Weekly Roundup (17 April-21 April)

Australian soldiers caught up in Islamic State chemical attack in Mosul

19 April 2017, Washington D.C., United States – ABC News – International moral outrage at the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government earlier this month, gave way to the reality of allied forces operating in theatres of combat where the use of chemical weapons is an ever-present danger.

Over the Syrian border, in Iraq, the “biggest battle on the planet” is taking place between Iraqi forces (and their Western trainers) and the forces of Islamic State for the city of Mosul, which IS had captured from Iraq back in 2014. Islamic State spans both northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria. The forces of Islamic State have the capacity of assembling low-grade chemical weapons, largely chlorine-based, and in their ‘mother of all battles’ in Mosul in which they are outgunned and outnumbered by Iraqi security forces, IS fighters will stoop to any level in order to take out as many Iraqi forces loyal to the government of Haider al-Abadi.

Though US and Australian forces operating in and around Mosul showed no signs of exposure, the fact that these forces had been caught up in this incident demonstrates that allied personnel have the potential of being either targeted or indirect victims of chemical weapon attacks, whether by low grade jerry-rigged or higher grade weapons such as sarin gas.

This should give Western governments pause for thought when considering their likely intervention on the side of rebel forces in Syria, or their continuing presence in support of Al-Abadi’s government in Baghdad.

Those who seek humanitarian intervention in the form of regime change in Syria need to consider the latest reports from Israel suggesting that the Assad government still has around 3 tonnes of sarin, a point that may well be a ‘Casus Bellum’ against Damascus, or, act as a deterrent against further Western military involvement.

Either way, state and non-state actors that demonstrate possession and operational use of chemical weapons on the ground, may well alter contemporary and future battlefields to their favour, tactically if not strategically.

World given false timeline about US aircraft carrier headed for Korean Peninsula

19 April 2017, Washington D.C., United States – news.com.au – In a somewhat reckless move by the White House during the recent heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, President Trump announced that the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which was on route for an exercise with the Royal Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, would be immediately directed to waters off Korea.

While not an unreasonable proposition, the carrier strike group was some 3,500 miles out from Korea and sailing in the opposite direction away from East Asia while the rest of the world thought that Trump was acting decisively against Kim Jong-un.

While there are those who might argue that this was a masterful strategic hoodwink against Pyongyang by Trump, there are deeper issues at stake.

Credibility for one.

Even if deliberately using deception or psychological operations, there has to be a point at which, if one’s bluff is called, force can be brought to bear to show that American power is no straw man.

Furthermore, if critical allies in the East Asian region (such as South Korea or Japan), are not able to believe what the White House is saying about their protection, there is a danger that America’s conventional deterrent may be called out not just by the Kim dynasty in North Korea, but by more robust powers like China and Russia. One can only hope that wiser heads in Washington will learn from this incident and not repeat it.

U.S. May Not Be Able to Shoot Down North Korean Missiles, Say Experts

19 April 2017, Washington D.C., United States – NBC News – For those countries wanting to boast about their anti-ballistic missile capabilities, one thing stands in the way of ambition: science.

After billions of dollars spent since President Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ anti-ballistic missile system, the US, it seems, is still far from being guaranteed to use a missile to shoot down another missile at extreme range. While there have been some notable successes, for instance, the US Patriot systems which during the 1991 Gulf War took out a number of Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles, whether these systems could in similar fashion take out the current generation North Korean No-Dong or later generation medium-range ballistic missile types is anyone’s guess.

The US has a dedicated long-range, high altitude anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system based at Fort Greely, Alaska. The missiles are theoretically far more advanced than the Patriot and stand ready to shoot down any nuclear-armed missile flying over the Pacific to the US west coast.

American ABM missiles have never been tested in a real-world situation and so their capabilities are largely inferred from computer simulations and ‘highly staged’ tests.

While many experts argue that North Korea is years away from creating an operational Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), experts also contend that the US is years away from having its ABM systems operational. Considering that North Korea’s primary aim is to intimidate the US, South Korea and Japan in the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula – specifically the 38th Parallel and adjacent areas – talk of North Korean ICBMs may well be flights of rhetorical fancy, designed to keep the US and its allies off balance.

French police officer killed in shooting on Champs Élysée

21 April 2017, Paris, France – The Guardian – In the age of terrorism, no one should be surprised that there seems a proliferation of organised and lone-wolf assaults against Western capitals, especially those that appear the most vulnerable to them.

Paris it seems is the fulcrum for terrorist activity in Europe.

The disenfranchised Muslim immigrant community, sitting within a majority cultural group that has no successful recent history of assimilating ‘non-French groups’, underscores its importance as a target for jihadist violence. Those of North African descent and who for many years classified themselves not by religion but by ethnicity, have generally not been lifted into the French mainstream and sit on the poorer socio-economic fringes, where many younger members of these communities ‘found’ extremist religion as a means of punishing the French for their insolence.

And as this polarisation grew, anti-Muslim sentiment grew with it among the French mainstream, so much so that National Front Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen stands a chance of becoming the next French President unless all the left-wing and centrist groups in France form a strong and united anti-National Front coalition.

With national divisions being so passionate and potentially volatile, it is no surprise that someone from the radicalised Muslim community chose to ignite a spark just before the start of polling for the presidential election.

If a left-centre candidate wins, it is likely that the slow-burning conflict between French Muslim and anti-Muslim groups will continue. If Le Pen wins, however, internal social conflict may well become institutionalised and wide-scale Muslim/anti-Muslim violence the norm. Le Pen stands to gain tactically from the 21st April attack at the Champs Élysée and any further terrorist violence before the second round of polling closes in May.

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