The U.S. Navy Has Created Genetically Modified Bacteria to Serve as Nanowires in Tiny Devices

by Darien Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh is a contributor for War is Boring and Reverb Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for Auntie Bellum.


Bottom up growth of ZnO nanowires at the University of Cambridge Nanoscience Centre (Photo: Engineering at Cambridge/Flickr).

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced in mid-August that a team of microbiologists it sponsors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst succeeded in genetically modifying a common bacteria so it can be effectively used as wires in nanotechnology. The researchers, led by Dr. Derek Lovley, have been working on ways of addressing the “growing appetite for technology that is smaller, faster and more mobile and powerful than ever before”. To do so, they looked to a metal-eating bacteria abundant in many soils.

“The centerpiece of Lovley’s work is Geobacter, a bacteria that produces microbial nanowires — hair-like protein filaments protruding from the organism — enabling it to make electrical connections with the iron oxides that support its growth in the ground,” reads a recent report from Warren Duffie Jr. of the ONR. “Although Geobacter naturally carries enough electricity for its own survival, the current is too weak for human use, but is enough to be measured with electrodes.”

Geobacter sulfurreducens (Photo: United States Department of Energy).

To enhance the Geobacter’s conductivity, Lovley and his associates altered its genetic composition by replacing two of its amino acids with tryptophan. “As we learned more about how the microbial nanowires worked, we realized it might be possible to improve on nature’s design,” says Lovley. “We rearranged the amino acids to produce a synthetic nanowire that we thought might be more conductive. We hoped that Geobacter might still form nanowires and double their conductivity.”

To suggest that things went better than expected would be an understatement. While Lovley hoped to merely double the conductivity of the Geobacter, it turns out the genetically modified bacteria ended up being 2,000 times more conductive than their natural counterparts, according to the ONR. The new Geobacter were also stronger and much, much smaller. The microbial nanowires in the modified bacteria have a diameter of only 1.5 nanometers. As a point of comparison, a human hair is roughly 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide.

Geobacter Nanowires Present Myriad Possibilities for Potential Technological Advancement
Numerous uses for Geobacter are already in research and development stages, for both the civilian and military sectors. “Geobacter species are of interest because of their novel electron transfer capabilities, the ability to transfer electrons outside the cell and transport these electrons over long distances via conductive filaments known as microbial nanowires,” explains the Geobacter Project’s website, which serves as the online home for Lovley’s research. “Geobacter have a major impact on the natural environment and have practical application in the fields of bioenergy, bioremediation, and bioelectronics.”

For instance, the site explains, Geobacter can play an important role in bioremediation and environmental restoration by breaking down petroleum-based contaminants polluting groundwater. In terms of bioenergy, Geobacter can also help produce methane, a sustainable biofuel.

Using Geobacter for the development of new fuel sources is one area where the civilian and military research overlap. “From a military perspective, the nanowires could feed electrical currents to specially engineered microbes to create butanol, an alternative fuel,” writes Duffie. “This would be particularly useful in remote locations like Afghanistan, where fuel convoys are often attacked and it costs hundreds of dollars per gallon to ship fuel to warfighters.”

At a time when automated and remote controlled combat operations are becoming increasingly prevalent, a genetically-modified nanotech bacteria’s battlefield uses could go well beyond supply logistics, of course. “Lovley’s nanowires also may play a crucial role in powering highly sensitive microbes (which could be placed on a silicon chip and attached to unmanned vehicles) that could sense the presence of pollutants, toxic chemicals or explosives,” Duffie adds. The bacteria’s natural sensitivity to chemicals could also make it useful in certain medical applications, another area where both private and public institutions are investing in research.

Both Lovley and Dr. Linda Chrisey, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, hope the newly developed “ultra-miniature nanowires” can be installed in medical sensors. If so, their sensitivity to pH changes could provide vital information about a patient’s heart and kidney function.

Greener Than Your Average Nanowire
An additional benefit of using the modified bacteria for creating nanowires is that they’re much greener than traditional nanoelectronic materials. Lovley says the engineered microbial wires can be produced using renewable energy like solar energy, carbon dioxide, or plant waste. They are also comprised of non-toxic, natural proteins and do not require the “harsh chemical processes” used to create synthetic nanowires.

Scientists have been exploring ways to create cleaner energy from bacteria and other microbes for years, and Lovley has been on the forefront of that research. In 2009 Time magazine recognized his work on “The Electric Microbe” as one of the “50 Best Inventions” of the year. That strand of his genetically modified Geobacter was only eight times more efficient at producing energy that it’s natural counterpart, falling far short of the newly developed strand with its 2,000 fold increase in conductivity.

ZnO nanowires, grown by Molecular Beam Epitaxy with Au catalysts, at London Centre for Nanotechnology. Width of the image ~5.5 microns (Photo: Ivan Isakov, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported).

ZnO nanowires, grown by Molecular Beam Epitaxy with Au catalysts, at London Centre for Nanotechnology. Width of the image ~5.5 microns (Photo: Ivan Isakov, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported).

The Pentagon Has Big Plans for Nanotechnology
Lovley and his team’s breakthrough comes at a crucial time for nanotechnology, particularly in regard to the Pentagon’s plans for the future of the U.S. military. According to a report titled “Joint Operating Environment 2035” released by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late July, only a few weeks prior to Lovley’s announcement, nanotechnology will play an important role in U.S. combat operations by 2035.

The report gives a rundown of several menacing-sounding threats the Pentagon predicts lie just over the horizon, including “Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty”, “Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing”, “Disrupted Global Commons”, and “A Contest for Cyberspace”, among others. A primary concern of the report is the proliferation of advanced technology, such as 3D printers and drones, among international terrorist organizations and crime syndicates. The Islamic State’s use of drones being an obvious example. (See also Darien Cavanaugh, “We’re Rapidly Approaching a Terrifying New Age of Automated Warfare“,, 12.08.2016).

To stay one step of ahead of these purveyors of “privatized violence”, to borrow a term from the report, will require constant advances not just in technology but in technology that cannot be easily mimicked, captured, or appropriated. The Pentagon hopes an increased emphasis on multidisciplinary scientific research can keep U.S. forces ahead of the curve. “By 2035, many important scientific advances will result from an emphasis on how differing phenomena interact and how seemingly diverse technological domains relate to one another,” the report states. “They will frequently take place where two or more disciplines converge, particularly in the rapidly evolving areas of biology, robotics and autonomy, information technology, nanotechnology, and energy.”

The “exploitation of unique material properties at the nanoscale” is one of five key fields of research on which the report focuses. “The ability to make and modify materials at the nanoscale will allow manufacturers to take advantage of many new properties,” write the authors. “Anticipated advances in nanomaterial technologies (combined with parallel improvements in metamaterials) suggest that more complex composites and bespoke materials will emerge with properties engineered precisely to optimize performance.”

Another area of research underscored in the report is the “Emergence of micro/nano-satellites and near-space capabilities”. That section reads like something straight out of a DARPA madcap fantasy:

Micro/nano-satellites, as well as ultra-high altitude aircraft and balloons, will continue to replace large satellites because they are considerably cheaper and faster to build and launch. These advances will likely lead to improved reliability, with networks of small satellites and stratospheric swarms performing the tasks previously reserved exclusively for large satellites.”

“Nano” is an accepted term but nonetheless somewhat of misnomer in regards to the small satellites the Joint Chiefs refer to in the report, but the passage on them in the report highlights the Pentagon’s intentions of going as small as possible with some technologies. Picosatellites or femtosatellites would be better examples of tiny satellites.

Lovley’s ongoing research with Geobacter will certainly continue to play a prominent part in the Pentagon’s vision for nanotech’s increasing role in the U.S. military. It was Lovley and his colleagues, after all, who first isolated Geobacter metallireducens in 1987.

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Satellite imagery underscores Paris’ role in an under-reported conflict

by Chris Biggers. This article was first published at War is Boring.

Assab airport in Eritrea.

Assab airport in Eritrea.

Satellite imagery suggests that French war materiel, if not French personnel, is supporting the Saudi-led war in Yemen. If confirmed, it represents a previously unreported escalation of French support.

The satellite imagery, some of which Google Earth published recently, shows two unique hangars deployed on an expanded parking apron at the Eritrean airport of Assab. The hangars match those of other known French deployments. How they ended up at the airport remains an interesting question. Given recent developments between France and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, it appears France is deepening its relationship with the region in a substantive way.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen after the Houthi rebels forced Western-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, from the capital of Sanaa. Despite numerous groups vying for influence — notably Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS affiliates — the Iranian-backed Shia movement remains the greatest threat to the regional power.

In response, the Kingdom enlisted a coalition of states including GCC members, particularly the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Other states including Egypt, Jordan and Sudan also sent military support while the United States provided aerial refuelling tankers and intelligence for targeting (at least until August 2016).

The Saudi coalition’s espoused mission — restore Hadi to power as the legitimate, U.N.-recognized head of state.

French-style hangars at Assab.

French-style hangars at Assab.

The jury is still out whether Saudi Arabia and company can accomplish its goal, let alone maintain the relatively limited gains achieved to date. Some commentators see the Yemen campaign as another Vietnam, a grim outcome.

U.N. Charter Chapter VII sanctions imposed under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 provide little in way of effect, and violations during this year’s ceasefire remain too high to count.

By all appearances, things are getting worse. The lack of progress toward a unity government peaked in July 2016 when the Shia movement announced the formation of a 10-member “Supreme Council” to govern territory it controls.

Put simply, the peace talks taking place in Kuwait are effectively failing. The U.N. special envoy suspended talks, to be resumed at an unspecified date. As a political solution slips farther from reach, the return of military action targeting the Houthis is in full swing, despite brief moments of calm.

One chief Saudi partner is well poised to continue providing military support — recent public positioning aside. Satellite imagery shows that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in the process of constructing a naval port just outside Assab’s airport in Eritrea (see also Jeremy Binnie, “UAE naval vessels using Eritrean port”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 24.02.2016, p. 18 (excerpt); Jeremy Binnie, “UAE likely to be building a naval facility in Eritrea”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 20.04.2016, p. 6 (excerpt)).

Imagery from 2016 continues to show the landing craft at the existing Eritrean port, approximately 10 miles south of the airport. Imagery as recent as April showed the craft docked at the port, fully loaded. A review of historical imagery shows corresponding activity at the airport in Assab. According to space photography, cargo aircraft from both the UAE and Saudi Arabia touched down at the airport since the beginning of the year, and probably prior.

Landing craft at the Port of Assab.

Landing craft at the Port of Assab.

Imagery from April and May show gray-painted tactical and strategic airlift platforms, the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III, parked on the apron. A tandem-rotor CH-47 Chinook medium lift helicopter is also visible in previous space shots. Handheld images have shown an unmarked Chinook in Yemen’s Ma’rib.

While these aircraft were likely from the UAE, March imagery in Google Earth shows a Hercules painted in desert camouflage parked on the southeast turnaround. The desert camo pattern is consistent with C-130s in Saudi inventory. While we currently lack an estimate of the overall flight activity occurring at the airfield, imagery revealed the addition of nine new portable fuel bladders since operations in Yemen began.

Space snapshots also show three camps located southeast of the airfield’s expanded parking apron, two military and one associated with the site’s construction activity. Located between the two military camps, a motor pool containing UAE Union Defense Force ground equipment is visible.

Groups of French-made Leclerc main battle tanks, Russian-built BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and South African-manufactured G6 self-propelled artillery are parked in formation. Observers of the conflict spotted all three platforms operating in Yemen, their presence documented in video and handheld photography.

While imagery observations of Assab fit the bill of a coalition transshipment hub, the French hangars still remain unexplained. Recent developments between France and the GCC states, however, provide some insight. Since Yemen operations began, France announced political support for the Saudi coalition as early as April 2015 when Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with his Saudi counterpart.

The following month, French president Francois Hollande attended the GCC-France summit and launched a strategic partnership with the group. During his speech, Hollande made several statements that reinforced France’s political commitments to the coalition, while others suggested the French head of state was prepared to extend military support.

Leclerc tanks and other vehicles staging at Assab.

Leclerc tanks and other vehicles staging at Assab.

“France was and will always be your friend,” Hollande said. “It is determined to remain a strong, credible and reliable ally and partner… We are faithful to our friends and to our commitments. France never hesitates to do the right thing, even if it is military action.”

Despite the speech, no reports mention French troops supporting the conflict. Nevertheless, there are telltale signs that the two may be working more closely than previously believed. For example, in March 2016 Hollande extended the country’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor, to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif in a low key event at the Palais de l’Élysée. While downplayed in the French press, the Saudi Press Agency reported that parties “reviewed bilateral relations … and ways of enhancing and developing them in all fields, particularly joint cooperation for combating extremism and terrorism.” While the statement remains vague, it hints at a deepening relationship and a growing strategic relevance for the western European country, one moving beyond the mere supply of arms.

If France is helping the Saudi coalition, it would not be the first time French troops deployed in secret. During Operation Serval, the French military intervention in Mali, French troops were on the ground prepping the battlefield from neighboring Niger well before operations publicly commenced. Satellite imagery showed that France began constructing a drone apron in Niger as early as October 2012, before the political mechanics of the international system were underway. Security Council Resolution 2085, which authorized force, passed only in late December.

October was also the month that imagery captured an An-124 strategic airlifter touching down in neighboring Chad, unloading additional helicopters at N’Djamena. Such activity suggests France was prepositioning equipment. It was later reported that France contracted the An-124s to bridge its airlift capacity gap.

More recently, the death of three French soldiers in the downing of their helicopter by local militants in Libya put a spotlight on France’s role in that country. Prior to the event, observers of the conflict noted signs of a French presence at Benina airport.

Chief among them was satellite imagery analyzed by AllSource Analysis and published through Stratfor in March which showed improved security measures at the civil-military airport. However, it was only after the militant group the Benghazi Defense Brigades started flashing handhelds of a French soldier’s body online that Hollande acknowledged their involvement.

In a statement that perhaps even speaks to a French role in Yemen, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told the press at the time that “special forces are there, of course, to help and to make sure France is present everywhere in the struggle against terrorists.” And everywhere appears to include Yemen. For France, 2015’s Charlie Hebdo shooting magnified the country’s importance after AQAP claimed responsibility for the attack. Two of the attackers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, traveled to Ma’rib to receive training from the terrorist group. For observers, it comes as little surprise that as France re-engages militarily with the region, it also becomes the target of more terrorist attacks.

The country’s strikes against Islamic State in September 2014, represented the first intervention in the region since patrolling Iraqi skies with the United States and the United Kingdom, prior to the second Iraq war. As Yemen’s civil war rages, AQAP continues to gain operating space and influence in the country.

For France, the United States and the GCC states, Yemen is now a focal point for regional instability and a problem requiring further attention as satellite imagery continues to attest.

Posted in Chris Biggers, English, Eritrea, Intelligence, International, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Yemen | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Was will der Islamische Staat? Zur Strategie des IS hinter den Anschlägen in Europa und den USA

von Dr. Adrian Hänni und Lukas Hegi.

Von den 86 Todesopfern bei der Gewalttat in Nizza am 14. Juli 2016 waren mindestens 35 Muslime. Ob Amokläufer, Psychopathen oder Terroristen: Sie bringen Leid unabhängig von Religion und Kultur. Das Ziel ist die Gesellschaft zu spalten und die Menschen gegeneinander aufzuhetzen. Sind sie damit wirklich erfolglos? Ein Blick in die Medien gibt die Antwort! Zum Foto: Die trauernde Familie des 4-jährigen Kylan Majri, der bei der Gewalttat in Nizza getötet wurde (Foto: Francois Mori / The Associated Press).

Von den 86 Todesopfern bei der Gewalttat in Nizza am 14. Juli 2016 waren mindestens 35 Muslime. Ob Amokläufer, Psychopathen oder Terroristen: Sie bringen Leid unabhängig von Religion und Kultur. Das Ziel ist die Gesellschaft zu spalten und die Menschen gegeneinander aufzuhetzen. Sind sie damit wirklich erfolglos? Ein Blick in die Medien gibt die Antwort! Zum Foto: Die trauernde Familie des 4-jährigen Kylan Majri, der bei der Gewalttat in Nizza getötet wurde (Foto: Francois Mori / The Associated Press).

In einem Leitartikel räsonierte der Chefredaktor der Schaffhauser Nachrichten, Robin Blanck, anlässlich der Gewalttat von Nizza über das Kalkül hinter den Anschlägen der Terrormiliz “Islamischer Staat” (IS) in den europäischen Städten und gelangte dabei zur Einschätzung, dass die Fanatiker dabei sind, den “Krieg gegen die Zivilisten zu verlieren”:

“Die Waffe, welche die verblendeten Terroristen einsetzen, ist Angst: Die Menschen in Europa sollen sich nirgends mehr sicher fühlen und überall mit Anschlägen rechnen. Das Kalkül dahinter: Verängstigte Bürgerinnen und Bürger sollen letztlich ihre Regierungen dazu bewegen, den Kampf gegen die Dschihadisten einzustellen, um weiteren Anschlägen zu entgehen.” — Robin Blanck, “Sinnlos, feige“, Schaffhauser Nachrichten, 16.07.2016.

Diese Aussagen sind unscharf und problematisch, aber sie sind eben auch exemplarisch für die weit verbreitete Fehleinschätzung der Motive des IS, Terroranschläge im Westen zu inspirieren und zu organisieren — es ist der Ausdruck eines Unverständnisses der Terrormiliz, wie es leider in vielen Redaktionsstuben vorherrscht. Da die westlichen Gesellschaften sich gezwungenermassen mit der Bedrohung durch den IS auseinandersetzen müssen, sollten sie sich aber über die Ziele des Gegners im Klaren sein.

In Erwartung der Apokalypse
Eine weit verbreitete Meinung ist, dass die IS-Führer westliche Bevölkerungen dazu bringen wollen, aus Angst vor weiteren Anschlägen ihre Regierungen dazu zu bewegen, den Militäreinsatz gegen die Miliz einzustellen. Sichergestellte und geleakte Dokumente sowie diverse Schriften und Videos von Anhängern und Strategen des IS zeigen jedoch, dass das Ziel ziemlich genau das Gegenteil ist. Die Terroranschläge in Europa sollen die westlichen Regierungen nicht etwa zur Einstellung ihrer Angriffe gegen den IS in Irak und Syrien bewegen, sondern diese vielmehr zu einer Eskalation ihres dortigen Militärengagements und zu einem Einsatz von Bodentruppen provozieren.

Diesem Vorhaben liegt ein strategisches Kalkül zugrunde: Der Konflikt soll sich glaubhafter als ein Krieg des Westens gegen die islamische Welt darstellen lassen. Vor allem aber ist es Teil des millennaristischen Projekts der religiösen Fanatiker, die sich als Krieger in der letzten, entscheidenden Schlacht sehen. Die Logik des IS ist nämlich stark von apokalyptischen Prophezeiungen geprägt. Die Jihadisten wähnen sich in der Endzeit und erwarten die entscheidende Schlacht mit den Ungläubigen (also den westlichen Streitkräften) in Dabiq, einer syrischen Stadt nahe der türkischen Grenze, welche der IS im Sommer 2014 erobert hat. Diese Obsession mit dem Ende der Welt ist entscheidend, wenn man die exzessive Gewalt des IS verstehen will. Als im November 2014 in einem Video der Terrormiliz die Exekution des ehemaligen US-Soldaten Peter Kassig verkündet wurde, behauptete ein britischer IS-Kämpfer: “Hier begraben wir den ersten amerikanischen Kreuzritter in Dabiq, in ungeduldiger Erwartung, dass der Rest eurer Armeen eintrifft.” [1]

The Last Hour would not come until the Romans land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them). — Sahih-Muslim Hadith, Vol. 41, Kap. 9, Hadith 6924.

Auch in der Twitter-Sphäre lässt sich diese Endzeiterwartung greifen, in der feindliche Militärinterventionen paradoxerweise mit Freude begrüsst werden. Als das türkische Parlament im Oktober 2014 Militärschläge gegen den IS in Irak und Syrien autorisierte, jubilierte ein IS-Sympathisant: “Der Kriegseintritt der Türkei wird die fremde Invasion Nordsyriens möglich machen, nämlich von der Ebene von Dabiq. Die Schlachten [der Endzeit] sind in die Nähe gerückt.” [2] Die IS-Kämpfer wiederum beten zu Gott, dass er den “Islamischen Staat” beschütze und unterstütze, bis seine Armee bei Dabiq gegen die Kreuzritter kämpft (“Remaining and Expanding”, Dabiq, No. 5, 21.11.2014, p. 33). “Wenn du glaubst, dass alle diese Mudschahedin von überall auf der Welt gekommen sind, um gegen Assad zu kämpfen, liegst du falsch”, erklärte wiederum ein jihadistischer Kämpfer in Aleppo. “Sie sind alle hier, wie es der Prophet versprochen hat. Dies ist der Krieg, den er versprochen hat – es ist die Grosse Schlacht.” [3]

Die apokalyptische Idee findet sich in ähnlicher Form auch schon in Dokumenten von al-Qaida und hat Abu Musab al-Zarqawi dazu veranlasst, 2002 in den Irak zu gehen, um die Invasion der USA und ihrer Verbündeten zu erwarten. Für Zarqawi bedeutete Dabiq die letzte Bestimmung für das “Feuer”, das seine Kämpfer “im Irak entfacht” hatten. (William McCants, “The ISIS Apocalypse-The History, Strategy and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State“, New York, St Martin’s Press, 2015, p. 10).

IS-Kämpfer in Dabiq (von Charles Lister).

IS-Kämpfer in Dabiq (von Charles Lister).

Eliminierung der Grauzone
Neben einer Eskalierung des militärischen Konflikts geht es den IS-Führern in erster Linie darum, die westlichen Gesellschaften zu spalten und zu polarisieren. Sie nennen diese Strategie “Eliminierung der Grauzone”, wobei die Grauzone für die friedliche Koexistenz der religiösen Gruppen steht. Das spezifische Ziel der Anschläge ist, Feindseligkeiten loszutreten zwischen den muslimischen Bevölkerungen und den westlichen Gesellschaften, in denen sie leben. Der IS versucht so bewusst, eine Gegenreaktion der westlichen Regierungen und Bevölkerungen gegen die muslimischen Minderheiten auszulösen und beide Seiten in einer eskalierenden Spirale von gegenseitiger Entfremdung, Misstrauen, Hass und kollektiver Rache festzusetzen. Die Terrormiliz will sich in einem solchen Szenario als einzig wirksame Schutzmacht der zunehmend belagerten europäischen Muslime aufspielen, welche sich, so das Kalkül, in grosser Zahl zur Hijra, der Emigration in den Schoss des Kalifats, entschliessen werden. (“From Hypocrisy to Apostasy: The Extinction of the Grayzone”, Dabiq, No. 7, 12.02.2015).

Natürlich hat nicht jeder Gewalttäter, der in Europa oder den USA im Namen des IS einen Anschlag verübt, genau diese Ziele im Kopf. Ihre Motive sind oft sehr persönlich und auch nicht immer überwiegend ideologisch-politscher Natur. Einigen dient das Label “Islamischer Staat” wohl vor allem dazu, ihren Untaten grössere Aufmerksamkeit zu verschaffen und einen höheren Sinn zu geben. Die Strategen und Anführer des IS, die Anschläge im Westen organisieren, dirigieren, inspirieren und für sich reklamieren, handeln jedoch nach dieser “Strategie der Spaltungen”. Zwischen Muslimen und Nichtmuslimen in den westlichen Gesellschaften einerseits, zwischen dem Westen und der islamischen Welt andererseits.

The group thrives on division and rage. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi — the self-crowned caliph of this death cult — wants to make this a war between Islam and the West. But we don’t have to play by his rules. — Kevin Knodell, “The Islamic State’s Assault on the ‘Gray Zone’“, War is Boring, 28.07.2016.

Die Falle der Jihadisten
Wenn man also analysieren will, ob die Jihadisten mit ihrer menschenverachtenden und brutalen Strategie des Terrors erfolgreich sind, muss man sie an ihren eigenen Zielen messen. Wir sind optimistisch, dass die westlichen Demokratien diese Herausforderung erfolgreich meistern können, warnen aber vor der zuweilen blinden Naivität, dies als Selbstverständlichkeit zu betrachten. Beim bereits erwähnten Leitartikel von Robin Blanck klingt das so: “Jeder weitere Anschlag hinterlässt tiefe Betroffenheit und Mitgefühl, aber keine Angst. Trotz der Terrorattacken halten die Europäer an ihren freiheitlichen Werten fest; die Menschen gehen an Konzerte und andere Grossanlässe, lassen sich ihr Leben nicht diktieren. Die Rechnung der Fanatiker geht nicht auf, sie sind dabei den Krieg zu verlieren, den sie gegen Zivilisten führen.”

Französische Polizisten büssen eine Frau, die sich mit Leggings, einer Tunika und einem Kopftuch am Strand von Nizza aufhielt, mit 38 Euro. Nach der Gewalttat in Nizza ist es -- wenigstens vorübergehend -- verboten am Strand Kleidung zu tragen, welche „offenkundig die Zugehörigkeit zu einer Religion offenbart“.

Französische Polizisten büssen eine Frau, die sich mit Leggings, einer Tunika und einem Kopftuch am Strand von Nizza aufhielt, mit 38 Euro. Nach der Gewalttat in Nizza ist es — wenigstens vorübergehend — verboten am Strand Kleidung zu tragen, welche „offenkundig die Zugehörigkeit zu einer Religion offenbart“.

Wirklich? In den USA forderte der Präsidentschaftskandidat der Republikaner, Donald Trump, wegen der Terrorgefahr eine Einreisesperre für sämtliche Muslime und rief offen zu Gewalt gegen Andersdenkende auf. In vielen europäischen Staaten nehmen Übergriffe, Diskriminierungen und öffentliche Hassreden gegen Muslime rasant zu. In Deutschland kam es 2015 zu 75 politisch motivierten Angriffen gegen Moscheen, mehr als dreimal so viel wie noch im Jahr 2010. In lediglich 16 Fällen wurden Verdächtige ermittelt (Ralf Pauli, “Jede Woche ein Angriff“, Tageszeitung, 08.05.2016). AfD-Vize Alexander Gauland forderte unlängst gar die Aussetzung des Asylrechts für muslimische Flüchtlinge, nachdem ein junger Mann mit einer Axt Passagiere in einem Regionalzug bei Würzburg angegriffen und sich ein weiterer in Ansbach in die Luft gesprengt hatte (“Angriff auf das Grundgesetz: AfD-Vize Gauland will Asylrecht für Muslime aussetzen“, Spiegel Online, 27.07.2016). In Frankreich werden diesen Sommer zahlreiche Grossveranstaltungen und Märkte mit Verweis auf die Terrorgefahr abgesagt. Das Land befindet sich seit acht Monaten im Ausnahmezustand, welcher es der Polizei erlaubte, tausende, oftmals willkürliche Razzien ohne Gerichtsbeschluss durchzuführen, und der nach der Tragödie in Nizza um weitere sechs Monate verlängert wurde. Bei den öffentlichen Trauerfeiern auf der Promenade des Anglais in Nizza wurden Söhne und Töchter von muslimischen Opfern der Gewalttat vom 14. Juli von der Menge angegriffen (Yasser Louati, “After Nice: Grief and Disgrace”, Middle East Eye, 29.07.2016). Der Direktor des französischen Inlandsgeheimdienstes, Patrick Calvar, erläuterte dem Parlament seine Befürchtung, dass die Radikalisierung einer hochgerüsteten Ultrarechten, welche die Konfrontation mit der muslimischen Gemeinschaft sucht, die gesellschaftliche Balance zum Kippen und Frankreich gar an den Rand eines Bürgerkrieges bringen könnte:

Cela d’autant que l’Europe est en grand danger: les extrémismes montent partout et nous sommes, nous, services intérieurs, en train de déplacer des ressources pour nous intéresser à l’ultra-droite qui n’attend que la confrontation. Vous rappeliez que je tenais toujours un langage direct; eh bien, cette confrontation, je pense qu’elle va avoir lieu. Encore un ou deux attentats et elle adviendra. Il nous appartient donc d’anticiper et de bloquer tous ces groupes qui voudraient, à un moment ou à un autre, déclencher des affrontements intercommunautaires. — Patrick Calvar, Commission de la défense nationale et des forces armées, 10.05.2016.

Es braucht deshalb Wachsamkeit, Standhaftigkeit und vor allem einen kühlen Kopf, um die von den Jihadisten ausgehende Herausforderung an die freie, offene und tolerante Gesellschaft ins Leere laufen zu lassen. In der Pflicht sind dabei die Medien und Politiker, die jedes (vermeintliche) Attentat reflexartig dem IS zuschreiben — häufig ohne konkreten Hinweis auf dessen tatsächliche Beteiligung. Diese weitum automatisierte Reaktion überhöht Einfluss und Schlagkraft des IS und ist Wasser auf seine Propagandamühlen. Denn der IS selbst wartet nur darauf, in einem solchen Fall die Urheberschaft für sich zu beanspruchen, schrieb kürzlich Max Bearak in der Washington Post. Die meisten Angriffe würden nämlich von Menschen verübt, welche nie in direktem Kontakt zum IS gestanden hätten und welche die Terrormiliz folglich selbst nicht kenne.

Ein illustratives Beispiel ist der Anschlag auf einen Nachtclub in Orlando am 12. Juni 2016. Obwohl Beamte des U.S. Department of Homeland Security eine Verbindung zwischen dem Täter Omar Mateen und dem IS verneinten, erklärten viele Medien und Politiker, dass der Todesschütze im Auftrag der Terrormiliz gehandelt habe. Darauf übernahm der IS die Verantwortung, obwohl dieser Mateen offenbar nicht kannte und es äusserst zweifelhaft ist, ob dessen Ideologie und Propaganda massgebliche Ursachen für die Tat waren. Denn Mateen “pries sowohl den IS als auch dessen Intimfeind, Dschabhat al-Nusra (neu Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), und darüber hinaus den gemeinsamen Feind beider Organisationen, die schiitische Hisbollah. Dahinter steht kein geschlossenes Weltbild, das ist halb verdautes Nachrichtengewitter.” (Yassin Musharbash, “Aber er hat doch IS gesagt!“, Die Zeit, 14.06.2016).

Auch im Fall des Mordes an Mitarbeitern einer gemeinnützigen Einrichtung am 2. Dezember 2015 im kalifornischen San Bernardino scheint es, als ob der IS vorschnell die Verantwortung übernommen hat. Syed Farook und Tashfeen Malik töteten 14 Menschen mit automatischen Waffen und platzierten eine selbstgebaute Bombe, die glücklicherweise aber nicht explodierte. Die beiden Täter wurden anschliessend bei einem Feuergefecht mit der Polizei getötet. Obwohl der IS auch in diesem Fall die beiden Attentäter als “Soldaten des Kalifats” pries und die Presse über einen angeblichen Treueeid der beiden zum IS berichtete, verneint das FBI, dass es diesen jemals gab. Eine Verbindung scheint zweifelhaft. (Shane Harris, “Was the San Bernardino Massacre Really ISIS-Inspired?“, The Daily Beast, 16.12.2015).

Medien, Politiker und vermeintliche Terrorismusexperten sollten daher unbedingt genauer hinschauen, bevor sie eine Bluttat vorschnell dem selbsternannten Kalifat zuschreiben. Denn damit leistet man der Propagandamessage des IS Vorschub, er könne praktisch überall und jederzeit “Ungläubige” töten. Zudem birgt die Einordnung der Taten, verbunden mit der exzessiven medialen Präsenz, das Risiko, weitere potentielle Täter anzustacheln (siehe auch: Anja Burri, “Krank oder fanatisch?“, Tagesanzeiger, 25.07.2016).

Letztlich stehen wir alle in der Verantwortung. Damit wir nicht in die Falle tappen, welche uns die Terroristen stellen, müssen wir das simplistische, apokalyptische Narrativ eines zivilisatorischen Konflikts zwischen dem Westen und dem Islam zurückweisen. Mindestens 35 der 86 Todesopfer des Anschlags in Nizza waren Muslime.

[1] “Here we are burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.” (Hannah Allam, “Peter Kassig’s Friends Hope Unusual Islamic State Video Means He Fought His Beheading“, McClatchy DC, 16.11.2016).
[2] “Turkey’s entry into the war will permit the foreign invasion of northern Syria, meaning from the plain of Dabiq. The battles [of the End Times] have grown near.” (McCants, p. 104).
[3] “If you think all these mujahideen came from across the world to fight Assad, you’re mistaken”, explained a jihadist fighter in Aleppo. “They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised – it is the Grand Battle.” (Mariam Karouny, “Apocalyptic Prophecies Drive Both Sides to Syrian Battle for End of Time“, Reuters, 01.04.2014).

Posted in Adrian Hänni, France, Lukas Hegi, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Turkey finally makes a move on its long sought Syrian buffer zone

On Wednesday the 23 August Turkey initiated its long sought after buffer zone in northeast Syria with a bang. At 4.a.m in artillery rained down on Islamic State (ISIS) positions followed by airstrikes carried out by Turkish F-16’s – marking the first time Turkish warplanes entered Syrian airspace since the Russian warplane incident last year. Then Turkish tanks crossed the border covering the advance of at least 1,500 militiamen, who are fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), to rout the militants out.


This move fulfilled the first step of something Turkey has threatened to do for about five years now: establish a small 70-kilometer wide buffer-zone on the northwestern Syrian border. While circumstances have changed in the last half-a-decade – the buffer zone is no longer primarily aimed, as originally planned, at keeping military forces commanded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of that region – the parameters of the zone and the basic purpose of it are more-or-less the same. The US has also supported the idea of an ISIS-free zone in northwest Syria for at least a year before this operation, since it has been at war with ISIS in Syria for two years now.

Turkey seeks to keep two enemy forces out of that area, ISIS and Kurdish militia forces (People’s Protection Units; YPG) they say are directly linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The fact that Turkish artillery has also targeted Kurdish forces south of Jarablus in recent days isn’t surprising. After all, Turkey joined the US-led coalition against ISIS in July 2015, the same month its hostilities against the PKK resumed after a failed ceasefire implemented in early 2013. Also the zone is aimed to be a safe-zone for displaced Syrians to stop more of them pouring into Turkey.

That’s not the only notable thing about it. The zones establishment comes just six weeks after the failed coup attempt of July 15 and the sweeping government crackdown on the military which ensued. Now with greater government control over the military Ankara is finally able to enact what it has long been planning to do.


Time will tell how major this operation will be, how far south the Turkish military will go as part of its efforts to target ISIS and the Kurds. It’s not clear, however, how apt of a demonstration it will be of the power and capability of the Turkish military in the aftermath of the coup. After all, presently it’s limited to a supporting role for the at least 1,500 of the aforementioned fighters backed by armor, artillery and special forces. Turkish air power is also being coordinated with, and complemented by, American coalition air power.

Also with its back to the border the military could rely on being able to bring heavy firepower to bear on enemy forces, since it could resupply relatively easily. ISIS militants didn’t have a fallback position in Jarablus, nor could its militants be easily resupplied to put up a fight since they were cut off further south, and from their main base in Raqqa, by Kurdish-led forces.

A deeper infiltration of Turkish ground forces into hostile territory would be more informative about the capability of the Turkish armed forces and how much the Turkish public would support, and stomach, it if their soldiers began to suffer combat casualties.

Free Syrian Army's fighters enter Syria with Turkish armor backing.

Free Syrian Army’s fighters enter Syria with Turkish armor backing.

While this is the biggest operation into Syria since the war began it’s worth noting that this is not the first time Turkish forces entered Syria from over the border. Since January Turkey has been intermittently bombarding ISIS-territories over the border in retaliation for mortar attacks on its frontier province of Kilis. In early May during one of these operations Turkish special forces did make a brief incursion into Syria against the militants.

Earlier than that in February 2015, a convoy consisting of a reported 572 Turkish soldiers backed up by 39 tanks and 57 armored vehicles also briefly entered Syria to evacuate the 38 Turkish soldiers guarding the Suleyman Shah tomb, and relocate that tomb, which was situated in a Turkish exclave in Syria that was becoming too hard to protect. As with the Jarablus offensive, Damascus also condemned that move was a violation of Syria’s sovereignty since Turkey did not seek Syria’s permission. Given its present day rapprochement with Russia, Ankara may have tacit acquiescence from the Kremlin for this current operation, provided they do not over-extend too far south of their border.

Whatever the case ultimately proves to be Wednesday’s move is quite a significant development in the tumultuous war in Syria.

• • •

During Wednesday the 23 August, around 20 Turkish tanks and 20 armoured personnel carrier crossed the border to Syria. At least additional 10 tanks crossed the border early on Thursday, 25 August. Meanwhile, a total of 350 soldiers from the Turkish Armed Forces are taking part (some 200 soldiers from mechanized units and 150 Special Forces soldiers).

In an interview broadcast late on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that following the expulsion of IS militia from Jarablus, Turkey’s military would continue its operation in the region. Now it’s about pushing the Kurdish YPG militia back over the Euphrates river, Yildirim said. “Until that’s achieved, we will continue our operations. Our agreement with the US is that the Kurds from Manbij and the region have to withdraw to the east side of the Euphrates,” he added. (“Turkey rolls on with Syria operation as US confirms retreat of Syrian Kurds“, Deutsche Welle, 25.08.2016). Later that day, YPG declared that they have pulled back from the key town of Manbij and returned to the east of the Euphrates.

This maps by Artur Rosiński show the course of action of the turkish military operation (click on the specific thumbnail to enlarge the map):

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Iran ISOICO Shipyard Update

DG (30JUN16) BeA

The Kharg returns to Bandar Abbas without completing deck maintenance (DigitalGlobe 30 June 2016)

The latest commercial satellite imagery shows some new developments at Iran’s ISOICO shipyard near Bostanu. In June, the Kilo-class attack submarine and the Kharg (431) replenishment ship departed the shipyard and relocated back to Bander Abbas naval base. The vessels have been located at the shipyard since October 2015 and November 2014, respectively. While the Kharg returned to its normal berthing position on the peninsular breakwater, maintenance of the deck had not been completed at the time of capture. The Kilo relocated to its normal berthing position or possibly entered the dry dock.

Meanwhile, the Jamaran (76) FFG was pulled out of water for routine maintenance, and was positioned for repairs near a Hengam-class LSLM. Other vessels of note include the hull of a probable Sina-class boat which had prior been in the fabrication shop. The vessel exhibited no evidence of further fitting out. There’s also a Ghadir coastal submarine which is undergoing extensive maintenance near the ship workshop. Imagery from April showed the submarine in two pieces. The Ghadir sat near Iran’s homegrown research vessel which had yet to leave the shipyard. Likewise, Iran’s homegrown tanker has yet to be completed and remained berthed near the floating dry dock without its deck house.

DG (30JUL16) Platform Barge Loading

Platform Barge Loading at ISOICO (DigitalGlobe 30 June 2016)

Beyond military, one of Iran’s offshore oil platform modules had been loaded on a barge for its next phase of fitting out. Iran claimed in 2014 to be self-sufficient in building offshore oil platforms. However the country inked an agreement with Russia’s Krasnye Barrkady (Red Barricades) to construct additional rigs for exploration in the Persian Gulf. The agreement reportedly included a technology transfer arrangement. Elements of Iran’s offshore platform construction span multiple shipyards including the ISOICO, Sadra Island, Qeshm Island and Khorramshahr, according to imagery analysis.

In related news, Iran has quickly ramped up production since implementation day, pumping over 3.6 million barrels per day (mb/d) in July 2016, according to OPEC. It expects to move toward 4.8 mb/d by 2021, but to do that the country requires nearly $70 billion in foreign capital to hit the target. Similarly, exports are on the rise with the country ramping up crude to Asia, especially China and India. China is in the lead importing around 603,000 bpd while India, though gaining, was around 338,000 bpd near the end of July. Available data from Japan showed the country near 206,000 bpd in the first six months of 2016. Likewise, Iranian crude exports to the EU have risen substantively, though appear to be encountering greater competition in July. So far, exports to the EU peaked in May at more than 350,000 bpd or about half of their pre-sanction levels. Given Iran’s production targets and US shale oil production productivity, it’s unlikely the crude glut will disappear any time soon. Most analysts expect prices to remain lower for longer.

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Unauthorised Troops on Foreign Soil: Wild West in the Middle East

UK_spec_forces-001Beginning of August, the BBC released the first ever photographs of British special forces in Syria (see one of the photos on the right). The photos showed twelve heavily armed elite soldiers with four accompanying vehicles and weapons. They were taken around the al-Tanf military garrison near the Syrian border with Jordan after an Islamic State (ISIS) attack on it in June.

For months now it has been public knowledge that the British are there to help the Americans in their endeavour to create a new counter-ISIS force (the New Syrian Army) to work with on the ground in Syria. That is the groups sole stated purpose, not to be used as a proxy against the Syrian regime. However they are not there under the authorization of the regime in Damascus – which the US does not want to work with, even if just against ISIS.

In mid-June there was a controversial incident when two Russian Su-34 Fullback jets bombed the New Syrian Army forces at Al-Tanf, an attack which transpired 24-hours after the British forces left the base for Jordan. Even after two US Navy F/A-18 Hornet’s were scrambled to intercept the Fullbacks and warned them off they still came back for a second bombing run after those Hornet’s had to leave the vicinity to refuel.

While Russia claimed it was an accident it’s worth at least considering that Russia may intentionally have been acting on behalf of its ally in Damascus to demonstrate that such forces on Syrian soil are not invulnerable to sudden attack. While also taking very careful precautions to ensure they did not kill any of the British forces there nor risk a serious clash with the US coalition, with which they set-up a communications mechanism to avoid any accidental shoot-downs or clashes.

The Syrian regime has claimed in the past it is willing to work with the Americans against ISIS, but that their operations must be coordinated with Damascus. Something the Americans refused to do since they deem that regime to be illegitimate.

Damascus also denounced the presence of western special forces in northeastern Syrian, where they are training the Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) anti-ISIS fighting-force, as well as western volunteers, who have joined that group. Such a clear aversion to these foreign forces in Syria is something that should be borne in mind and might serve as an explanation for Russia’s bombing of al-Tanf.

A New Syrian Army patrol in late April, 2016 taking a break after a long drive on American supplied pick-up trucks (Rao Kumar, "The New Syrian Army: America’s 'Tip of the Spear' Against ISIS in the Syrian Desert", Bellingcat, 31.05.2016).

A New Syrian Army patrol in late April, 2016 taking a break after a long drive on American supplied pick-up trucks (Rao Kumar, “The New Syrian Army: America’s ‘Tip of the Spear’ Against ISIS in the Syrian Desert“, Bellingcat, 31.05.2016).

Incidentally a not too dissimilar precedent, wherein a foreign powers deployed their own soldiers to train proxy anti-ISIS forces to another country without that countries authorization, happened in Northern Iraq last December. It revolved around Turkey’s deployment of combat troops without the permission of the Iraqi government. Although Turkey had been permitted to send military advisors to its forward-operating-base in Bashiqa it was not authorized to deploy combat troops – which they did that month, much to the consternation of Baghdad which demanded an immediately and unconditional withdrawal.

The Turkish government later said it sent its combat troops to protect its advisors at that base, which is by the front-lines with ISIS. During that same month Bashiqa was shelled by those militants. Interestingly Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the Shiite militias fighting ISIS more than 100 kilometers south of Bashiqa at the time, also claimed responsibility for that attack. This was a clear bid on the part of that group to depict itself as being on the forefront of combating any foreign military presence in Iraq, even if that foreigner was also there primarily in order to combat a mutual enemy.

Turkey claimed that attack, and subsequent attacks by ISIS this year, was ample justification for the need to deploy those combat forces. The Iraqi government countered by reasoning that Turkey doesn’t need to train forces so near the front-lines with ISIS.

More recently Shiite militia leaders have also warned the US about setting-up military bases and deploying combat troops, even in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, as part of the coalitions counter-ISIS war and even threatened the attack them.

These two incidents are salient reminders that, weak as they may be from the years of destabilizing conflict which ultimately led to the rise of ISIS, the Iraqi and Syrian states are unlikely to remain willingly passive when foreign powers deploy military forces on their soil without their authorization.

More information

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Terrorism in Laos: Slow Burn?

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

2015 Bangkok bombing. Why do ethnic separatists in Thailand use bombs and aim for substantial body counts, while ethnic separatists in Laos use small arms and apparently target specific targets?

2015 Bangkok bombing. Why do ethnic separatists in Thailand use bombs and aim for substantial body counts, while ethnic separatists in Laos use small arms and apparently target specific targets?

For decades, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has contended with a low-intensity insurgency, primarily attributed to two extremist groups – the Ethnic Liberation Organization of Laos and the United Front for the Liberation of Laos – which both pursue through violent means autonomy or independence for the Hmong ethnic minority. Since November 2015, a rash of shootings carried out against tourist buses, Chinese contractors, and Lao military outposts has provoked the State Department in the United States to caution American tourists about the risks of travelling to Laos.

The nature of these terrorist attacks contrasts with those witnessed recently in Thailand. Whereas small arms are typically used to ambush vehicles traversing major roadways between the Laotian capital of Vientiane and Kunming, China, a series of bombs have been detonated in the Thai communities of Hua Hin, Phuket, Surat Thani, and Trang in August 2016, killing four and injuring 34. In August 2015, a bomb was detonated at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, Thailand, leaving 20 dead and 125 injured. In December 2013, bombs were detonated in several southern Thai communities, close to the border with Malaysia, resulting in two deaths and 27 injured. The attacks of the previous few years demonstrate the grisly nature of terrorism in Thailand – dramatic bombings in tourist spots or other high-density locations, usually carried out by separatist insurgents from southern Thailand.

Given the similar characteristics and aims of the terrorist groups in Laos and Thailand, why does the modus operandi differ? Why do ethnic separatists in Thailand use bombs and aim for substantial body counts, while ethnic separatists in Laos use small arms and apparently target specific targets? Most likely, the differences in methods between the two reflects the “professionalization” of terrorist groups in Thailand. In previous decades, much of the terrorist activity in Thailand was perpetrated by the National Revolution Front, Runda Kumpulan Kecil, Patani United Liberation Organisation, and the Free Aceh Movement, most of which were dedicated strictly to the secession of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces from the Kingdom of Thailand in order to re-establish the Sultanate of Pattani, a predominantly Sunni Muslim and Malay country until it was gradually annexed by 1909. However, militant Islamist entities have come to the fore of the conflict in southern Thailand, namely Jemaah Islamiyah, the United Mujahideen Front of Pattani, the Pattani Islamic Mujahideen Movement, and the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Pattani.

The Golden Triangle between Laos, Thailand and Burma.

The Golden Triangle between Laos, Thailand and Burma.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has established a presence in Thailand, but it is certainly possible that members of the aforementioned militant Islamist groups already operating in the country could have received training and support from ISIS in an effort to intensify the bombing campaign and reduce some of the pressure on ISIS so-called “homeland” in Syria and Iraq. Jemaah Islamiyah would certainly be an ideal proxy for ISIS in the region, given that the organization already has substantial reach and coordination. That group has carried out attacks in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, rising to international prominence in October 2002 when a series of bombs its members planted in the tourist district of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali killed 202 and injured 209. Jemaah Islamiyah depended greatly on its partnership with al-Qaeda, while also demonstrating collaborative tendencies by frequently conducting joint training with other Southeast Asia-based terrorist organizations like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid. Finally, Jemaah Islamiyah is currently vulnerable to takeover, given the deaths of certain key members in recent months. In particular, the organization’s leading bomb maker Zulkifli Abdhir was killed in a gun battle with Philippine counter-terrorist troops in January 2015, while bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman was also killed in the Philippines in May 2015 when it seems one of his bodyguards sought to collect the bounty placed on him by the United States.

In short, terrorism in Thailand differs because its perpetrators possess the resources necessary to carry out sophisticated bombings and because the ideology of those who carry out these attacks calls for as large a body count as possible. Terrorism in Laos will not likely “professionalize” in this same way unless there is a convergence of interests in the near future between separatist groups in northern Laos and organized crime. The border regions of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma form the so-called “Golden Triangle” where conditions are ripe for opium production and porous borders allow for the trafficking of arms, narcotics, and slave labour. The nightmare scenario for Laos, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), would involve organized crime networks in China’s Yunnan province supplying arms and bomb-making materials to northern Laotian separatists in an effort to fuel regional instability and secure a new supply of opium, given recent supply disruptions from Burma.

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African Drone Apron Update

DG Chabelley

The U.S. continues to expand drone aprons at African airfields in Djibouti and Niger, recent satellite imagery acquired by Digitalglobe confirms.

Space snapshots acquired in July 2016 of Djibouti’s Chabelley airfield show the addition of four more clamshell shelters since previous reporting in March/April 2016. Three new line of sight communication towers and two ku-band primary satellite links were also visible near the new tension hangars. The two shelters remaining on the older apron, located at the eastern ramp, have since been removed. The older apron probably supported drone operations associated with EU NAVFOR.

Adjacent to the apron, a taxi-way extending out to field parking appeared to be repaved while clearing and leveling activity was spotted near the airfield’s perimeter and bivouac site. A makeshift construction compound had been added to the northeast of the airfield outside the access control point. Several earth moving vehicles and dump trucks were on-site at the time of capture. Given the history of the site, the extended taxi-way may eventually support future apron expansions as more drones are put online or relocated from other forward positions. For example, we’ve noted the relocation of drones from Afghanistan in 2014-2015 and the Reapers at Arba Minch were pulled last November.

The additional drones arriving in Djibouti come at the right time. As things get worse in Yemen, additional surveillance measures will be needed. Yemen has become what some observers see as a new “Vietnam”. By all appearances, the peace process is breaking down. The lack of progress advancing toward a unity government peaked last month when the Houthi Shia movement announced the formation of a 10-member “Supreme Council” to govern territory it controls. The UN special envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, suspended talks taking place in Kuwait to be resumed at an unspecified date. As a political solution slips further from reach, the return of military action targeting the Houthis is in full swing, despite brief moments of calm. Of course, that says nothing of the other groups vying for influence.

DG (03JUL16) Niamey

DG (03JUL16) Niamey

Meanwhile in West Africa, recent imagery of Niger’s Diori Hamani in Niamey shows two additional clamshell shelters erected since last year’s update. We’ve noted the ongoing construction activity at the site in other reports. Both tension-shelters were added in 2016, the first (top) during March and the second (bottom) in late June. The first shelter appears to support the basing of more drones. In July, we caught our first glimpse of a Reaper nose protruding from the shelter. What the second shelter supports remains unknown. The site continues to exhibit ongoing construction activity that we’ll continue to watch.

Beyond infrastructure developments, the “Group of Five for the Sahel” agreed in March to create an EU-backed rapid reaction force to counter militants in the region. The agreement is viewed as a mechanism to release pressure on France’s overstretched military presence. Operation Barkhane, France’s largest external operation, has approximately 3,500 troops stationed across the region. France’s main focus for its force has been to counter terrorism and smuggling operations, both symptoms of ungoverned spaces the Western European country sees as a source of instability. Including Barkhane, total French troops on the continent number over 8,000. How successful French forces will be in stabilizing the region — even with the backing of a new rapid reaction force — is debatable, given the lack of a political solution. With no end of French involvement in sight, France may be settling back into a familiar role as the “gendarme of Africa”.

Posted in Chris Biggers, Djibouti, Drones, English, Intelligence, International, Niger | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia’s growing influence in the post-Arab Spring Middle East

The Khmeimim airbase near Latakia is a good example of Russias massive footprint in Syria. It is the strategic center of Russia’s military operation in Syria (Revision 1 with additional information provided by Capitain Mike Butora, Swiss Air Force).

The Khmeimim airbase near Latakia is a good example of Russias massive footprint in Syria. It is the strategic center of Russia’s military operation in Syria (Revision 1 with additional information provided by Capitain Mike Butora, Swiss Air Force).

Russia is set to maintain an indefinite presence in its airbase in Syria’s western Latakia province, from where it has been carrying out airstrikes in support of its sole remaining regional ally, the regime in Damascus.

Following the Kremlin’s decisive intervention in the Syrian conflict last September 30, Vladimir Putin lambasted the western powers at the United Nations for, as he sees it, wrecking havoc in the Middle East by supporting the opponents of the various authoritarian regimes there. Conversely he characterized his own country’s intervention in Syria as a necessary move to preserve the stability of the region and combat terrorism.

Part of the move was clearly to ensure that Russia did not lose its only Arab ally. In the post-Arab Spring order Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has remained one of the few leaders in the revolting Arab countries who wasn’t overthrown, like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, or forced to step-down, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Russia has clearly gained a lot from the failure of the revolts and the reinforcement of authoritarian orders that followed those failed region-wide uprisings. To understand trends in the Middle East it’s important to understand the political situations in the three Middle Eastern bellwether states: Egypt, Iran and Turkey. In all three countries Russia has been gaining significant influence.

Russian president Vladimir Putin meets Turkish president Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last weel for the 1st time since downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M.

Russian president Vladimir Putin meets Turkish president Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last weel for the 1st time since downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M.

After a seven month fallout with Turkey following the November 27 shoot-down incident (which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apologized for in a letter sent to Moscow in June) the Kremlin has began to restore ties with that country. Turkey has even agreed to cooperate with the Russians in Syria despite their long-held aversion to Russia’s ally in Damascus. This comes as Turkey is becoming more distrustful of, and estranged from, the US – which has been home to Fethullah Gulen, the cleric Turkey accuses of orchestrating the failed coup last month, since 1999. Washington has expressed worry over Turkey’s post-coup crackdown while Moscow simply welcomed the restoration of ties and spoke out against the coup attempt as it took place. Something Erdogan personally thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for during his recent visit to Russia which, incidentally, was his first trip abroad since the failed coup.

We may see a situation develop in the near future whereby Turkey will enhance its already substantial economic ties with Russia and perhaps even cooperate more with them in the military arena given their distrust of Washington and desire to avoid relying solely on its NATO allies. We saw an earlier indication of this when Turkey sought to buy long-range Chinese-made anti-aircraft missiles two years ago only to be warned by American and European companies who have joint military projects that their “partnership in certain fields will be over” if they purchased such missiles. Consequently that deal was scrapped, but the fact that Turkey was and has been seeking, for some time now, to diversify its military and bolster its domestic arms industry is very telling (see also “Turkey’s growing domestic arms industry“,, 21.05.2016).

A not too dissimilar trend has been unfolding with Egypt in recent years. While a long-time US ally, the current regime of President Fatah el-Sisi in Cairo – born of the July 2013 military coup he led before becoming president – knows it cannot rely on Washington given its authoritarianism and rampant human rights abuses. So, Sisi has enhanced ties with Moscow, reportedly ordering a fleet of 46 Russian MiG-29 Fulcrums to diversify its air force, which mostly consists of American technology, so it can remain a formidable power if the day comes when Washington threatens to place an arms embargo on Cairo as part of an attempt to sanction it for its abuses.

On top of this, Iran and Russia are working more closely in the region. In a meeting in early August Putin and the Iranian President Hasan Rouhani met in the Azerbaijani capital Baku for a summit in which Putin said that Moscow-Tehran relations have reached the point of strategic cooperation from the economy to politics. Neither of them want to see the Syrian regime toppled nor the Americans and their NATO allies becoming the predominant foreign power in the region. Also Russia is in the process of delivering Iran advanced S-300 long-range air defense missiles and possibly even a sophisticated fleet of Su-30 Flanker air superiority jet fighters. Possession of both weapon systems would substantially enhance Iran’s ability to defend its airspace and deter adversaries.

Russian AF Tu-22M3 strategic bombers deployed to Hamedan base in Iran (Photo: Warfare Worldwide).

Russian AF Tu-22M3 strategic bombers deployed to Hamedan base in Iran (Photo: Warfare Worldwide).

Strategic cooperation between Moscow and Tehran was aptly demonstrated on August 16 when Russian Tu-22 supersonic bombers, along with Su-34 Fullback fighter bombers, took off from the Hamedan airbase in the western Iranian city of Hamadan and bombed targets in Syria. Basing these strike aircraft in Iran shortened the flight distance of that bombing run from approximately 2,000 to 700 kilometers. The aircraft were also, notably, escorted by Su-30 and Su-35 Flanker air superiority jet fighters based in the Russian airbase in Khmeimim near Latakia in western Syria throughout that strike. That was the first time Russian aircraft operated from Iran throughout this campaign and underscores the extent of the two countries increased cooperation in recent months.

While Russian power and influence in the region may not be predominant, it certainly is a lot stronger and more formidable than it was just a short few months ago.

Posted in Egypt, English, Intelligence, International, Iran, Russia, Security Policy, Syria, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Unlikely Case for Suicide Attacks

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

A picture taken on July 11, 2016 shows Iraqi municipality cleaners looking at posters commemorating the victims of a suicide bomb attack at the site of the explosion which killed nearly 300 people in Baghdad's Karrada district. The blast was one of the deadliest single attacks in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. (Photo: Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images)

A picture taken on July 11, 2016 shows Iraqi municipality cleaners looking at posters commemorating the victims of a suicide bomb attack at the site of the explosion which killed nearly 300 people in Baghdad’s Karrada district. The blast was one of the deadliest single attacks in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. (Photo: Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images)

The complex logic behind suicide attacks has baffled and fascinated the Western world since 9/11. The news media portrays them as symptoms of radicalism stemming from extreme interpretations of Islam, which some conservatives blame for the birth of the phenomenon. Political scientists such as Robert Pape and his supporters, on the other hand, argue that terrorist organizations only conduct suicide attacks against democratic governments occupying foreign countries.

I wanted to know what the radicals and terrorists themselves thought, so I asked around. A subtler reality emerged: they use suicide attacks not when their opponents have military supremacy alone but when, in addition, a political solution to a war appears out of reach.

Representative of Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine to Iran Nasser Abu Sharif gives a speech during the 5th International conference of Gaza, Symbol of Resistance at Shams Hall in Iran's capital Tehran on January 18, 2015.

Representative of Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine to Iran Nasser Abu Sharif gives a speech during the 5th International conference of Gaza, Symbol of Resistance at Shams Hall in Iran’s capital Tehran on January 18, 2015.

Nasser Abu Sharif, the representative of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Tehran, told me PIJ’s reason for relying on suicide attacks. “We have come to believe, based on our experience, that the Zionist Entity is unbeatable through negotiations,” he explained. “Martyrdom operations are a weapon to change the enemy’s thinking and force it to reconsider its occupation. Under negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Israel has increased its settlements exponentially.” [1]

The anti-Semitic, Islamist terminology (“martyrdom operations” instead of suicide attacks and “the Zionist Entity” instead of Israel) might obscure Abu Sharif’s true message: PIJ has chosen suicide attacks as an alternative to the peace process, which, according to PIJ, has gone nowhere. “If Israel left Palestine now, we would throw roses in response and would not cast a stone,” he said.

Whether you believe PIJ or not, countless observers have acknowledged the intractability of the Israeli–Palestinian peace process. Two years ago, Israel suspended negotiations with the Palestinians; last year, it ended contact with EU officials involved in the peace process. Palestine, meanwhile, has accused Israel of genocide and threatened it with the International Criminal Court.

As political solutions seem less likely, military responses such as suicide attacks become more attractive to insurgents. “In suicide bombers, the terrorist organization dispatching them gets a weapon that is horrifying, that can be precisely targeted, that can infiltrate into heavily protected places, and can cause considerable damage,” Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst, said in an email. “In that sense, the suicide bomber is a terrorist group’s ultimate weapon — their version of a cruise missile.”

Taliban Spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi.

Taliban Spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi.

Mohammad Yousuf Ahmadi, the Taliban’s spokesman for the south of Afghanistan, agreed. “When martyrdom operations are used effectively, the enemy flees, and entire villages and regions are therefore liberated,” he said. “Martyrdom operations are the best, most powerful way to defeat the enemy in the military arena, and the enemy’s defeat also ensures changes in his political strategy.”

In Afghanistan too, the peace process has struggled. Problems ranging from Pakistani interference and hardliners in the Taliban to targeted killings of Taliban leaders and the Afghan government’s dependence on Western militaries have prevented a meaningful engagement between both sides. Indifferent to the peace process, the Taliban has reinvested its political energies in military assets: car bombs and suicide attacks. Earlier this year, a Taliban truck bomb killed sixty-four in Kabul.

Suicide attacks are neither an Islamic phenomenon nor a recent one. A nineteenth-century Russian socialist staged the first suicide attack in modern history. During World War II, Japanese pilots conducted Kamikaze raids as the Allies’ strategy of leapfrogging cut supply chains to Tokyo. Throughout the Sri Lankan Civil War, Hindu rebels launched suicide attacks against Buddhist civilians and soldiers. In all three cases, peace processes collapsed and faltered or never started.

Turkey offers the most illustrative example. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a leftist, secularist resistance movement and terrorist organization seeking autonomy for the country’s Kurdish minority, waged a campaign of suicide attacks for years before a ceasefire and peace process lasting 2013-2015. During negotiations, the suicide attacks stopped. After the Turkish government suspended the peace process, PKK suicide attacks hit Ankara and Istanbul, killing dozens.

A man looks out at ruined houses after returning to Cizre, Turkey, on March 2016. The buildings were damaged during clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants associated with the PKK. Cizre, is home to about 130,000 residents, many of whom were allowed back home in March 2016 for the first time in months, discovering widespread destruction resulting from the military operation. (Photo Cagdas Erdogan/Getty Images).

A man looks out at ruined houses after returning to Cizre, Turkey, on March 2016. The buildings were damaged during clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants associated with the PKK. Cizre, is home to about 130,000 residents, many of whom were allowed back home in March 2016 for the first time in months, discovering widespread destruction resulting from the military operation. (Photo Cagdas Erdogan/Getty Images).

Analysts should note that some Islamist resistance movements have even declined to use suicide attacks. “Martyrdom operations are not part of the philosophy behind our military actions,” an official from Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist paramilitary in the Syrian opposition, told me over WhatsApp. “We can use remotely detonated car bombs to hit the military checkpoints of the regime and its allies. There is no need for martyrdom operations. The lives of our fighters are expensive.”

As Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War last year and interfered in a difficult peace process, a captain in the Free Syrian Army proposed conducting suicide attacks against Russian soldiers. Though he shunned al-Qaeda’s violent excesses, the commander assured me that he would use any means necessary to defend his country from an enemy who refused to negotiate.

History has proved suicide attacks a multifaith phenomenon if atheists, Hindus, Muslims, and secularists from the PKK to PIJ are willing to use them. Many terrorist organizations see suicide attacks as a last resort and a means to an end. “In principle, we oppose violence and try to avoid violent tactics,” said Abu Sharif. “Of course we are against civilians paying the price for their political leaders. […] When Japan struck Pearl Harbor,” the PIJ representative reminded me, “America responded with nuclear bombs and justified it as necessary to stop the war.” If the West wants to stop suicide attacks, then, it should focus on political solutions to the conflicts that produce them.

[1] With negotiations stalled between the Palestinians and Israelis, the number of settlers in the West Bank now exceeds 350,000 — including about 80,000 living in isolated settlements like Eli and Ofra that are hard to imagine remaining in place under any deal. In addition, there are another 300,000 Israelis living in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed in a move most of the world considers illegal. (Jodi Rudoren and Jeremy Ashkenas, “Netanyahu and the Settlements“, The New York Times, 12.03.2015).

Posted in Austin Michael Bodetti, English, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment