Saturday, August 20, 2016

Interactive Dynamic Video

Early indicators of anticipated conflict in Syrian villages based on creation of councils and evacuation of families

Islamic State fighters have evacuated their families from a Syrian town at the Turkish border near a city that they recently lost to U.S.-backed militias, a monitor group said on Friday, a sign they may be preparing to face an attack there.
Last week's capture by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of Manbij, 25 miles (40km) to their south, has left Islamic State fighters in Jarablus in danger of being cut off from the militant group's main territorial possessions. ...

Separately, a senior Syrian rebel source told Reuters that Islamic State was moving personnel out of Jarablus.

The SDF have not yet declared what their next target will be after capturing Manbij. A successful advance north could cut Islamic State off from the Turkish border, while a thrust west could threaten al-Bab, an important Islamic State stronghold. After Manbij fell to the SDF, some local fighters announced they had established a military council for al-Bab, signaling they believed an assault on Islamic State in the town would soon take place. The SDF denied having any links to the council.  ...

bth: this Reuters article is interesting in that it shows that ISIS evacuates families of their fighters and senior personnel in anticipation of a battle whether they initiate it or anticipate it.  There is an example of both in this article. 

Also there is the issue of SDF and how it telegraphs its direction.  Given its strong Kurdish make up one evident pattern in the last year is that its advances in Syria and the Kurdish advances around Mosul in Iraq have largely been based on recapturing Kurdish dominated villages in a circular pattern around Mosul and in a Westerly direction in Syria which would attempt to link up separated Kurdish rebel positions.  So in this article there is specific reference to the creation of councils for specific towns or villages that set the pace and planning for taking that location. In the case above it is al-Bab.

IS seems to be reacting to that council creation by evacuating their families to Raqqa so evidently IS uses this as an early indicator themselves. 

Based on this and other interviews published of Kurdish forces, I doubt that they will be enticed to directly attack Mosul or Raqqa which are Sunni Arab dominated. It is more likely that the US coalition would be able to pay these Kurdish fighters to surround these towns and focus on the liberation of Kurdish villages. I find it hard to believe that these voluntary fighters will actually be compelled to slug it out in major urban fighting.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hezbollah video showing use of commercial drone to drop grenades

Leave no contractor behind - Prepare an evacuation plan for Afghanistan now

The collapse and evacuation of Saigon left Americans behind, it left our allies and our employees to the enemy.  Many made their own escape by boat or helicopter, but the fact was it was a disaster for the US psyche and left a lasting impression of ineptitude and weakness.

When ISIS overran Mosul in 2012 and other areas of north, west and central Iraq, hundreds of American contractors were left to find their own way out or where left behind once the State Department evacuated its employees with security clearances.  This was not just a US phenomenon, several thousand other contractors from China, India and Turkey were captured by IS and if they were lucky, ransomed by their respective governments.

Similarly a few years ago when the US embassy in Yemen was evacuated it too failed to destroy classified information led to security breaches and embarrassing releases of information by the Iranians that ended up with control of the facility ; literally the gates were left open. Much of this information  was later released anonymously via WikiLeaks which panders to enemies of the US while is leader, Assange bides time in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. In any other time his actions would be considered espionage as he leads a trail of human disaster like Manning behind. Is Assange dealing information for the Russians or more likely their third party surrogates to embarrass the US and Hillary specifically as we ease into one of the most painful US elections in living memory?

President Obama has been increasing US troop strength in Iraq with the hope of suppressing ISIS and retaking Mosul before his term expires. The military head count is limited by Congress.  Similarly in Afghanistan he has opted to continue to reduce the headcount of US military personnel while the Taliban grows stronger. Eventually there will be a tipping point, where our ability to hold at least key areas, bases and embassies will be offset by numerical superiority.  Observers of the Afghan situation realize that an evacuation may be a question of when and not if.

To address the headcount restrictions placed on them by Congress or the President, the military and the State Dept. have relied increasingly on contractors.  Now it is reported that the number of contractors is 3 times the number of US government personnel in Afghanistan.  Of those about 70% of non-US nationals but are working for US contractors and the US government in a business relationship.

The concern now is that US evacuation plans do not include the contractors and that they may be left behind in the chaos to fend for themselves as best they can.

It is hard to imagine the political fall out of a collapse of Kabul, for example, where US personnel were left behind to be held hostage by the Taliban and ransomed back to us or worse.  The fallout politically would be a combination of Saigon and Benghazi combined.

It is critically important as we reach a tipping point in Afghanistan that the US government begin making adequate evacuation plans for both its government personnel and its contractors. The implications of failure in this matter would be catastrophic to the psyche of the country and result in extreme and unpredictable reactions from the US citizens.

Some reference articles:

Finding Water in the Desert: Water Security in the Middle East - The Cipher Brief

The beginning of the Syrian civil war presents an excellent example of this phenomenon. Of course, a variety of different factors led to the outbreak of “Arab Spring” revolts in Syria. However, few were as important, or as little understood, as the most severe drought in modern Syrian history. Between 2006 and 2011, this drought affected 60 percent of the country, devastated the crops of 75 percent of Syrian farmers, and internally displaced over 1.5 million people. As Peter Jacques, Professor at the University of Central Florida and Cipher Brief expert, explains, these farmers “abandoned their lands for the cities. Not long afterward, social crisis in these cities ensued, and then revolution.”
At the same time, chronic government mismanagement of water resources across the region only sharpens this kind of political unrest. This is especially damaging in countries with little access to renewable water resources like flowing rivers. These countries – Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, amongst others –  often rely on groundwater or fuel-hungry desalination plants for their water supply. However, many of the region’s aquifers are non-renewable fossil aquifers, and all are being drained at a dangerous rate. As Amit Pandya notes, “annual withdrawals exceed 350 percent of renewable resources in Egypt, 800 percent in Libya, and 954 percent in Egypt.”
To make matters worse, a large portion of these resources are channeled – intentionally or otherwise – to water intensive agricultural projects, wasteful personal use, or simply lost through inefficient distribution systems. The countries of the Arab Gulf, for instance, have some of the highest water use per capita numbers in the world despite possessing few renewable water sources. Similarly, in Yemen, almost 14 million people have limited access to safe drinking water but, as Peter Jacques points out, 90 percent of the country’s diminishing groundwater supplies are used for agriculture “and half of that water is used for an amphetamine crop called Qat, despite the severe malnutrition of Yemen’s population.”...

bth: over population, lack of infrastructure investment, lack of educational institutions, lack of water resources. What could go wrong? Given the immensity of the mismanagement, one can anticipate that the Middle East will be a socio-economic disaster for the rest of this century.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bergdahl’s lawyers say general burned letters, ask judge to cancel trial - San Antonio Express

Lawyers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held prisoner by the Taliban for nearly five years after abandoning a remote Army outpost in Afghanistan and faces criminal charges for leaving his unit, on Friday accused his top commander of burning more than 100 letters regarding the case.

The defense, in a court motion, asked a judge to remove Gen. Robert Abrams from the case and to cancel a scheduled Feb. 6 trial because Abrams told Bergdahl’s defense team Monday that he burned the letters, which were sent to him by supporters and detractors of their client.

The motion also said Abrams, head of the Army’s Forces Command, failed to review a list of defense objections and comments provided Oct. 9 before he ordered Bergdahl’s trial, choosing not to read them because “he claimed it was written ‘for the lawyers.’”
It said Abrams “suggested that if the defense wanted him to read the submission, it should be written in ‘plain-speak,’” which one outside observer called a “legally fatal” blunder that could convince the judge to throw out the charges....

bth: its hard to imagine a general being this arrogant.  Bergdahl may be guilty as hell but he deserves a fair trial where evidence is presented and actually retained. General Abrams actions, which he justifies because the letters written in legal terms, are unsuited for this position and will set the stage for a mistrial or overturn. Dumb.