Weekend Reading: December 5-7

December 5, 2014
OPERATION Enduring Freedom

Happy Friday from War on the Rocks, where our minds and bodies only barely managed to survive the first week back from that nice, long Thanksgiving holiday. Luckily, some interesting events happened around the world. Here’s our weekly round-up of the best pieces we read this week.

What’s going on in Afghanistan? Taliban militants have stepped up their attacks in Kabul in an effort to undermine confidence in the new government. The Soufan Group’s brief explains why this recent upsurge in violence has prompted the Obama Administration to extend the combat role for U.S. troops beyond 2014 and provide commanders with additional tools to help the Afghan government. In WOTR, Michael G. Waltz details why lifting the night raid ban was the right move by Afghan President Ghani.

Remember Ebola? What a few weeks ago seemed to be the next end-of-the-world epidemic has gotten awfully quiet recently. The New York Review of Books’ Helen Epstein argues that it was a combination of exaggeration, rumor spreading and distrust that led to the hysteria. Things got a little creative indeed with local newspapers and radio programs accusing Liberian President Sirleaf of inventing the crisis in an effort to dupe foreign aid donors into sending her money.

Why do so many Europeans choose to fight for extremist groups in Syria? Der Spiegel provides a great narrative of why young Germans are answering the call to holy war. These developments also worry U.S. lawmakers, who have threatened to impose travel restrictions on allied citizens if their governments don’t beef up their efforts to stop their citizens from joining ISIL. Julian Pecquet tackles the issue for Al-Monitor.

Gaziantep, the city that become infamous overnight. The New Yorker’s Robin Wright profiles the southern Turkish city, which has become a hub for spies, refugees, insurgents and rebels in Syria’s multisided war.

Don’t want to read today? Try watching this! Vice News sits down with Mark Danner to discuss how the invasion of Iraq and the ensuing war provided what he describes as a “warm petri dish” of insurgent elements.

Hezbollah still wants Israel dead, it’s just really busy with Syria right now. At a time when other commitments seem to be weakening the terror group, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is adamant about his group’s ability and willingness to fight Israel. For Politico, Matthew Levitt unpacks the rhetoric and finds that Hezbollah is desperately trying to avoid a full-blown military conflict with Israel right now and is therefore limiting its attacks on Israeli targets to small and infrequent roadside bombs along the Lebanese border.

Don’t ‘like’ ISIL on Facebook! The UK’s parliamentary intelligence and security committee recently upped its fight against terrorism to include algorithms, very similar to those used by Google and Facebook to suggest content you might like and people you might know. From now on these automated scripts will not only scan your posts to sell you stuff, but also check that you are not plotting the downfall of Western civilization. The Guardian’s James Ball gives us his rather satirical take on the issue.

More Cyber! A brand new report from Cylance, the cyber-threat services company, reveals the extent of Iranian hacking activities. The perpetrators have directly attacked and extracted highly sensitive materials from the networks of government agencies and major critical infrastructure companies in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and many others.

Flying submarines? Unlikely. But take a look at RAND’s David Ochmanek’s testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on the role of maritime and air power in DoD’s Third Offset Strategy. Want to know what other experts are thinking? Alexandra Sander provides an overview of exactly that on WOTR.

Kurdistan: still not a country. Tuesday’s deal between Iraq’s central government and the Kurds to share the country’s oil riches was well received in U.S. policy circles. However, as Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker argues, this signals a halting of momentum for Kurdistan’s independence ambitions.

Sci-Fi battles have more in common with the past than the future. Carl Forsling analyzes how battles are fought in Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica and finds that not only do they lack any understanding of warfare strategy and military innovation, but they also portray the illusion of war being glorious and painless.

And of course, check out these great reads published this week on War on the Rocks!

  • Lawrence Freedman gave a brilliant keynote lecture on strategy this week. Check out the audio here!
  • Ben FitzGerald offers a compelling argument for a dominant military power not to rely on technical superiority to the point where it abandons the production of existing weapons platforms.
  • August Cole makes the case for adding artists to the Pentagon’s advisory panels to encourage creativity when thinking about the country’s toughest national security problems.


Photo credit: DVIDSHUB