Madrassa crackdown

Pakistan’s government has launched another crackdown on illegal religious schools, or madrassas. So far 182 of these schools have been taken over by the government and at least 100 people associated with them were arrested. These schools are often used as a cover for training Islamic radicals and terrorists and Pakistan regulates these schools to ensure that none of them go rogue and teach their students that the government of Pakistan is an enemy of Islam.

Peace gesture

On 27 February, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 pilot was shot down on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control. The pilot ejected and landed safely in Pakistani territory, but was later captured. Pakistan released the pilot two days later as a peace gesture.

THAAD order

Saudi Arabia made a billion dollar down payment on its $15 billion order for a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which will enable the manufacturer to start production on items that take a long time to produce. This Saudi order — the largest ever for THAAD — includes 44 launchers, 360 missiles and radar and control stations for seven batteries. In addition, this deal will upgrade the Saudi radar warning and communications infrastructure as well as bases for the THAAD batteries and maintenance facilities.

Not competitive

India is still headed for nearly 7% GDP growth, despite some economic turmoil and the threat of war with Pakistan. Pakistan makes an effort to match Indian military capabilities, but Pakistan can’t match India’s economic growth. India has always had a larger economy, but in the 1990s India made it easier for new businesses to get going and for existing ones to expand, thus accelerating economic growth. In addition, India ditched many socialist concepts. Such enterprise is not allowed in the military and that is the primary edge Pakistan has because it prevents the Indian military from becoming as effective as the economy.

Pakistan’s loss

Near the Pakistan-Iran border, the Iranian port of Chabahar has proved to be another major economic loss for Pakistan. Because the port and the road/rail line to Afghanistan provides an alternate trade link for Afghanistan, it is exempt from U.S. sanctions on Iran. That exemption was granted, in part, because an Indian firm is managing the port for the next 10 years. Afghans have been quick to shift import/export trade to Chabahar, and most of the truck traffic that used to go through Pakistan’s port of Karachi is using the new route via Iran to Chabahar.

Trade rerouted

At least $5 billion worth of trade annually to and from Afghanistan will use Iran’s port of Chabahar and Pakistan has already seen its Afghan trade fall by nearly 70%. For a long time Pakistan took advantage of Afghan dependence on the road/port link Pakistan provided to the outside world, raising tariffs and fees at the border, and, since 2017, Pakistan frequently closed border crossings for goods leaving Afghanistan while Pakistani goods were allowed into Afghanistan. Chabahar has changed that and now, if Pakistan wants to hold onto what little Afghan trade they have left, they have to play nice.

User error

India insists its Israeli SPICE 2000 smart bombs hit their intended targets at the Balakot Islamic terrorist training base in Pakistan during a February airstrike. However, based on high-resolution satellite photos, it became clear that three smart bombs missed their targets by the same distance and that was apparently due to the GPS data being entered into the SPICE 2000 bombs incorrectly. India does not have a lot of experience using smart bombs and that would explain the error.

Vaccination scare

Pakistan has launched a media campaign against those who oppose polio vaccinations and vaccinations in general. Despite strenuous efforts, Pakistan has been unable to eliminate polio through vaccinations, with the main opposition being conservative Islamic clerics who said they were an attempt by Western nations to poison Muslim children. While few of those clerics remain, there are now more Pakistanis who are agreeing with Western anti-vaccination groups who fear harmful side effects. Numerous controlled studies have not demonstrated any evidence of this, but it has become a popular cause.

FATF’s gray list

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has warned Pakistan that it does not appear to making an effort block Pakistan-based terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. A year ago FATF warned Pakistan to reduce the illegal financing activity coming out of their country or they would be placed back on the “gray list.” More likely, however, Pakistan would be placed on the black list and that would mean Pakistan would have some financial problems because of international banking restrictions.

Pakistan’s odds

China played a major role in keeping Pakistan off FATF’s gray list in early 2018 but their odds of staying off the list are against them because Pakistan supports its own pet terrorists, making it easier for Islamic terrorists to do business in Pakistan. The U.S. has been gathering evidence to justify putting Pakistan back on FATF’s gray list. The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism and not a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view, as do a growing number of UN members.

Master defense system

The U.S. Army is developing a master defense system for vehicles that will control one or more Active Protection System (APS) capabilities. The test bed for this is Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS), being developed by an American firm. MAPS is designed to link different types of sensors, such as those found on the most modern tanks, with defensive systems for different types of threats. This would make it easier for a MAPS-equipped vehicle to upgrade APS capabilities quickly.

Extension of Iran

Iran’s President Hassan Rohani had an official visit to Iraq on 11 March but left many Iraqis wondering if Rohani went home believing Iraqis were feeling comfortable with their eastern neighbor. Iran seems to think Iraq has become an extension of Iran, yet a growing number of Iraqis have demanded that Iran back off. Senior Iraqi Shia clerics told Rohani that Iraqis would not tolerate Iranian pressure or respond well to Iranian pressure.

Hostile to Iran

Opinion polls in Iraq make it clear that most Iraqis are hostile to Iran and Iranian intentions, and these suspicious attitudes are on the rise. This does not mean that Iraqis are above making some cash in somewhat questionable transactions, but becoming an appendage of Iran is not going to happen no matter how much the Iranians threaten, cajole and scheme.

Protection force

Most Iraqis understand that, without the presence of Americans, Iraq would be even more threatened by most of their neighbors. Even Iraqis who are not particularly pro-American recognize the use of American troops as a “protection force.” The Americans aren’t there to fight Iraqis, but to keep the neighbors from making life difficult for an independent Iraq.

The state of the IS

No one is sure how many Islamic State (IS) members fled to Iraq over the last six months as IS-controlled territory in eastern Syria shrank to nothing after a small border town was cleared of any IS control. Kurdish Self-Defense Force rebels did most of the fighting against IS in Syria, and Iraqi Kurds played a major role containing and defeating IS in Iraq. While the “Islamic State” no longer exists as a geographic entity, there are still thousands of IS members in Iraq and Syria, many of them with Iraqi roots.

Attacks on civilians

There have been more Islamic State attacks on civilians in Iraq’s Anbar province and between Anbar and Mosul. There have also been more energetic security efforts by local militias to defend their towns and villages, especially with IS using more suicide bomber attacks, in addition to the kidnappings and assassinations.

Ancient struggle

With Iraqi Islamic State men returning to Iraq, it means that more of the IS members in Iraq are not revealed as foreigners just by the way they speak or act. Iraqi IS members know they still have supporters in any Sunni area because the Shia-dominated Iraqi government tends to placate Iran by treating Iraqi Sunni Arabs badly. Anything less is considered “supporting the enemy” by the Iranians. Yet, that is what the Iraqi government openly does when it cooperates with Sunni Arab neighbors. Iraqi Arabs know that this is all about the ancient struggle between Arabs and Persians (Iranians).

Disband or discipline

Iraq’s local militias are part of an effort to defend Sunni Arabs from Iranian-backed Peoples Mobilization Forces (PMF) who serve as security forces in most of the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq that the PMF helped free from IS control. The U.S. is demanding that the Iraqi government disband or discipline armed pro-Iranian groups in Iraq that use violence against Iraqi civilians and threaten to do the same to foreign troops. NATO forces can defend themselves against PMF violence, but the Sunni Arab civilians being policed by PMF militias have less attractive options, such as forming their own armed militia.

IS surrenders

The Kurdish-led Self Defense Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria declared that they had eliminated the last visible remnants of IS driven out of Baghuz, near the Iraq border. Apparently this announcement was convincing and spread quickly because, within 24 hours, many IS fighters emerged from their hiding places and surrendered. Others walked in from seemingly uninhabited areas around Baghuz and surrendered to SDF personnel.

Inclined to terrorize

The new IS arrivals in Iraq from Syria are inclined to terrorize local civilians into cooperating with IS rather than take the time to cultivate local Sunni Arabs. These impatient and unruly IS returnees tend to attract the attention of the police and army commando units that specialize in hunting down and capturing or killing terrorists of all kinds. The Americans are still available to share intel on local and regional IS activity, so the undisciplined IS survivors tend to disappear quickly.

Patient and prudent

The more patient and prudent IS survivors in Iraq will be around for a while because individual IS members are often admired for their boldness and decisiveness in “defending Islam,” especially if it involves killing non-Muslims or anyone seen by the local civilians as “foreigners.” That definitely includes Iranians, despite the shared Shia religion.

IS operations continue

IS continues to operate in Anbar, Mosul and Kirkuk even though the local Sunni Arab tribes led the fight against IS in Anbar, and Kirkuk was free of IS problems when the Kurds ran local security. That ended in late 2017, when the government used Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) as well as regular troops to drive the Kurds out of Kirkuk province and replace them with pro-Iranian PMF. The Kurds are still better at keeping IS out of Kurdish-controlled areas and that means IS concentrates their efforts areas where there is no Kurdish security.

Targeting terrorists

For 2019 the sole target in Mogadishu is al Shabaab terrorists and, and at the current rate, al Shabaab could lose 1,000 men to airstrikes this year.

Regaining control

Iran and Syria have made it official: Iran will assist the Assad government in regaining control of all of Syria and will back efforts to reopen all border crossings with Iraq.

NK tracks cell phones

Despite its poverty and increasingly unreliable electricity supply, North Korea has eagerly adopted the cell phone, often for uses the government forbids. For example, North Korea tried to keep forbidden media off North Korean cell phones by installing tracking and authentication software on North Korean smart phones, the only ones most North Koreans could own. This app was mandatory and police can check for it any time they want; if the app is not there, violators could either face prison camp or pay the cop a large bribe.

Military cooperation

The leaders of Iraq, Jordan and Egypt met in Egypt to discuss military, diplomatic and economic cooperation. Military cooperation was mainly about the continuing battle against the Islamic State.

Refugee camp to close

After three years of delays, Kenya says it will finally close the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northeast Kenya by mid-2019. The camp, built for exiled Somalis, was supposed to be shut down by the end of 2016, but protests from donor nations, the UN and Somalia delayed closure efforts. Dadaab has become the largest refugee camp in the world since it was established in 1991, and, at its peak, contained over 400,000 people; that number declined to about 330,000 in 2016, and now, to 230,000.

India’s reinforcements

India revealed that they had quietly sent 45 police commandos to Baghdad to reinforce the security around the Indian embassy there.

Russia remains defiant

Russia is becoming a problem in Venezuela and the U.S. reminded Russia that foreign military intervention in the Western Hemisphere is not allowed and that the U.S. is continuing its two centuries of supporting that, with military force if necessary. This warning came after the U.S. discovered that Russian special operations troops and security advisors in Venezuela had persuaded embattled dictator Maduro to stay in Venezuela rather than flee to Cuba. American officials told their Russian counterparts that the U.S. would use force to remove the Russian interference from Venezuela. Russia remains defiant.

Iran useful

Syria cannot ignore Iran because there is still a large force of Iranian mercenaries in the country who have been useful in dealing with the remaining Islamic terrorists. Syrian army troops are not as enthusiastic about fighting as the Iranian mercenaries.

Reliable ally

Russia is becoming the Syrian government’s most reliable ally. Syrians see Turkey as a foreign invader, while Iran, though appreciated for its help in defeating the rebels, is resented for trying to turn Syria into an extension of Iran rather than treating Syria as a sovereign nation and ally.

Nothing accomplished

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with the Russia’s Putin in the Russian Pacific coast city of Vladivostok. They talked longer than planned, but nothing was accomplished.

Airstrikes shift to Syria

Britain reported that its warplanes had killed 4,000 Islamic terrorists in Syria and Iraq since 2014. While most of the dead were in Iraq, where British warplanes are based, British airstrikes have shifted to Syria over the past year. Britain is one of the more active members of the U.S.-led air coalition that has been operating against IS since 2014. Britain is also the only coalition member with some of the same specialized aircraft as the U.S. These non-combat aircraft are heavily used because most air coalition activity is about surveillance and reconnaissance.

LCS program

The U.S. Navy is trying to salvage what it can from its ambitious, but poorly implemented, “Littoral Combat Ship” (LCS) program. Sixteen are in service, another four under construction and 15 more on order. It looks like the Navy will end up with about 30 of these ships, rather than the 55 originally planned. The LCS was intended to replace 30 larger Perry-class frigates and two classes of 26 smaller mine warfare ships. So far the number of LCS ships to be produced has been revised four times.

New frigate design

The U.S. Navy is seeking a design for a new class of frigates and desperation has led the admirals to seriously consider foreign designs. There are several European frigate designs already in service and demonstrating the kind of capability, reliability and affordability that the Navy needs right now.

Turkey ups security

Syria’s neighbor Turkey has upgraded their border security to keep Syrian refugees out.

Complex exploded

Large portions of the KrasMash manufacturing complex in Siberia exploded and burned, generating fears that there would be a delay in the production of liquid fueled ballistic missiles and satellite launchers. The most notable missile built at KrasMash is the RS-28 (SS-x-30 or Satan 2), a heavy ICBM that is scheduled to enter service in 2021. It was later revealed that the explosion and fires were at the portion of the complex that manufactures consumer goods; the missile production areas were unaffected.

Somalia attacks

The many al Shabaab car bomb attacks in Mogadishu are, in part, an effort to cripple the government intelligence effort. Key intel people tend to live in Mogadishu, often in major hotels, which have some of the best security in the country. Al Shabaab is concentrating on intelligence experts because Somali intel is paying a lot of attention to al Shabaab operations, locations and leaders. U.S. airstrikes have killed 255 al Shabaab members this year, and, in 2018, airstrikes killed 326, which included IS members.

Reestablish connections

Iran and Iraq have agreed to reestablish railroad connections and revive a 1975 treaty that settled long-standing disputes over joint use of a waterway that served as part of the Iran-Iraq border.

Anti-Putin protestors

Thousands of anti-Putin protestors gathered across Russia on May Day. Russian police arrested over 120 of the demonstrators in nine cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Main target

From 2015-17 the main target of American UAV operations in Somalia was IS; however, in late 2018, this led to speculation that the U.S. would halt UAV operations in Somalia because they were pulling troops out of overseas battle zones where American troops were not essential. Somalia was not subject to this new policy because few American troops are stationed inside Somalia and those that are there are either part of an international military training effort for the new Somali army or intelligence specialists working with the CIA.

Evading sanctions

Venezuela is evading American sanctions by passing off its oil exports as Russian and allowing a Russian oil company to collect payments for the Venezuelan oil. That income is used to purchase items in Russia that Venezuela needs.

Ukrainian forces

The U.S. continues to provide troops to help train Ukrainian forces. The JMTG-U (Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine) brings in about 150 American troops for nine months at a time to assist at a Ukrainian training facility that trains about five infantry battalions a year. The latest contingent to arrive is from the 101st Airborne Division, a unit with a lot of combat veterans. The American troops demonstrate U.S. tactics, many of them recently developed or modified based on combat experience.

IS members killed

In central Russia, a police raid caught two IS members who refused to surrender and were shot to death. In their hideout, police found two assembled bombs and bomb-making equipment to build more. Other evidence indicated the two were planning several attacks in the area.

Many news items courtesy of strategypage.com & James Dunnigan. All material ©2019, StrategyWorld, Inc.