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Posts Tagged intelligence
“The European Union Is Not a Security Union is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
In the wake of any shocking event, national governments and officials of the European Union invariably call for more cooperation between member states to prevent anything similar happening in the future. The response to the March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels has been no different.
Following the attacks, the governments of Germany, Italy, France and members of the European Commission demanded a global response to the terrorist threat. The commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, even proposed the creation of a “security union” to combat terrorism at the continental level. In a March 24 meeting, ministers at the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council highlighted the need to share information among member states to fight terrorism. But despite the calls for greater cooperation among EU members, the national interests of individual member states will prevail in the long run, limiting the possibility of integration within the bloc on security issues. Read the rest of this entry »
“Even As Russians Withdraw, Their Legacy in Syria Remains is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
As the departure of Russian forces from Syria announced March 14 continues, evidence of construction at Russia’s main air base in the country demonstrates Moscow’s intention to maintain a military presence there. Imagery dated March 17 acquired by Stratfor of the Bassel al Assad air base in Latakia province and the naval base at Tartus highlights the ongoing Russian drawdown of its forces in Syria that Moscow contends will be largely completed by March 20.
The imagery shows that as of noon local time March 17, more than a quarter of the Russian air group at Bassel al Assad air base had departed Syria. Three Su-34 combat aircraft and a Tu-154 transport plane were the first to leave March 15, followed a day later by all 12 Su-25 ground attack aircraft and a number of Il-76 transport planes. The transport planes carried the mechanics, aircrew and equipment that serviced the combat aircraft. The Russians have indicated that a number of Su-24 aircraft departed March 17, but the imagery indicates that the Su-24 group was still largely in place. It is possible that those Su-24s departed after the imagery was taken. Read the rest of this entry »
“Brussels Attacks Tear at the Fabric of the European Union is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
The March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels come as the European Union is still reeling from the November Paris attacks and scrambling to solve the migrant crisis. More important, they come as nationalist forces are challenging key principles of the Continental bloc, including the free movement of labor and the Schengen Agreement, which eliminated border controls among several member states. The atmosphere of fear and suspicion that is sure to follow will only worsen these social, political and economic crises.
The first outcome of the Brussels attacks will be a fresh round of debate over EU border controls, in particular those in the Schengen zone. The Schengen Agreement came under fire at the start of the migrant crisis in early 2015. The Paris attacks escalated the controversy, particularly because the perpetrators moved between France and Belgium without detection. Consequently, France and other countries enhanced their border controls. The European Commission has since said that it wants all border controls in the Schengen area lifted by the end of 2016. However, the latest attacks — and the potential that more will follow — will make this difficult. Read the rest of this entry »
From The Washington Post:
Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch has been barred from reading, seeing or hearing classified information since November 2013, when the Navy learned from the Justice Department that his name had surfaced in a giant corruption investigation involving a foreign defense contractor and scores of Navy personnel.
Some critics have questioned how smart it is for the Navy to retain an intelligence chief with such limitations, for so long, especially at a time when the Pentagon is confronted by crises in the Middle East, the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and other hotspots.
“The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Editor’s Note: With the war in Syria showing no signs of abating, we republish our Jan. 21, 2014, weekly explaining the complex geopolitics of the conflict.
International diplomats will gather Jan. 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux to hammer out a settlement designed to end Syria’s three-year civil war. The conference, however, will be far removed from the reality on the Syrian battleground. Only days before the conference was scheduled to begin, a controversy threatened to engulf the proceedings after the United Nations invited Iran to participate, and Syrian rebel representatives successfully pushed for the offer to be rescinded. The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful.
There are good reasons for deep skepticism. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces continue their fight to recover ground against the increasingly fratricidal rebel forces, there is little incentive for the regime, heavily backed by Iran and Russia, to concede power to its sectarian rivals at the behest of Washington, especially when the United States is already negotiating with Iran. Ali Haidar, an old classmate of al Assad’s from ophthalmology school and a long-standing member of Syria’s loyal opposition, now serving somewhat fittingly as Syria’s National Reconciliation Minister, captured the mood of the days leading up to the conference in saying “Don’t expect anything from Geneva II. Neither Geneva II, not Geneva III nor Geneva X will solve the Syrian crisis. The solution has begun and will continue through the military triumph of the state.”
Widespread pessimism over a functional power-sharing agreement to end the fighting has led to dramatic speculation that Syria is doomed either to break into sectarian statelets or, as Haidar articulated, revert to the status quo, with the Alawites regaining full control and the Sunnis forced back into submission. Both scenarios are flawed. Just as international mediators will fail to produce a power-sharing agreement at this stage of the crisis, and just as Syria’s ruling Alawite minority will face extraordinary difficulty in gluing the state back together, there is also no easy way to carve up Syria along sectarian lines. A closer inspection of the land reveals why.
The Geopolitics of Syria
Before the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement traced out an awkward assortment of nation-states in the Middle East, the name Syria was used by merchants, politicians and warriors alike to describe a stretch of land enclosed by the Taurus Mountains to the north, the Mediterranean to the west, the Sinai Peninsula to the south and the desert to the east. If you were sitting in 18th-century Paris contemplating the abundance of cotton and spices on the other side of the Mediterranean, you would know this region as the Levant — its Latin root “levare” meaning “to raise,” from where the sun would rise in the east. If you were an Arab merchant traveling the ancient caravan routes in the Hejaz, or modern-day Saudi Arabia, facing the sunrise to the east, you would have referred to this territory in Arabic as Bilad al-Sham, or the “land to the left” of Islam’s holy sites on the Arabian Peninsula.
Whether viewed from the east or the west, the north or the south, Syria will always find itself in an unfortunate position surrounded by much stronger powers. The rich, fertile lands straddling Asia Minor and Europe around the Sea of Marmara to the north, the Nile River Valley to the south and the land nestled between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers to the east give rise to larger and more cohesive populations. When a power in control of these lands went roaming for riches farther afield, they inevitably came through Syria, where blood was spilled, races were intermixed, religions were negotiated and goods were traded at a frenzied and violent pace.
Consequently, only twice in Syria’s pre-modern history could this region claim to be a sovereign and independent state: during the Hellenistic Seleucid dynasty, based out of Antioch (the city of Antakya in modern-day Turkey) from 301 to 141 B.C., and during the Umayyad Caliphate, based out of Damascus, from A.D. 661 to 749. Syria was often divided or subsumed by its neighbors, too weak, internally fragmented and geographically vulnerable to stand its own ground. Such is the fate of a borderland.
Unlike the Nile Valley, Syria’s geography lacks a strong, natural binding element to overcome its internal fissures. An aspiring Syrian state not only needs a coastline to participate in sea trade and guard against sea powers, but also a cohesive hinterland to provide food and security. Syria’s rugged geography and patchwork of minority sects have generally been a major hindrance to this imperative.
Syria’s long and extremely narrow coastline abruptly transforms into a chain of mountains and plateaus. Throughout this western belt, pockets of minorities, including Alawites, Christians and Druze, have sequestered themselves, equally distrustful of outsiders from the west as they are of local rulers to the east, but ready to collaborate with whomever is most likely to guarantee their survival. The long mountain barrier then descends into broad plains along the Orontes River Valley and the Bekaa Valley before rising sharply once again along the Anti-Lebanon range, the Hawran plateau and the Jabal al-Druze mountains, providing more rugged terrain for persecuted sects to hunker down and arm themselves.
Just west of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, the Barada river flows eastward, giving rise to a desert oasis also known as Damascus. Protected from the coast by two mountain chains and long stretches of desert to the east, Damascus is essentially a fortress city and a logical place to make the capital. But for this fortress to be a capital worthy of regional respect, it needs a corridor running westward across the mountains to Mediterranean ports along the ancient Phoenician (or modern-day Lebanese) coast, as well as a northward route across the semi-arid steppes, through Homs, Hama and Idlib, to Aleppo.
The saddle of land from Damascus to the north is relatively fluid territory, making it an easier place for a homogenous population to coalesce than the rugged and often recalcitrant coastline. Aleppo sits alongside the mouth of the Fertile Crescent, a natural trade corridor between Anatolia to the north, the Mediterranean (via the Homs Gap) to the west and Damascus to the south. While Aleppo has historically been vulnerable to dominant Anatolian powers and can use its relative distance to rebel against Damascus from time to time, it remains a vital economic hub for any Damascene power.
Finally, jutting east from the Damascus core lie vast stretches of desert, forming a wasteland between Syria and Mesopotamia. This sparsely populated route has long been traveled by small, nomadic bands of men — from caravan traders to Bedouin tribesmen to contemporary jihadists — with few attachments and big ambitions.
Demography by Design
The demographics of this land have fluctuated greatly, depending on the prevailing power of the time. Christians, mostly Eastern Orthodox, formed the majority in Byzantine Syria. The Muslim conquests that followed led to a more diverse blend of religious sects, including a substantial Shiite population. Over time, a series of Sunni dynasties emanating from Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley and Asia Minor made Syria the Sunni-majority region that it is today. While Sunnis came to heavily populate the Arabian Desert and the saddle of land stretching from Damascus to Aleppo, the more protective coastal mountains were meanwhile peppered with a mosaic of minorities. The typically cult-like minorities forged fickle alliances and were always on the lookout for a more distant sea power they could align with to balance against the dominant Sunni forces of the hinterland.
The French, who had the strongest colonial links to the Levant, were masters of the minority manipulation strategy, but that approach also came with severe consequences that endure to this day. In Lebanon, the French favored Maronite Christians, who came to dominate Mediterranean sea trade out of bustling port cities such as Beirut at the expense of poorer Sunni Damascene merchants. France also plucked out a group known as the Nusayris living along the rugged Syrian coast, rebranded them as Alawites to give them religious credibility and stacked them in the Syrian military during the French mandate.
When the French mandate ended in 1943, the ingredients were already in place for major demographic and sectarian upheaval, culminating in the bloodless coup by Hafiz al Assad in 1970 that began the highly irregular Alawite reign over Syria. With the sectarian balance now tilting toward Iran and its sectarian allies, France’s current policy ofsupporting the Sunnis alongside Saudi Arabia against the mostly Alawite regime that the French helped create has a tinge of irony to it, but it fits within a classic balance-of-power mentality toward the region.
Setting Realistic Expectations
The delegates discussing Syria this week in Switzerland face a series of irreconcilable truths that stem from the geopolitics that have governed this land since antiquity.
The anomaly of a powerful Alawite minority ruling Syria is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon. Alawite forces are holding their ground in Damascus and steadily regaining territory in the suburbs. Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is meanwhile following its sectarian imperative to ensure the Alawites hold onto power by defending the traditional route from Damascus through the Bekaa Valley to the Lebanese coast, as well as the route through the Orontes River Valley to the Alawite Syrian coast. So long as the Alawites can hold Damascus, there is no chance of them sacrificing the economic heartland.
It is thus little wonder that Syrian forces loyal to al Assad have been on a northward offensive to retake control of Aleppo. Realizing the limits to their own military offensive, the regime will manipulate Western appeals for localized cease-fires, using a respite in the fighting to conserve its resources and make the delivery of food supplies to Aleppo contingent on rebel cooperation with the regime. In the far north and east, Kurdish forces are meanwhile busy trying to carve out their own autonomous zone against mounting constraints, but the Alawite regime is quite comfortable knowing that Kurdish separatism ismore of a threat to Turkey than it is to Damascus at this point.
The fate of Lebanon and Syria remain deeply intertwined. In the mid-19th century, a bloody civil war between Druze and Maronites in the densely populated coastal mountains rapidly spread from Mount Lebanon to Damascus. This time around, the current is flowing in reverse, with the civil war in Syria now flooding Lebanon. As the Alawites continue to gain ground in Syria with aid from Iran and Hezbollah, a shadowy amalgam of Sunni jihadists backed by Saudi Arabia will become more active in Lebanon, leading to a steady stream of Sunni-Shiite attacks that will keep Mount Lebanon on edge.
The United States may be leading the ill-fated peace conference to reconstruct Syria, but it doesn’t really have any strong interests there. The depravity of the civil war itself compels the United States to show that it is doing something constructive, but Washington’s core interest for the region at the moment is to preserve and advance a negotiation with Iran. This goal sits at odds with a publicly stated U.S. goal to ensure al Assad is not part of a Syrian transition, and this point may well be one of many pieces in the developing bargain between Washington and Tehran. However, al Assad holds greater leverage so long as his main patron is in talks with the United States, the only sea power currently capable of projecting significant force in the eastern Mediterranean.
Egypt, the Nile Valley power to the south, is wholly ensnared in its own internal problems. So is Turkey, the main power to the north, which is now gripped in a public and vicious power struggle that leaves little room for Turkish adventurism in the Arab world. That leaves Saudi Arabia and Iran as the main regional powers able to directly manipulate the Syrian sectarian battleground. Iran, along with Russia, which shares an interest in preserving relations with the Alawites and thus its access to the Mediterranean, will hold the upper hand in this conflict, but the desert wasteland linking Syria to Mesopotamia is filled with bands of Sunni militants eager for Saudi backing to tie down their sectarian rivals.
And so the fighting will go on. Neither side of the sectarian divide is capable of overwhelming the other on the battlefield and both have regional backers that will fuel the fight. Iran will try to use its relative advantage to draw the Saudi royals into a negotiation, but a deeply unnerved Saudi Arabia will continue to resist as long as Sunni rebels still have enough fight in them to keep going. Fighters on the ground will regularly manipulate appeals for cease-fires spearheaded by largely disinterested outsiders, all while the war spreads deeper into Lebanon. The Syrian state will neither fragment and formalize into sectarian statelets nor reunify into a single nation under a political settlement imposed by a conference in Geneva. A mosaic of clan loyalties and the imperative to keep Damascus linked to its coastline and economic heartland — no matter what type of regime is in power in Syria — will hold this seething borderland together, however tenuously.
“Syria: A Chronology of How the Civil War May End is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Editor’s Note: The conflict in Syria is entering a critical phase. Turkey has at long last entered the fight, conducting airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria — and capitalizing on the opportunity to attack Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants in northern Iraq. Turkey’s newfound vigor is fueled by a convergence of U.S. and Turkish interests in the region, evidenced by the July 23 agreement between Ankara and Washington to allow U.S. forces to use Incirlik Air Base. There is a shared interest in combating the Islamic State, and both countries want to see a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian conflict that would end the fighting and remove Syrian President Bashar al Assad from power. Al Assad’s frank July 26 comments about the level of fatigue in the Syrian army, combined with the continued success of Syrian rebel groups and the prospect of Turkey’s increased participation, could indicate that the al Assad regime itself is considering its options.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will to travel to Doha on Aug. 3, where he will discuss the future of Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Stratfor has been tracking the evolution and perspectives of the key parties involved in the Syrian conflict from the opening of hostilities. We are publishing this chronology to highlight our previous analyses and forecasts. Read the rest of this entry »
“Strategy in Real Time: Dueling with an Enemy That Moves is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Strategy is a two-way street. But many commentators act as though formulating a strategy is the same as solving a chess problem. Chess problems are artificially constructed arrangements on a chessboard where the goal is to find a series of moves that leaves the other side no room to evade a checkmate within three or four turns. The sorts of conflicts bedeviling us these days, however, are more like the game of chess itself, in which there is no determinate, continuous series of moves that will guarantee victory every time. Each new contest depends on the actions of the other side, how we react to them, how they respond to our reactions, and so on.
Ignoring this aspect of strategy seems to contribute to the widespread view that victory in warfare amounts to the destruction of the enemy, a facile assumption that is all too unthinkingly held. “Defeating the enemy” may be the definition of victory in football, or even in chess for that matter, but not in warfare. Victory in war is the achievement of the war aim, and if, after Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, we still think that victory is simply the devastation of our adversaries, we have a lot of reflecting to do. Read the rest of this entry »
“A Net Assessment of the Middle East is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
The term “Middle East” has become enormously elastic. The name originated with the British Foreign Office in the 19th century. The British divided the region into the Near East, the area closest to the United Kingdom and most of North Africa; the Far East, which was east of British India; and the Middle East, which was between British India and the Near East. It was a useful model for organizing the British Foreign Office and important for the region as well, since the British — and to a lesser extent the French — defined not only the names of the region but also the states that emerged in the Near and Far East.
Today, the term Middle East, to the extent that it means anything, refers to the Muslim-dominated countries west of Afghanistan and along the North African shore. With the exception of Turkey and Iran, the region is predominantly Arab and predominantly Muslim. Within this region, the British created political entities that were modeled on European nation-states. The British shaped the Arabian Peninsula, which had been inhabited by tribes forming complex coalitions, into Saudi Arabia, a state based on one of these tribes, the Sauds. The British also created Iraq and crafted Egypt into a united monarchy. Quite independent of the British, Turkey and Iran shaped themselves into secular nation-states. Read the rest of this entry »
“Reflections on Ramadi is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Editor’s Note: This analysis was written by Stratfor’s lead military analyst, Paul Floyd, who served in the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, a core component of the United States Army Special Operations Command. He deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan in a combat role.
The Iraqi city of Ramadi has fallen again into the hands of the Islamic State, a group born of al Qaeda in Iraq. That this terrorist organization, whose brutality needs no description, has retaken a city once fought for by American soldiers troubles me. I served two deployments in Ramadi, fighting al Qaeda. Comrades died in that fight. I was shot in Ramadi. My initial reaction, like that of many veterans, is to ask what the hell it was all for, when nothing seems to change. The whole endeavor was a costly bloodletting and it seems the price we paid yielded no actual benefit. Yet, Memorial Day is as much a day for reflection as it is for remembrance and commemoration. And in reflecting, I have had to sit back and define exactly what we are memorializing on this day. Read the rest of this entry »
“The Problems Foreign Powers Find in the Balkans is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Russia, Turkey and the West all share one rival in the Balkans: political instability. Located at the confluence of three historic empires, the strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea has long been the focus of competition among global powers. Now it is just one arena in the standoff between Russia and the West. Yet, with both sides attempting to buy influence with investments and energy projects, and with Turkey struggling to keep pace, internal political challenges threaten to undermine outside efforts to develop and shape the region. As major powers use their financial and political clout to gain influence in the Balkans, weak local governments will continue to balance among competing nations.
Regional and world powers have paid an inordinate amount of attention to Balkan countries lately. On May 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Serbia, just a few days after the Chair of the Russian Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, met with Serbian leaders in Belgrade. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Bosnia-Herzegovina on May 20 — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan have paid similar visits in the past month. Western leaders have also demonstrated an interest in the region, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visiting Bulgaria in January, while high-ranking U.S. officials regularly visit Romania. Read the rest of this entry »
“World War II and the Origins of American Unease is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
We are at the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. That victory did not usher in an era of universal peace. Rather, it introduced a new constellation of powers and a complex balance among them. Europe’s great powers and empires declined, and the United States and the Soviet Union replaced them, performing an old dance to new musical instruments. Technology, geopolitics’ companion, evolved dramatically as nuclear weapons, satellites and the microchip — among myriad wonders and horrors — changed not only the rules of war but also the circumstances under which war was possible. But one thing remained constant: Geopolitics, technology and war remained inseparable comrades.
It is easy to say what World War II did not change, but what it did change is also important. The first thing that leaps to mind is the manner in which World War II began for the three great powers: the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. For all three, the war started with a shock that redefined their view of the world. For the United States, it was the shock of Pearl Harbor. For the Soviet Union, it was the shock of the German invasion in June 1941. For the United Kingdom — and this was not really at the beginning of the war — it was shock at the speed with which France collapsed. Read the rest of this entry »
“European War Games: Responses to Russian Military Drills is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Several events have coincided to demonstrate the dynamic, if not guarded, relationship between Russia and the Nordic and Baltic states. Ten NATO countries and Sweden launched a two-week planned exercise in the North Sea on May 4 to improve their anti-submarine warfare capabilities. On the same day, Finland — not a NATO member — began mailing letters to about 900,000 reservists informing them of their roles in a potential crisis situation. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Foreign Ministry formally complained to Russian authorities that Russian navy ships were disrupting cable-laying work in waters between Sweden and Lithuania, the latest in a series of formal complaints over Russia’s activity in the area. Concurrently, the Swedish and Lithuanian foreign ministers met with Moldova’s pro-West leaders in Chisinau.
All of these events confirm that the Nordic and Baltic states are working to boost security cooperation in response to Russia’s military activity in the region. Consequently, the security buildup will continue — on both sides. Read the rest of this entry »
“Coming to Terms With the American Empire is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
“Empire” is a dirty word. Considering the behavior of many empires, that is not unreasonable. But empire is also simply a description of a condition, many times unplanned and rarely intended. It is a condition that arises from a massive imbalance of power. Indeed, the empires created on purpose, such as Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany, have rarely lasted. Most empires do not plan to become one. They become one and then realize what they are. Sometimes they do not realize what they are for a long time, and that failure to see reality can have massive consequences.
World War II and the Birth of an Empire
The United States became an empire in 1945. It is true that in the Spanish-American War, the United States intentionally took control of the Philippines and Cuba. It is also true that it began thinking of itself as an empire, but it really was not. Cuba and the Philippines were the fantasy of empire, and this illusion dissolved during World War I, the subsequent period of isolationism and the Great Depression.
The genuine American empire that emerged thereafter was a byproduct of other events. There was no great conspiracy. In some ways, the circumstances of its creation made it more powerful. The dynamic of World War II led to the collapse of the European Peninsula and its occupation by the Soviets and the Americans. The same dynamic led to the occupation of Japan and its direct governance by the United States as a de facto colony, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur as viceroy.
The United States found itself with an extraordinary empire, which it also intended to abandon. This was a genuine wish and not mere propaganda. First, the United States was the first anti-imperial project in modernity. It opposed empire in principle. More important, this empire was a drain on American resources and not a source of wealth. World War II had shattered both Japan and Western Europe. The United States gained little or no economic advantage in holding on to these countries. Finally, the United States ended World War II largely untouched by war and as perhaps one of the few countries that profited from it. The money was to be made in the United States, not in the empire. The troops and the generals wanted to go home. Read the rest of this entry »