Thursday, July 19, 2012

Attack of the Drones - People & Power - Al Jazeera English

As governments are increasingly relying on drones, what are the consequences for civil liberties and the future of war?
 Last Modified: 19 Jul 2012 05:01
The US government’s growing reliance on aerial drones to pursue its war on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere is proving controversial – as evidenced by the international reaction to recent drone missile attacks along the border with Pakistan. But Barack Obama’s administration is undeterred, favouring the technology more and more because it reduces the need for American troops in those countries and the risk of politically unpalatable casualties.

“He probably thinks this is already a controversial war,” says Christ Klep, an international relations analysts at the University of Utrecht. “I’d better not endanger my pilots and my special forces, so what else do I have? Unmanned aerial vehicles? Deploy them.”

But the strategy is giving rise to anxieties that conflict is becoming just a big computer game, in which ‘desk pilots’ in air conditioned bunkers far from the battlefield can kill a few enemy fighters and then go home to their families, remote from the human consequences of their actions or the anguish of associated civilian casualties.

Nevertheless, Ko Colijn, a security expert at the prestigious Clingendael Institute, says that the technology is here to stay.
“In a way the Americans reached a turning point in 2009, 2010. They trained more screen pilots than pilots physically inside an aircraft. And they purchased more unmanned planes than manned ones, which is not surprising since they’re much cheaper,” he says.

However the Americans are not the only ones using drones. More than 40 countries are believed to be working with unmanned aircraft and even Iran claims to be developing its own version – perhaps based on a captured US spy drone it downed last year and then proudly displayed to the media.
Nor are the current crop of unmanned military aircraft the only manifestation of this disturbing new trend. Already in production are aerial drones that can independently acquire and attack targets or work together in swarms over hostile territory and earthbound battlefield drones that can either accompany ground troops or be sent alone into especially dangerous areas. Some commentators fear it all adds up to a new tech-driven arms race.

The use of drones is becoming more widespread in civilian circles too – not least as a key law and order tool in the fight against crime. In June this year, for example, police in the British city of Manchester used one to track down a suspected car thief; in the Netherlands an arsonist was caught after being identified on a drone camera. And in Zurich, Switzerland, scientists have been developing flying robots for use in the construction industry. In demonstrations they will happily show how a few small drones, working at impressive speed, can lift heavy concrete blocks into place on a complex tower structure – a process that would otherwise necessitate scaffolding and dozens of human workers.

But the technology also gives rise to worrying questions about snooping and invasion of privacy – and not merely because of the actions of government. With private companies in the US and Europe now developing cheap aerial drones that can be controlled with the kind of software used in smart phones, pilotless aircraft just a couple of feet across may soon be commercially available for a few hundred dollars. Imagine then, the images that a paparazzi photographer could obtain with a camera drone able to fly over high walls or hover outside windows set atop a multi-storey building.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Armed Slaves Of Eritrea-(strategypage)

July 3, 2012: Ethiopia has emerged as East Africa’s political powerhouse, despite being landlocked. Eritrea controls what used to be Ethiopia’s seaports, before Eritrea became a separate nation in 1991. Since then Ethiopia has relied upon Djibouti and the Somaliland Republic for port access. Last year Ethiopia and Djibouti discussed constructing a new railroad line between the two countries. Recently Ethiopia announced that it had reached a deal with two major construction companies to extend and improve its railroad network. One company is Turkish and the other is Chinese. The project is long term, but by 2020 Ethiopia plans to have an additional 5,000 kilometers of railroad track. The project is designed to improve transportation within Ethiopia but the strategically critical link is a new rail link from northern Ethiopia to Djibouti’s Port Tadjourah.
July 1, 2012: Every so often Ethiopia calls attention to the Eritrean refugees living in refugee camps inside Ethiopia. The refugees are always good for horror stories about food shortages, arbitrary arrests, and corruption in Eritrea. Between 60,000 and 70,000 refugees live in the camps. Others gather in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. However, last year more and more Eritrean draft dodgers began crossing the border. The complaint is broader than avoiding military conscription; many of the draft dodgers are in fact draftees who have deserted after serving far longer than what they regard as a reasonable tour of duty. According to the conscripts who have deserted, a draftee’s initial service, at least for those lacking political connections, can last for several years. These refugees have told reporters that sometimes draftees serve for a decade, not just in the military but in various government jobs or even businesses owned by the ruling party. Eritrea began mass military conscription in the mid-1990s, as a means of building up its military in the face of what its government called the threat from Ethiopia. The strategic concept was the creation of an armed people. If the far larger and stronger Ethiopia attacked, the Ethiopian Army would ultimately have to fight everyone in Eritrea. At least that was the idea. Initial military training and service lasted 18 months. Sometimes draftees worked on road and military-related construction projects. Now it appears the definition of military-related construction has changed. The continual influx of draftees who have deserted has to have some deleterious effect on Eritrea’s armed forces, but how large an effect is open to speculation. It is clearly an indication of declining morale. One recent report quoted refugees who claimed that some Eritrean Army units (ie, the ones of which they had direct knowledge) had only 25 percent of their assigned personnel. How much a given conscript actually knows about his unit’s authorized level of personnel is a fair question to ask, because he might be assigned to a reserve unit. However, many of the refugees interviewed indicated that units throughout the army are under-strength. Eritrea could carry these under-strength units on its order of battle as full-strength units in order to inflate the size of its army and thereby deter Ethiopia, but that wouldn’t fool Ethiopian military intelligence analysts for very long.
In neighboring Kenya gunmen attacked a church in the town of Garissa. The attackera killed two policemen, stole their rifles, and then killed 15 and wounded 40 inside the church. The policemen had been assigned to guard the church because of rising violence in the region. Attackers also struck a second church in Garissa using grenades. Three people were wounded by grenade fragments. Garissa is not far from the Kenya-Somali border and militant Somali Islamists have been threatening to launch more attacks on Kenyan Christians. The Kenyan government has pointed out that Kenyan Muslims also feel threatened by the Islamist attacks. Several Kenyan tribes have both Muslim and Christian members. The attack on a worshipping congregation is similar to attack launched by the Nigeria militant Islamist organization, Boko Haram. Al Qaeda and the Somalia Islamist group Al Shabaab have claimed that they are organizing militant Islamists throughout Africa.
June 30, 2012: Kenyan authorities are looking for a group of gunmen who kidnapped four aid workers at the Dadaab refugee camp (about 100 kilometers from the Somali border). The Kenya deployed helicopters, search aircraft and ground troops to find and rescue the captives.
June 29, 2012: Gunmen attacked a convoy and seized four foreign aid workers near the Dadaab refugee camp. Their Kenyan driver was killed in the attack.
In the central Somali town of Baladweyne an al Shabaab roadside bomb struck an Ethiopian Army convoy. There were no casualty reports. Ethiopia still occupies Baladweyne.
June 27, 2012: Twenty-three Ethiopians involved in opposition politics were convicted of terrorism. An Ethiopian journalist was also convicted on terrorism charges. They all face life imprisonment now. The defendants argued that they were prisoners of conscience and were not engaged in terrorism but legitimate democratic political action.
June 26, 2012: An Al Shabaab claimed its fighters ambushed a Kenyan Army convoy near the town of Haluqua (inside Kenya, near the Somali border), killing 23 Kenyan soldiers and wounding nine. The claim is unsubstantiated and Kenya did not report an incident. Both Kenya and Al Shabaab, however, acknowledge that there is a fight going on in the Somali town of Badhaadhe. Kenya reported that it killed five Al Shabaab fighters. Three Somalia Transitional National Government (TNG) soldiers were killed in the firefight which occurred when Al Shabaab fighters attacked a Kenyan and TNG base in the town.
The government of South Sudan said that Ethiopian forces had captured a Jonglei tribal spiritual leader who had fled South Sudan. The spiritual leader opposes South Sudan’s tribal disarmament policy in Jonglei state. Ethiopia has indicated that it will send the spiritual leader back to South Sudan. Ethiopian forces also captured some of the leader’s supporters who were accompanying him.
June 23, 2012: Djibouti opened its new Djibouti Naval Operations Center. The U.S. and France helped Djibouti build and equip the center, which will be used to track ship movements in Djiboutian territorial waters, the Red Sea area, and very likely the Gulf of Aden. One of its missions is counter-piracy. The European Union’s EU NAVFOR squadron will also be involved with the center.
An Ethiopian criminal court convicted a UN security guard of communicating with a terrorist group, sentencing him to seven years in jail. The government said that the guard had used his job to gather information for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an Ethiopian rebel group.
June 22, 2012: Ethiopia announced that it will keep troops in Somalia until Somalia passes a national constitution and has a military that is able to protect the country. This is a major change from what Ethiopia said it would do earlier this year. At one time Ethiopia indicated that its forces would leave Somalia this fall.
Ethiopia arrested 14 gunmen who were involved in the April murder of 19 people in the Gambella region (western Ethiopia). The group ambushed a passenger bus. The same group of gunmen had been involved in a skirmish with South Sudanese security forces.
Kenyan authorities arrested several men, including two Iranian nationals, who were allegedly planning terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa. The group is connected to the Somalia’s Al Shabaab. The group had stored chemicals used in making explosives at a golf club near Mombasa.
June 18, 2012: UN officials accused Eritrea of torturing political prisoners and conducting summary executions of political prisoners. Human rights violations by the Eritrean government include forced labor.
June 16, 2012: Kenyan media reported that the Kenyan military has lost 12 people in operations in Somalia. Five died in combat and seven in accidents. The figures are unconfirmed.
June 15, 2012: The Kenyan government denied that it is letting the U.S. use Kenyan territory or airspace to conduct aerial surveillance missions. The Kenyan denial, however, was very carefully worded. Kenya basically said that it does not know about any US use of Kenyan airspace, but Kenya does share intelligence information with the US.
June 12, 2012: The Kenyan military intends to launch a final assault on the Al Shabaab-held seaport of Kismayo sometime in August and Kenya wants international participation in the operation. That means several things. Kenya has asked the U.S. to provide funding assistance. Ethiopia has suggested that it may send troops south to help the Kenyans attack Kismayo. Kenyan forces are now flagged as members of the AMISOM peacekeeping operation in Somalia so conceivably other AMISOM peacekeepers (form Uganda, Burundi, possibly Djibouti) could participate. Kenya has also approached the European Union and asked for naval support.
Local Somalis report that some Al Shabaab fighters have returned to the town of El Bur after Ethiopian forces pulled out on June 10.
June 10, 2012: An Ogaden rebel website accused an Ethiopian paramilitary police unit of burning down the center of the town of Degahbour on June 8.
June 8, 2012: The U.S. government announced that it is offering $33 million in rewards for information that leads to the capture of senior Al Shabaab leaders. The US is offering seven million dollars for Al Shabaab’s founder, Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed Nom de guerre is Godane).
Extract From  strategypage.comThe Armed Slaves Of Eritrea

Negotiations Behind U.S. Sanctions Against Iran | Stratfor

By Reva Bhalla
Over the past week, the latest phase of U.S.-led sanctions against Iran has dominated the media. For months, the United States has pressured countries to curtail their imports of Iranian crude oil and is now threatening to penalize banks that participate in oil deals with Iran. In keeping with the U.S. sanctions campaign, the European Union on July 1 implemented an oil embargo against Iran. The bloc already has begun banning European countries from reinsuring tankers carrying Iranian oil.
On the surface, the sanctions appear tantamount to the United States and its allies serving an economic death sentence to the Iranian regime. Indeed, sanctions lobbyists and journalists have painted a dire picture of hyperinflation and plummeting oil revenues. They argue that sanctions are depriving Tehran of resources that otherwise would be allocated to Iran's nuclear weapons program. This narrative also tells of the Iranian regime's fear of economically frustrated youths daring to revive the Green Movement to pressure the regime at its weakest point.
But Iran's response to sanctions deadlines has been relatively nonchalant. Contrary to the sanctions lobbyist narrative, this response does not suggest Iran will halt its crude oil shipments, nor does it portend a popular uprising in the streets of Tehran. Instead, it suggests that sanctions are likely a sideshow to a much more serious negotiation in play.

Loopholes in the Sanctions Campaign

The sanctions applied thus far certainly have complicated Iran's day-to-day business operations. However, Iran is well versed in deception tactics to allow itself and its clients to evade sanctions and thus dampen the effects of the U.S. campaign.
One way in which Iran circumvents sanctions is through a network of front companies that enable Iranian merchants to trade under false flags. To enter ports, merchant ships are required to sail under a flag provided by national ship registries. Tax havens, such as Malta, Cyprus, the Bahamas, Hong Kong, the Seychelles, Singapore and the Isle of Man, profit from selling flags and company registries to businesses looking to evade the taxes and regulations of their home countries. Iranian businessmen rely heavily on these havens to switch out flags, names, registered owners and agents, and addresses of owners and agents.
The U.S. Treasury Department has become more adept at identifying these firms, but a government bureaucracy simply cannot compete with the rapid pace at which shell corporations are made. Several new companies operating under different names and flags can be created in the time it takes a single sanctions lawsuit to be drawn up.
Many of Iran's clients turn a blind eye to these shell practices to maintain their crude oil supply at steep discounts. Notably, the past few months have been rife with reports of countries cutting their Iranian oil imports under pressure from the United States. However, after factoring in the amount of crude insured and traded via shell companies, the shift in trade patterns is likely not as stark as the reports present.
The United States already has exempted China, Singapore, India, Turkey, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and the 27 members of the European Union from the sanctions. Many of these countries imported higher than average quantities of Iranian crude in the months leading up to their announcements that they had cut down their supply of Iranian crude. China, South Korea, India and Japan also are finding ways to provide sovereign guarantees in lieu of maritime insurance to get around the latest round of sanctions. Even though many of these countries claim to have reduced their oil imports from Iran to negotiate an exemption, falsely flagged tankers carrying Iranian crude likely compensate for much of Iran's officially reduced trade.
U.S. lawmakers are drawing up even stricter sanctions legislation in an effort to track down more Iranian shell companies, but the U.S. administration is likely aware of the inadequacies of the sanctions campaign. In fact, while Congress is busy trying to expand the sanctions, the U.S. administration is rumored to be preparing a list of options by which it can selectively repeal the sanctions for when it sits down at a negotiating table with Iran.

The Real Negotiation

While talk of sanctions has dominated headlines, a more subtle dialogue between Iran and the United States has been taking place. In an editorial appearing in U.S. foreign policy journal The National Interest, two insiders of the Iranian regime, Iranian political analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani and former member of Iranian nuclear negotiating team Seyed Hossein Mousavian, communicated several key points on behalf of Tehran:
  • The United States and Iran must continue to negotiate.
  • Sanctions hurt Iran economically but by no means paralyze Iranian trade.
  • Iran cannot be sure that any bilateral agreement made with the United States will be honored by a new administration come November.
  • The United States must abandon any policy intended to bring about regime change in Tehran.
  • Washington has few remaining options other than military intervention, which is an unlikely outcome.
  • Iran can significantly increase pressure on the United States by, for example, threatening the security of the Strait of Hormuz, an act that would raise the price of U.S. oil.
Perhaps most important, they said, "the Islamic Republic is willing to agree on a face-saving solution that would induce it to give up the cards it has gained over the past years."
On June 27, the United States delivered an important message. U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said during a Pentagon news conference that the Strait of Hormuz had been relatively quiet and that the Iranian navy had been "professional and courteous" to U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. According to Greenert, the Iranian navy has abided by the norms that govern naval activity in international waters. Previously, armed speedboats operated provocatively close to U.S. vessels, but they have not done so recently, Greenert said. It is difficult to imagine Greenert making such a statement without clearance from the White House. 

Red Lines

When Iran began the year with military exercises to highlight the threat it could pose to the Strait of Hormuz, Stratfor laid out the basic framework of the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Both countries have defined their red lines. Iran raises the prospect of closing the Strait of Hormuz or detonating a nuclear device. The United States moves its naval carriers into the Persian Gulf to raise the prospect of a military strike. Both remind each other of their respective red lines, yet both stay clear of them because the consequences of crossing them are simply too great.
The situation calls for a broader accommodation. Over the past decade, Iran and the United States have struggled in negotiations toward such an accommodation. At the heart of the negotiation is Iraq -- a core vulnerability to Iran's western flank if under the influence of a hostile power and Iran's energy-rich outlet to the Arab world. The United States has tried to maintain a foothold in Iraq, but there is little question that Iraq now sits in an Iranian sphere of influence. With Iraq now practically conceded to Iran, the other components of the negotiation are largely reduced to atmospherics.
Iran's biggest deterrent rests in its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. The leverage Tehran holds over the strait allows Iran room to negotiate over its nuclear program. Of course, the United States would prefer that Iran abandon its nuclear ambitions and will continue efforts to impede the program, but a nuclear Iran might in the end be tolerated as long as Washington and Tehran have an understanding that allows for the free flow of oil through the strait. Everything from the sanctions campaign to U.S. covert backing of Syrian rebels to the nuclear program becomes negotiable. As the Iranians put it, a path has been created for a "face-saving solution" that would allow both to walk away from the dialogue looking good in front of their constituencies, but would also require the sacrifice of some of the levers they have gained in the course of the negotiation.
With only four months until the U.S. election, it is difficult to imagine that this negotiation will reach the point of a strategic understanding between Washington and Tehran. However, one would be remiss to overlook the important confidence-building measures that are being communicated at a time when neither power wants to skirt its respective red lines, Iraq is more or less a moot issue and the United States is trying to redirect its focus away from the Middle East.

Read more: Negotiations Behind U.S. Sanctions Against Iran | Stratfor