The new Maldivian Constitution amendment: a strategic perspective from India

by Darshana M. Baruah. She is a Junior Fellow at the New Delhi based think tank, Observer Research Foundation, is working on the South China Sea and has completed her Masters in International Relations from Cardiff University in 2012.

Location of the Maldives

Location of the Maldives

Maldives on July 22, 2015 passed a law which could change the current power dynamics of the Indian Ocean region. The law passed by the Parliament will now allow absolute foreign ownership of land in Maldives if the investment is above USD 1 billion. The caveat to the law is that 70% of the land has to be reclaimed from the sea. Announcing that the move is aimed at boosting the Maldivian economy and is an effort to attract foreign investments, the government has limited the availability for such ownership to 10% of the existing island (“Maldives foreign land ownership reform bill is approved“, BBC News, 23.07.2015).

The new law raises significant strategic implications for the region due to its location in the Indian Ocean region. China is intently looking to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean region, and consequently linking them to its ambitious 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The conditions that interested parties would have to make a minimum investment of USD 1 billion and reclaim 70% of the land from the sea suit Beijing perfectly. China is already engaged in massive land reclamation activities in the South China Sea and its growing economy is allowing Beijing to expand its reach out of its immediate neighbourhood. Chinese projects such as infrastructure building and economic corridors are of particular concern to India. Sino-Indian rivalry in the maritime domain is a new geo-political theatre that is yet to be tested – making India in the region wary of Chinese expansion into the Indian Ocean.

A primary concern for New Delhi regarding Malè allowing foreign ownership of land is the possibility of Chinese buying large amounts of land which could later be used for military purposes. Both China and Maldives have brushed off any strategic implications from such a project and Malè has assured India that it will not allow China to build a military base on Maldivian sovereign space. Nevertheless, the assurances have not been successful in appeasing India, and New Delhi continues to be extremely cautious of such developments.

China's 21st Century Silk Roads: A map published by state news agency Xinhua envisages two routes: an overland one snaking through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Iran en route to Vienna in Austria; and a maritime route from Chinese ports to Belgium's Antwerp.

China’s 21st Century Silk Roads: A map published by state news agency Xinhua envisages two routes: an overland one snaking through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Iran en route to Vienna in Austria; and a maritime route from Chinese ports to Belgium’s Antwerp.

While China insists that its overseas investments are commercial in nature, owning property from reclaimed land in the Indian Ocean will have considerable strategic implications for India. Hence, despite repeated assurances New Delhi is uneasy about opening up new possibilities for China to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. Although India has an advantage over China as far as the Indian Ocean is concerned, New Delhi’s doubts are not unfounded.

International law is not set in stone and is based on the goodwill of all parties to uphold established laws and norms. Currently in focus is the Philippines initiated UN arbitration on the South China Sea against China. Beijing has refused to participate in the proceedings and has disregarded a well established mechanism stating it does not have the jurisdiction to resolve bilateral issues in international waters. Even though the court comes to a decision regarding the dispute, China is not obliged to accept it nor is there any effective mechanism to implement the verdict. Yes, China will lose some of its moral standing in the international order but it will also continue to assert its claims in the South China Sea with no effective resolution in sight.

Furthermore, some aspects of international law are open to interpretation. The UN charter when created was solely aimed at preventing another war. Over time, geo-political tussles along with strategic interests have led nations to interpret laws in their favour. The US and China have different interpretations regarding the rights of a state in its Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). The US debate is that the coastal state enjoys economic rights in its EEZ, but all nations have a right to passage through EEZs, including military vessels. Beijing is of the view that while commercial ships carry the right to innocent passage through an EEZ, coastal states reserve the right to evict foreign military vessels from its EEZ. This difference in interpretation of international law has led to incidents on high seas between US and Chinese naval vessels. It is also pulling the US deeper into the South China Sea disputes as Washington fears that by creating artificial islands, Beijing can extend its EEZ into international waters and impose its interpretation of laws.

Chinese land reclamation on the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands. Satellite Imagery Shows Intensive Chinese Building - for high resolution images see here (Image: Victor Robert Lee).

Chinese land reclamation on the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands. Satellite Imagery Shows Intensive Chinese Building – for high resolution images see here (Image: Victor Robert Lee).

This indicates that even if the foreign property in Maldives is being used for commercial purposes, there is always room to consider it for strategic objectives. The docking of Chinese conventional submarines in Colombo, Sri Lanka last year – twice, for refuelling and replenishment purposes – lends weight to this argument. While Sri Lanka and India have an understanding on respecting each other’s security concerns, it is interesting to note is that the port where the submarines docked has been built by a Chinese company that holds 85% of its ownership.

China has well articulated its desire to play a role far beyond its shores in its 2015 White Paper on Military Strategy. The White Paper clearly states that Beijing is gradually shifting “its focus from offshore waters defense to the combination of offshore waters defense with open seas protection”. Beijing wants to secure its maritime links in the Indian Ocean and to take on a stronger security role in the current world order. It is on track “for realizing the Chinese Dream of achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. No country or mechanism can block Chinese expansion into the Indian Ocean, which is being complimented by the Maritime Silk Road and bilateral commercial infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean region. While New Delhi is accepting of this reality, it remains uncertain of the best way forward in managing these developments. On the other hand, while China is increasing its forays into the Indian Ocean, it is yet to find a way to sustain its presence. In order to pursue its changing focus on maritime security and expand its operational capabilities in the Indian Ocean, China will have to find or create facilities to maintain its strategy.

What is worrisome is that China is not looking to compete with India or any other power in the region. It has set its goals at matching its capacity to that of the US and establishing itself as another super power, if not the only one, in this region. It definitely has a long way to go in achieving this dream, but it nevertheless has started the journey.

Chinese presence along India’s land borders is a major factor in the Sino-Indian rivalry. Given the history, it is only natural for New Delhi to be uneasy about prospects of China establishing a permanent presence in its maritime neighbourhood in whatever form it may be. Maldives allowing foreign ownership of land is in favour of Chinese interests. It blends well with Beijing’s ongoing strategy to mark its presence commercially at the international level. India has to factor in the challenges that such a development may throw up for its own strategic interests in the region. It is uncertain how such a development will play out; whether, at any point of time, China owning land near critical sea routes would affect India’s military and commercial interests; or if it will add to the Sino-Indian rivalry due to difference in interpretation of international maritime laws in the Indian Ocean.

The Chinese entry into the Indian Ocean region is altering some of the established power dynamics in the region. It is certain that the rise of a nation is bound to change the established order. The point in debate is how much of it will alter and how soon. India is aware of the changing security environment in its neighbourhood and keen on playing an active security role in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. For now, the possibility of Chinese infrastructures on Chinese owned land in the Maldives is a serious concern to India’s security and strategic interests.

It was not a land reform bill but a Constitution amendment (even the BBC named it this way).

Posted in China, Darshana M. Baruah, English, India, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil’s Nuclear Submarine Program at Risk After Corruption Scandal

by Robert Beckhusen

Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva

Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva

In late July, 2015, some stunning news hit the Brazilian nuclear program. Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, a retired navy admiral, a leading nuclear engineer, head of Brazil’s state-controlled nuclear power company Eletronuclear and a central figure in the country’s atomic weapons program in the 1980s, was charged with taking $1.35 million in bribes.

It is a blow to Brazil’s domestic nuclear power ambitions and risks derailing the Brazilian navy’s plan to build a nuclear-powered attack submarine. The allegations involve engineering firms paying bribes for favoritism surrounding the under-construction Angra 3 nuclear power plant. Scientific research on the domestic side influences whether the military program will be a success or failure.

“The industry was already in crisis, but now the corruption concerns are bound to delay Angra 3 further and cause costs to rise even more,” Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, a former chief of Brazilian power giant Eletrobras, told Reuters.

Brazil isn’t lacking the technological know-how to continue the program, but there are environmental, economic and political concerns — and the nuclear program is subject of a public debate. Corruption spreading through the program at the highest levels doesn’t help.

DG (06FEB14) Angra Nuclear Power Plant: Angra 1&2 are operational with 637 MW respectively 1,350 MW (on the right side). Angar 3 is under construction on the left side.

DG (06FEB14) Angra Nuclear Power Plant: Angra 1&2 are operational with 637 MW respectively 1,350 MW (on the right side). Angar 3 is under construction on the left side.

The scandal also raises the question, why does Brazil want nuclear reactors for its military in the first place? There’s a long history here. On June 18, 1979, Brazil’s National Security Council authorized a “parallel” nuclear project separate from civilian nuclear research. The plan: Build a nuclear bomb in secret, and reveal it to the world in a test explosion.

Political considerations drove the program’s development. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are all nuclear powers — and talk of potential expansion has long placed nuclear-armed India at the top of the list. Brazilian leaders — at the time a group of military officers — have long coveted being high on that list. Possession of nuclear weapons is a key consideration when petitioning for membership on the UNSC or keeping it — the British government maintains its Trident missiles amongst other considerations to maintain its position there (nevertheless, there is a dispute amongst experts about today’s importance of nuclear weapons to keep the membership on the UNSC; for details see Paul D. Beaumont, “Trident & The Unilaterist Taboo: The curious case of British nuclear weapons retention“, International Law and Policy Institute, Policy Paper No. 6/2014, March 2014, p. 6f).

The other reasons never made much sense. Brazil hadn’t fought a war with a foreign power since it joined the Allies in World War II. The country had no serious state enemies — and still doesn’t. Argentina embarked on a nuclear weapons research program at the same time as Brazil, fueling a regional rivalry. But Buenos Aires and Brasilia — even then — cooperated together more than they clashed.

Known as the Parallel Program, having the military involved in nuclear research meant no international oversight on bases forbidden to inspectors; freeing up scientists to conduct experiments and acquire materials on the international market that would otherwise be restricted due to proliferation concerns.

Brazil never completed the project and forswore nuclear weapons in 1991 as the country democratized — though Brazil possesses the technological means to produce an atomic bomb within a few years if it chose to. This is unlikely, however, and its nuclear ambitions today focus on domestic power and submarine power plants.

A diesel-powered, Malaysian Scorpene-class submarine of the kind Brazil uses (Photo: Mak Hon Keong).

A diesel-powered, Malaysian Scorpene-class submarine of the kind Brazil uses (Photo: Mak Hon Keong).

Which brings us to the SNB Álvaro Alberto – SN10, which is supposed to be Brazil’s first nuclear-powered attack submarine. With a relatively large and early-model pressurized water reactor, she will weigh 4,000 tons when submerged and travel far from South American shores.

For armament, the submarine will contain eight forward-facing torpedo tubes packed with F21 torpedoes and Exocet missiles. But this is all on paper, as Brazil doesn’t expect to finish building her until 2023 or 2025 at the earliest. Beyond that, there’s little available information and the program is largely secret. France, which is helping build the submarine through a technology transfer agreement, has experience with nuclear-powered attack submarines of its own — the Rubis class and its under-construction Barracuda class. The Brazilian submarine falls in between the two in terms of size.

Álvaro Alberto will have no dedicated missile room and will likely re-use other computer systems in use in the Brazilian navy. The sub’s tactical command system is from Brazil’s Oberon-class submarine Riachuelo. Álvaro Alberto should be able to spend three months at sea at a time, with a top speed of around 26 knots. It’ll be slightly larger than the under-construction Scorpene diesel submarines, however, in order to fit the reactor on board.

That’s all well and good, but the real question is why Brazil wants a nuclear submarine. The Brazilian government claims the submarine is for protecting offshore oil and natural gas infrastructure (see here).

Like the defunct nuclear weapons program, this doesn’t make much sense. To be sure, there’s a political undercurrent in Brazil — and in South America more broadly — that fears a potential threat from Europe and the United States. This owes to historical experience of foreign powers meddling in regional affairs and most recently the Falklands War, which saw the United Kingdom defeat Argentina in a military conflict.

“While Brazil’s overall relations with the United States have been cordial, and the two countries enjoy a strong commercial relationship, fear of domination from the North is an enduring feature of the Brazilian political psyche,” noted a 2009 article in Proceedings, a monthly journal of the U.S. Naval Institute.

DG (20MAY15) Itaguai Submarine Base (under construction).

DG (20MAY15) Itaguai Submarine Base (under construction).

But the journal pointed out—quite rightly — that nuclear submarines are expensive and typically intended for long-distance patrolling, not offshore security more suitable for patrol boats and diesel submarines. Besides the power plant itself, nuclear submarines also require costly training and maintenance beyond that of conventionally-powered vessels. “A fleet of small, fast surface ships could be built for the price of a single nuclear submarine and would also present a visible deterrent to anyone attempting to jeopardize Brazilian control of the platforms,” the journal noted.

Arguably, politics, economic considerations and international prestige are more important factors. Nuclear submarines are powerful symbols — only a few countries have them — and possessing them signals that one’s own military should be taken seriously. Besides, Brazil could help other countries develop their own submarines in the future, which provides for thousands of jobs and diplomatic leverage. But realistically and for Brazil’s purposes, they’re far from practical weapons.

Then Brazil has a find a place to put its nuke sub. The country’s main submarine base near Rio de Janeiro is too politically problematic – it’s one of the largest cities in the Western Hemisphere. So instead, Brazil is building facilities at Itaguai further to the south.

Now it must contend with corruption influencing the country’s nuclear research.

Posted in Brazil, English, International, Robert Beckhusen, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Coalition ISR Aircraft Supporting Iraq Ops

DG (02JUN15) Al Dhafra UAE ATL-2

DG (02JUN15) Al Dhafra UAE ATL-2. Click here for a broader look at the airbase.

The recent imagery update available in Google Earth from June shows a French Navy Atlantique 2 (ATL-2) maritime patrol aircraft parked on the French ramp at Al Dhafra Airbase, UAE.

France deployed the aircraft late last year to support strike and reconnaissance operations over Iraq. It acts as a forward air controller, a mission that it previously performed in Operation Harmattan in Libya (2011) and more recently in Operation Serval in Mali (2013).

Its role is to identify enemy targets and send back coordinates for coalition strike aircraft. And as we’ve seen with some of the videos released by the French Ministry of Defense, it often hangs around to capture video for battle damage assessments. [1]

The Atlantique 2 is operated by two different French Navy patrol squadrons, the 21F and 23F. This one reportedly belongs to the 23F based out of the Lorient-Lann-Bihoue civil-military airport in Brittany.

It’s currently unknown whether this is one of the lucky 15 planned for upgrades slated to start in 2016. Upgrades include a new radar, EO/IR turret, IFF and digital acoustic system. With updates, the French Navy expects to keep the aircraft in the air into the 2030s. [2]

Beyond the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance role, the platform can also deploy the Exocet AM-39 anti-ship missile and the GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided bomb for land targets.

France has 22 x ATL-2s in its current fleet.

DG (12APR15) RAAF Wedgetail Al Dhafra UAE

DG (12APR15) RAAF Wedgetail Al Dhafra UAE

Other ISR aircraft not typically observed at the airbase includes Australia’s E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C. It’s easily identified by the large Mesa radar located on the dorsal fin of the fuselage.

While often forward deployed at Minhad airbase, the imagery above captured the Wedgetail parked at Al Dhafra in April — not far from 6 x RAAF F/A-18 Super Hornets which have been at the airbase since October. [3]

Like France, Australia deployed the Wedgetail late last year to take part in Iraqi operations, its first combat debut. It most famously completed a 17h mission after air-to-air refueling, breaking a world record for a 737-700 airframe. [4]

Along with Boeing E-3 Sentries (flying from Al Dhafra & Cyprus), the Wedgetail directs the airspace for coalition aircraft, otherwise known as the battlespace management mission. Similar to the Atlantique 2, it conducts surveillance missions, searches for enemy targets and sends coordinates out to strike aircraft.

It’s operated by RAAF 2 squadron based out of Williamtown, New South Wales, and belongs to the same airbase the RAAF expects to house the maintenance facilities for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II.

Australia has six of the aircraft in total all assigned to RAAF 2, a squadron stood up in 2000. Before acquiring the platform, the RAAF did not have an AEW&C capability which it sees an integral component in transforming the RAAF into a fifth-generation-enabled air force.

Prior to deployment in the UAE, the aircraft directed the airspace in search for Malaysia flight 370 which crashed off the Australian coast last year.

[1] France also carries out strikes with its flight of Rafale fighters also deployed at Al Dhafra
[2] Upgraded aircraft will be delivered to the French navy in a batch of three per year beginning in 2019.
[3] Combined with RAAF KC-30A and C-17s, the Wedgetail and Hornets complete the RAAF strike force.
[4] Australia’s KC-30A multi-role tanker has also been observed at Al Dhafra.

Posted in Chris B, English, General Knowledge, Intelligence, Iraq | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Iraqis argue over war strategy

by Dr. Hauke ​​Feickert, lecturer at the Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien (CNMS) at Philipps University Marburg (original published in German).

Before a military offensive is launched against the Caliphate metropolis, Mosul, Iraqi forces must capture several IS strongholds on the Euphrates. However, the security force is divided: Both the army leaders under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Shiite militia leaders want to be seen as the real conquerors of the jihadists. Is costly attack imminent?

Shiite fighters launch a rocket towards Islamic State militants on the outskirt of Bayji.

Shiite fighters launch a rocket towards Islamic State militants on the outskirt of Bayji.

If it were up to Haider al-Abadi, the following scene would soon be repeated. On 8th April, the Iraqi Prime Minister and head of the armed forces moved into the city of Tikrit. In the days previous, it had freed his soldiers from the hands of the Islamic State (IS). In a speech, al-Abadi explained what the success meant: First, the Iraqi army would be revitalised as the guardian of the state and be able to fight again after last year’s defeat. Second, residents of a Sunni city such as Tikrit could also count on the protection of ethnic-neutral forces in the event of a Schia/Sunni civil war. It would then be a matter of freeing other Sunni cities from the IS’s reign of terror and restoring the country’s unity. After his speech, in a grand gesture of reconciliation, the Premier handed over his personal weapons to Sunni recruits wishing to join the fight against IS.

However, despite the optimism propagated by Haider al-Abadi, the Premier came under harsh criticism. In particular, the radical wing of al-Abadi’s own, Shiite religious camp was disrupted by the warfare, which relied on US air support and Sunni auxiliaries. Prominent militia leaders such as Hadi al-Ameri of the “Badr Organization” and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis of the “Kata’ib Hezbollah“, who had media support from deputies and the ex-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, complained that al-Abadi did not lead their fighters to Tikrit, although they had laid the foundations for capturing the city under the leadership of Iranian general, Qasim Suleimani. The Shiite paramilitaries, who had last year jointly blocked the IS storm towards Baghdad as the national People’s Militia, “Hashd“, saw themselves deprived of their victory.

Haider al-Abadi, however, continues to show no interest in considering the Shiite militia. This is because the new commander in chief would like to use the reclaiming of the Sunni north and west Iraq to reconcile the population, which had been divided even before war broke out. However, this can only succeed if the Sunni parts of the country do not have to submit to Shiite militias, who are reputed to have committed war crimes. Instead of the well-equipped and motivated Hashd forces, the army should displace the IS terrorists, ideally with the support of Sunni tribes. Al-Abadi is thus currently setting his hopes on the military to establish ethnically neutral state power in Iraq, whereby the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds will be treated equally.

Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri visits Ouja, on the southern outskirts of Tikrit (Photo: Thaier al-Sudani).

Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri visits Ouja, on the southern outskirts of Tikrit (Photo: Thaier al-Sudani).

However, many Sunni Iraqis feel that the Shiite ruling parties have fuelled inequality and repression for so long that little faith is placed in the “neutral” prime minister. Haider al-Abadi must first appeal to them – this means: First, resolving the Political Commission, which for many years has imposed a de facto occupational ban on ex-members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party; second, ending the strict anti-terror legislation, which allows the security forces to place all Sunnis under general suspicion and ignore their civil rights; third, financing and embedding the Sunni “Sawah” tribes; fourth, bringing about the participation of Sunni politicians in power and thus opening centrally managed economic and financial sources.

The new government is still a long way from achieving this. In parliament, rejectionists from Shiite and Kurdish representatives of all parties have so far rejected the attempt to revise the anti-terror laws. The work of the De-Ba’athification Commission will continue to be approved by parliament. Al-Abadi could set things into motion in order to support the Sunni soldiers. In April, he announced that he would open the “Hashd” for Sunni recruits – however, this objective will not be fully implemented. Although the People’s Militia has officially been under the military and fiscal control of al-Abadi since April’s cabinet decision, the militia leaders do not respect his authority. Considering the Iranian money and weapons that have been accrued over many years by the paramilitaries, it is highly doubtful that al-Abadi will win this dispute about the state monopoly on power.

Aside from this, the consignment of war funds to the existing Sunni “Sawah” is proving to be exceedingly difficult. Despite repeated denouncements, Haider al-Abadi’s assistance to the last loyal Sunnis in Baghdad’s bureaucratic guerilla war remains delayed. In the last month, some sheikhs in both Iran and Jordan have requested an alternative direct arms supply for their fight against the IS. Despite al-Abadi’s good will, nothing is happening in the capital. At the beginning of May, prominent Sunni politicians Athel al-Nudschaifi and Rafi al-Issawi spoke in favour of forming an autonomous Sunni region along the lines of Kurdistan. All Sunni recruits should come under the control of this new region according to their will.

Iraqi army soldiers fire a mortar during clashes with Islamic State militants in the Karma district of Anbar province in March 2015.

Iraqi army soldiers fire a mortar during clashes with Islamic State militants in the Karma district of Anbar province in March 2015.

In the conflict over the future military and political stance, Iraq’s prime minister has little hope of success; only one month after the success in Tikrit, the tide has once again turned in favour of the IS. After over a year of fierce battles in the suburbs of Ramadi, the jihadists were able to take the capital of Anbar province on 15 May. Critics of al-Abadi accused the premier of supporting the success in Tikrit (with territorial loss) and allowing the IS into Ramadi. The defeat of the Iraqi army also reconfirmed the indispensability of the militia as a powerful defender of the new Iraq.

The increased reputation of the Shiite militia after the fall of Ramadi reveals that some Sunni tribal soldiers are vehemently fighting for the use of “Hashd” in their territory — a gesture of despair that lays the ground for a campaign that can easily be defamed as a Shiite campaign against Anbar. Moreover, advocates of the militia overlook the fact that for months the “powerful” soldiers of “Badr”, “Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq“, or “Kata’ib Hezbollah” have been unable to eject the IS from the contested refinery Baiji in the province of Salah ad-Din or keep the rising IS attacks in their stronghold of Diyala under control. Nevertheless, People’s Militia alliances have been poised to attack in Anbar since June.

An Iraqi helicopter flies over military vehicles in Husaybah, in Anbar province July 22, 2015.

An Iraqi helicopter flies over military vehicles in Husaybah, in Anbar province July 22, 2015.

On 13 July, the military command in Baghdad officially announced that a major offensive to retake Anbar had begun. The ultimate goal is the liberation of the provincial capital, Ramadi. The offensive is supported by units of the Iraqi army, who are supported by air strikes from the US-led international coalition. The fact that the People’s Militia also launched their own attacks in Anbar — not directed against Ramadi but instead against Fallujah, 60 km to the east — was not mentioned in the announcement. The extent to which different organisations will cooperate with each other in the offensive (i.e. whether the army or “Hashd” can define the ultimate campaign goal) is unclear. Given the strong fortifications that the IS has built to protect its two strongholds on the Euphrates, a division of forces could have fatal consequences.

However, for Prime Minister al-Abadi, more than the outcome of the most recent offensive against IS is at stake; the massive push of the Shiite paramilitaries onto Sunni territory also threatens his political agenda, which would amount to the rehabilitation and reintegration of Sunnis as equal citizens — not a Shiite “repression”. However, the superiority of Shia hard-liners in parliament and the apparent superiority of the “Hashd” against the army are making this goal increasingly intangible.

More information

Posted in English, Hauke Feickert, Iraq | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Türkei – der halbe Verbündete gegen den IS

Mourners react over coffins in Gaziantep on July 21, 2015, during a funeral ceremony for victims following a suicide bomb attack the day before which killed at least 31 in the southern Turkish town of Suruç (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

Mourners react over coffins in Gaziantep on July 21, 2015, during a funeral ceremony for victims following a suicide bomb attack the day before which killed at least 31 in the southern Turkish town of Suruç (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

Der Anschlag im Amara-Kulturzentrum im mehrheitlich von Kurden bewohnten Suruç am Montag 20. Juli 2015 kann womöglich als Wendepunkt in der türkischen Haltung gegenüber der Terrororganisation “Islamischer Staat” (IS), aber auch gegenüber der PKK und der PYD/YPG aufgefasst werden (sowohl die PKK wie die PYD gelten in der Türkei als terroristische Vereinigung). Das Amara-Kulturzentrum spielte als Treffpunkt beim Wiederaufbau von Kobane eine wichtige Rolle. Beim Zeitpunkt des Anschlages befanden sich rund 150 Helfer im Kulturzentrum, welche anschliessend nach Kobane weiterreisen wollten. Sie folgten eine Aufruf der sozialistischen Jugendorganisation Sosyalist Gençlik Dernekleri Federasyonu (Föderation der sozialistischen Jugendverbände der Türkei; SGDF). Beim Selbstmordanschlag wurden 32 getötet und 104 verletzt. Es handelte sich dabei um den schwerste Anschlag in der Türkei seit dem Autobombenanschlag in der Grenzstadt Reyhanlı im Mai 2013, welcher mehr als 50 Tote fordete.

Im Kampf gegen den IS spielte die Türkei bis zu diesem Selbstmord-Anschlag eine ausgesprochen passive Rolle. Für zu lange überlappten sich die Interessen der IS und der türkischen Regierung: der Kampf gegen das Regime Bashar al-Assad in Syrien sowie die Absorbierung der Kurden durch die IS in der südlichen Grenzregion zu Türkei. Ausserdem besass der IS bedeutende Druckmittel: bis zu ihrer Freilassung Ende September 2014 42 Geiseln aus dem türkischen Konsulat in Mosul und das Grab Suleiman Shah’s, welches bis zu seiner Verlegung Ende Februar 2015 rund 30 km südlich von Kobane in einer türkischen Exklave innerhalb dem vom IS kontrollierten Gebiet lag. International nahm insbesondere in Verbindung mit dem Kampf des IS gegen Kobane der Druck auf die Türkei zu, sich aktiver am Kampf gegen den IS zu beteiligen und beispielsweise die Stationierung von US-amerikanischen Kampfflugzeuge auf türkischem Gebiet zu ermöglichen. Doch auch die türkische Regierung fühlte sich in ihrer passiven Rolle zunehmend unwohl. In einem am 27. März 2014 geleakten Audio-Mittschnitt eines Sicherheitstreffens zwischen dem damaligen türkischen Aussenminister und jetzigen Ministerpräsidenten Ahmet Davutoğlu, dem Untersekretär des Aussenministeriums Feridun Sinirlioglu, dem stellvertretenden Chef des Generalstabes der türkischen Streitkräfte Yasar Guler und dem Leiter des türkischen Nachrichtendienstes MIT Hakan Fidan wurde die Ausnutzung eines Vorwandes, wie beispielsweise einen Angriff auf das Grab Suleiman Shah’s oder ein Raketenangriff auf türkisches Territorium diskutiert, zum Einsatz und Stationierung türkischen Militärs in Nordsyrien diskutiert (siehe Mervé Tahiroglu, “Turkey’s ISIS problem“, The Long War Journal, 31.03.2014). Davutoğlu bestätigte später, dass dieses Sicherheitstreffen stattgefunden habe, dass jedoch gewisse Teile der Aufnahme verfälscht worden seien (siehe Tim Arango, “Recordings, Posted Online, Rattle Officials in Turkey“, The New York Times, 27.03.2014). Vermutlich ging es bei der möglichen Stationierung türkischen Militärs auf syrischem Territorium südlich der syrisch-türkischen Grenze jedoch nicht nur um die Neutralisierung von IS-Kämpfern.

Zusammenstellung der verschiedenen kurdischen Organisationen und Gruppierungen.

Zusammenstellung der verschiedenen kurdischen Organisationen und Gruppierungen.

Nach dem Anschlag in Suruç kam es zwischen dem türkischen Militär und IS-Kämpfern an der syrisch-türkischen Grenze zu Gefechten, die Türkei führte Luftangriffe gegen IS-Stellungen in Syrien und öffnete den strategisch wichtigen Luftwaffenstützpunkt İncirlik für die US Air Force, so dass die USA mit ihren Kampfflugzeugen von dort aus IS-Stellungen in Syrien und im Irak unter Beschuss nehmen können. Gleichzeitig führten die türkische Luftstreitkräfte Luftangriffe gegen dir PKK im Norden Iraks durch. Damit ist der fragile Friedensprozess zwischen der türkischen Regierung und der PKK endgültig gescheitert. Doch auch der zunehmende Einfluss der mit der PKK in Verbindung stehenden PYD/YPG im Norden Syriens ist der türkischen Regierung ein Dorn im Auge. Die Schaffung einer “IS-freien Zone” in Nordsyrien würde nicht nur die syrische Grenzregion zur Türkei von IS-Kämpfern säubern, sondern gleichzeitig die Machtverhältnisse in dieser Zone zu Gunsten der Türkei auf Kosten der PYD/YPG verschieben. Die geplante Ansiedlung hunderttausender syrisch-arabische Flüchtlinge in dieser Schutzzone würde einem zusammenhängenden quasi-staatlichen kurdischen Gebilde südlich der Türkei (Rojava) entgegenwirken. Deshalb stellt sich die Frage, inwieweit tatsächlich der IS Ziel der türkischen Militäroperation ist und welche Rolle die Schwächung des Einflusses türkischer und syrischer Kurden türkischen Regierung unter Erdoğan spielt (siehe Michael Martens, “Will Ankara Kurden aus der Pufferzone verdrängen?“, Frankfurter Allgemeinen, 28.07.2015). Die Antwort darauf hat Erdoğan bereits vor über einem Monat in einer Rede an einer vom Türkischen Roten Halbmond (Kızılay) organisierten Veranstaltung gegeben:

I am appealing to the whole world. We will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria’s north and our south. We will continue our fight in this regard no matter what it costs. They want to complete the operation to change the demographic structure of the region. We will not turn a blind eye to this. — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan zitiert in “Erdoğan says Turkey not to allow Kurdish state in northern Syria“, Today’s Zaman, 27.06.2015.

Mit den türkischen Luftangriffen auf PKK-Stützpunkte im Norden Iraks und den potentiellen Spannungen mit der PYD/YPG im Norden Syriens im Zusammenhang mit der Schaffung der “IS-freien Zone” verkompliziert sich auch die internationale Zusammenarbeit mit den bewaffneten kurdischen Kräfte in Syrien und im Irak. Bereits als die USA beim Kampf um Kobane Ende Oktober 2014 die YPG aus der Luft mit 24 Tonnen Waffen und Munition sowie 10 Tonnen medizinischer Güter versorgten, verärgerte dies die türkische Regierung — und zwar nicht nur deshalb, weil ein Teil dieser Lieferungen fälschlicherweise den IS-Kämpfern zu Gute kame. Die Waffen wurden von der autonomen kurdischen Regierung im Nordirak zur Verfügung gestellt, welche kurdische_gruppen-001auch personell die YPG unterstützten (siehe Constanze Letsch, “US drops weapons and ammunition to help Kurdish fighters in Kobani“, The Guardian, 20.10.2014). Die PYD/YPG wiederum stehen in Verbindung mit der PKK, welche sowohl in Nordsyrien wie auch im Nordirak aktiv waren und beispielsweise die Peshmerga bei der Vertreibung der IS aus dem Sindschar-Gebirge unterstützten. Diese punktuellen militärische Zusammenarbeit unter den verschiedenen bewaffneten kurdischen Kräften findet statt, auch wenn es zwischen den irakischen und syrischen Kurdenorganisationen — insbesondere auch zwischen der autonomen kurdischen Regierung im Nordirak und der PKK — innerkurdische Bruchlinien gibt. So wurden die Kämpfer der PKK nach der Rückeroberung des Sindschar-Gebirge die PKK aufgefordert die Region wieder zu verlassen.

Wie in einem Artikel vom September 2014 auf bereits angetönt, war es unklar wie die Deutsche Bundesregierung den langfristigen Verbleib der gelieferten Waffen an die “kurdischen Sicherheitskräfte” sicherstellen und eine Proliferation an andere kurdische Gruppierungen verhinder will. Am Montag, 27.07.2015 kam nun heraus, dass die Deutsche Bundesregierung dies mit der Unterschrift einer Endverbleibserklärung durch die autonomen kurdischen Regierung im Nordirak abschliessend geregelt habe (siehe Video unten). Wie wenig effektiv eine solches unterschriebenes Stück Papier ist, konnte unter anderem im Falle schweizerischer Rüstungsexporte an die Vereinigten Arabischen Emiraten und an Katar festgestellt werden (siehe “Die Schweiz als Rüstungsexporteur (2012)“,, 18.08.2012).

Auch der vermeintliche Strategiewechsel der türkischen Regierung nach dem Anschlag in Suruç kann nicht darüber hinwegtäuschen, dass die Türkei in erster Linie aus Eigeninteresse und nicht im Rahmen der Internationale Allianz gegen den IS handelt — positive Überlappungen sind eher zufällig. Im Gegenteil verkomplizieren die türkischen Luftangriffe auf die PKK im Norden Iraks die Lage nur zusätzlich. Auch wenn es schwierig ist, muss die Türkei den Weg zurück zum Friedensprozess mit der PKK finden — je früher desto besser. Die internationale Unterstützung der syrischen und irakischen Kurden muss fortgesetzt werden. Falsche Naivität wäre jedoch fehl am Platz: gelieferte Waffen und Munition werden langfristig höchstwahrscheinlich auch bei anderen Kurden-Gruppierungen auftauchen — auch bei solchen, welche bei den liefernden Staaten (noch) auf der Terror-Liste stehen.

Weitere Informationen

  • Ankara is organizing Syrian rebels for an assault on the Islamic State’s last stronghold along the Turkish border and could even use its warplanes to support their advance (David Kenner, “Turkey Goes to War“, Foreign Policy, 31.07.2015).
  • Henri J. Barkey, “What’s Behind Turkey’s U-Turn on the Islamic State? Hint: It’s more about Washington and the Kurds than it is about Syria’s dangerous Islamists“, Foreign Policy, 29.07.2015.
  • Cengiz Gunes and Robert Lowe, Manager, “The Impact of the Syrian War on Kurdish Politics Across the Middle East“, Chatham House, 23.07.2015.
  • Iraqi Kurdistan urges turkey to halt PKK bombardment“, Al Arabiya News, 01.08.2015.
  • Fighting the PKK and thwarting Kurdish ambitions in Syria are not the only dynamics driving Turkish actions. In addition to all of this, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) […] is attempting to reverse the political consequences of its Kurdish Opening policy, which granted Turkish Kurds greater rights in using the Kurdish language and expressing their Kurdish culture. […] Given its more liberal stance on Kurdish issues, the AKP was the only parliamentary political party that was competitive in Turkey’s southeast. By appealing to the Kurds, the AKP assumed that it would reap even greater electoral rewards in the future, and in the process, cement itself as Turkey’s ruling party for a generation. The recent June 7 parliamentary election turned that logic on its head. The AKP had already been losing popularity among the Kurds, who faulted Ankara for endangering Kurdish fighters in Syria that were fighting ISIS by blocking reinforcements and supplies from reaching them across the border. […] When Kurdish political parties reorganized and consolidated as the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in 2014 and announced that the HDP would compete in parliamentary elections, the AKP perceived the move as a new threat to its parliamentary dominance. It spent much of the campaign season railing against the HDP and its links to the PKK, and vilifying HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas. It turns out that the AKP’s fears were not unfounded, as the HDP outperformed expectations and garnered 13 percent of the vote on June 7, pushing the AKP below a majority of the seats in the Grand National Assembly for the first time in the party’s 13 years of single-party rule. The government’s current military campaign against the PKK must be seen within the context of June’s election, and its timing is no coincidence. The strikes ostensibly focused on rolling back ISIS, but are being primarily directed at the PKK and come hand-in-hand with a political effort to roll back the HDP. — Michael J. Koplow, “Turkey’s Cover“, Foreign Affairs, 03.08.2015.
  • Mit dem Ende des türkisch-kurdischen Friedensprozesses und der wachsenden Autonomie der irakischen und syrischen Kurden hat die kurdische Frage neue Aktualität bekommen. Warum mit einem länderübergreifenden Kurdistans nicht zu rechnen ist, erklärt der Genfer Professor Jordi Tejel: Marion Ronca, “Die Wiedervereinigung der Kurden ist sehr unwahrscheinlich“, SRF, 08.08.2015.
Posted in Iraq, Security Policy, Syria, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Additional Saudi Deployments on Iraqi Border

Imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe from 01JAN15 just outside the city of Arar east of the civilian-military airport.

DigitalGlobe Imagery from 01JAN15 just outside the city of Arar east of the nearby civilian-military airport. Click here for a closer look at the construction activity.

The latest space snapshots of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s northern border region show additional construction activity to support the presence of its troops.

With the current conflict in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia has had no choice but to rush equipment and supplies to defend the border area.

Imagery from January and June 2015 of Judayyidat Arar shows ongoing construction activity within a newly bermed area just outside the city. (The imagery from June is unavailable for publication at this time). Like with Turaif, subsequent imagery has shown Saudi armor deployed to the region.

Last year in July, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya had reported that approximately 30,000 Saudi troops were dispatched to the Iraqi border. At the time, King Abdullah ordered “all necessary measures to secure the kingdom from terrorist groups or others who might disturb the security of the homeland”. The move was announced as Iraqi troops were reported to be abandoning their posts in Karbala.

Arar, located less than 40 miles south of the Iraqi border, is an important defensive position in support of the order. It’s the capital of the Northern Border province and has a population of over 320,000. With border attacks reported earlier this year, the Kingdom doesn’t appear to be taking any chances.

Imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe of  the civil-military Arar Airport from 01JAN15.

Imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe of the civil-military Arar Airport from 01JAN15.

In March, Saudi forces launched a military exercise nearby focused on urban conflict. It sent a strong signal about the additional security measures being taken in the region. News reporting and handhelds suggest the exercise involved conventional and special forces troops supported by helicopters and armored vehicles.

Although few details were released to the public, it’s likely the exercise involved the same troops that have taken position outside the city. It wouldn’t be surprising as recent infrastructure additions suggest troops will be deployed in the near-to-medium term. Imagery from June shows three different staging areas (or parade grounds) along with what appears to be five new drive-through sheds, probably for vehicle storage. Other support buildings were also erected.

The nearby civilian-military airport, featuring a new helicopter apron since late 2013, showed little change. The temporary support shelter that can be seen in January was being replaced by permanent shelters in June. Six helicopters including 2 x Apache, 2 x Black Hawk and 2 x probable Combat Scouts were parked nearby in the earlier imagery. They could still observed at the airport in June.

Posted in Chris B, English, General Knowledge, Intelligence, Iraq, Saudi Arabia | 1 Comment

Russia Is Top US National Security Threat Says General Dunford — That Should Make It the Top Priority for US Diplomacy

This article was published by the foreign policy blog which granted us permission to republish it. Check out greatcharlie’s blog for more commentaries and advices for foreign and defense policymakers, political and business leaders as well as policy aficionados worldwide.

Pictured are Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (2nd right), Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu (left), Black Sea Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Aleksander Vitko (2nd left), and the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov.

Pictured are Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (2nd right), Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu (left), Black Sea Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Aleksander Vitko (2nd left), and the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov.

According to a July 9, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Russia Is Top US National Security Threat: Gen. Dunford“, US Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford says Russia is at the top of the list of security concerns for the US. Dunford was speaking at his US Senate confirmation hearing to become the next US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reuters quoted Dunford as saying, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it is nothing short of alarming”.

Relations between Russia and the West have taken a sharp turn downward since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Political leaders among the NATO Allies are uncertain of what Putin is trying to achieve with his actions in Ukraine, his moves in the Baltic States, positioning of Russian rocket forces near Poland, or his considerable military build-up. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told a US Congressional Committee in April 2015, “[…] we cannot fully grasp [Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s] intent”. Breedlove further stated, “[w]hat we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent”. NATO conducted several exercises to show Putin its intent to respond to aggression.

• • •

O si sic omnia!
Oh would that all had been done or said thus!

• • •

Sanctions from the US and Europeans have put relations between Russia and the West, built largely on economic cooperation, at considerable risk and pose a serious economic threat to Russia despite any heroic claims otherwise by Putin. Repetitive threats of further sanctions from the US and EU could prompt Putin to consider means to shift the power equation. He may eventually feel his back is against the wall, may do more than put his forces on parade or use his forces covertly despite his denials of doing so. The escalating war of words between US and Russian officials is also problematic. Words of anger, mockery, hate, and aggression, do damage that may be difficult to repair. The world has witnessed the vicissitudes faced by the Obama administration in foreign policy. The administration often fails to acknowledge how dire problems really are. It tends to settle upon bromides, with a seductive kind of superficiality, to very challenging situations, which later prove to be shallow entrapments. Some resolution must be found to current problems in relations with Russia. In order to respond diplomatically to Putin, the genuine motivation for his actions must be uncovered. Formal diplomatic talks could be established between the US and EU with Russia not in an attempt to mollify him, but provide opportunities for all sides to “clear the air” on those issues and others and work together to mutually satisfy interests. Negotiations can be based on the relative strengths of the positions and capabilities of all sides. The peace that can be achieved must be the focus not how much each side can destroy through warfare. In the US and in the EU, all other elements of foreign and defense policy must serve to effectively support that diplomacy. Good use must be made of time available before situations change. The door to opportunity might remain open for a brief period.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove (right), Commander, U.S. European Command, talks with paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade July 23, 2015, during Rapid Trident in Yavoriv, Ukraine. Rapid Trident is a long-standing U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise focused on peacekeeping and stability operations. More than 1,800 personnel from 18 different nations are participating in the exercise (Photo: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexander Skripnichuk, 13th Public Affairs Detachment).

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove (right), Commander, U.S. European Command, talks with paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade July 23, 2015, during Rapid Trident in Yavoriv, Ukraine. Rapid Trident is a long-standing U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise focused on peacekeeping and stability operations. More than 1,800 personnel from 18 different nations are participating in the exercise (Photo: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexander Skripnichuk, 13th Public Affairs Detachment).

Putin’s Response to the West
Putin and his advisers have heard explanations from the US and EU that sanctions were a means to halt its annexation of Crimea, its activities in Ukraine, a response to the downing of Malaysian Airline Flight MH117, and as a means to push all parties to the negotiating table. Putin, however, rejects any criticism of Russia’s actions over Ukraine or anything else. He explains that the deterioration of relations with the West was “not our choice”. He has proffered: “It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures”.

Having been a P5+1 partner with China as well as the main Western powers that levied sanctions against it, the US, United Kingdom, France, and Germany during the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Putin and his advisers have undoubtedly learned how to more effectively handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin can likely better predict Western responses in certain situations. Beyond what Russia gleaned from the Iran talks, Putin has looked deeply at the US and Europe, discerning many flaws, weaknesses in the transatlantic defense. He has watched it decay due to Western political leaders’ lack the will to maintain it. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that faced no threat. Putin tested NATO, acting unabashedly in the face of the alliance by moving against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad”. In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Whenever NATO threatens to use force against Russia now, albeit defensively, Putin responds with an enigmatic face. Even though maneuvers and force redeployments were made and sanctions were imposed in response to Russian moves as in Crimea or a perceived threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin expected Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their NATO military commitments.

• • •

Tanquam ex ungue leonem!
From the claw we may judge a lion!

• • •

Since 2011, uniformed military manpower has declined in every Western nation, but Russian military manpower has increased by 25 percent to 850,000 between 2011 and mid-2014. Russia supposedly has about 2.5 million active reservists out of a total population of 143 million. It ranks second, behind the US, on the list of countries with conventional warfighting capabilities. Expenditures on defense, and the related category of national security and law enforcement, accounts for 34 percent ($84 billion) of Russia’s budget which is more than twice in comparison with 2010. Explaining his concept for achieving this growth, Putin told senior military commanders and defense industry executives at a meeting in Sochi on May 12, 2015 that they can and must do for the defense industry what they did for Sochi. Putin was referring to the $50 billion spent in to host the 2014 Winter Olympics there. He also stated that “all the issues pertaining to the allocation of additional funding have been resolved”. Putin has a penchant to display power. Most recently it has been lurid. With its conventional forces rejuvenated, Russia is on the march again, seizing territory in albeit a piecemeal fashion. Putin has likely assessed war with Russia is the last thing US and EU political leaders want. He has seemingly gauged his moves sensing just how far he can go with them. He may believe he can later legitimize acquisitions via talks with the West.


Vladimir Putin in KGB uniform around 1980.

Vladimir Putin in KGB uniform around 1980.

Confabulating on Putin
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin has been the authentic face of the Russian government. Putin restored order in his country after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies. To Putin, only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Given its approach to Putin, there is every indication that many in the West believed positive relations with Russia would endure despite pushing Western demands its leaders. Putin style of management was undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer from 1975 to 1991 in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB — the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. However, his style was not shaped in terms of his use of KGB tradecraft. It was shaped as a result of his continued close association with a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career, particularly a few who served in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with him. They are called siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. At the pinnacle are men among them who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. These men come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was raised in the Chekisty (Chekist) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. That left an imprint on him. Putin got his start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a post he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists. Putin rose to deputy-mayor, but his work in St. Petersburg was halted after six years when his boss lost his bid for reelection. Yet, in two years, he rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months later, he was Russian Federation President.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as “a major geopolitical disaster of the century“. Putin says that he is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He also wants to bring the independent states of the former Soviet Union back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence. Putin does not hesitate to let the leaders of those states know his intentions either. Although Putin managed to restore order from turmoil in Russia, many would note that he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. There is a significant opposition movement to Putin in Russia, lead by individuals such as the slain statesman and politician, Boris Nemtsov. Yet, Putin’s words have also resonated with many Russians. Convinced Russia is in a struggle with the US, the Economist states 81% of Russians see the US as a threat. The EU is also viewed as such.

The Downturn in Relations Began Well Before Ukraine
Dimitry Medvedev was Russian Federation President when US President Barack Obama came to office. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. Senior Russia analysts in the US government could have confirmed that Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. Yet, that truth was given little consideration. Instead, Putin was treated by Obama as the “odd man out”. Little was done to build a relationship with him. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were a neophyte and not a seasoned national leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced, and new ones arose, to include: Putin’s decision to allow US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Putin was still fuming over Operation Unified Protector, during which in 2011, multinational forces including the US, were placed under NATO command and imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Putin felt NATO-led forces went beyond UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate by helping local forces overthrow Gaddafi. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. The world recognized how poor the relationship between Obama and Putin was after observing their body language during a June 17, 2013 meeting in Northern Ireland (see video below). A spate of public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further.

Positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with Medvedev likely gave administration officials the idea that Putin would also consider proposals on it. Putin firmly expressed disinterest, but administration officials smugly insisted that Putin agree to reductions in both nations’ nuclear arsenals. Putin then out rightly rejected their proposals. Obama administration officials were unprepared to receive Putin’s final rejection of the proposals and reacted poorly. Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending the president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office“. With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his decision on its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, the White House cancelled a September summit meeting in Moscow for Obama and Putin. It was a trite, and amateurish response. Administration’s officials explained their decision to cancel behind lightweight rhetoric regarding the effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe”. Commenting on his rejection of the proposal, Putin was likened to l’enfant terrible. An unidentified source told for the same August 8th article stated, “[w]e just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us”. That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment”. Putin and his advisers were further convinced that the US and EU did not respect Russia as a power, even militarily. Aching to be taking seriously in the US public, among other reasons, Putin soon after wrote a September 11, 2013, op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “A Plea for Caution From Russia“. He challenged popular views on foreign policy and national-identity held in the US.

There were other public affronts. The next year, during preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, there was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed by US security experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. US officials were highly critical of security measures taken by the Russians for the Games and the level of cooperation officials from Russian security service officials showed toward counterparts from US security organizations. There were endless dalliances into clairvoyance evinced by predictions of terrorist attacks. It smacked more of fear mongering than anything else. Obama administration and other US officials knew the Winter Olympics would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. Sochi provided Putin the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. The Russian people would have the opportunity to tap into the power of Russia’s renewed greatness. Putin displayed great patience in the face of mordant criticisms leveled against the Games’ organization and even personal rebuffs to him. Putin achieved his objective, and Sochi was safe and secure. However, what occurred was not forgotten.

• • •

Empta dolore experientia docet!
Experience teaches when bought with pain!

• • •

By 2014, Putin’s anger toward the US as well as the Europeans metastasized. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin enumerated some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe), which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Soon, there were regular incursions of Russian bombers and fighters in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters.

A scene from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony.

A scene from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony.

No Immediate Military Solution
At the NATO Defense Ministers Meetings on June 24, 2015, participants decided on air, maritime, and special forces components of an enhanced 40,000 strong NATO Response Force (NRF). Ministers took measures to speed up political and military decision-making, including authority for NATO’s SACEUR to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. Ministers approved a new concept of advance planning. They also finalized details on the six small headquarters being set up in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “[t]hey will each consist of around 40 people, and will play a key role in planning, exercises, and assisting potential reinforcement”. Ministers additionally decided to establish a new Joint Logistics Headquarters, to facilitate the rapid movement of forces when necessary. Directly on Russia, Stoltenberg stated, “[w]e are carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities”. He added that NATO is working on how to deal with hybrid threats, including through close cooperation with the European Union. To avoid misperceptions of NATO’s actions, Stoltenberg explained, “[w]e do not seek confrontation, and we do not want a new arms race”. He stressed, “we want to keep our countries safe […] this is our job”.

However, despite promises, Allies must have the requisite political will to give meaning to those words and any plans. The reality is that US outlays on security are three times that of the other 27 partners combined, even though the US gross domestic product (GDP) is smaller than their total GDP. The disparity in burden threatens NATO’s integrity, cohesion and capability — and ultimately, both European and transatlantic security. Since Washington has decided to cut 40,000 troops from the US Army’s ranks by 2017, the US will not be able to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength without earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. Although the NRF is now 40,000 strong, the political will of NATO Allies to use it to block or engage Russian forces must exist. While a Baltic state or Ukraine may face the eminent threat of a Russian attack, the NRF may only be poised for “Sitzkrieg“, taking no aggressive action and making no effort to even deter potential Russian action. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, overwhelming in size and power to the NRF, to attack a target, it might be futile for the NRF to try to halt it, even with the maximum amount of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance available. The NRF might try to survive against the Russian leviathan until more NATO forces arrived to reinforce it and ideally expel Russia from the country under attack. However, Russia would not make reaching the NRF easy. A Normandy style landing to reinforce the NRF would hardly be possible. NATO air power might be able to stave off the Russian force, but air, land, and sea elements could mass from bases in Russia and use powerful conventional weapons to destroy forces engaged and reinforcements.

The Way Forward
This is not greatcharlie’s first descant on Putin. Unlike others, who have scrutinized Putin from a safe distance, the intent here is not to abuse. The goal has been to objectively examine thinking behind Putin’s actions to construct ways to engage with him. If what Putin says is true, and his continued aggressive moves have been spurred by Western responses, there may be room for the resolution of this dispute. Negotiating with Putin certainly would not be an indication of timidity, fear, or duplicity. Indeed, when speaking to Putin, the US and EU must demand respect for their positions and the rights of sovereign states. However, the views and rights of Russia must also be equally acknowledged and respected. Equity and some degree of enmity among all sides to any talks must be promoted. There must be the will to act fairly and justly toward each other, to include an immediate cessation of hostile acts. That would mean halting Russian intrusions into NATO airspace, flyovers and buzzing by military jets, interceptions at sea and other harassing actions in NATO waters. Further deployments of NATO land forces must be paused. Negotiating requires setting aside anger over what has transpired, but does not obviate the need to discern one another’s actions to avoid deceit or trickery.

Some European leaders have made contact with Putin and tried to resolve some issues with him, but they have had little success. There have been intermittent congenial contacts between Obama and Putin. For example, on July 4, 2015, Putin called Obama to mark Independence Day and express his confidence in US-Russia relations. On June 25, 2015, Putin called Obama reportedly to discuss the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Obama also voiced concern over Russia’s support for separatists operating in eastern Ukraine. On February 10, 2015, Obama called Putin to urge him to accept a diplomatic peace plan for Ukraine presented by France and Germany in Belarus. Nevertheless, a more substantial contact between the US and Russia occurred on May 12, 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry held four hours of talks with Putin in addition to four hours talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. In what Kerry characterized as a “frank meeting” with Putin, the Russian president gave detailed explanations of Russia’s positions. Their talks covered Iran, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The eight hours of talks were a welcome development. It was Kerry’s first visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in early 2014. Kerry stated on Twitter, “it was important to keep the lines of communication open between the US and Russia as we address important global issues such as Syria and Iran”. Lavrov said the talks helped Russia and the US improve mutual understanding. Perhaps a path to repairing relations can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. There is no intrinsic guarantee diplomacy will work. However, both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving US-Russia relations, and Russia’s overall relationship with the West. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have also formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

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China’s Strategic Bomber: A Flight of Fancy?

by Paul Pryce. Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities on both sides of the pond, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a Research Fellow with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces. His current research interests include African security issues and NATO-Russia relations.

Xian H-6K (Photo: Ivan Voukadinov).

Xian H-6K (Photo: Ivan Voukadinov).

Chinese officials seem intent on raising the profile of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), which has been responsible for securing mainland China’s airspace since the rise to power of the communist regime. At a meeting of Chinese defence officials in July 2015, a call was made for PLAAF to acquire a long-range strategic bomber with the capacity to fly more than 8,000 kilometres without refueling and to carry a payload of more than 10 tons of air-to-ground munitions. This follows the defence white paper issued by China’s Ministry of National Defence in May 2015, which also calls on PLAAF to “boost its capabilities for strategic early warning, air strike, air and missile defense, information countermeasures, airborne operations, strategic projection, and comprehensive support”.

This has worrying implications for security in the Asia-Pacific region. Such a hypothetical bomber could strike targets as far away as Guam and could be employed against the Philippines or Indonesia in any conflict regarding the South China Sea. The impact in the North Pacific could be even more severe. Increasingly frequent airspace violations near Japan’s Northern Territories, also known as the Kuril Islands, by Russian Federation Tu-95 strategic bombers have prompted Japan to step up its own patrols. The prospect for Chinese bombers to also begin encroaching on Japanese airspace could prompt a rush to acquire expanded air defence capabilities, further militarizing what was once a largely uninhabited and tranquil region.

Japan certainly seems to be preparing for just such a scenario. In remarks at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC in July 2015, Japan’s top military commander Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano said that, “[m]y sense is that this aggressive trend will continue into the future where China will go beyond the island chain in the Pacific. So if anything, I believe the situation would worsen.” China’s 2013 declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea coupled with further ranging flights by Chinese strategic bombers would certainly seem to be the recipe for a serious confrontation in disputed airspace.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping's pre-New Year visit to a PLAAF bomber regiment provided the first full view of the cockpit of an XAC H-6K.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s pre-New Year visit to a PLAAF bomber regiment provided the first full view of the cockpit of an XAC H-6K.

Currently, PLAAF operates a fleet of 15 H-6K nuclear-capable bombers, essentially a Soviet Tu-16 bomber built under license by Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation. These aircraft make China part of an exclusive club – only the United States and the Russian Federation are currently able to deploy strategic bombers. Based on a design that dates back to 1959, however, the H-6K was never intended as a lasting component in China’s security toolbox. Since the 1990s, Xian has reportedly been developing a bomber design capable of meeting requirements similar to those set out at the aforementioned May 2015 defence meeting.

The Xian H-20, which could enter service in 2025, is rumoured to be a subsonic stealth bomber with a similar wing design to the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit in service with the United States Air Force. For perspective, it is worth noting that the B-2 first entered service in 1997 and has a range of 11,000 kilometres, greatly exceeding the capabilities envisioned for the H-20. There is also some question as to whether Xian will be able to produce the high-performance turbofan engine and other equipment essential to such an aircraft design. This Chinese aircraft manufacturer has come far recently, particularly in its production of the Y-20 strategic transport for PLAAF. Xian has demonstrated that it can build an aircraft with a range of approximately 8,000 kilometres when carrying a payload of 40 tons – but it still had to rely on Russian turbofan engines.

Xian Y-20 - one of the prototypes.

Xian Y-20 – one of the prototypes.

The H-20 and other experimental aircraft projects should be best understood not as a means by which China is seeking to secure a strategic advantage over the United States and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region, but rather as an effort to catch up with American military technology. The capability gap has been deeply unsettling for China’s political leadership; Xu Qiliang, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, wrote in 2013 that the People’s Liberation Army cannot meet the needs of national security in its current state and requires rapid modernization in order to compare with the world’s advanced militaries. This political ambition for a “great leap forward” in military capability is reportedly placing considerable strain on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). PLAAF pilots now receive an average of 100 to 150 flight hours each year, comparable to their American counterparts, but the distribution of these flight hours varies widely between regions of China, indicating that some pilots are being exhausted in order to provide a presence in disputed areas and to create the impression that China is on equal terms militarily with the United States.

Ultimately, Chinese political figures will need to come to terms with the technological and human resources constraints facing the PLA. A modern military cannot be created overnight, and it will take many more years of trial and error for Xian to develop turbofan engines able to keep the dreams of Xu Qiliang and his colleagues aloft.

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Iraker streiten über Kriegsstrategie

von Dr. Hauke Feickert, Lehrbeauftragter im Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien (CNMS) der Philipps University Marburg.

Vor einer Militäroffensive gegen die Kalifatsmetropole Mosul müssen irakische Truppen mehrere IS-Hochburgen am Euphrat einnehmen. Doch die Streitmacht ist gespalten: Sowohl die Armeeführung unter Ministerpräsident Haider al-Abadi als auch die schiitischen Milizführer wollen jeweils als die eigentlichen Bezwinger der Dschihadisten gesehen werden. Steht jetzt ein kostspieliger Angriff bevor?

Shiite fighters launch a rocket towards Islamic State militants on the outskirt of Bayji.

Shiite fighters launch a rocket towards Islamic State militants on the outskirt of Bayji.

Geht es nach Haider al-Abadi soll sich diese Szene bald wiederholen: Am 8. April zog der irakische Ministerpräsident und Oberbefehlshaber der Streitkräfte in der Stadt Tikrit ein, die seine Soldaten in den vorangegangenen Tagen aus den Händen des Islamischen Staats (IS) befreit hatten. Mit einer Ansprache machte al-Abadi klar, was der Erfolg bedeutete: Erstens, die irakische Armee als Hüter der staatlichen Ordnung sei nach ihren Niederlagen vom letzten Jahr wieder gestärkt und kampffähig. Zweitens, auch Bewohner einer sunnitischen Stadt, wie Tikrit, könnten im Schia/Sunni-Bürgerkrieg auf den Schutz ethnisch-neutraler Streitkräfte zählen. Nun ginge es darum, weitere sunnitische Städte von der IS-Terrorherrschaft zu befreien und die Einheit des Landes wiederherzustellen. Nach seiner Rede händigte der Premier, in einer starken Geste der Versöhnung, persönlich Waffen an sunnitische Rekruten aus, die sich dem Kampf gegen den IS anschließen wollten.

Doch trotz der Aufbruchsstimmung, die Haider al-Abadi verbreitete, musste sich der Premier herbe Kritik gefallen lassen. Vor allem der radikale Flügel aus al-Abadis eigenem, schiitisch-religiösen Lager, störte sich an seiner Kriegsführung, die auf amerikanische Luftunterstützung und sunnitische Hilfstruppen setzte. Prominente Milizführer, wie Hadi al-Ameri von der “Badr-Organisation” und Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis von der “Kata’ib Hisbollah” klagten, medienwirksam unterstützt durch Abgeordnete um ex-Regierungschef Nuri al-Maliki, dass al-Abadi ihre Kämpfer nicht nach Tikrit mitgenommen habe, obwohl sie doch zuvor unter Leitung des iranischen Generals Qasim Suleimani die Grundlagen für die Einnahme der Stadt gelegt hätten. Die schiitischen Paramilitärs, die im vergangenen Jahr gemeinsam als nationale Volksmiliz “Hashd” den Sturm des IS in Richtung Bagdad abgewehrt hatten, sahen sich um ihren Sieg gebracht.

An einer Würdigung der schiitischen Milizen zeigt Haider al-Abadi aber nach wie vor kein Interesse. Denn der neue Oberbefehlshaber möchte die Rückeroberung des sunnitischen Nord- und Westirak nutzen, um die bereits vor Kriegsausbruch tief gespaltene Bevölkerung wieder zu versöhnen. Dies kann aber nur gelingen, wenn die sunnitischen Landesteile nicht von schiitischen Milizen unterworfen werden, die bereits jetzt im Ruf stehen, Kriegsverbrechen begangen zu haben. Statt der gut ausgerüsteten und motivierten Hashd-Verbände soll die Armee, bestenfalls mit Unterstützung sunnitischer Stammesverbände, die IS-Terroristen verdrängen. So ist es aktuell das Militär, in das al-Abadi seine Hoffnung setzt, im Irak doch noch eine ethnisch-neutrale Staatsmacht aufzubauen, in der Schiiten, Sunniten und Kurden gleich behandelt werden.

Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri visits Ouja, on the southern outskirts of Tikrit (Photo: Thaier al-Sudani).

Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri visits Ouja, on the southern outskirts of Tikrit (Photo: Thaier al-Sudani).

Doch für viele sunnitische Iraker sind Ungleichheit und Repression schon so lange von den schiitischen Regierungsparteien geschürt worden, dass dem “neutralen” Ministerpräsidenten nun wenig Vertrauen geschenkt wird. Haider al-Abadi muss zuerst in ihrem Sinn liefern — das bedeutet konkret: Erstens, eine Auflösung der politisierten Kommission durchsetzen, die seit Jahren ex-Mitgliedern von Saddam Husseins Ba’ath-Partei defacto ein Berufsverbot auferlegt; zweitens, ein Ende der strikten anti-Terror-Gesetze erreichen, die es den Sicherheitskräften ermöglicht, alle Sunniten unter Generalverdacht zu stellen und ihre Bürgerrechte zu ignorieren; drittens, die Finanzierung und militärische Eingliederung der sunnitischen Stammesverbände “Sawah” erwirken; viertens, die Beteiligung sunnitischer Politiker an der Macht und damit die Öffnung der zentral verwalteten Wirtschafts- und Finanzquellen herbeiführen.

Von alldem ist die neue Regierung aber noch weit entfernt. Im Parlament hat bislang eine Ablehnungsfront aus schiitischen und kurdischen Abgeordneten aller Parteien den Versuch einer Überarbeitung der anti-Terror-Gesetze abgewiesen. Die Arbeit der Ent-Baathifizierungs-Kommission wird weiterhin vom Parlament gebilligt. Etwas Bewegung konnte al-Abadi in den Streit um die Unterstützung sunnitischer Kämpfer bringen. So gab er im April bekannt, dass er die “Hashd” für sunnitische Rekruten öffnen werde – eine Absicht, die sich allerdings nicht vollständig umsetzen lassen wird. Denn die Volksmiliz steht zwar seit einem Kabinettsbeschluss vom April offiziell unter militärischer und fiskalischer Kontrolle al-Abadis, doch die Milizführer erkennen dessen Autorität nicht an. Dass al-Abadi diesen Streit über das Gewaltmonopol gewinnt, ist angesichts iranischer Gelder und Waffen, die den schiitischen Paramilitärs seit Jahren zufließen, mehr als zweifelhaft.

Davon abgesehen gestaltet sich selbst die Lieferung von Kriegsmitteln an die bereits bestehenden sunnitischen “Sawah” überaus schwierig. Trotz wiederholter Ankündigungen Haider al-Abadis wird die Hilfe für die letzten loyalen Sunniten im bürokratischen Kleinkrieg Bagdads immer wieder verzögert. Einige Scheichs haben im vergangenen Monat daraufhin sowohl im Iran als auch in Jordanien alternativ um direkte Waffenlieferungen für ihren Kampf gegen den IS gebeten. Da sich trotz al-Abadis gutem Willen in der Hauptstadt nichts bewegt, sprachen sich Anfang Mai schließlich die prominenten sunnitischen Politiker Athel al-Nudschaifi und Rafi al-Issawi für den Aufbau einer sunnitischen Autonomieregion nach dem Muster Kurdistans aus. Alle sunnitischen Rekruten sollen nach ihrem Willen unter die Kontrolle dieser neuen Region kommen.

Iraqi army soldiers fire a mortar during clashes with Islamic State militants in the Karma district of Anbar province in March 2015.

Iraqi army soldiers fire a mortar during clashes with Islamic State militants in the Karma district of Anbar province in March 2015.

In dem Konflikt um den künftigen militärischen und politischen Kurs hat der irakische Premierminister bislang schlechte Karten. Denn auf dem Schlachtfeld hat sich das Blatt nur ein Monat nach dem Erfolg in Tikrit wieder zu Gunsten des IS gewendet. Nach über einem Jahr zäher Kämpfe in den Vororten von Ramadi, konnten die Dschihadisten am 15. Mai die Hauptstadt der Provinz Anbar einnehmen. Die Kritiker Abadis konnten dem Premier danach vorwerfen, er habe den Erfolg in Tikrit mit Gebietsverlusten in Anbar bezahlt und dem IS die Tür nach Ramadi geöffnet. Zudem sahen sie in der Niederlage der irakischen Armee erneut die Unverzichtbarkeit der Milizen als schlagkräftige Verteidiger des neuen Iraks bestätigt.

Wie sehr das Renommee der schiitischen Volksmiliz nach dem Fall Ramadis gestiegen ist, zeigt nicht zuletzt, dass nun auch einige sunnitische Stammeskämpfer vehement für den Einsatz der “Hashd” in ihrem Territorium plädieren – eine Verzweiflungsgeste, die einer Kampagne den Boden bereitet, die ganz leicht als schiitischer Feldzug gegen Anbar diffamiert werden kann. Zudem übersehen Fürsprecher der Milizen, dass auch die “schlagkräftigen” Kämpfer von “Badr”, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq” oder “Kata’ib Hisbollah” es seit Monaten nicht vermocht haben, den IS aus der umkämpften Raffinerie Baiji in der Provinz Salah ad-Din hinauszuwerfen, oder steigende IS Angriffe in ihrer Hochburg Diyala unter ihre Kontrolle zu bekommen. Dennoch: Seit Juni bringen sich Verbände der Volksmiliz zum Angriff in Anbar in Stellung.

An Iraqi helicopter flies over military vehicles in Husaybah, in Anbar province July 22, 2015.

An Iraqi helicopter flies over military vehicles in Husaybah, in Anbar province July 22, 2015.

Am 13. Juli gab die Militärführung in Bagdad schließlich offiziell bekannt, dass eine Großoffensive zur Rückeroberung von Anbar begonnen habe. Das zentrale Ziel sei die Befreiung der Provinzhauptstadt Ramadi. Getragen werde die Offensive von Einheiten der irakischen Armee, unterstützt durch Luftangriffe der US-geführten internationalen Koalition. Dass die Volksmiliz ebenfalls eigene Angriffe in Anbar gestartet hatte, die sich nicht gegen Ramadi, sondern das gut 60 Km östlich gelegene Falludscha richten, ließ die Nachricht aus Bagdad unerwähnt. Wie stark die unterschiedlichen Verbände in der Offensive miteinander kooperieren werden, ob die Armee oder der “Hashd” am Ende das Kampagnenziel definieren kann, ist unklar. Angesichts der starken Befestigungen die der IS in seinen beiden Hochburgen am Euphrat angelegt hat, könnte eine Teilung der Kräfte aber fatale Folgen haben.

Für Premierminister Abadi hängt jedoch mehr in der Luft als der Ausgang der jüngsten Offensive gegen den IS. Denn mit dem massiven Vorstoß der schiitischen Paramilitärs auf sunnitisches Gebiet droht auch seine politische Agenda zu scheitern, die auf eine Rehabilitierung und Wiedereingliederung der Sunniten als gleichberechtigte Staatsbürger hinauslaufen soll, nicht auf eine schiitische “Unterwerfung”. Die Übermacht schiitischer Hardliner im Parlament und die scheinbare Überlegenheit der “Hashd” gegenüber der Armee machen dieses Ziel jedoch immer weniger greifbar.

Weitere Informationen

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Algeria’s Hardened S-300 Site Almost Complete

DG (20MAY15) ALG MEK S-300

Satellite imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe in May 2015 shows further progress on a probable S-300 site at Mers El Kébir.

While rumors of Algeria receiving a S-400 battery from Russia continue to permeate the blogosphere, construction of the S-300 site over at Mers El Kébir is well underway.

Situated in Oran Province near the coast, Mers El Kébir is an important deployment location. It’s home to the Air Force’s frontline MIG-29 multi-role fighters, the Navy’s Kilo diesel electric submarines and OMCN/CNE shipbuilding, among others.

Once completed, it’ll be the country’s third S-300 site supporting the only known S-300 unit located on the northwest coast. [1] The two other sites thought to host the system sit near Algiers, the nation’s capital and most densely populated city.

According to satellite imagery, the site has been under construction for over two years and follows a configuration similar to those located at Ouled Fayet and Reghaia. Like before, imagery shows that Algeria has taken its time hardening the site by erecting earth bermed protective shelters.

Recent space snapshots from May (right image; left image from May 2014) confirm that the protective shelters have been covered and that concrete access ramps were completed. A nearby support area was still under construction at the time of capture.

Unlike other S-300 sites around the globe — which typically follow basic Russian configurations of ‘C’ and ‘E’ shaped revetments — these hardened sites reiterate the system’s use for strategic defense. Such systems are imperative for protecting airspace against illegal incursions by a would-be aggressor.

The S-300 is the most advanced platform in the country’s inventory which is primarily composed of older Soviet-era systems. It’s a proven and capable system that allows Algeria to engage targets well outside its territorial boundaries.

The export variant that Algeria purchased, the S-300PMU2, also known by its NATO reporting name SA-20B Gargoyle, is capable of launching six missiles at once and engaging 12 targets simultaneously, both at high and low altitudes. The system sports the 48N6E2 missile with a range of 200 km paired with the 30N6 Flap Lid radar.

It’s most effective when deployed with other air defense assets like the Pantsyr S-1, or SA-22, which acts as a point defense system. In other words, it provides air defense for your air defense.

Algeria reportedly acquired a handful of SA-22 in 2010.



As far as the African continent is concerned, Algeria is the only S-300 user, although Egypt has been in talks with Russia recently to acquire the system. Handhelds from Russia’s Army 2015 forum suggest a S-300VM battery is in the works.

Imagery suggests that Algeria’s new site will probably be complete by the end of the year. And with it, Algeria will have S-300 coverage for most of its coastline.

According to SIPRI, Algeria is the largest arms importer in Africa (2010-14) taking 30 percent of the approximate $18 billion a year trade.

[1] These are the only sites that are known. Algeria reportedly ordered 8 battalions of S-300 in the 2006 agreement.

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