Use Of ‘Weaponized’ Drones By ISIS
Late last month, Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq demonstrated a small drone, about six feet wide with swept wings and a small bomb in its fuselage.
The two men launched the UAV and took videos from a second, smaller drone that shadowed its movements. The aircraft glided over the besieged city of Mosul, swooped close to an Iraqi army outpost and dropped its bomb, scattering Iraqi troops with a small blast that left one figure sprawled on the ground, apparently dead or wounded.
The incident was among dozens in recent weeks in a rapidly accelerating campaign of armed drone strikes by the Islamic State in northern Iraq. The terrorist group last month formally announced the establishment of a new “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen” unit, a fleet of modified drones equipped with bombs, and claimed that its drones had killed or wounded 39 Iraqi soldiers in a single week.
Two years after the Islamic State first used commercially purchased drones to conduct surveillance, the militants are showing a growing ambition to use the technology to kill enemies, U.S. officials and terrorism experts say.
The threat to troops is serious enough to prompt U.S. and Iraqi commanders to issue warnings to soldiers near the front lines. But a far bigger worry is the potential for future attacks against civilians. Islamic militants have long discussed the possibility of using drones as remote-control missiles that can deliver explosives or even unconventional weapons such as deadly nerve agents. In recent weeks, the notion of terrorist drones has moved a step closer to reality, terrorism experts say.
The lightweight, relatively inexpensive drones in the jihadists’ fleet are nowhere close to matching the sophistication and lethal power of the Predators and Reapers used by the U.S. military. The drones displayed by the Islamic State are too small to carry heavy bombs and rockets, and they lack the guidance systems used by U.S. pilots to steer missiles toward their targets. Still, even a small bomb, such as the three-pound mortar shells typically used against Iraqi government troops, can have an effective blast radius of 30 to 45 feet, enough to kill or injure dozens of people if dropped in a crowded area.
Pentagon official acknowledged that coalition troops had been forced to take countermeasures against drones – steps that include early-detection systems and electronic jamming – while also stepping up the search for factories and staging areas where the aircraft are being readied for use on the battlefield.
The sudden availability of cheap, remote-controlled flying machines did not escape the notice of terrorists groups. The Islamic State is only the latest in a long line of militant organizations that have acquired drones and attempted to modify them for their own purposes. The Iranian-backed group Hezbollah has repeatedly used drones to probe Israel’s air defenses, and the group released video last summer that appeared to show a drone dropping Chinese-made bomblets on Syrian rebels.
Al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan commissioned an avionics engineer to build small attack drones and conducted at least one successful test flight before the program was discovered by police in 2013.
There have also been plots involving drones by lone-wolf actors in the United States. In 2011, a physics graduate was accused of planning to launch small drones with bombs against the Pentagon and the Capitol, according to an FBI affidavit.
Source: NDTV, Feb 22, 2017
Iraqi army storms Mosul airport in key attack on ‘Islamic State’
The Iraqi military said on Thursday that special forces were closing in on “Islamic State” terrorists in the city of Mosul. State television reported that government soldiers had stormed the airport and a military complex in the western half of the city. Later, the army confirmed that it had taken control of the airport.
If IS loses its territory in Mosul, that may well herald the end of the terrorists’ self-styled caliphate which at its peak straddled large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Taking the western half of the city is likely to pose more of a challenge, however, as its roads are narrower and older than in the east – soldiers will likely be forced to abandon their armored vehicles and fight in the streets.
Source: DW, Feb 23, 2017
China state firm in preliminary deal to buy Chevron’s Bangladesh gas fields
China’s state-run Zhenhua Oil has signed a preliminary deal with Chevron to buy natural gas fields in Bangladesh that are worth about $2 billion. Zhenhua is a subsidiary of China’s defense industry conglomerate NORINCO. A completed deal would mark China’s first major energy investment in the South Asian country, where Beijing is competing with New Delhi and Tokyo for influence.
Bangladesh, though, holds the right of first refusal on the assets and could block the transaction. The country, via its national oil company Petrobangla, is keen to buy the gas fields and is talking to international banks to raise financing, according to a banking source familiar with the process.
Bangladesh is in the process of hiring global energy consultant Wood Mackenzie to assess the fields’ reserves before placing a formal bid to buy the assets, two Bangladesh sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Zhenhua Oil is a small oil and gas explorer that despite its connections to China’s defense industry is dwarfed in comparison to state energy giants PetroChina and Sinopec. It is trying to formalize its deal with Chevron by June, after the two companies signed a preliminary pact in January, the two senior oil executives told Reuters.
Zhenhua will partner with China Reform Holdings Corp Ltd, an investment vehicle under the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC). Zhenhua will hold 60 percent of the deal and China Reform 40 percent, the two executives said.
Chevron, in an e-mailed statement, confirmed that it was in commercial discussions on its Bangladesh assets, but would not comment further as a matter of policy. Chevron had said in October 2015 that it planned to sell about $10 billion worth of assets by 2017 including geothermal projects in Indonesia and the Philippines and gas fields in Bangladesh amid a prolonged slump in energy prices.
Bangladesh knows that Chevron is in talk with global companies, but has no specific knowledge about Zhenhua’s interest, said Nasrul Hamid, state minister for power, energy and mineral resources. “This is Chevron’s matter. We’ll not interrupt but we are supposed to get the first priority,” he said when asked if Bangladesh would try to block the China deal. “We will place a formal bid only if the project is viable,” Hamid said.
Chevron sells the entire output from its three gas fields – Bibiyana, Jalalabad and Moulavi Bazar, which account for more than half of Bangladesh’s total gas output – to state energy firm Petrobangla under a production sharing contract.
With output and revenue slashed by low oil prices for the last nearly three years, China’s state energy firms are under pressure to step up efforts to boost reserves and profits as Brent crude LCOc1 stabilizes around $55 a barrel.
Zhenhua Oil appears to have outrivaled competing bidders by partnering with the state investment vehicle China Reform, the Chinese executives said.
“Possibly because Zhenhua is a state-owned company and has the backing of China Reform, that’s why it was picked by Chevron,” said the executive.
Zhenhua Oil has oil and gas operations in Iraq, Kazakhstan, Syria, Myanmar and Egypt. If the Bangladesh deal materializes, it would hand the Chinese firm 16 million tonnes a year of oil equivalent output, including natural gas and condensate, a scale that would make it China’s fourth-largest oil and gas producer, the two Chinese executives said.
Source: Reuters, Feb 22, 2017
India, Bangladesh to strengthen border management
India and Bangladesh have decided to implement the Coordinated Border Management Plan in “letter and spirit” to curb the menace of trans-border crime, including smuggling of arms, drugs, and fake currency.
In a joint press statement here on Tuesday, Border Security Force (BSF) and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) discussed various issues concerning border management during the 44th Border Conference being held in Dhaka. BSF Director General K.K. Sharma and his Bangladesh counterpart Major General Abul Hossain jointly chaired the five-day conference, which began on February 18.
Hossain expressed grave concern over border firing and alleged killing of Bangladeshi nationals.
He emphasised the need for bringing the death toll to zero through exercise of extreme caution by the BSF and sensitising Indian nationals, the release said.
The Indian side, however, said that though “non-lethal strategy” has proved extremely successful in reducing deaths on the international border, it has also resulted in an alarming increase in attacks by criminals on BSF personnel. Sharma said BSF personnel fire only in self-defence. The BSF chief also sought BGB cooperation in stopping Bangladeshi nationals from crossing the International Border (IB).
“The BGB and the BSF will undertake increased coordinated patrols in areas vulnerable to cattle and drug smuggling, educating border population about the sanctity of IB and preventing criminals from crossing the IB,” it said. Both sides also agreed to conduct joint spot verification and appraisal on major incidents or killings in bordering areas to reduce differences of opinion or understanding regarding any major incidents.
Sharma sought cooperation from the BGB to destroy hideouts of Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) in Bangladesh and safe release of Indian nationals whenever abducted by IIGs. In response, the BGB chief said there are no IIG hideouts in Bangladesh.
He said Bangladesh does not allow her soil to be used by any entity or element hostile to any country. The BSF chief also urged Bangladesh to expedite verification of nationality for early repatriation of Bangladeshi nationals lodged in Indian jails and correction homes to ensure their early repatriation. The statement said both officers decided to approach their respective ministries to increase the number of “border haats” and promote border tourism to help improve socio-economic condition of the border people.
Source: Business Standard, Feb 21, 2017
How Fake 2,000 Notes Are Smuggled Into India From Bangladesh Border
Malda in West Bengal was always the capital for counterfeit notes smuggled in from bordering Bangladesh. Demonetisation had brought the business to a standstill. But in a worrying development, the fake notes are back. In the last three weeks, around Rs. 4 lakh worth of fake 2,000 rupee notes were seized by the Border Security Force or BSF. What is worrying is the quality of the fakes as they seem to look very close to the new notes introduced just three months ago.
On February 15, 100 notes were seized from the border at Churiyantpur. On 19th, 96 notes were seized again from a courier on the National Highway. In one case the courier was caught and handed over to the police. In the other, the courier escaped leaving the packet along the fence separating India and Bangladesh.
As NDTV visited the porous border near Kaliachak in Malda and districts like Murshidabad, we learnt that the barbed wire between Sushani village in Malda and Nawabganj district in Bangladesh is no hindrance for the smugglers. For them it’s an easy job as it just entails throwing a packet of fake currency notes across the fence into India which is then picked up by a courier and taken to the highway around 13 kilometres from the National Highway and around 40 km from Farrakka station.
With villages in close proximity on the international border, the smugglers use places like Sushani and Churiyantpur to smuggle in fake notes. The BSF says most couriers used on the Indian side reside on the border and sometimes the villagers do it themselves. Even if the courier comes from another place they are in touch with the villagers for cover and coordinating their escape once the consignment is picked up. The courier usually pretends to be working in the fields if it is day time. If it is night time, they simply hide in the bushes or mango orchards. The smugglers from Bangladesh do the same and the moment they see an opportunity they throw packets across the border which the courier picks up and makes a quick escape.
Villagers at Sushani admit openly that the smugglers use these routes and they are often forced to help the couriers escape. They say they are caught between the criminals and security forces. “They keep threatening us. They tell us if you don’t help, we will tell the BSF that you do this and you will be trapped. If we tell anyone they will drop the notes into our house to trouble us,” says Laljan Miyan, a resident of Sushani.
“If we stop them they throw the notes at our home and run away. The BSF will catch the person who has the notes. That’s how they are running the business nowadays,” added Firoz Miyan, another resident.
The BSF is worried they have only been able to catch a few couriers so far and not the kingpins in Kaliachak who collaborate with the ISI, which, intelligence agencies claim, supplies the fake notes. With the fakes improving in quality, tracking them down will be that much harder as the smugglers are looking at making up for the lost time. The BSF also suspects that the notes coming in now are samples and once the smugglers are confident that the copies are perfect the attempts to send in fake currency will go up significantly.
“They have compromised some security features but not all the features. They have definitely not been able to get to the paper right. The texture of the paper is of poorer quality but for a lay person it can sometimes be passed off as a genuine note and unless you’re very careful it is difficult to identify these fake notes,” Inspector General, BSF (South Bengal), PSR Anjaneyulu told NDTV.
Source: NDTV, Feb 21, 2017
Why Isn’t Afghan Taliban on US List of Foreign Terror Groups?
They both call themselves the Taliban. They regularly carry out deadly suicide bombings, kill civilians with impunity and, in many respects, behave like brutish terrorist groups.
So why is one — the Tehrik-I Taliban of Pakistan — on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, while the other — Afghanistan’s Taliban — is not?
To the U.S., the Afghan Taliban is largely an insurgency with control over vast swaths of territory and aspirations to govern the country, while its Pakistani offspring is considered nothing but a terrorist organization. But the real reason the Afghan Taliban is not on the list has more to do with political considerations than whether or not it meets the statutory criteria for a terrorist designation, experts say.
To be declared a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, a foreign group must engage in terrorism and threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security of the United States. The Afghan Taliban meet both criteria.
Yet, political expedience has obligated keeping the group off the list of 61 organizations ranging from the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group to the Palestinian group Hamas, experts say.
In the case of the Taliban, the deterring factor has long been a concern that applying the terror label to the group would restrict U.S. and Afghan government diplomatic contacts with the Taliban, making peace talks more difficult.
Source: VOA News, February 20, 2017
India, Afghanistan take a hard line on Taliban at Moscow conference
India and Afghanistan took a hard line at the six-nation talks in Moscow on Wednesday, opposing the dominant view from Russia, China and Pakistan to involve the Taliban in reconciliation efforts.
Briefing the media about the outcome of the talks that were held between senior officials of all the countries, that also included Iran, External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that denying “safe havens or sanctuaries to any terrorist group or individual in countries of our region,” was essential to stabilising the situation in Afghanistan.
Reconciliation efforts must be driven by the Afghanistan government and could only be facilitated by “friends and well wishers of Afghanistan,” he said, indicating that the previous round of QCG (Quadrilateral Coordination Group) hosted by Pakistan was not acceptable.
Without naming Pakistan, Afghanistan’s representative at the talks, M. Ashraf Haidari, who is the Director General of Policy and Strategy in the MFA, said that it was necessary to “effect a change in the behaviour of certain state actors” in order to end the violence that has reached record levels in the last year.
Referring to Pakistan’s stand on “good/bad Taliban” echoed by officials in Moscow, and the talks between China and Taliban officials last year, he said: “The key challenge to the process remains a policy selectivity by some to distinguish between good and bad terrorists, even though terrorism is a common threat that confronts the whole region, where if one of us doesn’t stand firm against it, others’ counter-terrorism efforts will not bear the results we all seek.”
Another point of contention that emerged was over the composition of the talks hosted by Russia. Afghanistan made a strong pitch for the United States to be included as one of its most important partners. It said it was a necessary part of all processes to “end war and usher in sustainable peace in Afghanistan”.
Source: The Hindu, Feb 17, 2017
China ‘Silk Road’ project in Sri Lanka delayed as Beijing toughens stance
China will delay a planned $1.1 billion investment in a port on its modern-day “Silk Road” until Sri Lanka clears legal and political obstacles to a related project, piling more pressure on the island nation. Heavily indebted Sri Lanka needs the money, but payment for China’s interests in Hambantota port could be delayed by several weeks or months, the sources added. After signing an agreement last December, state-run China Merchants Port Holdings had been expected to buy an 80 percent stake in the southern port before an initial target date of Jan. 7.
Beijing also has a separate understanding with Colombo to develop a 15,000-acre industrial zone in the same area, a deal that Sri Lanka was hoping to finalise later. But Colombo’s plans to sell the stake and acquire land for the industrial zone have run into stiff domestic opposition, backed by trade unions and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Now Beijing has linked the signing of the port deal with an agreement to develop the industrial zone, saying it would hold off on both until Colombo resolved domestic issues, officials on both sides of the talks said.
President Maithripala Sirisena is struggling to contain popular opposition to land acquisition for the huge Chinese industrial zone, including from Rajapaksa, who remains an influential opposition legislator. The deal for the port development and industrial zone has also been challenged in court, which means it is stuck at least until the next hearing on March 3.
Rajapaksa’s role, the court case and violent protests by people afraid they could be evicted from their land underlined how Beijing does not always get its own way even in countries that badly need investment.
Sri Lanka wants Chinese money to help alleviate its debt burden; the government had expected to have the proceeds from the stake sale within six months of signing the agreement before Jan. 7. Sri Lanka has been under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to cut its deficit, shore up foreign exchange reserves and increase tax revenues as part of a $1.5 billion loan agreement struck in 2016.
At least part of the money from the port deal would have gone towards paying down some of the more expensive loans on the government’s books, some of which are from China, a senior Sri Lankan government official said. Hambantota port and a nearby airport were built from 2008 by the Rajapaksa government with the help of $1.7 billion in Chinese loans.
When Sirisena unseated Rajapaksa in an upset victory in 2015, he froze all Chinese investments, alleging unfair dealings by his predecessor. Sirisena eventually negotiated a new deal with the Chinese government that involved the stake sale and further plans for the Chinese to develop an industrial zone. The Chinese government expects to invest about $5 billion to develop the area within 3-5 years. Sirisena also agreed to give land to the Chinese on a 99-year lease.
The terms did not go down well with port trade unions, which have asked the government to reduce the Chinese stake to 65 percent and lease period to 50 years. Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in January when a demonstration against the planned industrial zone turned violent.
Source: New Indian Express, Feb 16, 2017
Open borders with Nepal, Bhutan pose security threat
Although India has an open border with neighbours Nepal and Bhutan, the porous nature of the borders have started raising concerns on national security.
Declared ‘open’ as per international friendship treaties, these borders are unique in nature. It is not mandatory for citizens of the three countries to have passports or visa to cross borders. Despite the presence of boundary demarcating pillars along the 699-kmlong Indo-Bhutan border and the 1,751km-long Indo-Nepal border, as per the friendship treaty, none of the the pillars can be fenced. While help maintaining close ties and encouraging border trade, the open borders might be fostering illegal activities. “These open borders are highly porous. People across these borders have good relationship between themselves.But a lot of unwanted activities also takes place,“ said S Bandopadhyay, IG, Siliguri Frontier, Sashastra Seema Bal, that guards these two international borders.
Former chief justice of Supreme Court of Nepal and Human Rights Commission chairperson of the country Justice Anup Raj Sharma also expressed his views along the same lines. “Human trafficking, smuggling of fake currencies, endangered animals or animal body parts are all major concerns across the Indo-Nepal border,“.
While all the entry and exit points allow citizens of Nepal and Bhutan to enter India freely, there is no system to verify citizenship or registration of the people or vehicles entering through the international entry points.
“If visa is denied to a person in India, he/she may get it from Nepal and Bhutan and enter India through one of these countries. Such person’s entry and exit in India remains unregistered and can be a major security threat,“ a security official said. “Governments should instruct security agencies to check identities of everyone crossing the borders and keep record. That can reduce security threat,“ said Justice Sharma.
Source: The Economic Times, Feb 28, 2017