Weekend Reading: October 24–25 Edition

October 24, 2015

Happy weekend, WOTR readers!  Got some time to kill and want to read (or watch) something interesting?  We got you.

Russia spices up its intervention in Syria with drone footage

A Russian website affiliated with a state-owned TV network has published video footage of battles in Damascus between regime forces and rebels. It isn’t the grainy, black-and-white footage we associate with military surveillance drones; it has the polished look of the commercial-drone work you’d expect in a music video. Reportedly, it’s part of an effort to drum up the support for the war among Russians. Combined with the music, the footage of the absolute destruction of this war-torn country’s capital city is incredibly haunting. Check it out on RealClearDefense.

Hillary used her own email because State’s … pretty much sucked

With Hillary Clinton’s testimony Benghazi committee this week, her emails are in the news again (or still). According to reports, she was aware of deficiencies in the State Department’s IT infrastructure, but didn’t prioritize necessary upgrades. Diplopundit explains how this reportedly lax approach is contrasted with the treatment of IT issues under Colin Powell, who had served on the board of America Online and “considered Internet access an indispensable resource in his own daily life.”

The Indian Theater of the Cuban Missile Crisis

This month marks the 53rd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We all know the story, right? Well, there’s another story intertwined with it — a Chinese invasion of India that played out at the same time. While JFK was focused on nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union, he was also, according to newly declassified information, fielding phone calls from Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asking for U.S. military assistance to fend off the Chinese. Want to know more? Go check out the Brookings Institution’s short and fun video with Bruce Reidel.

How does Afghanistan survive?

Ahmed Rashid, a seasoned observer of the region, chimes in The New York Review of Books. President Obama’s decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan beyond the end his presidency will not change things much, Rashid explains. He paints a dark picture: “The entire Afghan state is now threatened. Afghan officials told me that the Taliban pose a grave threat to some seventeen of the country’s thirty-four provinces. Of those, a half dozen are in danger of falling completely into Taliban control, including Helmand and Uruzgan in the south.”

Helmand might fall?

Yest, it is starting to look like a real possibility. At the height of the surge, Helmand Province was home to one out of every five ISAF troops. The investment of U.S. and British resources in Helmand was immense. Remember government-in-a box? Unfortunately we do too. Helmand is actually where WOTR honchos Ryan Evans and John Amble met.

According to Janes and other outlets, Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, is under threat. The Taliban overran checkpoints close to the capital and in the neighboring district of Nad-e-Ali. Insurgents are also pushing in from Babaji, a small rural region north of the provincial capital and south of Gereshk, Helmand’s second-largest city and the epicenter of its drugs trade. Babaji and especially Nad-e-Ali saw major ISAF offensives against the Taliban in 2010. If you’re feeling nostalgic, WOTR’s Ryan Evans wrote a book chapter on the success of counterinsurgency operations in Babaji based on his time there, although these successes might be in the process of being erased.

Border drones in ‘Nam

One of the biggest challenges during the Vietnam War was the steady influx of manpower and material from north to south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The United States tried many different things to put a stop to this, including something called Operation Igloo White. At Paleofuture, Matt Novak has the story of this high-tech boondoggle that didn’t deliver on its promises: “The US military sought to build a virtual fence dividing North and South Vietnam. And in the process they helped to invent the modern electronic battlefield” along with many technologies that are used on the U.S. border with Mexico to this day, including drones.

Dropping knowledge on militancy

There is a new issue of the CTC Sentinel out featuring pieces by WOTR regular contributors Brian Fishman and Daveed-Gartenstein Ross as well as friends of WOTR like JM Berger and Bridget Moreng. This issue addresses Turkey’s approach to the Islamic State, how to throw a wrench in the Islamic State’s online recruitment strategy, the first Islamic State defector, the Tunisian jihadist scene, and more.