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Monday, November 30, 2015

Iraqi military and special police preparing assault to retake Ramadi.

Link: Iraqi government forces close in on Ramadi.

With recent events in Syria and Paris dominating the international press, the Iraqi government's much-publicized offensive to retake Ramadi is no longer front-page news.  Actually, the struggle to retake Ramadi has taken much longer than the government and the Iraqi people expected.  Combat around Baiji and in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have made for much more interesting journalism, as the average person begins to consider that the Ramadi campaign has become a stalemate.  Fortunately, in the last few days, news reports from the Iraqi government and the Pentagon indicate that the Iraqi Armed Forces are getting very close to recapturing the capital city of Anbar Province.  It is estimated that ISIS has roughly 600 to 1000 fighters still hunkered down in the few downtown neighborhoods that government forces have yet to reoccupy.  The fact that the Iraqi government is determined to complete this operation according to plan, with minimal casualties and damage to infrastructure, is very encouraging.  Its true that the campaign to retake the city has not followed the most ideal timetable, but the Iraqi authorities have been able to carefully search areas formally occupied by ISIS, in order to remove any improvised explosive devices or abandoned munitions.

Last Wednesday, Iraqi forces took possession of the Palestine Bridge in the northwest part of the city.  The bridge, which spans the Euphrates River, was a vital link to food and other supplies for ISIS.  The coalition air campaign continues to harass ISIS by strafing supply routes and bombing key defensive positions.  In fact, air support has proven particularly effective in destroying explosives that were purposely planted in abandoned structures in the downtown part of the city.  Aggressive action by the coalition air support has been instrumental in saving the lives of ground troops, as explosives disposal teams prepare to enter neighborhoods that have been cleared of ISIS snipers.  Iraqi authorities fully expect the remaining ISIS operatives to fight to the death.

Once the military campaign to liberate Ramadi is complete, the Iraqi military will focus on bringing relief to Haditha, which although occupied by Iraqi forces, has been under assault by ISIS for most of the year.  In recent weeks, coalition air attacks have successfully targeted ISIS positions and prevented the delivery of supplies to ISIS operatives near Haditha.  Al-Asad Air Base in outside of Haditha, and presents a valuable target for ISIS.  U.S. troops have been present at Al-Asad for some time, providing important training to Iraqi personnel.  For some inexplicable reason, the Obama Administration made no attempt to keep this particular bit of information confidential.  Once the international media got wind of the presence of U.S. troops at Al-Asad, ISIS wasn't far behind.  Can you imagine if ISIS were to overrun that base and take our young men and women prisoner?  Fortunately, recent combat in the Haditha area has severely compromised ISIS' ability to conduct offensive activity.  No doubt the Iraqis are also determined to remove ISIS from Fallujah, which sits northeast of Ramadi and is actually closer to Baghdad (as the crow flies).  The various Shi'a militias were more-or-less assigned the task of retaking Fallujah, while the Iraqi Regular Army and Special Police targeted Ramadi.  At various times over the past six months, it appeared that Fallujah would fall first.  The fact that Ramadi will indeed be reoccupied by government forces before the Iranian-backed militias have removed ISIS from Fallujah will be celebrated in Baghdad, where the populace has begun to voice its annoyance at what is perceived to be Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Turkey escalates tension between NATO and Russia with the destruction of Russian Su-24 bomber.

Link:  Erdogan stands firm in crisis with Russia.

The crisis in Syria continues to make strange bedfellows, with antagonists being forced to put away grudges to accommodate more pressing matters.  When Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan's party won elections earlier this month, there was real concern that Turkey would move further away from NATO and Europe, and possibly adopt a more friendly approach to Islamist parties and organizations.  Those of us who feared just such a development should be thankful, in our own way, to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for Russia's timely intrusion into the Syrian conflict.  The Russian military has a history of not respecting international borders, and Wednesday's development involving Turkish accusations of an airspace violation, came as no surprise. In fact, since the arrival of the Russian Air Force in the region, there have been complaints from just about every direction regarding Russian lack of respect for international boundaries.  Turkey has been  complaining of Russian border violations almost every day over the past week, and not surprisingly, the Russians continued to use the sky as their personal domain.  Now that the Turks have taken down a Russian bomber that allegedly crossed the Syrian-Turkish border, the Russians are indignantly ratcheting up defensive measures, starting with the deployment of the S-400 air defense system at the Russian Air Base in Latakia.  Russia also announced that a Russian missile cruiser sitting off the Syrian coast wouldn't hesitate to destroy any threat to Russian aircraft. 

Interestingly enough, Erdogan has to tone down his recent anti-Europe, anti-U.S. and anti-NATO rhetoric.  With the Russian military force that is just across the border in Syria growing all the time, Erdogan has no choice but to call upon his NATO allies in this dangerous time.  Although Turkey has a very capable armed forces, and the Russians would have to move night-and-day to transport adequate military personnel and equipment to the region, Erdogan has no intention of standing up to Russia alone.  Putin has already demonstrated his willingness to push the envelope, in Georgia, Crimea, and now in Syria.  Actually, the onset of this mini-crisis provides the United States and Turkey with an important opportunity to mend fences, although Turkey has been the bellicose trouble-maker in the relationship lately.  Even though Erdogan was able to solidify his domestic position with the recent election victory, he has been given a reminder that Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire and the year is not 1560 AD.  Turkey not only needs allies in the west, but Turkey needs its membership in NATO to remain healthy and in good-standing.  Everyday it becomes more obvious that Russia is following through on some grand scheme to increase her influence internationally and to rebuild Russia's relationships around the world, in order to isolate and diminish the United States.  Russia continues to aggressively champion Iran's acceptance as a regional super-power, and leaves no stone unturned in its effort to coax away long-time U.S. allies like Egypt and Jordan.

This conflict is beginning to take on so many different dimensions, that it will become more and more difficult to separate the good guys from the bad guys.  Right now, the world is focused on eliminating ISIS, or at least its pretending to be focused; Russia is still the only major military power who has committed itself to the destruction of this monstrous group (as opposed to "containment").  But I'm beginning to wonder if Russia might actually be the more dangerous of the two.  ISIS invaded two countries: Syria and Iraq.  Russia has invaded three countries: Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, and formerly annexed a province of Ukraine.  If the United States had taken the lead and built a coalition that included ground forces, ISIS would have been defeated by now.  But rethinking past decisions is really a waste of time.  We have to come up with a strategy for what we face today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ISIS hopes for anti-Muslim backlash; can ISIS be defeated by a conventional army?

Link: ISIS hoping for backlash against western Muslims.

In the intelligent, thought-provoking editorial that I have linked, Harleen Gambhir, a contributor to the Washington Post and a counterterrorism analyst for the Institute for the Study of War, explains  
ISIS' plan to create a backlash against Muslims living in the west.  Gambhir predicts that recent attacks against civilian targets in the United States, Paris, Spain and over the Sinai, is intended to cause fear and anger towards Muslims living in western communities.  When western governments, in response to ISIS attacks and demands by the majority of their citizens, cracks down on Muslims living in Paris, Vienna, Chicago, New York, London and Sydney, young Muslims will feel marginalized and ISIS will benefit through increased recruitment.  History has already proven Gambhir to be correct; after each terrorist attack in a western city, law enforcement has increased its focus on Muslim members of the community.  At first, it would appear that this focus is necessary to identify any additional terrorists that may be concealing themselves amongst their neighbors.  The truth is, after a terrorist attack which leaves civilian casualties, both the government and law enforcement are under tremendous pressure from the populous to at least "appear" to be aggressively working against the bad guys. If law enforcement doesn't have any real leads, then it becomes even more tempting to increase surveillance and random searches against persons who share the religion and ethnic background of the terrorists.  Intelligence reveals that recruitment numbers increase for terrorist groups in the period following high-profile attacks similar to the recent shootings and explosions in Paris.

On a separate subject, an important issue that is currently being discussed by political commentators and some politicians involves the supposed difficulty in defeating ISIS on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.  One of the GOP candidates for president (Ben Carson) remarked that the U.S. military had the capacity to destroy ISIS in a relatively short period of time.  I believe that President Obama may have taken exception to the remark, and the conversation was started.  Actually, defeating a terrorist organization requires a tremendous amount of patience and planning, and ideally, regular access to time-sensitive intelligence.  Normally, locating the terrorists is half the battle.  But ISIS is a completely different animal altogether.  The Islamic State, or ISIS, has developed a conventional military capability.  In other words, they have an army, and that army is currently fighting on two fronts: Iraq and Syria.  In order to destroy ISIS, the conventional army must be annihilated, and the more traditional network of operatives hiding in cities all over the world (and also in rat holes and caves in Sudan and Afghanistan) must be identified, located, and wiped out.  Ideally, both incarnations of ISIS should be targeted simultaneously.  The United States, the UK, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, China and probably a half-dozen other nations have the military capacity to destroy ISIS, but it won't be a localized affair and a few diplomatic toes might get stepped on in the process.  You would think that anyone who stands up and announces a willingness to single-handedly destroy the nastiest bunch of assholes the world has ever seen, would be given a pass, as far as diplomatic obligations go.  Vladimir Putin stepped up and announced Russia's intention to destroy ISIS, but within a few days we discovered that Putin was more interested in keeping his ally, de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in power.  After a few days of Russian bombing raids obliterating the Syrian indigenous opposition to Assad with nary a fart in the direction of ISIS, it became clear the regardless of the outcome, Russia's entry into the Syria sweepstakes was about much more than fighting ISIS.

Again, Russia is one of a number of countries who have the military capacity to destroy ISIS.  It can't be done without a commitment to using ground troops in both Syria and Iraq, and it may be necessary to take chances where civilian lives are concerned, when an important target has been located.  ISIS will use every opportunity to hide themselves amongst women, children and the elderly, because unlike ISIS, we are a bit squeamish about killing innocents.  But make no mistake; in order to destroy ISIS, there will be civilian casualties.  It might also be necessary to use weapons that are frowned upon, and interrogation techniques that are much criticized.  Some great military leader once said (I can't remember who), that when a country enters into a war, it must do so with a willingness to use its total military might, and every weapon at its disposal.  The enemy must be given no quarter.  This will end the conflict soonest, and limit the number of casualties for both combatants.  I remember that comment because it truly makes great sense.  The longer the war, the higher the number of casualties.  We need to throw the book at ISIS.  The Marines, Special Forces, Navy Seals, and whoever else we can squeeze in.  This group thinks that it can outmatch any opponent for ruthlessness.  When it comes to the battlefield, we need to prove them wrong.  Right now, we are still fortunate enough to have ISIS limited to Syria and Iraq, at least as far as its conventional capabilities go.  Eastern Syria and western Iraq is basically one big, occasionally rocky desert.  ISIS has no place to hide from our satellites, spies in the sky, and spies on the ground.  While our military deals with ISIS on the battlefield, our intelligence forces will track down and wipe out each and every cell, regardless of country, until there are none. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The argument that we just need to show love to our adversaries continues to make the rounds.....

Link: Islam in Paris

Each time our society is faced with a tragedy involving persons who are willing to kill innocent people to make a political statement, we have to suffer through the occasional calls to "meet anger with compassion", and to "love your enemy". The attacks in Paris on November 13 were no different, as I continue to see determined posters spreading the message that we need to accept our part of the blame in this situation.  Not surprisingly, persons who swing way off to the left of the political persuasion actually blame the French people for the terrorist attacks in Paris.  You see, the Muslim immigrants, many who live in the Strasbourg Saint-Denis neighborhood and the 13th and 18th Arrondissements, have been obliged to struggle to find work while native Frenchmen and women have much greater access to the system.  To continue the argument, those who arrive from North Africa or the Middle East as small children or infants, or were born to immigrant parents, have it worst of all, because they can't understand why they are denied the same opportunities as "white" French folks.  The anger that leads young Muslim men to depart from Paris suburbs like Aubervilliers and Gennevilliers and find their way to Syria, so they can be trained with deadly weapons and ammunition and return to kill French civilians, is justified because of the tortuous life they were forced to live in France.  This is just another phalange of "the West is always guilty" diatribe that never seems to go away.  It doesn't take a PhD in World History or Sociology to know that different ethnics of our species have always fought each other, usually over territory but at times also over food, women, or just plain hatred for one another.  The international disease of leftism, or Liberalism if you like, is obsessed with revisionism  when it comes to our cultural and political history. This is the reason that 99% of grade school students in the United States believe that white Europeans invented slavery, even though African tribes were engaging in slavery centuries before the first European stepped foot in sub-Saharan Africa, as were native Americans and Asians.  This is the same thought process that blames U.S. greed for 9-11 and endemic French racism for the Paris attacks.

I am here to announce that its OK to hate ISIS. Its not required to pour of newspapers and history books to try and create a scenario which in some way blames the United States for ISIS' existence.  Actually, I'm sure someone has already done the job for you.  But this issue really isn't that complicated.  I always ask people whether or not they would have demanded "understanding" for the Nazis.  That usually does the trick.  ISIS is a special kind of nasty group that deserves absolutely no consideration, and anyone who knowingly aligns themselves with that type of ideology is my enemy and yours, and truly deserves what they get.  In the past, its been easy for Americans to look across the ocean and express sympathy with people who claim to be representing just causes.  But the world has become a much smaller place, and we are not allowed to sit safely on the sidelines anymore.  This struggle is about freedom, and about the world you want to leave your children and grandchildren.  The perpetrators of the Paris attacks were acting as representatives of the Islamic extremist group "The Islamic State", or ISIS, which has made the choice to use fear as its method of subjugating the people of the world.  When ISIS releases a video of a poor prisoner being burned alive in a cage, the message has been carefully crafted and edited before it reached the international media.  ISIS isn't concerned about the anger this scene creates, they are interested in the fear it provokes.  If I learned one thing during my career, I learned that fear is a very effective weapon.  ISIS is determined to drive us into our homes, bolted in behind heavy doors and suppressing our natural inclination to socialize and explore.  They also have refined the art of distraction, and some within our own society continue to drink the "guilt" Kool-Aid.  Everytime some tenured, Ivy League Professor distracts his classroom full of students with sad stories about U.S. imperialism and economic fascism being the root cause of international poverty and the rise of terrorism, ISIS wins.  While this absurd debate rages within our own schools and water-cooler conversations, ISIS is able to grow stronger.  One of the reasons this group is so much more dangerous than its predecessors is that ISIS functions in the 21st century.  They utilize high-tech methods to recruit and raise money, and they have a growing conventional army fighting in both Iraq and Syria.  ISIS is also patient and devious.  They will use fear and distraction as long as these weapons remain useful.  We can neutralize both right now.     

Friday, November 20, 2015

The importance of protecting confidential information, even after retirement.

The need to access confidential information is not limited to persons working for intelligence agencies.  The U.S. Government employs hundreds of professionals who work in the intelligence for numerous different agencies and departments.  In order for persons to work in the intelligence field, they must pass a background investigation and a polygraph examination.  A successful completion of the investigation with result in the individual being granted a clearance.  There are many retired U.S. government employees who at one time or another had a clearance, including former officers of the Department of State, Department of Defense, Homeland Security and the FBI.  These Americans are entrusted with enough secrets to probably cripple our nation, even after they have left active service.  Although it is vital to have the latest intelligence, some secrets keep their value for a very long time.  The United States has done a tremendous job choosing intelligence officers, as very few Americans trusted with secrets have decided to betray their country.

Unfortunately, some individuals have made that terrible decision and shared classified information with uncleared persons.  In the past, a few CIA officers have traded secrets with the Russians for financial compensation, and I believe at one time a Department of Defense employee with access to classified intelligence betrayed his country at the request of a woman (who turned out to be a Soviet spy).  I don't know much about these persons who have committed the ultimate betrayal, mostly because those events occurred years before I made the choice to enter the intelligence field.  What I do remember vividly is the trial of U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, and the revelations of former NSA employee Edward Snowden.  I realize that some folks draw a distinction between these two cases, but I don't.  Both men had agreed to treat classified information in accordance with the rules and regulations of the U.S. Army and the National Security Agency.  Both men showed a complete lack of integrity by breaking that vow.  I understand the sympathy for Snowden; many Americans are concerned that the U.S. Government may have exceeded its mandate with regards to intelligence collection and the American public.  I have complete confidence that the U.S. Government is not illegally collecting information on U.S. citizens, nor has it exceeded the bounds of its mission to provide security for the American people in a time of war.  If Snowden felt that his employer had overreached its marching orders, then he should have quit.  As a former NSA officer, he would have been able to write a book or speak publicly about his concerns, as long as he didn't reveal classified information.  This particular issue is so important to me because when Manning and Snowden released classified information, they very well could have put people's lives in jeopardy.  Snowden may THINK he knows what was included in the information he released, but the reality is, he probably has no clue.  But the enemy may understand the released documents in a way that escapes Snowden, because he isn't trained as an operational Case Officer, and therefore can't fully grasp what is included in the cables that he read on a daily basis.  Its very simple: if you can no longer abide by the obligations of confidentiality that have been agreed to, then you need to resign and find other work.

As stated earlier, the importance of confidentiality and protecting classified information does not end when a person retires.  The U.S. Government fully expects its retired officers who at one time or another during their careers were exposed to classified intelligence, to respect the rules and regulations of security until they die.  After medically retiring, I wrote a memoir about my career.  I followed the process put in place for retired Agency officers who write a book; I submitted by manuscript for review in its entirety, and what they Agency chose to redact, was permanently removed.  This includes photographs that were selected for inclusion in the book.  And when I speak publicly, I never exceed the bounds of what was included in my book.  I am firm believer in the rules of confidentiality; I have seen good security practice save lives, and unfortunately, I've seen bad security destroy lives.  When a Case Officer is conducting a confidential meeting with an asset overseas, his dedication to tradecraft is necessary to protect the life of his asset.  When an Officer working in the Pentagon reviews a classified document on a current operation, that Officer must show the same dedication and respect for security as the Case Officer overseas.  And there are no "do-overs".  The CIA does a tremendous job training its officers to understand and respect the procedures in-place to protect classified information; the old World War II British poster with the phrase, "Lose Lips Sinks Ships", is just as relevant today as it was then.  If you decide to embark on a career in the Intelligence Field, understand that it will more than likely be a very rewarding experience.  Also understand that all it takes is one careless mistake, one time bending the rules, for people to lose their lives.  Its a tremendous responsibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Interest in the weapons and explosives used in Paris attacks draws attention to smuggling networks and European black market.

Link: Paris attacks raises the issue of weapons smuggling in Europe.

Following last Friday's horrendous terror attacks in Paris, the issue plastered on most of the front pages of all the European newspapers is the Syrian refugee crisis.  Its a simple jump from Islamic extremists to the unknown factor of tens of thousands of basically unidentified Muslim refugees being resettled in Europe.  No doubt the number of terrorists or potential terrorists within the refugee population is miniscule.  Certainly its possible that ISIS or even Al -Qaida could hide operatives within the groups that arrived from Syria, but the sad reality is, these groups already have people who are willing to die for the cause.  There is no need to move operatives into Europe within the refugee pipeline, when it is possible to just put them on a plane.  Forging passports and related identity documents is a booming business.  Be that as it may, the timing of these attacks has European leaders revisiting the idea of large resettlement schemes.  ISIS carried out these attacks for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, they are intent on spreading fear in our communities and giving people reason to conduct their lives as usual.  ISIS dreams of the day that the towns roll up the streets at sundown, and parents stop sending their kids to school out of security concerns.  ISIS is also determined to sow confusion, not only with the attacks in urban, residential areas, but also by encouraging the movement of large numbers of refugees into Europe.  Its not a coincidence that this attack occurred as Europe and the United States were discussing the most humane method by which to address the refugee issue.  These attacks have reintroduced the issue for debate in the various European capitals; many EU states are asking for clarification regarding the EU policy on refugees, while many in the poorer states are asking why it is their responsibility to pay taxes to house and feed these people who aren't even European.  Confusion reigns in many corners, which gives ISIS another small victory.  At the end of the day, if the discussion leads some states to refuse refugees, then the label "racist" will return to everyday conversation, and ISIS will have won a more substantial victory.  ISIS realizes that they can't defeat us with the limited resources currently at their disposal.  Their goal is to pit us against ourselves until they are able to confront us in a conventional military capacity.

I have yet to hear a commentator or newscaster opine about the origins of the weapons and explosives used in the Friday evening attacks.  I have seen some thoughtful editorials on the subject, especially in the French press.  Given the strict weapons laws in place in the EU, how were these eight monsters able to arm themselves with Kalashnikovs and AK47s?  As for the suicide vests, any person with the proper training could probably find the parts and ingredients necessary to construct such a device at the local Walmart or Auchan, but my instincts tell me that the forensics people will determine that the origin of the parts and explosives used to build the suicide vests to be Syria.  The sad truth is that it is quite simple to smuggle just about anything through Europe.  The smuggling networks that exist in Europe are amazingly intricate and business-like.  Again, I will rely on my instincts when I say that the weapons used in these attacks probably made their way through the Balkans.  During the time that I spent in Kosovo in early 2000, I discovered that the people of Kosovo are tremendously honest, kind and hard-working.  Unfortunately, it is also the lynchpin location for the largest smuggling operations that feed Europe.  The Black Market dominates much of the economy of Kosovo, and probably of neighboring states as well.  When considering the issue of smuggling, most people consider the illegal transportation of goods such as alcohol and cigarettes.  Well, underneath the boxes of cigarettes are crates of weapons and ammunition.  It is a simple issue of supply and demand.  If people are willing to pay enough money, then these networks will find a way to smuggle the requested items.  We live in a world were women are still transported illegally across borders for the sex business; sneaking weapons into a country shouldn't be that difficult.  As for the suicide vests, I'm sure that the perpetrators were able to request/order exactly what they needed in the way of explosives.  The detailed and professional nature of organized smuggling in Europe should make it easier for European law enforcement agencies to disrupt the movement of illegal weapons into Europe.  The French police have started really focusing on this issue, which will hopefully result in one-less option for terrorists in their effort to obtain weapons.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The world is in need of leader in the fight to destroy ISIS; is it time to reconsider Vladimir Putin?

Link: Number of victims of Paris terror attack continues to grow.

On, Friday, November 13, in Paris, the terror group ISIS carried out an organized, well-supplied attack outside the Stade de France and also at a handful of restaurants and bars.  The first sign of trouble was an explosion that took place outside the Stade de France, during an international "friendly" soccer match between Germany and France.  The terrorist attempted to gain entry to the stadium, and after being refused, exploded his suicide vest.  This started the contagion of violence that moved to the 11 Arrondissement and a cluster of restaurants and bars.  The terrorists also forced their way into a heavy metal concert, shooting people at random.  Three of the four who forced their way into the concert also detonated suicide vests; the fourth had a vest as well, but it didn't detonate until after he had been shot by French police. It has been reported by multiple witnesses that the terrorists claimed that the attacks were in response to French policy in Syria.  Following the January 7 terrorist attack at the offices of French political magazine Charlie Hebdo, the French government instituted measures which were designed to disrupt any further terrorist attacks.  The presence of police and the military at French Airports, Ports, and public places was increased, as were efforts to collect human intelligence.  Working closely with the United States other European nations, France also keep a close eye on the trafficking of weapons, especially the black market transport network which effectively can deliver automatic weapons from eastern Europe to France in a matter of days.  French authorities were also very interested in the number of young Arab-French men and women who had recently travelled to Syria.  But the increased law enforcement and intelligence efforts were unable to prevent Friday's tragedy.  Its apparent that ISIS has the capacity to plan and carry out relatively simple but well-staged attacks on multiple urban locations.  The weapons used were the well-known Kalashnikovs and AK-47s, and the suicide vests did not require a great deal of know-how to make.  It likely that at least some of the perpetrators of these attacks had recently visited Syria, and were probably received weapons and explosives instruction at the hands of ISIS.

With this attack, ISIS has demonstrated its ability and willingness to conduct attacks in public places, regardless of the casualties.  Every city in Europe is a potential target, and security measures will have to be increased.  ISIS has particular goals in mind by conducting these attacks, and will use this event to learn how to be more effective in an urban environment.  It is no secret that Islamic extremists are bound and determined to impact the western, "Christian" way of life.  The aim is to disrupt the transportation systems that keep our society functioning.  Vehicles and planes are necessary for personal and business purposes, and any success in shutting the roads and airports can cause havoc with everyday lives.  The bad guys also get a kick out of creating enough fear in the minds of families that children are kept home from schools and streets are deserted by sundown.  When we enjoy ourselves publicly, in places like parks, beaches and sporting events, it is a celebration of our freedom, the ability to laugh and share in each other's good company in safety.  Scenes such as I have just described can be observed at any time of the year in many different places, from Tokyo to Adelaide to Durban, up to Rome and Paris, and over to the Americas.  There are parts of our world where you rarely see moments of public celebration, unless its male-only political rallies.

North America and South America are different in many ways, as are Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  But its time we focused on what we have in common.  Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves that all-important question, "just how important is my freedom?"  If you turn on the TV or radio, and find a news channel, you will find that everyone seems to agree on the danger posed by ISIS.  Is the Islamic State for the Caliphate movement more dangerous that National Socialism (Nazis?).  Absolutely; this Islamic extremist organization has created a force which can engage our military in conventional warfare, while at the same time they are refining, improving and engaging in the old, horrendous methods of traditional terrorism.  In mid-1941, the entire world except the Americas (excluding Canada, who was already at war, standing side by side with Britain) were engaged in a titanic struggle to overcome expansionist fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan.  Once the United States entered the war, the balance began to tilt in the direction of the righteous.  We have this history of coming together, once we recognize the mutual threat.  Why is it so difficult for us to come together today?  Why hasn't a leader from Europe, Africa, the Americas, or Asia made a speech at the United Nations, calling for a military coalition of all freedom loving nations, to work together and eliminate this evil from the face of the earth?  If a united military force, including the armies and air forces of the United States, the EU, Russia, China, Japan, India, and whoever else was able, surrounded the forces of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and just obliterated them, it would be such a great step forward for the cause of freedom in our culture and society today.  Why has it been so difficult to find a leader to take that walk to the podium, and point the world in the right direction?  Actually, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been on a bit of a campaign to become just such an international leader, not only rehabilitating Russia's image, but the image of Russia's ally Iran at the same time.  I have been very critical of Putin in recent months, holding out hope that maybe Barack Obama would step up to the plate and answer the call of history.  That hasn't happened; is it time that I give Putin a chance?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Russia attempts to block IMF lending to Ukraine as Russian separatists violate ceasefire.

Link: Russia attempts to disrupt Ukrainian IMF loan.

It took two months for Russian-backed separatists to violate the latest ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.  The only surprise was that the ceasefire lasted as long as it did, but we can probably blame the delay on Russia's current pre-occupation in Syria.  The government of Ukraine and the various Russian-backed separatist groups in the east have agreed to two previous ceasefires, at least by my count.  In every instance, the apparently inevitable violation was committed by the separatists, which begs the obvious question: why does Kiev keep making agreements with these jerks?  Simply put, Ukraine has no choice.  President Petro Poroshenko has yet to implement any personal strategy for resolving this conflict.  Every decision from Ukraine's corner has been made by Kiev's European allies.  Ukraine is in no position to ignore the "advice" put forward by the U.S., French and German diplomats, and we all know that these three would just as soon see Ukraine completely overrun with Russians before agreeing to any type of aggressive military action.  Not that the Ukrainian Army is in a position to conduct a serious offensive in the southeast.  Repeated requests for military aid, to the U.S. in particular, have been denied, as the U.S. strives to encourage a more "peaceful" approach the to crisis.  Russia has taken full advantage of the prostrate policy currently put forth by the Europeans and the Obama Administration to occupy strategic villages and all-but off the vital port city of Mariupol from the rest of Ukraine.  During the last three years, Russia and her surrogates in eastern Ukraine have been able to dictate the time and pace of negotiations and military action to suit Russia's international strategy.  Expect the Ukrainian separatists to step-up military action in an attempt to occupy as much territory as possible before the election of a new, less-accommodating administration following the November 2016 presidential elections in the United States.

It appears that Russia's very recent diplomatic effort to interfere with Ukraine's relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has failed.  Russia has been known for this type of occasional diplomatic overreach, and who  can blame Moscow for trying?  Internationally, Russia continues to court various U.S. allies.  Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to enhanced military ties with the Emir of Kuwait, and Putin's envoy to Afghanistan has announced preparations to sell Hind Attack Helicopters and small arms to Kabul.  Russia has also reached out to Tunisia and Algeria, expressing the desire for increased cooperation in the fight against international terror.  The U.S. Department of State will respond to these overtures with some belated offer of aid or a concession on a trade treaty,  but the real problem for the United States has nothing to do with a Russian agreement with Kuwait or Helicopter sales to Afghanistan.  The fact is, Russia is running diplomatic circles around the U.S., and is showing no hesitation to flirt with long-time U.S. partners.  In the past, the United States would have reacted swiftly to Russian diplomatic advances to an ally by taking the same action.  The Bush or Reagan presidencies might have responded by agreeing to sell weapons to Ukraine, or by increasing the presence of U.S. troops in eastern Europe.  At present, the U.S. has no response to these Russian overtures.  Russia continues to express an interest in forming a security alliance of sorts vis-à-vis Syria, to include the U.S. and its allies.  Washington DC has responded in a positive way to this potential agreement, but many suspect it is nothing more than a Russian distraction.   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Russia's latest bombing sorties require closer evaluation.

Link: Russia bombs 448 ISIS targets in Syria.

In the last three days, the Russia Air Force in Syria has conducted 137 bombing sorties against 448 ISIS targets.  This latest uptick in the Russian bombing campaign in Syria comes as ISIS continues to claim responsibility for the October 31 destruction of a Russian passenger airliner over the Sinai.  It is beginning to appear likely that ISIS is behind the tragedy, with the recent high-intensity Russian bombing sorties considered to be a response.  Russia claims that the bombing raids have targeted ISIS' infrastructure, in particular destroying a munitions warehouse near Damascus which hosted makeshift unguided missiles.  The attacks have also resulted in numerous civilian casualties, with multiple claims that non-military targets were bombed.  As ISIS and Russia become more familiar dealing with each other as battlefield opponents, and civilian targets on both sides become more frequent, many more episodes of retaliation-type attacks can be expected.  If ISIS was able to plan and execute the destruction of the Russian airliner in question, it will signify an expansion of ISIS' ability to reach beyond the battlefield and attack non-combatants outside of the Middle East.  If Russia continues to conduct its air sorties with little concern for civilian casualties, ISIS have less trouble recruiting supporters and soldiers from the local population.  And if another airliner affiliated with Russia or one of the members of its budding "coalition" becomes victim of ISIS sabotage, expect the Arab community to be less than sympathetic.  After all, its their families who are being indiscriminately blown to pieces and their farms and homes that are being destroyed by Russian bombs.

One development that warrants closer review is Russia's claim to have targeted multiple ISIS infrastructure locations and munitions factories.  When Russia entered the Syrian conflict, one of its priority concerns should have been the lack of intelligence sources.  On the other hand, the United States, with its sponsorship of ISIS opposition groups and its historic close ties to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and the Kurds, must have a well-developed network of sources providing timely intelligence.  Its true that Russia has always been very close to the Assad regime, but the intelligence that is most needed, information on ISIS and its movements, is in no way accessible to elements of the Assad regime.  Be that as it may, Russia has managed to locate many important ISIS targets.  The question is, if the United States has a well-developed network for collected intelligence in Syria, then why did those ISIS targets exist to be the recipients of Russian bombing sorties? Why hasn't the U.S.-led air coalition already destroyed those facilities and munitions warehouses?          

Monday, November 9, 2015

Russia to host Syrian peace conference; any Assad opposition that the Russian's haven't killed will be invited to attend.

Links:  A. ISIS considered strong suspect in downing of Russian passenger jet over Sinai.
            B. Russian action in Syria strengthens Iran.
            C. Russian sending clear message to Syrian civilians about support for Assad.

Since the destruction of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai on October 31, the international community was left to decide the veracity of claims of responsibility by ISIS.  Although ISIS proved that it had influence in the Sinai last year when an ISIS group attacked an Egyptian military compound, many questioned their ability to actually carry out a successful attack on a passenger plane.  Sadly, it seems to be more apparent everyday that ISIS was indeed responsible for this tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 224 mostly Russians on holiday at Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt.  In addition, experts now believe that an onboard bomb was most likely responsible for the crash.  This event raises the stakes in the war against ISIS.  As most European nations and the United States come to grips with the likelihood that open-border policies have allowed ISIS operatives into the EU and the U.S., security and inspection procedures at airports, ports, and other likely targets will have to be reviewed and increased when necessary.  Any person having access to a passenger plane on the ground or a tourist cruise liner in port will have to be vetted and searched.  This includes regular employees like pilots, cabin crew, ship officers and crew, maintenance and repair staff, medical personnel, refueling crews, and food and beverage suppliers, for a start.  This necessary policy will cause a decided inconvenience for many, but ISIS has shown no regard whatsoever for civilian lives.  If they can successfully access a Russian passenger plane on the ground at an Egyptian Airport (Egyptian Airport Security has a solid reputation), then western nations can not take chances.

Regarding the current conflict in Syria, the latest entrant into the war has decided hold a peace conference.  Russia intends to invite all factions involved in the conflict to this conference in Moscow, including Syrian opposition to Russia's favorite, de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Two questions must be answered before the conference commences: will the Assad opposition boycott the conference?  How many members of the Assad opposition feel safe to travel to Moscow, in light of the beating they have taken from Russian bombs in the last two weeks?  As Russia continues to build its own anti-ISIS coalition, this conference is an important opportunity for Vladimir Putin to demonstrate that Russia is indeed a power-broker in the Syrian theater.  No doubt the United States, which labeled the conference "premature", will send representatives, in order to not appear "unconstructive".  Russia will use the conference as another chance to build up the credentials of its ally, Iran.  The captive audience in attendance, diplomatic representatives of China, the United States, European nations, Israel, Turkey, and other concerned parties, will see Iran treated as the dominant regional power in the Persian Gulf.  Russia wishes to perpetuate this idea as often as possible, hoping that the international community will eventually see it as a "fait accompli".  How Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates respond will be pivotal.  The Gulf monarchies understandably do not want to see Iran become the most powerful leader in the Persian Gulf region.  Iran is tied to Shi'a fundamentalism like ISIS is tied to Islamic extremism.  The Gulf states are quick to point out Iran's support for Hezbollah, and Iran responds with accusations of Saudi financial support for ISIS.  Up to now, this effort to reform Iran's image has been basically diplomatic, but for the world to truly consider Iran in a new light, something monumental must occur.  Russia is aware of this fact, and intends on Being the "Eastern Hammer" which will be used to destroy ISIS.  Russia, of course, and her budding coalition, will be the "Western Hammer".  Once Iran has isolated and minimized the U.S. presence in Iraq, then it will be free to deploy regular divisions from Iran into Iraq, to attack ISIS.  By then, Russia will be in a position to fully engage ISIS in the west.

The stage is being set for Russia and Iran to deliver the world from the greatest threat since Nazism.
Wouldn't it be nice if someone else had stepped up to tackle this problem with the conviction of Vladimir Putin. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Russia steps up air campaign in Syria, increasing sorties against ISIS, but continues to target anti-Assad forces.

Link: Russian forces on-the-ground in Syria increase to over 4000.

In response to ISIS advances in the vicinity of Aleppo City, Russian bombing raids against Islamic State targets have increased.  On November 2 and 3, Russian warplanes attacked ISIS positions near Palmyra and Qaraytan in eastern Homs, as well as in ar-Raqqah City.  Russia claims to be working with Syrian opposition in its targeting of ISIS units.  In reality, Russia has coordinated some of its bombing sorties with Syrian opposition that is the least "at odds" with the Assad regime.  Russia claimed to have coordinated with Syrian opposition when utilizing precision weapons to attack ISIS targets near Palmyra and Deir ez-Zour, in an effort to pressure the United States to recognize and support the more "moderate" Syrian opposition.  As Russia negotiates with Jordan and Israel regarding the make-up of a post-ISIS Syrian government, Putin wants to isolate the more determined and uncompromising of the Syrian opposition groups.  A number of the organizations that Russia considers more moderate have only evolved in the more recent stages of the conflict, which will provide a problem for some of the groups who were present in the beginning of the movement to topple Bashar al-Assad.  Its easy for some to forget that this conflict began as an offshoot of the Arab Spring, and was a ground-roots, indigenous effort to remove Assad.  ISIS took advantage of the breakdown in authority and civil control to expand its base and create a three-dimensional battleground in Syria.  In reality, the foreign elements involved in Syria should be exclusively focused on the defeat of ISIS, which is in itself, foreign to Syria.  When attempting to create an anti-ISIS ground force in Syria utilizing mostly former Assad regime officers, great efforts were made to avoid contact with regime forces.  Russia does not accept the obligation to avoid internal Syrian problems.  In fact, Russia has used the excuse of opposing ISIS as a shield to conduct one bombing raid after another against Syrian opposition.  Recent Russian focus on ISIS targets have been in response to ISIS advances near Aleppo City and international criticism of its up-to-now almost exclusive targeting of Assad's Syrian opposition, vice ISIS positions.

The United States and Russia have made some progress in deconflicting military operations in Syria;  a successful short-range communications test with a U.S. fighter was conducted on November 3.  But Russia seems determined to continue with its strategy to build Iran into a dominant regional power, and to counter U.S. efforts at strengthening its military cooperation with its eastern European allies.  This week Russia deconflicted a contract with Iran for S-300 anti-aircraft systems.  This agreement had been stalled for some time as Iran focused on developments in Iraq and nuclear treaty negotiations with Europe and the United States.  In a typically heavy-handed attempt at intimidation, Russia launched one of its largest missile tests of the year on the day of the meeting in Vienna to discuss the Syrian conflict.  Russia is also suspected of supporting the action taken by the Moldovan Parliament on October 29 to remove the current government.  As NATO stepped up efforts to strengthen its ties in eastern Europe, Russia launched a snap aviation drill in Kaliningrad.  Russia has a habit of occupying its opponents with diplomacy and other distractions, while continuing whatever action has caused disagreement.  Expect Russia to continue its efforts to prop up Assad and to build Iran into an international player.  Iran has a very important role to play in Vladimir Putin's larger plan to propel Russia into the role of sole world superpower.    

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Russia and Iran; friends for the moment, or for the distance?

Links: A. Russia making military commitment in Syria.
           B. Russia warming up to Iran is part of broader Russian policy.

Earlier this year, when it became apparent that Barack Obama had ordered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to successfully conclude a nuclear treaty with Iran, regardless of the sacrifices, there was some confusion regarding the continued closeness of Iran with Russia, who had previously been Iran's closest ally with regards to the nuclear issue.  Was it possible that this new treaty, which was actually signed by a few European nations as well, would usher in a new era of cooperation between the United States and Iran, to the detriment of Russia?  It certainly wasn't likely, and in fact, within days after the agreement was announced, Iranian religious leaders were up to their tired old bullshit of parading around mass quantities of zealots, screaming, "death to America!".  No doubt Vladimir Putin didn't even flinch when news of the treaty reached Moscow.  He had been working on his own strategy in the region, and in this plan, Iran is a major player.

Once Putin realized that U.S. President Barack Obama was content to ride out his last term in office, allowing the nuclear treaty to be his "legacy moment in foreign policy", he crafted a new direction for Russian foreign policy, which if successful, would displace the United States as the world's only superpower, to be replaced by Russia.  The advent of ISIS and Russia's long-time close relationship with de-facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave Putin the perfect opportunity to implement his plan.  Russia would intervene militarily in Syria, and using Assad as a proxy, defeat ISIS.  But Putin had no intention of allowing ISIS to retreat into the wastelands of western Iraq, to lick its wounds and reload.  Russia's new best friend, Iran, would be the next opponent for ISIS to confront.  In fact, Putin's plan was to confront ISIS in Syria with Assad/Russian support, and simultaneously push ISIS westward from Iraq, using the Iranian Shi'a militias, Iraqi Army, and Iranian military units, if necessary.  Russia has established itself militarily in Syria, as planned, but Iran has to negotiate its way through a bit of a diplomatic triangle in Iraq.  The United States continues to have instructors imbedded with the Iraqi Army, and the U.S.-led air coalition remains active, conducting daily sorties against ISIS targets.  Iran's plan is to support the Iraq Army and its Iranian-backed militia partners in action separate from Iraqi Army efforts which involve the U.S., with the intention that one effort will be successful and the other will fail.  Currently, the U.S.-supported effort by the Iraqi Army to retake Ramadi appears to be failing, while the recent militia-supported operation to retake Baiji and its important oil refinery was successful.  This occurred on the heels of an announcement of the creation of a joint communication cell in Baghdad between the Russians, Iraqis, and Iranians.  Putin is convinced that once Iraqi military initiatives directly supported by U.S. personnel fail, that the Obama Administration will throw in the towel.  He is betting on the likelihood that a failure in Ramadi will lead to demonstrations against U.S. involvement in Iraq.  Once the U.S. is out, then Iran will "lead" the Iraqi Army, militias, and Iranian Special Forces/Republican Guard units in confrontation with ISIS.

Putin's long-term strategy is that by defeating ISIS, Russia and Iran will increase their influence, Russia internationally, and Iran regionally.  Russia's entry into the Syrian conflict has removed the eyes of the west from Ukraine, allowing Putin to forget that within the last two years, Russia has annexed Crimea, an integral part of the Republic of Ukraine, and that Russian military equipment was responsible for the tragic destruction of a civilian airliner and the murder of hundreds of innocent people.  Putin has changed the topic of international conversation.  Today, the world is focused on Syria and the continuing refugee problem, which provides Putin with more justification for military involvement in Syria.  Someone has to do something; if not Russia, then who?  The United States is totally reactive in its international relations, and the current administration does not have the stomach for military casualties.  Certainly a united military force created by the various EU nations would handle ISIS without much difficulty, but that option has never even been suggested.  Russia had an invitation to take on ISIS, and Iran will have the opportunity to become the dominant nation in the Persian Gulf region because of its impending involvement in the destruction of ISIS.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Russia masquerades a moderate international powerbroker, while the Obama Administration belatedly attempts to protect U.S. interests.

Links: U.S. troops "on the ground" have usual rules of engagement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is aggressively pursuing a policy that is intended to re-mold Russia's international image.  For the greater part of the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was faced with regular difficulties complicated by Russia's image as the aggressor in the conflict.  When the Russians originally demonstrated their intention to militarily support de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the question was, to what extent?  Russia has been a long-time ally of Assad, his predecessor father, former President Hafez al-Assad, and the Syrian Ba'ath Party apparatus, and Vladimir Putin's desire for a Russian naval base on the Mediterranean is no secret.  How far would Russia go to prop up Assad?  When considering this issue, I was missing out on the greater plan that Russia was putting into place.  In order to understand Putin's motivations in Syria, it is necessary to understand Russia's international ambitions.  First, lets examine Russia's diplomatic initiatives vis-à-vis some of the bit players in this drama.

  Russia has softened it tone in all its diplomatic conversations, and is portraying itself as moderate and much less militarily focused as in the past.  This may seem like a hard sell, given that Russian jets are currently pounding targets in Syria.  But Putin has been successful in shifting world opinion to the idea that Russia is truly interested in destroying ISIS, and that support for Assad is secondary.  Certainly no one would accuse Russia of wanting to annex Syria as they Crimea.  Russia has targeted U.S. allies Jordan, Egypt and Iraq as part of its campaign to "co-opt" U.S. supporters in the region.  Although the U.S. has recently made attempts to defend its traditional turf, the Russians had weeks to chip away at the pro-U.S. attitude in all three nations.  In particular, Russia wants to perpetuate the idea that United States is no longer willing to support its allies in serious times of crisis.  The knowledge that the Obama Administration is theoretically opposed to large-scale military action is no secret, and these "at risk" countries know that ISIS can only be defeated by a full-on, large scale military commitment, similar to the one the Russians are making in Syria.  The comparison makes itself.  In fact, the pronouncements of the last few days have come in response to Russian activity.  The international community is catching on to something that many of us have known for a some time; that the Obama Administration, all the way back to the days of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is intent on being REACTIVE, as opposed to PROACTIVE.

In eastern Europe, Russia has also mended a few diplomatic fences and won some important electoral victories.  A number of towns and communities in eastern Ukraine elected pro-Russian representatives, which was a blow to efforts by Kiev to take the electoral momemtum before any serious referendums are planned.  The results also take pressure off Russia regarding the current ceasefire.  If fighting breaks out again, Kiev won't be able to accuse Russia and its Donbas separatist allies from trying to refocus world attention after disappointing election results.  Most important, and visible from the beginning of Russia's direct military involvement in Syria, is the creation of a Russian client-state in Iran.  Everyday it becomes more apparent that these two former adversaries have become BFFs, with Iran going so far as to deploy volunteer "militia" members to fight alongside Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria.  Russia successfully lobbied to have Iran invited to an upcoming major international conference on the conflict in Syria.  This is the first time that Iran has been invited to a conference of this importance.  The question is, why was Iran invited?  They do not share a border with Syria, although they have been strong allies of Bashar al-Assad.  An even more prescient question? Instead of an invitation to attend the conference, why wasn't Iran issued an invitation to remove its "militiamen" from Syria?