Thursday, January 26, 2012

Nigeria Threat, Lowering U.S. Military Budget, Egypt Issue, Strange Sounds

Nigeria's Boko Haram Militants Remain a Regional Threat
January 26, 2012 | 1206 GMT

By Scott Stewart
The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram conducted a series of bombing attacks and armed assaults Jan. 20 in the northern city of Kano, the capital of Kano state and second-largest city in Nigeria. The attacks, which reportedly included the employment of at least two suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), targeted a series of police facilities in Kano. These included the regional police headquarters, which directs police operations in Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states, as well as the State Security Service office and the Nigerian Immigration Service office. At least 211 people died in the Kano attacks, according to media reports.

The group carried out a second wave of attacks in Bauchi state on Jan. 22, bombing two unoccupied churches in the Bauchi metropolitan area and attacking a police station in the Tafawa Balewa local government area. Militants reportedly also tried to rob a bank in Tafawa Balewa the same day. Though security forces thwarted the robbery attempt, 10 people reportedly died in the clash, including two soldiers and a deputy police superintendent.

In a third attack, Boko Haram militants attacked a police sub-station in Kano on Jan. 24 with small arms and improvised hand grenades. A tally of causalities in the assault, which reportedly lasted some 25 minutes, was not available. This armed assault stands out tactically from the Jan. 20 suicide attacks against police stations in Kano. The operation could have been an attempt to liberate some of the Boko Haram militants the government arrested following the Jan. 20 and Jan. 22 attacks.

Stratfor has followed Boko Haram carefully to assess its intent -- and ability -- to become more transnational. As we noted after the U.S. State Department issued warnings in early November 2011 about Boko Haram's alleged plans to strike Western-owned hotels in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, the group made significant leaps in its operational capability during 2011. During that time, it transitioned from very simple attacks to successfully employing suicide VBIEDS. An examination of the recent attacks in Kano and Bauchi states, however, does not reveal further advances in the group's operational tradecraft and does not display any new ability or intent to project power beyond its traditional areas of operation.

Boko Haram's Tactical Evolution

Boko Haram, Hausa for "Western Education is Sinful," is an Islamist militant group established in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state. It has since spread to several other northern and central Nigerian states. It is officially known as "Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad," Arabic for "Group Committed to Propagating the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad."

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Budgeting for a new military vision

By Larry Shaughnessy
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta unveiled details of a budget plan that slices half a trillion dollars in spending increases over the next 10 years and serves as blueprint for the administration's vision of how America's military needs to change.

The savings would begin in October, the start of fiscal year 2013.

Panetta, speaking Thursday at the Pentagon, said he will request a total budget that is $33 billion smaller than the current one. All told, his plan meets Congress's mandate to reduce Pentagon spending by $487 billion in the next 10 years.

To accomplish that, Panetta said, a new strategy was developed for the military force of the future, one that will allow the Pentagon "to fashion the agile and flexible military force we need for the future." For example, he said, the Army will save money by pulling two of its four brigades out of permanent bases in Europe to bases in the United States.

But at the same time, the Army will increase rotational deployments to bases so more units will have an opportunity to train with NATO allies. And the Navy will be getting rid of older ships that don't have the latest ballistic missile defense but buying new ones that will have that capability.

And this new budget may be critical for what it doesn't cut, things like spending on Special Operations Forces, like the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden as well as overall numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator, which have been so valuable in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This plan calls for more total spending on those capabilities.

If approved by Congress, the savings next year and the following nine years would be achieved by moves including trimming the numbers of troops in the Army and Marine Corps and retiring nearly a dozen older Navy ships and six Air Force tactical squadrons, as well as smaller pay raises for troops beginning in 2015.
The Army's cost savings will come from reducing the "end strength," the total number of active duty soldiers.

There are currently 556,000 soldiers in the Army, but Panetta would reduce that number to 490,000.
A similar move is being planned for the Marines, which would drop to 182,000 from the current level of 200,000 active duty Marines.  Both the Army and Marine end strengths would be slightly higher than they were just prior to 9/11.

"They will be fundamentally reshaped by a decade of war - far more lethal, battle-hardened and ready," Panetta said.

Because there will be fewer soldiers and Marines to support, the Air Force is being asked to reduce its airlift fleet.  The budget also calls for a reduction of six tactical air squadrons as well as one training squadron. Panetta insists that such moves will mean "minimal risk to our dominance of the skies."

The Navy has perhaps the most difficult duty.  Panetta and President Obama have both repeatedly said the United States remains committed to the Asia/Pacific region, which it now supports largely through the 7th Fleet.

But the budget calls for retiring seven old cruisers and two small amphibious ships. The Navy will also delay buying a dozen new ships by a year or more to save money in the short term.

Panetta just last week announced the department's commitment to the newest generation jet fighter, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is being built for the Air Force, Navy and Marines.  But Thursday he said, "In this budget, we have slowed the procurement to complete more testing and allow for developmental changes before buying in significant quantities.

The portion of the outline that may trigger the most opposition is a plan aimed at troops' salaries and retired troops' health benefits.  Panetta promised full pay raises for fiscal 2013 and 2014, but he said, "We will achieve some cost savings by providing more limited pay raises beginning in 2015."


Executive Branch - POLITICS
Washington power-brokers defend Egypt after raids on US offices

By Judson Berger

Published January 26, 2012


Prominent American lobbyists are coming under fire for offering "talking points" smoothing over a recent raid by Egyptian security forces on the offices of 10 rights and democracy groups – including three American organizations.

The late December raids were decried by the U.S. government as "harassment." Since then, the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that were hit have been locked in a battle with the Egyptian government. Workers have been dragged in for questioning. Despite repeated assurances, the Egyptian government has not returned the loads of equipment it confiscated in the raids.

Most recently, several rights workers, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have been prevented from exiting the country.

As the fallout builds, U.S. lobbyists -- longtime representatives of the Egyptian government in Washington -- are being accused of trying to mute the criticism on behalf of the new regime in Cairo.

The situation is "depressing," said U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a congressionally mandated group named after the late congressman and human rights advocate from California.

Wolf, who described the raids as an attempt to ultimately drive out foreign groups, has suggested the U.S. reconsider aid to Egypt unless Cairo backs

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Weird Noise: Strange Sounds Popping Up In Different Parts Of Canada

UPDATE: The strange sounds phenomenon continues to spread, with videos popping up from Canada and around the world featuring similar noises. The weird sounds have allegedly been recorded in a number of cities, including Winnipeg, Chicago and Glasgow. While many viewers are intrigued, others are equally skeptical about the strange sounds. Is this the latest Internet meme?
The Huffington Post Canada first spotted a video recorded in an Alberta forest featuring bizarre sounds on Jan. 16. The video – which was originally uploaded on Jan. 13 – has already received more than 1.2 million views. A user created a video earlier this week that compiled a bunch of posts, including the video from Conklin, Atla.

Two bizarre — yet oddly similar — videos of howling have been recorded in separate parts of Canada, capturing the imagination of YouTube viewers and skeptics alike.

The first video, posted on Jan. 13, reportedly recorded strange sounds in a forest in Conklin, Alta., a remote community northeast of Edmonton. The unidentified noise – which sounds like it came straight from the soundtrack of a horror movie – has racked up more than 500,000 views and dozens of comments, many of which question its authenticity. WATCH ABOVE.

Another video surfaced just a few days later on Jan. 15, with similar sounds apparently recorded in The Pas, Manitoba, more than 1,000 kilometres away. WATCH BELOW.

Coincidence? We may need Mulder and Scully to investigate.

“Sounds like a good start to a death metal song...” said one user about the first video.

“Aliens obviously,” another viewer wrote.

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