Thursday, April 30, 2015

Iraq to deploy Shia militias into the Sunni dominated Anbar province. Yahoo/Reuters.

Iraqi soldiers firing mortars in Anbar province. Yahoo/Reuters. 

Iraq is preparing to deploy Shiite militias, sponsored by Iran, into the Sunni dominated Anbar province to fight ISIS. Yahoo/Reuters. The Shia militias have already played a decisive role in the fight against ISIS. They played a critical role in capturing the city of Tikrit back from ISIS. So far though, Iraq has avoided using the militias in the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province. The move could damage relations with the United States because of the militias strong ties to Iran. The militias also committed crimes in the capture of the city of Tikrit, including reprisal killings and the razing and looting. of Sunni homes. The situation in Anbar province is so out of control that the Shiite militias may be the only hope. 

My Comment:
I haven't heard much about the battles in Anbar lately. The last I heard there was a huge humanitarian crisis and Iraq was on the verge of losing the city of Ramadi. That was 10 days ago and I haven't heard anything since. Some googling shows that the battle there has basically become a stalemate, and that the battles in other Anbar province cities, like Fallujah, have been give and take. Neither side is winning but neither side has really made any gains either. 

In some ways that is a good thing. Obviously the city of Ramadi hasn't fallen yet, which is, of course, great news for Iraq. I'm not sure if they will keep it long term but at least they are holding it for now. And the mass refugee crisis caused by people fleeing the city seems to have subsided. That was a huge problem but Iraq seems to have solved it. 

But it is not all good news. Iraq isn't advancing or pushing ISIS back either. Iraq desperately needs to push ISIS out of these cities because a slow war of attrition hurts them more then it hurts ISIS. Iraq's military is barely holding together as it is, and they get weaker everyday, while ISIS seems to be able to replace their losses better. They also need to break the momentum that ISIS has gained in the past few months. They did lose Tikrit but they managed to push Ramadi to the brink and they have been having victories in Syria as well. 

Of course the only option Iraq has is to deploy the Shiite militias. That is not a great solution for the Iraqis, but it seems to be the only one they have. The Iraqi Army is all but finished as a fighting force. The don't have the stocks of well trained and highly motivated men that the militias do. Nobody else is going to send in troops either, so their only choice is to use these militias. Even if it angers the United States.

I've mentioned many, many times on this blog about how badly behaved these Shia militias are when they come into contact with Sunni civilians. Executions, looting and arson are the norm, not the exception. They really aren't that much better then ISIS when it comes to atrocities. To date most of their crimes have been inflicted on empty buildings that were already damaged in battle or captured ISIS fighters, but there have been incidents where they have targeted civilians as well. 

Now these same militias are going to be deployed into Sunni dominated cities. These cities aren't going to be abandoned and empty like Tikrit was. Sure, many people have fled from ISIS in Ramadi but there are still going to be people there. Not everyone is willing or able to leave. And it isn't clear at all how they will react to having a bunch of people that have a history of killing Sunni Muslims entering their city. For some the logical thing might be to join up with ISIS. ISIS is brutal and horrible but they tend to protect Sunni Muslims. If the choice is to join up with people that might kill you or join up with people that almost certainly will kill you, it's not a hard choice to make. 

Iraq's only hope is to somehow control these Shia militias while at the same time be completely dependent on them to win their battles. If they can pull that off I will be impressed. But it is much more likely that the Shiite militias go on a rampage and kill combatants and non-combatants alike. That will have serious implications for Iraq, possibly costing them their alliance with the United States. After all, it doesn't make sense to fight for people that are just as bad as ISIS... 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Freddie Gray may have injured himself. Washington Post.

Protesters in support of Freddie Gray. Wikimedia Commons. 

A prisoner that was in the van with Freddie Gray has claimed that Gray was trying to hurt himself. Washington Post. The prisoner, who is in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal wall, but he could hear him. The prisoner reported that Gray was "banging against the walls". Gray was found unconscious after a 30 minute ride in the van after his arrest. Investigators are not sure if Gray was injured in the van or during his arrest. The driver of the van reported that Gray had been irate and combative the entire time. Officers did violate policy by not restraining Gray, but that policy was only a few days old. 

My Comment:
Well, there goes the narrative. If Freddie Gray was responsible for his own death then the entire riot was for no good reason. Of course even if he was brutally murdered, the riots would not be justified, but that is neither here nor there. Now that there is one witness that said that he did hurt himself and no witnesses so far that say anything else happened, it's clear that the protests were premature. 

Does one witness saying something mean that Gray killed himself? Of course not. But it does show that there is reason to believe that there could be reasonable doubt in this case. It is very possible that the police did very little wrong in this case. Yes, you should be mad that they didn't follow policy or didn't get Gray to a hospital right away, and they should probably face some discipline for that. But they shouldn't lose their jobs or face protests unless it is proven that they did more then fail to follow procedure. And right now there isn't any proof of that. 

I'm sure there that people won't accept this new evidence, or even consider it. People tend to not have open minds about these kinds of things. I'd like to think that if a smoking gun came out in favor of Freddie Gray, I'd change my mind, but I doubt people on the other side would do so for this. I'm guessing people will claim conspiracy or cover up. 

That's not impossible but I think it is unlikely. This report was taken right after the incident occurred so the witness had little reason to lie. He's still in jail so it is unlikely that he was able to cut a deal. Plus, if there is a conspiracy the truth would come out eventually, probably sooner then later. 

One objection I can answer is "why would he hurt himself?" Off the top of my head I can think of a few reason. First, he could have had some kind of mental breakdown. People who are in a psychotic rage can hurt themselves very easily and may not register pain. I haven't heard of Gray having any mental issues though. The second possibility is that he was trying to get out of jail by faking police brutality. That's possible I guess but Gray doesn't seem sophisticated enough to pull it off. Finally, the most likely option was that Gray was really, really mad and was freaking out. That seems rather likely considering people reported that Gray was out of control. 

Is it medically possible for someone to sever their own spine? I'm not sure, I'm not a doctor. It certainly seems possible though. It's also possible that Gray exacerbated injuries he had suffered when the police tackled him. If that's the case, then the cops aren't really responsible. 

Finally, I've heard rumors that Gray had spinal surgery just a few weeks before the incident that caused his death. I'm only pointing this out because they are RUMORS. It is possible but until it gets reported by an actual reliable source, I'd advise caution. The entire problem with these kinds of situations is that everyone believes every rumor they heard on the internet. 

Kim Jong Un has killed 15 of his senior officials already this year. Yahoo/AFP

Kim Jong Un. Yahoo/AFP. 

North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Un, has ordered the death of at least 15 of his senior officials this year so far. Yahoo/AFP. Several of the executed officials were vice ministers, a high rank in the North Korean government. They were killed for criticizing Kim Jong Un's policies. Another minister was executed for criticizing his policy on forestry. In addition to the senior officials, 4 members of an orchestral group Kim's wife belonged to were executed on charges of espionage. This isn't the first time Kim has used executions to keep his people in line. In 2013 he had his uncle and mentor, Jang Song Thaek, killed as well because he was gaining too much power and prestige. Many see Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, as his closest adviser.

My Comment:
Looks like Kim is having some trouble consolidating his power. Having to execute so many of his top people shows me that he feels threatened. I don't know if the threats against him are real or imagined, but he doesn't feel safe either way. And a man that doesn't feel safe with absolute power is a very scary thing. Just ask anyone who lived through Stalin's purges... 

Some of these executions seem very vindictive and, quite frankly, immature. Killing a man because he disagreed with you about forestry, of all things, is just stupid. And I doubt that a vice minister of forestry is all that threatening to Kim. But his grip on power must be so weak that any threat has to be dealt with extreme prejudice. Which is why the people from the orchestral group that Kim's wife was a member of were executed as well. My guess is that they knew that they knew something about Kim Yo Jong that they didn't want the rest of the world to know about. 

Do I think Kim will hold onto power? Probably. Anyone that was plotting against him is probably reconsidering it now. They just can't overthrow him either. The North Korean people worship Kim as a god, so they can't just get rid of him. Their best bet was to relegate him to a ceremonial figure, but that chance is entirely gone now. Kim is wielding power, effectively I might add, and there seems to be very little to stop him. It's not like a revolution in North Korea is even likely at this point... 

Do I think that North Korea is a threat? Not really. Kim likes to rattle cages and threaten violence but he rarely carries out any attacks. And when he does it usually doesn't amount to too much. He threatens and attacks just enough to provoke and get attention but never so much that he actually risks war. He's still a dangerous man and a war with South Korea would be devastating for all involved, but North Korea is mostly a paper tiger. 

I think deep down the North Koreans know that they would lose any war against the South. The have a massive military but it pales in terms of effectiveness compared to the South, and that doesn't even account for the American forces in the area. Sure a war would probably destroy Seoul, and could even go nuclear, but in the end North Korea would lose and lose hard. 

Which is why it probably will never happen. Kim Jong Un just has too much to lose. He's not going to take the risk of actually going to war because if he does he loses everything. He also knows that the paper tiger strategy works. It worked for his father and it is working for him as well. 

That isn't to say that he isn't a threat. There is always a chance that he will cause some terrorist attack. And North Korea is a major exporter of arms, which is a net negative when the countries that get those arms are fellow bad actors on the world stage. And the recent Sony hacking scandal shows that he can hurt the U.S. economically. Plus there is always a chance that he could miscalculate badly and accidentally start a war. In short, the world would be a better, safer, place if Kim wasn't in power. Unfortunately he's probably going to be there as long as he lives... 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore was devastated after riots, arson, and violence. Wall Street Journal

A firefighter next to a building set on fire right after the funeral of Freddie Gray. WSJ/European Pressphoto Agency.

Widespread rioting, arson and violence continued through the night in Baltimore after the funeral of a man who died in police custody. Wall Street Journal. The National Guard has been deployed and firefighters are still fighting the fires set in the riots in response to the death of Freddie Gray. The city has imposed a curfew between 10 pm and 5am, while schools and government buildings remain closed. Police were overwhelmed and emergency crews had a difficult time responding to all the fires and crimes. One officer was shot at during a robbery but was not hit. 

CNN is reporting that over 200 arrests had been made. Arson was incredibly widespread with 144 vehicle fires and 12 structural fires being reported. 

My Comment:
I was working all night so I wasn't able to follow the rioting as closely as I might have wished. But it is clear to me that the riots were very bad, even in comparison to recent ones. The CNN article has a very good photo gallery that gives you a good idea of how bad things were. The numbers alone are staggering. 

The rioters pretty much destroyed everything. First they set things on fire. Then they attacked the firefighters so they couldn't put on the flames. There was video on CNN of a guy actually running up to a fire hose and slashing it. They set fire to their local drug stores and looted local businesses. They even torched a retirement/nursing home that would have helped their community. 

And people are already making excuses for it. Of course the idea that these kinds of riots and looting could ever be justified is utterly wrong, but people are still trying to do so anyways. Some people cared about the death of Freddie Gray. But the protesters did not. They were there for a few reasons:

-To have a fun time
-To get free stuff

And that is about it. Don't give me the line about how they were oppressed (especially since there were a few white agitators rioting too), they rioted because they thought it was fun. There isn't a larger political point to this other then that people don't respect authority and care more about satisfying their desire for free stuff and violent fun then the damage they are doing to their community. 

Whatever complaints the African American community have about the police, they are really not helping their argument by attacking them and causing chaos on this scale. It's going to turn people against them. And that is unfair because so many people aren't like the rioters. The vast majority of African Americans I have met have been just like anyone else I know. It's just the bottom 10% that are ruining it for everyone. 

So what can be done about race relations and civil unrest in America? I can't answer that question. Not because I don't have ideas, but because expressing those ideas will get me labeled. The only politically correct answer is that the riots are caused by white racism and everything would turn out great if we just had more tolerance. Any other answer to that question will lead to accusations of racism. 

The worst part of this is that we really do need some police/criminal justice reform in this country. Unfortunately, race relations have completely poisoned the well. You can't argue against the police state when people are acting in a way that shows that it might actually be necessary. Even though crime is down across the country, you can't point that out when one of these riots happen. And if you do speak up about reform, both sides of the debate get so bogged down talking about race that nothing can be accomplished. About the only good thing about these riots is that they are a very strong argument against gun control... 

I'll keep track of this story as it develops, but I am hoping that this will be the last post about this particular riot. I'm not optimistic that this story is anywhere close to being finished though. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Chaos in Baltimore as looting and rioting break out. Yahoo/AP

A looter walks by burning police vehicles. Yahoo/AP.

Chaos, rioting, and looting breaks out in Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray. Yahoo.AP. Rioters torched a pharmacy and police vehicles and threw bricks and garbage at the police. The governor has declared a state of emergency. At least 15 police officers were hurt and dozens of protesters were arrested. Freddie Gray died after being injured in police custody under mysterious circumstances. The rioters even tried to sabotage the fire department as they tried to put out the fires. The family of Freddie Gray have condemned the riots. Police have received credible threats of violence as three violent gangs have teamed up to attack the police.    

My Comment:
Looks like we are falling into a pattern here. Some African American criminal (Gray had an extensive criminal record) gets into a conflict with a police officer. He ends up dead because it is a really bad idea to get in a fight with the police. Despite that fact that the victim was not a good person, the African American community rallies around them, due to both the traditional media and the social media covering the incident far out of propitiation to its actual importance. At first the protests are peaceful but eventually some of the protesters turn to rioting and looting, thus ending any credibility the peaceful protesters had.

Its a shame in this case because it looks like the police actually screwed up this time. Baltimore has a notoriously corrupt police force, which is to be expected because the entire city is corrupt. I do doubt the claims that Gray was beaten or attacked but it seems clear that he should have gotten medical attention. I don't think his injuries were intentional though. 

Still, even if this case seems more justified then the rest, I still don't understand protesting for a criminal. If someone I knew was killed by the cops when they were running away, I might be upset. But I wouldn't protest for them. Not just because I dislike protests in general but I have very little sympathy for people that cause their own deaths. One thing I learned very early is that it is a very bad idea to pick a fight with someone that has the power to destroy you. And every single one of these cases involve someone either fighting or fleeing from the police. Getting killed because you fought or fled from the police may or might not be justified but it isn't unexpected. 

It's pretty pathetic that this story hasn't got more attention until now. And by that I mean the rioting and looting, not the death of Freddy Gray. The rioting started on Saturday but received very little coverage. Why? Because pretty much every journalist in the country was at the White House correspondence dinner and couldn't be bothered to cover the fact that Baltimore was burning just a few miles away. 

The reports that came out of Oriole Park were horrifying. The patrons of the bars near the stadium were attacked and the business were damaged as well. The people at the stadium were told that they couldn't leave. The game went into extra innings but if it hadn't, thousands of people would have been trapped inside because of the riots. 

So what happens now? More rioting, more attacks on the police and more violence. The people are mad and outside instigators are coming in to cause more problems. The deployment of the national guard may help but at this point it might be to late. 

An internal study showed that the NSA's warrantless spying programs did little to prevent terrorism. New York Times.

The NSA Seal. Public Domain. 

A declassified internal report showed that the NSA's warrantless surveillance program was hindered by secrecy and did little to prevent any terrorist attacks. New York Times. The report was released in 2009 and was recently declassified due to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. While much of the report remains classified and redacted there were a few new revelations about Stellar Wind surveillance program. First, FBI agents and CIA officers were unable to effectively use the information due to the secrecy surrounding the program. Second, FBI agents were told to scrutinize certain phone numbers that were "suspicious" and were given no other information. The FBI created a whole new category of investigation, a "threat assessment" to chase down these leads as opposed to opening a preliminary or full investigation. Third, the Stellar Wind program was largely ineffective. Between 2001 and 2004 just 1.2% of these FBI investigations led to the identification or deportation of a terrorist or the recruitment of an informant. No leads whatsoever were found between August 2004 and January 2006

My Comment:
Not a whole lot of new information here but what is there is important. It sounds like the program was hampered by the fact that is was of dubious legality. Everyone involved knew it at the time and understood there would be a backlash if it ever came out. That made them have to keep things so secret that they couldn't even properly communicate to the people actually doing the investigations. With no real idea where the information was coming from it was difficult for the FBI and the CIA to actually act on the information they received.

More damning then that is the fact that the internal investigations found that Stellar Wind was doing little to nothing to help catch terrorists. If the report is true and only 1.2% of these investigations went anywhere, then how can it be worth doing? Part of this may be due to the "success stories" being redacted, but I doubt it. 

From what I understand these programs just don't do all that much that normal investigations can't handle. If the failure rate of these programs is at or near 100%, why are we still doing them? If you really stretch it you could argue that violating the rights of millions or even billions of people is worth it if you could prevent a terror attack. I don't buy that argument, but it simply doesn't apply here. 

Which brings me to a story. Back in the day I decided to be a troll in my speech class in college. Everyone else did their persuasive speeches on the old college standards. You know, legalize weed, legalize gay marriage, and all the rest.  All the hippy dippy liberal crap you would expect. I went the other way with it. The topic I chose is whether or not torture was ever justified. I made an argument that under certain circumstances it could be. I used an example of a terrorist using a biological weapon that could wipe out most of humanity. Almost everyone agreed that if torturing a terrorist would save humanity it would a be a small price to pay. I then reduced the argument down to smaller scale terror attacks like 9/11 and some people still agreed with me.

At the end of the speech a few people had comments. Some thought that torture was wrong no matter what. Some wondered if I would participate in it. Some even said that I had convinced them torture could be justified to prevent a terror attack. A few people had questions but nobody even thought to answer the obvious one. Does torture work? To be honest back then I just assumed it did, and everyone else in the class did as well. But nobody questioned it. There is a lesson there somewhere, but I'll be damned if I know what it is.

Most people these days feel that torture does not, in fact, work. The best argument I have heard is that torture just doesn't work in these kinds of situations because people will just make up anything to make the pain stop. I don't know how true it is, but if it is it completely destroys any moral justification for using torture. After all, using a lesser evil to fight a greater evil is pointless if using the lesser evil does jack squat to actually prevent the greater evil.

And to bring it back the the NSA, it's clear that the lesser evil isn't stopping the greater evil. You could make a weak argument that violating the rights of millions of people might be less damaging then letting a massive terror attack happen,, but only if you actually prevent the terror attack. The NSA doesn't seem to be preventing anything, so the violation of everyone's privacy is even more outrageous.

My guess is that these programs are failing because the huge amount of data is just too much for human analysts to go through. The internet and the telecommunications sector creates massive amounts of data that are beyond human capabilities to analyze. Plus, with the massive amount of censorship and secrecy makes it very hard for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

New airstrikes and naval bombardment by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Yahoo/Reuters

A Saudi airstrike in Sanaa. Yahoo/Reuters.

Saudi Arabia has continued its offensive against Houthi militants in Yemen, with heavy airstrikes and naval bombardment of the port city of Aden. Yahoo/Reuters. The new attacks are the first since the Saudis "ended" their campaign in Yemen. At least five airstrikes pounded the city while residents reported naval vessels bombarding the city as well. Yemeni loyalists brought heavy armor and Katyusha rockets into the battle for the fist time. The loyalists were able to take several rural areas in the southern province of Dalea.

My Comment:
Well, that cease fire didn't last long at all. Looks like they are pulling out all of the stops. The number of airstrikes was fairly small but the naval attack was significant. Naval bombardments aren't nearly as precise as airstrikes and they carry a large risk of civilian casualties. They also require a good forward observer to direct the fire. My guess is that the Saudis may have people on the ground to direct these strikes, both from the ships and from the air. I doubt they will admit to it though. 

The fact that the Yemeni loyalists are deploying armor and rocket artillery is significant as well. The Yemeni Army probably doesn't have all that many tanks and to deploy them is a very strong indicator of how important the battle of Aden is. Aden is really their last major stronghold and if they lose it they lose almost everything. The deployment of the Katyusha rockets is important as well because they are rather indiscriminate and carry a large risk of civilian casualties. To deploy them is to admit that you are in dire straights. 

It does seem that the Houthis are getting pushed back. I don't know how long it will take the Yemeni forces to take back Aden, but at this point it seems like it will happen, barring something crazy. The Houthi rebels are in a bad situation. They aren't likely to get resupplied anytime soon, and they are getting pounded from both the air and the sea.

Their major ally, Iran, had to turn back their convoy of supplies that were headed to the region. Part of that was because of the naval blockade that the Saudis set up, but the main factor was the United States. We deployed an aircraft carrier group which would have been a huge deterrent for any kind of naval operations for the Iranians. From what I understand there was diplomatic pressure placed on Iran as well. Obama basically told Iran to pull back their convoy or there would be hell to pay. A bit out of character for Obama lately, but it did seem to work. 

This leaves the Houthis in a very bad position, but they still have some advantages. Their enemy is still weak and largely dependent on Saudi support. Once the Yemenis push their way out of Aden the road will get even tougher. The Houthis are tough fighters and once they are pushed back to their strongholds in the north they will be able to dig in and keep up the fight. This war in't anywhere close to being over. 

Finally, the war is having a devastating impact on the people of Yemen. The deployment of heavy weapons and airstrikes is part of it. You can't send an artillery barrage, airstrike or naval shelling in a heavily populated city like Aden and not see heavy casualties. They are also running into severe supply problems due to the fact that Yemen has to import most of its goods. They were a very poor country before all of this happened with little manufacturing and resources. The war will just put more pressure on the situation. And to tie it into the reoccurring theme of my posts this month, it will add even more bodies to the vast exodus of refugees into Europe... 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Al-Nusra front is pushing back the Syrian Army. The regime loses yet another town. Yahoo/Reuters.

Al-Nusra fighters in a captured military vehicle. Yahoo/Reuters.

Al-Qaeda affiliates al-Nusra have taken the strategic city of Jisr al-Shughour from the Syrian regime. Yahoo/Reuters. Syrian media have confirmed that the troops pulled out of the city. Jisr al-Shughour lies on the M4 highway that runs between the city of Allepo, a major battlefield, and Latakia, a coastal regime stronghold. Al-Nusra fighters now have control of most of the Idlib province. Al-Nusra has united most of the rebel groups under a new banner with them at the head. With Jisr al-Shughour in Islamist hands, they can now threaten the regime heartland near the coast. 

My Comment:
Yet another massive defeat for the Syrian regime. The al-Nusra front is having a string of successes that have successfully pushed the regime back to their last strongholds. With Jisr al-Shoughour under their control, not only have the terrorists cut off the city of Aleppo, they are also threatening the coast. The coast has been the Syrian regimes only safe area. It seems like that is coming to an end. 

It seems clear to me that the Syrian regime is losing the war at this point. They were doing ok against the more secular rebels and had generally left ISIS alone, but with al-Nusra uniting most of the rebel groups, they are facing a very strong enemy. ISIS has also switched focus and is taking territory held by the regime. Attrition and the destruction of supplies and equipment is also harming the regime. I know the Russians are giving them weapons and that Iran/Hezbollah have sent troops, but it no longer seems to be enough. 

Another major disadvantage for the regime is that nobody else is fighting against al-Nusra. The U.S. led airstrikes haven't targeted al-Nusra nearly as much as they have targeted ISIS. And ISIS is largely leaving al-Nusra alone. The secular rebel groups that have been fighting al-Nusra have either been defeated entirely or are now fighting under the black flag of the extremists. 

So what happens if al-Nusra wins? Nothing good. They already have created a mini-state in Syria and by all accounts it is a pretty terrible place to live. They have Islamic law and are guilty of some atrocities. They claim to be more tolerant then ISIS, and there is some evidence of that, but they still treat religious minorities horribly. I'm guessing that if they win there will be a large scale attack on the Syrian Alawities. After all, Al-Qaeda has never been all that happy with Shia Muslims, even if they are an offshoot. 

Of course the defeat of the Syrian regime would not mean the end of the fighting. ISIS and al-Nusra are not compatible. They have a long standing score to settle, so after the defeat of the regime, they would likely fight each other. Remember, ISIS is an offshoot of Al-Nusra, and that they have fought each other before. They aren't fighting each other right now because they have a common enemy and they operate in different parts of the country. 

So what should be done about al-Nusra? Can anything be done about al-Nusra? Sending in more airstrikes might have an effect, but air campaigns alone can't win a war. Ground troops are needed for that. America isn't going to deploy troops and neither is any other European country. Even if the public wasn't war weary, nobody is going to come down on the side of the Syrian regime even if their opponents are much worse then they are. So nothing is going to get done and it seems like yet another government will fall to Islamic extremism.    

Major terror ring disrupted in Italy, planned terror attack on The Vatican. The Daily Beast.

The Vatican. The Daily Beast/AFP/Getty. 

Italian anti-terror officials have disrupted a major terror ring in Sardinia, Italy, that was planning an attack on The Vatican. The Daily Beast. Two of the suspects had worked directly under Osama bin Laden and were still in contact with his family and his network. The terrorists had been using a former U.S./NATO base on the small island of La Maddalena, which had been abandoned in 2008. Many of the men arrested were involved in the human smuggling trade and forging documents and faking customs declarations. The attack on The Vatican was still in its planning stages and would have involved two suicide bombers.

My Comment:
Good work by the Italians. Breaking up this terror ring was very important. Had they carried out there attack on The Vatican, well, I don't know what would happen. There are about 1.2 billion Catholics in this world and every single one of them would have been furious, along with the entire population of Italy. I'm not Catholic but I would have been angry too, along with billions of other people. Though the attack probably wouldn't have killed too many people it would be a hugely significant attack just based on the symbolism alone.

And it is very possible that the Pope himself was the target of this attack. Pope Francis is a very popular Pope, even among non-Catholics. The impression I get of the man is of a strong yet caring leader that really does look out for the common people. I don't agree with him on a whole lot of things, but it seems clear to me that he is a good man. He also doesn't treat security the way that most world leaders do (and he is a world leader) because he wants to stay close to his people. That's extremely admirable, but it comes with incredible risk. He doesn't deserve to die and if terrorists were to kill him it would be the news story of the century. Thankfully this particular threat has been disrupted. 

So how big was the threat? That seems somewhat unclear. It sounded like many of the people arrested were more involved in human trafficking and financial crime. The island base on La Maddalena almost sounded like a retirement home or vacation resort for Al-Qaeda. From what I was able to gather it seems like the island is in a tourist trap area, which is an odd place to plan terror attacks from. 

My guess is that the terror attacks were a secondary objective for this base. If they were involved in human trafficking that tells me a lot about what they were doing there. I've posted several times how the entire Mediterranean Sea is in chaos due to thousands of immigrants trying to get to the European Union. There are millions of dollars to be made getting people from Africa to Europe. And Al-Qaeda can use that money to pay for terror attacks. 

This brings up another point. The immigration crisis in Europe is a huge security threat for everyone in the region. Not only are these migrants costing millions of dollars in terms of rescue operations and putting a massive burden on Europe's social safety net, they are giving Al-Qaeda yet another way to make money. And I am guessing at least a few of the immigrants are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and other radical Muslim organizations. After all a bunch of them just drowned a large group of Christians... 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

White House admits that they accidentally killed two hostages in a raid targeting Al-Qaeda leadership. Reuters

The President gives a briefing on the operation. Reuters. 

One American and one Italian, both hostages of Al-Qaeda were killed along with two American members of the organization during drone strikes. Reuters. American Warren Weinstein, a doctor captured by Al-Qaeda in 2011, along with Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, were killed in a drone strike along with Ahmed Farouq, an American member of Al-Qaeda. Adam Gadahn, an American Al-Qaeda spokesman was killed in a separate strike. President Obama expressed regret for the result of the strike and claimed that nobody knew that the hostages were at the location that was attacked. The attack is the first known case of an American hostage being killed in a drone strike. Obama claimed the strike was legal and that a review would take place to determine what went wrong.

My Comment:
Not a good day for the U.S. intelligence services. I understand that it would be very hard to track where these hostages were at any given time and that there was always a chance of this happening. Still, you would hope we would have a bit better intelligence then this. One thing I do know is that the pilot that fired the missile that killed Weinstein  and Lo Porto has to be feeling bad right now. It's not his or her fault, but this will probably stick with them for their whole lives. I hope whoever did it gets help.

This tragedy could be used by Al-Qaeda and other terror groups like ISIS as a new way to avoid drone strikes. Using human shields is not a new concept, but to date, Al-Qaeda hasn't adopted it, to the best of my knowledge. If the leadership does start to travel with U.S. or other foreign hostages it would give the United States something to think of before they ordered a strike. They would have to choose between killing their own innocent people or letting the enemy get away. This seems like such a basic tactic, albeit an extremely cynical one, that I am surprised that they aren't doing it already. My guess is that there just aren't enough hostages for the strategy to work. 

I haven't said much about Farouq and Gadahn. Both of them were traitors for sure. Gadahn especially was a major figure in Al-Qaeda so I am not sad to see him go. He was a propagandist, and an effective one at that. He was also fairly high up in the leadership, so his death hurts Al-Qaeda quite a bit.

I'm more then a little uncomfortable with the government killing people without trial. There is no doubt in my mind that Farouq and Gadahn were guilty of treason, even with the rather strict constitutional limits on charging the crime. Had they been prosecuted, I am sure they would have been convicted and most likely executed or at least imprisoned. They would have had a trial, lawyers and the right to appeal their convictions. 

But Farouq and Gadahn never got a trial. Obama claimed that nobody knew that the two men were at the sites of the drone attack. I have no idea if that is true or not. There is a major difference between a targeted killing and a drone strike that just happened to kill two citizens. But I have no idea how we could fine out which category this attack fell under. Unless there is another Edward Snowden style leaker we may never know. 

If the deaths of Farouq and Gadahn were an accident, then I suppose it is justified. You accept certain risks when you take up arms against your home country and in this case a drone strike is one of them. Just being in a war zone gives you a fair chance of being killed. And it is unreasonable to expect the government to take every precaution to protect someone who is fighting against them.

But if it was a targeted assassination then we are talking about something different. The U.S. Constitution is supposed to protect U.S. civilians from death without trial. No doubt that Farouq and Gadahn were reprehensible people that deserved to die. But I don't like the precedent, which, to be fair, already exists.  

To be clear, I don't want to put myself in the unenviable position of defending Al-Qaeda members. But my concern is that now that the precedent exists, who is to say that the government won't use drone strikes on other American citizens who are not involved in terrorism? Back during the Cliven Bundy standoff, there was some semi-serious talk about drone striking him. And some of the justifications that the government used for killing Anwar al-Awlaki could be used against him. He was doing something that displeased the government and arresting him would have been almost impossible without government casualties. Though the standoff ended peacefully because Bundy couldn't keep his mouth shut about race, I'm sure some people would have liked to have seen it end with Bundy ending up the same as Awlaki, Farouq and Gadahn... 

The entire situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth and this latest incident adds more fuel to the fire. I'm getting dangerously close to conspiracy theory territory here, but I think there is at least a strong possibility that Obama knew that these strikes were targeting Farouq and Gadahn and went ahead with them anyways. That way he could avoid some criticism from both libertarians and the few liberals that are left that object to this kind of thing (like Glenn Greenwald). I have absolutely no proof of that though and it is just as likely that the whole scenario did play out like Obama claims. 

No matter what though, this incident should lead to some changes. We seem to be a bit trigger happy with our drones these days. Drone strikes do have a place in modern warfare but without good intelligence it is hard to avoid mistakes like this. Our government is so reliant on signals intelligence that they have largely neglect human sources. Signals intelligence has its uses, but we catch so much useless data, which also happens to violate the rights of Americans, that it is hard to get good information. These kinds of mistakes are likely to continue in the future. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Terror attack on churches foiled in France. Yahoo/AFP.

A police car outside of the residence of the suspect. Yahoo/AFP.

A French-Algerian student who had planned to attack churches in a Charlie Hebdo style terror attack was arrested before he could pull off the plot. Yahoo/AFP. The 24 year old was arrested after he reported to police that he had been shot in the leg. Weapons, body armor, communications equipment and detailed plans to attack two churches were found in his home and car. The suspect claimed he was injured while "settling scores" but police haven't ruled out the possibility that he injured himself. The man was known as a possible threat by French anti-terror units. Further complicating the situation, the man's DNA was found in the car of a missing woman's car. The woman had been shot 3 times in the chest and a computer in her car was found smoldering. Investigators are trying to determine what, if any, connection the woman, a 32 year old mother, had with the suspect. 

My Comment:
Thankfully there are some really stupid terrorists out there. I don't buy for a second that the suspect was hurt "settling scores". That sounds like something he would make up in order to sound like a bad-ass. My guess is that he shot himself because he didn't follow gun safety. Either way though, that must have one hell of a dilemma for him. I guess if the choice is bleeding out or calling for help and getting arrested I would choose to get arrested, but as a terrorist on a probable suicide mission, why would you care? Why not just shoot it out with the cops?

Even though this guy looks fairly incompetent, it is clear that he had some pretty significant backing from some terror organization. The guy was a 24 year old in college, he wouldn't have the money to buy the significant hardware he was equipped with. And I read "war weapons" as "high powered/fully automatic rifles" and possibly "explosives". You need cash and connections to get those kinds of weapons in Europe, and I don't see this guy planing this on his own. He had help, and I am guessing it was Al-Qaeda since they were the ones that pulled of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The real question is there were other members of his cell or if he was the only shooter. It is possible that there is one or more people that were involved with this plot. If so, they could be on the run and may end up trying to pull off a less elaborate but still potentially deadly attack. And if the planners get away then they can just recruit another person, and maybe this time they will hire someone who won't get shot somehow before he pulls off the operation. The French authorities need to figure out who this guy knew and track them down and fast.

I was somewhat surprised that he was targeting Churches. Most of the terror attacks in Europe lately have targeted Jews. Of course, radical Muslims hate both Christians and Jews, so it isn't that surprising, but it's still not what I would expect. I know that Christianity isn't quite as popular in Europe as it is in America, but there are still a lot of people that go to church there. This could have been a very serious incident and it might be time for the churches of Europe to up their security measures. The fact that a church might need armed guards in Europe of all places is just disgusting to me, and I am not very religious. 

As for the possible connection to the woman's murder, I don't know what to think about it. It is possible that they were boyfriend girlfriend, but that seems unlikely to me. From what I have read about both of them it seems like they were too different to be in a relationship. I guess it could be a random crime or something else, but I can't even speculate too much on her case.

I've said before that the Charlie Hebdo attacks changed the way that terrorism was going to be done. These attacks are cheaper, harder to disrupt and have a huge impact. Let's face it, the French got incredibly lucky that this guy got shot somehow. If he hadn't, we wouldn't have been hearing about him until he shot up a French Church. Unfortunately, we can't rely on being that lucky. Europe needs to think long and hard about how to counter these kinds of gunman attacks...  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Saudis "end" air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Yahoo/Reuters.

A Saudi airstrike near Sanaa, Yemen. Yahoo/Reuters.

Saudi Arabia have ended their air campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Yahoo/Reuters. Saudi Arabia is now trying to find a diplomatic solution. Iran welcomed the cease fire. Saudi Arabia claimed the air campaign had greatly reduced the Houthi's ability to fight and destroyed most of their heavy weapons. Though the focus of the Saudis has shifted, their may still be military action. Saudi Arabia may still deploy their elite National Guard to join their campaign. 

My Comment:
Surprising move by the Saudis. I figured their air campaign would have lasted longer then it did. The airstrikes must have had a larger effect on the Houthis then I thought. Their offensive must have stalled out for the Saudis to stop the campaign. My guess is that they no longer advancing and may actually be in retreat. With the Saudis claiming to have destroyed the rebels heavy weapons, they may very well be withdrawing. 

I don't know if any kind of diplomatic solution will be found. The rebels still control a large part of Yemen and haven't been pushed out of the capital yet. They still have ground forces and the Yemeni government is still in a weak position. They also still have the support of Iran. Though they are cut off from supplies from Iran, the country is still supporting them in other ways. I'm not sure what kind of deal could even be made.

My guess is that this is just a hiatus in the battle and not the end. The fact that the Saudis are openly talking about deploying their best fighters in Yemen means that they are still in this fight. A ground invasion would seriously up the stakes in the conflict. The Egyptians may be involved in any attack in Yemen as well and who knows how the Iranians would respond to that. 

As for the Iranians, I wonder if this move will cause them to pull back their convoy of ships. With the Saudis blockading the coast and a U.S. carrier group in the area there was little chance of them delivering their cargo in the first place. Now that the air campaign is supposedly over, they may no longer have a reason to do so. 

ISIS may go on the offensive in Syria. Reuters.

Kurdish YPG fighters in Hasaka province, Syria. Reuters.

ISIS may be preparing to attack the Kurds in Syria in a renewed offensive. Reuters. The province of Hasaka, on the border with Iraq, may be the groups next target. ISIS had suffered a major defeat in the town of Kobani, where Kurdish militia units, backed by U.S. airstrikes, were able to halt the ISIS offensive and push them out of the area. ISIS has bounced back from the defeat though and is now threatening the provincial capital of Hasaka, Hasaka city, and the town of Tel Tamr. Local officials and monitoring groups report ISIS is marshaling forces in the area. Taking Tel Tamr would cut the Kurdish supply lines and make it more difficult for the U.S. led coalition to deploy airstrikes. ISIS has also started to move further west and are engaged with the regime and rebel forces. 

My Comment:
Most of the headlines about ISIS have been about the battle for Ramadi in Iraq, but their offensive in Syria should not be ignored. Though they were pushed back in Kobani and other places, they have expanded in others. ISIS is far from being defeated. And it seems like they are getting back some of the momentum they have lost after the twin defeats of Kobani and Tikrit. 

So why has ISIS been able to succeed in Syria after being defeated in Kobani? It's complicated. The Syrian regime is in a very bad position lately and that is a major factor for ISIS regaining some momentum in Syria. They have the Al-Nusra front to thank for that. Al-Nusra was able to take the major city of Idlib, putting major pressure on the regime. They have also united most of the rebel groups outside of a few remaining secular groups and ISIS itself. They are a very strong fighting force and they are hurting the Syrian government badly. That leaves an opening for ISIS. Add in the fact that the two groups aren't fighting each other all that much and it explains much of why ISIS has been able to claw its way back in Syria.

The other major factor is that the Kurdish fighters in the north aren't getting much support from anyone. This is, of course, Turkey's fault. Turkey has essentially forbidden the United States and Europe from providing weapons to the Kurds. They have a reasonable fear that after the war against ISIS that those weapons could be turned back on them. I don't blame them for that, but it is also making it very hard for the Kurds to fight. The Kurds only won in Kobani because Turkey allowed some fighters and supplies into the city. After that battle the support mostly evaporated and the Kurds weren't able to take back much territory. 

I've mentioned a few times that I'm more then a little uncomfortable with the Syrian Kurds in general. They are good fighters and they are about the only group in Syria that is even close to be acceptable, but that doesn't mean they are a good candidate for an ally. My major objection is the fact that they have some very far left people in their ranks. Actual communists. This makes me nervous for the same reason that the United States training Ukrainian fighters makes me nervous. I think there should be three cardinal rules for foreign policy and they are as follows:

1. Never team up with radical Muslims.
2. Never team up with far-left communists
3. Never team up with far-right Neo-Nazis.

I'd like to point out that the Obama administration is doing all three of these things today. Mostly indirectly but the point stands. This is not going to end up well. It never does. 

For the Kurds at least, the support has been rather limited due to the Turks. It mostly consists of airstrikes and some very inconsistent supply drops. Bringing it back to ISIS, this means that ISIS is on relatively even footing with the Kurds. Yes, they will face airstrikes, but that aside, they have a chance to take their goals in this new offensive. As long as they don't get bogged down in another stalemate like they did in Kobani, they could advance.

Monday, April 20, 2015

U.S. deploys warships to Yemen to prevent Iranian arms shipments. Yahoo/AP

USS Vicksburg and USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Mediterranean last month. Yahoo/Reuters

The United States has deployed the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt to the coast of Yemen to join a fleet of American ships with a mission of preventing any arms shipments to the Houthi Rebels. Yahoo/AP. The deployment comes after the UN security council passed an arms embargo. The deployment of the Roosevelt comes after report that Iran had sent a convoy of nine ships, some of them warships, to Yemen. U.S. cruisers and destroyers may be tasked to board and inspect these ships. The United States is providing support for Saudi Arabia's campaign against the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran. 

My Comment:
It will be interesting to see how the United States handles this crisis. I'm not sure how much of this is just "showing the flag" or if it is more then that. The deployment of an aircraft carrier is always a major political move, so sending this carrier to the region is a big sign of how serious the situation is in Yemen. Still, the carriers role in any inspections will be limited. Its role will be to provide air support and add strike capability if things go really bad.

The Iranians will almost certainly have to back down now. Their navy is no match for the United States fleet. I haven't heard what the composition of the Iranian convoy, but my guess is they don't have anything bigger then a frigate. Yes, those ships may have anti-ship missiles but the U.S. fleet is fairly protected from missile strikes due to the Aegis system. Sure Iran has a large fleet of small missile boats but they are too far away from the coast of Yemen to be a threat. If there was any kind of naval engagement between the U.S. fleet and the Iranian convoy, the Iranians would lose and lose badly.

The real threat would be some kind of conflict during and inspection. It is possible that the Iranians could try and fight off a boarding, which could lead to deaths on both sides. It's also possible that they could do some kind of suicide attack as well. Such an attack would be very counterproductive for the Iranians, so I don't think they would do it on purpose. But it is always possible for an inspection to go bad for dumb reasons.

So what are Iran's options for supplying the Houthis? The don't have any good options. Blockade running isn't really an option because the United States has enough airplanes and radar to find any ships. Iran could try to supply the Houthis via submarine, but there is a chance that they wouldn't make it through undetected either and even if they did they wouldn't be able to carry all that much. Iran could try to resupply the Houthis with airplanes but they can carry even less. Plus there aren't that many safe airports in Yemen and the ones that do exist could be attacked by the Saudis. 

My guess is that the Houthis will be effectively cut off from supplies. This gives them a huge disadvantage. Without new weapons and other supplies they will not be able to continue their offensive. Combined with a withering air campaign, the Houthis may have to retreat or accept some kind of peace settlement. 

The battle for Ramadi is compounding Iraq's humanitarian crisis. Yahoo/Reuters.

Refugees at a checkpoint near Baghdad. Yahoo/Reuters. 

The battle for Ramadi is complicating Iraq's already severe refugee and humanitarian crisis. Yahoo/Reuters. At least 90,000 people have fled the area, heading to Baghdad, only 55 miles from the front lines. The new refugees add more numbers to the approximately 2.7 million people displaced by the war against ISIS. The refugees report that they were driven out by the total lack of supplies like food and water and the loss of power. The ISIS militants allowed the refugees to flee. At the gates of Baghdad, a massive traffic jam as the Iraqi forces tries to determine if any ISIS fighters are hidden in the mass of humanity. On the front lines, the battle has slowed as reinforcements finally arrived. The Anbar province was reported to be the next major front in the battle against ISIS, but those plans fell apart when ISIS began to threaten Ramadi. Iraq may deploy Iranian backed Shia militias to fight ISIS in the mostly Sunni city. 

My Comment:
This refugee crisis plays into the hand of ISIS. The Reuters article downplays how difficult the situation in Baghdad was. For a while thousands of refugees were stuck there because Iraq had set up a system where only people who had relatives or friends in the city to vet them were let in. This caused the huge backups like the one in the picture above. It sounds like this system is still in place but they have to be doing something to make sure that ISIS doesn't use this crisis as a way to infiltrate. 

Not only does ISIS get a chance to infiltrate Baghdad, they are also putting financial pressure on Iraq. Taking care of these refugees is going to cost money and resources that would be better spent elsewhere. All of these people are going to need food, water and shelter and all those things cost money. Iraq already has a massive problem with refugees and humanitarian aid, and these new refugees may put strain onto a system that is already under strain. And the situation will get worse as the battle goes on.

Reuters was fairly optimistic about the battle. Other sources I have read were not so kind. This article from the Washington Post reports that many of the defenders have fled the city along with the refugees.  In addition to the regular army troops and national police, the Sunni militias are withdrawing as well. One local sheik said that the anti-terror units are about all that is left. The Reuters report said Ramadi got reinforcements but it is unclear if that is supported by the facts on the ground. 

Will ISIS win in Ramadi? It is certainly possible. I'm thinking in terms of troops, Iraq has the advantage, but the problem is the will to fight. With troops withdrawing without much of a fight, the two forces are on much more even terms. U.S. led airstrikes and the deployment of Shiite militias, the most reliable force Iraq has right now besides the Kurds, could change the momentum. It's possible that it is already happening. It is also possible that the battle has already reached the tipping point. 

Psychology is important in warfare and this huge refugee problem along with the generally bad morale of the Iraqi Army may have change the momentum away from the Iraqis and towards ISIS. Seeing thousands of refugees fleeing from the enemy, or more accurately, fleeing from the disruption the enemy has caused, has an impact. So does hearing about how Iraqi army units and local Sunni militias refusing to fight. I know if I was fighting against ISIS in Iraq, I would think that ISIS has the upper hand, even if  their advantage isn't really there on paper. 

Logistics is another major problem. Due to where the front lines are in Iraq, Ramadi was already a hard place to resupply. And Iraq isn't all that good at logistics in the first place. Having the highways clogged with thousands of refugees is just going to make reinforcing and resupplying forces in Ramadi even harder then it would be normally. People tend to underestimate the important of logistics, and being unable to reinforce or resupply the city could easily cost Iraq Ramadi. ISIS has logistical problems as well due to U.S. airstrikes, so it isn't all bad news for Iraq. 

Finally, there are still people in Ramadi. I haven't been able to find reliable figures for the number of people in the city due to all the unrest in Iraq, but the numbers seem to be between 500,000 and 900,000 people. Many have fled at this point but there are still many people left. If the Shia militias are deployed and they conduct themselves like they have in the past, it is very possible that there could be massacres, looting and arson.

 Tikrit was a good example of what happens when these militias take a city. Arson, looting and general chaotic destruction reigned in the city after the militias took it and a major massacre was probably only avoided by the fact that there was almost nobody left in the city by the time the battle ended. My guess is that won't be the case for Ramadi. Assuming ISIS doesn't capture the city, there is a good chance that the Shia militias will destroy the city on the pretense of saving it.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

ISIS beheads and shoots 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Yahoo/Reuters.

A screencap from the video. Yahoo/Reuters. 

ISIS has released a video showing the beheading and shooting of 30 Ethiopian Christians. Yahoo/Reuters. The victims, called "crusaders" by  ISIS, were executed in Libya. Half of the men were killed via beheading on a beach while the other half were shot in the head in a different location. The Ethiopian government condemned the attack and offered to bring back any Ethiopians from Libya. This is not the first attack ISIS has conducted in Libya. Earlier this year they executed 21 Egyptian Christians and attacked a hotel. The ISIS fighters in the video claimed that no Christian is safe unless they convert to Islam or pay a religious tax to ISIS. 

My Comment:
Looks like ISIS is back to committing atrocities again. In the chaos that is post-Gaddafi Libya, they have found an opening to attack Christians. I've talked before how Christians still face discrimination and violence in the Middle East and Africa and this latest attack just proves the point further. Fortunately it seems as though the old "Christians can't be discriminated against" meme has died out, at least in the public consciousness. I'm sure there are still some people in the Social Justice crowd will still try to do some mental gymnastics to say that it is still impossible to discriminate against Christians because they "have all the power" but I doubt that anyone is still listening to them now. 

And it isn't like Libya is the only place this is happening. ISIS is attacking Christians and other religious minorities wherever they can find them. Everyone knows about their attacks on the Yazidis in Iraq, but they also attacked Christians, Druze and Shia Muslims. And ISIS is far from the only group doing this. Al-Qaeda is as well and even some governments are responsible for attacks on Christians. 

As for ISIS it is disturbing how fast they were able to gain a presence in Libya. I don't think they are a major force there but they have used the chaos as an opportunity to gain a toehold. They have taken some territory and committed some very brutal atrocities. And nobody seems to be doing anything about it. 

It's also becoming clear that there are parts of the world that it is just not safe to go because of radical Islam. Why anyone would want to go to war torn Libya is beyond me but I am guessing people think the money they can get working there is worth the risk. The article didn't say why these Ethiopians were in Libya in the first place, but my guess is that they were working to rebuild they country. That is, to say the least, a very bad idea, even if the pay is good. It's just not worth the risk of being attacked by radical Muslims. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Massive suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Yahoo/Reuters.

Soldiers and civilians run for cover at the site of the blast. Yahoo/Reuters. 

A suicide bombing in Jalalabad Afghanistan has killed at least 33 people and wounded 100 more. Yahoo/Reuters. The attack happened at a bank where dozens of government workers were lined up to collect their paychecks. It is unclear who is responsible for the attack. The Taliban denied any responsibility and condemned the attack, but they tend to do so when civilians are killed in attacks. ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan took credit but that information can not be verified. 

My Comment:
Normally a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, even one with this many casualties, would not warrant mention on this blog. Not even with the heavy number of casualties. Frankly, it is nothing new, and suicide bombings are likely to continue in Afghanistan as the war there heats up. This one was a little worse then most due to the number of casualties but other then that it isn't all that special.

Except for one thing. ISIS is taking credit for this attack. If that is true that means that ISIS is a lot more active in Afghanistan then we previously thought. That is obviously a very bad thing. Is it true though? I'm leaning towards no. After all, ISIS just loves to take credit for attacks they had little to nothing to do with. Both the Bardo Museum attack and the Charlie Hebdo attacks were claimed by ISIS but were actually done by Al-Qaeda. 

When it comes to ISIS and terror attacks my policy is to wait until we are absolutely sure that they are the ones that did it. Their whole strategy is getting media attention, and if they can take credit for the work of other terror groups, then that is good for them. It makes them look more powerful and capable then they actually are. In terms of professional terrorist attacks, ISIS hasn't accomplished much. Sure they have killed massive amounts of people and conducted suicide bombings, but compared to Al-Qaeda they are amateurs. 

If it wasn't ISIS then who was it? My guess is the Taliban. They have certainly done these kinds of things before. They are denying it of course, since even terrorist groups have to worry about the public relations nightmare that killing civilians. Unlike ISIS, the Taliban doesn't want that kind of attention. It is possible that Al-Qaeda or some other group is responsible but my guess is that it was the Taliban. 

Finally, it is clear that the war in Afghanistan is far from over. We still have 12,000 NATO troops there and the Afghan army is still suffering. Last year alone they lost 20,000 troops. Those numbers are sure to go up as they take up the combat burden and the Taliban start their summer offensive. 

Do I think Afghanistan will lose the war? Probably not, but they aren't winning it either. I've heard rumors that the enclaves the Taliban have in Pakistan are being destroyed so more fighters are pouring into Afghanistan. Add that to the new threat of ISIS and you have a very dangerous situation. The 12,000 troops NATO has there won't do much other then train. If Afghanistan is to stand, they will have to stand alone... 

Friday, April 17, 2015

U.S. troops deployed to Ukraine for training mission. Yahoo/AFP.

Ukrainian fighters near Mariupol. Yahoo/AFP.

300 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have arrived in Ukraine to train Ukrainian soldiers. Yahoo/AFP. Their mission will last six months. Russia has criticized the move, calling it a destabilizing action. The move comes as fighting has picked up in the war between the Ukrainian government and the Russian backed rebels. For its part, Russia has provided troops and weapons for the rebels. The 173rd will train 900 troops from Ukrainian National Guard units. The United Kingdom and Canada will deploy trainers as well. 

My Comment:
I've asked this question before but what is our interest in the Ukraine? If they lose the war in Donbass, how does it effect the United States in any way? They aren't our allies, we don't trade with them and they have done nothing for us. The only advantage I see is that we are screwing over Russia and Vladimir Putin. That does not seem justified at all if that is our only goal there. I guess we really are back to the cold war... 

I'm not comfortable with this mission at all. Not only do we not have a good reason to work with Ukraine, there is a chance that we would be training some very sketchy people. I've talked before about how many of the Ukrainian militia units, like the Azov Battalion, are actual Nazis. That isn't Godwin's law, that is their actual ideology, National Socialism. National Socialism in a part of the world that was utterly devastated by the Nazis. That has to infuriate the Russians. It makes me angry as well. 

This is realpoltik gone mad. Yes, as a nation we may have to work with people we don't like, but working with Nazis? I'm hoping we won't be training anyone from these battalions, but even if we aren't we are still joining the side that fights with them. I wish I had reassurance from the government that the Azov battalion and the other far-right groups in Ukraine weren't getting any support from the United States, but given that our government is also working indirectly with Iranian militias that were directly responsible for killing U.S. soldiers during the Iraq War, I wouldn't be surprised if they were... 

In short, Obama's policy in Ukraine is incoherent at best and actively against the best interest of the United States at worst. I'd make any support to the Ukrainians dependent on them purging far-right elements from their government and military but if they did that would the war even have happened? Possibly, but it is far to late now. Also, I must point out the irony of a leftist president like Obama supporting a government like Ukraine that has far-right troops fighting for it.

As for the 173rd themselves, I am sure they will handle their mission with professionalism. The brigade has a storied history in both Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. They are good airborne soldiers and I know they will do their job well. 

Russia can't be happy about this. I personally don't blame them either. The deployment of these troops serve as a gigantic middle finger to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Make no mistake, this move is largely symbolic. Yes the 173rd is good, but this kind of limited training won't have much of an impact on the war. It does say to the Russians that we don't respect their ambitions in Ukraine and it signals to the Ukrainian government that we are doing something for them, even if it is nothing meaningful. 

I still say the only way the war in the Donbass region ends is with independence for the rebels. Without foreign troops, Ukraine just doesn't have the forces to beat both the rebels and the troops that Russia has sent. Their economy is in taters and their military has been devastated. More importantly, the people are tired of war. Sooner or later this war will be over. It would be better for all parties involved if happens soon. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Christian immigrants thrown overboard on refugee ship by Muslims. Yahoo/AFP.

African immigrants rescued by Italian Red Cross personnel. Yahoo/AFP.

12 Christian immigrants were thrown overboard by Muslims on a refugee ship on its way to Italy. Yahoo/AFP. Police arrested 15 Muslims for the crime in Sicily. All of the people were from Africa. The Christians were from Nigeria and Ghana while the Muslims were from Senegal, Mali and the Ivory Coast. Survivors reported that they had resisted attempts by the Muslims to drown them. Tens of thousands of Africans are crossing the Mediterranean in a desperate attempt to reach Europe. Italy has been burdened by migrants since it is the main entryway for the migrants. 

My Comment:
Two posts about immigration in a day? Sure why not. I said in my last post that the immigration issue is going to be one of the biggest stories of the 21st century. Europe is getting hit hard as well. If Italy is getting 10,000 people in one weekend, there is no way they can sustain that number of refugees without having a huge impact on their society. 

Some of these people will end up spread across Europe. Due to the way the European Union works, once someone is in, they can travel freely. The goal for these people is to get to a country with a strong social safety net. They don't care that they could very well cause the systems to collapse. 

With so many people taking to the sea it isn't surprising that many people are dying. Many of the ships they are taking aren't seaworthy and they also have little chance to survive if something goes wrong. The rescue operations can't keep up and they are also very expensive. In short, Europe won't be able to sustain them, which will lead to even more deaths.

I haven't talked much about the religious aspect of this. It is clear that this is yet another case of Christians getting murdered by Muslims. These are admittedly extreme circumstances since a migrant ship is hardly the normal place for out and out murder, but it is another example of Christians being attacked for their faith. The fact that many of these migrants are the kind of people that will kill over religion is not a good sign for Europe.

These migrants will be ripe for recruitment into radical organizations, like Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Though there life will probably be better in Europe then in their home countries, they will still be second class citizens. They won't have much in the way of economic opportunity and may face discrimination. That may be all they need to be radicalized.

So what can be done about this? Not a whole lot. Europe has no real desire to halt or even limit immigration and anyone that brings it up is denounced as a right wing neo-nazi. Even if that were to change, and there are some signs that it might, like Germany's Pegida movement, there is little that can be done to stop the migrants from coming. Short of deploying the navy to blow up all of these ships, there won't be much they can do. Deportations can help but how on earth can you deal with 10,000 people in a single weekend?