FBI’s intelligence-gathering operation in Iraq

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

Members of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team demonstrate close quarter battle training at the Tactical Firearms Training Center on Tuesday April 08, 2014 in Quantico, VA. (Photo: Matt McClain / The Washington Post).

Members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team demonstrate close quarter battle training at the Tactical Firearms Training Center on Tuesday April 08, 2014 in Quantico, VA. (Photo: Matt McClain / The Washington Post).

Six weeks before the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko found himself posted to Saddam Hussein’s oil-rich neighbor, Kuwait. Kolko’s job was to lead a team that would scour thousands of Iraqi government documents for evidence of espionage in or surveillance of the United States. Once he made it to Baghdad, Kolko said, analysts and special agents on his team sifted through literal truckloads of Iraqi intelligence alongside the American soldiers now responsible for governing and securing the country.

“We dressed army, lived army, and ate army while we were there,” Kolko told me of his stint as an FBI special agent turned soldier.

Kolko and his team uncovered an Iraqi spy ring spanning five states, leading to charges against 12 Iraqi immigrants. But the FBI’s mission in Iraq expanded far beyond counterintelligence, with work ranging from bomb analysis to how to establish some semblance of law and order in a foreign country rife with hostiles forces. In the process, the top domestic law enforcement agency in America emerged as a player in the Middle East, a region where it remains active to some extent even as it faces internal turmoil over the ouster of Director James Comey and the probe into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Moscow.

What the team uncovered amid millions of documents gathered from warehouses, secret government stash houses and the Iraqi intelligence ministry was an extensive network of Iraqi spies operating in the United States. — Donna Leinwand, “FBI Team in Baghdad Uncovered Extensive Iraqi Spy Network in U.S.“, Deseret News, 03.03.2008.

In 2005, Special Agent Jim Maxwell joined the Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell (CEXC), a task force comprising experts from the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and Western militaries. The group studied bombings in Iraq like crime scenes, applying forensic science and sharing their data with higher-ups at the Pentagon and in Quantico, Maxwell told me. He added that the CEXC’s insights and intelligence sharing saved the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and civilians back in the US, teaching law enforcement agencies how to counteract improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The highest-ranking FBI official in the country at the time was the legal attaché at the American embassy in the Green Zone. “The FBI’s Legal Attaché program was established to facilitate information exchange and the coordination of the FBI’s international activities, provide training and assistance, and enable criminal prosecutions of foreign subjects,” Bureau spokesman Andy Ames said in an email. “The Legal Attaché (LEGAT) is the FBI Director’s personal representative in the host country.”

The Intercept reported that legats may even recruit informants alongside the Central Intelligence Agency on foreign soil, an allegation that the FBI declined to address one way or another.

Many former special agents worked in Iraq as contractors, advising American soldiers and Iraqi policemen on how to establish and observe the rule of law in a country whose government the US Armed Forces had just overthrown and redesigned. Ed Guevara, a now-retired special agent who was under a contract with the Defense and State Departments, recalled advising Iraq’s interior ministry on transitioning its law enforcement agencies from operating under a military dictatorship to a state built on civil authority. “Since the war was ongoing, the assignment called for helping manage crises and their related consequences due to major attacks and bombings, keeping order in coordination with military forces, conducting investigations, and standing up the National Command Center as a functional national entity in intelligence and deployment of resources,” Guevara said.

Over two previous presidential administrations, the FBI, enabled by complacent congressional oversight in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, has transformed itself from a criminal law enforcement organization into an intelligence-gathering operation whose methods are more similar to those of the CIA and NSA. With 35,000 employees and more than 15,000 informants, today’s FBI is an intelligence agency without a historical peer in the United States. […] As further proof of the FBI’s transformation from domestic law enforcement organization to global intelligence agency, the informant policy guide allows the FBI to deploy informants in countries around the globe and mentions no requirement that the agency notify the host country of their presence. FBI legal attaches, or legats, are central to this capacity. Legats are stationed in U.S. embassies and their official duty is to serve as liaisons between the FBI and the law enforcement agencies of other nations. But information from the informant policy guide and news reports in recent years suggests that legats function as the FBI’s version of CIA station chiefs — intelligence agents operating in other countries under nominal State Department cover. — Trevor Aaronson, “The FBI Gives Itself Lots of Rope to Pull in Informants“, The Intercept, 31.01.2017.

“We gathered evidence and assisted in obtaining evidence to be used in court,” added Jerry Howe, a former special agent embedded as an advisor to the US Army. “Once a terrorist or criminal was identified, we used available databases and coordinated with the Iraqi military to apprehend the subject.”

For his part, James Fitzsimmons was assigned by the Defense Department to the Commission of Integrity, an Iraqi government watchdog that investigated corruption, which evolved into such a controversial, dangerous enterprise that the Commission’s director and his deputy had to seek asylum in the US. According to Fitzsimmons, other former special agents worked alongside former employees of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service in the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an American government agency overseeing how the US financed the Iraq War.

“The basic goals of the FBI in Iraq were to reorganize the new government with proper training to re-establish law enforcement and security in the country,” said Ken Riolo, who participated in an FBI task force investigating some of Saddam’s crimes against humanity between July and October 2006, four months before the dictator’s execution. The special agent now heading the FBI’s Miami office, Arabic-speaking Lebanese–American George Piro, became known in the news media as Saddam’s interrogator.

Despite special agents’ individual successes, chronic problems endemic to their operating environment undermined progress on the some of the FBI’s long-term projects. Anti-American, Iranian-backed Shia militias managed to infiltrate the Interior Ministry and its corresponding law enforcement agencies, complicating the FBI’s efforts to shape an Iraqi security agency meant to embody the rule of law. Insurgents, meanwhile, engineered bigger, cheaper, deadlier IEDs capable of crippling expensive military technology, threatening to outpace the CEXC. They even wounded a special agent, leading some in the Justice Department to question the wisdom of the wider program.

When the US Armed Forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, the FBI returned many of its responsibilities there to the Iraqis. In the years since, the rise of ISIS has challenged the longevity of the FBI’s accomplishments in Iraq. The Bureau’s most lasting achievements there may be the ones most connected to its missions of counterintelligence and counterterrorism in the United States. “The number of major crimes committed by Iraqis that had some nexus to US interests was overwhelming,” Fitzsimmons told me. Kolko added that the FBI often triaged documents revealing actionable intelligence related to the US.

Other domestic American law enforcement agencies, such as the New York City Police Department, have their own histories of operating abroad — but few outside the Drug Enforcement Administration have made such major contributions to foreign battlefields.

While most eyes in the United States are on the law enforcement agency’s investigation of the alleged relationship between Trump and Moscow, Trump, who has vowed to crush ISIS, may see fit to send the US’s top special agents back to troubled Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq. Then, it will fall to Trump’s nominee for FBI Director, Christopher A. Wray, a lawyer experienced in criminal law rather than counterterrorism, to lead the Bureau’s charge into one of the US’s longest wars.

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Personal Theories of Power: Space Power – Buttress of the Modern Military

This article is part of the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint BridgeCIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane, landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at the end of his second mission. It spent 469 days in space during its mission. Later, during the fourth mission, the vehicle spent a record-breaking 717 days and 20 hours in orbit before landing at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility on 7 May 2017. The next mission is scheduled for September 2017.

U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane, landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at the end of his second mission. It spent 469 days in space during its mission. Later, during the fourth mission, the vehicle spent a record-breaking 717 days and 20 hours in orbit before landing at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility on 7 May 2017. The next mission is scheduled for September 2017.

The United States possesses the world’s leading military. It has the most sophisticated air, land, sea, and, now, cyber forces and wields them in such a manner such that no single nation, barring the employment of total nuclear war, approaches its destructive capability.

America’s military power in these realms is identifiable. Fighter jets, bombs, tanks, submarines, ships, and more — these are all synonymous with the Nation’s warfighting portfolio. And in the modern world, even though we cannot see a cyber attack coming, we can certainly see its results — as with the Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. To the public, these tools together are America’s “stick” on the global stage, for whatever purpose its leaders deem necessary.

Space is different. There are no bombs raining from orbit, and no crack special forces deploying from orbital platforms. The tide of battle is never turned by the sudden appearance of a satellite overhead. In fact, no one in the history of war has ever been killed by a weapon from space. There are actually no weapons in space nor will there be any in the foreseeable future.

Yet, America is the world’s space power. The Nation’s strength in the modern military era is dependent on its space capabilities. Space is fundamentally different than air, sea, land, and cyber power, and at the same time inextricably tied to them. It buttresses, binds, and enhances all of those visible modes of power. America cannot conduct war without space.

Simply, space is inherently a medium, as with air, land, sea, and cyber, and space power is the ability to use or deny the use by others of that medium. The United States Air Force (USAF) defined in its Air Force Doctrine Document 1 from September 1997 (page 85) military space power as a “capability” to utilize [space-based] assets towards fulfilling national security needs. In this, space is similar to other forms of military projection. But, its difference comes in how it is measured. When viewed in this context, space power is thus the aggregate of a nation’s abilities to establish, access, and leverage its orbital assets to further all other forms of national power.

Big Brother is Watching
It is important to note that space power is inherently global, as dictated by orbital mechanics. It is essentially impossible to go to space without passing over another nation in some capacity. Thus, the concept of peaceful overflight was established with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, when the United States did not protest the path of the satellite even as it passed over the Nation. This idea stands in contrast to traditional territorial rules in which it would be considered a violation of sovereignty to put a military craft on or above another nation without express permission.

This difference became especially obvious in 1960 when Francis Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 spy aircraft above the Soviet Union. Prior to that, the U.S. recognized that its missions over Russia were certainly a provocation and against international norms, but felt that the U-2 aircraft were more than capable of evading Soviet ground-based interceptors. The imagery intelligence (IMINT), they thought, justified the risk.

The downing and subsequent capture of Powers was a significant embarrassment for the United States, and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower immediately halted this practice. From that point forward, it became clear that the only viable way for the U.S. to gather substantial IMINT against an opponent with sophisticated anti-air capabilities was via satellite.

U-2 pilots in full pressure suits in front of a Dragon Lady on the Beale Air Force Base flightline. Pictured are 14 of a total of about 80 pilots qualified on the U-2 (as of 2012). After the NASA shuttle program has ended and with the exception of the individuals in the ISS, U-2 pilots are now the highest flying humans in the world (21,300+ m).

U-2 pilots in full pressure suits in front of a Dragon Lady on the Beale Air Force Base flightline. Pictured are 14 of a total of about 80 pilots qualified on the U-2 (as of 2012). After the NASA shuttle program has ended and with the exception of the individuals in the ISS, U-2 pilots are now the highest flying humans in the world (21,300+ m).

KH-4B, Corona
The best quantification of space power in its early days came just a few months after the Powers incident. The CIA-run Corona program produced the first successful IMINT satellite in history. This satellite, code-named Discoverer 14, obtained more photographs of the Soviet Union in just 17 orbits over the course of a day than all 24 of the previous U-2 flights combined. Electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellites, such as the early generation GRAB program (which actually launched before Corona), helped map Soviet air defenses by detecting radar pulses, which enabled strategic planners to map bomber routes. Although air-and-sea-based reconnaissance craft had the capability to also detect radar pulses, they could only identify targets at a maximum of 320 km within the Soviet Union, far less than was needed to plan a secure route to interior targets. Space became more than just a one-to-one replacement of existing tools; it offered significantly more access to foes.

Superiority then became three-pronged: who had the broadest capabilities, who had the best technology in each form of space-based intelligence gathering, and who had the best coverage? Said another way, how well could a nation monitor all spectra in detail at all times everywhere that matters?

Nearly a decade after Corona transformed space into a viable form of power, the U.S. leveraged its first reliable weather monitoring and communications relay satellites in the Vietnam War. This expanded the role of space to that of an active component on the battlefield, rather than just a pre-conflict source of intelligence — an enormously important growth.

More than that, it represented a substantial evolution of war as a whole. The sudden enhancement of meteorological data due to dedicated satellites gave field commanders far greater clarity than in previous conflicts as to when would be the ideal windows to mount a strike or a longer campaign. This was especially important in Vietnam, which was often overcast.

Satellite communications also made their wartime debut in Vietnam. This capability offered the first true live link between war planners and field commanders, for the conveyance of orders and the timely distribution of sensitive intelligence. Whereas intelligence satellites broadened the world by opening up vast new areas to prying eyes, communications satellites dramatically shrank it. However, this new channel was offered only to the top commanders in any region, due to limitations in infrastructure. Soldiers in the field still used radios to communicate with base.

All these space capabilities continued their evolutionary growth for the next few decades. But, it was Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991 that marked space power as a revolutionary change in the conduct of war. Called the “first space war” by some, this conflict was the first time that satellite communications and new position, navigation, and timing (PNT) systems were utilized in direct concert with military forces to monitor and direct an ongoing campaign at all levels. Space-based intelligence-gathering satellites mapped Iraqi strategic installations well ahead of the first shots and continued to track changes in enemy force distribution. Satellite communications systems enabled ground forces to transmit targeting data to en-route aircraft, substantially improving the accuracy of dropped munitions. In addition, while the constellation was not yet fully deployed, the Global Positioning System (GPS) conveyed coalition forces an enormous strategic advantage, by enabling ground forces to travel through previously unmapped territory and circumvent the heavily defended road system into Iraq.

The United States faces the greatest diversity of military threats in its history. At the same time, the military is undergoing a significant size reduction. Yet, more so now than ever, it possesses the ability to strike anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. It does not need to constantly maintain local forces when it has force projection. In the modern world, force projection would not exist without space power.

Special forces and drone operations have taken front stage in America’s Global War on Terror. IMINT and SIGINT satellites provide important intelligence about targets far below. GPS satellites enable drones to fly to areas of interest and, if necessary, guide their munitions to their final destinations. Drone operators are often far away from the craft they are piloting, many times even in a different hemisphere. This capability is only possible by utilizing high throughput communications satellites. For special forces, GPS is used to get the teams quickly to their targets. Further, portable satellite communications units allow them to relay updates to their commanders and call in support if necessary.

Space, a domain that no nation owns but on which all rely, is becoming increasingly congested, contested, and competitive. — Robert M. Gates and James R. Clapper, “United States National Security Space Strategy”, Unclassified Summary, January 2011).

These options are especially effective against non-space actors who do not have the capabilities to strike back. However, space is increasingly becoming “congested, contested, and competitive” — meaning a broader group of nations is doing more to leverage space for their own military power and deny others from doing the same. China stands out in this realm. While the nation (exclusive of nuclear weapons) stands no match against the United States in any conventional confrontation, it possesses counter-space technologies that would dramatically curtail America’s force projection strengths. In such a situation, America’s power abroad would decline dramatically, to such a point that along the Asian coasts, China may have local superiority.

As such, the definition of space power is expanding, to being the aggregate of a nation’s abilities to establish, access, leverage, and sustain its orbital assets to further all other forms of national power. Earth-shaking rocket launches aside, space is the silent partner in nearly American military endeavor today. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and the subsequent counterinsurgency operations that followed demonstrated that clearly enough. Space guides soldiers, sailors, airmen, and bombs to their targets, gives the photographs and signal intercepts to understand what enemies are planning, and provides secure, global communication in an era of global need.

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Shigatse During the Doka La Standoff

A flight of J-11 (Su-27SK) at Shigatse air base on 22MAY2012.

A couple weeks back, we jumped over the border and looked at India’s Hasimara airbase. This week we go back and touch on China’s Shigatse, a civil-military airfield less than 160 km west of Lhasa. Commercial imagery acquired during July and August 2017 has shown up to eight PLAAF J-10 multi-role fighters parked on the apron. They likely arrived between March and April after at least five Shenyang J-11, a modified and locally produced variant of the Russian Su-27SK, departed the airfield.

Similar to Gonggar, the fourth generation aircraft were also joined in late June by a rotation of MI-17 or MI-171 HIP, the latter an improved variant. At least two of the four HIP had weapons racks or winglets attached suggesting they could perform combat or transport roles. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and the PLA Aviation Corp operate the platform.

The deployment of helicopters to forward locations is notable, particularly as the PLA modernizes into a smaller more flexible force. As a part of the 2015 military reform, the PLA replaced its seven military regions with five new theater commands. The Tibet Autonomous Region, which falls under the Western Theater Command (WTC), recently began developing a joint operations framework. According to the PLA Daily, the WTC brought experts together in February 2016 from more than 100 schools to focus on a joint operations roadmap.

In addition to the helos, by 06 August 2017, we also saw the first known deployment of a drone to the airbase. A single CH-4 medium altitude long endurance UAV, joined the HIP on the western parking apron. A primary satellite link was also located at a leveled support area north of the runway. The presence of the satellite link suggests the UAV is piloted from the airbase. This is the first drone deployment at a forward airbase observed since the Doka La crisis was triggered.

Beyond aircraft, the airfield’s surface-to-air missile site, located west of the runway, had elements deployed throughout July and early August. In the past, radar and firing units have been observed in operation south of the runway near environmental shelters where they are believed to be stored. Also similar to observations at Gonggar, imagery confirms a deployment of the long range HQ-9 launchers. Unfortunately, full identification of all deployed assets on the hardstands could not be confirmed due to the employment of tarps.

Bottom Line – Despite SAM assets on alert throughout July, fighters deployed to Shigatse remained within baseline for the airbase. However, additional platforms deploying to this location should be watched closely as the the PLA operationalizes its new theater commands and tensions remain with India.

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Propellermaschinen statt Kampfjets? Umdenken bei der US-Luftwaffe!

von Björn Müller (Facebook / Twitter; English version). Er ist Journalist in Berlin mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheits- und Geopolitik. Dieser Artikel basiert auf dem Manuskript der NDR-Sendung “Streitkräfte und Strategien” vom 22.04.2017 — der dazugehörige Podcast befindet sich hier.

Das Militär setzt immer mehr auf High-Tech. Das ist nicht nur teuer. Moderne Waffensysteme sind auch komplex und sehr anfällig für Störungen. Die Luftwaffe der Deutschen Bundeswehr kann ein Lied davon singen. Die US-Streitkräfte haben allerdings jetzt für bestimmte Szenarien ein längst überholt geglaubtes Militärgerät ganz neu entdeckt: leichte Propeller-Kampfflugzeuge.

In einem abgelegenen Gebiet am Hindukusch: Kampfpiloten der afghanischen Streitkräfte trainieren mit ihren Maschinen vom Typ Super Tucano unter Anleitung von US-Ausbildern, Taliban-Einheiten am Boden anzugreifen. Das Besondere: Diese Super Tucanos sind keine High-Tech-Düsenjets, sondern kleine Propeller-Maschinen – ein Kampfflugzeug-Typ, der seine Hochphase im Zweiten Weltkrieg hatte und bisher als längst veraltete Kriegstechnik galt. Doch Propeller-Maschinen erleben gegenwärtig eine Renaissance. Für den Kampf gegen die Taliban haben die USA die afghanische Luftwaffe mit vier dieser Flugzeuge ausgerüstet, weitere 16 sollen folgen.

Die US-Luftwaffe überlegt mittlerweile selbst, im größeren Stil leichte Propeller-Kampfflugzeuge einzuführen. Momentan führen interessierte Hersteller ihre leichten Propeller-Kampfflugzeuge auf dem Stützpunkt Holloman in New Mexiko vor (siehe hier, hier und hier). Der Befehlshaber der US-Luftwaffe, General David Lee Goldfein, ist ein glühender Befürworter dieses Vorhabens:

Das ist eine grossartige Idee – wir führen nun schon seit 15 Jahren Militäroperationen im Mittleren Osten, kämpfen zusammen mit Verbündeten. Und deshalb müssen wir uns weiter engagieren und schauen, wie wir diesen Einsatz gegen den gewalttätigen Extremismus weiter führen und durchhalten. [..] Wir sind gerade dabei, einen Versuch zu starten, bei dem wir die Industrie angesprochen haben: Habt ihr was auf dem Markt, damit wir diese Mission erfüllen können? Direkt aus dem Lager, mit niedrigen Kosten? Und dann werden wir ausprobieren, ob das klappt. — General David Lee Goldfein, Anfang des Jahres auf einer Veranstaltung in Washington zur Zukunft der US-Luftwaffe, organisiert vom Think Tank American Enterprise Institute (Future of American Airpower: Conversation w/ Chief of Staff A.F. Gen. David Goldfein, 2017, ab 39’30”).

Der Einsatz von Propeller-Maschinen ist für den Vorsitzenden des Verbandes der Jetpiloten der Bundeswehr, Thomas Wassmann, aus militärischer Sicht durchaus sinnvoll:

Sie müssen sich vorstellen, ein Kampfjet, der im Angriff ist, der wird irgendwo zwischen 700 bis 900 Stundenkilometer schnell sein. Die Propellermaschinen bewegen sich da ungefähr bei einem Drittel der Geschwindigkeit. Das heisst, sie können wesentlich genauer das Zielgebiet beobachten. Sie haben mehr Zeit, das Ziel ins Visier zu nehmen; weil sie nicht so schnell vorbei sind. Sie haben die Möglichkeit, wesentlich tiefer zu fliegen, in einem Gelände, das sehr gebirgig und sonst wie mit Hindernissen bebaut ist. Das sind schon einige Vorteile. — Thomas Wassmann.

Zwei A-29 Super Tucanos der brasilianischen Luftstreitkräfte fliegen über den Regenwald am Amazonas.

Zwei A-29 Super Tucanos der brasilianischen Luftstreitkräfte fliegen über den Regenwald am Amazonas.

Für Hermann Hagena, Ex-Luftwaffengeneral und früher selbst Kampfpilot der Bundeswehr, sind Propellermaschinen in einigen Punkten selbst Drohnen überlegen:

Da ist zu sagen, dass die Drohne sehr viel anfälliger gegen Luftverteidigung vom Boden ist. Denn die Drohne fliegt normalerweise, wie der Flieger sagt “straight on level”, also geradeaus; ohne gross zu gucken oder auszuweichen. Und ein Flugzeug wie die Super Tucano, die ist wesentlich überlebensfähiger als jede Drohne. Und sie hat den zusätzlichen Vorteil, dass der Flugzeugführer, das, was er aktuell sieht, sofort an den Verband am Boden, der mit dieser Bedrohung zu tun hat, melden kann. — Hermann Hagena.

All diese Fähigkeiten sind notwendig, wenn militärische Operationen in asymmetrischen Kriegen erfolgreich sein sollen. Es geht nicht mehr darum, Städte anzugreifen oder Massen feindlicher Kampfflugzeuge abzufangen. Stattdessen soll die Luftwaffe Spezialeinheiten dabei unterstützen, Gegner aufzuspüren und auszuschalten, die meist in kleinen Gruppen Anschläge verüben und sich anschließend sofort zurückziehen, wie beispielsweise die Taliban oder zum Teil auch die Terrororganisation “Islamischer Staat“.

Für solche Counterinsurgency-Operationen, wie es im US-Militärjargon heisst, also “Operationen zur Aufstandsbekämpfung” möchte die US-Luftwaffe künftig gerne auf Propeller-Maschinen zurückgreifen. Schliesslich sind die US-Regierung und das Militär davon überzeugt, dass der Krieg gegen den Terrorismus noch Jahre dauern wird.

Die Anschaffung von Propeller-Maschinen für das Militär ist aber noch aus einem weiteren Grund attraktiv, sagt der ehemalige Luftwaffengeneral Hermann Hagena:

Wenn man überhaupt weiter Krieg führen will, in modernen Volkswirtschaften, dann muss man versuchen -, jedenfalls für die asymmetrischen, für die kleinen Konflikte wie Jemen, Afghanistan, Syrien – mit den Anforderungen an die Systeme runter zu gehen. Und eines der Mittel runterzugehen, ist eben das Propeller-Flugzeug. — Hermann Hagena.

Propeller-Maschinen sind bei der Beschaffung und auch beim Unterhalt erheblich günstiger als Düsenflugzeuge. Die Stückkosten für den modernen Kampfjet Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, gibt die US-Luftwaffe mit satten 140 Millionen US-Dollar an. Eine Propellermaschine vom Typ Beechcraft T-6 Texan II kostet dagegen nur 4,2 Millionen. Die T-6 wird von der US-Luftwaffe und auch von der Deutschen Bundeswehr als Ausbildungsflugzeug für junge Piloten genutzt. Der Hersteller Beechcraft versucht nun, der US-Luftwaffe eine bewaffnete Version anzubieten.

Eine originale, aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg stammende T-6A Texan (vorne rechts) fliegt mit einer neuen U.S. Airforce T-6 Texan II während einer Flugshow auf dem Randolph Air Force Stützpunkt in Texas im November 2007 (Foto: Steve White / U.S. Air Force).

Eine originale, aus dem Zweiten Weltkrieg stammende T-6A Texan (vorne rechts) fliegt mit einer neuen U.S. Airforce T-6 Texan II während einer Flugshow auf dem Randolph Air Force Stützpunkt in Texas im November 2007 (Foto: Steve White / U.S. Air Force).

Wegen der geringen Kosten gibt es für Propeller-Kampfflugzeuge bereits einen Nischenmarkt. Vor allem kleinere Staaten, die direkt in asymmetrische Konflikte verwickelt sind, haben solche Maschinen gekauft. So jagen in Kolumbien und Peru die Luftstreitkräfte mit Super Tucanos im Amazonasgebiet Kurierflugzeuge von Drogenschmugglern. Die Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate unterstützen im libyschen Bürgerkrieg die ihnen genehme Konfliktpartei mit einer Staffel von Propeller-Maschinen – geflogen von Söldnern.

Die unwirtlichen Kriegsschauplätze asymmetrischer Konflikte, meist in Failing States oder Entwicklungsländern ohne nennenswerte Infrastruktur, sprechen ebenfalls für Propellermaschinen. Denn anders als High-Tech-Kampfflugzeuge sind diese Maschinen sehr robust. Thomas Wassmann vom Verband der Jet-Piloten der Bundeswehr:

Sie haben halt ein relativ einfach aufgebautes Triebwerk, so dass sie mit Standard-Werkzeug auch zur Not mal am Rand einer Huckelpiste, wenn sie da landen können, reparieren können. Beim Kampfjet da kommen die [Techniker] erst mal alle angerollt, mit irgendwelchen Laptops und sonst wie und lesen erst mal die Maschine aus, wo denn der Fehler sein könnte. Weil er in der Regel ja nicht mechanisch ist, an irgendeinem Bauteil, sondern weil es sich um einen Elektronik- Softwarefehler oder sonst was handelt. — Thomas Wassmann.

Militärisch effektiv, kostengünstig und unkompliziert – für die US-Streitkräfte macht es durchaus Sinn, für asymmetrische Konflikte Propeller-Kampfmaschinen zu beschaffen. Ob es dazu kommt, ist aber noch völlig offen. Zwar macht sich der einflussreiche US-Senator John McCain, Vorsitzender des Streitkräfteausschusses des Senats, dafür stark, ab 2022 300 solcher Maschinen zu kaufen. Allerdings kam es bereits bei Beschaffung der wenigen Propeller-Kampfmaschinen für die afghanischen Streitkräfte zu einer heftigen Lobbyschlacht zwischen den Anbietern. Die US-Luftwaffe bzw. das Pentagon mussten gegen den US-Hersteller Beechcraft klagen, der mit seinen angebotenen T-6-Maschinen nicht zum Zuge gekommen war, um die brasilianischen Super Tucanos für Afghanistan kaufen zu können. Obwohl die Kaufentscheidung bereits 2011 fiel, verzögerte sich dadurch die Auslieferung der Maschinen an die Afghanen um fast fünf Jahre.

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A Storm out of the Norm in Chad

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.

The only civil Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop passenger and cargo aircraft of the Chadian government was also badly hit by the storm on July 1, 2017.

The only civil Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop passenger and cargo aircraft of the Chadian government was also badly hit by the storm on July 1, 2017.

In West Africa’s struggle against the militant Islamist organization Boko Haram, the Military of Chad have played a vital role. In particular, the Chadian Air Force has been instrumental in this fight, providing reconnaissance and close air support (CAS) for Cameroonian and Nigerien ground troops repelling attacks from Boko Haram. Although there has been an increase in asymmetric attacks in Nigeria so far this year, including suicide bombings, Boko Haram has reportedly been pushed back to a few remaining strongholds around Lake Chad, thanks in part to air support from Chad.

However, efforts to bring a “quick and final end” to Boko Haram may have suffered a severe setback on July 1, 2017. On that day, an unusually devastating storm struck N’Djaména, the Chadian capital, and levelled many hangars. The extent of the impact this will have on Chadian airpower is currently unclear, but it appears the storm badly damaged three of Chad’s six AS350/AS550C Fennec helicopters, along with two of its ten Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft. The status of the rest of the Chadian aircraft fleet – which includes three Mil Mi-8/17 helicopters, five Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunships, two Aérospatiale SA316 Alouette III helicopters, and one MiG-29 fighter jets – is also not currently known.

The loss of two Su-25 ground attack aircraft will hamper Chad’s capacity to provide CAS in future operations against Boko Haram, but any damage suffered by the Mi-24 helicopter gunships would have even greater implications for the region. Due to ongoing economic troubles, Chad’s President Idriss Déby Itno threatened as recently as June 25, 2017 to withdraw Chadian troops from international peacekeeping missions, such as the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). As such, it is doubtful Chad would have the resources necessary to replace any aircraft damaged beyond repair by the storm.

Three AS350/AS550C Fennec helicopters were badly damaged by the storm.

Three AS350/AS550C Fennec helicopters were badly damaged by the storm.
was the worst hit of all as one of them was lying on it side with its tail-boom and main rotor destroyed.

To fill the gap, newly installed French President Emmanuel Macron may have to expand the French commitment to Operation Barkhane, a multinational effort in place since 2014 to counter militant Islamist groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Mourabitoun, and Ansar al-Dine. The French Air Force continues to maintain a presence in N’Djaména; in fact, two of its CN-235 transport aircraft may have also been lightly damaged by the storm that so affected the Chadian fleet. But France reduced the size of its fighter complement in the region: In August/September 2016, France withdrew its Détachement Hélicoptère Air with its Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma from Madama in Niger as well as four Dassault Rafale fighters from N’Djaména but maintaining the presence of four Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters in Niamey, Niger. Though a very reasonable way of distributing resources, especially as the fight against Boko Haram shifted toward southeast Niger, the return to N’Djaména of French fighters would ensure the pressure stays on the insurgency.

Such a gesture of continued commitment to the region could also go some way toward assuaging the Chadian political establishment’s concerns. As of this writing, Chad has deployed approximately 2,000 troops as part of a regional force to counter Boko Haram, but it has also contributed more than 1,400 troops to the aforementioned MINUSMA and several police to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). In 2013-2014, during the initial intervention in Mali, Chadian troops saw the worst of the fighting against a collection of militant Islamist and secessionist groups. Given President Déby’s comments, there is a growing sentiment in Chad that the costs of these missions have not been in proportion to Chadian national interests.

Chad is prone to instability as well. For example, from 2005 to 2010, a civil war raged in Chad that saw an estimated 7,000 people killed. Chadian political elites have a vested interest in seeing the bulk of troops returned to Chad soon, regardless of whether Boko Haram is fully defeated, in order to maintain public order. A premature withdrawal of 2,000-strong troop contingent would be forestalled by bolstering regional airpower.

It is difficult to say whether the Military of Chad will be able to recover in the next few years from the storm of July 1, 2017, but there is no doubt that the region needs an airpower boost if the threat posed to international peace and security by Boko Haram is to be ended.

Posted in Chad, English, France, International, Paul Pryce, Peacekeeping, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kurds in Iraq: Is their pursuit of autonomy a cause of conflict?

by Patrick Truffer. He has been working in the Swiss Army for more than 15 years, holds a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zurich), and a master’s degree in international relations from the Free University of Berlin.

The history of the Kurds can be traced back some two thousand years to various nomadic tribes in the region. However, a common identity has emerged only in the past 100 years. In addition to a common language (with the different dialect groups of Kurmanji, Sorani and Palewani), culture, and religion, this identity was formed in response to oppression by other dominant ethnic groups (Alireza Nader et al., “Regional Implications of an Independent Kurdistan“, RAND Corporation, 2016). The Kurds in Iraq were particularly oppressed under Saddam Hussein, which reached the level of genocide with the al-Anfal campaign between 1986 and 1989. This forced a wedge between the Kurds and the Arabs which in turn led to an intensification of the Iraqi Kurds’ struggle for independence. The flight of the Iraqi Army from the fighters of the terrorist organization “Islamic State” (IS), which had conquered Mosul in June 2014 and then came within 30 km of the Kurdish capital of Erbil, did little to help build trust between the Kurds and Arab Iraqis. After successfully fighting off IS in Iraq, the Kurds present the bill: On September 25, 2017, there will be a referendum on the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan and the adjoining disputed territories. An overwhelming vote in favor is expected, while the reactions of the central government in Baghdad and of neighboring states remains uncertain. So what could happen after this vote? Will this perhaps lay the groundwork for further armed conflicts, perhaps even an ethnic civil war?

The roots of Kurdish nationalism
The small Iranian city of Mahabad became an intellectual hotspot of Kurdish nationalism in the first half of the 20th century, which is also indirectly connected with the pursuit of autonomy by today’s Iraqi Kurds. With the Soviet occupation of Northern Iran from 1941, an autonomous Kurdish region was formed in the northwest of Iran, which declared independence as the “Republic of Mahabad” in January 1946 (Hashem Ahmadzadeh and Gareth Stansfield, “The Political, Cultural, and Military Re-Awakening of the Kurdish Nationalist Movement in Iran“, The Middle East Journal 64, no. 1, 2010: 11, 14f). The republic was short-lived: With the withdrawal of Soviet forces and the resurgence of the Iranian central government, Kurdish autonomy efforts in Iran were violently suppressed at the end of 1946, but this short period of independence left a decisive impression on the Kurds of Iraq.

[…] the Republic of Mahabad was the critical moment at which the Kurds realized their freedom is arguably a rosy version of reality. — McDowall, 246.

Among the Iraqi Kurds involved was Mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of the current President of Kurdistan Regional Government and long-standing Chairman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Barzani was one of the Kurdish leaders who had fled to Mahabad with about 1,000 fighters after a failed rebellion in Iraq in October 1945. As one of the four Marshalls of the Mahabad forces, Barzani actively worked to preserve the republic’s independence (David McDowall, “A Modern History of the Kurds“, 3rd ed., I.B.Tauris, 2004, 241). He also founded the KDP in Mahabad in August 1946. The party is now the strongest faction in the single-chamber Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament.

After the Mahabad Republic was crushed by the Iranian Army, Mustafa Barzani fled to Iraq and then to the Soviet Union. In spite of this setback, he remained unswervingly dedicated to Kurdish independence, but turned his focus to the Kurds of Iraq.

The battle for autonomy in Iraq
Mustafa Barzani chalked up one short-lived success when Abd al-Karim Qasim — Iraqi Prime Minister after the 1958 coup d’état — called him back from Soviet exile. Under Mustafa Barzani’s leadership, the Iraqi Kurds were asked to solidify Qasim’s power. In return, the equality of Arabs and Kurds was included in the provisional constitution of the new Iraqi Republic. However, relations between the Kurds and Baghdad quickly deteriorated. The state’s concessions were not enough for the Kurdish nationalists and Qasim was not ready to give the Kurds regional autonomy. To the contrary, driven by paranoia against both Kurdish nationalism and the Pan-Arab movement, Qasim tried to take advantage of tensions among the various Kurdish groups as well as those between Kurdish and Pan-Arab nationalists. This led to the First Iraqi-Kurdish War between 1961 and 1970.

Not only was the failure of the Kurds to gain autonomy one of several causes of conflict between the Kurds and the Arab central government, it also led to tensions within the Kurdish ranks. Barzani was finally able to assert the idea of ​​comprehensive autonomy rights and fight off the poorly equipped government troops. The arbitrary bombing of Kurdish cities by the Iraqi Air Force helped further unite the Iraqi Kurds’ cause and the poor economic situation provided enough unemployed young men ready to fight. Due to the weak central government, the Kurds were able to hold their own until 1970. Finally, the war was ended with the Iraqi-Kurdish Autonomy Agreement, which assured the Kurds’ right to political co-determination and comprehensive autonomy rights. Saddam Hussein, who would later become Iraqi president, was the central government’s lead negotiator. The Kurds were able to assert their demands largely because stability and consolidation of power was the government’s primary project at that time (McDowall, 2004, 301-28).

The First Iraqi-Kurdish War  was ended with the Iraqi-Kurdish Autonomy Agreement. (Left: Mulla Mustafa Barzani; right: Saddam Hussein).

The First Iraqi-Kurdish War was ended with the Iraqi-Kurdish Autonomy Agreement. (Left: Mulla Mustafa Barzani; right: Saddam Hussein).

Oppression and the shaping of the Iraqi Kurd identity
The Iraqi-Kurdish Autonomy Agreement lasted only four years. There were both political and economic reasons for its collapse and the Second Iraqi-Kurdish War that followed. The centralization of power and the Pan-Arab ideology of the Ba’ath Party were diametrically opposed to any attempts at autonomy. Moreover, the dispute over the oil-rich areas around Kirkuk escalated and the expulsion of 50,000 Kurds of Iranian origin constituted an unacceptable interference in inter-Kurdish affairs (McDowall, 2004, 330-36). In contrast to the First Iraqi-Kurdish War, Mustafa Barzani had miscalculated. The Kurds were both qualitatively and quantitatively confronted with the military superiority of Iraqi forces. At the same time, because Tehran and Baghdad had settled their territorial difference, Iran withdrew its support for the Iraqi Kurds. Under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani, the Peshmerga were decisively defeated by the Iraqi forces in mid-1975 and either forced to flee to Iran or surrender. The Iraqi central government then launched an Arabization campaign, particularly in the Kirkuk region in order to secure its long-term access to the oil fields (George S. Harris, “Ethnic Conflict and the Kurds“, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 433, no. 1, 1977: 121).

We have fought ten years for autonomy, we’ll fight another five for Kirkuk if necessary. — Mulla Mustafa Barzani in 1971, quoted in McDowall, 330.

It was only with the outbreak of the Iran–Iraq War in September 1980 that the Peshmerga again benefited from Iranian support. They reconstituted themselves in northern Iraq under Massoud Barzani as well as Jalal Talabani, founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and, much later, President of Iraq. This resulted in the 1986-1989 al-Anfal campaign in which the Iraqi Army used poison gas against 40 Kurdish villages between February and September 1988. This included the devastating poisoning of the Kurdish city of Halabja, an important center of the Kurdish resistance in the autonomy protests against the central government in Baghdad. This resulted in about 5,000 deaths and 10,000 injuries (Human Rights Watch, “Known Chemical Attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan, 1987-1988“, Genocide in Iraq – the Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds, July 1993). The deportations, executions, and poison gas attacks within the framework of the al-Anfal campaign almost led to a collapse of the Kurdish forces. The Kurds then started to use guerrilla tactics, attacked the Iraqi forces and strategically important installations, but were unable to achieve any territorial gains (Michael G. Lortz, “Willing to Face Death: A History of Kurdish Military Forces – the Peshmerga – From the Ottoman Empire to Present-Day Iraq”, Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations, Paper 1038, The Florida State University, 2005, 54-58).

The Kurds were only able to secure themselves territory during the course of the 1990 Gulf War and the US-imposed no-flight zone in Northern Iraq. Nevertheless, this difficult period had contributed greatly to the formation of a Kurdish identity, created solidarity, and pushed the drive for independence forward (Nader et al., 2016, 18f).

Securing territorial autonomy: The Iraqi Kurdistan Region
After the 1990 Gulf War, the Kurds were able to secure territorial autonomy with the help of the United States. They were able to expand this territory significantly with the complete collapse of the central government starting in 2003. Together with US forces, the Kurds took control of neighboring cities in northern Iraq, including Kirkuk and the surrounding region. This region remains in dispute to this day, because a referendum that had been scheduled for 2007 to determine whether Kirkuk belonged to the Kurds was never held by the central government. The flight of the Iraqi forces from the IS in June 2014 and the assumption of control over the region by Kurdish forces ultimately led the Baghdad government to recognize the facts on the ground. Simultaneously with the recovery of Iraq’s sovereignty and the political boycott of the Sunnis, Kurdish politicians secured important roles in the central government. In the long term, however, this will not prevent Kurdistan’s secession, since with the end of the Sunni boycott, the influence of the Kurds within the central government has been significantly reduced (Nader et al., 2016, 22f).

Post-2003 Iraq and the Disputed Territories.

Post-2003 Iraq and the Disputed Territories.

In addition to whether the oil-rich areas around Kirkuk belong to the Kurds, further relevant, yet unresolved issues include the rights of the Kurds to manage oil production on their territory and the amount of government revenue allocated to Iraqi Kurdistan. These disputes have often led to armed conflicts between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi armed forces. For example, in August 2008, government troops pushed into the disputed town of Diyala and tried to expel the Kurdish forces. It was only US intervention that prevented armed conflict (Nader et al., 34). There were similarly high tensions in 2012 and 2014.

It was only with the joint struggle against the IS and with the replacement of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by Haidar Abadi that these clashes took a back seat (Nader et al., 2016, 35f). However, in view of the territorial, political, and economic tensions between Erbil and Baghdad, Iraq’s internal stability is far from certain. The date of the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum comes not surprisingly after the successful ouster of the IS from the Kurdish area of influence, while Iraqi forces are still tied down in areas of conflict and the Peshmerga still rearming and training themselves.

Kurdish independence as a matter of time
Statistical investigations of ethnic civil wars indicate that current framework of the Iraqi state is wobbly at best. If states have autonomous territories after the end of ethnic civil wars, there is a high probability (>70%) that a new ethnic civil war will break out. This is often due to the fact that a re-established central government is again calling into question the autonomy rights of ethnic groups that it had previously negotiated in times of weakness. Another reason lies in the desire of ethnic groups to expand their autonomy rights at the expense of the central state’s integrity. Autonomous regions in conflict-stricken countries represent instability which will either move towards greater integration into a centralized state or to the independence of the autonomous region (Patrick Truffer, “Multicultural Failure? Peacebuilding after Ethnic Civil War“, Masters Thesis, Freie Universität Berlin, 2017).

The principal argument for Iraqi unity is that a single Iraq is better able to protect its citizens. But this claim is not supported by experience. When the Islamic State attacked Kurdistan in 2014 – using advanced U.S. weapons abandoned by the Iraqi army in Mosul – the Iraqi government refused to give Kurdistan its constitutionally mandated share of the federal budget or to provide our soldiers with weapons. — Masoud Barzani, “The Time Has Come for Iraqi Kurdistan to Make Its Choice on Independence“, Washington Post, 28.06.2017.

If the history of the Iraqi Kurds teaches one thing, it is that they cannot rely on the goodwill of an Arab-majority central government: The Kurds have to ensure their own security. Massoud Barzani’s announcement in early June of the referendum scheduled for September 25 was no surprise. The question of the independence of Kurdistan has never really been abandoned even after the end of the Iraq War. In a non-binding referendum, 98.8% of voters in Iraqi Kurdistan and the disputed areas voted for independence in 2005 (Kurdistan Referendum Movement – International Committee, “98 Percent of the People of South Kurdistan Vote for Independence“, KurdishMedia, 08.02.2005). The referendum announced by Barzani was supposed to have been held in 2014, but was put on hold at the time to focus on the fight against IS (Roy Gutman, “Kurds Agree to Postpone Independence Referendum“, The Toronto Star, 05.09.2014).

If the referendum is actually held, an overwhelming majority of votes in favor of independence is expected. According to Kurdish politician Hoshyar Zebari, a former Foreign Minister and Finance Minister in the Iraqi central government, and an uncle to Massoud Barzani, this would not automatically result in a declaration of independence. Rather, a positive outcome of the referendum would strengthen the negotiating position of the autonomous Kurdish government vis-à-vis Baghdad. In particular, under current Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, who, contrary to his predecessor, is interested in equal cooperation with the Kurds, there is perhaps some room for compromise on the points of dispute. Subsequently, a long-term process of separation negotiated with the central government would be likely (Steven A. Cook, “Are Conditions Ripening for Iraqi Kurdish State?“, Council on Foreign Relations, 05.01.2017). This approach was even suggested by Barzani himself in a commentary in the Washington Post. The independence of Kurdistan is to be negotiated with Baghdad and agreed to with neighboring states and the international community:

While the results of the referendum will bind future Kurdistan governments, the timing and modalities of our independence will be subject to negotiation with Baghdad and consultation with our neighbors and the wider international community. — Masoud Barzani, “The Time Has Come for Iraqi Kurdistan to Make Its Choice on Independence“, Washington Post, 28.06.2017.

The reaction of Baghdad and neighboring countries to a successful referendum
The action taken by the autonomous Kurdish government after a successful referendum is crucial for Baghdad’s and its neighbors’ decision how to react. An immediate, unilateral declaration of independence with the inclusion of the disputed areas around Kirkuk would lead to a harsh, negative reaction by Baghdad and the cessation of all payments to the Kurdistan Regional Government. This financial loss cannot be compensated for by Kurdish oil production, especially given the low price of oil. The Kurdistan Regional Government was barely able to cope with previous adjustments and reductions in payments as happened in 2015 (Mohammed A. Salih, “KRG Seeks $5 Billion Lifeline“, Al-Monitor, 23.06.2015; Patrick Osgood, “In Payment Drought, Oil Companies Pare KRG Investment“, Iraq Oil Report, 10.02.2015). However, Baghdad could not do anything with its regular armed forces. The closest would be the outbreak of armed conflicts between the Peshmerga and the Shia militia in the disputed areas, as already happened in 2016 (Ghazwan Hassan and Isabel Coles, “Kurds and Shi’ites Clash in Northern Iraq despite Ceasefire“, Reuters, 25.04.2016).

After a century of trying, it is time to recognize that the forced inclusion of the Kurds in Iraq has not worked for us or for the Iraqis. We ask that the United States and the international community respect the democratic decision of Kurdistan’s people. In the long run, both Iraq and Kurdistan will be better off. — Masoud Barzani, “The Time Has Come for Iraqi Kurdistan to Make Its Choice on Independence“, Washington Post, 28.06.2017.

Even internationally, the Kurdistan Regional Government can hardly count on much support for a unilateral declaration of independence. Such an approach would be perceived by Iraq’s neighbors and the wider international community as being hasty, ill-considered, and even irresponsible and leading to further instability in the region. The reaction will be quite different in the case of a negotiated separation. Turkey could treat an independent stable Kurdistan, which prevents the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to use the territory as a safe haven [1], as a welcome buffer along its southeastern border against the continued instability in Iraq. Since 2007, Ankara has established good relations with Erbil. Turkey is currently the largest investor in the Iraqi Kurdistan. For this reason, an independent Kurdistan might seem lucrative to Turkey from an economic point of view, whether as source of oil or as a new export market (Cook, 2017) [2].

Iran also has political and economic interests in Iraqi Kurdistan, albeit less pronounced [3]. In addition, there are good relations between the Iranian central government and the PUK, not least because the Kurds have their thumbs on the leadership of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in their region (Nader et al., 2016, 116ff). However, there is fear in the Iranian central government that an independent Kurdistan might inspire the Iranian Kurds to fight for their own autonomy or even independence. These concerns are probably largely unfounded, because the Iranian Kurds are very different from one region to another and Kurdish nationalism there is very weak. Nevertheless, with the independence of Kurdistan, Iran will most likely increase its current repressive regime against its own Kurds. The faster and more abrupt the independence, the more likely indirect, destabilizing measures would be taken against the Iraqi Kurds, such as the abolition of political and economic relations or even the clandestine support of the Shia militia in Iraq against Iraqi Kurds in the disputed areas (Alex Vatanka and Sarkawt Shamsulddin, “Forget ISIS: Shia Militias Are the Real Threat to Kurdistan“, The National Interest, 07.01.2015).

Peshmerga forces stand guard at a checkpoint in northern Iraq.

Peshmerga forces stand guard at a checkpoint in northern Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum on September 25, 2017 will, in all probability, pass. However, this is not the goal itself, but only a starting point for longer-term negotiations on the terms for the separation of the Kurds from Iraq. Both the statements of Kurdish politicians, as well as political and economic considerations regarding the conduct of Baghdad, neighboring countries and the international community point to a long-term, negotiated independence of Kurdistan. Immediate, unilateral declaration of independence is rather unlikely.

The biggest obstacle to a long-term, negotiated independence is the brokering of an agreement on whether the Kirkuk region will be included. Should unilateral facts be created, which is actually the case in the course of the offensive of the IS, the flight of Iraqi forces and the assumption of the security of this territory by the Peshmerga, the escalation of violence in and around the disputed areas is probable. In this context, Kurdish autonomy efforts in Iraq could lay the foundation for new armed conflicts, or even an ethnic civil war.

The history of the Kurds clearly shows that increased efforts for autonomy carries the risk of new armed conflicts, but statistical investigations also show that the Kurds, with the current status quo and the re-emergence of the central government, might face the same fate in the long run.

[1] Since 2009, political parties that support the PKK have been banned in Iraqi Kurdistan, PKK politicians have been arrested and PKK agencies have been closed (Gonul Tol, “Turkey’s KRG Energy Partnership“, Foreign Policy, 29.01.2013).
[2] Turkey’s trade volume with Iraq amounted to about $12 billion in 2014, with $8 billion being traded with Iraqi Kurdistan alone (“Turkish Premier Vows ‘Any Necessary Means’ for Kurdish Security on Erbil Visit“, Rudaw, 21.11.2014).
[3] Iran’s trading volume with Iraqi Kurdistan amounted to about $6 billion in 2014 (“Iran-Iraqi Kurdistan Region Annual Trade Hits $6bn“, Islamic Republic News Agency, 25.02.2015.)

Posted in English, Iraq, Patrick Truffer, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkey’s expanding domestic drone production

by Paul Iddon.

I don’t want to be sarcastic but I would like to thank [the United States government] for any of the projects that was not approved by the US because it forced us to develop our own systems.

So said İsmail Demir, the under-secretary for the Turkish defence industry, on May 2016. Demir was speaking at a time when the US Congress delayed the sale of drones and armaments to Turkey, over concerns about Ankara’s conduct in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Demir argued that this wasn’t a problem. After all, Turkey can now make its own drone systems and use them as they please without fear of having to rely on a supplier who might withhold deliveries or spare parts.



Less than a month before Demir made these remarks, Turkey tested the domestically-produced Bayraktar TB2 UCAV and successfully hit a target on a test range from 8 km away. “The Bayraktar uses the MAM-L and MAM-C, two mini smart ammunitions developed and produced by the state-controlled missile maker Roketsan,” noted Defense News in May 2016. “Roketsan’s mini systems weight 22.5 kilograms including a 10 kilogram warhead.” Already in October 2015, we spotted the Bayraktar TB2 UCAV parked in front of an aircraft shelter at Batman air force base.

Turkey deems itself one of the world’s lead drone producers. The country’s Science, Industry and Technology Minister Faruk Özlü declared that Turkey is aiming to produce drones as heavy as four tons and “equip them with high quality weapons and cameras”. Current drones in the Turkish inventory, Özlü said, “weigh around 560-600 kg with a small weapon system on them”.

Turkey also produced the TAI Anka, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drone. Operational models are for reconnaissance. The Turkish Defense Ministry says the military will take delivery of the first six, out of a total of ten ordered, this year.

Additionally, the country’s STM Defense Technologies and Engineering Co. announced in May that they are going to introduce a series of new so-called kamikaze and monitoring drones — the Alpagu, the Kargu and the Doğan — designed to operate together and “equipped with artificial intelligence algorithms for monitoring”. The Alpagu is a fixed-wing tactical attack UAV launched from a pneumatic portable launcher expendable for single use and can be made ready in just 45 seconds. The Kargu is a similar multi-rotor variant. The Doğan’s reported ability to effectively monitor battlefields and gather intelligence, with their “fairly high optical zooming capabilities and high flight performance”, could make them an effective tool for pinpointing targets for Turkish artillery strikes.

One of Turkey's domestically produced TAI Anka drones (Photo by N13s013, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

One of Turkey’s domestically produced TAI Anka drones. (Photo by N13s013, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

The Turks aim to become completely self-sufficient in the production of all their drones and all the systems on them (see also “Turkey’s growing domestic arms industry“, offiziere.ch, 21.05.2016). It has relied on a signals intelligence (SIGINT) system made in the US for its drones, which it aims to replace with its own BSI-101 SIGINT system.

Demand for Turkish drones have increased primarily due to two factors: Ankara’s dual campaigns against Islamic State (ISIS) and the PKK, and the failed July 2017 coup and subsequent crackdown which significantly reduced the strength and manpower of the Turkish military.

The Turkish Air Force has an estimated 240-270 F-16 Fighting Falcons, and is one of the few country’s which can domestically produce the iconic fighter-bomber. After the coup however, according to one statistic, they now have only one pilot not in jail for every two of these jets in their current inventory. Turkey discharged up to 350 pilots responsible for flying various aircraft in the air force since the coup attempt.

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet flying over Albacete Air Force Base, Spain during Trident Juncture 15 on October 21, 2015. (Photo: Cynthia Vernat).

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet flying over Albacete Air Force Base, Spain during Trident Juncture 15 on October 21, 2015. (Photo: Cynthia Vernat).

Turkey publicly appealed for former pilots to refill these depleting ranks, only to have the plea go unanswered. Another telling statistic found that out of a sampling of six pilots who left the air force and could return if they chose, only one said he would “re-register to help replace dismissed colleagues whom the government blames for being part of a network that planned the failed July 15 coup”.

“Turkey fielded seven F-16 squadrons with strike or attack as their primary mission before the coup attempt,” noted analysts Mike Benitez and Aaron Stein in a September 2016 analysis. “However, of those original seven, four are now being shuttered, leaving three squadrons designated for strike and attack”.

In other words, it may take Turkey years to fully operate its entire F-16 fleet again: a fleet which it uses to routinely violate Greek airspace over disputed territories in the Aegean, bomb the PKK in southeast Turkey, and Qandil Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as launch cross-border airstrikes into Syria against other Kurdish fighters and ISIS.

If Ankara’s new upcoming drones are as accurate and effective as Turkey boasts they may prove less risky to use, say, above Syria than their F-16s. In November 2016, during their operation “Euphrates Shield” in northwestern Syria, Turkey had to halt air support to their troops and allied Syrian militiamen for one week when Damascus threatened to shoot their jets out of the sky. The loss of drones over the battlefield would, for obvious reasons, be less costly, both financially and politically, to Ankara than the loss of manned aircraft.

Ankara’s enthusiasm for indigenous unmanned aircraft is unlikely to fill the void left by the loss of pilots to operate their manned aircraft, nor elevate the Turkish Air Force from a state of half-strength any time soon. Nevertheless, it bolsters another part of Ankara’s domestic arms industry and may provide the military with new capabilities as it continues to fall short in meeting the requirements to run its highly formidable military at pre-coup strength.

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Motivations and Effects of Coca Cultivation in Colombia

by Michael Martelle. Michael is a masters student studying Security Policy at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.

For several decades Colombia has been synonymous with “cocaine” in the minds of citizens and policymakers around the globe, and not without reason as at its peak Colombia accounted for 90% of the world’s cocaine. Colombian security forces have made serious and increasingly effective efforts to limit the narcotics trade within their borders, although their efforts have been complicated (and distracted) by the nation’s long-running conflicts. Massive amounts of Colombian territory are under the control of right-wing paramilitary groups (such as the United Self-Defenders of Colombia and more recently the Aguilas Negras) benefiting from the experience of former cartel members, and marxist guerrilla groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and, until recently, FARC. A recent peace agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC has brought an end to Colombia’s fight with it’s largest guerrilla organization and has raised hope for significant progress in counter-narcotics and internal stabilization.

Progress will be difficult, however, unless a multitude of factors can be addressed. FARC may have been politically motivated, but many of the farmers doing the actual coca cultivation in rural regions are motivated by poor economic prospects. While FARC may be demobilizing, without economic development and legal market access these farmers will still be motivated to cultivate coca. Remaining narcotics related organizations (particularly paramilitary groups) will be eager to take advantage of the coca produced on land in former FARC territory. Many of these regions have already seen an increase in violence since the signing of the peace agreement as criminal organizations attempt to gain a foothold in former FARC territory before the government can establish a security presence and administrative services. Post-peace stability and counter-narcotics will require multi-dimensional strategies to address the causes and effects of coca cultivation and narcotics-related insurgency in Colombia.

History & Motivations for Large-Scale Coca Cultivation
The history of Colombia’s coca-cultivating insurgent groups suggest both economic and political motivations to violence and coca cultivation. Colombia’s political system has historically been shared between two political parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. When formed in the mid-19th century, The Liberal Party principally represented merchants advocating international trade. The Conservative Party, formed at the same time, represented wealthy landowners advocating a hierarchal society with a strong role for the Catholic Church. Both parties represented citizens from the mid to upper classes and left the lower classes, the bulk of the rural population, with third-party representation. After a series of Liberal Party reforms led to extreme polarization, political violence known as “La Violencia” broke out in 1946. In 1957, after a failed attempt at military rule, the two parties agreed to form the National Front and divide political positions while alternating the office of the President. This effectively excluded any other political parties leading Marxist factions to form the FARC and ELN guerrillas.

Colombia cocaine production: In this January 7, 2016, photo, a farmer stirs a mix of mulched coca leaves and cement with gasoline, as part of the initial process to make coca paste, at a small makeshift lab in Antioquia, Colombia. Apart from gasoline and cement, ammonia, sulphuric acid, sodium permanganate, and caustic soda are some of the chemicals used to produce the paste.

Colombia cocaine production: In this January 7, 2016, photo, a farmer stirs a mix of mulched coca leaves and cement with gasoline, as part of the initial process to make coca paste, at a small makeshift lab in Antioquia, Colombia. Apart from gasoline and cement, ammonia, sulphuric acid, sodium permanganate, and caustic soda are some of the chemicals used to produce the paste.

The largest of the leftist groups, FARC, first took root in rural “Campesion” territories where small-scale coca cultivation already existed. FARC was originally opposed to coca cultivation on ideological grounds as they believed farmers were being coerced by traffickers. The need for funding, and an acceptance of the fact that farmers were more able to support themselves with illicit cultivation, led FARC to begin “protecting” farmers and charging a farm tax, or “gramaje”, on product passing through FARC territory. Under this arrangement, and assisted by exploding global demand, both FARC and Colombian coca cultivation expanded rapidly. In an attempt to consolidate vertically and avoid FARC taxes, narco-traffickers began investing profits in establishing their own control over land , bringing them in direct conflict with FARC and forming the first Colombian Cartels. After peaking in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Cartels declined in the face of Colombian counter-narcotics campaigns. This led to the formation of new coca-related organizations, as former cartel members took their expertise to paramilitary organizations such as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

FARC, by comparison, was both unwilling and unable to grow its coca operations vertically. FARC leaders felt that a more obvious and visible role in coca cultivation would undermine its reputation and discredit it politically among the Colombian people. Even if they had been willing, however, the organization did not have the same level of expertise in trafficking and distribution as the Cartels and later the paramilitaries. For this reason FARC was forced to form connections with small to medium sized criminal organizations for trafficking and distribution.

Although Colombian insurgent groups were born out of political ideology, the impact of commodity prices on insurgent activity suggest strong economic factors as well. While the effect of commodity prices on civil wars is well-documented, a pattern was recognized in Colombia of labor intensive agriculture (coffee, coca) and labor non-intensive natural resources (oil) having opposite effects on the level of violence. As oil prices rose and generated more funding for state security forces, violence increased as insurgent groups tried to disrupt sources of labor non-intensive revenue. Conversely, when the prices and wages for labor-intensive commodities rose fighters were more likely to work in the fields and less likely to take violent action.

Commodity prices have had an impact on crop choices as well. In the late 1990s, improved global coffee production led to a drop in coffee prices and triggered a recession in Colombia. Colombian farmers, already barely able to cover the basic costs of business, increasingly turned to the more profitable, more reliable, and easier to grow coca. These patterns suggests that insurgent motivations, and the motivation to participate in the narcotics trade, are heavily economic. These patterns, and the fact that coca cultivation is most intense in impoverished regions, support the argument that the primary motivation for narcotics cultivation today is economic and highlights the need for the development of Colombia’s rural regions to forestall insurgency and narcotics cultivation.

Current Trends in the International Coca Trade
The coca and cocaine trade has internationally been in a state of decline, though signs suggest it may be stabilizing with a short term increase. Global production in 2014 was estimated at between 746-943 tons of 100% pure cocaine, a slight annual increase but still roughly three quarters of the 2007 peak and 10% below the late 1990s.

Known South American coca-growing regions.

Known South American coca-growing regions.

Cultivation of raw coca went through a more dramatic decrease between 1998 and 2014, dropping more that 30% (40% if measured between 2000 and 2014). This decrease in cultivation without an equivalent decrease in final cocaine production is attributed to improvements in the processing of cocaine.

Most processed cocaine is trafficked either to North America or Western Europe via Africa. North America, the largest cocaine market in the world, has seen increased prices stemming from decreased global production and narcotics-related violence in Mexico, which an estimated 87% of the cocaine supply passes through. This may be contributing to a significant decrease in cocaine consumption. Between 2006 and 2014 general population cocaine use dropped 32% with a corresponding drop in cocaine-related fatalities.

It is more difficult to obtain definitive usage statistics on the European market and its plurality of nations and authorities, though other statistics, such as interdiction, can still yield valuable indicators. It is believed that the European cocaine market peaked briefly in 2007 when 120 tons of cocaine were seized in the continent, four times the 1998 amount. 2014 saw this number stabilize at 62 tons, of which 98% was accounted for by European Union nations. Despite stabilized continental statistics, several states have seen pronounced short-term changes as the market shifts from nation to nation.

There are also signs that the Asia-Pacific region is on its way to becoming a significant market for cocaine. From 1998-2008, average yearly cocaine seizures in Asia were 0.4 tons. The period between 2009-2014 saw that number triple to 1.4 tons. Oceania saw a similar rise in the same time period, from 0.5 tons to 1.2 tons. Australia, which accounts for 99% of Oceania seizures, saw a sharp increase in cocaine use from 2004 (1% of the general population) to 2010 (2.1% of the general population) without a subsequent decrease. Reports of Sinaloa Cartel presence in Australia, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines suggest that cocaine suppliers are making significant moves to establish themselves in the Asia-Pacific region.

Global production and consumption statistics present a paradox, however. Even though global prevalence of cocaine use from 1998-2014 remained largely stable, and the number of cocaine users increased due to overall population growth, cocaine production decreased. This suggests either significant errors in global data or a global decrease in per capita consumption, possibly indicative of a shift from dependent use in mature markets to more “casual” use in emerging markets.

Impact of Coca Cultivation in Colombia
The high-water mark of Colombian coca cultivation was reached between 1999 and 2002 when Colombia produced 90% of the world’s cocaine. Colombia’s share of the global trade eventually has declined to less than half of the global supply but still produces 90% of samples seized in the United States. In 2012, Colombia’s Defense Minister priced Colombia’s narcotics market at US$6-$7 billion and attributed 40%-50% to FARC. There were disagreements over his statistics, however. Colombia’s Attorney General released a contemporary estimate valuing FARC’s income from all sources at US$1.1 billion, and the director of Colombia’s police force in 2013 claimed FARC controlled 60% of the drug trade but only made US$1 billion off of it.

Despite disagreement over the exact scope of narcotics cultivation in Colombia, it is unquestionably large enough to have an environmental impact. In an effort to escape and evade Colombian authorities, coca fields and the facilities used for cocaine production are generally moved progressively deeper into forests causing severe deforestation. Less visibly, precursor chemicals used in producing cocaine from raw coca leaves have been found to permeate the soil and water in these already threatened rainforests.

Cocaine Trade Map

Cocaine Trade Map

Because much of cocaine’s value-added occurs when it is trafficked internationally (compare the previously mentioned estimates on Colombia’s narcotics market with its global cocaine retail value of US$80-$100 billion) and traffickers generally do not bank funds in Colombia, the coca industry’s earnings at its height were equal to only 4.4% of the nation’s GDP. More difficult to quantify, however, are the economic consequences of land repatriation, development of human capital and professional skills, and the wide-reaching impact of violence and narco-terrorism.

Narco-related violence in the form of murder, kidnappings, and bombings have also had a political impact on Colombia. The military campaigns of FARC, ELN, and other Marxist insurgent groups against Colombian security forces are the most obvious example, but the most brutal and politically impactful violence began as a reaction to the guerrillas. Originally formed as a defense against FARC, trafficker and cartel self defense units quickly morphed into death squads and expanded their target list to include all leftist elements in society. This political targeting combined with the complicity of other conservative elements of Colombian society had the effect of further polarizing the political spectrum. Traffickers and cartels also used corruption and outright intimidation in an attempt to force their way into “legitimacy” within an elite-dominated power structure.

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India’s Hasimara During the Doka La Standoff

Imagery acquired on 26JAN15 of Hasimara Airbase, West Bengal. (Digitalglobe)

Imagery acquired on 26JAN15 of Hasimara Airbase, West Bengal. (Digitalglobe)

Last week we looked at the Gonggar civil-military airfield, one of China’s closest to the Doka La standoff. In this post, we’ll look at India’s Hasimara, an airbase in West Bengal about 80km southeast of the crisis. Recent commercial imagery acquired in July has shown up to eight Indian Air Force MIG-27ML/UPG on the parking apron at the strategic location. The aircraft are reportedly operated by No 22 Squadron.

The number of the ground attack aircraft operationally deployed at the airbase has officially lessened since last year when No 18 Squadron was “number-plated” or decommissioned. In February 2017, workers began relocating the retired MIG-27ML/UPG south of the runway in a new area cleared for field-parking. The following month 14 of the aircraft were visible and by July, up to 22.

Even prior to the announced retirement, it’s difficult to say how many of the MIG-27ML/UPG remained operational. Starting in 2013, imagery available in Google Earth and elsewhere began showing the swing-wing aircraft isolated at a north section of the airfield. Over the last four years many remained in this location and appeared to be cannibalized, possibly for parts. Similar activity has been viewed at other Indian airfields hosting the MIG-21.

Although few observations of Hasimara were made during July, imagery did not capture any additional platforms at the airbase to fill the gap. The IAF is currently authorized to maintain up to 42 fighter squadrons — the number Indian planners estimate for a two front war — but has contracted to 32. As new aircraft are available and the IAF stands up new squadrons, Hasimara is slated to receive new deployments with discussions in the Indian press suggesting one of India’s Dassault Rafale squadrons. Unfortunately, the French-built aircraft will not arrive until 2019.

In the meantime, the airbase also hosts a surface-to-air missile component. Two Akash groups composed of four batteries each remain on-site on the north side of the airfield. The platform operates in the medium-range role with each Akash battery equipped with three missiles. A single group with its battery level radar is capable of engaging up to four targets, guiding up to eight missiles simultaneously with a maximum of two missiles per target.

Bottom Line – Hasimara remains aircraft light despite China’s growing rotations of fighters in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

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Gonggar During the Doka La Standoff

Imagery acquired on 24DEC2016 of Gonggar Airbase, Tibet Autonomous Region. (Digitalglobe)

Imagery acquired on 24DEC2016 of Gonggar Airbase, Tibet Autonomous Region. (Digitalglobe)

As the standoff between China and India continues at Doka La, we’ve been monitoring regional airbases on both sides of the border. Recent commercial imagery acquired in July of Gonggar continues to show the ongoing deployment of the PLAAF’s Shenyang J-11 fighters, a modified and locally produced version of the Russian Su-27SK. It’s possible these may be an upgraded variant, though at present we’re unable to distinguish on imagery.

Up to sixteen of the fourth generation aircraft were captured on the parking apron by 21 July, up from ten observed earlier in the month. Some Indian sources report these as J-11A from the Shizuishan-based 6th Air Division’s 16th Air Regiment, though the accuracy of the source reporting has been suspect in the past.

Overall, a review of historical imagery shows that the number of aircraft deployed to the high altitude airport continued to climb last year. Prior to the arrival of the J-11s, imagery now available in Google Earth also shows at least sixteen Chengdu J-10s parked on the operations apron in December. Indian sources report these as J-10As from the Mengzi-based 44th Air Division’s 131st Air Regiment.

Interestingly, fighters forward deployed in 2016 have also been sharing the apron with either a rotation of MI-17 or MI-171 HIP, the latter an improved variant. The HIPs were still observed on imagery throughout 2017 and up to eight were visible in recent captures.

As far as Gonggar’s surface-to-air missile site, imagery from July shows that active elements were removed from the launch pads, either returning to covered storage or possibly jumped for exercises that were widely reported in the region. Interestingly, recent imagery shows China simultaneously deploying mixed units to the pads, fielding both the HQ-12 (KaiShan-1A), a truck-mounted derivative of the HQ-2, and the strategic HQ-9, a system modeled heavily on Russia’s S-300PMU tech. The HQ-12 functions in the medium altitude role providing point defense while the HQ-9 defends at longer ranges. Since we last reported on the site, China has erected several environmental shelters to deny partial EO observation.

Bottom Line – Imagery observations continue to support the notion that China is bolstering rotations at its civil-military border airports independent of the most recent regional tensions.

(Note: This report has been updated with new observations)

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