Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Massive bombing in Kabul Afghanistan kills at least 80 people and wounds hundreds more.

Destroyed cars near the blast in Kabul. Reuters. 

A massive bombing using a sewage truck has killed at least 80 people and wounded 350 more in Kabul, Afghanistan. Reuters. The bomb exploded close to the German embassy, and damaged the embassies for China, France and Turkish as well, but it remains unclear what the target was. NATO officials claim that Afghan security forces prevented the sewage truck from entering the "green zone", so the site of the blast might not have been the actual target. No one has taken responsibility for the attack as of this writing, but the Taliban have denied responsibility and condemned the attack saying it had not legitimate target. ISIS has taken credit for other large scale attacks in Afghanistan but have not made a statement so far. 

My Comment:
An absolutely devastating blast in Kabul this morning. I heard somewhere that this blast was close to the amount of power as the Oklahoma City bombing. I have no idea if that is true or not but looking at the pictures I have seen makes me think that it could be. Even if it wasn't equivalent, this still remains one of the most powerful truck bombings I have seen in quite some time. I think that the sewage truck that was used in this attack must have been filled to the brim with explosives. 

It was very fortunate that the Afghan security forces on duty did their jobs. I have criticized them in the past for letting several attacks happen in the green zone but this time they prevented a worse tragedy. And it seems very likely that they died for it as well. Though I can't say for sure I suspect that when the driver of the sewage truck was confronted or turned away he set off his explosives. The security forces that prevented the attacker from entering the green zone are heroes to their country and deserve our respect for making the ultimate sacrifice. 

It is unclear what the target actually was though. Given the importance of the green zone, any of the buildings there would have been tempting targets. The embassies themselves probably weren't the targets but I am guessing that whatever the target actually was the planners can't be too upset that a bunch of embassies were damaged in this attack. They may have wanted to strike the Afghan government itself but I doubt they are upset they instead hit embassies of countries that are all opposed to ISIS. 

It seems fairly obvious that this was an ISIS attack. Though the Taliban are certainly capable of such an attack, they have denied responsibility and condemned it. It's possible that the denial was a lie but ISIS is much more likely to be the one that pulled this off. There is a small chance it was al-Qaeda or some other terror group but I think the circumstantial case is for ISIS. 

ISIS has been responsible for a string of attacks in Kabul, most notably a raid on military hospital and a suicide bombing at the Supreme Court. They are much less likely to care about civilian casualties and certainly have the expertise to make this bomb. They are targeting the Afghan government and they would also love to hit any of the embassies located in the green zone. At this point I would be very surprised if they weren't the ones responsible. 

If it was ISIS then it goes to show that they haven't been defeated in Afghanistan yet. Though we have greatly increased our attacks against ISIS in Afghanistan, even using the largest conventional bomb used in combat in history, they are still able to pull of major terrorist attacks like this. It seems as though the operational department of ISIS in Afghanistan has recovered from the MOAB strike, assuming they were even effected by it in the first place. 

The bombing comes during the holy month of Ramadan. I have mentioned before that we should expect more attacks globally as Ramadan has historically seen an uptick in ISIS attacks. This massive bombing in Kabul, along with the bombings in Baghdad earlier this week, could very well be the first salvos in a larger campaign. We should remain vigilant for other attacks, especially in Europe.

As for Afghanistan, the rise of ISIS and the streak of devastating terror attacks caused by them comes at the worst possible time. They are currently locked in a life or death struggle with the Taliban. And they appear to be losing that struggle. They are losing territory rapidly and the rate of casualties is far beyond acceptable levels. Their only solace is that ISIS and the Taliban occasionally fight each other as well. The ISIS campaign against them could be the final push that could throw the whole country into chaos and could even allow the Taliban to take over. 

I hope that doesn't happen and I know that our government is considering sending a few thousand more troops to prevent that scenario from happening. The problem is that I don't think those few thousand troops are anywhere near enough. If our mission is just to destroy ISIS they might be, but I don't think we can save Afghanistan with so few troops. With zero public appetite for a larger deployment I fear that the situation in Afghanistan could turn into an utter disaster... 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

US has started to provide weapons to the Kurds in Syria.

A YPG fighter stands in front of a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reuters. 

The United States has begun to provide weapons and vehicles to Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria. Reuters. The move will likely anger Turkey who considers the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the communist PKK terrorist group. Turkey has not reacted to the situation yet. Spokespeople have said that the Kurds have received small arms in the past 24 hours. The United States considers the Kurds to be a crucial ally in the war against ISIS and a key player in the battle to liberate the ISIS capital of Raqqa. In an effort to placate the Turks, the United States has suggested sharing information about the PKK with them, but it is unclear if the Turks will be placated because of it. 

My Comment:
There is an obvious reason for why this is happening now. Apparently, our allies are at the very gates of Raqqa right now. According to this report from AP, our allies are only 2 miles away from the de facto capital of the Islamic State. 

The battle for Raqqa will be the most crucial in the war. It will be bigger than the battle of Mosul, which ISIS is currently losing. It will be bigger than when they lost the battle for Dabiq, which has huge religious and prophetic importance for Muslims. Losing Raqqa will rob ISIS of their legitimacy and will force them into a new phase of the war where they no longer a state but a terrorist organization on the run and underground. 

It's a crucial battle and the Kurds and their Arab rebel allies need every advantage they could get. Will these weapons and vehicles help? I think they will make a difference. The Kurds have to be running out of weapons and they are going to need a lot of support to take ISIS on in their capital. The vehicles will also help to resupply front line units and evacuate the wounded.

It's unclear what kind of weapons the Kurds are getting. The article said small arms so that probably just means rifles. I doubt they are getting anything heavier than that, such as anti-tank rockets or heavy artillery. I think Trump learned the lessons of the Obama administration and realizes how dangerous it is to give rebel groups weapons that could fall out of their hands. Especially with the threat of the PKK.

This move will probably infuriate the Turks. Their hatred of the Kurds goes beyond the actions of the PKK terrorist group. They consider the possibility of an independent Kurdistan to be an existential threat to the survival of the Turkish state. They don't believe in multiculturalism and consider the Kurds to be a huge threat because they practice their own culture. 

And I think their anger is understandable. The YPG and PKK are somewhat close and it is very hard to tell them apart. In ordinary circumstances I wouldn't be happy with giving either group arms due to their leftist political beliefs. And if these arms do end up being used against the Turks they will be understandably furious. 

On the other hand, I don't really care what the Turks think anymore. Tayyip Erdogan has gone off the deep end and has even threatened fellow NATO allies due to their opposition to his government campaigning in their countries for a giant power grab referendum. Turkey was also a very bad ally against ISIS for much of the war. Sure, after they became victims of ISIS terror attacks, they clamped down, invaded Syria and shut down the border, but that doesn't make up for the fact that they let ISIS get away with a lot for a long time. The main corridor for ISIS fighters flooding into Syria and ISIS oil flowing out was always Turkey... 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Chaos in Texas as protests disrupt legislature and reports of threats of violence between legislators over immigration.

Pancho Nevaraz (center), Democrat, was one of the people involved in the incident. Fox News/AP

After a Republican legislator called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on illegal immigrant protesters, a scuffle and threats broke out between Democrats and Republicans. Fox News. The protesters were upset about the new SB-4 law, which would make "sanctuary cities" illegal and would allow arresting officers to question immigration status. Many of the protesters held signs that indicated they were in the country illegally. Republican Matt Rinaldi called ICE and then told Democratic lawmakers that he had done so. Rinaldi claimed that Democratic representatives Pancho Nevaraz and Ramon Romero threatened him and physically assaulted him respectively. For their part, Nevaraz and Romero denied any violence and claimed that Rinaldi had threatened to kill them. Rinaldi did say that he would shoot Pancho Nevaraz in self defense but only after he threatened to "get [him] outside". 

My Comment:
Very hard to find a unbiased source here. The Fox News and NPR ones were the best of a bad bunch. They were both biased for the right and the left respectively. Despite the obvious bias in both articles, they were still better then what most of the media was doing, which was exaggerating and lying about what happened. Most of the headlines I saw claimed that there was threats of gun violence (instead of a claim about self defense), in an issue that had nothing to do with guns.

I normally wouldn't ever cover an event that happened in a state legislature, but this event was fairly interesting. The immigration debate is getting more heated than I have ever seen it before. It's clear that tempers are very high on both sides.

So who was in the right here? I think we can all agree that both sides were in the wrong at least partially. I'll get to calling ICE on protesters in a bit, but it's fairly clear that both the Democrats and Republicans were acting like fools after that happened. It's insane to me that people were putting their hands on each other and threatening violence in a US state legislature. Even with the high level of tension over the immigration issue that kind of thing shouldn't happen.

Despite the high tensions I really don't like seeing violence over politics. It's the same thing with the "body slam" incident in Montana. Though the incident couldn't have happened to a better target, I still condemn getting rid of the non-violence standard when it comes to political disagreements. It's not that some people don't deserve to be beat up. They do. But getting rid of the non-violence standard will lead to innocent people getting hurt and not just the people that either want to fight or deserve to be hurt.

I do have to say that it's clear that both sides were probably not being honest about what was going on in the incident. I do think that there was truth what both sides were saying and lies as well. I think that Rinaldi did swear about the protesters and he did threaten to shoot Nevaraz, but only after Nevaraz threatened him, which mitigates it greatly. It's still a pretty stupid thing to say, but put into that context it's a lot more acceptable. I also think that the Democrats are obviously lying about there being no scuffle since video has shown that it did happen.

Still, the main area of disagreement seems to be the fact that Rinaldi called ICE on the protesters. In that, I find no fault in his actions. The protesters were committing a crime by disrupting a legislature and the fact that many of them admitted that they were in the country illegally means that ICE should deport them. Full stop, end of story, end of discussion. They have to go back.

Even people who want open borders tend to support the deportation of criminals. People who engage in this kind of protest, protest that disrupts the democratic process and are ignoring legal commands from law enforcement to disperse are committing a crime. They should have been arrested and investigated. Those that are here illegally and have no right to voice their opinion in a country they aren't following the laws of, deserve to be deported.

I also think that there is a huge double standard here from the left. I see the protest as a temper tantrum after the left lost the battle against the SB-4 law. They knew they lost and they decided to attack the process itself. When someone decided to call the authorities because they were breaking the law, they play the victim card yet again, despite they fact they were attacking the very system of government we all rely on. I'm just glad that someone finally decided to do the logical thing when illegal aliens are protesting.

As for the law itself, it makes obvious sense and should be adopted nationally. It's fairly obvious that federal supremacy is still a thing and cities and localities that decide they aren't going to cooperate with the federal government are breaking the law. The federal government is in charge of immigration and it's not up to local governments to defy them. If people really wanted open borders and amnesty, they should have worked harder at winning the national elections. But since the only people who want sanctuary cities are illegal immigrants, far left activists and people that want to hire illegals over American citizens, that probably won't ever happen...

Sunday, May 28, 2017

North Korea fires a SCUD missile over the Sea of Japan.

Kim Jong Un inspects defenses. Reuters. 

North Korea has launched yet another short range missile into the Sea of Japan. Reuters. The missile is believed to be a Russian made SCUD and if flew 280 miles. It is the third such launch since South Korea elected a new president. It is believed that North Korea is conducting these tests in order to research missile technology in order to build intercontinental ballistic missiles. Japan protested the missile launch as the missile landed in their exclusive economic zone. The United States, Japan, China and South Korea are all working together to stop North Korea's nuclear program. 

My Comment:
I think the news media is completely misinterpreting North Korea's actions here. The Reuters report makes it seem that the North Koreans are acting from a position of strength. To them this is an action of defiance. A way to show the rest of the world that North Korea is strong and powerful.

To me I see the exact opposite. North Korea is incredibly weak right now and this pathetic launch is just more proof of it. Instead of doing something that would actually advance their missile program or intimidate someone. Launching a short range missile won't do much of anything. 

What would have really impressed and frightened people would have been another nuclear test or even a long range missile aimed near US bases in Guam or even Hawaii. Doing so would have been a major escalation and might have forced either a military confrontation, which would have been bad for everyone, or force the rest of the world to accept negotiations on North Korea's terms. One of those outcomes would have been good for North Korea as they desperately need sanctions to be lifted and for foreign aid to pour in. 

The fact that North Korea hasn't tested a long range missile or a nuclear weapon tells me that they are afraid. The pressure that Donald Trump and China seems to be working. The North Koreans are in a position of weakness and I think they are realizing that the old ways of launching missiles and testing nukes to force people to negotiatie. Right now they know that won't work and they worry about what the consequences of a real missile test or a nuclear test could have. Those consequences include potential military action from the United States or further sanctions from China. 

Launching these short range SCUD missiles are likely a face saving measure. The North Koreans know that if they were to launch long range missiles or conduct a nuclear test they would likely face severe consequences. But doing nothing would weaken them domestically. Remember, a large part of the North Korean regime's legitimacy is defiance of the west. What the North Koreans are trying to do is split the middle. They want to show defiance while at the same time not pissing the United States and China off enough that they do something to punish them. This is just a token gesture to hopefully placate the hawks in the regime and give the general populace some propaganda. 

That is not the action of a regime that is secure. They are weak enough that they can't actually defy the rest of the world in any meaningful way. But they are so weak that they have to do something to keep power domestically. This tells me that the North Koreans are as weak as they have been. 

This might be a major problem. The weakness of the North Korean regime could force them into doing something stupid. A cornered animal is very dangerous and right now North Korea is under extreme pressure. If they feel they are losing control they might lash out against South Korea... 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Iraqi forces have begun the final phase of the Battle of Mosul

An Iraqi soldier fires a mortar in Mosul. Reuters. 

Iraqi forces have begun the final phase of the Battle of Mosul. Reuters. The eight month long battle is nearing the end as ISIS only controls the Old City and three other districts in Mosul. A victory in Mosul would essentially end ISIS's hold in Iraq, with only a few other enclaves remaining, none of them anywhere near the importance of Mosul. The battle has taken longer than expected due to heavy civilian presence and ISIS's use of booby traps, suicide bombs and snipers. The civilians left in the city are in severe danger as ISIS is targeting them and they are running out of food and other supplies. 

My Comment:
There is no hope for the ISIS fighters trapped in Mosul. The front lines are very far away now from the isolated pockets of ISIS fighters in the Old City and surrounding districts. There is no hope for relief or anything other than death or unconditional surrender. The Pentagon's new plan makes it very clear that ISIS fighters are not to be allowed to escape or given safe passage. There is no route for escape, short of trying to escape into the countryside, and that would involve sneaking through enemy lines. Even the river has been cut off, due to the destruction of boats. The vast majority of ISIS fighters still trapped in Mosul will die there. 

The question is how long it is going to take. On the one hand there are many factors that could slow down the battle. First and foremost are the tactics that ISIS has used for years now. They will use vehicle borne IED's as terror weapons and booby trap houses and other buildings to slow down the advance. Snipers will also slow down the advance. ISIS has proven that these tactics work, at least in the short term. 

Secondly, the huge number of civilians still trapped behind enemy lines will slow down the advance as well. There is strong evidence that ISIS is using those civilians as human shields and will exploit any deaths as a propaganda tool. I've often criticized US and allied forces as being too concerned about civilian casualties, but short of slaughtering everyone, you have to take some consideration to saving their lives. That means that heavy weapons and airstrikes will have to be curtailed. 

On the other hand, there is at least one factor that could speed the battle up. That huge mass of civilians needs to be fed, clothed and otherwise supplied. Those supplies and food will run out quickly and though I am sure ISIS fighters are given priority, they have to be running out as well. With the Reuters report saying that people are resorting to eating wild plants and bird food, I am guessing that even the ISIS fighters will start to feel the pangs of hunger very soon. Without food, ISIS will begin to starve to the point where they can't fight effectively. 

The whole situation will likely be a humanitarian disaster in a war that has already had too many. No matter what happens with the Battle of Mosul, a lot of people are going to die. I think that a quicker, fast paced, battle will likely reduce the casualties long term, but who knows if that is even possible at this point? I have to wonder though, if starvation is going to be allowed to happen. There is the possibility of dropping food, but that would feed the ISIS fighters as well, and could potentially lengthen the battle. It's a tough choice and it's one I am glad that I don't have to make. 

I worry about exhaustion among the Iraqi fighters in Mosul. They have been at it for eight months and before that they faced several brutal battles, such as Ramadi and Fallujah. They have to be close to reaching the breaking point, especially since all of these battles have relied heavily on special forces. The Iraqi Army itself has already been exhausted and are mostly being used in a blocking role while the actual fighting is being done by special forces and militia. I don't think the problem is so bad that they could actually lose the battle, but I do think it could make it last longer than it should.

Sooner or later though, ISIS will lose the battle of Mosul. My original prediction was for fall or winter of this year and so far we are still on track for that. I think it is possible that the city could fall earlier though, but we have to remember that summer in Iraq usually slows the pace of battle due to extreme temperatures. This is one prediction I wouldn't be upset if I was wrong about though. 

What happens after ISIS is defeated in Mosul? Well, the war in Iraq won't be over by any means. Iraq still controls quite a bit of territory in Iraq. Most of that is desert, but there are a few towns left, most notably Tal-Afar west of Mosul. Even after those towns are taken, the threat of ISIS will remain as long as they control territory across the border in Syria. ISIS can use Syria as a launchpad for further attacks into Iraq even after they lose Mosul and the rest of the towns there. 

Once Iraq is fully liberated and the border with Syria is more secure, there will still be a threat. I am thinking that instead of taking and holding territory the war in Iraq will continue as an insurgency, much like the post invasion to pre-surge period was. ISIS will shift focus from being a state to being a terror group instead. And there is always the fear that ISIS will raise from the ashes, much like their predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq did to form them and al-Nusra....

Friday, May 26, 2017

Egypt launches airstrikes in Libya after another terrorist attack targeting Coptic Christians kills 29

The wreckage of the bus that was attacked by militants. Egyptian TV/Reuters. 

Egypt has launched a retaliatory series of airstrikes against Islamic militants in Libya after another terrorist attack targeting Coptic Christians killed 29 and wounded 24 more. Reuters. President al-Sisi ordered the raids targeting Majlis al-Shura, a group that has connections to al-Qaeda, in Eastern Libya near Derna. The group has not taken credit for the attack and the attack has the hallmarks of an attack by ISIS, which has a active campaign against Coptic Christians in Egypt. The attack against the Copts targeted a bus convoy which was on its way to a monastery in southern Egypt. The attackers killed all the men in the convoy, robbed the woman and children and then shot them in the legs. 

My Comment:
Another brutal attack against Coptic Christians in Egypt. It appears that there is an effort to ethnically cleanse or genocide Christians out of Egypt. This is horrible since Egypt is home to one of the oldest Christian communities still left in the Middle East. The Coptic community is one of the oldest in existence, almost as old as Christianity itself, and it has faced persecution for years. It would be a massive tragedy if the Coptic community were to be wiped out or forced to flee Egypt. 

Nobody has taken credit for this attack, as far as I have been able to determine, but it has all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack. Specifically Sinai Province, ISIS's Egyptian branch. They took credit for the recent bombings of Coptic Christian churches and consider them to be worthy of death. They also have been very active in Egypt. 

Which makes me wonder why al-Sisi targeted the Majlis al-Shura group. From what I have been able to gather, al-Shura is part of Hamas and has connections to al-Qaeda. I haven't found any evidence of them being involved in attacks on Coptic Christians. I doubt they had anything to do with the attack in Egypt, even though I think they probably are a genuine threat. 

So why hit them then? I think al-Sisi is under extreme pressure to show that he does support the Coptic Christian community. Ideally he would have attacked ISIS in the Sinai peninsula but for whatever reason he wasn't able too. Perhaps he didn't have any good targets, but whatever the al-Sisi had to do something. And I am guessing an airstrike against some unrelated militants at least looks like it is doing something. 

I personally like al-Sisi as a leader and greatly prefer him to the Muslim Brotherhood government he replaced. But I do think that he does need to do more about ISIS in Egypt. Sinai province should be wiped from the earth and I think that Egypt needs to deploy more forces and weapons to the Peninsula to wipe them out. If that means they have to lessen their commitments to Yemen and other places then so be it. Still, there is only so much that can be done and we may be in the "diminishing returns" point already. 

This attack might be a prelude to a very violent Ramadan. Ever since ISIS has existed, Ramadan has been a bloodbath. In one day in 2015 ISIS killed hundreds of people in five separate attacks, two in Syria, one in Tunisia, one in Kuwait and one in France. Last year they murdered a cop and his wife in France and bombed the airport in Turkey. Plus, the worst terror attack in the United States, the Pulse nightclub shooting, occurred during Ramadan last year. 

There is a huge precedent for ISIS attacks during the Muslim holy month. Why? Because Muslims believe that if they are martyred or kill in the name of their faith during Ramadan, they will gain favor. It's basically a free ticket to heaven and it is very attractive for them to pull off attacks during the time. 

The bloody Ramadan may have started. We have already had this attack along with the major raid against Marawi city in the Philippines and the devastating attack against children attending the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. It is very possible that there will be more attacks coming. I am especially worried about the UK because it seems like the cell there is still active and the bombmaker(s) have not been caught, but everywhere is at risk.

Another worry I have is that the Manchester attack, and whatever else ISIS has in the pipeline, could overshadow this attack in Egypt. Though all attacks are important, I do feel that the genocide occurring against Christians in the Middle East is one of the most under-reported stories in the world. We should make sure to cover these kinds of attacks when they occur. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New ISIS offensive causes chaos in Marawi city in the Philippines.

Civilians flee the city of Marawi as a member of the AFP stands by. Reuters. 

Chaos has erupted in the Philippines as an ISIS affiliate has conducted a major raid in Marawi city. Reuters. ISIS has taken credit for the raid which has displaced thousands of people. The militants have set fire to churches, captured Christians and set free dozens of prisoners. Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law on the island where Marawi is located, Mindanao, and is considering extending it to the entire country. The violence occurred after a failed raid on the Maute group, an ISIS affiliate. The raid failed and was followed by a major attack by the group, who may have beheaded a police chief. The Catholic Church claims that several Christians and a priest are being held as human shields and hostages. 

My Comment:
Very worrying news out of the Philippines. ISIS now has a foothold in the country and it seems as though the military wasn't up the the task of defending the city. How does a simple raid against a terror group spiral this far out of control? Once the dust settles and the city is retaken, some very serious questions are going have to be asked and people are going to have to be held responsible. 

I am also very surprised that there was a group this powerful in the Philippines. I have, of course, heard of Abu Sayyaf, but I have to admit that I have never heard of the Maute branch of the Islamic State. I am also shocked that such a powerful raid could happen in a majority Christian country like the Philippines. Sure they only had between 50 and 100 fighters in the city, but that number was probably bolstered due to the released prisoners and people who are impressed with the raid. And it was enough to take over much of the city.

It sounds like Marawi City is turning into a bloodbath. There are rumors flying around of people being decapitated and at the very least, Duterte has confirmed one of those rumors and has suggested that a police chief was murdered this way. With ISIS still in the city and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) saying they will probably need three days to clear the city, that leaves a lot of time for more atrocities to occur. I would not be surprised if more people were murdered and more buildings were destroyed. 

I am especially concerned about reports of Christians being targeted. The Catholic Church claims that one of their priests and some parishioners have been captured by ISIS and are being threatened with execution. I take those threats seriously and I fear that these hostages may very well be killed. ISIS has certainly proved in the past that they will kill Christians wantonly, so I have no doubt that they are capable of doing so. 

We will be finding out if Duterte will live up to his hype. Duterte has a reputation as a loose cannon with little regard for human rights. Duterte has led a brutal war against drug dealers and users and has said that he would literally eat ISIS if they ever show up in the Philippines. Well, ISIS is now there so it remains to be seen what will happen. He will need to step up his game and defeat these terrorists because if he doesn't nobody will ever take him seriously again. 

So far Duterte is living up to his reputation. Not only has he cut a crucial trip to Russia short, he has declared marital law in Mindanao. He is threatening to do so for the entire country. Some people are saying that this is an overreaction. I don't think so. The threat is real and there is a real danger of ISIS gaining ground quickly if this isn't nipped in the bud. I am guessing that once the AFP shows up in force in Marawi, there will be no quarter offered or given...

This is a huge story with major implications. As far as I am aware this is the first time that ISIS has taken control of a city, however temporally, in a majority Christian country. It also shows that ISIS is now a global threat. Sure, they have overrun much of the Middle East and parts of Africa, and have launched a wave of terror in Europe and America, but until now they haven't taken any territory anywhere else. That has changed now and could mark a turning point in the war against ISIS. This is truly a global war and any country with a large population of Sunni Muslims may be vulnerable to the same kind of threat... 

The story is not getting the coverage it deserves. I had to look for this report and it wasn't easy to find. Sure, there are other stories going on right now, with Trump on his first international trip and the terror attack in Manchester, but the fact that ISIS has conducted a major raid in the Philippines should be a huge story. But it really isn't being covered even though Durterte himself is making headlines. Someone decided to leak Trump's conversation with the controversial leader, which is somehow more important than ISIS slaughtering Christians in a totally new theater of war. The press should be ashamed of themselves.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Two US troops wounded in raid against al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Troops from the UAE and United States ready a Patriot Missile battery in Yemen. US Army/UPI.

Two US troops have been wounded in a raid against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, killing 7 militants. UPI. US Navy Seals, along with troops from the United Arab Emirates conducted the raid. The purpose of the raid was to gather intelligence and collect documents. 

CBS has further information on the raid. Two US Navy Seals were lightly wounded in the raid, but neither suffered life threatening injuries. An AC-130 gunship was called in for air support. The raid killed 7 militants but none of the militants were high value targets. 

My Comment:
A fairly significant raid against AQAP in Yemen. It seems as though we have not forgotten the worlds 2nd most dangerous terror group, even if the media largely has. This raid is a step up in the attacks against AQAP as well. Other news outlets are reporting that this is the deepest raid into Yemen since our war against AQAP begun. The fact that we are sending special forces deep into enemy territory to target these terrorists shows how serious the threat is. In the past we would have just used airstrikes, but the need for intel was so important that we sent troops in.  

It's also significant that troops from the UAE participated in this raid. Though Yemen is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the UAE is deeply involved as well. Unlike the Saudis though, the UAE has had a larger focus on fighting AQAP instead of the Shiite Houthi rebels. Their participation in this raid shows how seriously they are taking the AQAP threat. 

And the AQAP threat is severe. Though they have not attempted any major terror attacks lately, they were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. That attack was greatly overshadowed by the Paris attacks and all of the other attacks that ISIS has pulled off, but they are still a very dangerous terror organization. 

The fear is that AQAP is planning further attacks in Europe and even the United States. That threat is real and very dangerous. Though AQAP has the same problem that core al-Qaeda has. Instead of simple and easy to pull off terror attacks like the ones ISIS prefers, they focus on complex and spectacular attacks. That has greatly reduced their effectiveness, but the upside is when they actually do pull off a terror attack it causes a major impact. We can't take the risk of them pulling off a successful attack.

This raid seems to have been an attempt to gather intelligence in order to disrupt these kinds of terror attacks. Though we didn't find any high value suspects, we did capture some documents and intelligence. It's very possible that we were able to disrupt active plots because of this raid. 

AQAP is still a major threat though and it is a very good thing that we are conducting raids against them. AQAP still controls quite a bit of Yemen. It doesn't control as much as it used to but it still controls some towns and cities and some of the countryside as well. ISIS has shown how dangerous things can get when a terror group takes and holds territory. 

The war in Yemen has, yet again, fallen into the background. We rarely get any coverage at all of what is happening in there. And it's not just the threat from al-Qaeda and ISIS gaining control of territory. Yemen is the only war that I am aware of where ballistic SCUD missiles are being used regularly, to the point where it isn't even noteworthy anymore. Our interest is in stopping AQAP and ISIS, but the war between the Yemeni and Saudi forces against the Houthi rebels is one of the most important stories that isn't being covered right now. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

19 dead in explosion at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Police respond to the attack in Manchester. BBC/Peter Byrne

19 people have died and 50 more have been injured in an apparent terror attack in Manchester, England. BBC. The attack occurred at an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. The show had just ended when the explosion occurred, hitting people who left the venue early and parents who had went to pick up their kids. It happened outside the arena, near the ticket booths. Doctors have reported shrapnel type injuries. Officals suspect that the attack was an incidence of terrorism and multiple news outlets have reported that it may have been a suicide bombing. 

This is a breaking news story. Live updates can be found below:

My Comment:
Another disgusting terrorist attack. There is no doubt that this is a terror attack at this point and though nobody has taken credit for it as far as I can tell, I would put money on who is responsible for this incident, even though I must note that I don't have any evidence except circumstantial and historical evidence. This is almost certainly an ISIS attack. The other usual suspects would not pull this kind of attack off. The IRA, which has long had a presence in Manchester, would not use suicide bombings or target children. Even al-Qaeda would be unlikely to target an event that was mostly attended by teenage girls. Only ISIS and their affiliates seem likely to attempt to kill children.  

And I have to say that targeting a bunch of children is about as terrible of an act that one can imagine. Not that this attack would have been forgivable if it had targeted adults, but it takes a special kind of evil to attempt to murder a bunch of children. It just goes to show how evil people can be. 

Before I go any further, I have seen some false reports on social media that have been spread wide and far that I want to debunk right away. First, there were reports of an active shooter at an local hospital but those reports were absolutely false. It turned out that the hospital was on lockdown, but only because of the original bombings. Also, there was a controlled detonation by the bomb squad on the scene, but it wasn't a second device and it was a false alarm. They blew up some garbage or clothing laying on the ground out of an abundance of caution. 

This attack seems professional. Though I haven't been able to completely confirm that this was a suicide bombing, I think we can conclude that whoever used this bomb was a professional. This bomb seems to have been well designed and was deployed correctly. Neither of those things are common, so I think that this rules out that this is a lone wolf attack. Expect confirmation that this was a core ISIS operation, or at the very least, the bomber had support from a wider terror cell. The bomb was a little too well made and a little too well placed to be some wannabe terrorist. 

The date of this attack seems fairly significant. Four years ago today, terrorists murdered Lee Rigby, a British soldier. I doubt that is a coincidence. I also don't think it is a coincidence that the attack comes a day after Donald Trump's major speech critical of radical Islam, given in Saudi Arabia itself. Terrorists often pay attention to these kinds of things, and I think that the message is clear. No matter what you do, we are still around and your speeches alone won't stop us.  

I also think that this attack was specifically targeting Ariana Grande. No, this wasn't an attempt to kill her, and all reports say that she is safe, but I do think that the fact that she is an American celebrity was a reason her concert was targeted. Not only is she an American, targeting her event will greatly increase the number of people exposed to this attack. Indeed, I think a lot of her fans will be thinking about terrorism for perhaps the first time in their lives. I also think that this is the largest celebrity attacked by terrorists in recent history. The Eagles of Death Metal in the Paris attacks count, but they had nowhere near the prominence of Ariana Grande. I have long said that ISIS would likely target celebrities and it seems I was right. 

I do expect that the rate of terror attacks will increase. Recently there haven't been as many terror attacks, but as summer comes and Ramadan happens, the rate will likely increase. Historically, core ISIS and their lone wolf supporters have stepped up attacks during the Muslim holy month. Ramadan starts in just 4 days and lasts until the end of June... 

I also don't think this will change all that much. We have become numb to these kinds of terror attacks and I don't think people will really react to it anymore. Children have certainly died in terror attacks before and nothing really changed. Perhaps this time things will be different, but I doubt that anything will happen... 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New US plan to annihilate ISIS focuses on surrounding and killing ISIS fighters.

Map of control for Iraq and Syria. DW/Institute for the Study of War.

A new US plan to destroy ISIS is being put into effect and it focuses on surrounding and killing the militants. Deustch Welle. Called an "annihilation plan", the main objective will be to prevent ISIS fighters from escaping their strongholds as they fall. In the past, when major ISIS held cities fell, US allied forces allowed them to escape into the countryside. Now, we will prevent them from fleeing with the major goal being to prevent foreign fighters returning to their home countries. ISIS has lost thousands of fighters in the past couple of years, but as many as 14,000 remain in Iraq and Syria. Critics say that this plan may result in further civilian casualties and displacement. 

My Comment:
With the focus on the US media being the fake news Russia scandal, it is often useful to look at foreign outlets to get a handle on what is actually going on in the world today. I had attempted to find a US media source on this new plan, or the presidents trip to Saudi Arabia and all I got were article after article that was just bashing Trump on the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey, an event that happened two weeks ago already. There was little substantive analysis of either issue. It just goes to show how much our media is letting us down right now. 

I think the US media should take a page from Deutch Welle, the German state media company. Though the article was critical of this new plan, they didn't senselessly bash the president on completely unrelated issues, like the Jim Comey firing. Instead they stated the Pentagon's case and then stated the case of critics. I tend to disagree with them, but it is refreshing to read an article on US policy that isn't simply bashing President Trump. If US media wrote more articles like the Deustch Welle one linked to here they could regain at least some of their lost credibility. 

As for the plan itself, I like it quite a bit. I never understood the tendency to let ISIS fighters escape from major battles. Often, those same fighters would later be deployed in new offensives or would show up in later defensive battles. That makes those battles worse and will prolong the length of the war. I truly think that ISIS deserves only two options: unconditional surrender or complete destruction. 

The article argues that this plan will likely result in more civilian casualties. I am willing to grant that because many of the times we let ISIS escape, it was for humanitarian reasons. But that doesn't mean I oppose this plan. I have long argued that saving a few hundred civilians isn't worth the loss of time and momentum most of the time. It's often better to simply fight as quickly and effectively as possible in order to shorten the course of the war. Ending the war in victory will obviously stop the huge number of civilian and military casualties and should be the primary goal in every war we fight. 

That doesn't mean we shouldn't consider civilian casualties at all though. I do agree that reducing the amount of lives lost is a noble and desirable goal. It just can't be the number one priority and often it is better on utilitarian grounds to let a few civilians die now in order to save many more in the future. It should always be a very important secondary objective, but a secondary objective first.  

In the case of the Syrian and Iraqi wars, allowing ISIS fighters to escape will cause many deaths down the road. The great fear is that many of ISIS's foreign fighters will be able to escape as the last strongholds in Iraq and Syria fold. Those fighters could return to their home countries and wreak havoc. Since Europe is already a war zone with frequent and deadly terror attacks, allowing them to escape could make an already untenable situation even worse. We must do everything in our power to make sure that the wave of terror in Europe doesn't get worse than it already is, or we may face a larger regional war.   

It's not only Europe that we have to worry about though. If we allow any fighters to escape they can either flee to other countries that ISIS controls territory in, such as Egypt, Afghanistan, Libya and Nigeria, or escape to the countryside to regroup and reform. Remember, this is what happened with ISIS's predecessor group, al-Qaeda in Iraq. After being largely defeated by President George Bush's surge, al-Qaeda waited until the US withdrew troops and Syria descended into chaos to rise from the ashes as the two most dangerous terror groups in the middle east right now, al-Nusra and ISIS. We can't let either result happen again. 

I do think that the article has a point though. If this plan has a weakness it's that we have to rely on the Kurds to win our battles for us. Doing so could inflame sectarian tensions between the Kurds and the Sunni Muslims that make up the population centers that ISIS controls. Remember, one of the major reasons why ISIS was able to take Mosul and western Iraq was because there was so much distrust between the Sunni locals and the Iraqi government, made up of mostly Shiite Muslims. The same scenario could play out in Syria, with the added headache of Turkey's strong objections to the Kurdish forces very existence. 

Still, despite the potential problems down the road, the main goal has to be the defeat of ISIS. If the Kurds, Turks and Sunni Muslims can't get along after ISIS is defeated, that's really not our problem anymore, as long as there aren't any terror groups in Syria willing to target us. The important thing is that ISIS doesn't escape to sow chaos across Europe or rise from the ashes to threaten the Middle East in a decade or so. I think that this plan to surround and utterly destroy ISIS fighters is the last, best, chance of doing so. It might not be the perfect option, but it's the best one we have. Let's all hope that it works out. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Harvard University study finds massive bias against President Trump during his first 100 days.

Shorenstein Center on Media and Public Policy.

A Harvard University study has found that Donald Trump has faced unprecedented negative coverage from the news media. Shorenstein Center on Media and Public Policy. The study covered 10 mainstream media outlets, including three European ones, and found that fully 80% of the coverage was negative in tone. Though media tends to emphasize bad news and have given the past presidents, excluding Barack Obama, majority negative coverage, the coverage for Trump was beyond what has been seen in the past. The media coverage was almost universally negative on all topics with the only exception of Fox News, who gave good coverage on certain issues like trade and terrorism and the Wall Street Journal who gave good coverage on the economy. Though Trump has had setbacks, most notably when his immigration executive orders failed and when the healthcare bill failed, he also had not gotten credit for his accomplishments, other than his strike on Syria. 

My Comment:
I figured I should cite the primary source here, since the only media outlets I have seen covering this study are pretty far to the right ones. Since my point was to criticized biased media, it didn't make sense to cite another biased media source, even if that source was biased in favor of the president. The study isn't too long and you should probably read it for yourself as well. 

So what's my take on this? The Harvard study is stating the obvious. Never have I ever seen the media give such negative coverage on any issue. And that's with tuning out most of the worst sources like CNN. Indeed, the only person who I can think of that got worse coverage than Donald Trump was Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. I don't even feel that is an exaggeration.

They are also giving more coverage to Donald Trump than he actually deserves. Though Trump is the most powerful person, there are more things happening in the world that just him. There are major stories that are not getting the coverage they deserve because the media isn't focused on anything but Trump. The Harvard Study stated that 41% of coverage during the first 100 days was about Trump. It's been an eventful 100 days for the presidency, but that's just over the top.

And I think it is important to note that it isn't just the lefty outlets like CNN and NBC giving Trump bad coverage. Even Fox News gave him bad coverage, especially on his supporters keystone issue, immigration. The Wall Street Journal, another right leaning outlet, was overwhelmingly negative. I know for myself that I avoid reading Fox News articles (I rarely watch live TV anymore) because of how bad the anti-Trump bias is.  

Trump is also not getting any credit for his actual successes either. Some of you may be saying "what successes" and that is exactly my point. Trump has had mad major inroads in foreign policy and has repaired relations with China and Egypt. The economy is also doing well and Trump gets zero coverage for that. Also, the media has not spent much time reporting on major scandals on the left, such as the rigging of the Democratic primaries. And the media has spent thousands of hours on the Russian interference conspiracy theory but spent almost zero on the much more credible circumstantial case that the DNC leaker was Seth Rich and that he was likely murdered for it. 

This coverage is having a disastrous effect on the country. Not only are people being mislead about how Trump is doing, the media has destroyed almost all of their remaining credibility. My reaction when I see a bad story on Trump is immediate disbelief. This is often justified because after I check primary sources I find that the media is either lying outright, exaggerating, or leaving out critical information. The majority of Americans know this is happening and no longer believe the press. 

This is completely unacceptable for everyone in America. The people still latched to the mainstream media are given a false impression of Donald Trump. They don't see his accomplishments, only his downsides. And the media is whipping those people up and causing panic when Trump is just doing fairly standard president stuff. This is extremely serious and I fear that it could have massive consequences, up to and including violence. 

It's not good for Trump supporters either. More and more we are stuck using non mainstream media outlets that have their own issues. Sure, places like Breitbart, Zero Hedge and The Gateway Pundit may be more fair with their coverage than the mainstream media (but you would be surprised at how many negative stories show up though),  all of them have issues with journalistic integrity. Since the left dominates the media, we aren't as at risk for being stuck in a bubble, but we aren't being served if the only sources we can even consider are ones that are biased. 

So what can we do about media bias? I think it is important to avoid using sources that are obviously biased. For my purposes on this blog, I try to avoid using obviously biased sources. I never use obviously biased places like CNN and Breitbart and downplay places like Fox News and the New York Times. My number one source is the various wire services, Reuters, AFP and AP, in that order. Though they have their biases as well, they tend to have much less of a slant. 

I also think that when a normally biased source actually does some good reporting, that we should reward that. I have often used the Washington Post and New York Times when they actually tone down the bias and report the news directly. For example, I cited the Post when they debunked the totally false rumor that the new healthcare bill would drop victims of rape from health coverage. That was a useful service and helped restore some faith in the media, and I gave credit when credit is due. 

The media needs to step up though and change. I think the worst of the worst biased reporters should be fired and fired with prejudice. They also need to acknowledge when Trump does things that are good and give him a much more fair shot. If that doesn't happen and happen soon then I fear that the media will lose all credibility forever... 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hotel review: Monte Carlo Resort in Las Vegas.

Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. Own work.

And now for something completely different. A hotel review. As you may know I was on vacation for most of this week, which explains the lack of posting. I assure you, that after tonight, I will return to more familiar subjects more central to the purposes of this blog. I had some issues with the flight to Las Vegas, but after the initial flight being canceled, I was able to go for three days instead of the original four. I stayed at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on the strip. 

It's an odd time to write a review for the Monte Carlo because it is right in the middle of a remodeling and rebranding. It will soon be known as the Park MGM and will be a new luxury flagship for the MGM brand, and the centerpiece for the CityCenter area. While researching the hotel I saw several reviews that were all over the map. Some people were ranting and raving about it while others were saying it wasn't worthy of calling it a hotel. 

Generally though, I had fun there and didn't have too many complaints and almost everything you would expect from a Las Vegas Hotel, good and bad. There were some downsides to be sure. The room I stayed in was in need of a remodel. It was clean and spacious enough but there were quite a few minor things wrong. There was a crack in the floor in the bathroom, a scuff on the wall and a few dents and dings. It was a bit beat up, but still not a horror story or anything. I have stayed in much worse places. It gave me the impression of a hotel that's still nice, but in need of some upgrades, which is good because it is getting them. 

I was worried about the construction as some online reviews said that construction noise was a problem. I confirmed this with a few people that complained of the noise. For my part, I made sure that I had a room facing away from the construction, even though that meant I had to get two queen beds instead of one king. I also paid more on booking to ensure that I got a high floor room which also helped reduce the noise. Facing the T-Mobile Arena and The Park caused a bit of noise as well, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. But it did seem that people that didn't do their research ended up with a bad time sleeping

Noise does seem to be a problem for the Monte Carlo though. It may just have been because my room had an adjoining room, but several times I heard my neighbors yelling at each other. Worst of all though is that there is no way to generate "white noise" to drown out outside sounds. Most hotels have either a noisy air conditioner or a fan in the bathroom to do so, but the Monte Carlo had neither. Not a good combination in a rowdy city like Las Vegas. 

Despite all that, I didn't really have any serious complaints. Since I did research, I knew what I was getting into. I knew that there wasn't going to be a pool nearby (though I could have used the pools at the MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay), I knew the hotel was a bit beat up and I knew that there was a major renovation project going on. I think most of the people trashing the Monte Carlo are people that either didn't do the least bit of research before booking or were the normal "standard Las Vegas complaints" people. You know, things like resort fees and lack of refrigerators, things that are standard for the Strip but unusual anywhere else. 

A view of the construction as of 5/16/17. Own work.

I think the Monte Carlo was a great place to stay for a first time traveler to Los Vegas like me (not counting the time I went as a kid). It is very centrally located and gives good access to the southern part of the Strip. The Monte Carlo is located between the two MGM free trams that provided access to both the southern hotels of Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay as well as the more center Strip Aria, Mandarin and Bellagio corridor in CityCenter. It was rather difficult to get beyond Bellagio to the northern part of the Strip on foot, but the strip buses, SDX and the Deuce, had a stop nearby. 

I also think, for now, that the Monte Carlo has one of the best combination of value and location for the nearby hotels at my price range. Luxor and Excalibur were cheaper, but both had a worse location and I thought the Excalibur was a little low end for my tastes. MGM and Aria were more expensive and Mandalay Bay is both expensive and away from everything. My only other options at the same price range for my dates that were actually still on the strip were Bally's, New York New York or the Best Western at Casino Royale. Of the three, New York New York was the only one I actually visited. I will say that the New York New York was a cool hotel, so it might have been a good choice as well. 

As for the staff, everyone was friendly and professional. My check in clerk was very helpful in finding me a room that was nice and quiet. The bartenders were nice, the housecleaning staff was fine and the comp drink waitresses were fairly good at getting me drinks. No complaints with the staff at all. 

So would I recommend staying at the Monte Carlo while the construction is going on? It really depends. If you want a pool, go somewhere else, as it's quite a hike to either MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay. I did both and it took me probably 20 or 30 minutes even with the tram to Mandalay Bay. That's a long way to go if you are in swim trunks. I didn't care about a pool at all, so I didn't care, but many people love the pool scene at Vegas. That being said, both MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay have well renowned pool areas, so if you wanted to visit both in the same trip for some reason, you could book the Monte Carlo

I also think the Monte Carlo should be avoided if you are a light sleeper. I didn't have problems relating to the noise, but that was more due to luck than anything else. You can mitigate against the construction noise if you request a quiet room, but the walls are very thin even on the quiet sides. 

Keeping those things in mind though, I think the Monte Carlo is a fine place to stay if it meets your budget. Obviously it doesn't compare to the higher end places like Wynn or the Bellagio, and I am in no way recommending the Monte Carlo over the higher end places if you can afford them, but it's not a rat trap by the hour place either. If you are on the budget, it compares very favorably to the other mid tier places and blows places like Circus Circus out of the water. Plus it's central to the strip in a way places like Palms, Rio or Stratosphere just aren't. 

And after writing all this, I have to point out that this review will be obsolete in less than a year. After all, the renovations are scheduled to be complete in 2018. I am guessing most of the problems with noise and outdatedness will be addressed, though it may come with an increase in price...

Editor's note: Back Home!

I've been in Las Vegas for the past few days and I didn't bring my laptop with me for obvious reasons. I had a great time but things should be returning to normal shortly. I may have a post up tonight about the hotel I stayed at, but other than that, posting should resume by tomorrow at the latest!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Airlines rant...

As you may know, I was supposed to be on vacation right now. That obviously didn't happen if I am here typing this right now. So what happened? Well as you can probably tell from the title of this post, my flight got canceled. I wasn't informed why this happened and I all know for sure is that I won't be on vacation until tomorrow.

My flight was originally delayed by an hour or so. That's not a huge deal but right as I was pulling into the airport I got a text from my airline that the flight was canceled entirely. Since I booked my hotel through my airline, I wanted to ask if my hotel was going to be ok. They told me they didn't know and I had to call their customer service line. After two attempts and about half an hour on hold, I was told that my hotel was just fine and they didn't know why I was told to call them.

For all that trouble what did I get? A $100 voucher for a new flight that expires in a year. Since I almost never travel and have no plans of going anywhere between now and next year, it's pretty much useless. I also got an $8 food voucher for the hotel that I wasn't qualified to stay at in the first place (I live too close to the airport). I am hoping that they are at least refunding the one night hotel stay that I didn't get to use.

As someone who hasn't traveled in a very long time this comes as a bit of a shock for me. I haven't ever had a plane canceled for no discernible reason. I am not sure but I am guessing it was for a maintenance issue. If that is the case I think I can't really be too upset. I'd rather have to wait a day rather than flying on an unsafe plane.

All this happens as the airlines have been having horrible press lately. Spirit Airlines, which are horrible in the best of times, have been canceling flights left and right and it seems like every day there is a story of some person getting kicked off a flight for stupid reasons. There are a lot of people unhappy with the airlines and as of today, I am one of them.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Massive ransomware attack using leaked NSA malware has infected computers globally.

An example of the ransomware WannaCry. Webroot/BBC.

In what may be the largest ransomware attack ever, a massive attack has targeted computers worldwide. BBC. Thousands of computers in almost 100 countries have been hit by the attack. The attack encrypts files on Windows 10 PC's and demands a $300 bitcoin payment in order to unlock the files, with threats to increase the rate as time goes on. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) had it's computers hit as well. Patients were turned away from treatment and surgeries were canceled, which may have resulted in suffering and death. The attacks also hit computers in Russia, Spain and Portugal. A mysterious group of hackers called the "Shadow Brokers" a group that had somehow gotten access to NSA hacking tools. Those tools were released after a ransom was not paid and were apparently used in this attack. 

My Comment:
This is probably going to go down as one of the most effective and devastating cyber attacks in history. The scale of the attack is huge and it seems to be spreading. If you are worried about the attack, make sure your computer is updated as windows had released a patch protecting against the virus. I'm no expert but I keep my updates up to date, so I think I should be safe. 

This attack will also likely kill people. That is fairly unbelievable, but if what the BBC is reporting is true and the NHS had to turn away patients, then people are going to die. It is amazing to me that such critical computers would be left vulnerable to an older attack like this but it guess it's too late to do anything about it now. I am also wondering how a computer virus would lead to the NHS turning people away. 

I'm not sure if the hackers targeted the NHS directly. Given the way this worm works, it would not be surprising if it just hit the NHS by accident. Even if they didn't target them directly though, they are responsible for any deaths that the computer outages may have caused. If we find out who these people are they should be charged with the regional equivalent of manslaughter if someone was denied life saving treatment because of this attack. Any reasonable person would know that releasing malware like this into a hospital service could kill or injure people. My hope is that not too many people were injured or killed in this attack and that any victims get justice. 

I don't know a whole lot about the group that released these hacking tools. The Shadow Brokers are a mysterious group and it is unclear who they are are how they got a hold of these NSA cyberweapons. Indeed, since they have leaked the hacking tools to the general public, they might not have even been the ones responsible for their attack. Their Medium page doesn't have any new updates claiming responsibility for this attack, so we don't know for sure. 

What it does have is interesting to say the least.. The Shadow Brokers claim to be disgruntled Donald Trump supporters who are angry with Trump. Here's a short list of what they are angry with: 

#1 — Goldman Sach (TheGlobalists) and Military Industrial Intelligence Complex (MIIC) cabinet
#2 — Backtracked on Obamacare
#3 — Attacked the Freedom Causcus (TheMovement)
#4 — Removed Bannon from the NSC
#5 — Increased U.S. involvement in a foreign war (Syria Strike)

The post goes on like this and reads like it was written by someone who doesn't speak English as a first language, same as the ransomware notice posted in the BBC article. It's also pretty clear that whoever released it was referencing some pretty hardcore conspiracy theories. They accused Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain of child molestation and accused Trump of being controlled by Zionists. It is, quite frankly, one hell of a rant, and not one that most Trump supporters would write.

I doubt that the post was written by an actual disgruntled Trump supporter. For one thing, though Trump has some international appeal, I doubt anyone from America, short of a very recent immigrant, would write like that. Indeed, it almost seems like the post was intentionally made to look like it was written by someone pretending to be a Russian pretending to be an American. It was so poorly written that I suspect that someone that could pull off a cyber attack of this magnitude would have better grammar and spelling.

So who are the Shadow Brokers? I know everyone is already blaming Russia for the attack, I am guessing it isn't a state actor though. It might indeed be someone from Russia, acting as a private citizen, but I doubt Russia would want what happened here to happen. Remember, Russia got hit hard with this attack as well. And I am guessing if they had gotten a copy of the NSA's hacking tools, they would have never released them to the general public. They would have kept them for their own use. Keeping them private would allow them to use the tool offensively and they could study it to create countermeasures against it. My guess is that whoever did this attack was probably a "lone wolf" non-state actor.

The real scandal here is that the NSA was able to lose control of their hacking tools. The NSA developed these tools to attack enemy computers but somehow there was a security breach. Either a leaker at the NSA released the tools to the public or someone else hacked into the NSA. Both options are an almost unthinkable breach of security for the NSA and not something that should ever happen, especially after the Edward Snowden leaks, the CIA leaks and the releases centered around the 2016 presidential campaign.

I have always said that the NSA should have more focus on cyber-defense rather than offense. Though I am not expert, I think that it would be a lot easier for everyone if they just focused on preventing these kinds of attacks from happening in the first place. Sure, you lose some offensive options by doing so, but we can't be so vulnerable to these kinds of attacks...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Editor's note: Vacation edition

Just as an FYI, I will be going on vacation starting this weekend. Unlike other "vacations" I have taken, this one will be a real one involving actual travel. I won't be bringing a computer with me, so don't expect any posts between Sunday May 14th and Thursday May 18th.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

US backed rebels have taken back Tabqa and the nearby dam from ISIS.

Tabqa as seen from the Tabqa Dam. Reuters. 

US backed rebels have taken back the town of Tabqa and the nearby Tabqa Dam from ISIS. Reuters. Taking the city is seen as a major victory for the rebels and the US government who will use the area to advance on the de-facto ISIS capital of Raqqa. The assault had begun last March with an airborne assault involving rebels and US Special Forces. Raqqa is now mostly surrounded and cut off from the rest of ISIS territory, with the only escape being via boat over the Euphrates. 

My Comment:
This is a major victory for the United States and our allies. Tabqa was a major defensive post for ISIS and losing it will make it much easier for Raqqa to be surrounded and destroyed. With Tabqa liberated it looks like Raqqa is in a salient. Once the offensive starts again, the rebels will be able to advance to the east and completely cut off the city. 

Raqqa's supply lines have already been mostly cut off. The north, east and now west are under control of rebels and the Kurds. The bridges across the Euphrates have also been destroyed leaving boats the only real option to escape the city. If the battle of Mosul is any indication, those boats will now be a primary target for coalition air forces. Once those boats are gone then ISIS will have nowhere to run and will have to make a final stand in Raqqa. 

The battle of Raqqa will be brutal and I don't know if the local forces are up to the task. Sure, we are arming the rebels and Kurds fairly well, even over the objections of Turkey. But the fight for Raqqa is going to be extremely tough urban fighting. Though Raqqa doesn't have anywhere near the population of Mosul in Iraq, the fighting will be much the same. I just don't think that the Syrian rebels and Kurds will have all that much experience with urban fighting. In Mosul, the Iraqis do have plenty of experience with urban fighting, but even their it is taking months to liberate the city...

It was a good thing that the Tabqa Dam was captured from ISIS before Raqqa. Though the Tabqa Dam is much safer than the Mosul Dam, there was always a chance that they could blow up the dam, which would flood the countryside. Right now ISIS couldn't do it because Raqqa is downstream from the dam, as well as ISIS outposts in Deir ez Zor and other areas, so destroying it would obviously be counter productive. But if Raqqa had been taken first, they might have thought doing so was worth it as a final act of revenge and brutality. 

I do wonder how important Raqqa actually is for ISIS though. It seems likely that most ISIS leadership has fled the city for safer places. The problem is that ISIS really doesn't fully control any other larger cities. They still control bits of Mosul but that city is cut off and is on the verge of being liberated. The only other real option is Deir ez Zor, but that city has never been fully under control of ISIS with the Syrian government having major forces in the area, despite the very long siege. Still, if Raqqa is lost, it's not like there aren't other places for ISIS to flee too. 

Still, losing Raqqa would be the biggest defeat for ISIS in the entire war. Even worse than losing Mosul. Raqqa is the capital of ISIS and losing it would essentially end the claims that ISIS is an actual state. It would be a huge propaganda blow to ISIS and would be a major signal that they were finished as an actual state. They would lose so much prestige and power that they would cease to exist as anything resembling a real state. 

Still, even after the fall of Raqqa and Mosul, ISIS will still be a threat. They still control large swaths of the countryside in Syria and Iraq, control most of Deir Ez Zor, have outposts in Egypt, Libya and Afghanistan and will probably act as a more traditional terrorist group as their numbers and territorial possessions decrease.  

Of course a major problem is that many of these ISIS fighters will try to escape from Syria and Iraq as the major cities fall. There is a good chance that many of these fighters will return to their home countries to sow chaos and destruction. Even after ISIS loses their territorial holdings, they will still remain a major threat, perhaps for an entire generation... 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Donald Trump fires embattled FBI Director James Comey.

Former FBI Director James Comey. Official FBI photo.

In a surprise move, President Donald Trump has fired embattled FBI Director James Comey. Washington Post. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended the firing due to Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation. The memos claim that Comey was negligent when he not only commented on an investigation that was being closed, but when he also did it without approval from Justice Department officials. The firing also comes after the FBI sent a letter to congress that Comey had misled congress about the Clinton investigation. 

My Comment:
Not a whole lot of impartial sources out there that were unbiased so I was forced to use the Washington Post again. Not something I am too happy with, but these are difficult times. Pretty much all of the sources focused on the irrelevant and misleading investigation into former National Security Director Michael Flynn's accused ties to Russia and how this firing is some conspiracy theory to cover that up. As far as I am concerned that's irrelevant and stupid since the Flynn investigation is still going on and won't end with Comey being gone. And there are no connections with Russia for Trump himself. Even James Clapper says so. 

That being said, I am not surprised that Comey is gone. The public reason was outlined in the memo by Rosenstein, which can be found here. Whatever the actual motivations for the firing, you have to admit that what Comey did in the Clinton investigation was baffling and unprecedented. The FBI hasn't and shouldn't comment on investigations they are closing.

When FBI Director Comey announced that he was recommending to not charge Hillary Clinton he was already breaking with good practices. Comey essentially laid out the case for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton over her email server and then, at the last moment, said that he wasn't charging her. I remember being utterly shocked that he would release all the evidence of malpractice and then not charge her, especially when it wasn't his job to charge anyone in the first place. It was never his job to bring charges up in the first place, it was the Justice Department. 

In the end this pissed everyone off. The Republicans were furious that the FBI Director had convincingly laid out the case to prosecute Hillary Clinton and then decided to not recommend charges for her. Comey somehow argued that since Hillary Clinton didn't appear to break the law on purpose when the law states that intent does not matter at all. That isn't how the law reads and he was obviously trying to play politics with the charges.

Democrats were also angry with Comey. Though they generally more approving of Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation, they weren't happy that all of Clinton's dirty laundry into public. Still, they praised him until his 2nd announcement saying that the Clinton case was reopened. The Democrats, including Hillary Clinton herself blamed that action for the lose of the election. It's amazing how quickly the left went from liking Comey, to hating him, to liking him again.

I always thought that Comey's stance was cowardly. Instead of doing what was right, he tried to placate both the Democrats and the Republicans. That way he would keep his job no matter if Trump or Clinton won. That just pissed everyone off, and I think that it is likely that if Clinton had been elected Comey would have been fired under her as well. He tried to please everyone and that just isn't something that he could do with the Clinton investigation. 

Comey's real problem was that he was angering President Donald Trump. Trump wasn't happy with the way Comey handled the Clinton investigation either, but his real concern was that Comey wasn't doing his job. The Post article said that Trump was angry that Comey wasn't pursuing the leaks that were coming from the White House. My guess is that Comey knew who the leaker was (since everyone knows who it is, Sally Yates) and did nothing to investigate her. That and the whole "lying to congress" thing. That probably didn't help things. 

With Comey out of the way what happens next? I am thinking not much. The acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, is just as bad as Comey was and isn't likely to solve the problems that Comey was causing. For example, I don't see him investigating the White House leaks. It's possible that he understands that his head is the next on the chopping block and will get on the same page as President Trump, but I doubt it. 

Sooner or later though, Comey is going to be replaced and I am guessing it will be someone who will investigate the Clinton's, the Obama administration and the White House leakers. Because of that, I expect the Democrats to oppose that person in anyway that they can. I also think they will continue to make hysterical claims about the supposed connections of Trump and his inner circle with Russia. It's literally the only thing they have left, even thought the claims have completely fallen apart.