Monday, November 30, 2015

Fighting has erupted between al-Qaeda and the Kurds in Syria. AFP

Kurdish fighters in Syria. Public Domain/VOA

Fighting has erupted between al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra and the Kurds and their US backed rebel allies in Syria. AFP. 8 Kurdish troops were killed in the battle while 15 al-Nusra troops died as well. The battle occurred in northern Aleppo province near Azaz after the Syrians attacked several outposts of the Jaish al-Thuwwar Arab rebel group who are allies of the Kurds. The Syrian Kurds have always had tense relations with the Syrian rebel groups. The Kurds often accuse the groups as being allied to Turkey. The Kurds have also never joined the rebels war against Bashar al-Assad, despite being seen as an oppressed minority. The fact that Assad withdrew most of his forces from Kurdish territory and allows the region to function autonomously is probably a large reason for that. Instead, the Kurds have focused on fighting ISIS and have had some success taking back villages in the Hasakah area. Recently the Kurds have allied with some Syrian rebel groups, both Islamic and Christian, in their fight against ISIS. 

My Comment:
It's not often that al-Nusra gets any coverage in the news media these days. After all, ISIS is grabbing headlines is is the larger and more effective terrorist group. But I think ignoring al-Nusra is a major mistake. They are al-Qadea after all, and are a dangerous and threatening terrorist group. More concerning is the fact that they have control of a large portion of Syria. They have also co-opted the vast majority of rebel groups in the area. There are very few rebel groups left in Syria that haven't been corrupted by Islamic extremism. 

The big difference between ISIS and al-Nusra is that al-Nusra has not yet attacked anyone outside of Syria. They are terrorists but for now their goals are local. That could change very quickly if they become more powerful. And there is always a threat as they grow, the hardliners could split from the group and create another group like ISIS. You have to remember that modern ISIS was formed after they split from al-Nusra Front, so it's not like it can't happen again. Like ISIS their goal is to destroy anyone who doesn't follow their extremist form of Sunni Islam. 

Unlike ISIS, al-Nusra is able to make allies with other groups. What makes al-Nusra so dangerous is the fact that they can work with other rebel groups to accomplish common goals. ISIS has never allied with any group. It either takes over or exterminates any groups it comes across. Al-Nusra is different. They are able to co-opt other groups to make them fight for their goals. Both the so called "secular" rebels and al-Nusra know that they are more powerful together then they are alone. They formed the so called "Army of Conquest" as an alliance and the combined forces have proven a major threat to the forces of the Syrian regime.

Al-Nusra has also done a very good job at destroying, co-opting or neutering any rebel groups that are getting supplies or support from the United States. In the past they have utterly destroyed a couple of CIA trained and supplied groups. They also captured quite a few US weapons, including TOW missiles, from these groups after they were destroyed. Other groups, including the rebels trained by Obama's mission in Turkey, were forced to hand over their weapons by al-Nusra. I wonder if the reason they are attacking the Kurds now is because they are getting more in the way of US support. 

This isn't a good development for the Kurds either. For the most part al-Nusra has left them alone. Probably because the Kurds were fighting al-Nusra's enemy, ISIS. But for whatever reason, that has changed. My guess is that it is because of Turkey. Turkey hates the fact that the Kurds even exist, let alone the fact that they are creating a de-facto independent nation right on their border. Turkey is allied with many of the various rebel groups in Syria and I wouldn't be too surprised if  al-Nusra is one of them. My guess is that they told al-Nusra that if they attacked the Kurds they would get more support. 

That's the last thing the Kurds need. They have had some success against ISIS but the fact of the matter is that they are still not in a great position. With ISIS still a major threat, they are now having to deal with another Islamic extremist group attacking them at their flanks. Though there is a chance that this was an isolated incident, it's possible that al-Nusra could switch focus and attack the Kurds. I think they would be able to withstand that, but it would really hurt any offensive operations against ISIS. Since the Kurds have about the only army in the world with boots on the ground fighting against ISIS, that means a lot of the pressure on ISIS would evaporate, which is bad news for everyone who isn't a Jihadist.

Finally, I didn't talk much about the rest of the article. According to the story, the UAE is talking about sending troops on the ground to fight the Jihadists. That seems unlikely. For one, they are not all that friendly with the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, they are enemies, so I can't imagine that the Syrians would let them deploy that many troops, even if they aren't directed at them. Secondly, the UAE has a huge number of their troops stationed in Yemen participating in the fighting there. That's a major reason the UAE hasn't been sending airstrikes to Iraq or Syria lately. Their forces are committed elsewhere, so I'll believe this report is genuine when troops are actually on the ground in Syria. Stranger things have happened though... 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

NSA ends its bulk collection of phone records. Washington Post.

Seal of the NSA. US Government. 

The NSA is ending it's bulk collection of phone records as of today. Washington Post. The controversial program, first exposed by Edward Snowden, gathered the records of millions of phone calls each day. Though content was not recorded, supposedly, metadata, such as who is being called and how long people talked, were collected. Congress passed the USA Freedom Act to end the controversial program. Under the new law, the NSA will need a court order to go after the phone metadata of suspected terrorists. The program, begun under George Bush and continued under Barack Obama, was extremely secret, to the point that most people in Congress did not know how far the data collection went. The data collected by the NSA will be held onto for some time yet due to pending litigation. 

My Comment:
This is a big story that I am guessing will fly under the radar. After the rise of ISIS, the NSA scandal definitely took a back seat. But it's important to note that the program never really stopped. The NSA still looks at our records. This new legislation did get rid of the phone metadata program but that is far from the only program out there. It's a good first step, but as far as I am concerned there is much more work that needs to be done. 

Of much more concern to me is the various other programs that the NSA has right now which aren't being scaled back. Most importantly, as far as I know the NSA still collects vast amounts of data about internet usage. Of the two, I know which scares me more. Phone metadata would not tell the NSA much about me. I almost never use the phone and when I do it's just to call friends and family. All they would learn from me is the fact that I don't call people all that much. 

Internet usage is a much more valuable resource. By monitoring my internet usage the NSA could find pretty much anything about me. Obviously, I can't complain about the fact that my political beliefs can be found on my blog. It's public after all. But my social media accounts are bit more private and it's possible they could find out something I don't want people to know. Ditto for my browsing history. If someone from the NSA had a problem with me, they could use my internet history or social media accounts to hurt me and hurt me bad. And I think that is true for everyone in America. Everyone has something about their internet history they would rather not have the rest of the world know about. 

So why care about this when most of the spying going on is against terrorists? After all, ISIS and al-Qaeda are very active right now and are a major threat. Well, for one thing, it seems that ISIS and al-Qaeda have switched tactics recently. They no longer plan attacks on the open internet and rarely use cell phones at all on the strategic level. Instead they use encrypted programs that the NSA can't crack. That switch in tactics makes NSA spying almost completely useless. I'd go so far as to say that the entire program is pointless now. The NSA isn't going to be able to crack the encryption and they shouldn't even try because if they do manage it, 20 other apps will rise to replace them. It's a war they can't win.

And I have never been convinced that the NSA programs were being used just against suspected Islamic terrorists. I have always been concerned that the temptation to use the NSA as a weapon against the American people would be too hard to resist. Already there have been reports of this kind of data collection being used against run of the mill criminals. How long until it will be used against people that disagree with the government? 

I think my worry about the NSA depends on who wins the 2016 election. Though I think the Republicans are just as likely to abuse the programs as Democrats, the fact of the mater is that if the Republicans abuse it, I'm not likely to be a target. Sure that's a selfish interpretation, but it's the one I've made. I do think that if Hillary Clinton gets elected, she will abuse this system. She only cares about power and I don't think she can be trusted to be in control of this program. I don't really trust much of the Republican field with this power either, but at least they won't be targeting me. Rand Paul is about the only guy I can see reigning in the NSA and he doesn't have a chance of winning at this point...  

The band that played at the Bataclan theater during the terrorist attacks in France, Eagles of Death Metal, tell their story. Vice.


The above video is the interview that Vice did with the Eagles of Death Metal. As you probably already know, they were the band playing at the Bataclan theater when the Paris Attacks occurred. If you have the time I highly recommend watching it. The members of the band detailed what happened to them during the attack. Given what they said it's a miracle that they made it out alive. Their merchandise guy, Nick Alexander wasn't so lucky.  

The stories they tell are absolutely heartbreaking. Jesse Hughes, the band's lead singer talked about how everyone that tried to escape the gunfire by fleeing to his dressing room, died except for one kid that hid underneath his leather jacket that he had left there. The sound engineer talked about how he and a bunch of other people had to dodge rifle fire to escape the carnage. At one point Hughes talks about how that gunman was going to shoot at him directly, but his rifle got caught up on something. These men are all extremely lucky to be alive and you can tell that all of them know it. 

A word of advice though. If you watch the video on youtube, don't read the comments. That's generally good advice period, but in this case it's especially warranted. The comment section is overrun with 9/11 truther style morons who think the whole attack was a "false flag". How they can think that after watching the video is beyond me, but stupid people are going to be stupid.  Do yourself a favor and ignore them. 

As for my own thoughts on the band, I was only vaguely familiar with them before this attack. Despite their name, they aren't a death metal band. They are an alternative rock act, and they aren't really metal at all. I have listened to a bit of their music and I have to say they are decent enough if you like that kind of music. I do have to say that I am a casual fan of Josh Homme, who is the co founder of the Eagles of Death Metal and wasn't present during the attack. Back in the day I  liked his  other band, Queens of the Stone Age. It's just so weird to see Josh so emotional. He always seemed like a goofy fun guy, and I think the Eagles of Death Metal are a goofy fun band. To have this happen to them is just sad. 

This isn't going to turn into a music blog anytime soon, but here's one of the Eagles of Death Metal's songs. 

Even if it's not your kind of music, it's still worth taking a listen too. If for no other reason then because ISIS doesn't like it. Though ISIS was able to do some major damage against the band and their fans, they are still standing. Jesse Hughes says that he wants to be the first band to play after the Bataclan theater opens up and I think that takes a lot of guts. I don't think anyone would blame them if they decided to hang it up for awhile, but these guys are going to go out there and keep at it. And it sounds like they are doing everything they can to help their fans as well. That earns my respect and I hope the Eagles of Death Metal keep on rocking for many, many years.

Israel shows how a civilized country acts when Russia violates their airspace. AFP.

A Russian Su-25 on the runway with two Su-30's flying by. AFP.

In contrast to Turkey, Israel handled an incursion by a Russian jet without any casualties. AFP.  A Russian jet violated Israeli territory in the Golan Heights. The plane was contacted and was turned back by Israeli forces without incident. The pilot apparently made a navigation error and traveled one mile into Israeli airspace before being turned back. Though Israel opposes the rule of Bashar al-Assad, which Russia supports, Israel was able to put aside their differences to establish a hotline between their forces and the Russians. Both sides are coordinating due to the fact that the Israelis occasionally hit targets in Syria as well. The Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon commented on the incident saying "Russian planes do not intend to attack us, which is why we must not automatically react and shoot them down when an error occurs."

My Comment:
I don't often comment on Israel but the contrast here between what they did and what the Turks did is just amazing. That alone makes it worth commenting on, even though I have talked about the Turkey/Russia situation at length already. 

The Israelis could have used the same excuse that the Turks did to destroy this plane but unlike Turkey, they just escorted the plane out. You know, like a civilized country does. They didn't jump at the opportunity to destroy a Russian jet out of a petty sense of revenge. They followed procedures and nobody got hurt. And I am pretty sure that if they plane had been attacked the Israelis would not have shot at the pilots as they bailed out. I can't imagine any Western nation doing so and I am guessing most of the countries in the Middle East would balk at that as well. 

And it's not like the Israelis don't have a reason to be upset with Russia. After all, they hate Bashar al-Assad and his regime almost as much as the Turks do. They also hate Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group that has tangled with Israel in the past, and the fact that Syria and Russia are working with them. Indeed, they hate Hezbollah so much that they occasionally send in airstrikes against them. They have many enemies in Syria and can't be happy that the Russians seem to be helping them indirectly. 

But when the Russians joined the war what did the Israelis do? They accepted the reality of the situation. Though they aren't happy with what is going on in Syria right now, they understand that risking a war with Russia isn't worth it. Instead they worked with the Russians and set up a warning and coordination system so that there wouldn't be any unfortunate incidents. This incident shows that it was well worth their time. Thanks to their coordination, nobody got hurt and there was no massive international incident. 

I'm starting to wonder if the Russian's aren't having a bit of trouble with navigation in the region. This is far from the first incident that they have had. By my count this is the fourth, with more being possible. They have violated Turkish airspace three times, two of which resulted in a plane or drone being destroyed. And now they have violated Israeli airspace. Pilots get lost and at the speeds these planes travel it isn't unlikely that some of them could go way off course. Given how easy such problems are, it makes sense for the countries in the region to coordinate to avoid any unfortunate incidents. Flying combat missions in hostile territory is dangerous enough, nobody needs to make it even more dangerous by shooting down any plane that happens to get lost. 

Of course Russia has a very long history of testing other countries borders. It happens so frequently that I usually don't even bother covering it. They often test the air defenses in Europe and the Pacific by sending out their old Tu-95's strategic bombers. These incidents are practically routine and rarely involve anything more then interceptors flying up to meet them and then the pilots waving at each other. Violating the airspace of other countries is not a friendly act by any means but it's completely foolish to treat airspace violations by the Russians as an attack. 

As for the Turks, it just goes to show how far from normal behavior that this attack on the Russian fighter was. They were way out of line and I consider the attack to be a huge mistake for them. People generally consider the Israelis to be paranoid and trigger happy when it comes to national defense. If even they can act rationally when a Russian jet violates their airspace, what does that say about the Turks?

Of course, the Turks were never interested in looking rational. This was a message to the Russians and a deliberate act. They hate the Kurds, and anyone that supports them. And they want to keep their Turkmen allies in Syria fighting against Assad. It backfired horribly on them, but they did choose this course of action. Time will tell how bad the consequences are... 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ben Carson visited a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. AP.

Dr. Ben Carson. Gage Skinmore. 

Ben Carson visited a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan and says that the United States and other countries should focus on resettling them in the Middle East. AP. Carson visited the Azraq camp in Jordan on a fact finding mission and as an attempt to bolster his foreign policy credentials. The presidential candidate has taken criticism lately for his lack of foreign policy experience. Dr. Carson has been a fierce critic of President Obama's plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in America, especially after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Echoing a common concern, he fears that "mad dog" terrorists could use the refugee crisis as an opportunity to infiltrate and strike at America. As an alternative, Carson suggests resettling the refugees in the Middle East. Instead of taking in refugees, Carson argues that Western countries should send aid and encouragement to countries like Jordan and Lebanon who have taken in millions of refugees. Those countries have been overwhelmed by a lack of support and money. 

My Comment:
I've wanted to talk about the refugee crisis and Ben Carson for awhile now, and this article was a good opportunity for both. I'm primarily concerned with foreign policy but the news media has not focused on that much during the presidential campaign. Yes there have been some moments, like during the aftermath of the Paris attacks, but for the most part, the press has completely ignored policy and instead focused on character. I'd agree that character is important but it seems like they haven't been focusing on any actual issues. Maybe it's just me but I couldn't care less if Ben Carson bent the truth in his memoirs or if Donald Trump insulted someone. I want to talk about the issues, not stupid faux-scandals. 

And I think there is a lot to criticize when it comes to Ben Carson. Though I think he is a nice guy, I am not sure if I would like him as a president. His only work experience is as a surgeon. That's a noble career of course, but I am not sure if it gives him any foreign policy credentials at all. He's also pretty far away from me politically. Though I have way more in common with him then Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, the fact that he is so very religious makes me a bit nervous. Not being all that religious myself, I have never been comfortable with the Evangelical wing of the Republican Party, and Carson is the poster boy for Evangelicals this time around. He believes some rather odd things and that combined with his lack of experience makes me wonder if I could even vote for him. There's a few people in the Republican field I like less then Dr. Ben Carson, but he's not even in my top five at this point. 

This trip though will give him a little bit of foreign policy credibility though. To my knowledge, nobody in either party has visited a refugee camp in the Middle East to visit the Syrians living there. During the next debate, expect him to talk about that fact, repeatedly. Though I don't think he could learn all that much from being there, at least he can say that he made the effort and that nobody else even tried. Will it help him? Probably not all that much, but at least now he has gotten his feet wet in the foreign policy waters. I think he should get some credit though for doing something nobody else has so far. 

As for his recommendations, they aren't anything all that new or groundbreaking. Since the refugee crisis really started taking off this summer I have heard other pundits and politicians argue for the exact same thing. That being said I really do think this is probably the best way to do it. The Middle East countries are much closer in terms of culture, religion and climate then Europe and the United States are to Europe. The refugees, if they are allowed to, will have a much easier time assimilating or even returning to Syria if the situation there ever resolves itself. 

It's probably a lot cheaper in the long run as well. Transporting refugees, finding them a home, finding them a job, training them, teaching them our language, all of these things cost money. And all of them can be done a lot cheaper in the Middle East. After all the cost of labor is a lot lower there, and you don't have to deal with as much in terms of logistics. Investing money into the Middle East will also encourage these nations to make an effort at assimilating these people and could help their economy. Nobody is going to make that effort in the United States. 

We would also avoid the kinds of problems that these refugees would inevitably cause. I'm not talking about 1st generation terrorism. I don't think all that many terrorists would be able to slip through to America. Some definitely will, but I don't think the threat here is anywhere near the level of threat in Europe. It's a threat yes, but not a major one. Most of the refugees will be women and children.

But women have kids and children grow up. I'm much more worried about the 2nd generation of Syrian refugees, especially if we can't assimilate them. A good example of this going wrong is the Somalian refugees in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Right now the Somali community there has had massive problems with their young people joining ISIS, and other terrorist groups. The 2nd generation there, for whatever reason, decided that America isn't so great after all, and that they would much rather go to Syria or Iraq to wage Jihad. Now that may not translate to these Syrian refugees, but the possibility is certainly there. If we let these refugees come in we may have a huge mess to clean up in 15 to 20 years. That's certainly what is happening in Europe right now. 

There are non-terror reasons to not allow these refugees into the United States as well. We aren't just getting the cream of the crop here. Sure, very few of the people we bring in will be terrorists, but how many of them will be criminals? Organized crime isn't just a thing that happens in the movies, it's a real threat and these refugees will bring it with them. They will want jobs, drugs, sex and passage, and what do you think will rise up to provide these things? Organized crime. That is something that should be avoided at all costs. And what about the ones that just aren't employable? Not everyone is willing or able to work. Some of these people will not offer anything of value to America.

And how many of them will be offended by some aspect of our culture? Not all of them will, but some will be offended by the way we choose to live our lives in America. We have seen in the past that even moderate Muslims get extremely upset by depictions of Mohamed. That has resulted in attempted murders and terrorist threats in this country already. I'd rather live in a country that allows people to mock anything and anybody, and I'm worried that could change if we get a critical mass of Muslims in this country. The threats that have happened so far are bad enough, and if we let these people in the problem could grow much worse. I don't want the kind of speech stiffing laws that Europe has created due in part to pressure from the Muslim community. Of course, they are far from the only threat for causing that, our own political left is salivating at the idea of restricting speech, but I still think it is a threat.

And what about other cultural issues? Sure Syria was relatively secular before the war, but that all seems to have changed now that the country has spiraled out of control. I'm firmly of the belief that the country was secular because Assad was so brutal in stamping out fundamentalism. Indeed, after he was pushed out, in many places fundamentalism thrived. There are aspects of fundamentalist Islam that nobody in the US should be uncomfortable with. Many Islamic countries have had a long history of mistreating women, homosexuals and anyone else with a different religion. Sure not all Muslims are like that but enough are that it's frightening.  

By now some of you are screaming at your computers or smartphones and saying "even if refugees cause problems, we still should help them". I'd agree. But there are better ways of doing so then bringing them here. Even if there weren't any problems caused by refugees whatsoever, there are still better options. I think Dr. Carson's plan could work. I think it would be cheaper in the long run and could avoid many of the problems inherent in bringing them here. People tend to think that there is only two options for the Syrian refugee crisis. Either bring all of them in or don't do anything to help them at all. It's a false equivalency, and couldn't be further from the truth.

I think that settling the refugees in the Middle East is the best, cheapest option, but there are still other alternatives to bringing them here. Military action is always a possibility. Though it's not a good option, creating a safe zone in Syria where these refugees could be sent to could at least alleviate the pressure a bit. Taking and holding the territory needed would be costly, but still cheaper then the economic costs that Europe and the rest of the world are paying for this crisis. Actually going in and destroying every faction in the country that is a threat is another option, and even that heavy handed plan would probably still be cheaper in the end. After all, once the country is peaceful again, there is no reason for the refugees to flee in the first place. Finally, I like my old, crazy idea of drafting many of the refugees to fight against ISIS. Right now there is no army willing or able to destroy ISIS. Why not make one?  It's probably just a pipe dream but it's a thought at least. 

Still, this situation is not going to be resolved anytime soon. I think that immigration is going to be the defining issue of this election, and perhaps global history for the next 20 years or so. People are not staying where they are from and across the world there is a massive migration of people. Everyone is moving right now and nobody seems to have any long term solutions for all the problems that this will cause. Ben Carson is a least talking about the issue, but I don't think he will be able to do much either. It's already out of control. Though the Syrian Civil War is gathering all the headlines, it is far from the only source of refugees and migrants in the world today... 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

No real post today because of obvious reasons! I was too busy with Thanksgiving to keep track of the news and right now my Green Bay Packers are playing. I had a great Thanksgiving, but I just didn't have time for a post today. Oh well, the media took the day off as well!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2nd Russian pilot shot down by Turkey rescued in a daring behind the lines raid. New York Times.

A graphic showing the Russian and Turkish claimed flight paths of the SU-24 that was downed. New York Times. 

In a joint operation with Syria, Russia has rescued the navigator of the SU-24 that was destroyed in a border dispute with Turkey. New York Times. Earlier reports had both pilots of the plane killed by Syrian rebels on the ground who shot them after they had bailed out, but only one of the men was killed this way. The other man, who served as a navigator, was either captured by the rebels or had somehow been able to evade them. The Russians, along with their Syrian allies, deployed special forces behind enemy lines to retrieve the airman. The names of the pilots, as well as a Russian Marine who was killed during the initial rescue attempt have been released. The pilot Lt. Col. Oleg Peshko will be posthumously awarded with Russia's highest honor, the Hero of Russia award. The other two men, marine Aleksander Pozynich and pilot Captain Konstaintin Murakhtin will also be awarded medals. 

In response to the incident Russia is deploying sophisticated S-400 surface to air missiles to counter any further threat to their forces. Turkish President Erdogan waffled after the incident claiming that he did not want to escalate the incident. However he also claimed that the attack was justified and that it would not change its policies in the wake of the attack. He vowed to protect the border and may repeat his actions if the situation arises again.  

My Comment:
As far as I am concerned this is very  good news. What Turkey did to that plane was bad enough but what the rebels did on the ground was even worse. It's a war crime to try and kill people that have bailed out of a plane. Paratroopers are one thing but once you bail out, you are a non-combatant and shooting at a helpless pilot is an evil act. I am pleased to learn that at least one of these men survived this attack. 

There haven't been a lot of details released about the raid that rescued the Captain Murakhtin. I don't know if he was captured by the rebels or if he had escaped them somehow. I am sure Russian pilots are trained in escape and evasion just like US ones are, so it's possible he was able to evade them. But if he was captured then this mission is even more impressive. The fact that the Russians were, on short notice and, admittedly, with some local help from the Syrians, were able to launch this mission and have it succeed behind enemy lines speaks to their prowess. It's abundantly clear that the Russians are pretty good at warfare. It's a mistake to underestimate them. And I think the Turks just made that mistake. 

This whole event seems like something out of a movie. Indeed, if Russia wants a propaganda coup, they should make one about this attack. It's a great story and would show the Russian people just how capable their military is. And it would give them a chance to portray the Turks and their rebel allies in a negative light. People have used film as propaganda before and I don't see why it can't happen again. Mostly, I just want to see what the Russians could come up with, since I do like foreign films. 

On a more serious note, the situation between Turkey and Russia is still very bad. Turkey's actions directly lead to the death of two Russian servicemen. They didn't kill these men directly, but they might as well have. Though you can't blame the Turks for the actions of the rebels, what they did was evil and the fact that the Turks and Americans work with these men does not reflect well on anyone involved. There is going to be hell to pay and I am guessing Vladimir Putin is thinking long and hard about what the consequences are going to be. 

One of those consequences is the deployment of the S-400 missiles. Those missiles are very effective and will essentially create a no-fly zone over Syria. Russia also has ships in the area that will also serve that function, including the flagship Moskva. In short, only airplanes that Russia approves will be allowed to fly. 

And there is very little anyone can do to stop them. Once those missile batteries are up and running, it will be next to impossible to evade them. These are incredibly advanced missiles and will greatly limit what the Turks can do in this area. To be sure, if Turkey tries to pull the same stunt they just did, there is a decent chance one or more of their fighters are going to be destroyed as well. The Turks could try to destroy these weapons before they are deployed but doing so would be suicide, even if they could pull it off. Given the presence of the Moskova and SU-30 fighter jets, any attack would be likely to fail or be a Pyrrhic victory at best. And the whole situation could degrade into full scale war. This is a trump card for Russia and I don't see how anyone can work in Syria now without their approval. 

But I doubt Turkey will try and push this incident any further. I don't think they are getting the support they expected. The Arab countries are largely silent and even their NATO allies were essentially saying "yeah we are allies, but this is your deal, so deal with it". Even America admitted that the plane was shot down in Syrian airspace, even though they concluded that airspace was violated. It's clear that nobody is going to risk a war with Russia over Turkey. Especially when the Turks are the ones that started this mess. 

And once again, in no uncertain terms, I condemn this attack. The Turks are way out of line here. There was no reason to destroy this SU-24. You can't possibly argue that this jet was a direct threat to Turkey. And it was outside of Turkey when it was destroyed. Sure, Russia was trying to get a rise out of them by getting close or passing their border. But Russia does that all the time. When the rest of the civilized world has that happen they send their own jets up to meet them, the pilots wave at each other, and nobody gets killed. You don't shoot them down. At most you light them up with your radar. But you don't try and kill them. 

As I said in the last post I think this was a deliberate attack. Turkey was mad as hell that Russia was propping up Assad and attacking their Syrian rebel friends. They were also worried about the nascent Russia/France alliance against ISIS. Though Turkey is officially against ISIS, the fact of the matter is they do have a lot to gain by keeping them around, First of all, they get oil on the cheap, which was a major benefit before the Russians and Americans blew everything up. Still, ISIS serves as a counter to Turkey's opponents such as Assad, the Iranian government, and critically, the Kurds. More then anything Turkey is afraid of an independent Kurdistan. Helping Russia, France and America defeat ISIS would go a long way to making that happen, so Turkey wants nothing to do with a war against ISIS. 

Given their actions I think America and the rest of NATO needs to think long an hard about kicking Turkey out of the alliance. They can still be a junior partner, like Australia and Jordan are, but being a full partner should be out of the question. And should Russia take revenge on Turkey for what they have done, I say let them. Our alliance is a defensive one, and it should not cover aggressive actions by Turkey. Hopefully, something will change soon... 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Terrorist attack in Tunisia, 12 killed in bus bombing. Washington Post.

Tunisian police help a survivor of the attack. Washington Post/AFP

Tunisia has declared a state of emergency lasting one month after a bus bombing killed 12 people. Washington Post. On the bus were security officials in charge of protecting the President of Tunisia Beji Caid Essebi. The president was not at the location of the bombing. It is unclear if the attack was due an explosive planted on the bus or due to an explosive fired at the vehicle. A source said that it was likely that a suicide bomber that caused the blast. This is the third major terrorist attack in Tunisia this year, which has had many problems with Islamic insurgents. Earlier this year a terrorists attacked at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and a resort in the coastal town of Sousse. Tunisia is the only country to survive the Arab spring without major unrest, but even it has its problems with Islamic insurgents. Many Tunisians have joined ISIS or other terrorist groups and some of them have returned to Tunisia. It is unclear what group was responsible for this attack as no one has taken credit for it yet. ISIS claimed responsibility for the other two attacks this year, so they are a likely suspect, but that is yet to be proven. 

My Comment:
I am guessing that this story is going to get lost due to the utter chaos that is the media climate right now. The incident in Syria involving Turkey and Russia is drawing a lot of media attention. And in the US at least, the media is doing their best to blow every single police shooting out of proportion. Right now a major terrorist attack in Tunisia, a country that was once thought to be a stable example for the rest of the region. On the other hand, a bombing that has killed only 12 people hardly even rates anymore due to how terrible the terrorist attacks have been lately. Still, it's worth covering because of what the target was. 

I think the choice of target is a clear message to President Essebi. Killing his presidential guard will get his attention. The terrorists get to tell the President that not even his home guard is safe from attack. If the attack was due to a suicide bomber you have to wonder how the terrorist managed to get that close to a bus like that. Was he on the bus or outside of it? If he was outside of the bus it makes a little more sense, but if he was on the bus then that is a major breech in security. Either way, it shows how dangerous this terrorist group is. 

So who was responsible for this attack? Well nobody has taken credit so far, so it might be early to speculate. But my guess is ISIS. Why? Well they were responsible for the last two terrorist attacks in Tunisia. They are fairly active in the country and they have been very active in the world right now. After the attacks in Paris, Egypt and Lebanon, it would be easy to believe that ISIS is responsible. ISIS has also changed tactics recently and are much more active in international terrorism then they were last year. 

There are a few signs that this might not have been ISIS for once. For one, ISIS usually targets civilians, especially western ones. This attack was not targeted at anything but the Tunisian government. My guess is that if it isn't ISIS it's some other local group, almost certainly an Islamic one. I haven't heard of any other groups being active in Tunisia but that doesn't mean they don't exist. It's even possible that it was someone that had a grudge against the President.

Still, the good money is on ISIS being the ones responsible. If so, then ISIS is having a very successful couple of months. The managed four major attacks in four separate countries. They have also succeeded in drawing even more countries into the anti-ISIS coalition, which was a major goal for them. All of these attacks will be a massive boon to recruitment tool for ISIS as well. 

As for Tunisia, I am not sure that declaring a month long state of emergency is going to do much. What they need to do is track down this cell and destroy them. The state of emergency may help with that somewhat, but what they really need is to figure out who did it and bring them to justice. Suicide bombers rarely work alone, so I am guessing that there are other threats out there. And the next attack may be more effective then this one was.

One wonders if President Essebi could be the next target. It's clear that he is vulnerable since his presidential guard was attacked. It seems like it wouldn't be too hard to take a shot as him as well. So far there haven't been many assassination attempts on world leaders by ISIS or other terror groups. The only one I can think of is the recent attack in France where the terrorist failed completely to bomb a football stadium that French President Francois Hollande was attending. That attack failed but the next one could succeed. The European leaders are usually to well protected but this attack proves that Tunsia's President is vulnerable. 

BREAKING NEWS: Turkey shoots down a Russian SU-24. Reuters.

A montage of the SU-24 crashing. Reuters/Haberturk TV.

Video of the SU-24 crashing. 

Turkey has shot down a Russian SU-24 after claiming it had violated its airspace. Reuters. Russia claims that the jet was shot down inside of Syria and can prove it. The incident is the first since the 1950's where a NATO member has shot down a Russian plane. The SU-24 crashed in Syria, in an area the Turks call Turkman mountain. The two pilots were able to eject though Syrian rebel groups on the ground have released footage that appears to show one of the men dead. The Turks claim that the Russian jet was warned 10 times to turn back from their territory and was intercepted by a Turkish flown F-16. The F-16 fired a missile and destroyed the aircraft. The attack may have also destroyed hopes for a reconciliation of sorts between Russia and the West after the duel attacks on Paris and a Russian jetliner. Turkey, a member of NATO, was furious at Russian airstrikes in the area due to the fact that the Russians were targeting Syrian Turks who were fighting against the Syrian regime. 

The Guardian has a live feed for this event here. Also, Vladimir Putin just released a statement calling the attack a "stab in the back". He also claimed that the plane was downed 4km inside of Syria. They are also reporting that both pilots may be dead, though this has not been confirmed. 

My Comment:
What on Earth are the Turks thinking here? This is just insane. Even if the Russian fighter jets were violating Turkey's border, shooting them down was not the answer. Russia likes to test the borders of all kinds of countries and the proper response to these kinds of incidents is to deploy your fighters and meet with the Russian ones, just to keep an eye on them. You don't shoot them down after trying for five minutes. 

I also think Turkey's claim that this jet was in their territory are unlikely at best. The fact that the plane crashed inside of Syria, nobody is denying that at this point, tells me one of three things happened. Either the jet was on a trajectory that was taking them out of Turkey, the jet was never in Turkey in the first place, or the jet turned after it was hit. Two out of three scenarios I just mentioned mean that this attack didn't even have the slim justification of defending Turkey's borders. Obviously if the jet was in Syria then this was in no way justified. If they were leaving then they were complying and the attack was in no way justified. The third scenario may be somewhat justified but it is still really, really stupid.  It's too early to tell at this point and we may never know the truth at this point. 

It also seems as the two pilots died. I have seen video that showed at least one of the pilots dead on the ground surrounded by rebels. I won't post it because it is fairly graphic. What I want to know is how they died. Both pilots made it out of the airplane at least as there is video out there of them parachuting down. Were they killed on landing or were they murdered on the ground? If it's the second option then the accusation that the Russians are leveling at these men, that they are terrorists, is a lot harder to argue against. You don't kill pilots after they bail out. You capture them under the rules of war. Once again, we just don't have the information right now, but I just saw an unconfirmed report on the Guardian feed that they were shot as they were parachuting. 

There is going to be hell to pay for this. Already Russia's foreign minister has canceled a trip to Turkey and I have also heard unconfirmed reports that they are cutting off gas sales to Turkey as well. And I feel I must point out that Turkey is a member of NATO and an US ally. We are bound by treaty to fight for the Turks if they get attacked. They can not invoke that now because they were not attacked. But if a major war breaks out between Turkey and Russia, we might be stuck fighting with them. I personally would argue that they chose to shoot down this airplane and any attack by Russia should not invoke our alliance. I can't imagine the west going to war over this incident but stupider things have happened. And this is just colossally stupid. 

This is not the first time that Turkey has shot down something that they claimed crossed their border. Just a little while ago they shot down a Russian made drone after it entered their airspace. Back then I said that if they were to shoot down a manned plane that there would be hell to pay. Well, looks like that has come to pass. I said that people would need to keep a cool head and hopefully things will calm down. After all, this kind of thing has happened before, as recently as the MH-17 crash in Ukraine. That didn't provoke a war and this shouldn't either. Calmer heads will prevail. At least they damn well better. The alternative is unthinkable. 

So why did Turkey do this? I don't buy for a second that it was actually about their border. Helping their Syrian Turkman allies is a possibility too, but I think there is a much darker and more cynical reason for shooting down this SU-24. The attacks on Paris and the destruction of the Russian airliner had signaled a new stage in the war. It really looked like that France and Russia would be fighting together and that the tensions between the West and Russia were going to go down. That would be very bad news for Turkey because it means that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad would stay in power. They couldn't have that so they shot down this plane to derail and cooperation between Russia and the West. Can I prove that it happened that way? Not at all. But I would bet money on it. 

The Turks have proven time and again that they have their own agenda in Syria, and that agenda has very little to do with what is actually good for the country. They looked the other way when ISIS was expanding. They said they were going to go to war against ISIS but ended up striking the Kurds, our best ally in the region, instead. They hate the Kurds and want to make sure that they will never have an independent country. And they look like they are willing to plunge the world into war just to stop that from happening. If it were up to me I would immediately kick them out of NATO and assist the Russians with whatever they want to do against the Turks. Too bad that will never happen. 

I may have another post tonight about this issue if things develop. For now though, I have other things to attend too. But I have a feeling that this attack will have consequences for years to come, and I doubt any of them will be good... 

EDIT: I'm adding a link to a liveleak video that apparently shows the rebels in Syria shooting at one of the pilots as he parachuted down. If it is authentic, and I have every reason to believe that it is since the Turkmen are saying that that is what they did, then they have committed a war crime. Killing pilots who have ejected from an airplane is unconscionable, no matter what the situation. For whatever reason it won't let me embed the link, so the video can be found here. 

EDIT #2: Fixed the liveleak link to the correct video. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

French Carrier Charles de Gaulle has arrived in the Middle East and has begun airstrikes against ISIS. Reuters.

The Charles De Gaulle. US Navy photo.

The French Carrier Charles de Gaulle has arrived in the Middle East and has begun to hit ISIS targets in both Syria and Iraq. Reuters. The new strikes come on the heels of fresh meetings between French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minster David Cameron. Cameron is attempting to support the French in their airstrikes but has been unable so far to get approval from parliament. Cameron was able to offer air-to-air refueling services and the use of a British base in Cyprus. The arrival of the Charles de Gaulle has tripled France's strike capabilities. The arrival of the French flagship has already lead to many more strikes. In Iraq, jets hit targets in both Mosul, the regional command center for ISIS in Iraq, and Ramadi, where Iraqi troops are locked into a stalemate with ISIS fighters. In Syria, French jets once again hit targets in the de facto capital of Raqqa. French President Francois Hallende is on a diplomatic trip to try and convince allies to send more support.The list of world leaders he is meeting with includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian President Matteo Renzi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama. 

My Comment:
The Charles de Gaulle is a powerful ship and it should have a decent effect on the battlefield. It carries up to 40 planes, many of them strike jets that can hit ISIS fighters. Though it is not as capable as the US aircraft carriers, it is still a major ship that can do a lot of damage. The power of air strikes is often exaggerated, so don't expect this to be the miracle cure to the ISIS problem. I think the deployment of this ship will help the war against ISIS, but it is important to keep expectations in line with reality.

Still, ISIS is getting hit hard right now. The combined forces of the United States, Russia, and France are hitting them where it hurts. And I am hearing rumors of new offensives in both Iraq and Syria. The Iraqis are getting a ton of pressure from the United States to finally move on Ramadi, which was taken by ISIS earlier this year. The Kurds are also supposedly gearing up for an assault on the capital of ISIS in Syria. Raqqa, which has come under an incredible bombardment from the French and ISIS is the target of this new offensive, led by the Kurds and backed up by other Sunni Muslim groups. These combined attacks, combined with the massive air campaign is going to make it very hard for ISIS to go on the offensive. 

Even so, the war against ISIS is far from over. Taking away the city of Ramadi won't hurt ISIS all that much. They get little from keeping it, other then bleeding the Iraqis dry during a long battle. I fully expect them to abandon it after leaving some snipers, suicide bombers and booby traps behind. Much like they did in the Yazidi city of Sinjar, ISIS will make their enemies pay for taking territory from them. And all that assumes that the Iraqi Army is even capable of taking the city. They have proven time and time again that they aren't all that effective when it comes to battle. After all, they gave up the city with barely a fight. 

Taking away Raqqa would hurt ISIS a lot more. It is their capital and losing it would cause a huge hit to their prestige. Many of their leaders and troops are based out of the city and losing it would take away one of their most important bases. I don't think the Kurds are that close to taking the city though because ISIS defenses are very strong in the area. I have been hearing stories about how ISIS is building trenches and other fortifications to defend the city. The Kurds are good fighters but they don't have that much in the way of heavy weapons needed to break through these tough defenses. They also don't have nearly as much motivation to take the city of Raqqa as they do in defending their own territory. Raqqa isn't part of the Kurdish homeland and taking it will do little for them. After all, the Kurds aren't going to be allowed to keep the city even if they do take it. Sure, they are motivated, but are they so motivated to take a city that they can't use and won't be able to keep? My guess is no. Hopefully they prove me wrong.

On the political front I have already wrote about how France is being left out to dry in terms of help from its EU and US allies. I don't know if this diplomatic push will accomplish all that much for Hollande. The only person I see him convincing is David Cameron, and even then he may face resistance from the UK Parliament. Though he is offering non-combat support, I am not sure that he will be able to convince the UK that they should join the war against ISIS. Germany and Italy also seem like lost causes. Both of them are so swamped with the migrant crisis that their attention lies elsewhere. I think both of the countries are waking up to the fact that the migrant crisis is going to cost them billions of dollars and cause quite a bit of unrest. Though it would be nice for them to send a few token airstrikes just for the sake of solidarity, I don't see it happening.

Hollande won't get much help from the United States either. To be fair, we are sending in semi-frequent airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria and we are going to be helping the Kurds with there offensive against Raqqa, but Hollande wants more then that. He isn't likely to get it. Obama is bound and determined to not deploy significant forces to Syria or Iraq. He thinks his legacy is getting out of Iraq, he's not going back on that no matter what happens. And to be fair to him, military action, beyond what we are doing now, is deeply unpopular in the United States. That may change if there is another major attack, but that's probably the only way it is going to change. And even then Obama might not act. 

Another criticism of the United States response in Syria and Iraq is that we are far too concerned with civilian casualties. The official policy seems to be to call off strikes if there is even a chance of killing civilians. Russia does not have this problem. They are taking this war seriously and are launching heavy airstrikes with little regard to who gets caught in the crossfire. The Russians are extremely angry about the downing of their airliner in Egypt and they are unlikely to stop their attacks in Syria anytime soon. In Vladimir Putin, Francois Hollende has found a tough, uncompromising, though very unlikely, ally. I expect the diplomatic meeting between the two to be less of an attempt to convince Putin to help, but more of an attempt to formalize their alliance against ISIS.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Belgium still on lockdown after terrorist threats. Reuters.

A Belgian soldier on patrol in Brussels. Yahoo/Reuters. 

The entire country of Belgium continues to be on lockdown as at least two militants are loose in the city. Reuters. The level 4 alert, as high as Belgium's warning system goes, has lead to the shut down of Brussels metro system, the cancellation of several events and the closing of various attractions. Belgium has been at the center of the investigation into the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people. Two of the suicide bombers were living in the country and a third suspect, Salah Abdeslam, slipped back into Belgium after the attack. However, Abdelslam is not the only terror suspect at large at this time, and it is believed that at least two suspects are ready to commit violence. Soldiers have been deployed to protect the streets of Belgium, as the threat of a Paris style attack seems imminent. Defense officials will review if they can lift the alert today. 

My Comment:
I saw this story about Belgium yesterday, and then I thought that it was just an overreaction out of an abundance of caution. That could still be true, but the fact that the alert has been extended another day means that their might be some fire to all this smoke. The fact that Belgium was able to name one of the suspects makes me think that they had fairly strong evidence that Abdeslam is in Brussels and may be planning something. Who he is with and how much help he has is a mystery. 

Still, I wonder how likely an attack really is. After all, the whole country is on alert. Trying to attack now might be a bad idea. There are soldiers on the streets and it wouldn't take them all that long to react to any attack. My guess is that ISIS doesn't have the numbers to pull off the kind of multiple attacks that left the Paris security forces so off kilter. If an attack happens my guess is it will be by just a couple of terrorists alone. If that happens, don't expect anywhere near the casualties suffered in Paris, because Belgium security forces should be able to respond quickly. In that attack, much like the one in Norway by Anders Breivik, police and emergency responders were too busy dealing with one mass casualty event to react quickly to a second attack. That should not happen in this case as the terrorists are probably on their back foot. 

My guess is that these ISIS operatives are running for their lives. They will likely try to get back to Syria, or at the very least, out of Belgium. An attack right now will accomplish very little and I think ISIS knows that. Better to run away and plan for a larger, more coordinated attack on another day. It's even possible that these men are long gone or are even planning an attack on some other country. 

But if they are in Brussels, there is a decent chance that they could be tracked down and brought to justice. Just like the raid in Paris, expect a major shootout and perhaps even some explosions if they are found. After all, there isn't much more dangerous in this world then a man who is willing to die for a cause who is backed into a corner. If such a raid is to occur, I would expect casualties. I seriously doubt these men would surrender. 

The fact that these men are under such stress means they might think they have nothing to lose by attacking. After all, if they think they are dead men anyways, why not go out in a blaze of glory? They won't accomplish much but they would go out on their terms and would accomplish their goals of further terrorizing Europe. I don't think that's the most likely scenario, but it is possible. 

As for Belgium itself, it has done a very poor job integrating its Muslim population. The reason that these men have places to hide is because there are a lot of Muslims in Belgium that support terrorism. It's not a majority by any means but there are enough of them together that Belgium has been a hotbed of terrorist activity. As long as that is the case, the threat of terrorism will be real in Belgium and importing thousands of refugees and migrants will almost certainly make the situation worse. I don't have any solutions either, but sooner or later, there will be hell to pay. 

I do think that when this cell is finally tracked down and destroyed, Europe should calm down a bit. ISIS operatives will likely lie low for awhile as sooner or later the terror alerts will have to be pulled back and things will return to normal. When that happens there will be more opportunities but I am guessing that things are to hot in Europe right now for a major attack to happen. Anyone else that is in ISIS that isn't part of this network is likely to go into hiding for the time being.

That isn't to say that there isn't a threat. After all, the attack in Mali shows that there are other players then just ISIS, and the threat isn't just limited to Europe. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the other major player in town and I am guessing that they are not going to be happy that their attacks on Chalrie Hebdo got blown out by ISIS's attack in Paris and Egypt. And that attack only happened because they got help, both before the attack and after, from members of ISIS. My guess is they are going to plan something big and flashy. Whether they pull it off or not is another matter entirely. And they are far from the only terrorist group in existence. The threat right now is global and there are plenty of other terrorist groups trying to make a name for themselves.  

Of course, there is always the risk of some lone nut-job, inspired by ISIS or other terrorist groups, could pull off an attack as well. These attacks almost always have less of an impact but they are still very dangerous, and they can occur across the globe. Much like the coverage of school shootings tends to inspire future school shooters, expect the massive coverage the events in Europe and elsewhere to inspire violence.

Finally, it seems like America hasn't had a major attack in awhile. The last major one that I can remember was the attack on the Navy recruitment centers. My memory could be wrong, but if that is true, it has been a long time since we have had any kind of major terrorist incident. We could be due for one. Given how active ISIS is and how many people have been exposed to their ideology, I would not be at all surprised if there was an attack before the year is over. At this point I think it is more likely then not. It might not be a huge terrorist attack like Paris, but I would be shocked if there wasn't at least one of these lone wolf terrorists that try something. Hopefully I'm wrong...  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

France is getting little in the way of help from its allies in its war against Islamic terrorism. Wall Street Journal.

A sand artist in India pays tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks. Wall Street Journal/AFP/Getty. 

Despite the massive terrorist attack in Paris, France is finding that very few countries are willing to help them with their war on ISIS and other Islamic groups. Wall Street Journal. France is especially frustrated that no other EU nation  has declared that they will assist them with airstrikes targeting the Islamic State in Syria. Even simple requests, such as loosening up financial rules so France can spend more on defense, have so far been ignored. Though the UK may join the strikes in Syria, if it can pass parliament, no other country in Europe is considering joining the war. In Iraq as well, no other countries are considering joining the air war as well, not counting the UK, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands. With no help forthcoming, France is pleading for help in Mali, where a major terror attack just killed 27 people. France has been deeply involved in fighting Islamic insurgents throughout Northern Africa, and has received very little international help. France wants help in Mali so it can free up special forces to deploy against ISIS, but only Ireland has committed any troops. The United States has also refused to change their policies in Syria and Iraq. 

My Comment:
The Wall Street Journal left out a major partner for France. Russia has declared France to be allies in all but name. Indeed, Vladimir Putin, told his flagship in the Mediterranean, the Moskva, to expect French ships to join up with it, and to treat them as allies. And Russia has released video of Russian troops writing "For Paris" on there bombs. 

A ground crew member writes "For France" on a Russian bomb. Russian Ministry of Defense handout.

Clearly, Russia is willing to step into the void that the rest of Frances allies have left. Right now, only Russia is stepping up their bombing campaign. Sure, the United States is bombing Syria and Iraq, but we haven't done anything more since the attacks in Paris then we did before. Russia, enraged by their own massive terrorist attack that killed more then 200 of their people, has vastly stepped up their campaign against ISIS. 

Sure, Russia is clearly acting in their own self interest. After all, they were hit and hit hard by ISIS. They have just as much motivation to attack ISIS as anyone else, including France. But you have to wonder if they aren't trying to paint themselves as a decent ally for France. After all, everyone else is abandoning them. I think when it comes down to it, France will remember who came to their aid. And it wasn't the EU or the United States. It was Russia. And the next time they have a dispute with Russia, like when the refused to sell their Mistral carriers to them, it might go the other way. A win-win for the Russians, since they were going to step up their war with ISIS anyways. I still think their gestures are genuine though, even though it has obvious strategic benefits as well. 

As for the United States, I'm deeply disappointed with our president. Of course, I was disappointed with Barack Obama years ago, but he really is abandoning our ally here. France has always been a good friend to the United States, despite their reluctance to get involved with our Iraq War. Indeed, it turns out that not going into Iraq was probably the right call. You would think, at the very least, we would be working much more closely with France, and anyone else hitting ISIS, including Russia. But so far that hasn't happened. We aren't obligated to deploy more troops, indeed, most of the country doesn't want that. But there is much more we could do. 

Still, we are doing way more then the EU. Germany, who is the most powerful country in the EU, with a massive military, is doing next to nothing. Other then a few supplies to the Kurds, they haven't contributed anything. Sure, they are taking in refugees, which I am on record saying is a terrible idea, but when it comes to using their weapons, they are doing nothing. Indeed, it almost seems like Germany is standing in the way of the French. 

And I have to point out that France has been a major factor in the war against ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups. France has been very active in Syria and Iraq. And they are the major reason that Islamic extremism was on the downside in Mali, until the recent terror attack there. Though this may be in part why ISIS targeted them, we should still stand with France. Not only are they a very good ally, they are the 2nd most dedicated country to fighting Islamic extremism. And we kind of owe them. They fought for us in Afghanistan for 11 years after 9/11. We should help them however we can. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, confirmed to be killed in a raid. Reuters.

A photo of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, which appeared in Dabiq, ISIS's digital magazine. 

The suspected mastermind of the Paris attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, has been confirmed to have been killed during a police raid. Reuters. The body had been identified by fingerprints. He was killed in a police raid that also resulted in the death of a woman who blew her self up with a suicide belt. A third person may have also died in the raid, but forensic specialists are not sure if it happened or not. Abaaoud was a famous recruiter for ISIS and often appeared in their digital magazine Dabiq. He claimed that he was able to escape from Belgium in 2013 after a police raid that killed two of his companions. He also took his younger brother with him, who was 13 years old at the time. Reactions to the attack continue, with France suggesting changes to the EU's free borders and Belgium dealing with the fact that many of the terrorists were based there. 

My Comment:
Sounds like Abaaoud was a major player in ISIS. He was very active in recruiting people and he planned this attack. Taking him out is a major victory against ISIS and France should be proud that they took him down. With Abaaoud dead and his network largely disrupted, the chances of a follow up attack in France are a lot less likely. 

And it sounds like he died a stupid death. The woman that was with him blew her self up after a French Police dog named Diesel. Other then a few injures, Diesel was the only death that the terrorists were able to cause. Considering the amount of firepower and explosives the terrorists had at their disposal, that is probably a disappointment for them. It also shows a lot of weakness on the terrorists part that they were so terrified of a police dog they didn't do the logical thing and shoot her. Instead the terrorist decided to detonate her explosive belt instead. I know Muslims consider dogs to be unclean, but that is a huge amount of overkill. Also, I consider Diesel to be a hero who's life was worth more then every single member of ISIS. EDIT: Turns out that Diesel was shot, and the woman who blew herself up did it before that happened. I regret the error. 

This is a massive setback for ISIS. The network that conducted this attack has been largely destroyed, with what is left being forced to scatter. Obviously, the members of this cell aren't likely to pull off a major attack when they are all running for their lives. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a threat. Other cells may be active in Europe. At this point I would be shocked if there wasn't. Belgium is a hotbed of terrorist activity. Other ISIS operatives, or members of other terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) may be planning attacks right now. And there are probably networks in other countries, such as the UK and the Untied States that are threats as well. 

Of course, even though Abaaoud died an undignified and pointless death, his actions will still inspire others to act. Though there have been no follow up attacks by lone wolves so far, I am still expecting them to happen. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, several attacks by lone wolves occurred. The attacks consisted of low impact knife, hatchet and occasionally gun attacks. Most of these accomplished very little or nothing at all, but they are still major threats. After all, even if all you have is a knife, it's possible to get lucky and kill a lot of people before you get taken down. 

I'm fully expecting another terror attack in Europe or the United States before the end of the year. It probably won't be on the scale as the attack on Paris or the bombing of the airliner in Egypt. A major, well coordinated attack like the one in Paris is certainly possible, but given the high security in Europe and the disruption of a major terror cell, I am thinking that a lone wolf attack is much more likely. In America, no terror groups have been disrupted and it's very possible that they could pull something off. ISIS is certainly threatening to do something and have released videos aimed at both New York and Washington DC. 

With ISIS grabbing all the headlines, it is easy to forget that they aren't the only terror group in town. Al-Qaeda is still in existence and in some ways I think the Paris attacks were in reaction to AQAP's successful attack on Charlie Hebdo attack. AQAP got most of the credit for that attack, even though ISIS was slightly involved, and I am guessing they wanted to one up them. With this new attack, AQAP may want to grab some headlines back from them. I expect that there is a possibility that they will attack as well. 

Either way though, it's been a great couple of weeks for ISIS in terms of propaganda. However, they are paying a huge price for their attacks. Russia and America has destroyed their oil infrastructure, which was a massive money maker for ISIS. They have other sources of income, such as selling artifacts, ransoming hostages, stealing, and taxes. But losing their oil income is a hell of a price to pay for their attacks. I'm starting to think ISIS bit off more then they can chew...  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ISIS has reportedly killed their hostages from Norway and China. AP.

A picture of the hostages released by ISIS. AP

ISIS has said that they have killed their two hostages from Norway and China. AP. ISIS said the men had been killed after they had been abandoned by their government. Both Norway and China rejected paying ransom for the men. The man from Norway was named Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, and he was a politically philosophy student. The Chinese man was named Fan Jinghui and was described as a wanderer. Both Norway and China condemned the executions. ISIS has a long history of executing Western hostages, and these two men are only the latest to be killed. The announcement that ISIS had killed the men came in their magazine, Dabiq. 

My Comment:
This is a breaking news story and it's one that seems like it is getting mostly ignored by the mainstream media. Much like the execution of the Croatian man in Egypt, executions no longer grab the attention of the media. It's sad to say, but executions have been so common, that they are almost routine now. And ISIS has dominated the news lately with atrocity after atrocity. After the Paris attacks, the destruction of the Russian airliner in Egypt, and the bombings in Lebanon, the execution of a couple of civilians just doesn't rate.

But it should. These men did nothing wrong. It was definitely not wise for either of them to travel to Syria, but that's no excuse for what happened. There is never a good reason to execute innocent men, yet ISIS has done it multiple times. My thoughts go out to these men's family. I had often thought about them after they had gotten captured and held out hope that they would have been released. Until now, I hadn't heard a thing about them. It's like the world forgot about them. Hopefully now, people will remember them. 

I wonder how Norway and China will react to this. They have condemned the executions but I wonder if they won't take actions against ISIS. I don't see either country joining the war by sending in troops or even airstrikes, but perhaps they will send more aid. Both Norway and China are bit players in the Syria drama. Perhaps they will step up their commitment. 

China has always been a wild card in the war against radical Islam. They have avoided joining any of the wars in the Middle East, but that doesn't mean they are free from the threat of Islamic extremism. China has Uyghur Muslims that are leading an insurgency against them. ISIS has also threatened due to that insurgency but until now they haven't been attacked by the organization. That has changed now. 

As for ISIS, add this to the dozens and dozens of crimes that they are guilty of. It's a sad state of affairs where executing two men because they weren't able to get a ransom doesn't even rank in the top ten of ISIS atrocities. Maybe not even the top 100. From executions, to terrorism, to the destruction of ancient relics, ISIS has a lot to answer for. This is just the last in a long line of atrocities. And I doubt it will be the last. 

I do have to say that the way these men was killed was way different then the way ISIS has killed the other hostages. Most of those men were beheaded, but according to the article, these men were shot. Also, no video appears to have been shot, and only pictures have been released. That's a huge difference from the bad old days when ISIS would release horrific videos of the executions. I won't link to the pictures, but I have seen them. They are fairly graphic but compared to the other executions they have done, it seemed rushed and low quality. 

This might be significant. After all, "Jihadi John" the man who was in charge of many of the execution videos, was likely killed after an US led airstrike. Despite being a monster, he was good at his job. Perhaps ISIS is having a hard time replacing him? Maybe they don't have the infrastructure to release execution videos like they have in the past? I might be underestimating the effect that the air war against ISIS has had. After all these execution videos are a recruitment boon for them. Even though they are in the media constantly, they could get even more exposure if they had video. The fact that they didn't have any makes me think that they couldn't pull it off this time. If so, that's a good sign, a rare one in an especially grim few weeks.  

How messed up is our policy in Syria? US made TOW missile used against US made Humvee. Washington Post.

Free Syrian Army troops fire a TOW missile. 

US made weapons are being used to destroy other US made weapons. Washington Post. The above video was recorded outside of the city of Aleppo where the Free Syrian Army is engaged with both ISIS and the Syrian regime. The video shows the militants operating a BGM-71 TOW missile and firing it at a US made Humvee. The missiles were provided by the United States but have also found there way into the hands of other groups, including the al-Qadea affiliate, al-Nusra Front. It's unclear which faction the Humvee belonged to. Both ISIS and the Syrian regime have Humvees. ISIS captured their Humvees primarily during the battle of Mosul, but have captured others throughout the war in Iraq. The Syrian regime received theirs from Iraqi militia units that crossed the border to assist the Assad regime. The video claims that one soldier was killed during the attack. 

My Comment:
I don't know about you, but this video made me rather angry. What is the point of supplying people with weapons if they are just going to be captured by the enemy? Both our Humvees and our TOW missiles are being used by groups that are enemies of the United States. ISIS has captured hundreds of Humvees and have been using them since they captured Mosul. Indeed, they make the perfect platform for car bombs. Their heavy armor makes them much more resistant to enemy fire which makes them very hard to stop. 

The most disgusting thing is the fact that these TOW missiles have made their way into the hands of al-Nusra. We have been at war with al-Qaeda for almost 15 years now, and there is no reason whatsoever that they should have access to these weapons. Our president knows that the Free Syrian Army often works with al-Nusra. He also knows that al-Nusra has taken weapons from militia units we have supplied in the past. Both of those things form a very strong argument against supplying weapons to the Free Syrian Army. We should not have given such powerful weapons to a group of people that works so closely with al-Nusra. But our president did so anyways. 

The fact that we have lost millions of dollars of military equipment in Iraq because the Iraqi Army collapsed is a national shame. The fact that we sent weapons to people so we could blow up all that military equipment is a joke. The fact that the second wave of weapons to destroy the first wave has ended up in the hands of a 2nd group of enemy terrorists just becomes a parody of itself. 

So what happens now? Well, ISIS will continue to use the captured Humvees and al-Nusra will continue to use these TOW missiles. I think there is also a very good chance of ISIS capturing TOW missiles as well. Either from defections from the FSA or because they managed to wipe out a unit that had them. 

That could be a major problem for the United States if we ever do end up deploying major forces to Syria or Iraq. That's a real possibility in the next couple of years. If there is a major terrorist attack that hits the US directly, Obama will be pressured to act, and our next president may be much more interested in attacking ISIS then Obama is. Though our armor is more resistant to missile strikes then the equipment that Assad has, there is still a strong possibility that these weapons could cause casualties if we go back to Iraq or Syria. Obviously, TOW missiles are enough to destroy a Humvee, and I am guessing most of our trucks and light armor would be vulnerable as well. Even our main battle tanks could at least be disabled by a missile strike like the one in the video. 

Of course, the whole thing is a colossal waste of money. We spent millions, if not billions of dollars, equipping the Iraqi Army with these weapons, only for them to throw down their arms and flee. We are also spending millions on training and equipping Syrian rebels. Many of those groups were either destroyed during the war, leaving their weapons to be captured, or gave their weapons to other groups like al-Nusra. Now that these weapons have spread, we are spending millions more to direct airstrikes to destroy them. What a total and complete waste. Just goes to show that our policy in the Middle East makes zero sense...