sustained a united front in resisting Russia’s aggression, hosting millions of refugees, coordinating painful decoupling from Russian gas supplies, imposing strong economic sanctions and export restrictions on Russia, training Ukrainian soldiers, and inviting Ukraine to join the European Union. The $53 billion EU aid package to Ukraine that was slated for approval in February set Europe’s combined economic and military assistance to Kyiv, including its multiyear commitments, at double the amount the United States is providing. For the first time since 2007, the EU has even gathered the confidence to substantially enlarge itself. In December 2023, it extended candidate status to Georgia and launched accession talks with Moldova and Ukraine.

These steps were undergirded by a solid transatlantic relationship. But European leaders cannot count on a friendly United States. They must prepare for the possibility that, a year from now, the United States will again be led by Donald Trump. During his GOP primary campaign for president, Trump has suggested that if he is reelected in November 2024, he will negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the Ukraine war “in 24 hours,” demand that Europe reimburse the United States for ammunition used in Ukraine, withdraw from the Paris climate accords, and roil the global economy by imposing a ten percent tariff on all imports.

Can the United States Deter—or Compel—Iran?

Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford: Hey, Matt, did you know it’s Groundhog Day today? And just like Bill Murray in the movie, it seems like the United States is destined to repeat the same story over and over again: in this case, getting sucked into unnecessary Middle Eastern wars.

American Greatness and Decline


If Donald Trump wins back the White House in November, this year could mark a turning point for American power. Finally, the fear of decline that has preoccupied Americans since the colonial era would be justified.

CAMBRIDGE – With most Americans believing that the United States is in decline, Donald Trump claims he can “Make America Great Again.” But Trump’s premise is simply wrong, and it is his proposed remedies that pose the biggest threat to America.

Americans have a long history of worrying about decline. Shortly after the founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony in the seventeenth century, some Puritans lamented the loss of an earlier virtue. In the eighteenth century, the founding fathers studied Roman history when considering how to sustain a new American republic. In the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens observed that if Americans are to be believed, their country “always is depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise.” On a 1979 magazine cover about national decline, the Statue of Liberty has a tear rolling down her cheek.

But while Americans have long been drawn to what I call the “golden glow of the past,” the US has never had the power many imagine it did. Even with preponderant resources, America has often failed to get what it wants. Those who think that today’s world is more complex and tumultuous than in the past should remember a year like 1956, when the US was unable to prevent Soviet repression of a revolt in Hungary; and when our allies Britain, France, and Israel invaded the Suez. To paraphrase the comedian Will Rogers, “hegemony ain’t what it used to be and never was.” Periods of “declinism” tell us more about popular psychology than about geopolitics.

Europe comes full circle on loitering munitions

This blog was first published on the Military Balance+ on 31 January 2024.Europe risks being left behind in the hot field of loitering munitions, a technology it pioneered and where it is now playing catch-up. Demand for these weapons has surged after they demonstrated their utility in fighting in Azerbaijan, the Red Sea and Ukraine, and they have become a major export item for countries such as Iran.

Development pathIn the 1970s, then West Germany and the United States spearheaded the development of an affordable radar-homing one-way attack munition to suppress or destroy enemy air defences. The programme was discontinued, but Dornier, a German participant, continued and achieved a breakthrough by the late 1980s with the Drohne Anti-Radar, an advanced, truck-launched, long-endurance anti-radiation drone. Technologically and conceptually, it was far ahead of its time. With the Cold War ending, neither Germany nor anyone else procured the system. The design appears to have found its way to Israel, though, where Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) produced the very similar looking Harpy.

China seized on the promising technology by acquiring Harpy munitions in the 1990s and 2000s and it later began manufacturing a Harpy-like system. Taiwan followed in the late-2010s, introducing its own Harpy copy.

Battlefield impactIAI evolved the Harpy into the loitering Harop, which it exported to Azerbaijan. Baku used the system extensively in the 2021 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

By the mid-2010s, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace development arm, Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center, sought to replicate the Israeli Harpy. Modifying the design to use satellite navigation instead of a radiation seeker, it created the Shahed 131, a cost-effective, long-range, one-way attack munition. The design was subsequently scaled up into the longer-range Shahed 136.

Air and Space Power in the Gray Zone

Richard D. Newton


Since the dawn of military aviation, air power has been, and continues to be, a predominant psychological weapon with the power to influence strategic decisions and shape tactical outcomes. As such, the opponent best able to wield the air power tool usually holds an asymmetric advantage in those conflicts dominated by the human dimension—irregular, unconventional, revolutionary, insurgent, low-intensity, etc., because as Billy Mitchell observed, “… air covers the whole world and there is no place that is immune from influence by aircraft [and now space capabilities].” From the great and middle powers’ perspectives, the evolving capabilities conferred by 21st-century technology—persistent high-resolution surveillance, precision targeting and attack, and rapid global mobility—makes possible what air power theorists dreamed about a century ago, i.e., a relatively low-cost means of controlling irregular adversaries without subjecting formations of soldiers to danger or causing the collateral damage as formations of troops pass through villages and farms. In 1920, Great Britain demonstrated that eight De Havilland DH-9A biplanes could substitute for the two divisions of soldiers the Army proposed as needed to find, attack, and defeat the Dervish guerrillas of Somaliland. Moreover, the Royal Air Force accomplished the mission for less than five percent of the Army’s funding request for the operation.

Nearly all analyses and reporting of irregular conflicts and gray-zone aggression have tended to limit their perspectives to a terrestrial focus, and thus neglected the possibilities and opportunities available via the third, vertical, dimension. For three quarters of a century, air, and more recently space, capabilities have offered military and civilian leaders creative options to address political, economic, humanitarian, and security challenges. The general missions conducted by air and space forces during irregular conflicts are much the same as during conventional conflicts. What is different, though, is the dominating role the human dimension plays in irregular conflict. While modern overhead systems have amazing, multispectral capabilities to “see,” they cannot sense emotions, judge attitudes, nor assess passion, all of which exert significant influence in the irregular warfare ecosystem.

For the first time, Air Force integrates spectrum warfare wing into weapons school capstone event


An EC-37B Compass Call arrives at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Aug. 17, 2022. Compass Call suppresses air defenses by preventing the transmission of essential information between adversaries, their weapon systems, and control networks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Vaughn Weber)

In a first, the Air Force’s newest wing, focused on electronic warfare reprogramming, integrated with the service’s famed Weapons School to expose students to its capabilities and provide more realistic training.

The 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing was created in 2021 as a result of the Air Force’s landmark electromagnetic spectrum study to reinvigorate spectrum within the service. The unit has three primary missions: rapid reprogramming, target and waveform development, and assessment of the Air Force’s EW capabilities.

At Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in mid-December, the wing participated in the Weapons School Integration (WSINT) capstone event, which are several large missions involving planning and execution of all aspects of air, space and cyber operations — with joint components — serving as the culmination of what students learn at the school.

As the Air Force is looking to reinvigorate electronic warfare within its operations, exercising new capabilities and exposing the force to these capabilities will be important to ensure operators and planners understand EW tools and are comfortable using them in combat.