U.S. Policy Against ISIS Unlikely to Change

NESA Communications Intern Nathan Turregano provides us another piece, this one focusing on how the U.S. will combat ISIS following the Paris attacks…

There will never be a short term or simple solution to D’aesh. What Westerners and their governments must realize is that this fight will not be over soon and a long term permanent solution is much more complicated and difficult than one might hope. Avoiding significant reactionary actions and staying the course may be the best option. D’aesh will be rid from this world in due time, but the question that one might ask themselves is at what cost they are willing to pay for that to happen?

Obama’s foreign policy in regards to D’aesh will remain the same, regardless of the incidents in Paris. The U.S. will focus on strategic airstrikes and minimal Special Forces involvement in the area, and avoid a massive troop presence on the ground. The reasoning behind that is credited to a number of factors, one being Americans reservations of further involvement in the Middle East, while at the same time the current administration avoiding giving D’aesh what they want. D’aesh seeks to provoke Obama and the West into sending troops, so that D’aesh can continue to hurt the West on their own turf.

The short term domestic policy effects of Paris have already been seen in the States, with the House of Representatives passing a bill that would limit the number of Syrian Refugees admitted to the U.S. This is, again, is playing into what D’aesh wants. They have created a refugee situation that expunges Syrians and Iraqis from their homeland, while at the same time barring them from others. Closing borders is not an option if the goal is to stop terrorism, it will only fuel it. These events weigh heavily on the upcoming 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. ISIS has already been major discussion point, but the pressure for troops on the ground is felt more now than ever before. Another major component to any candidate’s foreign policy platform is how to approach the developing and challenging refugee situation.

While the situation in Iraq and Syria continues change daily to  the U.S. will adapt with it. It is important that reactionary and impulsive actions are clearly thought out, focusing on a larger and more permanent end goal, which is the eradication of D’aesh. 





Digital Operations Against ISIS

NESA Communications Intern, Mr. Nathan Turregano, offers his views with the following piece on how “hacktivists” are joining the fight against ISIS…

After the Paris Attacks the hacker group Anonymous released a video on YouTube declaring war on the Islamic State (ISIS). Anonymous sent the message that they will “Hunt them (ISIS) down” and to “Expect many Cyber Attacks” in their efforts to combat the extremist group. This is not the first time the Hacktivists have gone toe to toe with ISIS, the Charlie Hedbo attacks also provoked the same response. Anonymous is meeting ISIS on the more unseen battlefield of this conflict, the Internet.

The Islamic State is known for its boisterous and active participation in social media. It constantly uses Facebook and Twitter in efforts to reach out and radicalize people across the globe. These efforts are extremely difficult to combat without a serious invasion of privacy into the lives of private citizens. On the other hand it is impossible to pinpoint one single source of ISIS propaganda. ISIS has over 46,000 twitter accounts posting videos and sharing messages that accelerate radicalism beyond their borders. Combating such a large scale operation, while still conducting airstrikes and special operations missions, has proven difficult to western governments.

Anonymous has taken it upon themselves to contribute to the global front against extremism. After the Charlie Hedbo attacks the group brought down ansar-alhaqq.net a known French terror mongering website. In their very recent battle the group has been focused on the eradication of ISIS Twitter activist and ISIS accounts. Anonymous is not the only group to take on this battle,  Ghost Security Group or Ghostsec have been a major force against ISIS. Ghostsec, unlike anonymous, Deals strictly with social media. It tracks and maps online communication networks, and then passes the information on to relative authorities.  Anonymous has been criticized by Ghostsec in the past on their approach to ‘hacking,’ claiming that tearing down websites leads to a loss of valuable intelligence.

Both Anonymous and Ghostsec provide the world with their form of modern vigilante justice. They independently take on the evil that they see in the world in order to serve what they call “freedom.” While these groups are not without controversy, their hacktivism still finds support across the globe. Anonymous and Ghostec will harass ISIS with no end in sight and continue to be a forefront of digital warfare in a modern age.

Israel Announces New Plan for Settlements

A contribution from NESA interns, Maryam Arshad and Madison Barton.

This past Friday Israel published bids for 450 new settlements in the West Bank approximately 425 acres from A-Nahla, a Palestinian village. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are areas occupied by Israel since 1967, but feature a predominantly Palestinian populationIsrael purposefully established the E2 settlement, also known as Givat Eitam, east of the West Bank border, physically bisecting the West Bank territory. In 2004 Israel took control of the area and Palestinian landowners appealed to no avail. Since then, in October 2013 the E2 area has been designated as agricultural farming area, a guise for an influx of settlers into the Palestinian owned land. The location of the proposed settlement would effectively block Bethlehem from south West Bank, essentially constructing an obstruction to any future two state solution.


Settlements have previously been established in this region, but announcements of new Israeli settlers have been followed by outrage at the actions of the current administration in IsraelThe United States and European Union have denounced Netanyahu’s plans as being illegitimate and illegal. In fact the Israeli settlements are a violation of the IV Geneva Convention, which is in place to protect the rights of civilians during war. Because the settlements are a method of creating conditions on the ground that inflate Israeli numbers, it is seen as an affront to the Palestinian civilians who are living on the land. Peace Now, an organization that advocates a two state solution, argues that the settlements could jeopardize a future for a possible two state Israel-Palestine agreement. The Palestinian Liberation Organization went as far to call these settlements war crimes, urging the International Criminal Court to thwart Israeli advances.


It is no secret though, that Israeli settlements of the sort have existed for quite some time. So how much of a hindrance are these settlements to a prospective two state solution? Foreign Policy believes they are inconsequential to any future negotiations or deliberations between the two parties. Perhaps it is true that the settlements in question would not do much to make Israel stronger or Palestine weaker, but the issue of settlements speaks to a larger issue of Israel continuously pushing its boundaries in the international community, hoping to garner more and more for their interests, without regard for international law.

Just recently Netanyahu’s snub of President Obama, by accepting an invitation from the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to speak to the United States Congress illustrates just how far the Israeli Prime Minister is willing to push even his closest ally. International diplomatic relations are traditionally performed by the respective heads of state, and by not asking or even informing President Obama of his presence in the United States legislature, Netanyahu has severely strained ties with the President. Furthermore, as the International Criminal Court has introduced investigations into Palestinian territory to uncover possible war crimes in the region, Israel could face ramifications for its policies, including the settlement advances. So then, are these announcements just symbolic pushes of Israeli power?

Maps from BBC and Peace Now 

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

The Need for a Ceasefire in Syria

Today, our guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with a new post on a potential Syrian ceasefire…

The Syrian conflict rages on daily as death counts of military personnel and civilians climb higher.  It is time for a ceasefire to be brokered between the warring factions in order for aid and relief to come to a weary populace.  The US, UN, and Russia are trying to get the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian government at the table for talks/negotiations, but the SNC has demanded the release of prisoners, easing of sieges, and humanitarian aid to be allowed.  While the opposition and Assad government may be at odds on who claims legitimacy and rights to govern Syria, they can agree that an end to bloodshed and preserving the lives of innocents is optimal.  The first step in resolving the crisis is this ceasefire, followed with the second step of an extended ceasefire to allow aid and medical relief into high risk areas. 

Agreeing to a short-term ceasefire in which the government forces and opposition forces lay down weapons and even fall back from current positions would send good faith messages by all sides.  The parameters of such an agreement should be completely in public via the press.  If guns are put aside for a week leading up to discussions it would provide both the opposition and the government a foundation of trust heading into the Geneva talks. 

Once the Geneva talks begin, a new ceasefire allowing for relief and aid should be established.  The situation is dire for the majority of Syrians stuck in the middle of violence.  Allowing medical aid workers to test and vaccinate for polio and other diseases is essential after it was confirmed that polio is present in parts of Syria.  The devastation of war created an unhealthy environment when water-treatment facilities, power plants, and more were destroyed.  Today Syrians are only getting 1/3 of their daily water compared to prewar levels and a large quantity of that water is contaminated.  Both the rebel and government forces must agree to let the International Committee of the Red Cross and their partner the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to move about freely and access besieged areas.  The ICRC and SARC are equipped to help those suffering, they just need access.

Of course, these actions are only possible if all parties agree to them, including the more extreme elements of the opposition.  For Salafist or Sunni extremist groups in particular, a misstep would be disastrous for credibility among citizens who are fearful of their intentions for Syria.  Because neither side has shown the ability to claim a total victory through military force, the Geneva track may well be the only hope for ending the violence. Establishing a ceasefire and allowing aid to those in need are two very basic foundations for any settlement the Geneva talks could reach.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.



What the New Syrian Opposition Alliance Means

A contribution from NESA intern, Chris Chapman.

This week eleven Syrian opposition groups signed onto an Islamic alliance in efforts to repudiate the legitimacy of the internationally backed Supreme Military Council (SMC) and Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and form a united front against Bashar al Assad.  Led by the Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra this bloc represents a majority of the militant opposition in Syria.  Their letter stated four main points: first, for all opposition to unite under an Islamic framework and operate under sharia law, second, they can only be represented by those living within Syria, third, a denunciation of the exile opposition National Coalition backed by the West, and last, a plea for unity within the opposition ranks to avoid further conflict. 

This alliance may or may not last, but it does reveal three factors about the current and future status of the opposition forces in Syria.  The signing of this agreement is a direct blow to the US and Western backed attempts to support a moderate opposition, it shows a new level of rebel interaction, and presents a potential game-changer for future opposition dynamics. 

To start, the creation of this alliance hurts the US and West’s efforts to find and support ‘moderate’ opposition units.  Many of the groups under the direction of their SMC, the Western backed military wing, have signed onto this alliance.  So, will US aid continue to arrive?  These units are part of both the SMC and this new Islamic agreement.  A main reason for these groups signing on was to show their objection to the exile opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition.  Rebels within Syria do not accept their legitimacy or any possible government they intend to establish.  So what we see is the US and its chosen ally in Syria, are unfortunately cut off from the on-the-ground reality of the opposition.  This act was done out of frustration with the US and West’s inability to provide what the rebels see as adequate support.  It muddies and already murky situation for the US to be dealing in. 

Next, the eleven participants are not all using this purely to establish sharia and an Islamic Syria; some are using it as protection.  Recent infighting between more extreme units and moderates for control of towns pushed these moderate groups to join this bloc.  In essence, this is politics of protection for these groups.  They are all fighting for the same result, the end of Assad’s regime, so this is an effort to decrease tensions between groups fighting on the same side and assure a sense of security from what they deem an ally.  It is an interesting turn of events and one that I want to keep my eye on for future possibilities within the rebel community. 

Furthermore, for the above reasons, I think that if this alliance decides to organize itself into a political entity, it would rival the SNC for control of a post-Assad Syria.  Divided, these groups stood little chance of rallying enough support to succeed politically.  Combined, however, these groups represent a majority coalition of the opposition within Syria.  They are the main fighting force against Assad and as it stands, would garner more support than any party comprised of exiles.   

In the end, the existence of this agreement amongst so many rebel units bodes ill for the US as it tries to navigate the Syrian conflict.  The statement alone of their signatures sent a clear message that the rebels are done waiting for US assistance and wholly disappointed with US and Western attempts to act on behalf of their best interests.  It will be much more difficult for the US to make inroads and sustainable relationships with such views against it. 

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

MENA’s Rising Generation

The Strategist’s guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with his second post!  It begins just below…

Recently, a group of Washington, DC-based analysts and academics gathered for a seminar devoted to the “Next Generation” in the Middle East and North Africa.  The seminar focused on issues related to demographic pressures in the region, the impact of youth led revolutionary movements, and the role of ideologies.  The topics spurred conversations on the necessity of youth involvement in the political process.  After being so vital to the uprising and push for change in countries, many youth still feel alienated and ignored politically.  It is unreasonable to believe the major voice of change in these states can be marginalized during the transition period.  But how can their revolutionary energy get redirected into political and civic participation?  This was a focus of discussion amongst the seminar participants and is vital to achieving stability. 

Unfortunately, the youth in these states see the government and political process as corrupt.  There is a clear need in these transitioning nations for the next generation of leaders to become active participants in politics at all levels, as well as within civil society.  They have insights and ideas for how to solve their nation’s biggest issues, which will be the issues that define their lifetime.  Their continued exclusion from the political process will breed the anger and resentment which brought them out to protest initially.

The task of inclusion in newly formed governments is not simple.  For instance, the United States, the world’s oldest democratic society, has struggled to get younger generations involved in the political process.  In the Middle East and North Africa, the youth are blocked by established hierarchies, entrenched elites, and internal division.  All in all, the region encourages the young to stay on the street.  This rising generation will need to forge their own way into the political process or else risk being silenced after having achieved so much.

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service.  Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

The Counter-Revolution is in Full Swing

Earlier today it was announced that former President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, will be released from prison after two years in captivity. He has been reportedly cleared of all charges of corruption. Although he still faces trial for conspiracy to murder protestors, the maximum of two years without verdict have officially been exceeded. According to Egyptian authorities he can no longer legally be held.

The reaction that is sure to follow is both appropriate and understandable. Many Egyptians viewed Mubarak’s imprisonment as a symbol of the Egyptian people’s authority over their government. Letting Mubarak go sends the message that, ultimately, authority lies elsewhere.

To both outside observers and many Egyptians, this is not a surprising revelation.

Yet, Mubarak’s release is still important because it threatens to further fragment Egyptian society. While protestors in Tahrir may have applauded the military’s removal of President Morsi from power, it is hard to imagine that they will overlook the reversal of their greatest and most tangible victory.  With Mubarak free, it will be increasingly difficult to ignore that the people and the military are no longer “one hand.”

It is difficult to see what the interim government’s reasoning could be for allowing Mubarak to go free. Up until this point, the military had successfully co-opted public opinion in their fight against the Muslim Brotherhood. In releasing Mubarak from jail, they risk alienating nationalist protestors who have been their largest base of support so far.  One shudders to think of the violence that could ensue if the nationalist protestors turn on the military and receive a response similar to what the Muslim Brotherhood has gotten.

Now all eyes should be on Tahrir. It is impossible for the protestors to ignore the counter-revolution anymore.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Really, Peace Talks now? Yes! …well…maybe.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinians (though not, importantly, Hamas) have tentatively agreed to resume the first direct peace talks since 2010. Already, this agreement has generated praise and criticism, despite the fact that very few of its details are actually known. Already, there is speculation as to who will be on Kerry’s peace-making team. Already, not four days after the announcement, pessimists and optimists are penning articles predicting the outcomes of the entire negotiations process.

Then we found out that this happened.

It’s at times like these that the foreign policy community might benefit from collectively stepping back and taking a deep breath.

The reality is this: little is known about what if anything was actually agreed to. Some prisoners might be released but we don’t know how many or when.  There was almost certainly some discussion of borders, though again we can only speculate about who promised what.

In the end, we should be surprised that there was any announcement concerning the talks at all. On face value, none of the political players involved have much to gain by engaging in serious negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu is barely able to maintain control over an increasingly unruly cabinet at a time when domestic Israeli politics are so chaotic that even the election of the Chief Rabbi has become bitter. At the same time, President Abbas faces his own domestic challenges and may not speak for enough of the Palestinian people to be able to legitimately offer or accept a deal for peace. Clearly, this isn’t an ideal time for talking about solutions…

But is there or will there ever be a good time to make peace? Given the regional environment, it’s hard to imagine how an opportune moment could possibly arise on its own. It seems that Sec. Kerry has realized that, contrary to the claims of some, the time for the two-state solution (or any solution for that matter) isn’t running out – time has to be made for it.

Sec. Kerry is attempting to create an opportunity for peace talks where one didn’t previously exist. This is certainly an innovative approach – one that I imagine will confuse and confound the majority of us as it takes shape. So rather than heap praise or scorn on every development in this process, let’s try to understand the process so that we can actually recognize success or failure when it happens.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Revisiting Piracy in the Gulf of Aden

Yesterday’s sentencing of 9 Somali pirates to 5 years in jail in Kenya went largely unnoticed in American media circles. This is not particularly surprising, given the exceptional decrease in piracy in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden in recent years. Let’s take a look into how this has happened.

East African Piracy became a serious concern for the international community in 2008, when there was a sudden spike in pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden. Driven by instability in their home country and declining fish yields, Somali fishermen began attacking the high-traffic shipping lanes that run off the coast of Somalia. They attacked 111 ships, successfully pirating 42, and earned ransoms of up to $3 million per ship. These attacks increased in frequency and success for the next 3 years and peaked in 2011, a year in which they earned approximately $146 million in ransoms on 25 hijacks (or $4.87 million per ship).

Since 2011, however, attacks have steadily decreased with only a handful of successful hijackings. In 2012, there were only 5 successfully pirated ships resulting from 35 attacks. In 2013, there have been only 3 attacks and each one has been thwarted. Not only are pirates failing to capture their targets, but they are also bringing in less money. Pirates received only $31.75 million in ransoms during 2012. Today, East African pirates are in control of just two hijacked ships (both taken in late 2012) and a total of 54 hostages.

            This decrease is attributable to a number of factors; however, it is clear that the efforts of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) are the main reasons for the decline of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Under the authority of a number of UN Security Council Continuing Resolutions, this group of 29 countries has used a combination of aerial monitoring and naval patrols to successfully deter would-be pirates. Through their efforts, hundreds of pirates have been arrested and prosecuted or are awaiting trial.[i] Others have been killed by US Special Forces.

            The rapid success of CTF-151 at curtailing piracy off the coast of East Africa is certainly impressive. It demonstrates just how effective international security cooperation can be and provides a model for states interested in working together to defend the international order from destabilizing forces.

Despite the successes of CTF-151 in East Africa, the problems of piracy still threaten the global economy. The Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca have become the newest hotbed of piracy. There were over 130 incidents of piracy and sea robbery in this region each year from 2009-2012.

Nearly 20% of global sea trade occurs in the Indian Ocean and 15.2 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Malacca each day. Simply put, the global economy cannot afford to allow piracy to expand in this crucial region. Yet, it is happening.

            Given the exemplary model of CTF-151, one might be inclined to call for a new anti-piracy task force for Southeast Asia. Yet, more task forces may not be the answer.

The UN mandate for CTF-151 strictly defines and limits its area of operation to the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Moreover, the Indian Ocean is a dividing line within the American military between CENTCOM and PACOM. Pirates in Southeast Asia are simply taking advantage of these arbitrary divisions. By operating along the “seams” of administrative jurisdiction, pirates are able to attack their targets with very little risk of capture and prosecution.

Given that these pirates seem to be attacking these vulnerable seams in the global security regimes, the appropriate response would seem to be to create more flexible systems for dealing with mobile threats. In my next post, I hope to examine some of the potential strategies that governments are considering employing to overcome these obstacles to freedom of navigation.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Young and Reckless

Many commentators have looked at the effect of youth bulges on the revolutions that swept through the Middle East and North Africa region in recent years. Combined with high levels of unemployment, the large amount of youth in Arab countries has led to a persistent instability. Of course there are other factors involved, but one would be hard pressed to say that population dynamics aren’t critical to ongoing events.

But what has been happening since the revolution took hold in various countries? At least in Egypt, the problem only seems to be getting worse. During the Mubarak era, Egypt generally saw a wavering trend line – a slight bump here, a slight decline there – that seems to have held relatively steady. However, in 2012 birthrates soared to 32 for every 1,000 people, which equaled the 1991 rate extant prior to the imposition of family planning campaigns during Mubarak’s reign. Whereas the Mubarak government viewed economics and demographics as linked, the Morsy government tends to either prevaricate and not tackle the problem via policy or to view this the instability as a strictly economic one.

Importantly, there may also be a connection between democratization capabilities and demographic time bombs. Richard Cincotta, of the Stimson Center, notes:

“Since 1970, for a country within the demographic arc of instability (often referred to as a “youth-bulge country”), the risk of intra-state conflict has been 2.5 times, or higher, than on the outside. At any one time, intra-state conflicts inside the arc outnumber those outside the arc by an average of nine to one. Perhaps more surprisingly, after a state’s population matures, and after its internal armed conflicts have been settled, it tends to leave behind much of the risk of an intra-state conflict.”

While one should be cautious of any certainty here, this does imply that Egypt’s ongoing population explosion will make further conflict more likely and thus inhibit Egypt’s democratization project. Of course there are other factors involved, but this certainly will not make things any easier on Egypt going forward.

Perhaps Egypt should look to the example of Iran. During the 1980’s Iran experienced a huge population boom, partly as a result of the desire for more children during the war years. In the 1990’s, however, Iran instituted one of the most successful family planning regimes in history. To give a rundown:

“After the war with Iraq in 1988, the government realized that rapid population growth was a hindrance to development and subsequently called for the establishment of a national family planning program. In December 1989, the revived family planning program was inaugurated with three major goals: 1) encourage spacing of 3-4 years between pregnancies; 2) discourage pregnancies among women aged under 18 and over 35 years; and 3) limit family size to 3 children. In May 1993, a law was passed that included disincentive penalties for couples who had more than 3 children. According to the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (1989-97), there was an increased use of contraceptives among married women, and the total fertility rate (TFR) dropped from 5.2 to 2.6 children. Moreover, Iran’s 1996 census showed a total population of 60.6 million with an average annual growth rate of 1.5% over the previous 5-year period.”

Clearly these trends are reversible via good policy. Iran was capable of completely turning its trajectory around. Yes, Iran still suffers a youth bulge due to the prior birth explosion, but the effects have been significantly mitigated.

Will Egypt be able to chart a similar trajectory? Only time will tell.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.