Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • An ISIS caliphate is bad news for Iraq, Syria and everywhere else

    After the death of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, the global jihadist movement seemed to have become fragmented and considerably weakened. The impressive victories of ISIS in Iraq and the practical reactivation of the concept of the “caliphate” by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are particularly worrying as they creates a new unifying idea for disparate jihadist groups around a common strategic project. Since Bin Laden’s death, these groups were fragmented, but they might now be able to connect and share an ideology — and, probably, funding given the wealth of the “new caliph.” The “Caliphate Utopia” may reveal to be also a much more efficient tool for jihadist recruitment, especially among young Westerners. This change might point to the marginalization of the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian, who has not been able to impose himself after Bin Laden’s death. But at the same time it indicates the end of the fragmentation and the beginning of the reunification of jihadi groups around the world within an even more dangerous organization. The global war against terror may finally start.

  • There has been a 70% rise in civilian casualties from IEDs around the world since 2011

    There has been a dramatic rise in civilian casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) over the last three years, new data show. Numbers compiled from 500 English-language media reports show there was a 70 percent rise in the number of civilian casualties globally from IEDs like car bombs and suicide vests last year compared to 2011. In 2011 13,340 civilians were killed and injured by IEDs. 2013 saw this number shoot up to 22,735. In total, there have been over 60,000 deaths and injuries from IEDs in 2011-13, with civilians accounting for 81 percent of these casualties. IEDs were not limited to Iraq and Afghanistan. There were IED incidents in sixty-six different countries and territories in the last three years. Of these countries, eight — including Pakistan, Nigeria, and Thailand — saw over 1,000 civilian casualties of IEDs.

  • Current White House drone policy a “slippery slope”: Report

    An 81-page report, released last Thursday by the Stimson Center and authored by a bipartisan panel of former intelligence and defense officials, warned that the present targeted drone strike policy could represent a “slippery slope” toward never-ending war. The report stresses that drone operations should always be “having a positive effect on U.S. national security and not trading short-term gains for more negative longer-term strategic consequences.”

  • DHS top priorities: addressing terrorism, cyberthreats, and extreme weather risks

    In its second quadrennial review, DHS outlined the department’s efforts to enhance the five homeland security objectives detailed in the first review, issued in 2010. Combating terrorism remains DHS’s primary mission, but recent disasters, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and domestic terrorism events such as the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, along with cyberthreats against the nation’s infrastructure, have led the agency to adopt a risk-based approach to significant threats from both terrorism and natural disasters.

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  • Dozens killed in north Nigeria as Boko Haram car bomb explodes in marketplace

    Dozens killed after Boko Haram car bomb attack in north-eastern city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Islamist militant group. In May 2013 the Nigerian president announced a state of emergency in three north-eastern states, and the Nigerian military deployed tens of thousands of troops to the area in an effort to fight Boko Haram. That campaign has been a complete failure. The extremists have been attacking with more frequency and deadliness in recent months, defying assurances by Nigerian security forces and government that they were getting the situation under control.

  • Congress debates BioShield funding while medical schools debate bioterrorism training

    Just as researchers urge medical schools across the United States to include bioterrorism preparedness courses in their curricula, Congress is debating whether to continue spending on Project Bioshield, an initiative launched in 2004 to incentivize otherwise unprofitable research on treatments for rare outbreaks or bioterror agents such as anthrax and botulinum toxin.

  • Jury selection begins in trial of two friends of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

    Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, two friends of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are set to go on trial on charges of impeding the investigation into the deadly attack. Opening statements are scheduled for 7 July. Law enforcement says Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev admitted they took Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dormitory room three nights after the bombing after they saw photographs of Tsarnaev on the news identifying him as one of the suspects. The backpack contained fireworks that had the black powder scooped out.

  • U.S. needs better intelligence cooperation with African states for effective counterterrorism strategy

    The U.S. focus on counterterrorism efforts in Africa will require forming long-term partnerships with nations, an all-hands-on-deck commitment from all U.S. military branches, and a strong investment in intelligence, and surveillance technologies to face significant challenges created by the continent’s size and scope. Forming intelligence partnerships with Africa’s fifty-four countries, all with their own civil and military traditions, mixed with multiple languages and cultures is complex.

  • Drones are cheap, soldiers are not: a cost-benefit analysis of war

    Cost is largely absent in the key debates around the use of unmanned drones in war, even though drones are a cost-effective way of achieving national security objectives. Drones will never completely replace soldiers, but the drone-vs.-human being debate is becoming less important in the current strategic climate. The operating environments where drones are deployed — countries such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen — do not emphasize “hearts and minds” strategies where the human element has traditionally been valued as a force multiplier. Instead, objectives in these countries involve attacks on specific individuals, with operational data obtained by signal intelligence beforehand. Human contact becomes even less desirable given that a key tactic of combatants in these weak states is attrition with the aim of creating low-level civil conflicts. The end goal of these actions is to inflict high economic costs to the adversary. As a result, this remote and analytical method of engaging militarily leads to substantial cost efficiencies.

  • Obama administration wants $500 million to train, equip moderate Syrian rebels

    The Obama administration is planning to escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, and has asked Congress for $500 million for the U.S. military to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. The training program would be the most significant action yet by the United States in the conflict in Syria. Yesterday’s (Thursday) request to Congress comes as the administration is looking for effective alternatives to the jihadist ISIS which is now in control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq. The $500 million request is separate from the $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, of which some $1.5 billion would go toward counterterrorism efforts in countries around Syria — Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. The president also wants to set aside $500 million to “address unforeseen contingencies” in counterterrorism, which administration officials said was a reference to developments in Iraq.

  • Judge rules use of NSA surveillance-based information in terrorist case is legal

    Lawyers for Mohamed Mohamud, a U.S. citizen who lived in Oregon, have been denied a motion to dismiss his terrorism conviction, with the court affirming the legality of the U.S. government’s bulk phone and e-mail data collection of foreign nationals living overseas. Mohamud’s defense team claimed the surveillance violated his constitutional rights, and that federal prosecutors did not make available to the defense evidence obtained via the surveillance. U.S. District Judge Garr King upheld Mohamud’s conviction, saying that suppressing the evidence collected through NSA surveillance “and a new trial would put defendant in the same position he would have been in if the government notified him of the (surveillance) at the start of the case.”

  • Experts debate the vulnerability of Midwest cities to terrorist attacks

    The crises in Syria and Iraq have increased worries about terror cells taking aim at American targets, specifically New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. As larger cities step up their counterterrorism efforts, however, analysts debate whether less populated cities in the Midwest are safe or just as vulnerable to terror attacks.

  • The “militarization of health care” threatening the health of local populations: experts

    The surge in murders of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan has made headlines this year, but little attention has been devoted to the ethical issues surrounding the global health impact of current counterterrorism policy and practice. A new study traces the ways that the war on terror is incorporating medicine into warfare – what the researchers call “the militarization of health care” — threatening the health of local populations, increasing global health disparities, and causing profound moral distress among humanitarian and health care workers.

  • Historic proportions of Iraq’s military collapse raise questions about Iraq’s viability

    “The scale of Iraq’s military collapse is of historic proportions,” one military analyst said. A recent assessment of the Iraqi military found that 60 out of 243 Iraqi Army combat battalions “cannot be accounted for, and all of their equipment is lost.” American military officials said an evaluation of the state of Iraq’s military revealed that five of the Iraqi Army’s fourteen divisions were “combat ineffective,” including the two that were overrun in Mosul. The United States has spent $1.7 trillion in Iraq since 2003, of which $25 billion were used to equip and train the post-Saddam Iraqi military. The United States received no return on its huge investment in Iraq, but it was hoped that at least the Iraqi military, U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped, would provide a solid, professional foundation for a new Iraq. Developments in Iraq last week proved that this hope was illusory.

  • Obama orders 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq (updated)

    President Barack Obama yesterday announced he had authorized sending up to 300 U.S. troops to Iraq to help the Iraqi military cope with a rapidly advancing attack by Islamist fighters from the fundamentalist group ISIS. “It is in our national security interest not to see an all-out civil war in Iraq,” Obama said. While reiterating that he would not send combat troops to Iraq, the president said the United States would help the Iraqis “take the fight” to the militants, who he said pose a threat to Iraq’s stability and to American interests.