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Posts Tagged ‘Grey Cell’

Grey Cell – ‘China flexes its military muscle’ By Jonny Eberle

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Two massive American B-52 bombers sailed calmly through the skies above the East China Sea. Below, three islands sit in the waters between Japan and China and which side of the border they lie on is hotly disputed. On November 23, China announced that it had annexed the airspace above the islands and would require all planes flying through it to file a flight plan with Beijing. Three days later, the unarmed U.S. planes passed through the airspace without incident as tensions continue to ratchet up.

“We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in response to the Chinese statement, reports Bloomberg. “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”


China’s extension of its sovereign airspace over the disputed islands is merely the latest development in a series of escalating incidents between the two Asian powers. The currently uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, lie northeast of Taiwan in a region where the exclusive economic zones of each country overlap. According to the BBC, the surrounding seafloor is home to extensive oil and gas reserves.

The United States’ ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, criticized China’s move as unnecessarily aggressive.

“Unilateral actions like those taken by China with their announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone undermine security and constitute an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” Kennedy told ABC News. “This only serves to increase tension in the region.”


Tensions in Asia have already been high as China seeks to build up its military might. In recent years, China has invested heavily in bulking up its defenses, especially its coast guard and navy. According to The Guardian, the nascent coast guard confronted Japanese patrol ships that control the archipelago in June. No shots were fired, but the ships came within loudspeaker range. In early November, China’s first aircraft carrier left port to conduct drills in the South China Sea.

Shortly after American bombers buzzed China’s new air defense zone, Beijing issued a statement saying they were able to monitor the planes’ progress through the area.

“China’s air force monitored the entire course [of the U.S. bombers], identified them in a timely way and ascertained the type of U.S. aircraft,” the statement said, writes the BBC. “China has the ability to effectively manage and control the relevant air zone.”


Despite the saber rattling, experts agree that the U.S. defiance of China’s self-proclaimed airspace sent a clear message. The Obama Administration is in the midst of a military pivot to Asia. Challenging China also signals that the U.S. will support Japan, a longtime ally, despite its strong economic relationship with Beijing.

Following the B-52s, two Japanese commercial airliners also flew through the restricted airspace without filing a flight plan with Beijing. For now, it seems China’s bluff has been called, though their determination to force negotiations over the islands remains. Neighboring countries worry that territorial competition could lead to a military conflict.

“We see competition and conflict in the region deepening,” South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told The New York Times. “Things can take a dramatic turn for the worse if territorial conflicts and historical issues are merged with nationalism.”?


Bloomberg: U.S. Sent B-52s Into China Air Zone, Official Says. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-26/u-s-sent-b-52s-over-disputed-china-air-zone-official-says.html

BBC News: China ‘monitored’ US bombers in new air zone. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-25099123

ABC News: Ambassador Kennedy Accuses China of Raising Tension in the Region. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/11/ambassador-kennedy-accuses-china-of-raising-tension-in-the-region/

The Guardian: China’s coastguard confronts Japanses ships near disputed islands. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/26/china-coastguard-confronts-japan-disputed-islands

The New York Times: After Challenges, China Appears to Backpedal on Air Zone. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/world/asia/china-explains-handling-of-b-52-flight-as-tensions-escalate.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

Reuters: U.S. affirms support for Japan in islands dispute with China. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/27/us-usa-china-idUSBRE9AQ0T920131127

The Atlantic: China’s new maritime muscle. http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/11/chinas-new-maritime-muscle/281902/


Grey Cell – ‘Mauritania Fights Terrorism, Struggles With Internal Issues’ By Jonny Eberle

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

A two year-old Malian child is loaded into the back of an ambulance. He’s suffering from cerebral malaria. Disease and malnutrition have ravaged the population of the Mberra refugee camp. Tens of thousands of Malians — mostly ethnic Tuaregs — fled Mali for neighboring Mauritania to escape the violence of a coup lead by separatists and jihadists. Mauritania is struggling to deal with instability and terrorism on its borders.


The desert nation of Mauritania covers a large section of the Maghreb and Sahel regions of North Africa. It has a long history of volatility. Since it received independence from France in 1960, the government has been overthrown by four military coups, the most recent in 2008. All of this has made Mauritania an ideal safe haven for terrorism, especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“Over the past decade, Mauritania has been a rear base for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a pool for militant recruitment and a target of attacks on the French Embassy, foreign tourists and aid workers,” reports The New York Times.

Northern Mali, which shares a border with Mauritania more than 600 miles long, was splintered by civil war when Islamic militants and separatists took control of the region. The French army retook the captured area in January and AQIM retreated into the deserts of Libya and Mauritania.

Events in Mali have prompted the new Mauritanian government to take threats of terrorism within its borders very seriously. President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz has bolstered the nation’s military might and pushed through a series of laws to help them find and arrest extremists.

“Mauritania has made significant efforts to secure its borders to make its territory safer and safeguard the country’s stability,” Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi told a press conference announcing that five jihadists had been arrested trying to cross the border. “The measures taken by Mauritania to strictly control its borders are the best assistance it can give to its neighbor Mali.”

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that Islamist political parties have been fixtures in the Mauritanian government for decades. However, they are largely moderate and support both democracy and the fight to stem the tide of terror.


The U.S. works closely with the Mauritanian military, which it sees as one of its principle allies in the Maghreb. While many have applauded Mauritania’s scaled-up efforts to combat terrorism, others have questioned its methods. Humanitarian organizations have accused authorities of torturing suspects. The border with Mali is still porous and many Malian terrorists share ethnic links with groups in Mauritania. The country also has the dubious distinction of having the world’s largest percentage of people in slavery.

Whether Mauritania is successful in preventing a full-scale civil war with extremists is still a matter of debate. For now, the country has been spared the violence that has ripped its neighbors apart and its counterterrorism efforts will continue.


“Terrorism is a real problem here,” Aziz told the BBC News. “What we can guarantee is that we will not spare any effort to eradicate this evil.”


BBC News: Mali refugees seek exit from Mauritania camp life. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24329810

Mauritania profile – Timeline. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13882166

How real is Mauritania’s terror threat? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7581082.stm

The New York Times: Fighting terrorism in Mauritania even if it means torture. http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/fighting-terrorism-in-mauritania-even-it-means-torture/?_r=0

The Guardian: Mali’s fight with militants is far from over. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/17/mali-fights-militants-far-from-over

Maghrebia: Mauritania arrests Mali terrorists. http://magharebia.com/en_GB/articles/awi/features/2013/03/19/feature-03

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Mauritania’s Islamists. http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/03/01/mauritania-s-islamists/9ziy#

Reuters: U.S. transfers suspected senior al Qaeda member to Mauritania. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/01/us-mauritania-us-qaeda-idUSBRE9500ER20130601

Al-Monitor: Mauritania struggles to fight terror. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/02/mauritania-intensifies-security-measures.html


Grey Cell – ‘Diplomats Walk Tightrope In Syria, Iran Talks’ By Jonny Eberle

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

This is the first of a series of weekly features from Grey Cell to keep you up to date on world events.

The last few months have witnessed several major shifts in the political landscape of the Middle East. In a deal brokered between the United States and Russia, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad agreed to destroy his chemical weapons stockpile and production equipment. In Iran, a change in tone from the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, opened the door to talks over that country’s nuclear program and the easing of four decades of hostility. While many foreign policy analysts see these events as game changers for the future of the region, they are divided over whom the winners and losers will be.

Banyas Demos

“They [diplomats] see a little window of opportunity, diplomatically speaking, in the otherwise bleak Syrian picture and they want to press home their advantage,” Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips wrote from a meeting in London. Representatives from the U.K., Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States met with Syrian rebel leaders hoping to schedule a peace summit with Assad in late November.

One element missing from the London conference was the Assad regime. In recent interviews, Assad said that he had no plans to hold peace talks and that he was still considering a run for re-election in 2014, despite popular uprisings against his administration being a key reason for the civil war in the first place.

“Personally, I don’t see any obstacles to being nominated to run in the next presidential elections,” Assad told state-run media, according to Reuters.

All that may change if Iran is engaged in the peace process. Iran is a high-profile backer of the Assad regime, providing weapons and soldiers to support the war effort, reports NPR. Damascus and Tehran are religiously and ideologically linked and have been since the 1979 Islamic revolution. But a change in Iran’s policy toward the West could change all of that. Negotiators are hoping that a breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear program could lead to a deal to end the Syrian civil war.

“Civil war in Syria, coupled with the emergence of a relatively moderate new government in Tehran, makes this an ideal time for the United States to reconsider its self-defeating diplomatic boycott of Iran,” writes Stephen Kinzer in a piece for Al Jazeera. “Admitting Iran into the Syrian peace process might improve the prospects for a cease-fire. It could also be the beginning of a thaw in the long-frozen relationship between Washington and Tehran.”


Not everyone is excited about the prospect of Iran and the United States cooperation. For Israel, an Iran unhindered by sanctions poses a deadly a military threat. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent two decades convincing the international community to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability, believing his country is at risk of being bombed. He worries that the warming of U.S.-Iran relations jeopardizes Israel’s future in the region.

“I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva as well they should be,” Netanyahu told the BBC. “They got everything and paid nothing. Iran got the deal of the century, and the international community got a very bad deal.”

Unofficially, Saudi Arabia, another longstanding opponent of Iran, is also worried about the effects a deal could have on the delicate balance of power in the Middle East.

Resistance to negotiations with the West has also come from within Iran. Reduced tensions with the U.S. have been a hard sell for the moderate president. Hardliners have publically denounced Rouhani for engaging with Washington and urged the government to abandon the nuclear talks.


“I don’t think the talks will bear fruit,” conservative imam Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani told followers in a radio address, according to The Guardian. “They are not going to stop their hostility towards us.”


Al Jazeera: Diplomats meet in UK to discuss Syria crisis. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/10/diplomats-meet-uk-discuss-syria-crisis-2013102272528648677.html

To resolve Syria crisis, the US must negotiate with Iran. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/9/4/to-resolve-the-syriacrisistheusmustnegotiatewithiran.html

Reuters: Assad sees no date for Syria talks, mulls re-election. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/21/us-syria-crisis-assad-idUSBRE99K0PK20131021

NPR: Who are Syria’s friends and why are they supporting Assad? http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/08/28/216385513/who-are-syrias-friends-and-why-are-they-supporting-assad

BBC News: Iran deal fear for US’ Mid-East allies. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24871638?ocid=socialflow_twitter_bbcworld“>http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24871638?ocid=socialflow_twitter_bbcworld

The Guardian: Rouhani’s diplomatic progress in Geneva keeps Iran’s hardliners at bay. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/08/iran-nuclear-talks-diplomatic-progress-geneva-hardliners


Grey Cell Is Live!

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Some friends of mine came up with this great new website called Grey Cell that reminds of the type of information I had access to in a former life. Think of it as an international news portal focusing on conflict. But, this isn’t just some common news aggregator and they don’t focus solely on military issues. Grey Cell is so much more. It features original content by true subject matter experts and takes you “under the hood” of issues you see in the main stream media by providing concise background information that is normally reserved for key decision makers. What’s even better? It’s all open source. During my military service (and still today) some of the best nuggets of information were data mined from publicly available, unclassified material. Whether you are an international traveler, engaged in international business or banking or just a news junkie, you’re going to find something valuable in Grey Cell.

Here is a taste of what they’ve got going on:

Grey Cell


By Jonny Eberle – Grey Cell Staff Writer

In September, two deadly attacks by terrorist groups called the world’s attention to al-Qaeda’s stranglehold over the continent of Africa. On September 21, members of Somalia-based al-Shabaab stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi and killed 62 civilians. A week later, the Nigerian terrorist cell Boko Haram murdered 50 sleeping college students. The rise of terror in Africa has prompted the U.S. military to launch a series of raids to capture top al-Qaeda leaders, but it may be too late to curtail its influence in the region.

“It was a night of horror,” Sagir Adam told the BBC News. He managed to survive the Boko Haram attack on his dormitory at Yobe State College of Agriculture in poverty-stricken northeastern Nigeria. Many of his classmates were not so lucky. The attack is just the latest in a wave of increased violence.

Boko Haram roughly translates to “Western education is a sin.” Members of the radical Islamist group believe that the government of Nigeria is biased toward the Christian elite and demands a return to Islamic law and governance. In recent months, their tactics and rhetoric have been reminiscent of al-Qaeda, leading many to believe that the global terrorist group is exerting more influence over Africa.

“It is the growing connectivity between some of these groups that is starting to form a network across Africa which could be very, very dangerous,” General Carter Ham, former chief of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, told the Associated Press last year.

Al-Qaeda’s connection to local groups is especially evident in the actions of al-Shabaab, which coordinated an attack on a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi that specifically targeted non-Muslims. In 2012, the leader of al-Shabaab publically pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda’s ideals and pivoted their focus from capturing control of Somalia to a global jihadist movement.

Al-Shabaab emerged from years from violent anarchy in Somalia as a loose coalition of moderates and extremists calling themselves the Islamic Court Union (ICU). The ICU managed to briefly bring some security to the war-torn nation when it rose to power in 2006.

“The Courts achieved the unthinkable, uniting Mogadishu for the first time in 16 years, and re-establishing peace and security,” a report by the Chatham House said in 2007. In December 2006, the U.S., fearing that the country would become a safe haven for al-Qaeda, backed an Ethopian invasion of Somalia that splintered the ICU. The extremists ultimately won a protracted struggle for control of the group, killing any moderate members who opposed al-Shabaab’s new identity as an international terrorist organization.

The attack on the Kenyan mall and the slaughter of students in Nigeria captured headlines around the world and signaled al-Qaeda’s intention to embed itself in Africa. Al-Shabaab’s use of Twitter to promote itself during the attack is seen as further proof of their desire to create a spectacle to attract worldwide attention.

The U.S. responded with two raids on October 5 aimed at capturing top al-Qaeda operatives in North Africa. In Libya, U.S. special forces captured Abu Anas al-Libi, a senior leader suspected of involvement in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in 1998.

A second U.S. Navy SEAL team attemped to capture al-Shabaab leader Abdul-Kadir Mohamed Abdul-Kadir in Somalia, but withdrew after a gunfight ensued at the compound. Al-Shabaab has sinced claimed that Abdul-Kadir was not present during the raid. According to Al Jazeera, U.S. intelligence indicates that he is involved in planning acts of terrorism, but there is no specific evidence tying him to the September 21 Westgate Mall attack.

In a press conference held on Tuesday, President Obama defended the legality of the raids, but stressed that the U.S. is not interested in becoming embroiled in a long conflict in Africa.

“There is a difference between us going after terrorists who are plotting directly to do damage to the United States and us getting involved in wars,” Obama said, according to Reuters. “Where you’ve got active plots and active networks, we are going to go after them.”

The U.S. Department of Defense did not express an interest in intervening in Nigeria or launching raids against Boko Haram. The focus is on dismantling al-Shabaab, which it sees as the primary threat to African security and American interests in the region.

“For the foreseeable future, we must maintain focus on Somalia to sustain security progress made to date, as al-Shabaab is likely to remain the primary threat to Somalia and East Africa stability for some time to come,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amanda Dory. “With sustained assistance from the United States and other international partners, Somalia’s national security apparatus will be better positioned to fend off the al-Shabaab insurgency and gradually transform the fragile state into a success story.”


Christian Science Monitor: Africa desert helps breed radicals, from Al Shabaab to Boko Haram to Mr. Marlboro. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2013/0929/Africa-desert-helps-breed-radicals-from-Al-Shabab-to-Boko-Haram-to-Mr.-Marlboro
What is Nigeria’s Boko Haram? 5 things to know. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2012/0112/What-is-Nigeria-s-Boko-Haram-5-things-to-know/Who-are-they
BBC News: Nigerian students living in fear. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24353555
Associated Press: Islamic fighters connect in Africa. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/islamic-fighters-connect-africa
National Review: What does the Kenya attack tell us about al-Qaeda in Africa? http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/359303/what-does-kenya-attack-tell-us-about-al-qaeda-africa-patrick-brennan
Wall Street Journal: Al Qaeda’s African surge threatens the U.S. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304213904579094961529497766.html
The Guardian: How al-Shabaab was born. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/kenya-westgate-mall-attacks
NPR: U.S. raids in Libya and Somalia target al-Qaeda network. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/07/230050733/u-s-raids-in-libya-and-somalia-target-al-qaida-network
Al Jazeera: Failed U.S. raid targeted ‘top al-Shabaab’ man. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/10/failed-us-raid-targeted-top-al-shabab-man-2013108215141985365.html
Reuters: Obama: U.S. will continue going after al Qaeda-linked groups in Africa. www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/08/us-security-africa-obama-idUSBRE9970Y720131008