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Apogee of MSM Hyperbole on Global Conflict - Aleppo Battle as "Mini World War"

PERCEPTIONS MATTER WHEN IT COMES TO RESILIENCE – A RATHER NIETZSCHEAN CONCEPT IN AND OF ITSELF (DIFFICULT SITUATIONS FOSTERING SKILL-GROWTH).  One cannot be a Chicken Little and resilient, as problems must be examined with a clear eye toward their scale and surmount-ability. You can't be squealing "game over! game over!" into the camera lens and expect to foster anything but panic – the white flag of resilience.

History, of course, says otherwise. In my lifetime, which began on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, we've seen wars growing less frequent, shorter, and less lethal. And not by a little bit, mind you, but by a lot. I could throw a ton of stats and sites at you, but the chart above demonstrates the history awfully well. Mind you, that's battle deaths per 100,000 people.  With numbers that just go up through 2013 (of course, they're increasing since then!), we see that the battle death rate, while rising from the early-2000s supreme low of less-than-one-person(!)-per-100,000 to the "disturbing" almost-one-person(!!)-per-100,000, is still lower than virtually all of history since WWII (only the "chaotic" year of 1996 – sarcasm mine – compares, and that was the most peaceful year since 1954, or before decolonialization began).

What else the chart tells us:

  • The "unprecedented" disasters of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were . . . to be frank, minor compared to the 1990s, which we all collectively remember as being an awfully quiet decade outside of a handful of conflicts/disasters (Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, central Africa).
  • The 1990s themselves were far more quiet than the 1980s, which seemed bad only in comparison to the quiet shadow created by the Indochina wars of the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Those 1960s/early 70s Southeast Asian wars were bad compared to the quiet 1950s (when we only feared total nuclear annihilation – sigh!).
  • But Vietnam etc. was quite a come-down from the scary and destabilized post-WWII/Korean War segment.

What you don't see on the chart:  World War II stretching over roughly a decade and killing - on average - 15,000 people a day for well over 3,500 days.  That, my friends, was a world war.

So, imagine my surprise as an expert on conflict/international relations/global trends to see WAPO this morning declare the battle for a single city in Syria to constitute a "mini world war."

Why mini? Well, I'm guessing that a death rate of 150/day (my best estimate using a lot of other estimates) is a big part of it. That's actually quite high for a war nowadays, because most experts will label any conflict with an average of 3 deaths/per day (1,000+ for year) to be a "war."  But when your last true world war yielded a death rate 100-times higher, even "mini" seems like a wild exaggeration.

No, the reason why WAPO embraces this sort of reckless hyperbole is because Russia is now in the mix, sending Cold War-like chills down our collective spines. Naturally, this raises old fears of "escalation" – presumably to global nuclear war.

Except neither side is talking that, or acting that, or anything-ing that.

Instead, the great "evidence" cited in the piece (besides some self-serving observations by a security contractor working the conflict) is Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev dropping hints in Europe this week about a new, Cold War-like dynamic between Russia and the West.

The great cause there? Obviously, Russia's land grab of the Crimea and the easter portion of Ukraine (the former formally, the latter informally).  That led to the West placing a lot of economic sanctions on a Russian economy already faltering and now nosediving in terms of its number-one export – energy, thanks to historically low global prices.

So, what does Russia seek with its military intervention in Syria? To prove it's a "dominant" Middle Eastern power, as the story's author opines? Well, a relevant power is a less screechy expression.

But try this alternative explanation on for size: Russia is hurting from the sanctions and needs to come in from the economic "cold" imposed on it by the West over Ukraine. But how to do it? Why not intervene in a place of high global interest, one which the U.S. is lowballing in terms of effort? All of a sudden, look how important Moscow is to the "peace process"! And if Moscow is seen as holding enough of the cards on the Assad regime, maybe asking for its help there will be matched by the West forgetting its transgressions in Ukraine.

Sound like a "mini world war" to you?  Or just the cantina scene from the original Star Wars movie?

Syria is a civil war. Civil wars today tend to get internationalized (all those characters in various uniforms in the cantina ...). We lament that development, but, let me remind you what we used to call states where conflicts raged and nobody from the outside showed up. Those we called "failed states" back in the 1990s. We still have a few now (same 1-2 dozen out of roughly 200 states in the world). But, if, by and large, few outsiders show up, those conflicts that have "failed" to attract any serious global attention are simply forgotten. So maybe we should call them "forgotten states."

Syria is not a forgotten state. A lot of regional and a few extra-regional powers are interested. Are they interested enough to stop the conflict? Not really. Are they interested enough to stop the conflict from going against their side? Just barely.

But should we look at that and invoke the imagery of a world war?

That is just shameful fear-mongering on the part of WAPO trying to sell your eyeballs to their advertisers.  The paper is simply repurposing Medvedev's propaganda as deep insight: he peddles "new Cold War" to amp up the West's sense of danger, hopefully (from Moscow's perspective) rendering the Obama Administration more amenable to compromise on Ukraine. WAPO knee-jerkedly transmutes that bit of diplomatic salesmanship into a "mini world war" on Aleppo. (You say Sarajevo, I say Aleppo, oh let's call this world war off!)

Scared? You're supposed to be. The Syrian Civil War is a genuine human tragedy, but re-packaging it as a "mini world war" is just inaccurate-bordering-on-journalistically-negligent.

Is this picking on WAPO? Absolutely, but only because I respect the paper so much and constantly cite it here in this blog. Frankly, its editorial staff should know better.

Again, the larger point here is maintaining perspective, because, when we lose it, we become brittle as individuals, decision-makers, leaders, and nations. Brittle, scared actors make bad choices; they do stupid things. They lash out because they imagine it to be the only option left, after issuing over-the-top threats . . . typically in response to hyperbolic media coverage (see debates in US presidential race for way too many examples).

So no, it's not all the fault of the media, although they start the process. They just give us what we want, which is fear. Nowadays we seem to collectively crave fear of complexity and chaos and uncertainty – the holy trinity of fear-mongers everywhere.

But do yourself a favor and don't buy any of it, because fear is the mind-killer - the little death, and the ultimate enemy of resilience.



Time' Battleland: National Security - Hunting Down Bad Guys: China vs. the U.S.

A pair of ostensibly unrelated New York Times‘ stories recently jumped out at me.

Understand, the paper itself made no attempt to link the two.

What struck me was just how calmly the Times reported 3,000 (!) targeted assassinations by the Obama Administration since 2009, after rather breathlessly noting - just days before – China’s “hard-nosed display of the government’s political and economic clout across Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.”

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


The long war: same as it ever was - same as it ever was

And you might find yourself in a beautiful dynamic (Arab Spring), with a beautiful ally (French) ...

And you may ask yourself, How did I get here?

The French did God's work in Mali:  cleared out the nutcases who went medieval on the north during their year of ruling dangerously.

But with the "clear" comes responsibility to "hold" (nay, even to "build") and now the locals naturally fear the return of the AQIM-affiliated types who imposed their version of 7th-century morality over the past year or so.

With France planning to start withdrawing its troops from Mali next month, Western and African officials are increasingly concerned that the African soldiers who will be relied on to continue the campaign against militants linked to Al Qaeda there do not have the training or equipment for the job.

The heaviest fighting so far, which has driven the militants out of the towns and cities of northeastern Mali, has been borne by French and Chadian forces, more or less alone. Those forces are now mostly conducting patrols in the north, while troops sent by Mali’s other regional allies, including Nigeria and Senegal, have been slow to arrive and have focused on peacekeeping rather than combat, prompting grumbles from Chad’s president, Idriss Déby Itno.

The outcome of the fighting in Mali carries major implications not only for France, but also for the Obama administration, which is worried that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other militant groups could retain a smaller but enduring haven in remote mountain redoubts in the Malian desert.

To help the French, the United States began flying unarmed surveillance drones over the region last month from a new base in Niger. And the administration has spent more than $550 million over the past four years to help train and equip West African armies to fight militants so that the Pentagon would not have to. But critics contend that the United States seems to have little to show for that effort. 

Turning Mali’s own fractured army into a cohesive and effective force would entail “a huge amount of work,” according to Brig. Gen. Francois Lecointre of France, who is leading the effort to retrain Mali’s Army. As if to underscore the point, a group of Malian troops briefly abandoned their posts recently and fired shots in the air to demand a deployment bonus.

Here in the southeastern corner of Mauritania, about 100 miles from the border with Mali, an exercise conducted this month by the United States military to train African armies to foil ambushes, raid militant hide-outs and win over local populations offered the administration more reasons for worry, as well as some encouraging signs.

The exercise offered a rare glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of several of the African armies that are poised to help take over the mission in Mali. In a few weeks, the United Nations Security Council is expected to decide whether to authorize a peacekeeping force for Mali and how to compose it.

France, we are told, will leave behind a small unit of headhunters - counter-terror personnel.  And then there's always America's "limited regret" drones (the gun that's settling the Gap), but we all know that this is temporizing the situation (think back to Ignatius' latest lament on the lack of a SysAdmin-like force).  This is why I continue to rail (per my recent piece in Foreign Policy) against retreating to renewed fantasies of great power war as a means of denying the strategic reality still lying out there.

We can most definitely choose to low-ball our responses to such events; we just don't need to blame it on the Chinese, who are - oddly enough - most incentivized to likewise deal with such enduring instabilities.


Time's Battleland: TERRORISM - Minority Report has finally arrived

Read it and weep:  "Memo Cites Legal Basis for Killing U.S. Citizen in Al Qaeda."

As a U.S. citizen, the government can now kill you in advance of your actually committing a crime - simply by knowing that you are likely to act in a dangerous manner.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


The global security system's latest "gap"

New location, old story.

Been saying for about a decade now that Long War eventually migrates to Central Asia (less likely) and Africa (more likely), because it's "losing proposition" would eventually wear out its welcome in the Middle East (latest version now unfolding in Syria).  Will it succeed in Africa?  Only in the harshest locations above and around the tenth parallel that divides a predominately Muslim north ("cowboy" in American parlance, which sounds better than "herder") and a predominately Christian/animist south ("farmer" or any location-fixed economic activity). These two characters have never been friends anywhere and anytime in this world - no matter what Rodgers and Hammerstein said.

What is the dynamic we see?  We see a crisis du jour (Tuaregs in North Mali) attract co-ethnic mercenaries with nothing to do after Libya (and flush with small arms).  We also see an extremist Islamic uptick as an identity unifier.  Then, to no surprise, al-Qaeda shows up.  Where is this place?  Unbelievably remote.  Hillary Clinton called it "one of the remotest places in the world." (How many times have we heard that?).

Next, the words "save haven" pop up and we have a Western intervention seguing into all the usual insurgency/counterinsurgency dynamics.  The Long War doesn't go away because America takes most of its "ball" and goes home (or to East Asia); it merely keeps shifting location - as it has done for a couple of decades now (check out AQ Central's many addresses over the years - all garden spots).

This is the small-wars world we live in (subject of my upcoming "think again" piece in Foreign Policy).  We can get all jacked about China but, quite frankly, that's a self-liquidating problem (China's slowdown and other internal contradictions, plus the natural security balancing in East Asia like Japan moving to spend more on defense and logically go nuclear eventually).  

America thinks it's in charge of all this, so when we decide the "decade of wars is over" (Obama), then by God, they're over - right?  No American troops, no headlines (that matter) and no wars (that count).  Instead, we now "stand up" to those dastardly Chinese because it fits our fiscal fights and the Pentagon's need to find a distant and relatively benign "floor" to its budget ("Let's plan for an imaginary super-cool high-tech war with the Chinese so we can buy stuff like crazy - or as crazy as Congress will let us be for now.").  Thus we "heal the force" by getting rid of bodies (personnel) and restocking our toys.  China is the perfect cold-war-like foe for that. Chances of real war?  Virtually zero.  But, man, what a force sizer! (Actually not so good, but you make do with what you have in tough times, right?).

And meanwhile, the Long War keeps unfolding.  No argument on Obama's symmetricizing the fight (our SOF v. their terrorists), but since we're no longer in the business of "healing post-conflict societies/nations/etc" because in the past we insisted on doing it all ourselves (and all our own way) and that's too costly now (plus, we could never cooperate with those dastardly Chinese), those places just get shot up by our SOF and drone and get left with the smoking holes.  If these places are lucky, there's something for the Chinese to come in and extract.  If not, they are simply left behind by an uncaring world that will show up to kill bad guys and nothing else.

This is Colin Powell's dream world; no wonder he admires Obama so:  "I'm just here to kill bad guys and when there are no more bad guys to kill, I move on."  That's the Powell Doctrine in a nutshell (insert "overwhelming force" HERE).

But Obama is the great peacemaker.  We know this because he has a medal to prove it.  He stops America's over-stretched ambitions on nation-building and replaces it with worldwide targeted assassinations, and we are pleased with his wisdom.  But his total lack of caring for what happens next in those places where the smoking holes are all we leave behind?

History will judge that as both strategically unwise and incredibly cruel.

"Lead from behind" is a brilliantly descriptive phrase.


WSJ: "Terror Fight Shifts to Africa" (I told you so . . . in 2005)

Front-page story on the 7th of December, with subtitle "U.S. Considers Seeking Permission for Military Operations Against Extremists."

This is what I wrote in the early part of 2005, published in October of that year in Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating:

CENTCOM’s AOR encompasses the Persian Gulf area extending from Israel all the way to Pakistan, the Central Asian republics formerly associated with the Soviet Union, and the horn of Africa (from Egypt down to Somalia). This is clearly the center of the universe as far as the global war on terrorism is concerned, and yet viewing that war solely in the context of that region alone is a big mistake, one that could easily foul up America’s larger grand strategic goals of defeating terrorism worldwide and making globalization truly global. Here’s why: CENTCOM’s area of responsibility features three key seams, or boundaries, between that collection of regions and the world outside. Each seam speaks to both opportunities and dangers that lie ahead, as well as to how crucial it is that Central Command’s version of the war on terrorism stays in sync with the rest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The first seam lies to the south, or sub-Saharan Africa. This is the tactical seam, meaning that in day-to-day terms, there’s an awful lot of connectivity between that region and CENTCOM’s AOR. That connectivity comes in the form of transnational terrorist networks that extend from the Middle East increasingly into sub-Saharan Africa, making that region sort of the strategic retreat of al Qaeda and its subsidiaries. As Central Command progressively squeezes those networks within its area of responsibility, the Middle East’s terrorists increasingly establish interior lines of communication between themselves and other cells in Africa, as Africa becomes the place where supplies, funds (especially in terms of gold), and people are stashed for future use. Africa risks becoming Cambodia to the Middle East’s Vietnam, a place where the enemy finds respite when it gets too hot inside the main theater of combat. Central Asia presents the same basic possibility, but that’s something that CENTCOM can access more readily because it lies within its area of responsibility, while sub-Saharan Africa does not. Instead, distant European Command owns that territory in our Unified Command Plan, a system constructed in another era for another enemy. Those vertical, north-south slices of geographic commands were lines to be held in an East-West struggle, but today our enemies tend to roam horizontally across the global map, turning the original logic of that command plan on its head.

Central Command’s challenge, then, is to figure out how to connect these two regions in such a way as to avoid having Africa become the off-grid hideout for al Qaeda and others committed to destabilizing the Middle East. By definition, such a goal is beyond CENTCOM’s pay grade, or rank, because it’s a high-level political decision to engage sub-Saharan Africa on this issue—in effect, widening the war. And yet solving this boundary condition is essential to winning the struggle in the Middle East. What the Core-Gap model provides Central Command is a way of describing the problem by noting that transnational terrorism’s resistance to globalization’s creeping embrace of the Middle East won’t simply end with our successful transformation of the region. No, that struggle will inevitably retreat deeper inside the Gap, or to sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is this observation important? It’s important because it alerts the military to the reality that success in this war won’t be defined by less terrorism but by a shifting of its operational center of gravity southward, from the Middle East to Africa. That’s the key measure of effectiveness. Achieving this geographic shift will mark our success in the Middle East, but it will also buy us the follow-on effort in Africa. You want America to care more about security in Africa? Then push for a stronger counterterrorism strategy in the Middle East, because that’s the shortest route between those two points.

Ultimately, you’re faced with the larger, inescapable requirement of having to connect Africa to the Core to run this problem to ground, otherwise today’s problem for CENTCOM simply becomes tomorrow’s distant problem for EUCOM. When you make that leap of logic, the next decision gets a whole lot easier: America needs to stand up an African Command. Now, I know that sounds like a huge expansion of our strategic “requirements,” but when you consider the boundary conditions in this way, the discussion shifts from if to when.

The WSJ says the Obama Administration is thinking about asking Congress for expanded hunting authority to likely include Mali, Nigeria, Libia and others.  The focus is naturally al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) expanded geographic reach.

AFRICOM was authorized a little over a year after my book came out. I'm not drawing a line of causality- just pointing out I got it right.

What I got wrong about Africa back then was the speed: I saw this fight shifting over a much longer time and I saw globalization's successful embrace of Africa taking much longer.  In short, my combined optimism/pessimism was simply too slow.


Africa: investments and insurgents

Pair of WSJ stories:  first one on Carlyle Group joining the list of private equity firms rushing in with yet another Sub-Saharan Fund; and second on EU debating whether to fund a cohort of West African states looking to combat the radical Islamic militias that have taken over northern Mali with the intention of setting up their own separate state.

The combination is - to me - telling of that dynamic of rapid frontier integration that I'm always going on about.

Africa is, of course, not really a frontier in a settling sense, but it is one in a globalization-investment-trade sense.  And when you're a frontier in that sense, it's not surprising to see both dynamics in play, as the "rush" of connectivity creates its own blowback (the central theme of my books).

From the first piece:

The investments, and Carlyle's nascent Sub-Saharan Fund, targeted at $500 million, show how private-equity firms are trying to position themselves to tap into the continent's new consumers as well as companies that are expanding on the back of demand for food and energy from the rest of the world.  Competition among global rivals is heating up in Africa, as investment returns diminish in more developed parts of the world.

From the second piece:

West Africa countries are trying to set up the force to help Mali to regain control of its northern half, which is under the sway of the al Qaeda affiliate, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.  The nations say northern Malie is becoming a haven for violent groups that live off kidnapping and trafficking as well as a training ground for terrorists who could destabilize the whole region.

I mean, seriously, I bet I could find you similar stories in U.S. East Coast newspapers from 1870-something that describe new funds and new military efforts being launched for the American West.

The speed of both dynamics is, in terms relative to even our recent past, rather stunning.  The worst thing I wrote in The Pentagon's New Map concerned my pessimism over Africa's future.  I just had the whole thing taking far longer than it is.

And that's a real lesson for me.


(WPR Feature) Skipping Out on the Bill: Obama's Cost-Free Drone Wars

Thanks to the Obama administration’s aggressive use of classified leaks to the press, we are encouraged to believe that President Barack Obama has engineered a revolutionary shift in both America’s geopolitical priorities and our military means of pursuing those ends. As re-election sales jobs go, it presses lukewarm-button issues, but it does so ably. But since foreign policy has never been the president’s focus, we should in turn recognize these maneuvers for what they truly are: an accommodation with inescapable domestic realities, one that at best postpones and at worst sabotages America’s needed geostrategic adjustment to a world co-managed with China and India.

Read the entire article at World Politics Review.


The struggle continues to unfold across Africa

Interesting op-ed in the WSJ over the weekend, from a writer who writes frequently for the paper.

The recent spate of attacks on Muslim historic and religious sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu calls to mind the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan over a decade ago. The Taliban, of course, were obliterating the icons of a rival religion, as they saw it. The Salafist militias that have lately overrun Timbuktu and Mali are obliterating a rival tradition within their own faith . . .

Such incidents have now become a global phenomenon. In effect, primitive iconoclastic strains of tribal Islam have burst out of their historical isolation on the margins of civilization and coalesced globally to attack the more cosmopolitan, syncretistic and culturally advanced centers of their faith.

To Western minds, Mali denotes the most marginal of places in the African desert. But it is home to African Islam . . . 

This is the new power topography of the Muslim geosphere. Oil money has funded extremist madrassas, or religious schools, to propagate a stripped-down, one-size-fits all ideology precisely suited for pollination across impoverished regions such as Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Pakistani-Afghan border and the like. With money and threats, this international extremist franchise has targeted peaceful Muslim lands where the faith had blended with local customs or become more cosmopolitan through contact with other cultures. Places, in other words, where Islam had lost its aggression and exclusivity.

Today, radicalized imams from the outside infiltrate such places and rebuke the natives for their superstitions and weakness, their relaxed and idolatrous ways. Few can resist the irruption of money and guns legitimized by a virulent Quranic rhetoric, however pious they may be.

Some of the oldest communities in Islam, loosely categorized as Sufi for their mystical bent and ecstatic rituals often involving dance and music, have come under attack . . . 

In the radical worldview, violence furnishes the litmus test: All authentic Muslims are jihadists, or holy warriors. The addition of anti-imperialism to the religious ideological mix happened under the Afghan resistance to the Russian occupation. Anti-imperialism has become so central to radical Islam's message and appeal that these days any fellow Muslim daring to demur gets branded a foreign agent.

Yet the real imperialists, the outsiders bent on conquest and control, are the radicals themselves . . . 

Been a projection of mine going back through all three books:  the Mideast middle-ages, going from a median age of about 22 to one in the early-mid 30s by the 2030s.  We are watching that journey now unfold with the Arab Spring.  So the question has long been:  where does the Salafist impulse go?

Two "bottom billion" pools:  interior Africa and Central Asia.  Basically fake states in both instances, created by outsiders.  That artificiality makes the political situation brittle enough for enough money and guns to matter.  

I've never been a betting man regarding Central Asia:  too many great powers too eager to snuff out that situation.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was basically created for this purpose.

Africa doesn't offer rich soil in terms of the local Muslim, who tend to be, as the op-ed points out, moderate in just about all ways.  But I never predicted Africa was suffer this problem because of the nature of Islam there.  the problem is the weakness of the states to deflect the impulse.

That's why America created Africom - in a nutshell.  I know people want to paint the oil, but that's a weak attractor and it flows pretty much no matter what (hasn't exactly stopped out of the PG, has it these past 3 decades?).

No, I don't think radical Islam wins in Africa.  I just think it'll be the last great fight - and it won't go quickly.


WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Must Engage With World Beyond Security Threats

Thanks to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the two wars they spawned, it seemed like the near entirety of President George W. Bush’s two terms in office were characterized by efforts to define, harness and exploit fear. Despite living in the most peaceful, prosperous and predictable period in world history, Americans became convinced that they faced an unending era of war, impoverishment and chaos. That muddled mindset put us painfully out of touch with the rest of the planet.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Iran crossing a line on attacks inside the US?

You've probably heard the reports coming over the various "wires."  Here's a link to ABC's version

Gist:  FBI and DEA (yes, the DEA!) say they disrupted an Iran sponsored plot to attack Saudi and Israeli diplomatic reps/buildings in Washington.  Naturally, if true, this would be a major-league line-crossing by Tehran, which has always been fairly "correct" - if such a term can be used here - in its anti-West/US/Israeli terrorism, meaning Iran has typically displayed a certain recognition that these targets will get you that indirect response from your opponents while those targets will place you in serious jeopardy of a direct response. Again, if true, these plots are of the level that can easily trigger some serious direct responses.

As way of background, here's a statement on these developments from a colleague of mine, Michael Smith. I repost in full with his permission. You will remember Mike from a piece we co-wrote on Syria a while back for WPR. I also wrote about Mike's report (mentioned again below) in another WPR column.

Statement from Kronos Principal and Gray Area Phenomena Subject Matter Expert Michael S. Smith II*


Regarding the linkage of the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force to the terror plot targeting embassies located in Washington, DC

*Entered into the Congressional Record on September 23, 2011 by U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan, in April 2011 Kronos Principal Michael S. Smith II presented members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus a report on Iran’s ties to al-Qa’ida and Affiliated movements titled “The al-Qa’ida Qods Force Nexus.” A redacted version of this report is now available online.


The Qods Force (QF) is an elite and clandestine special operations unit nominally within the command of the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). QF is Tehran’s top ambassador to the realm of Islamist terrorism. Its commanders serve as chief liaisons between the Government of Iran and organizations like Hizballah (which was formed with substantial support from the IRGC), as well as the leaders of Sunni militant groups such as Core al-Qa’ida and the Afghan Taliban. 

Operating globally, QF was created with a mandate to bolster the development and operations of Islamist terrorist groups that target Iran’s enemies in the Middle East and beyond. To that end, and frequently in collaboration with Hizballah — which has developed a substantial presence in Latin America and the Caribbean — QF provides financial, training, and tactical support to these groups, several of which are responsible for hundreds of attacks targeting American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

QF commanders report directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamene’i, the top official among the most powerful cadre of government officials in Iran:  The Islamic Republic’s “unelected” theocratic leaders who do not rely on the popular vote to secure their positions of authority. QF purportedly maintains such a secretive existence that few Iranian government officials are aware of its membership numbers, which are assessed to range between 2,000 – 20,000. Its ranks are said to be comprised of Iran’s most highly skilled special operations and intelligence officers. High-profile officials affiliated with QF include Iran’s current minister of defense, Ahmad Vahidi, who previously served as a commander of this paramilitary unit and is known to have a decades-long relationship with Core al-Qa’ida Commander Ayman al-Zawahiri.

As noted in my April 2011 report on the Qods Force’s ties to al-Qa’ida for members of the United States Congress:  According to the U.S. Department of Defense, QF has been “involved in or behind some of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the past 2 decades.”1 QF was behind the two U.S. Embassy truck bombings in Beirut, the 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 U.S. soldiers, and most of the foreign hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and early 1990s. It is also known to have directed Saudi based Hizballah al-Hijaz, an organization created by the IRGC, to plan attacks against Americans. This directive is said to have manifest the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers that killed 19 Americans and wounded another 372. An attack which authors of the 9/11 Commission Report suggested al-Qa’ida may have played a role in.

Statement Regarding Allegations of QF Involvement

It would be highly unusual for Qods Force operatives to be involved in such an operation as the recently uncovered plot targeting facilities and foreign officials in Washington, DC without the knowledge and consent of the Supreme Leader of Iran. Moreover, given the president of Iran’s ties to the IRGC, in which he previously served as an officer, coupled with his efforts to elevate IRGC officials’ roles in the Iranian government since he was first elected president, it is reasonable to speculate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have been apprised of such a plot.

If the Qods Force is indeed involved with the plot to bomb embassies based in Washington, DC this would represent a substantial and very alarming shift in Tehran’s use of terrorism as an instrument of the Islamic Republic’s foreign statecraft. Historically — although the Government of Iran vis-à-vis QF and its terrorist proxies has targeted American interests in the Middle East and South Asia — the Government of Iran has typically avoided involvement in plots targeting the U.S. Homeland. (Note:  A lawsuit in which plaintiffs assert the Government of Iran was involved with the 9/11 plot was recently initiated in a U.S. court.)


USG national security managers and policy makers should take Iran’s alleged involvement in this plot just as seriously, perhaps more so, than similar plots to strike the U.S. Homeland spearheaded by al-Qa’ida and Affiliated Movements. 

During the past three decades, Washington has failed to take appropriate action in responses to Iran’s involvement in successful terror plots that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of American troops, as well as American civilians. And additional economic sanctions will only strengthen the Government of Iran, which in recent years has transformed the country from a theocratic state into a garrison enterprise by enabling the IRGC to acquire substantial stakes in virtually all important sectors of the country.

If the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force was behind this recent terror plot, failure to issue a forceful response will only empower the Government of Iran in its all too well-known pursuits of opportunities to inflict harm on Americans and our allies. This, as Tehran is dangerously dabbling with the development of nuclear capabilities. 

If investigators have indeed confirmed the Qods Force played a collusive role in this plot, officials would be well advised to regard this as an (attempted) act of war.

Kronos is a strategic advisory firm established in 2011 by Medal of Honor recipient MajGen James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret) and Congressional counter-terrorism advisor Michael S. Smith II — online at

Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran. U.S. Department of Defense. April 2010. Online via 

Coverage of The al-Qa’ida-Qods Force Nexus report was produced in May by the following news organizations:

Agence France-Presse (AFP) “Report Highlights Alleged Iran Force’s al Qaeda Links” (4 May 2011)
Link to report:

The Jerusalem Post “U.S. congressional report:  Iran offering support to al-Qaida” (5 May 2011)
Link to report:

Al Arabiya “Report from Congressional panel says Iran’s Revolutionary Guard helps Al-Qaeda” (5 May 2011)
Link to report:


Time's Battleland: Arab Spring with same impact as "big bang strategy": Islam at war with self - not West


Nice piece in the NYT at the end of September pointing out that the primary impact of the Arab Spring is that, in giving people chances to rule themselves and not be subject to dictators, Islamic activists find themselves splintering from within . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: AFRICOM gets seriously . . . nasty

In 2007, I wrote the first definitive piece for Esquire on the kernel code for Africom: namely, the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. Back then, I described it as essentially a non-kinetic force, or no "trigger pullers." But the piece led off with a quick summary of a special ops event that occurred in conjunction with Ethiopia's military intervention in Somalia. So when the deputy commander of CJTF-HOA said that the command had "never fired a shot in anger," he was being truthful in a bureaucratic sense. Back then, HOA didn't kill bad guys on the Horn, SOCCENT [Special Operations Command, Central Command] killed bad guys on the Horn.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: When the machine world attacks

Coming to a theater near them

Interesting WAPO piece today on advances in drone technology, the basic line being, we're not all that far from drones doing their killing on their own. Story leads with a description of a successful test wherein drones communicate with each other and zero in on a colored object. You can easily do the extrapolation to face-recognition technology . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


WPR's The New Rules: The Rise of the Rest Spells U.S. Strategic Victory

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has garnered America almost as much schadenfreude from the world as the original events did. Back in 2001, the line was that we had it coming to us for lording it over the world since the Cold War's end. Today, it takes the form of writing off our alleged "hegemony" in light of the shifts in global power over the intervening decade, a claim that is as absurd the previous one was insulting. Naturally, the Chinese are celebrated as our presumed replacement. So, as always throughout our history as a superpower, we're being treated to "sophisticated" analysis that says America fought the war, but they -- our next security obsession -- won the peace.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Time's Battleland: Follow-Up on African Christian-Muslim Fault Line Post

Good book on the observation of a religious fault line between the predominantly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian/other south of Africa:

"Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam" by Eliza Griswold.

Find the book here on Amazon.

Find the NYT review here.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: An explosive glimpse of the future of the long war in Africa

The militant Islamic group of north Nigeria, known as Boko Harum, takes credit for the deadly car-bomb attack on a police station in the capital city of Abuja yesterday.

You might not think of West Africa as a likely site for radical Muslim violence, but the map on the left, which I use in my current "global futures" brief, may clear things up a bit when you hear about this, the recent north-south election standoff in Ivory Coast, or al-Shabaab violence extending over to Uganda.

Read more at Time's Battleland blog.


Time's Battleland: Might al-Zawahiri's al-Qa'ida come to view future nuclear power Iran as THE perfect sanctuary?

This post was co-generated with Michael S. Smith II of the strategic advisory firm Kronos

As al-Qa'ida leaders the world over signal their intent to stay the course — challenging assumptions that the integrity of their network has been perhaps irreversibly jeopardized by the death of bin Laden — national security managers must remain focused on denying its core leaders a safe base of operations. Meanwhile, due to growing ties between al-Qa'ida's regional network and defense officials in Iran, the strategic dimension of the West's counter-terrorism efforts is likely to grow significantly in the years ahead. Unless Washington is prepared to confront Iran directly on this issue, al-Qa'ida may logically seek to achieve an untouchable strategic sanctuary within a nuclearized Iran.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Counterterror Stance Ain't Broke, So Don't Fix It  

Despite the rush right now to declare important milestones or turning points in the fight against terrorism, the best handle we can get on the situation seems to be that al-Qaida is near dead, but its franchises have quite a bit of life in them. The implied situational uncertainty is to be expected following Osama Bin Laden's assassination, as he was our familiar "handle" on the issue for more than a decade. But although it is normal that we now seek a new, widely accepted paradigm, it is also misguided: In global terms we are, for lack of a better term, in a good place right now on terrorism, meaning we don't need to unduly demote or elevate it in our collective threat priorities. Instead, we need to recognize the "sine wave" we're riding right now and seek no profound rebalancing in our security capabilities -- other than to continue protecting the "small wars" assets that we spent the last decade redeveloping.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Time's Battleland: Drones + biometrics: Weapons that conquer globalization's frontiers

Cool NYT story on the US military's use of biometrics (eye scans, etc.) to create unforgeable identification records of roughly one-in-five fighting-age Iraqi and Afghani males, creating databases that can be perused in seconds by a handheld device at a border crossing. Naturally, there is much interest and some desire to use the same technology here in the States, along with the usual fears of loss of privacy.  Trust me, along with drones, these frontier-settling technologies will most definitely infiltrate our society in coming years, just like the military's Internet and GPS did before.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

I first wrote about this concept in Blueprint for Action in the final chapter called "blogging the future."