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Friday, July 31, 2015

Iraq update: militias, ISF continue to pressure ISIS in Anbar; ISIS causes more trouble in Diyala.

The central line of Iraq continues to be the heart and soul of the ongoing conflict between ISIS and the Iraqi government and it's allies.  In a predictable effort to distract attention away from the Iraqi Security Forces' (ISF) offensive in Anbar to retake Ramadi and relieve Haditha, ISIS has stepped up SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) and random free-fire attacks in Diyala Province. Not to be outdone, the ISF and militias/Popular Mobilization Units (UPMs) have stepped up the pressure on both Ramadi and Fallujah.  The ISF pushed back a frontal attack just outside Ramadi, in which ISIS utilized its usual weapon of choice, the SVBIED (when are they going to use up their supply of suicidal morons?); simultaneously the ISF conducted moderately successful attacks to the north and south of Ramadi.  With ISIS under siege by the ISF in Ramadi and the PMUs in Fallujah, it has become even more imperative that ISIS raise some hell close to Baghdad, which might cause enough of an outcry from the civilian population that the government is forced to transfer some of its troops from the Anbar offensive.  Possibly because of its proximity to Iran, ISIS seems determined to make a statement in Diyala Province.

as we've pointed out, Diyala Province shares an eastern border with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Recently the Iranians have expressed a growing concern regarding what appears to be ISIS' growing strength in the Province.  By conducting SVBIED attacks on military and police facilities, along with a variety of civilian targets, ISIS has Diyala Province suffering from its own kind of siege.  The governorship, which is controlled by the Shi'a, loudly and repeatedly requested that troops pulled from Diyala for the Anbar offensive be returned to the Province.  To add to the drama, a serious schism is developing between the Shi'a and Sunni, who have in the past lived as one community in most parts of Diyala. The Sunni leaders in Diyala claim that the governorship and the provincial administration is being run by the Shi'a Badr Corps/Organization, which was born in Iran and is seeded with all sorts of fun Iranian advisors and representatives.  One positive move was the reinstatement of the Sunni Deputy Governor, the hope being that now the two groups can start working together again in opposition to ISIS.  While the proximity of active ISIS units to the Iranian border is disturbing, the real threat (and probably part of ISIS' long-term strategy), is the encirclement of Baghdad.  ISIS knows that it will lose some ground during this current offensive in Anbar. What they hope to achieve is to mitigate the amount of territory that they will undoubtedly be obliged to reconquer, in order to eventually complete the isolation of Baghdad itself.  ISIS is also determined to successfully occupy Haditha, which has been under siege for months.

In Anbar and Salah ad-Din, intra-tribal conflict continues to be a problem in the Sunni community.  Tribes and communities who forcefully opposed ISIS are calling out those that didn't,or even went so far as to provide the Islamic State fighters with support.  The government in Baghdad is nervously calling on all its Sunni allies in Anbar to put some water on this dangerous spark.

Another interesting development to keep an eye on is the decision by Turkey to end a two-year informal ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK.  Not surprisingly, the PKK has elected to retaliate, and three Turkish soldiers can be added to the fatalities list.  What is of interest is the attitude of Iran to these developments.  Iran continues to support beleaguered Syrian strongman Bashir al-Assad, which is something that really gives Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a case of the red-ass.  I'm not sure what really went down between these two, but Erdogan seems bound and determined to see Assad totally removed from power.  Im sure the Iranians are thrilled with this possible miscalculation on Erdogan's part, and have already reached out to the PKK to express their "support".  Just how far will Iran go to expand this new round of incidents between Turkey and the PKK?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spying in the 21st Century; counter-terrorism, diplomacy, and economic espionage.

Our world has changed dramatically in the last five decades.  We have enjoyed a renaissance in technology, with the internet changing lives and medical research making discoveries to help people will illnesses and injuries live a more productive, happy life.  Unfortunately the world has also become a much more dangerous place.  Terrorism made its original rude introduction in the early 1960's, and then tapered off a bit, before that eventful day in September of 2001.  Since then, the word, "terrorism" seems to be included in every newscast, and part of almost every travel advisory.  When terrorists were almost exclusively focused on Israel, the battle lines were simple to demarcate.  Today, we live in a world that is slowly being transformed by the actions of Islamic Extremists.  The Obama Administration is determined to not label the bad guys as Muslim Extremists, for fear of appearing "Islam phobic", an unfortunate complication in the efforts to combat groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda.  At the moment, the United States is not technically at war, although our Air Force is heavily involved in the allied air coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Another danger we face in the world today is the rebirth of nationalist and expansionist Russia.  Although we support Ukraine diplomatically and have spearheaded the sanctions regime against Russia, our military has not been directly involved in that conflict.  So are we at peace?

The answer is no, and we haven't been for sometime.  You see, even when the soldiers are stateside and the diplomats are making nice with each other, another conflict is being waged in the shadows.  All nations are involved in espionage in one form or another, and the more industrialized, populous states are constantly looking for new ways to improve the art.  The United States is primarily interested in intelligence for national security purposes, which makes terrorism a priority target for the CIA, NSA, and the intelligence gathering apparati of the Departments of Defense and Justice.  Next on the list is probably China, who has created a tremendously advanced and complicated network of spying, utilizing scholars, businessmen, and researchers to both collect on and occasionally subvert the United States in numerous ways.  Russia is also a high-priority collecting target, especially since the arrival of Vladimir Putin and a return to cold-war type aggressive activities.  The U.S. government remains highly interested in information regarding narcotics and counter-intelligence.  A priority target that does not get its deserved share of attention is economics.  The major economies of the world, even the ones who appear to be very closely aligned, are all in the business of collecting confidential information regarding economics and international business. In fact, it makes complete sense.  The health of our nation's economy has to be included in national security concerns, and the Chinese in particular seem to be determined to outmaneuver everyone in this area.

Why are the Chinese so successful at espionage?  The truth is, they haven't always been good at spying.  But once China and the United States started regular bilateral relations, and Chinese university students and researchers were invited to the U.S. to study and do research, the Chinese saw an opportunity to exploit our openness to gather confidential and at times top secret information.  The larger, more prestigious U.S. colleges seem to compete for visiting Chinese scholars.  Unfortunately, many of these universities have received contracts from the Department of Defense to work on highly classified programs.  On more than one occasion, Chinese students have been discovered in possession of internet connections that are active only between the Chinese mainland and the student's personal laptop.  Our own experts have been unable to break into the conversation between the student and Beijing for a number of reasons, including the complexity/security firewalls of the program being used, and the opposition of the respective university's administration from what they perceive as being "action which will discourage future Chinese scholars from wanted to study here."  Can you imagine a student having access to a lab computer, downloading classified information onto a disk, then returning to their  dorm room to send the information to China, without us ever knowing exactly what was being transmitted?

Back to economic espionage.  Its not just a war between China and the United States; the European nations are also interested in getting a "heads-up" on the intentions of our international companies and investors.  For example, the European conglomerate "Airbus", which manufactures airliners with parts from a number of different EU countries, is in regular, fierce completion with Boeing for new airliner orders.  The United States has economic rivalries in the Defense Industry as well.  Germany, France, the UK, Russia, Italy and Spain all manufacture and export military hardware of one sort or another.  Even South Africa goes head to head with the U.S., when it comes to anti-riot vehicles and helicopters.  To have confidential information regarding a foreign competitor's progress on a competitive product can be invaluable, and nations have started training Intelligence Officers to be focused on the business community for the duration of their career.  Many times these Intelligence Officers will utilize Businessman cover in order to gain access to confidential information.  The United States and France wrote the book on this type of espionage, and they continue to this day to practice it more effectively than anyone else.

Espionage has evolved quite a bit in the last few years, let alone last five decades.  So much intelligence collection has been directed towards force protection, other typical areas of interest have suffered.  But the major powers still manage to cover all their bases and go after the terrorist target together.  The joint intel ops that are becoming more and more commonplace just might be the precursor to something much more meaningful: an Intelligence Service that represents more than just one nation.  I assume that the EU has already broken ground in that regard.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Allies look to the U.S. to expand its military profile in the region; Turkish Air Force bombs both PKK and ISIS targets.

Links: A. Turkish Air Force hits both Kurdish/PKK and ISIS targets.
           B. BBC comments on Turkish air strikes.

The current environment in the Middle East and the Levant (can't we just go back to using Mesopotamia?) has evolved so dramatically in the last month that regional players have been obliged to review, adjust, and re-apply strategies.  The treaty drafted between Iranian officials and representatives from the United States and various European interested parties (the Foreign Minister of Austria was involved, and I swear to you that I have cans of corn older than he is) has been approved by the United Nations and now must be reviewed by the U.S. Congress and the Iranian Parliament.  For the most part, the Iranians love this treaty, so the real test will be in the U.S. Congress.    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (who, along with Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, constitute the Gulf Monarchies) have unleashed their diplomats and foreign friends to investigate the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons without having a production facility.  Being rich in fossil fuels, The Gulf Emirates have no need for nuclear power; but you can guarantee that they will be looking to purchase a nuclear weapon or three and a delivery system effective enough to at least act as a deterrent (how far are Tehran and Qom from King Khalid Air Force Base?).  Not surprisingly, since the United States is responsible for the Iranian nuclear treaty, its allies in the region (including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Kuwait and Iraq) fully expect the U.S. to strengthen its military presence and involvement in the region.  The argument will be that since the U.S. took it upon itself to make the region all the more dangerous, then the U.S. needs to share in the security responsibility.  Obviously the Administration agrees, as diplomats have been scurrying to various capitals, including Baghdad and Jerusalem/Tel Aviv, to discuss the possibility of new arms treaties.

Also, Turkey has decided to become more aggressive on the military front, bombing both PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) and ISIS (Islamic State) targets simultaneously.  Turkey's attack on the PKK ended an unofficial truce between Ankara and the Kurdish independence organization that had existed since 2013. Before conducting the PKK raid, Turkey concluded an agreement with the United States for the use of the U.S. Air Force Base at Incirlik, Turkey, by the allied air coalition currently active against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.  Its obvious that Turkey timed its attack on the PKK only after placating U.S. efforts to use Incirlik.  Also, Turkey sweetened the pot a bit by also bombing ISIS targets in Syria.  We strongly suspect that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning to call for elections in the fall.  His decision ratchet up military attacks on PKK targets after a two-year unofficial cease-fire is calculated to appeal to the Turkish voters, who are opposed to the PKK by a large percentage.  At the same time, Turkish military action against ISIS, and the relaxation of opposition to the use of Incirlik, will no-doubt help to repair a damaged relationship with the United States, which is another issue that is very important to the average Turkish voter.

If Turkey were to decide to become one-hundred percent involved militarily in the efforts to defeat ISIS, the impact on the battlefield would be staggering.  Similar to a full Iranian intervention in Iraq, the Turkish military would make short-order of ISIS, especially given that the Turks do not play with the same rule book as the United States.  Turkey would have no hesitation using ISIS tactics to combat ISIS, which is one of the most effective ways to combat organizations of this nature.  Any squeamishness or hesitance to act as barbarously as ISIS is automatically accepted as a sign of weakness, and used to ISIS' advantage, especially when utilizing the world press and social media.  But Turkey will not be the agent of destruction for ISIS, because that result would leave Bashir al-Assad and his depleted regime military as the next biggest-fish in Syria.  Erdogan despises Assad and will do nothing to aid the Syrian de-facto president and his Syrian Ba'ath Party cronies.  Ideally, Iranian and Turkish diplomats and military leaders would convene a summit and create a military plan (with the U.S. and its European allies in full support) to destroy ISIS from two directions.  Can you imagine two militarily powerful Muslim nations working together to destroy the world's worst terrorist threat of all time?  It would send a tremendous message about the power of peace, and set an example for Christian nations to follow (Russia/Ukraine).  Again, it won't happen, and not just because Erdogan hates Assad.  The deep, ingrained prejudice that Sunnis and Shi'a have for one another will prevent any serious Muslim coalition.  The best that can be hoped for is continued cooperation between the much smaller Sunni tribal groups in Iraq, and the Popular Mobilization Units/PMUs (Shi'a militias).  The tripartite grouping of the supposed secular Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and the Shi'a PMUs and Sunni tribal groups, has been kept in a very delicate balance up to now.  The reason it has succeeded is because very little pressure has been exerted, i.e. the groups haven't been forced to merge as a fighting unit.  Also, every effort is being made to keep one group from getting more credit for battlefield victories than the others.  This effort has not always been successful. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Iran reconsiders strategy in Iraq following the increase in ISIS activity in Diyala Province.

Link: Bomb attacks in Baghdad and Diyala Province leave scores dead, injured.

As we have been discussing for months, the proximity of ISIS activity in Diyala Province to the Iranian border with Iraq, is causing a great deal of concern in Tehran.  Both the Iranian government in Tehran and the spiritual leaders in Qom are very sensitive to the public perception that Iran itself is "impregnable".  The Iran military, and more importantly, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have always carried so much influence in Iran, because of the public belief (supported by the Iranian media) that Iran's military forces are much too powerful and disciplined to allow an enemy to attack Iranian territory, which hasn't happened since the August 1980-September 1988 Iran/Iraq war.  We are convinced that soon ISIS will be conducting cross-border operations from Diyala Province into Iran, if only to make the point that no enemy is beyond it's reach.

The Iranians are faced with a number of options.  Given the complete control Iran wields over the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), otherwise known as the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib al Imam Ali, Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shahuda, Mahdi Army, and Kata'ib Hezbollah, the Iraqi government has little say-so regarding the movements of these Shi'a based militia groups.  The Badr Organization has a historically strong presence in Diyala Province.  If the Iranians suspect that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are not up to the job in Diyala, the Badr group could be recalled from Anbar Province to add a layer of security for the Iranian Border.  In fact, the Iranians could instruct more than just Badr to relocate to Diyala, but if they make this choice, and the ongoing ISF offensive in Anbar proves successful, they will lose the opportunity to "play the hero".  The Iranians are in no hurry to provide the ISF and the U.S.-led air coalition any victories.  On the other side of the coin, if the PMUs, either piecemeal or as a whole, are withdrawn to the other theaters and the Anbar operation fails, then the ISF and the Iraq government will have no problem finding a scapegoat.  Obviously, this is the type of conundrum that ISIS likes to create.  Its leaders understand the precarious nature of the various coalitions they make up the opposition, and they will take advantage of every opportunity to sow discord.  The increase in SVBIED and free-fire incidences in Baghdad and Diyala Province over the last week are a perfect example of ISIS attempting to discredit the Sunni/Shi'a coalition that is currently laying siege to both Fallujah and Ramadi.  The Iraqi authorities expected these type of attacks to increase once the offensive began, but there was very little that could be done to counter this type of warfare.

Another option that is seldom given much serious consideration, is the possibility of direct Iranian Army (or IRGC) intervention in Diyala.  The Iranians don't need anyone's permission, and they could certainly contain ISIS in Diyala in short order.  But Iran has been very careful to follow its usual script, which has proven so successful in so many conflicts over the years.  The Iranians appear determined to utilize the PMUs as their military contribution to the anti-ISIS effort (along with military aid to Bashir al-Assad beleaguered regime forces in Syria).  The Iranians have always used surrogates and proxies to fight their battles, as is evidenced by Hezbollah, the Houthis, and on occasion both Hamas and the Taliban.  Although we have always argued that a full-scale Iranian military intervention might be much more successful at not only defeating ISIS, but in bringing Iran out of the shadows and back within the international community of nations.  You see, defeating ISIS would be a much more appreciated achievement internationally, as opposed to the signing of this five-year nuclear treaty the United States is passing around.  One act benefits all, and the other only benefits Iran.  So which one would be most likely to increase Iran's diplomatic bona fides?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ukrainian separatists pretend to abide by the Minsk Agreement by re-deploying certain forces.

Links: A. Calls for the implementation of the Minsk Agreement.
           B. Right wing protests Poroshenko in Kiev.

Both Kiev and Moscow are very interested in giving the impression of support for the Minsk negotiations.  The discussions, which include the Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia, evolved after the failure of the Minsk Protocol, a 5 September 2014 agreement to halt the war in the Donbas Region.  The Minsk Protocol included twelve main points, but within the first few weeks, both sides had violated the agreement.  By January 2015, it was acknowledged by all parties concerned that the Minsk Protocol was a failure, and that negotiators had to return to Minsk and begin again.  On 11 February 2015, the leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia agreed to a new package of measures which for all practical purposes, revived the Minsk Protocol.  As opposed to the first agreement, it appears at this early stage that both parties are interested in at least giving the appearance of compliance.  As an addendum to the Minsk II agreement, both parties (Ukraine and the Donbas separatists) agreed to a heavy weapons withdrawal that includes tanks and certain "previously excluded" lighter weapons.  On June 21, monitors for the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported that both Ukrainian and separatist forces had begun removing the proscribed weapons from the front lines, even though the addendum had yet to be actually signed.  Although the intention of the addendum was to reduce the intensity of the fighting in southeast Ukraine, the separatist almost immediately issued a declaration that they will retain armor around the key cities of Donetsk and Debaltseve.  It is apparent that the separatist will utilize a well-worn strategy of continually moving heavy weapons and firepower from one location to the next, to give the impression that they are abiding by the agreement.  In reality, as long as the armor and heavy firepower are present in Donbas, they can be maneuvered into position to fire on Ukrainian targets within a day's notice (and in most instances, less).

Not surprisingly, the separatists will agree to whatever particular parts of the agreement that suits their military and political objectives.  While Ukrainian President Petro Poroschenko bends over backwards to demonstrate to his European supporters that he is willing to negotiate with the separatists (and the Russians), regardless of the continual violation of previous agreements and the brutal destruction of a civilian passenger airliner by an SA-11 missile fired by Russian Buk missile launcher, he faces mounting disapproval in his own capital.  The Right Sector Movement (RSM), the political movement which led the demonstrations that eventually removed Poroschenko's successor,  has become increasingly more active and vocal in their opposition to the manner in which Poroschenko is handling this crisis.  Poroschenko must be very careful how he maneuvers around this pot-hole, because the RSM, which contributes volunteers to actively fight alongside the Ukrainian Army, is very popular in western Ukraine. One issue that receives a great deal of attention in Ukraine, is the fact that Poroschenko continues to refer to the crisis as an anti-terrorist action (!) as opposed to an actual war.  Poroschenko has also been opposed to calls in Parliament (supported by RSM and the majority of Ukrainians) to institute and economic blockade of Donbas, and he does not support the various volunteer military units that have sprung up in support of the Ukrainian Army.  All of these measures would be seen by the European "friends of Ukraine", as being inflammatory and not in the spirit of de-escalation, so its obvious from where Poroschenko is currently receiving his marching orders.  And you can't blame Poroschenko for taking direction from the leaders of nations that haven't been to war in over five decades, at least not declared.  He is being advised by honor graduates of the Neville Chamberlain "sacrifice anything and everyone for peace in our time" school of diplomacy.  It should come as no surprise; this is how Europeans think in 2015. Considering the devastation of two World Wars, I certainly understand their wish to avoid aggravating the situation.  But dangerous times call for courageous leadership.  This is the time and place for the United States to act as the leader of the European delegation, and start dealing with Putin directly.  Since the entire planet recognizes that he is calling the shots for the separatists, why to we continue to avoid dealing with him directly?

At present, we in the United States are without a President who is willing to utilize both our diplomatic and military resources appropriately and aggressively, in defense of international freedom and security.  Since 2008, the United States has basically been adrift internationally, occasionally reacting to important events, but always the last one to show up at the party.  The establishment of ISIS in Iraq is a direct result of the rash removal of U.S. forces in contrast to the phased-out, long-term withdrawal schedule preferred by the Pentagon.  And Ukraine is obliged to cling to the coat tails of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande because our government is preaching the same, defeatist diatribe as they are (and they're closer).  If I could only remember the number of Democrats who have argued against long-term sanctions at one time or another (Cuba comes to mind); and now these same Democrats watch Vladimir Putin and the Russian people totally ignore the sanctions regime in-place against Russia, and call for.....continued sanctions!  Putin will eventually swallow Ukraine piece-by piece.  Why?  Because its in his nature; he is a megalomaniac, and like true megalomaniacs, he won't stop until HE IS STOPPED.  When we made the point in favor of aggressive and appropriate diplomatic and military action, we were recognizing that the United States and our European partners have the opportunity to persuade Putin to climb back into his box.  We must show that we are determined to protect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, and this can be accomplished by providing all supplies and military equipment that the Ukrainian military requests.  Would you like a chuckle?  If the Iranian nuke treaty is approved, we will then be able to sell F16s and Abrams tanks to Iran, but no to Ukraine!  We can also influence Putin's decision-making by returning U.S. military forces to Europe, but in new locations, possibly, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Romania?  The threat of a missile-defense shield for eastern Europe is another issue that annoys Putin (and that we have sacrificed for absolutely no political gain).  We have military options in dealing with both Putin and ISIS; now all we need is the motivation and the backbone.

2016 can't come fast enough.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Iraqi forces facing serious challenges from ISIS in Diyala and Babil provinces.

Link: ISIS attack on market leaves 115 dead.

As expected, ISIS has responded to the offensive with a variety of distracting SVBIED attacks, mostly in Diyala Province.  ISIS is determined to establish a permanent presence in Diyala, which would allow for the eventual encirclement of Baghdad.  Although the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the militias/Popular Mobilization Forces (PMUs) have had some success retaking areas of Fallujah and hemming in the ISIS units in Ramadi, its apparent that ISIS believes this development will be temporary.  In the past, fighting in Anbar has gone back and forth, and there is no reason to believe that ISIS will not be able to mount another offensive to retake lost ground, especially if Haditha falls.

The issue in Diyala is the most pressing, as the Provincial Governor has requested that provincial troops serving in Anbar be returned.  According to Governor Musana Tamimi, fifty percent of Diyala's provincial troops have been drafted to fight with the ISF in Anbar.  The Governor of Babil Province has also made the same complaint, as ISIS begins to expand its presence there.  Tamimi noted that there are large tracts of land just east of Baghdad that have been infiltrated by ISIS, and that Baqubah and Khan Beni Saad are two communities in Diyala that have come under tremendous pressure.  Although the ISF has had recent success stopping intended SVBIEDs in eastern Anbar, it appears that ISIS has been expanding its resources and manpower in Diyala for some time.  The SVBIED at a market in Khan Beni Saad that killed 115 people and injured over 170 on July 17, was the exact type of attack that Iraqi authorities were concerned might coincide with the end of Ramadan.

And to add to the headache, violent demonstrations in Basra Province (unrelated to ISIS) also highlight the difficult security situation in the provinces when so many soldiers have been forwarded to the operations in Anbar.  What we find most disturbing is ISIS ability to project military operations (albeit SVBIEDS and limited free-fire attacks) to the provinces, when its resources are allegedly tied up in Haditha and Fallujah/Ramadi.  It implies that ISIS has a long-term plan to consolidate its presence in Anbar, Salah ad-Din and Diyala, in order to eventually encircle and strangle Baghdad.  The Iraqi authorities will need military and related specialized aid to counter these efforts by creating a permanent supply system for Baghdad, and bolster its defensive posture.  The Iranians seem content to limit their involvement to political machinations and domination of the PMUs.  How long will Iran continue to let ISIS terrorize Diyala Province, which actually borders Iran?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Obama's treaty with Iran surpasses Neville Chamberlain in sacrificing international security in search of a political legacy.

Links: A. ISIS a beneficiary of the Obama/Iran nuclear treaty.
           B. Putin assisted with Obama/Iran nuclear treaty.

So, Vladimir Putin heartily approves of the treaty agreed to by the Obama Administration and the Islamic Republic of Iran.  In fact, President Obama is quick to praise Putin for being helpful during the negotiations.  How quickly we forget who we are dealing with.  Have we forgotten the 298 dead civilians from Malaysian Airlines flight 17, whose lives were lost because Putin agreed to use advanced Russian military hardware in the Ukrainian conflict.  Unfortunately, he didn't lend the experts who know how to use the equipment, and the result was a civilian airline being mistaken for a military flight.  The world understands and excepts this reality, along with many others that show Putin to be a megalomaniacal dictator, intent on returning Russia to the military prominence of the Cold War.  Every effort made by the United States on behalf of de-escalation of violence and the end of nuclear proliferation, up to now has been met with cold, hard opposition by Putin in Russia.  The Russians never sided with the United Nations in its efforts to force Iran to steer away from militarizing its nuclear research.  But now, because Putin approves of this treaty, he's become "a friend".  And those of us in this country, including many who have served in uniform and sacrificed limbs for national security, are called "overheated and dishonest" by Obama.  And now we are told that the Administration has been working on a "rapprochement" with Russia, and has started putting pressure on the Ukrainian government to be more conciliatory to the Russian-backed terrorists, I mean separatists, who are trying to detach entire pieces of Ukraine for annexation by Russia.

I have no doubt that this Administration did not spend one second considering the consequences of this treaty on the current unstable situation in the Persian Gulf and the Levant.  All that mattered was to keep the goal in sight, and the goal in this instance was a treaty of some sort to allow Obama to leave office claiming credit for some foreign policy initiative.  I don't understand why he just didn't focus on one of his other, previous foreign policy initiatives; he's had six years so there must be something, right?  Fat chance.  Our foreign policy over the past six years has been as knee-jerk as a reflex in a doctor's office.  Under President's Reagan, Bush, and even Clinton, our government continued the tradition of initiating positive change in the world.  The last six years have been singularly about responses, not initiatives.  Now for a bit of simple, common-sense.  ISIS is a religiously Sunni-affiliated organization, as is Al-Qaida.  Iran, with the lifting a sanctions, which conservatively will release as much as one hundred billion dollars to the Iranian treasury, will rapidly become a dominant force in the Persian Gulf.  The ballsy involvement with the Houthis in Yemen has already demonstrated this Iranian Administration's determination to expand its international influence.  Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, who are already suspected of having some funding connections to Sunni extremism, will look upon recent developments as a return to the Battlefield of Karbala.  Even if the Iranians were to fulfill their obligations according to this treaty, in five years they would again be free to pursue whatever type of nuclear research they desire.  There are a number of questionable facilities that are part of the Iranian nuclear research program, which can have no purpose other than the construction of a nuclear weapon.  It would have been nice if our negotiating team had at least requested that the Iranians shut these facilities.  But as far as I know, nothing was requested of the Iranians whatsoever, except the need for unannounced inspections.  Well, we saw how far that demand went.

Lets welcome Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to the nuclear arms race.  Lets also congratulate Sunni extremists everywhere, who will now be able to use the growing power of Shi'a Iran as a recruiting and fundraising tool.  This treaty is so flawed that I think its time I took a sabbatical from reviewing its contents.  Instead, I will pick up another debate which is near and dear to my heart.  In 1993, President Clinton signed a law making it illegal for active duty military personnel to be armed on base.  I can't recall if this law was preceded by some incident involving firearms and active duty personnel, but I can tell you that the United States is not the same country as it was twenty-one years ago.  Our Federal Law Enforcement and Intelligence experts stress the likelihood that Islamic extremists are living within our communities, waiting for the order or the opportunity to strike.  On a number of occasions, we have already seen that military installations are prime targets.  This is the world we live in today, 2015.  Our young men and women who volunteer to put their lives in jeopardy for national security, should not be deprived of the ability to defend themselves.  Are we supposed to tell these soldiers that we can trust them enough to die for their country, but they can't be trusted enough to carry a weapon on base?  What an absurd law.  I'm not afraid to state the obvious, and point directly to former President Bill Clinton: if that law had not passed in 1993, its probable that at least some of the victims of Thursday's attack would have been armed.  I will leave the rest of that assumption up to the reader..... 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Iraqi Security Forces join militia to encircle Fallujah.

Link: Iraqi forces closing in on Fallujah.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi government announced the commencement of the long-anticipated offensive to retake Anbar Province from the Islamic State (IS).  Originally, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) appeared to be focusing exclusively on Ramadi, with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), previously referred to as "Shi'a militias", were moving to attack Fallujah.  The current situation, however, has both the ISF and the PMUs putting heavy pressure on Fallujah, while Ramadi endures the continued attention of both the allied air coalition and the Iraqi Air Force.  If the ISF and PMUs are successful in encircling Fallujah, this will fully isolate Ramadi, and cut off any lines of supply from the west.  After capturing Fallujah, the ISF should have a less-difficult time with Ramadi.  But action in Fallujah has provided a grim reminder that the IS fighters seem content to fight to the death.  Very few prisoners are being transported for debriefing, which leaves two possibilities: either the IS fighters are purposely dying for the cause, or the ISF and the PMUs have decided that prisoners are an unnecessary complication.  In this theater, nothing would surprise me.

The immediate success of this offensive will have repercussions on other fronts.  The IS will have fewer resources to dedicate to offensive maneuvers of there own design.  Already there has been a slackening on SVBIEDs.  Although Ramadi is usually the name that ends up in the newspapers, Fallujah is only forty miles from Baghdad.  The citizens of Baghdad are aware of this proximity, which made it essential from a public relations perspective, that the government appear to be making the security of the capital its highest priority.  In the past, when the ISF has conducted offensive operations, the IS had deadened the effect by almost simultaneously conducting operations itself, either through the use of SVBIEDs or attacks on military camps and installations.  While the ISF and the PMUs are focusing on Fallujah and Ramadi, the IS continues its assault on Haditha, with both VBIEDs and direct fire.  Although the fall of Haditha would be a blow to the government, it would be a reasonable trade-off for the liberation of Fallujah and Ramadi.

The IS is still capable of pulling off offensive operations that will distract from the Ramadi/Fallujah front.  Although the ISF and the PMUs continue to make progress in Baiji, a response from the IS is anticipated at any time.  The IS is attempting to keep the pressure on in Diyala Province, with low-level attacks against civilian targets continuing.  Interestingly enough, the IS has staged the second major assault in two weeks on PUK and Peshmerga positions.  Unlike Syria (at present), access to resources are the key to operations by IS in Iraq.  The IS already has tenuous supply lines coming from Syria into Iraq, which are constantly in jeopardy from air attack.  At the moment, the IS successes (Haditha, Tuz Khurmatu in northern Iraq) are in locations that are more easily resupplied, than for instance, Diyala Province and Ramadi.  The key to defeating the IS in Iraq is to continue to put pressure on their ability to resupply their far-flung forces.  As each location is rolled up, pressure must continue from air sorties.  Each victory must be followed up with another operation; the IS must not be given time to find other avenues of re-supply.  Because the IS is in control of vast swaths of Syrian territory, cutting off supply routes will be much more difficult.  But no army has ever survived and flourished without supplies and reinforcements.  Cut off the IS from its resources and watch it starve to death.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

True to form, Obama bargains away our National Security in a vain search for a legacy.

Links: A.  CNN: Landmark treaty reached with Iran.
           B.  Fox News: Iran deal worse than expected.
           C.  Basics of 2010 New Start Treaty with Russia.

Earlier today, during a discussion regarding the Nuclear Treaty the Obama Administration and our European allies have crafted, I expressed my opposition.  Almost immediately, I was accused of being so opposed to the current Administration that my opinions had become very "predictable".  My reply to the young lady was to describe myself as "consistent", especially when discussing governments that openly export terrorism and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. soldiers.  As for my opposition to the Obama Administration, I can only speak from my personal life experience and my conscience.  I voted against Obama on both occasions, along with almost fifty percent of the rest of the country.  I don't feel isolated in my opposition to his policies, nor do I consider myself a radical.  Most importantly, I'm always prepared to back up my perspective with facts.

I have been patiently waiting for the 2016 Presidential Debates so I can hear Hillary Clinton's defense of the 2010 New Start Treaty negotiated and signed with Russia.  This treaty reduces our nuclear arsenal by one-third, while China and Russia are modernizing theirs.  I addition, the Obama Administration has delayed funding for ground-based interceptor (GBI) missile and radar sites that we promised to install in the Czech Republic and Poland.  This delay was the result of loud complaints from Russia regarding this proposed defensive capability.  Unbelievably, the Obama Administration has gone further and hinted at a willingness to unilaterally deactivate one-third of our nuclear arsenal, as behind-the-scenes discussions take place regarding the next round of U.S.-Russian arms talks.  All of this is taking place while Russia slowly swallows up big chunks of Ukraine, and laughs off our repeated attempts to "sanction" them into playing nicely.

The treaty that was hammered out yesterday by John Kerry, his European counterparts, and the Iranian delegation, is even worse than New Start.  A Republican Administration, backed by a Republican Congress, and take effective steps to roll-back the New Start Treaty or rewrite it altogether.  This treaty with Iran establishes so many precedents that will be impossible to reverse.  What are my problems with the treaty?  Lets start with the existing diplomatic environment.  Everyone in the room, including the cleaning man and the lady who refilled everyone's glasses, knew that Kerry was not allowed to leave empty-handed.  He had orders to make every concession necessary in order to secure the Obama Legacy.  Where is the proof to support this allegation?  Just look at the treaty: the Iranians got everything they wanted, and in return we received a few promises that re impossible to verify.  All of DC knew Kerry wasn't allowed to come home without a treaty, and I'm sure Tehran (and Qom) were just as clued-in.  That explains the continued delay after delay.  Sadly, in the end it was only the Iranian complaints that were addressed, as the verification process became so watered down as to make the Saddam Hussein inspection/verification regimen look respectable.

Early on in the negotiations, the Iranians demanded that the conversation be limited to the subject at hand, the nuclear issue.  This removed any chance that suffering families in the United States might get word regarding relatives that have been languishing in Iranian prisons, with no due process.  These are American citizens, and this is how imperative it was for Kerry to get an agreement.  From my optic, their lives don't matter to this Administration.  As an example of just how much carte blanche the Iranians had to rewrite the ground rules, the issue of conventional arms sales were added to the negotiations.  So the U.S. was not allowed to introduce the subject of American citizens in Iranian jails, but the Iranians were able to introduce the subject of sanctions on arms sales to Iran.  Not surprisingly, this issue was included in the final draft.  Sanctions on arms sales to Iran are to be lifted, as they continue to be the world's number one sponsor of international terrorism (Hezbollah, Houthis, etc.).  The Iranians were not required to renounce support for terror, or to join any existing agreement to not engage in weapons proliferation to places like Yemen, Libya, and Syria.

From my perspective, the worst part of the agreement was the controls put on verification.  If our inspectors want to visit an Iranian nuclear research facility, they have to submit the name of the location at least one month in advance.  Even then, there are clauses that allow the Iranians to delay the inspectors.  Even Saddam Hussein had it worse.  Another negative result: you can be sure that both the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia will become players in the nuclear arms race.  The royal families of the Persian Gulf are well-aware that they fall just below Israel on Iran's nuclear hit-list.  What a mess.

What happened to the days when we expected people to join the ranks of civility and common courtesy amongst nations before they are rewarded?  Wouldn't it have made sense to establish diplomatic relations first, before agreeing to this giveaway?  Monday, he government of Iran had as its official policy, the destruction of Iran.  As for the public policy, the streets were full on Monday of Iranians chanting "Death to America!"  I do not have the expertise or the space to provide a full review of the absolute crap that this treaty contains.  I respectfully ask everyone to read both B and C, to get an honest appreciation of how little our national security means to this Administration.  Amateur Hour in DC.   

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Iraqi Security Forces launch offensive to retake Ramadi; PMUs tackling Fallujah separately.

Links: A. ISF launches offensive in Anbar.
           B. U.S. delivers first shipment of 36 F-16s to Iraq.

Iraq continues to crowd-out Syria for front-page news, as the government in Baghdad on Monday announced the long-anticipated offensive in Anbar Province.  The first goal of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) is the recapture of Ramadi.  Interestingly enough, the much talked-about Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are targeting Fallujah.  The strategy, which appears sound, is to present the Islamic State (IS) forces with two cities to defend.  It will be interesting to see how the IS responds, given joint requests for resources; who gets the priority, Fallujah or Ramadi?  I like this strategy because it fully removes the initiative from the IS.  There had been concerns that the attack on Ramadi, along with the approach of the end of Ramadan, would encourage the IS to increase its Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED) in Baghdad.  In fact, SVBIED attacks have increased in both Baghdad and Diyala Province.  But creating a two-front engagement in Anbar Province forces the IS to live and die by the effectiveness of its supply lines and ability to reinforce.  The IS may not have the capability to continue its SVBIED attacks in Baghdad and Diyala Province.  This strategy does include a certain level of risk.  What if the PMUs succeed in retaking Fallujah, but the ISF fails with Ramadi.  The U.S. would also take the hit, because the Iraqi people affiliate the U.S. with the regular Army and Police.  We have been training these groups in one form or another for a decade.  On the other hand, the PMUs are obviously connected to Iran.  This might be an opportunity to Iran to chalk up another victory over the U.S. in the all-important "war of perceptions".

In another development, the United States began deliveries of thirty-six F-16s purchased by Iraq, eighteen in 2011 and another eighteen in 2013.  The reason for the delay in delivery vice the purchasing date, is directly related to the training of pilots to fly the F-16.  A majority of the training took place in the United States, and we are very confident that these Iraqi pilots will acquit themselves admirably. Once the Iraqi Air Force (IAF) is in possession of at least a handful of F-16s, it will be fascinating to compare the target selection with the target selection of the current allied air coalition.  Something tells us that the IAF will be much more active and aggressive, which will be a welcome development.  With the exception of the Taliban in Afghanistan, I've never seen a military force be as successful as the IS has been with regards to the allied air coalition.  weren't we all taught that control of the air wins wars?  Hell, we aren't talking about control of the air, we are talking about complete air supremacy.  One would assume that the IS in Syria and Iraq would be obliged to conduct all military operations at night.  That hasn't been the case.  One would think that the world's greatest military superpower would be watching from satellites and drones, for any sign of activity whatsoever during daylight hours, and then call in the just call in the airstrikes.  Look, we realize that nothing is ever that simple.  But something just doesn't add up.  We are supposed to have the military air resources of the United States, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the U.A.E. and Iraq dedicated to the destruction of the IS.  And yet we continue to see one IS victory after another, particularly in Syria.  In fact, in recent memory the only damage that the IS has sustained from the air has come from Assad's Air Units.

Each week seems to bring more horrid videos of IS crimes against humanity.  And these are videos that are being professionally recorded and distributed by the IS.  These beasts are beginning to make the Marquis De Sade look like Mary Poppins, for goodness sake.  Our question is, why have we been unable to implement blanket coverage over the skies of Iraq and Syria?  I remember a time not too long ago, when the Iraqi Army and former Iraqi Republican Guard, were too frightened to stick their heads outside of bunkers for fear that a bomb would land on their heads.  And remember the drone video clips from Afghanistan that we've all seen, of Taliban attempting to organize, only to be greeted by a cruise missile? Why isn't this the case with the IS in Syria and Iraq?  Are we out of bombs?  Have we run out of drones?  One day someone will ask the question, "why wasn't this plague destroyed while it was still in its infancy?" Actually, I'm asking the Administration and the Pentagon that question NOW.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Iran using Maliki and the Popular Mobilization Units to further its influence in Iraq.

Links: A. Wikipedia definition of Popular Mobilization Units.
           B. Wikipedia entry for Nouri al-Maliki.

Keeping track of the evolving political scenario in Iraq can be quite a headache.  I avoided digging into the "Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs)" issue for some time, electing to use the phrase, "Shi'a-based militias".  But recent events have made it apparent to me that these groups of informal, guerilla-type, less-than-disciplined military units have become an important piece on the Iraqi political chessboard.  Wikipedia has provided a tremendously useful definition of the PMUs, which we have included in Link A.  In 2014, following the fall of Mosul and Ramadi, Shi'a
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for Iraqis of all faiths to join together to defeat the Islamic State (IS).  The response was as expected, with the Shi'a volunteering by the truckloads, while the Sunnis remained basically unmoved.  A number of Shi'a militias already existed, including the Badr Corps (or Brigade), Kata'ib Hezbollah, al-Haq, and interestingly enough, the Mahdi Army.  For students of history, the Mahdi Army was the name chosen by the Islamic fanatics who attempted to create a Caliphate in the Sudan in the 1880s.  Muhammad Ahmad, a Sudanese religious leader of the Samaniyya Order, proclaimed himself "Mahdi" (messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith) on June 29, 1881.  Sudan was a protectorate, or colony of England at the time, and after dispatching the small contingent or Royal troops in Khartoum, the Mahdi and his followers looked towards Egypt.  Although Muhammad Ahmad died six months after Khartoum fell, another member of the Samaniyya Order stepped in to become Mahdi #2 (Abdalli ibn-Muhammad).  The British did not respond well to this threat, and dispatched an army to the Sudan, which in short order dispatched the Mahdi and his followers.  Future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was present during this war, and his memoirs are fascinating for aficionados of the subject.  Back to the subject at hand...

The throng of Shi'a who followed Sistani's call to arms swelled the ranks of the basically five militias that were deploying against the IS threat. Initially, the Iraqi government made an effort to keep the militias under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, with the hope that the groups would engage the enemy with some sense of cohesion.  Since the beginning of the conflict with the IS, the ISF has not always impressed on the battlefield, an issue which is the result of the U.S. military being withdrawn from Iraq precipitously, before the ISF training schedule had been fully implemented.  In fact, the ISF delivered billions of dollars in military weapons to the IS, simply by deserting the field of battle and leaving behind everything they couldn't stick in their pockets.  On the other hand, the militias have always performed with great courage and surprising discipline. The ISF has regrouped and delivered some stinging defeats to the IS, but none of it would have been possible without the militias.  The Iraqi government, in its continuing effort to keep control of the militias (which for the most part saw their benefactor as Iran).  The Iranians provided advisors, training and equipment to the militias, and the shared Shi'a connection cannot be stressed to highly.  The Iranians intend on keeping the militias separate from the ISF and out from under the control of the Iraqi government.  Each militia has its own leader, who can depend upon the loyalty of his group.  Current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in a futile effort to exercise some control, placed the command of the militias under the direct control of the Prime Minister's office.  But its difficult to for Abadi to gain traction when even the usually diplomatic Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani clearly identifies the independent nature of the militias.  Marja Ali-al-Sistani (Marja signifying the Islamic legal authority of a Grand Ayatollah) has provided for the conduct of the militias, with a declaration of "Advice and Guidance to the Fighters on the Battlefields".  This declaration included twenty points to dictate the conduct of the militias.  Most importantly, Islamic Law should be in effect for areas liberated by the militias.  To quote a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammed, "do not indulge in acts of extremism, do not disrespect dead corpses, do not resort to deceit, do not kill and elder, do not kill a child, do not kill a woman, and do not cut down trees unless necessity dictates otherwise."  Its obvious that the IS and the militias are using a separate Islamic Law Book.

The Iraqi Prime Minister's office is faced with attempting to control the militias (or PMUs), while the PMUs are taking their marching orders from Sistani and the Iranians.  Everything is copacetic as long as all three share the same agenda.  But what can we expect after the IS is defeated?  And to add to the confusion, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a man with a few mistakes to his credit, has started to make noise again.  In 2014 Maliki attempted to extend his term in office.  His effort failed when his own supporters abandoned him.  Now Maliki is making waves by claiming that he is responsible for the creation of the PMUs, as opposed to Ali al-Sistani.  At a Shi'a tribal gathering on June 13 in the Holy City of Karbala, Maliki claimed that the fall of the Sunni areas of Anbar province was "a Sunni sectarian revolution against the Shiites".  Maliki also seems to believe that the fall of Mosul during his term as Prime Minister was a conspiracy brought on by the Mosul Provincial Council and the Kurds!  On June 17, Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a political role for the PMUs in shaping Iraq's future.  We are convinced that the Iranians would like to see the PMUs morph into an Iraqi "Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps" (IRGC), and Maliki is just the man to stir up Sunni/Shia rivalries.  With Maliki making speeches to enflame the Iraqi Shia, and the ISF unable to successfully combat the IS without the PMUS, the stage is set for a major escalation in Iranian influence in Iraq.  And when did all this happen?  While Secretary of State John Kerry was negotiating a Nuclear Treaty with Iran, which if approved would end the Iranian sanctions regime.  This Administration just can't get enough of making treaties with unreliable governments.  The Iranians openly express disrespect and disdain for our way of life and our values; why in the world would be expect them to abide by a treaty with us?  As I see it, and as I understand Islam, their disdain for us actually OBLIGATES them to not abide by the restrictions in the treaty.  Quel bordel!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Hezbollah keeping Assad regime from rapid contraction.

Link: Hezbollah assists regime forces to retake Syrian border city.

We have been noting for the past few months that recent losses to Jabhat al-Nusrah (JN) and the Islamic Front (IS) have effectively ended any regime threat in eastern Syria.  The Syrian Army still controls a few widely dispersed communities in the east (including Hasaka), but Assad's only real area of influence and control is far west Syria, from Aleppo down south to Damascus.  The regime continues to control the air (except when the U.S.-led, anti-IS air coalition is operational), which has limited recent attempts by the rebels to take Aleppo.  We have also noted that, along with a decreased regime presence in the east, Assad no longer seems to be receiving much support from Russia.  We opined that without his Russian benefactor, that Assad would eventually be obliged to throw in the towel.  I'm sorry to say that we didn't take into account the impact of increased aid from Hezbollah, and by proxy, Iran.  Hezbollah fighters were instrumental in the regime's capture of Zabadani, a town located on the Syria/Lebanon border that until recently was held by rebels. 

If Iranian support for the Assad regime continues (or increases), he will likely survive any offensive by JN or the IS to take Damascus or even Aleppo.  Hezbollah has no problem moving fighters from Lebanon to Syria, and former rebel supply lines that went through Lebanon have been eradicated.  It will be interesting to see if Hezbollah increases its military presence in Syria, or if we might start to see Iranian advisors among Assad's troops, as we have occasionally seen in Iraq.  Depending on how ambitious Iran wants to be, the IS is presently confronted by Iranian-backed regime elements in Syria, and Iranian-supported militia in Iraq.  Given that the IS is a Sunni-based movement, we note the extension of the conflict between Shi'a and Sunni.  Iran has already influenced the rise of the Houthi movement in Yemen, and the activities of the Shi'a militias in Iran.  With the involvement of Hezbollah and the increased support by Iran for the Assad regime, Iran seems intent on setting the stage for another Sunni-Shi'a conflict.  As this situation develops, the United States is faced with the difficult task of identifying who is the more dangerous enemy: the IS, with its growing conventional army and its network of affiliates around the globe, or Iran, which is bound and determined to develop a nuclear weapon capability, and can't seem to stop fomenting Shi'a unrest in various hotspots in the Middle East.

All things considered, this might be a good time for the United States to allow both the Shi'a extremists and the Sunni hot heads to "whittle" each other down a bit.  Not very long ago, the CIA might take the opportunity to create a covert "influence campaign", to utilize social media and other resources to agitate the two groups, and get them to go after each other.  It would certainly keep their focus away from sponsoring international terrorism for a while, or at least that would be the intention.  But those type of operations are a thing of the past.  The Obama Admnistration would never use the CIA to conduct an operation of that nature.  As things stand, we find ourselves supporting the Free Syrian Army, which when we last checked, was actively engaging regime elements, as opposed to the IS, and continuing this nebulous air campaign, that seems to generate no intelligence or news whatsoever.  How much are we spending on those two initiative?  When Bush was in office, didn't we hear a never-ending cacophony from the left about the taxpayers dollars being wasted?  Isn't this a bit of waste as well?  If not, then great, but I want to know the details: how hs it been a success?

(Separate Comment)

The Reality of Illegal Immigrant Felons in the U.S.

We have noticed a rash of news stories lately regarding illegal immigrant felons who have been allowed to stay in the United States after being released from jail, only to offend again.  Because sensational news gets more attention, the stories that involve children or loss of life will always be the priority.  Do you know what a "Sanctuary City is"?  For those who don't, a Sanctuary City is a community that purposely choses to NOT inform Federal Law Enforcement when a foreign national felon has served their time and is being released to the street.  The law requires the community local law enforcement to notify Homeland Security Deportations, so these felons can be returned to their country of nationality.  But some cities, including just about all the big ones on the west coast, allow for something called "Sanctuary" to exist in their cities, because they believe that it is cruel and wrong to deport these individuals, regardless of the crime or how many times that they have re-entered the U.S. illegally.

Statistics show that certain felons are very likely to re-offend, but this doesn't matter to the Sanctuary folks.  Who cares if a teenager is shot dead outside a grocery store, or a mother of two is raped and strangled to death on a bike path?  The only thing that matters are the INVISIBLE rights of the foreign national who presence in our country is predicated on the fact that broke our Immigration Law, and has since racked up a few more violations.  No doubt the groups opposed to Amnesty will use every one of these stories as a means to frighten and mobilize the population, but the truth is the truth.  We do have a problem in this country with an outrageously high number of illegal immigrant felons, the majority of which are not presently incarcerated.

Do you know where your children are?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is Hamas working with ISIS in Sinai?

Link: A.  Is Hamas working with ISIS?
          B. Developments in Sinai.

The Islamic State has a new name, folks.  First, we struggled with ISIS; then we were challenged with "The Islamic State for the Creation of a Caliphate in the Levant", which, I guess, could become "ISCOCIL".  Thank goodness someone had better sense.  As for the new name on the scene, it has been selected to identify the nascent establishment of an armed element of the Islamic State that has been active in the Sinai region, and its name is "Wilayat Sinai".  I'm no Arabic scholar, but the name "Wilayat" reminds me of "Vilayet", a term used to describe communities in the Ottoman Empire.  My superior skills of deduction tell me that "Wilayat Sinai" identifies what the Islamic State has decided is a part of its future Caliphate.  When they organize an armed group for a part of Jordan, it may be named, "Wilayat Amman".  This new group located in north Sinai, traditional home of Hamas, introduced itself with a bang last week, by attacking an Egyptian Army checkpoint and killing all the soldiers on duty.  The attack was coordinated to coincide with vehicle/suicide attacks on other Egyptian military targets, but things didn't go exactly as planned.  The Egyptians acquitted themselves admirably and gave hell to the Wilayat Sinai fighters.  Interestingly enough, this action took place under the noses of the U.S. military, which currently has a presence in Sinai.  Task Force Sinai, a regiment-sized U.S. Army contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers, the U.N. peacekeeping organization in pace in Sinai since 1982.  Aside from the Explosives Ordinance Disposal Unit, what exactly are these U.S. troops doing in Sinai?

When I think of Sinai, I think of that large land-mass that separate Egypt and Israel.  When I was a child, I used to imagine the plight of the poor Israelites, crossing the Sinai desert, with Moses at the lead, to escape Pharaoh and slavery.  The Sinai has been the location of a number of recent terrorist attacks against Egyptian soldiers and police.  Last week, the ISIS-baby Wilayat Sinai got in on the act.  The attacks against the Egyptian military were obviously a probing operation, to test the reaction time and effectiveness of the Egyptian contingent.  The Pentagon has estimated that the Islamic State has roughly 200 fighters in north Sinai.  We estimate the number to be closer to 500, but this includes new recruits, some of whom were probably present in last week's attacks, and gained experience through one helluva baptism of fire.  We know that ISIS is spreading, and has established branches as far away as Nigeria.  Yesterday Barrack Obama publicly announced that ISIS was on is heels.  This guy really has Chutzpah.  Only a few years ago, he described ISIS as being a "JV" (junior varsity) organization.  They now control most of Syria and Iraq.  He's a keeper, that's for sure.  We can only imagine how Israel is digesting this recent news of ISIS presenting itself so near Israel's southern border.  ISIS in the north, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and now ISIS in the south.  I have a degree in Geography, so when I say that Israel is looking a bit "boxed in", you can take it to the bank.

I wasn't so much shocked about the coming-out party for Wilayat Sinai as I was the rumors of cooperation between the Islamic State and Hamas.  I would have thought that ideologically, there would be some problems with this relationship, not to mention that Hamas considers itself the sage of terrorist activity, with ISIS being the snot-nosed upstart.  But it does appear as if some level of cooperation has taken place, which really complicates an already muddy picture.  For the moment, though, my concern is with Task Force Sinai.  Again, I'm really confused about the marching order for these young men and women.  Are they armed?  Do they patrol?  If they're peacekeepers, are they under the command of a foreigner?  It wasn't so long ago that Hamas had militarized Gaza, and turned schools and hospitals into missile depositories, forcing the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to enter Gaza.  This is a dangerous place, folks.  What kind of peacekeeping are our soldiers doing?  For now, lets forget about yesterday and deal with today and tomorrow.  If ISIS has decided to extend its war for the Caliphate to the Sinai, I demand that our troops be armed all the time, with orders to defend themselves as appropriate to any self-defense situation.  If the Administration is going to insist that our troops be unarmed, then its time to pull back our soldiers and replace them with diplomats.  That would be there function after all, n'est pas? 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Greece continues to give the finger to the EU.

Link:  Greek voters vote no on bailout referendum.

This past weekend, when most Americans were enjoying the holiday and I was watching my baseball team, the Houston Astros, lose twice to Boston, the proud people of Greece voted 61 percent to 39 percent to reject the most recent EU bailout offer.  Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in the awkward position of opposing the bailout proposal, but also being the CEO of a country with no money.  Tsipras called for the referendum, probably so that he wouldn't have to take the blame, which ever direction the vote went. There's no reason to blame one individual Greek when you have the chance to blame them all, n'est pas?  When this story popped up on the Drudge Report, my first question was, which bailout is this?  How many Greek bailouts have we already experienced?  With all the bad press that is no doubt associated with having to ask for a huge loan from other countries just to pay government employees and retirees, one would think that the Greeks would take care not to get into this situation again.  But here we are.  Normally, I would rush to blame the leftist "spend spend spend" governments of Greece, but we've had both the right and the left in power over the last decade, and no one seems to be able to balance a budget.

I won't get into the numbers involved in the latest bailout offer.  The problem is easily explained without climbing into an Accounting 101 textbook.  The Greek government is broke, and can't pay its bills. As they have done in the past, the EU stepped in, and offered Greece a bailout package, if they would be willing to implement certain austerity measures.  Therein lies the rub.  The Greek people don't want their government to go broke, but they also don't want to put up with the austerity plan required by the EU.  Why does Greece seem to have trouble with its finances?  Its simply a case of a traditional Socialist economy that is collapsing under the strain of recession. Economies that are more diversified are in a much better position to survive economic downturns, and we've been in one for some time.  The Greek state has always been heavy on government interference in just about everything.  The Greeks have always had a large civil service, and one way or another, most Greeks find themselves dependent on a government check of some kind when payday rolls around.  When the economy turns sour, unemployment rises, manufacturing slows down, the government social programs become the lifeline for many people.  The Greek government spends way more money than in generates.  The only other avenue for raising the kind of funds necessary to keep a country of 10.8 million fed is to borrow from other nations.

According to Wikipedia, in 2013 the debt of the Greek government was 175.1 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. We are halfway through 2015, and the problem hasn't gone away. If the Greeks would accept the recent bailout proposal, and follow through on the austerity measures, it just might instill some discipline in the Greek government.  And if the Greek people don't want to repeat the unpleasantness of austerity, then they should elect governments whose FIRST OBLIGATION is to avoid ever being financially beholden to other nations ever again.  Instead, we have a history of the acceptance of bailouts, but the non-acceptance of austerity.  The Greek people need to learn the hard lesson, than one doesn't come without the other.  In this instance, nations aren't that different from people.  We all have budgets, and our goal is to not spend more than we make.  But some people get in trouble with high balances on credit cards.  In order for those folks to recover their financial comfort level, they must scrimp and save, avoid going out to dinner, no expensive vacation this year, etc., until the credit cards are paid off.  I learned this lesson in 1986, when I got my first credit card, which was for Marshall Field's high-end department store.  I probably had that card maxed out within the first two weeks.  I had lots of nice Polo shirts and cool watches, but I also had a huge debt to pay.  I suffered, and I had no extra money for some time, but I eventually paid off that card.  Today, it may seem cool to march around Athens, giving the finger to the EU and pretending that you have other options.  But Greece has no other options.  The money has to come from somewhere, or austerity will arrive ON ITS OWN.  Once the banks have no money, then people don't get paid.  That's when the riots usually start.    

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Separatist (read Russian) offensive about ready to kick off in Ukraine.

Link: Indications point to a Russian-backed offensive in the Ukraine.

We've had so much news coming out of Iraq and Syria, not to mention to deterioration of Constitutional authority in the United States lately, that we haven't had much to say about events in Ukraine.  Fortunately, while we were away, most of the action was taking place in planning rooms and in front of the press.  Both the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed separatists continue to make a show out of adhering to the cease-fire conditions of the "Minsk 2" agreement.  The Ukrainians probably felt as if they had no choice, but everything that comes from the other side is complete crap.  I have always been amazed at watching diplomats negotiate with people who can't be trusted.  Hillary Clinton is a classic example.  She would sign a treaty with Hitler if it might win her an election.  We can't pretend to be "just discovering" what a snake Putin is; we've known for decades, even before he took the throne.  But we signed a treaty with him, one that eliminates any strategic edge we might have in ballistic missiles.  Believe me, when these Republican egoists go at each other in the upcoming debates, I will be listening to someone talking about REAL issues: drastic reduction in government spending and the abolition of the New Start Treaty.  But I digress.  I believe we were talking about Ukraine . . .

Recently the Pentagon released an annual threat assessment, which highlighted Russia more than any terrorist group.  The brief correctly concluded that Russia has no respect for any international borders, as they prove time and time again.  Pretending that the Donbas Separatist Groups are really behind the insurrection in Ukraine is like trying to hide an amputation with a Band-Aid.  It just doesn't fly, especially in light of intelligence collected by drones that illustrate a continued Russian military build-up.  Kiev claims that there are at least 7,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine, under the authority of five Generals.  That's a bit much.  I think we could handle 7,000 U.S. Army troops with a Lt. Colonel . . . but you know how those Russians like to show off their rank, with the giant medals
Source: russiandefpolicy.wordpress
and hilariously oversized hats.  A friend of mine suspects that the Russian military noticed that our officer's uniform hats were a bit more attractive than theirs. So, in typical Russian fashion (bigger is better), they just increased the circumference of their officer hats, which leave them looking like a combination of a hubcap and a sombrero. But again I digress. I believe we were talking about Ukraine . . .

I understand that the Ukrainian military is still hesitant to fully deploy their armed forces in the Donbas region, for security fears regarding Kiev.  The way I see it, if they don't deploy sometime soon, we will be at the gates of Kiev soon regardless.  The truth is, Poroshenko would have been wiser to have called out a full-mobilization and an offensive by now.  He might have had hope of recovering Crimea, given the difficulty the Russians would have initially had resupplying their forces.  But the entire province has been militarized and Russianized by now, and the defensive positions taken by the separatists are going to be a hard nut to crack.  Poroshenko had to attempt a diplomatic solution first, though, he knows as well as us that Russia and Putin weren't interested in any political solution.  In the beginning of the conflict, Putin would have withdrawn support for the separatists if Kiev and the West had acknowledged the annexation of Crimea.  But our weakness and unwillingness to supply the Ukrainian military with weapons and equipment have far surpassed Putin's wildest hopes.  Now he is in a position to dismember Ukraine for good.

The upcoming offensive that is being discussed in the halls of the Pentagon, in Kiev, and in the living rooms of Mariupol, no doubt, are intended to widen the territory over which the separatist political arm can claim authority.  The more territory you occupy, the better your bargaining position.  President Obama, who should be leading on this issue, has only introduced sanctions to ward off Russian aggression.  We knew how far that would go.  We need to arm the Ukrainians to the hilt, and start deploying (or at least pretend to) some sort of missile shield system in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.  What I would give to see someone call Putin's bluff.  The missile defense is key. . . he will abandon Ukraine if it's used as a threat.  But we don't do those sorts of things.  This administration went to the Neville Chamberlain school of diplomacy: give everything away, and then bend over.  Yes, I know Europe has been just as prostrate, but most of the NATO countries committed self-emasculation some time ago.  Outside of the UK and France, who won't hesitate to throw troops into Africa on a moment's notice, no European country has been engaged militarily since the first Gulf War (I don't count Kosovo or U.N. peacekeeping duty, OK?).  But I believe that the Europeans are scared, and are willing to follow our lead.  Now to find a leader . . .

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Jabhat al-Nusra: the evolution of Al-Qaeda and the need for conventional warfare.

Link: Tension between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS in Syria.

We have always expressed the opinion that Al-Qaeda and its representative groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), were really not that far removed from motivations and intentions of the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS).  In fact, we have always been surprised and a bit frustrated at the mainstream media's obsession with separating each and every Sunni-based Jihadi group.  No doubt Al-Qaeda and ISIS have done everything they can to perpetuate this idea that these groups work exclusively of each other.  This impression encourages the idea that Sunni-based jihadism is much more entrenched in the Sunni community than it really is.  We have argued that because of their mutual goals, orientation and teachings, that it was virtually impossible for ISIS and JN to be working against each other.  In the last six months, both ISIS and JN have enjoyed tremendous success on the battlefields of Syria, as the regime forces have to defend from almost daily attacks, sometimes from different directions.  Although we have gone to some lengths to illustrate the common ideology and genesis of ISIS and Al-Qaeda/JN, we have never discounted the probability that the groups would have disagreements that might lead to actual violence.  But we continue to strongly believe that any such conflicts would be temporary (and have actually proven to be so).

An interesting trend that we have noted previously is becoming more visible on the battlefields of Syria.  We have discussed in some depth the efforts of ISIS to create an effective conventional military, complete with departments, promotions and letters from home.  We opined that the numerous former Ba'ath Party members who had found a home in ISIS, were useful to the group because of the organizational and planning experience and skills that they possessed.  For a short time it was popular to consider the idea that the Iraqi Ba'ath Party had some level of influence within ISIS, when actually the opposite is true.  These former bureaucrats and armchair Generals of the Saddam regime are survivors, and ISIS just happened to be in the hiring business.  Believe me, it has nothing to do with ideology.

But the need for ISIS to recruit individuals with certain skills outside of bomb-making and decapitation is obvious.  ISIS has created the first conventional terrorist army, and to keep that army supplied and effective, a support mechanism must exist.  Their effort is evolving, and they have met with some difficulties, but their success can't be denied.  We have previously explained the justification for the Islamic extremist cause to pursue a conventional army.  In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the United State Armed Forces proved time and again, that small groups if ill-prepared and inconsistently equipped tribesmen can't defeat a well-trained and well-equipped army and air force (Vietnam was a diplomatic failure but a military success; the American people lost the stomach for daily casualties highlighted by politically-driven new coverage).  In 2009, with the apparent successes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the decision was made to support the creation of a conventional fighting force loyal to Al-Qaeda, and Syria provided the ideal nursery.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq had relocated from Iraq to Syria (or should I say they had been "booted out"), so the platform was in place.  Fighters were recruited, many from Africa and the West, and equipment was either purchased or purloined from the Syrians.  The group changed its name, probably as a purposeful effort to separate itself from Al-Qaeda and strengthen the suggestion that the region was full of Sunni-based extremist military groups.  The head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, did move the group away from Al-Qaeda to a certain extent, a move which no doubt infuriated Ayman al-Zawahiri, hold up back in Pakistan somewhere (probably at the Pakistani Intel Service main headquarters), and the link indicates that the two groups are not necessarily coordinating their operations or sharing their battle plans.  This mild declaration of independence by ISIS, forgive the phrase, is the reason JN has become so successful on the battlefield.

Al-Qaeda was the original genesis of the idea to create a conventional military capability to pursue the goals of international Sunni Jihad.  When ISIS began showing  bit of free will, JN, which was in direct contact with the Al-Qaeda leadership and much more representative of the group's most recent persona, began to follow the same plan which proved so successful to ISIS.  JN, although on a much smaller scale, started to morph into a conventional military force.  In the past, Al-Qaeda has relied on its small size to stay mobile, hidden, and able to strike targets and disappear.  JN created a supply mechanism, mostly utilizing its popularity with the local population, that kept its fighters fed and well-equipped.  Personnel were selected for various jobs according to background and training, and formalized planning became an integral part of every operation.  Communications were strengthened, liaison to the local community were chosen by ethnic background and language skills, and as more fighter arrived on the scene, the variety of military hardware increased.  Is it no surprise that JN has been just as successful on the Syrian battlefield lately, if not more, than ISIS.  The one life-line that both ISIS and JN rely on seems to be flowing stronger than ever: the financial support from the gulf states.  This support is not necessarily directly from the coffers of the various Emirates and Sheikdoms (some is), but it is coming from millionaire and billionaire families with loyalties to the extremist cause.  The financial support has increased as of late as Iran and the despised Shi'a stretch their legs in Yemen and Iraq.  No doubt some of these fanatics are expecting to re-fight the Battle of Karbala.

As things stand now, ISIS is a much more entrenched and evolved military machine.  In size and in capabilities, JN can't hold a candle to the Islamic State forces.  But everyday JN grows stronger, and JN has proven to be much more popular with the local communities than ISIS (probably has something to do with the burning of that young Jordanian pilot; families from the Hashemites in Jordan and the rural communities of Syria have a history of good relations).  With JN and ISIS both trying to outdo each other in capturing former regime towns, and the Sunni and Shi'a threatening to start an Islamic Civil War in Yemen and Iraq, the West has a bit of breathing room.  But once JN and ISIS merge, and they will, and the Iranians pull back behind the walls of secrecy they value so much, we will be faced with a tremendous foe.