The Captured Dogs (and Elephant) of War

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In early Feburary a video was posted depicting men associated with the Taliban showing off their latest captive; a Belgian Malinois. The dog was supposedly taken hostage during a firefight in late December, a claim confirmed by a spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan. The video is intended more as a propaganda piece than an extortion for ransom, made by a group grasping at whatever small victories it can attain. However, the video highlights a certain savviness among the Pashtun people holding the leash. The Washington Post article points out many Muslim men are wary of dogs, worrying having one around makes one unclean, and dog domestication is at its lowest per-capita in Middle Eastern countries (though that trend is beginning to change). In other words, there’s little reason for the dog’s captors to show the amount of respect they have to the animal. What they understand though is in the eyes of their enemy they have something much more valuable than your common stray dog. The canines of the post-9/11 military are not the same as Dickin Medal recipients of the past. They are tools, weapons, soldiers, and friends all wrapped into one, a battlefield asset meant to save lives but which can just as easily pluck at the heartstrings of any warm blooded human. This K9 Prisoner of War is not the first of its kind and almost certainly will not be the last.

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ASAT: When Space Becomes A Shooting Gallery

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Space is so hot right now. The past year has seen a flurry of activity from all over the globe with regards to space and orbital operations, and with the recent announcement of Russia’s plans to install 11 new military satellites by 2015, it looks like things won’t be slowing down any time soon. Besides SpaceX’s first commercial satellite, a milestone in itself, this year saw the launch of the US government’s newest spy satellite, complete with creepy mission badge, and the launch of India’s first defense satellite and their new Mars Orbiter. The last two years have seen more countries put their first satellites into space than any other two years combined. Right now there are more than 1071 operational satellites in Earth’s orbit, and more stuff tends to mean more junk as well, which has military experts and orbit otakus quaking in their moon shoes. On July 20th, the Chinese government launched three new satellites which many observers believe are the next stage in China’s growing ASAT, or Anti-Satellite, capabilities. Satellites form the backbone of our most valuable communication and signal relay networks, yet are suspended completely defenseless in orbit. In the future the destruction of key satellites, as well as a barrage of cyber-attacks, could act as the first salvos in a major conflict between nations. And while this may seem like forced moves from a strategic viewpoint, a chaotic dismantling of our orbital infrastructure could have a lasting impact measured in decades, potentially leaving a legacy more destructive than any atom bomb.

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Bilad al-Sham: The Gunman’s Vacation Destination

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The civil war in Syria ain’t what it used to be. Even the designation, ‘civil war’, may be too polite these days, too optimistic a term for the black hole which much of the country has become. While government forces are still united under al-Assad in the south, the opposition in the north has fractured and been overshadowed by a calamity of different causes and rallying cries. Though still anti-Assad in many ways, a lull in the conflict to a certain state of stability, with only a few towns and suburbs changing hands here and there, has turned the rag-tag assembly of freedom and foreign fighters against themselves, seeking to fill a power vacuum that hardly exists. A common enemy seems no longer enough to unite the causes, and the once hopeful rebel of Homs or Aleppo, who sought some sense of fairness or representation in his/her government, has been sidelined by an influx of fighters from all corners of the world. They arrive, jihad-ready, from as far as Australia and the United Kingdom, seeking glory, martyrdom, money, or simply a place to call their own.  Continue reading

The Case Against al-Assad in Zemalka

On August 21st, some 500 to 1,300 people in eastern Damascus suffocated to death, many as they fled for safety or slept in their beds. This single event has run like an electric shock through the international community unlike any other before, painting the impression of an escalation in the conflict (but not really) and beckoning the international community over a rubicon they dug with their own hands. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the details and even the validity of this event as all the focus snaps to the inevitable bumbling response. al-Assad outright denies the use of any chemical weapons, Russia and skeptics call it a false-flag, and America and Israel claim to have out-of-the-park proof that it was a strike ordered by the government. There is fair reason to not trust the claims of either side, but independent of their claims, local reporting and international observers have pieced together a picture that very clearly indicts the Syrian army in Damascus with the chemical attack on Zemalka and the surrounding suburbs.

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Is George Clooney Batman…

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The answer appears to be a little bit of both.

For about 19 years now the Sudan has been the scene for some of the largest bloodshed in our modern day. It has been a conflict largely ignored by many media outlets in favor of more hip and with it war zones, ones which invariably sit closer to US foreign interests. While the death toll in Syria has only recently crawled over 100,000, the Sudanese crisis has been estimated to have seen as many as 200,000 to 400,000 people die. That number has such a wide range because documenting and tallying the long, drawn out crisis is a Herculean challenge, complicated by limited access, day-to-day violence over a massive (now split) country, and the blind eye of those who could fund such efforts.

George Clooney is no such blind eye. The man with the perfectly symmetrical face has been throwing his monetary and celebrity weight behind what is known as the Satellite Sentinel Project, The project, in partnership with folks like Clooney, the Enough Project, and others, maintains a spy satellite some 300 miles in the sky over the Sudanese region, capturing high resolution footage of the situation on the ground in real time. The idea appears to have originally come from Clooney’s own experience in Hollywood, While visiting the Sudan in October of 2010, only months before the South Sudan would declare independence, he and Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast had a deceptively simple thought,

What if we could watch the warlords? Monitor them just like the paparazzi spies on Clooney?

“Why can’t I be a guy with a 400-mile lens, a tourist, taking pictures and sticking them on the Internet?”

A few phone calls and meetings later and they had their own lidless eye in space, ready to observe and report.

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