Archive for October, 2013

FOREIGN JIHADISTS SURPASS AFGHAN-SOVIET WAR, STORM SYRIA IN RECORD NUMBERS

October 21, 2013

The Washington Times on October 20, 2013, reported that foreigners fueled by Islamic fury are rushing to Syria to fight President Bashar Assad at a faster rate than the flow of rebels into Afghanistan in the war against a Soviet-backed regime in the 1980s, analysts say. Excerpts below:

An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 foreign fighters have come to Syria since the outbreak of the uprising in March 2011.

“This is probably one of the biggest foreign-fighter mobilizations since it became a phenomenon in the 1980s with the Afghan jihad against the Soviets,” said Aaron Y. Zelin, a Washington Institute researcher who studies al Qaeda and Syria.

The number of foreigners in Syria has not reached the level in Afghanistan three decades ago, but that civil war lasted nine years, while the Syrian rebellion is 2 years old.

Mr. Zelin said the rate of foreign recruits streaming into Syria is “unlike anything else.”

The foreign fighters — called jihadists, or holy warriors — come from at least 60 nations. Most are Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Tunisia, but a few dozen are from Western Europe, particularly Britain, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, Mr. Zelin said. Ten to 20 fighters have come from the United States, he said.

More and more opposition groups are peeling away from the Western-backed moderate Syrian National Coalition and its Free Syrian Army military umbrella, and joining with al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra, which are better funded, equipped and organized.

Foreigners make up about 80 percent of Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership, and as much as 20 percent of its 6,000 to 7,000 fighters are from other nations.

Several dozen Syrian rebel groups split from the Syrian National Coalition earlier this month, and about a dozen rebel groups formed an Islamist bloc with Jabhat al-Nusra late last month.

Those radicalized fighters will pose a threat to their home countries when they return, said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst.

“It is clearly more serious today than ever before,” he testified at a congressional hearing in Washington last week.

“They return with confidence that victory is possible. They and their colleagues now know that they inflicted humiliating defeats on the United States military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that knowledge will boost both spirits and recruitment.

“And they come home with a list of contacts among their fellow mujahedeen from whom they can seek advice or more material forms of assistance.”

Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria pay their fighters “competitive” monthly wages compared with other rebel groups, and are conducting public outreach efforts such as giving presents to children and teaching them to sing religious chants, Mr. Zelin said.

The moderate opposition is being “squeezed” between the Islamist rebels and government forces in the civil war,…

The United States can do little about the alarming trend, having lost credibility and alienated moderate opposition fighters who are disappointed and angry with empty U.S. promises, analysts said.

“We have been very vocal and clear in denouncing the presence of all foreign fighters,” State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said.

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FORMER SOVIET STATES STAND UP TO RUSSIA. WILL THE U.S.?

October 20, 2013

Washington Post on September 27, 2013, published a commentary by Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gershman wrote, has had some success recently using his support for the Assad regime in Syria to strengthen Moscow’s position in the Middle East. But his progress on this front is much less important than Moscow’s growing troubles in its “near abroad,” as it refers to the strategically vital area to its immediate west. Excerpts below:

In a replay of the classic East-West rivalry of the Cold War, but with the United States conspicuously on the sidelines, Russia has used economic and security threats to draw post-communist countries into its Eurasian Customs Union and to block the European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative, which seeks the reform and possible eventual integration of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine into E.U. structures. Russian pressures have escalated with the approach of a November summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, at which several of the countries could sign association or free-trade agreements with the E.U.

So far only Armenia has buckled under Russian pressure, agreeing to join the customs union after Moscow, which guarantees Armenia’s security against neighboring Azerbaijan, signed contracts to provide Azerbaijan with $4 billion worth of military hardware.

Elsewhere, Moscow’s bullying has backfired.Russia has banned Moldovan wine, threatened to cut off gas supplies to that republic and warned that the people of its Russian-occupied separatist enclave of Transnistria would resist any agreement with the E.U. But Moldova remains committed to initialing a free-trade agreement with the European Union in Vilnius, and it has responded to the threat of an energy boycott by quickly agreeing with Romania to build a pipeline linking the two countries.

Georgia, for years the target of Russian boycotts and security threats, is ruled by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who was rumored to be less anti-Russian than outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili. Yet Georgia, too, is about to initial a free-trade agreement in Vilnius, signaling that European integration is a national aspiration, not the choice of any particular party.

Ukraine is the biggest prize, and there Russia’s bullying has been particularly counter-productive. In addition to the usual economic threats and trade sanctions, including a ban on the import of Ukrainian chocolates, Putin offended Ukrainians during a state visit in July, saying that they and the Russians were a “single people,” and that the Ukranians had flourished under Soviet rule — totally ignoring the famine of the early 1930s that Ukrainians call the Holodomor, or “extermination by hunger.”

In short order, Ukraine’s parliament has passed reforms required by the E.U. dealing with such issues as corruption, tariffs and prisons; and the daughter of Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former prime minister whose release the E.U. has insisted on, has said that she hopes her mother’s freedom might be imminent.

The Russian online newspaper Gazeta.ru said recently that “Blackmail is the worst possible way of advertising economic cooperation.”

The process playing out in Europe has attracted little attention in the U.S. media or from the Obama administration, which has been mostly preoccupied with the Middle East and its pivot to Asia. But the opportunities are considerable, and there are important ways Washington could help.

The United States needs to engage with the governments and with civil society in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to ensure that the reform process under way not only promotes greater trade and development but also produces governments that are less corrupt and more accountable to their societies.

Russian democracy also can benefit from this process. Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.

Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.

AMERICA’S NEWEST HERO, CAPT. WILLIAM SWENSON: NOT MUCH FOR HELMETS – OR CAUTION

October 19, 2013

Business Investor’s Daily on October 16, 2013, published the Presidetial remarks at Medal of Honor Ceremony for Capt. William Swenson. The text is published below:

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat. On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House.

Last month, the United States Army released a remarkable piece of video. It’s from the combat helmet cameras of a Medevac helicopter crew in Afghanistan. And it’s shaky and it’s grainy, but it takes us to the frontlines that our troops face every single day, and it’s useful to remember that there is still a whole lot of our troops in Afghanistan in harm’s way. In that video, as the helicopter touches down by a remote village, you see, out of a cloud of dust, an American soldier. He’s without his helmet, standing in the open, exposing himself to enemy fire, standing watch over a severely wounded soldier.

He helps carry that wounded soldier to the helicopter and places him inside. And then, amidst the whipping wind and the deafening roar of the helicopter blades, he does something unexpected. He leans in and kisses the wounded soldier on the head — a simple act of compassion and loyalty to a brother in arms. And as the door closes and the helicopter takes off, he turns and goes back the way he came, back into the battle.

In our nation’s history, we have presented our highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, nearly 3,500 times for actions above and beyond the call of duty. But this may be the first time that we can actually bear witness to a small fraction of those actions for ourselves. And today we honor the American in that video — the soldier who went back in — Captain William Swenson.

Not far away that day was then-Corporal Dakota Meyer, to whom we presented the Medal of Honor two years ago. Today is only the second time in nearly half a century that the Medal of Honor has been awarded to two survivors of the same battle. Dakota is not here today, but I want to welcome some of the soldiers and Marines who fought alongside both these men — and the families of those who gave their lives that day.

I want to welcome all of our distinguished guests, including members of the Medal of Honor Society, whose ranks today grow by one more. Most of all, I want to welcome Will’s wonderful parents, Julia and Carl — and Will’s girlfriend, Kelsey. Had a chance to visit with them. Both Carl and Julia are former college professors, so instead of a house full of GI Joes, Will grew up in Seattle surrounded by educational games. (Laughter.) I’m told that even when Will was little, his mom was always a stickler for grammar — always making sure he said “to whom” instead of “to who.” (Laughter.) So I’m going to be very careful today. (Laughter.)

TAIWAN INVASION EXERCISE

October 18, 2013

Washington Times on October 17, 2013, reported that more than 20,000 Chinese soldiers, sailors and airmen carried out a boisterous joint-operation exercise this month, with Taiwan as the apparent simulated target of a Normandy-style invasion. Excerpts below:

Code-named Mission 2013B, the exercises are the third installment this year of a series of military drills. Participating in the exercise are ground troops from the 42nd Army of the Guangzhou Military Region command — the military’s crack force that was the main fighting unit during the Korean War and the 1979 invasion of Vietnam.

Air force units, surface warships and amphibious vessels, and electronic warfare groups from the Guangzhou and Nanjing region commands also formed a key portion of the war games.

In September, an earlier exercise, Mission 2013A, involved more than 40,000 troops from multiple services aimed at a large-scale island invasion either in the South China Sea or East China Sea where China has encountered strong resistance to its claims of territorial or maritime assets.

A third exercise, Mission 2013C, was conducted and directed primarily by the air force.

China’s state media enthusiastically reported the current Guangzhou exercise. State-run China Central Television (CCTV) prominently featured the drill from multiple angles, including a display of an operational map of Taiwan and nearby islands that were marked as key military targets.

Another key feature of the exercises was to show off joint military operations across a vast territory under two or more of China’s seven military regional commands.

Another emphasis is to commandeer and mobilize large civilian transportation assets including the regional railway, highway and civil aviation systems and industries that will participate in future operations.

Also stressed in the exercises is the need for the military to integrate combat information and command systems operated by various units and service branches.

“We will buttress our information warfare with our solid support systems, and we will fight our war with our skilled and trained troops,” said Gen. Zhou who was extensively interviewed by CCTV.

“This exercise will be conducted in various possible battle scenarios including conditions of danger, difficulty and risk, with the objective of enhancing our capabilities of joint command, joint operations and joint support.”

All military units have been on a binge of drills since Xi Jinping took over last November as China’s supreme leader.

The display of an operational military map of Taiwan during Mission 2013B caused a big stir in the democratic island nation that is claimed by China.

Taiwan’s United Daily News cited sources in China as claiming the maneuver was designed to intimidate Taiwan, which so far has refused to engage in negotiations for a “political settlement” with China.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-yeou’s mainland policy has been viewed as slavishly accommodating to China.

OBAMA SIGNS SHORT-TERM BILL ENDING PARTIAL SHUTDOWN, RAISING DEBT CEILING

October 17, 2013

Fox News on October 17, 2013, reported that President Obama signed a short-term bill ending the partial government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, capping one of the most bitter and brutal political fights in recent memory. Excerpts below:

The bill cleared the House late Wednesday on a 285-144 vote, lifted over the finish line by a large chunk of Democrats. All House Democrats voted in favor of the bill and 87 Republicans did as well. 144 Republicans voted against it.

The Senate, where the plan originated, earlier voted 81-18 for the bill.

As with past 11th-hour deals, this one kicks off the tough decisions to a separate committee and sets up another set of deadlines.

Lawmakers could again be at loggerheads by mid-January.

To the dismay of many conservatives, the final product does not include any major provisions pertaining to the health care law. But, with the House a day earlier unable to muster support for an alternative GOP plan, House leaders agreed to go along with the bipartisan Senate bill.

The bill puts an end, for now, to the historic showdown that has kept the government partly shuttered for more than two weeks. Putting additional pressure on lawmakers to reach an agreement, Congress was facing an October 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling.

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview with Cincinnati radio station WLW-AM ahead of the vote.

The final bill will fund the government through Jan. 15, and raise the debt cap through Feb. 7. Plus it provides back-pay for furloughed workers.

The plan does not include any provision relating to the ObamaCare medical device tax or other unpopular parts of the law, as prior plans did; instead it would include a single provision meant to verify the income of those receiving ObamaCare subsidies. It would also instruct a bipartisan budget committee to report back on a broader plan by mid-December.

“This deal is yet another promise to work on the problem tomorrow,” Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said in a statement.

The bill tees up another confrontation weeks down the road if the two sides are unable to do that.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, among the lawmakers who fought for defunding ObamaCare, called the final product “terrible.”

CAMBODIA’S UN-BACKED TRIAL OF COMMUNIST KHMER ROUGE LEADERS BEGIN HEARING CLOSING ARGUMENTS

October 16, 2013

Fox News on October 15, 2013, published an AP report on Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal beginning hearing closing statements in its first trial of top leaders of the 1970s communist regime widely considered responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people. Excerpts below:

Nuon Chea, the regime’s chief ideologist, and Khieu Samphan, its head of state, are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity — including torture, enslavement and murder — for planning and implementing the group’s brutal policies.

The first statements will be from lawyers for “civil parties” participating in the trial to represent the victims. Statements from the prosecution and defense are scheduled through the end of October, and a verdict is expected in the first half of 2014.

The Khmer Rouge, in power from April 1975 to January 1979, emptied the country’s cities, forcing Cambodians into backbreaking work in rural collectives and executing any it suspected of dissent.

Torture and death by starvation, lack of medical care, overwork and execution, were endemic under the secretive Khmer Rouge, who virtually sealed off their country from the rest of the world. The present trial’s focus on the forced movement of people excludes some of the gravest charges related to genocide, detention centers and killings.

To make a massive indictment more manageable, the court decided in 2011 to split the case into smaller trials that would examine the evidence in rough chronological order. It was feared that the aging, infirm defendants might not survive long enough to complete more comprehensive proceedings, depriving victims of even a modicum of justice.

The tribunal has ruled that the next trial, to hear the charges of genocide, will begin as soon as possible after the present trial’s closing statements, but tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said no schedule had been set.

The tribunal, launched in 2006, so far has convicted only one defendant, Khmer Rouge prison director Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Proceedings have been hampered by underfunding, and obstruction by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who counts surrendered Khmer Rouge leaders among his political allies. He himself defected from the group at an early stage.

Since the current trial’s opening statements in November 2011, the court has heard testimony from 92 individuals over 212 days. By the court’s estimate, nearly 100,000 visitors have attended the proceedings…

‘THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES’

October 15, 2013

Wall Street Journal on October 14, 2013, published a review by Richard Snow of Richard Winchesters new book, The Men Who United the States, Harper, 493 pages, $29.99. Excerpts below:

I had always thought that the tumbleweed—”a ghostly botanical thing looking like a bouffant hairpiece,” as Simon Winchester describes it in his vivid, valuable book—disturbed the stegosaurus in its grazing. But no: This fixture of the American West arrived in a sack of flax carried by settlers to the Dakotas in the 1870s, not even a fraction of a second compared with the near-eternal ancestry I’d believed the weed could claim.

The Men Who United the States is all about recent arrivals. Mr. Winchester (himself something of a recent arrival, being naturalized in 2011) explores the alchemy that made residents and settlers come to feel part of a country whose whole turned out to be much more than parcels of real estate inhabited by people who didn’t have any evident common ties.

This is a story of many individuals, well known and less so, who worked, very often with no such goal in mind, to unite physically the various parts of the country. That this enterprise was largely a commercial one does nothing to diminish the somehow spiritual architecture of its results.

We start early, with Lewis and Clark, their journey through 2,000 unknown miles briskly and engagingly retold. The author goes on to describe the building of the canals, our first highways to a continental hegemony. In their infancy, they were reckless projects that forced their makers to learn how to build after costly, heartbreaking failure. To predict where the paths to our modernity could go, our forebears had to know something about the ground they would cover, and Mr. Winchester’s book is especially fine on retrieving the forgotten map makers, geologists, topographers and engineers who showed them the way.

One of these men had the unique distinction of both defining the Union and saving it. In 1858, Gouverneur Warren completed a map, “an elegant triumph of cartography,” Mr. Winchester writes, “that still reigns supreme in the intellectual history of American mapmaking.” It covered the entirety of the country from the 100th meridian (an approximate demarcation of East from West) to the Pacific and suggested the routes that the cross-country railroads would take when we had the wherewithal to build them.

Mr. Winchester has walked that ground, as well as driven many of the roads that his teeming cast had known. We read of a terrifying trip he took through the Donner Pass—that dip in the mountain wall that stood between the plains-crossing wagon trains and California—in a blinding blizzard.

The telegraph that linked the nation by wire; the telephone that followed; the explorers who showed us the “terrific geologic violence” of Yellowstone; FDR imperially scrawling across a map a few lines that would become our interstate highway system; Cal Rodgers piloting his 1911 Wright Flyer from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 49 days, despite 19 crashes—all are part of Mr. Winchester’s story,…

Mr. Winchester is by no means simply celebrating the hardihood and ingenuity of the builders of our nation. He is clear about the danger in any great expansion, for the explorers themselves, for those who stand in their way, and for those who come after and must live with legacies of decisions good and bad. Yet, what an extraordinary, propulsive tale he tells.

Standing by the Whiteman Air Force Base 70 miles outside Kansas City, Mo., Mr. Winchester wonders whether this military installation, which today can bring “massive firepower to bear, in a short time, anywhere on the globe,” was connected in spirit to Lewis and Clark’s “tiny, brave expedition” that once passed nearby. He believes, too, that the Internet is part of the story of the unification of the nation.

This current effort may not have its Meriwether Lewis or Gouverneur Warren. Such figures have been displaced by “technical men, hidden quietly out of sight in their blue-lit warehouses, surrounded by silent frenzies of blinking server lights.” Yet in our own era’s achievements there are echoes of the cry “O! The joy!” that Clark scrawled in his journal when he got what he thought was his first glimpse of the Pacific. As Mr. Winchester bracingly makes clear, your young daughter, who is right now checking something on Google, and I, who remember as a child being lifted by a grinning engineer up onto the deck of a seething steam locomotive, are fortunate in this shared legacy.

Mr. Snow is the author of I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford.

NATO AT SEA: TRENDS IN ALLIED NAVAL POWER

October 14, 2013

American Enterprise Institute in September 2013 published a National Security Outlook on trends in NATO naval power. Excerpts below:

Despite the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) taking its name from the ocean that ties Canada and the United States to their European allies, for most of NATO’s history the alliance focused primarily on land power. However, with continental Europe at peace, the drawdown in Afghanistan, the rise of general unrest in North Africa and the Levant, and the American intent to pivot toward Asia, questions are increasingly arising about the capabilities of NATO’s European navies to project power and sustain operations around their eastern and southern maritime flanks.

These questions have grown even more urgent in the wake of those same navies’ uneven performance in the 2011 military campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. Examining the major navies of America’s European allies reveals a general desire, with the exception of Germany, to maintain a broad spectrum of naval capabilities, including carriers, submarines, and surface combatants….given the significant reduction in each country’s overall defense budget, procuring new, sophisticated naval platforms has come at the cost of rapidly shrinking fleet sizes, leaving some to wonder whether what is driving the decision to sustain a broad but thin naval fleet capability is as much national pride as it is alliance strategy.

The key points in the Outlook are:

NATO’s intervention in Libya during the spring and summer of 2011 raised serious questions about the naval capabilities of America’s European allies.

Despite declining defense budgets, the major European naval powers have sought to retain a broad array of naval capabilities, resulting in modern but substantially smaller fleets.

With US armed forces increasingly focused on the Asia-Pacific region, there are growing concerns as to whether the navies of America’s continental allies are up to meeting the challenges arising from the general unrest on Europe’s eastern and southern maritime flanks.

BOEHNER: OBAMA REJECTED LATEST GOP OFFER ON DEBT

October 13, 2013

Newsmax on October 12, 2013, reported that House Speaker John Boehner told fellow Republicans that President Barack Obama has rejected his latest fiscal offer, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho revealed. Excerpts below:

The speaker also told members that talks are continuing with the White House, according to another person in the room who sought anonymity to discuss the private meeting,

House Republican leaders’ plan would extend U.S. borrowing authority to Nov. 22 from Oct. 17 and would make some changes to Obama’s healthcare law, structured in a way that could meet the political needs of each side to claim success.

White House officials opened the door to talks on ending the government shutdown, even as they held firm on raising the debt ceiling without conditions. When asked whether the White House was shifting its position, Carney hedged, saying the administration was “encouraged” by “constructive signs coming from the Republicans.”

The indications of progress bolstered financial markets Friday. U.S. shares rallied for a second day following the biggest jump since January and gold plunged to a three-month low while the yen weakened and oil slid.

House and Senate Republicans are starting to narrow their demands for healthcare law changes…

House Republicans want to repeal a tax on medical devices for two years and are considering a change in how full-time workers are defined in the health law’s employer mandate, said a Republican lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the party’s offer.

Changing the device tax, even in a later agreement, could provide a way for both sides to declare victory — an essential component of the negotiations. The 2.3 percent excise tax is scheduled to raise about $30 billion over the next decade and has been criticized by Democrats from states with device manufacturers such as Massachusetts and Minnesota.

Republicans could say they made a change to Obamacare, because the medical-device tax was passed as part of the 2010 law. Obama can say he didn’t negotiate on the principles of the healthcare law, because eliminating the tax wouldn’t end the individual mandate or other main components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Republicans, who have called for defunding or delaying Obamacare, have reduced their demands over the past few weeks. The House “has demonstrated an incredible amount of flexibility,” Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois said on Bloomberg Television’s “Capitol Gains” airing this weekend. He is the House Republicans’ chief deputy whip.

In a meeting Friday at the White House with Senate Republicans, Obama didn’t rule out repealing the medical-device tax, said Sen, Orrin Hatch of Utah, an advocate of the tax’s repeal. “I came away with the feeling this is going to be a difficult experience,” said Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

The president told lawmakers he “was open to any improvements” to the healthcare law, though “he’s not open to changing it much,” said Hatch, a critic of the law.

Any prospective deal faces questions, including whether Boehner can come to an agreement with Obama and not lose the support of his hardline members. They’ve sought to use the debt ceiling and government shutdown to force curbs on Obamacare and federal spending.

If the U.S. fails to raise the debt limit by Oct. 17, the government will have $30 billion plus incoming revenue to pay its bills. It would start missing scheduled payments, including benefits, salaries and interest, between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

LIQUID BODY ARMOR FOR US SPECIAL FORCES? HIGH-TECH ARMOR REQUEST INCLUDES SUPER STRENGTH

October 12, 2013

Washington Times on October 10, 2013, published a report by Defense Tech on super strong armor for American forces. Excerpts below:

Special operations chief Adm. William McRaven has reportedly put in a request for liquid body armor that would provide America’s elite soldiers with built-in computers and superhuman strength. The suit, which scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology will contribute to, is being referred to as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), Defense Tech reported.

In a statement released by the Army, the super suit would be composed of fluids that “transform from liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied.”