News You Really Need To See: “Boko Haram Rebels Seize a Town in Nigeria”

“Boko Haram Rebels Seize a Town in Nigeria”

The New York Times, July 22, 2014, p. A11

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/22/world/africa/boko-haram-rebels-seize-a-town-in-nigeria.html?_r=0

A major town in Nigeria’s troubled northeast has been taken over by Boko Haram in what local officials said was perhaps the Islamist militant sect’s most significant victory yet in a five-year campaign of violence and terror.  As many as 15,000 people, or nearly all of the residents, have fled the town of Damboa after it was attacked over the weekend, officials said, leaving behind dozens of bodies in the streets and the Islamists’ black flag flying overhead. Officials said at least 100 people were killed in the attack. … The takeover of Damboa was the latest defeat for a Nigerian military that has proved unable to stem repeated attacks on civilians by Boko Haram this year.  ‘Honestly, they were completely routed,’ one official in the area said of the latest attack, asking not to be identified because of the danger of retribution by the military.  Human Rights Watch said last week that an estimated 2,053 people have been killed by the insurgents in the first six months of this year alone.”

Quickie Analysis:  Incremental body counts in places less accessible to camera crews do not seem to generate the same world concern as a passenger plane in Ukraine or explosions in the Middle East.  Yet it is worth remembering that this situation presents not only a grave security and human rights problem, it is occurring in a country poised to overtake the US as the world’s 3rd most populous.  

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News You Really Need To See: “The Case Against Vladimir Putin”

“The Case Against Vladimir Putin”

Foreign Policy, July 21, 2014

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/07/21/the_case_against_vladimir_putin

In laying out the administration’s indictment against Moscow, Obama and key members of his national security team have been pulling from a trove of classified intelligence. Among the most incriminating evidence against the separatists are images taken by U.S. spy satellites showing a plume of smoke rising from the separatist-held area where the missile was fired, officials said.  The missile also was detected by the Defense Support Program, a constellation of Air Force reconnaissance satellites that sense the infrared signature of ballistic missile launches and nuclear explosions, Reuters reported.  The satellites were used during the 1990-1991 Gulf War to detect Scud missile launches from Iraq and to warn civilians in Israel and Saudi Arabia of incoming strikes.  But officials are also building their case against Putin with a mounting pile of evidence posted on social media, including posts by separatist leaders, tweets about the location of missile launchers, and YouTube videos documenting potentially incriminating conversations between the men who may have shot down the jetliner.  Washington’s willingness to use Twitter and the Russian equivalent of Facebook to bolster its case against Putin is a signal moment in the history of social media, which is now taking its place alongside classified intelligence as an important source of information for world leaders.”

Quickie Analysis:  A very interesting look at the social media evidence linking pro-Russia Ukrainian separatists to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as a case study in how social media is being used to supplement traditional intelligence.     

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News You Really Need To See: “More Than 700 Killed in Syria as ISIS Tightens Grip on East”

“More Than 700 Killed in Syria as ISIS Tightens Grip on East”

Asharq al-Awsat [London-based Arabic newspaper], July 20, 2014

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/07/article55334493

More than 700 people were killed in Syria over the course of Thursday and Friday, in what activists say were the bloodiest 48 hours of fighting in the conflict to date.  The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Rami Abdul Rahman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that this was the first time casualties had topped 700 in the space of two days since the conflict began in 2011. … The UK-based SOHR tracks casualties on both sides of the Syrian conflict by collating reports from a network of observers on the ground in the country. … At the end of June, ISIS declared that it had formed an ‘Islamic State’ on territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, and had appointed its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as a new “caliph,” or spiritual and political leader of the world’s Muslims.  While this, and its role at the vanguard of the rebellion against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, has gained the most attention in recent weeks, the group has also continued its attempts to win more territory in Syria.  In particular, it is continuing to strengthen its hold on provinces in eastern Syrian territories like Deir Ezzor, expelling or killing members of other Syrian rebel groups and battling to take territory controlled by Syrian Kurds. … ISIS reportedly carried out the stoning of a woman charged with adultery in the main stadium of the city of Tabqa on Thursday.  SOHR said ISIS fighters brought a car filled with rocks and stoned the woman they accused of adultery to death, adding that residents refused to participate in the stoning.”

Quickie Analysis:  While the rest of the world watches Gaza or Ukraine or Iraq, violence in Syria intensifies.  

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News You Really Need To See: “Shake-Up on Opium Island”

“Shake-Up on Opium Island”

The New York Times, July 20, 2014, p.BU1

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/business/international/tasmania-big-supplier-to-drug-companies-faces-changes.html?_r=0

Tasmania, an island off Australia’s southern coast, is the start of a global supply chain that encompasses the biggest drug companies and produces $12 billion a year of opiate painkillers.  Nearly a half-century of assiduous plant breeding, a gentle climate and tight regulations have given Tasmania a hammerlock on production of one of the pharmaceutical industry’s most important raw materials.  Tasmania, which is about the size of West Virginia, grows about 85 percent of the world’s thebaine, an opium poppy extract used to make OxyContin and a family of similarly powerful prescription drugs that have transformed pain management over the last two decades.  It produces all of the world’s oripavine, another extract, which is used to treat heroin overdoses and shows promise in controlling other addictions.  Tasmania also accounts for a quarter of the world’s morphine and codeine, two older painkillers from opium poppies that are still widely used, particularly outside North America.”

Quickie Analysis:  Interesting look at how globalization, climate irregularities, genetic engineering, Cold War trade policies, and wallabies impact a key part of the health-care market that doesn’t get much mention.

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News You Really Need To See: “Hundreds of Fatigued Syrian Rebels Give Up the Fight”

“Hundreds of Fatigued Syrian Rebels Give Up the Fight”

Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2014

http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-former-rebels-20140718-story.html

“For two years, Emad Fa’aas was a devoted rebel fighter.  In the early days when Syrian rebels took up arms against the government of President Bashar Assad, he joined other fighters in attacking military checkpoints, sometimes traveling to neighboring provinces.  When the fighting spread into his city of Aleppo he spent long stretches fighting on the front lines, at times separated from his family for an entire month.  These days his hands are stained red, from cherry ice cream.  The front lines are not far away, but now he holds an ice cream scoop rather than a gun.  Gone are his fighting days, replaced with working at the nameless shop, with a commercial coffee maker but otherwise bare shelves, that he recently opened to support his family. … More than three years after the Syrian uprising began, marked by hope that it would succeed quickly, as in Tunisia and Egypt, optimism has been replaced with a sense of failure and a sentiment that the conflict has wrought little but destruction and loss.  Some have put down their guns and returned to the farming fields they left when the uprising began.  ‘A lot of people left because it’s taking so long; they thought it was going to be a matter of yelling “God is great” twice in protest and a few hits and it would be over,’ said Samir Zaitoun, a commander with Al Tawheed Brigade.  By his estimate, nearly half the fighters in Aleppo have left over the last year, most of them from small rebel groups. … ‘We did what we could,’ [a former rebel fighter] said.  ‘But in the end the country has been destroyed.’”

Quickie Analysis:  As more Syrians are putting down their weapons, the fight is increasingly left to foreign jihadists.  Who sits at the peace table?  And who makes the foreigners go home?

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News You Really Need To See: “How Do Airlines Traverse War Zones?”

“How Do Airlines Traverse War Zones?”

Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 2014

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2014/0718/Malaysia-jet-tragedy-How-do-airlines-traverse-war-zones

“Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was likely shot down over eastern Ukraine Thursday, apparently by a Russian-made missile, aviation officials from Europe and the United States had already been issuing a flurry of warnings to commercial airlines, as well as adjusting flight restrictions and no-fly zones as Russian separatists increasingly began to take their fight to the skies. … On July 1, Ukraine told airline pilots not to fly below 26,000 feet over the region.  But on Monday, officials raised the no-fly area up to 32,000 feet, more than six miles above the ground, after another Russian-made missile took down a Ukrainian military cargo jet flying at 21,000 feet, officials said.  Flight 17 was flying at 33,000 when it was shot down, killing all 298 people on board, officials say. … Still, it is not uncommon for commercial civilian airliners to fly over restive, war-torn regions, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world, experts say.  And Flight 17 was flying in a well-traversed route. … Nearly 290 commercial flights continued to operate over the war zone, with only 10 diverted flight plans in recent weeks, according to EUROCONTROL. These included major airlines, including British Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa, who were among those using the same route over eastern Ukraine, according to FlightRadar24 .  On Thursday, these also included a Singapore Airlines passenger plane that was flying just 15 miles away from Flight 17 when it was shot down, as well as 55 other civilian jets that flew through the war zone the same day, according to reports.”

Quickie Analysis:  As pundits argue about whether the Malaysian airliner should have been at 32,000 feet or 35,000 feet or some other number, it is important to note that a Russian-made SA-11 missile can shoot down planes at an altitude of 70,000 feet.    

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News You Really Need To See: “Human Rights in the Gulf: Bashing the Wrong People”

“Human Rights in the Gulf: Bashing the Wrong People”

The Economist, July 12-18, 2014, p.41

http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21606880-anti-terrorism-laws-seem-be-used-more-against-dissenters

Sandwiched between Iraq and Yemen, Saudi Arabia has reason to worry about terrorism. It recently sent 30,000 troops to its Iraqi border to protect itself from that country’s rampant new ‘caliphate’.  On July 4th suspected al-Qaeda militants attacked a post on the kingdom’s Yemeni border, killing six.  Yet recently enacted anti-terrorism legislation has so far been more enthusiastically directed at a different target: Saudi human-rights activists.  On July 6th Waleed Abul Khair, a lawyer and founder of a local rights centre, was sentenced to 15 years in jail and a 15-year travel ban upon his release.  According to his wife, who was at his hearing, the judge cited vaguely defined offences such as ‘distorting the kingdom’s reputation’ and ‘inflaming public opinion’.  Mr Abul Khair had defended Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in May to ten years in jail and 1,000 lashes for starting a Facebook page to talk about religion.  The two men are the most recent of a string of activists convicted for doing little more than talking and sending messages.  The misuse of such legislation raises concerns about plans by Saudi Arabia’s ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to rouse its national council from its summer break to pass a new anti-terrorism law.”

Quickie Analysis:  With everything else going on in the Middle East, no one at home or abroad is likely to make much of a fuss about this, for now.    

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