Why did Turkey use M60’s to spearhead its Syria intervention?

Turkey suffered its first combat fatalities over the last weekend before their foray against Islamic State (ISIS) and Syrian Kurdish forces last Wednesday was a week old. What appeared to be militiamen fighting under the banner of the Arab-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance managed to, according to official Turkish sources, kill one Turkish soldier and wound three others by attacking their tanks seven kilometers south of the Syrian border-town of Jarabulus with rockets. Video footage ostensibly shows a tank being hit by a rocket fired by the SDF before igniting in a bright fireball:


Also on Tuesday another three Turkish soldiers were wounded when their tank came under fire west of Jarabulus.

Footage available of the Turkish incursion shows their M60 Patton tanks and ACV-15 armored personnel carriers (APCs) shielding allied Syria militiamen and the 350 or-so Turkish soldiers operating south of the border. This begs the following question: Why is Turkey spearheading such a major operation with its M60’s as opposed to its much more advanced and stronger Leopard 2 tanks?

Granted many of the Turkish M60’s have been overhauled and modernized by Israel, but they are still not the most reliable tank in the Turkish arsenal. Choosing M60’s to lead such a potential risky assault into enemy territory was certainly a questionable move given Turkey’s possession of hundreds of much more durable Leopard 2’s.

The [U.S. and Turkey] weren’t as aligned on the operation as their public statements indicated. […] While Turkey publicly cast the campaign as a joint operation with the U.S.-led military coalition, the first airstrikes carried out by Turkish jets on Jarabulus were done unilaterally, not under the coalition umbrella. — Adam Entous, Gordon Lubold and Dion Nissenbaum, “Turkish Offensive on Islamic State in Syria Caught U.S. Off Guard“, The Wall Street Journal”, 30.08.2016

Furthermore the exposure of these tanks to rocket fire, as brought to light during the Saturday incident, raises questions about how capable the current force in Jarabulus is to move further south from the border to fight its enemies. If anything their precarious situation in northwest Syria is not completely unlike the one faced by Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, during the closing stages of their last war with Hezbollah back in the summer of 2006.

When Israel launched Operation Change of Direction 11 the Israel Defense Forces planned to have helicopter-borne commandos working in tandem with their armour encircle Hezbollah in south Lebanon and secure the Israeli border from rocket attacks carried out by that group. It was an abysmal failure, poor coordination on the command level resulted in Israeli ground forces in Lebanon falling prey to well-organized Hezbollah ambushes. On one occasion a tank column consisting of 24 Merkava main battle tanks was ambushed by Hezbollah militants who fired anti-tank missiles from the hilltops, damaging at least 11 of the tanks. They even managed through small arms fire and mortars to suppress supporting Israeli infantrymen, making the ambush an overwhelming success. The tanks, foolishly operating on hilly terrain, quickly became sitting ducks for Hezbollah.

Beginning last week, Turkish Armed Forces started to move Leopard 2A4 tanks to the southern border. According to the Military Balance 2016, Turkey has 325 Leopard 2A4. It does not appear that these main battle tanks (MBTs) are in use by any of the armoured units currently deployed in operations against the Kurds in the south of the country, nor incursions into Syria or Iraq. It is most likely that these more capable MBTs are with units tasked with guarding Turkey’s northern border, where they probably would have to fight against a much more capable adversary, utilizing more modern and capable MBTs and Anti-Tank weapons

Beginning last week, Turkish Armed Forces started to move Leopard 2A4 tanks to the southern border. According to the Military Balance 2016, Turkey has 325 Leopard 2A4. It does not appear that these main battle tanks (MBTs) are in use by any of the armoured units currently deployed in operations against the Kurds in the south of the country, nor incursions into Syria or Iraq. It is most likely that these more capable MBTs are with units tasked with guarding Turkey’s northern border, where they probably would have to fight against a much more capable adversary, utilizing more modern and capable MBTs and Anti-Tank weapons.

Given its emphasis on safety features the Israeli Merkava has been called the safest tank in the world. The death of some 30 Israeli soldiers and officers from the Israeli Armoured Corps, including two battalion commanders, along with the damage of a total 50 of their tanks by Hezbollah anti-tank missiles throughout that war, however, showed that those tanks were certainly not invulnerable.

In Syria, today, the Turks did not go in with the self-styled safest tanks in the world, but some of their older more ubiquitous tanks which should have, at best, played a supporting role to their more superior Leopard 2’s. These tanks have better mechanisms in place to minimize the effects of damage to the crew inside from fire; for example, its ammunition is separated from the crew in a different compartment in case it is ignited during the course of a fierce firefight.

The Leopard 2 is by no means perfect, and it is bound to start becoming more vulnerable with age given the introduction of new and much more lethal anti-tank missiles. Nevertheless it still remains the most formidable tank in the Turkish arsenal, and given the numbers Turkey has at its disposal it should really have been the tank to lead this operation.

Possible reasons Turkey might not have been able to deploy Leopards in this operation should be evaluated. Turkey is a large country and army bases closest to its southern border may not necessarily have had these tanks, or even had the required crew needed to man them given the large-scale arrests and detentions carried out by the government in the post-July 15 coup crackdown. Also, in spite of the fact that Turkey had long in mind to intervene in that part of northwestern Syria – in June 2015 Erdoğan and his top generals discussed to launch an incursion in that area using 2,000 troops, that plan was subsequently scrapped however following the Russian intervention and the ensuing warplane incident – the intervention did transpire very suddenly, without Washington being given any advanced warning before the opening salvos were fired on August 24.

Turkish and American officials said the Turkish military wanted to look decisive and to show loyalty to Mr. Erdoğan, particularly after the coup. — Adam Entous, Gordon Lubold and Dion Nissenbaum, “Turkish Offensive on Islamic State in Syria Caught U.S. Off Guard“, The Wall Street Journal”, 30.08.2016

This was at least partially because Turkey was presented with a clear casus beli, the heinous terrorist bombing of the Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep, which killed 53 people, many of them children, on August 20 and the shelling of Karkamış with several mortar rounds. Doing nothing quickly and decisive in response to such a heinous attacks, and only six weeks after the aforementioned coup attempt, would have made the Turkish government and military look weak in the eyes of the Turkish people at a critical juncture.

Alternatively the Turkish government could have declared it would eradicate all terrorists on its border and then proceeded to begin deploying and building-up a significant number of Leopard tanks on that frontier from elsewhere in the country — which might have given away the element of surprise.

However Turkey has had artillery, tanks and troops conspicuously deployed to that border for well over a year now. And surprise attack or not it was unlikely that ISIS militants would have fought to the death in defense of Jarabulus, a town right on the periphery of their so-called caliphate — which is why they chose to immediately pull out. Before this operation commenced it was well understood that ISIS tactically retreated from areas where it couldn’t feasibly dig-in and try to bleed out any attacking force. Furthermore the attack was going to be inevitable for the aforementioned reason that ISIS simply kept attacking Turkish towns and cities near the border.

The question which therefore should asked is: Should Turkey really have this offensive before it had its most effective weapons at the ready? Taking the time to build-up this more effective equipment might well have increased the chance the Turkish government and military could have achieved a much more clear-cut and decisive victory, which would have re-instilled any dwindling confidence the public might have begun to have in them.

With the current composition of forces in Syria, the Turks would be well advised not to advance further south into enemy territory and see firsthand just how susceptible its aged M60 fleet is to potentially devastating hit-and-run ambushes, not to mention mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Saturday’s attack was a clear warning of the devastating consequences Turkey faces if it doesn’t reconsider its force composition it has deployed to that war-ravaged morass of a country.

Turkish ACV-15 APCs seen near the Syrian border on 25 August.

Turkish ACV-15 APCs seen near the Syrian border on 25 August.

Update: September 7, 2016
We have received several interesting comments in response to this article. Thank you for your feedback on different social media platforms or here in the comment section.

Matthew Doye argues that the Leopard 2A4s are guarding Turkey’s northern border because nearby Greece and Russia have more capable equipment than their adversaries on the southern border, who have been relying on asymmetrical tactics. Regarding the alternating periods of mutual hostility and reconciliation between Greece and Turkey and the strained relations between Ankara and Moscow after the Sukhoi Su-24 shootdown until Erdoğan expressed regret to Putin for that incident this June, the northern deployment of these kind of tanks makes sense. Apostolos Olokainourios added that the main Turkish Leopard 2A4 force is stationed with the 1st Army in Eastern Thrace (Greek-Turkish border) and that until December 2015 about 25% of the 1st army’s armoured vehicles (including 2A4s) have been transported to the Syrian border. But there’s a catch: it seems that all sources about these Turkish_armysubstantial redeployments from the border to Greek comes back to this article, which doesn’t make a very reliable impression.

Does it mean — as some of the commentator mentioned — that Turkish generals will refrain modern Leopard 2A4s from combat on the expense of aged M60s? These speculations have no grounds, but there are other explanations. According to Arda Mevlutoglu (Facebook / Twitter) the 5th Armored Brigade, which is responsible for the region around Jarabulus is equipped by un-modernised M60A3’s (Israel modernized 170 Turkish M60A1 which were newly deployed as M60T’s). Because the Brigade has enough M60A3 for an operation like “Euphrates Shield” in its current inventory, the Leopard 2A4 and also the M60T are only used as reinforcement. Observations that the Turkish Army has begun to move Leopard 2A4 to the south border region after the beginning of “Euphrates Shield” may support his theory.

Stefan Doelling thinks that the Turks don´t have proper HE-FRAG ammunition for their Leopard 2s which is necessary to effectively combat against soft targets (as an illustration of the effect of HE-FRAG ammunition see the video below demonstrates). For the L7s on the M60, however, they have a broad range of different ammo choices. According to Doelling the Canadians used their Leopard 1s alongside the newer Leopard 2s in Afghanistan for that reason. Although this is an interesting explanation we neither can confirm nor disprove it.

Another interesting theory was added by Thomas Melber in the comment section below. He argues that Leopard 2s were not used in “Euphrates Shield” because “Germany may still have ‘a say‘ in the use of the [Turkish] Leopard“. We can’t completely rule that out. While we haven’t yet found anything concrete there may be some contractual restriction in the use of the Leopard 2, meaning the Turks are obliged to only use the tank in defense of their own territory.

When Germany delivered Turkey 300 BTR-60 from the former National People’s Army of the German Democratic Republic, the use of these armoured personnel carriers were limited for defence only (thanks to Marcus Seyfarth for this hint).

According to the Military Balance 2016 (revised with the M60T), the Turkish army has following numbers of main battle tanks in use:
– 325 Leopard 2A4
– 170 Leopard 1A4
– 227 Leopard 1A3
– 170 M60T
– 658 M60A3
– 104 M60A1
– 850 M48A5 T1/T2 (2,000 more in store)


Posted in English, International, Security Policy, Syria, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Rise of the Islamic State: Four Key Factors for its Unexpected Success – part four

by Andrin Hauri. He graduated from the University of Lausanne with a Master’s Degree in Political Science and holds a Diploma of Advanced Studies in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the University of Basel.

Unlike other terror regimes in history, he Islamic State (IS) does not try to keep the brutal aspects of its reign a secret. Instead, it purposefully deploys the depiction of its terror as tool for its own ends. It uses its distinctly modern propaganda machinery to broadcast not only its ideology and successes but also its barbarity to all who are willing to listen. With this brutal and potentially seductive sales message, IS is able to infiltrate all social strata. Indeed, no terrorist group has ever placed so much emphasis on propaganda, nor used it to such great effect. In the last part of this series of articles, the author argues that the extensive and professional use of propaganda is the fourth key factor for IS’ success.

IS is the first terrorist organisation to fully exploit the power of social media to spread its message and recruit soldiers. A report entitled „The Isis Twitter Census“ was published by the Brookings Institution in March 2015 which looked at a sample size of 20,000 IS-supporting Twitter accounts. It found that while there were tens of thousands of Twitter accounts publicly supporting IS, there is a core group of between 500 and 2,000 accounts which were highly active sending an average of 50 tweets per day.

IS is the first terrorist organisation to fully exploit the power of social media to spread its message and recruit soldiers. A report entitled „The Isis Twitter Census“ was published by the Brookings Institution in March 2015 which looked at a sample size of 20,000 IS-supporting Twitter accounts. It found that while there were tens of thousands of Twitter accounts publicly supporting IS, there is a core group of between 500 and 2,000 accounts which were highly active sending an average of 50 tweets per day.

IS propaganda has several key attributes: The overwhelming majority of it is visual, such as online picture galleries and videos with added music heavily loaded with religious references and symbolism [1]. Most media content is published in Arabic, with only a comparatively small number of products produced in other languages, such as English, French, German, Russian, Indonesian, and Urdu (Karen Krüger, “Die IS-Jugend: Generation Dschihad“, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 22.11.2015). To provide the latter, the terror group takes full advantage of the linguistic skills of its foreign recruits, who produce specific content relevant for the domestic context of their home countries. A large part of the propaganda campaign takes place online and, in doing so, demonstrates a high level of technical skill, using social media services like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram in ways that make the media appearances of other terror groups look outdated. Through these mediums, IS can deliver its view of events in Iraq and Syria instantly and simultaneously to an audience of millions worldwide. Social media offers the additional advantage that, after gaining their attention, IS recruiters can directly reach out to individuals in order to recruit them (James Glassman, “Time to whip ISIS on the Internet, Part 1: The secret of the terrorist group’s success“, TechPolicyDaily, 20.08.2015).

While online propaganda is important in terms of reaching an audience beyond Iraq and Syria, IS also engages in face-to-face, offline media operations among the local population in the caliphate, which has only irregular access to the Internet. To reach them, the terror group runs its own al-Bayan Radio Station, distributes printed pamphlets and wall posters, and organises viewing parties for propaganda videos. It has set up media points in various towns from which CDs/DVDs, USB sticks, or printed materials are handed out to locals (Aaron Y. Zelin, “Picture or It Didn’t Happen: A Snapshot of the Islamic State’s Official Media Output“, Perspectives on Terrorism Volume 9 Issue 4, 2015, p. 86). Thereby, the terror group tries to manipulate those areas of society which are difficult to access through other means: households, women, and rural areas. Offline propaganda is much more numerous than the IS’ flagship productions in the virtual world and focuses more on events that are locally relevant.

Such a vast distribution network generates enormous demand for new media content, and the IS propaganda apparatus has to satisfy this demand day after day. High quality productions take a long time to be made, however, and cannot be released in the high frequency needed. Furthermore, such occasional, mass-marketed propaganda content for an international audience has little relevance for local communities and is unsuitable for satisfying the information need of thousands of young Arab-speaking IS supporters in the Middle East. To fill that gap, the terror group has created a provincial media strategy: Teams of media operatives are designated to each of IS’ provinces and follow all activities both on and off the battlefield at a local level. The content produced is usually in Arabic, of lower quality, and less ambitious then the productions for a global audience. In contrast to al-Qaʼida, IS’ propaganda also lets the audience hear from ordinary foot soldiers and not only IS leadership. This significantly increases the output of the propaganda apparatus and opens IS up to a whole new target audience not primarily interested in long religious monologues by studied leaders like Osama Bin Laden. With such an extensive correspondent network, IS can produce dozens of media releases every day and appear to be active and relevant in a wider variety of locations than is actually the case. IS’ sophisticated propaganda apparatus disseminates two key types of message: a peaceful message and a message of strength. In contrast to what is often assumed, depictions of violence constitute only a small fraction of the overall propaganda output of IS. Much more numerous are productions with appealing and harmonious content. Western media mainly thematises the grotesque acts of violence perpetrated by IS, whereas in the regional context the peaceful message tends to receive much more attention. (Tyler Golson, “Islamic State’s Local Propaganda Key to Understanding Appeal“, World Politics Review, 18.05.2015).

Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters, Mosul, Iraq, June 16, 2014.

Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters, Mosul, Iraq, June 16, 2014.

The Peaceful Message
The peaceful message distributed by IS propaganda consists of three, interrelated key components (Zelin, p.90-93). Firstly, that IS is a pious group, following the only “true Islam”. Secondly, that IS is building a functioning, religious state in Iraq and Syria, based on Islamic rules. Thirdly, that the caliphate is a paradise to live in for all “true Muslims”. By bundling all three together, IS is attempting to appeal to its core Arab constituency through religiousness, accomplishment, and routine.

One way in which the IS media arm promotes its own interpretation of Islam and educates supporters in the “proper”, i.e. IS’ way of practicing Islam, is by publishing texts about religious issues. This religious propaganda is mainly communicated through billboards or printed pamphlets and less so by electronic media. The media arm also regularly highlights IS’ moral policing activities to show that it holds up its precepts and swiftly punishes any violation.

For the second component of its peaceful propaganda message, IS represents itself as being engaged in a successful project of state-building. The message being spread is that on the ruins of Iraq and Syria, two states created by Western powers in the early twentieth century, IS has established a new and powerful Sunni Islamist state, governed and guided by a stern interpretation of sharia. In contrast to the central governments in Baghdad and Damascus, this new state provides relative security, religious guidance, and all essential public services to its population. This message is appealing, as it capitalises on the unfulfilled promises and expectations of weak states to their populations. In the propaganda conveying this state-building element, IS is depicted as fulfilling mundane communal tasks like fixing potholes, repairing streetlights, or setting up a permanent famer’s market in Mosul (see also part two of the article series and Golson). By carefully underlining achievements in the area of public services, IS is portrayed as a competent and prudent administrator of the territory it controls.

Islamic State propaganda is churning out idyllic farmyard scenes, like this grape harvest, that try to portray a utopian view of life under the caliphate.

Islamic State propaganda is churning out idyllic farmyard scenes, like this grape harvest, that try to portray a utopian view of life under the caliphate.

The third element of the peaceful IS propaganda message is the promotion of the caliphate as a place in which ordinary Muslims can work and live happy lives with their families while the war continues. This is mainly achieved by showing scenes of “normality” within the caliphate: farmed fields, busy markets, and smiling people simply enjoying the stability and security on offer. By providing sugar-coated pictures from Raqqa and Mosul of a functioning state with a traditional, pious society, IS seeks to capture the imagination of consumers of its propaganda by offering them an alternative lifestyle to the one sold by western consumerism, in a society with traditional roles for men and women (Zelin, p.92f).

IS arguably pursues two main aims with this propaganda message. On the one hand, IS gains support from local communities by making its provision of stately services and security to people that have felt marginalised and neglected for years known. This gives the IS leadership legitimacy and the caliphate at least some semblance of being an actual state (Jonathan Githens-Mazer, “To Defeat Daesh Start with Their Strategy“, RUSI, 06.07.2015). On the other hand, by depicting the caliphate as a functioning state, IS intends to lure Muslims who are not primarily interested in waging violent jihad or achieving martyrdom to their territory. These usually young people are often toying with the idea of emigrating to the caliphate for other, pseudo-altruistic reasons. IS is in desperate need of young, educated professionals and their families; simply attracting fighters to their cause is insufficient in terms of building up and running the caliphate. Women and families give IS stability and serve as cornerstone of the new state.

The peaceful propaganda message is especially tempting to impressionable young Muslim men and women around the globe, who feel socially and politically marginalised in their countries of origin and are looking for a sense of belonging and purpose as Muslim citizens (Katherine Brown, “Analysis: Why are Western women joining Islamic State?“, BBC Online, 06.10.2014). They genuinely believe that IS represents a new utopian experiment in state-building and they want to become part of the re-establishment of the caliphate. This is a powerful narrative in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which left many Muslims disillusioned and hopeless, especially among younger generations. IS propaganda seizes this opportunity by offering these people a new state to which they can emigrate with their families, with the promise of employment and a new purpose in life.

During mid-July to mid-August 2015, IS produced nearly 900 pieces of Arab-language propaganda, including radio broadcasts, public-service announcements, pamphlets and religious decrees. More than half of this output (52%) focused on quality-of-life issues like food, utilities and schools, while 37% was devoted to military themes. Scenes of brutality, like execution videos, comprised 2%.

During mid-July to mid-August 2015, IS produced nearly 900 pieces of Arab-language propaganda, including radio broadcasts, public-service announcements, pamphlets and religious decrees. More than half of this output (52%) focused on quality-of-life issues like food, utilities and schools, while 37% was devoted to military themes. Scenes of brutality, like execution videos, comprised 2%.

The Message of Strength
The second message IS’ propaganda machinery disseminates is one of its own strength. It does this by portraying itself as always taking the initiative and being constantly on the march to the next victory. Whereas al-Qaʼida propaganda used the message “Islam is under attack” as a rallying cry for its supporters, IS has turned this around to convey the message that “Islam is on the attack” (Glassman). The message of weakness, of being the underdog, has been transformed into one of power, of being the actor who calls the shots. To this end, the IS media arm releases a constant stream of footage from its alleged successes on the battlefield. The language used is always offensive and active in nature. Thereby, IS is trying to convey the image of a strong, dynamic state on an equal footing with its stately enemies, which it will ultimately subdue as prophesised.

The other way IS propaganda brings this message across is by dehumanising and humiliating its enemies. It begins with the derogatory language IS uses to describe its foes, ranging from “atheists” to “apostates”, “soldiers of the tyrant”, and worse (Zelin, p.91). Attacks from the enemy are either portrayed as brutal violence against “ordinary Muslims” or as senseless destruction of civilian infrastructure in the caliphate.

Finally, the humiliation of the enemy and the inversion of power relations are particularly important elements in this kind of propaganda. The key way in which this is done is through the carefully choreographed and edited execution videos, for which IS has gained such notoriety. It is often argued that the abhorrent violence shown in these videos indicates some sort of psychological disorder or sadism that does not serve any real purpose. From this point of view, it is difficult to understand why they resonate effectively among ordinary members of Muslim communities around the globe.

Such an analysis, however, falls short in fully taking into account the underlying message of IS’ strength through the humiliation of its enemies. These videos are much more than filmed executions. In fact, they are well planned and much elaborated “performances of violence deliberately scripted to humiliate the victims”.

The humiliation and ultimate execution of prisoners inverses the prevalent power relations. By extension, the humiliation of the victims becomes the retaliatory humiliation of their countries of origin, ethnicity, or religion. Thus, impotence is being imposed upon those who have humiliated Islam in IS’ eyes – be that Kurds, Westerners, Christians, or Shiites. This resonates with Sunni Muslim communities around the world given their experience of external domination and perceived powerlessness over the last 100 years. The disappointing outcome of the Arab Spring has further deepened these sentiments.

The perceived patterns of powerlessness are not only historic in nature, but are also reproduced in the daily lives of many Muslims: high unemployment rates in Muslim countries impair the ability of men to marry or support a family, while Muslim communities in the West experience political, economic, and social marginalisation, and even open rejection or hostility. Given this background, it is perhaps unsurprising that the IS propaganda message of strength falls on fertile ground in certain parts of the Muslim community, especially among young, uneducated men. (Roxanne L. Euben, “How Violent ISIS Videos Help Mobilize New Recruits“, DefenseOne, 13.08.2015)

Roxanne L. Euben, „ISIL and the armchair Islamist: How execution videos sell a fantasy of masculinity“, Quartz, 13.08.2015 (Image: Fanqiao Wang fpr Quart).

Roxanne L. Euben, „ISIL and the armchair Islamist: How execution videos sell a fantasy of masculinity“, Quartz, 13.08.2015 (Image: Fanqiao Wang fpr Quart).

Thus, besides the obvious reasons behind this propaganda message of strength – sowing terror among enemies, forcing obedience among the local population, and creating order through deterrence – it also serves at least two more purposes.

Firstly, it serves as a tool for IS to recruit both veteran jihadists and angry young Muslims in general. It does this by attaching its cause to a range of local grievances of Muslim communities, beyond its fight in Iraq and Syria, and thereby taps into a much larger pool of potential recruits (Daniel Byman, “ISIS‘ Big Mistake“, Foreign Affairs, 15.11.2015). From Russian brutality in Chechnya to the Western intervention in Afghanistan and the struggle of the Palestinian people for a home land, the message of returning Islam to its “lost grandeur” by force lures individuals to the caliphate with the prospect of waging violent jihad within the framework of a greater cause. Combined with references to the end times, this struggle occurring in the very places mentioned in the prophecies is a big selling point for jihadists, who want to participate in the final battles of the apocalypse (William McCants, “How ISIL Out-Terrorized Bin Laden“, POLITICO Magazine, 19.08.2015) .

Secondly, the violence in IS propaganda also has a polarising effect on the Muslim and non-Muslim audience. It forces the viewer to choose a side and thus splits the world into two camps (Steven Metz, “Understanding the Enemy: Inside the Mind of the Islamic State“, World Politics Review, 21.11.2014). Only those ideologically attracted to IS and its beliefs find such violence and brutality morally acceptable. As a result, IS sympathisers become increasingly alienated from their previous peer groups, making them more open to radicalisation. However, for the rest of society the violence in IS propaganda, combined with the increasing number of terror attacks against civilian targets outside the Middle East, fuels an atmosphere of resentment and Islamophobia. By vilifying ordinary Muslims in the eyes of the general public, IS intentionally adds further stigmatisation to the social and political marginalisation already felt by Muslim citizens in many societies with a Muslim minority. Consequently, Muslims feel even more rejected, potentially making them more receptive to IS ideology. State and popular pushbacks against Muslim populations allow IS to argue that the world adamantly hates Muslims, no matter what they do or where they live. The rise of social movements such as Reclaim Australia, and Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (PEGIDA) in western societies bears witness to the success of this strategy. In this atmosphere of diffuse fears, hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise in both Europe and the United States [2]. For IS, the declared end game of this strategy is to provoke hostilities, and ultimately a civil war, between Muslims and the rest of society, particularly within Europe (Robert Fisk, “We still haven’t grasped that this is war without frontiers“, The Independent, 21.11.2015).

The current success of IS appears to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. The terror group takes strategic decisions that under other, “normal” historic circumstances would lead to quick and certain defeat for the insurgency. However, there is currently nothing “normal” about the complex situation in the Middle East. Be it the advancing alienation of Sunni citizens from Baghdad and Damascus, the ever heightening sectarian tensions, or the disappointing outcome of the Arab Spring, each seems to benefit the advancement of the terror group. Given the present constellation in the region, IS has managed to turn strategies that under other circumstances would have guaranteed certain doom into factors enabling its current success: relying on the continuous recruitment of supporters, including foreign recruits, the declaration of the caliphate, the internal as well as external use of terror, and the creation and use of a sophisticated propaganda apparatus. In order for IS to be brought to a comprehensive and definite end, each factor has to be tackled through a concerted and collective effort by as many relevant actors as possible. The way in which IS is confronted and eventually defeated will in turn decide what is in store for the region subsequently: a lasting political solution or an endless stream of successive jihadist groups feeding off the misery and despair of the impotent and disenfranchised parts of the population. In order to avoid the latter, it will be necessary to adopt a multi-pronged approach which not only puts a military end to the terror group, but also addresses the underlying social, political, and confessional issues in the region, which formed the fertile grounds that enabled the rise of IS in the first place. To do so will be a long, winding, and stony road. A swift solution cannot be expected. In the Middle East, certainly, no one is holding their breath.

Don’t miss the last parts of the article series: Key factor one – the continuous recruitment; key factor two – the caliphate; key factor three – the deployment of various forms of terror as strategic tools.

[1] Scott Gates and Sukanya Podder, “Social Media, Recruitment, Allegiance and the Islamic State“, Perspectives on Terrorism, Volume 9, Issue 4, 2015, p. 109; Aaron Y. Zelin, “Picture or It Didn’t Happen: A Snapshot of the Islamic State’s Official Media Output“, Perspectives on Terrorism Volume 9 Issue 4, 2015, p. 89.
[2] Eric Lichtbau, “Crimes Against Muslim Americans and Mosques Rise Sharply“, The New York Times, 17.12.2015); Oliver Wright, “Paris attacks: Women targeted as hate crime against British Muslims soars following terrorist atrocity“, The Independent, 22.11.2015.

Posted in Andrin Hauri, English, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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“, offiziere.ch, 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.

Posted in Darien Cavanaugh, English, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 (English version).

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 , , , , , , , | 7 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 Jarabulus 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 Jarabulus , 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 Jarabulus 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 Jarabulus, 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