In any given year, a handful of companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States. Rarely, however, does one of these filings reverberate beyond the boardroom and into the realm of geopolitics. Those that do — Lehman Brothers in 2008, or several U.S. automakers in 2008-10 — usually involve hundreds of billions of dollars. But the next big geopolitically relevant bankruptcy may be on the horizon, and the amount of money involved is tiny next to the collapses of the past decade.
On March 29, Westinghouse Electric Co., a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba, filed for bankruptcy. The U.S.-based nuclear power company has been building two state-of-the-art nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina, but it has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The filing sent Toshiba scrambling to cut its losses by March 31, the end of Japan's fiscal year. The Japanese conglomerate ended up writing down over $6 billion on its nuclear reactor business. But Toshiba's troubles don't end there; the firm is also working to sell off a portion of its chip manufacturing holdings.
The U.S. government is worried about what the sale of Westinghouse could mean for the future of traditional nuclear power in the United States and for nuclear power in China, which is keen to learn the secrets of a Western firm such as Westinghouse. The Japanese government, meanwhile, is wary of how Beijing could benefit in the long term, should a Chinese firm acquire Toshiba's semiconductor unit.
A Setback for the Nuclear Renaissance
Even though the current and previous U.S. administrations have supported nuclear energy — and the first new reactor in the United States in two decades started last October — the future of traditional American nuclear power is not bright. High capital costs, climbing operating costs, sustained low natural gas prices and unfavorable electricity markets all limit its expansion. And with the failure of Westinghouse — one of the two major nuclear power firms in the country (the other, GE, is also scaling back its plans) — the picture looks even bleaker.
Westinghouse's plants in Georgia and South Carolina are supposed to feature its new AP1000 pressurized water reactors, which were designed to be both safer and easier to build. The projects, however, have been hamstrung by setbacks and cost overruns totaling some $3 billion for each project. Westinghouse's bankruptcy filing now puts them in limbo. Though there's still a chance the projects will be completed, it's hard to envision Westinghouse, even if it is sold, fulfilling its one-time plan of building perhaps dozens of plants in the United States.
But all hope is not lost for growth in the U.S. nuclear sector. The difference is that growth, if it is to occur, may come not from traditional nuclear powerhouses, which are expensive and inflexible, but from a new technology: small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs are reactors smaller than 300 megawatts that are, as the name suggests, built in a modular fashion. In theory, they can be manufactured offsite and then assembled where needed, significantly lowering initial capital costs, one of nuclear power's biggest constraints. Installation can also be done as needed, avoiding potential underutilization of capacity and, again, large capital costs, enabling nuclear energy to serve markets that would otherwise be unreachable.
The U.S. Department of Energy has supported the development of SMRs in the past. Two companies, Babcock & Wilcox and NuScale Power, have received federal funding to develop SMRs in recent years. Babcock & Wilcox has since scaled back its operations, but NuScale is forging ahead. The company recently filed plans with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deploy SMRs at the Idaho National Laboratory.
SMRs are promising, but the first pilot plants won't be operational until at least the mid-2020s. And as with any unproven technology, the costs and benefits aren't yet known and won't be for some time. Supporters have proposed public-private partnerships to aid in the commercialization of SMR technology. But given the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. federal budget and the administration's specific plans for infrastructure, it remains to be seen whether SMR technology will be able to get off the ground. Traditional nuclear power plants would be helpful to bridge the gap, and that is where Westinghouse's bankruptcy will be felt the most in the United States. SMRs may provide the clearest path to a future of nuclear power in the country, but it won't be an easy one.
A Motivated Buyer
The shedding of Westinghouse is not the only part of Toshiba's financial restructuring that has been causing waves. As Toshiba's board approved Westinghouse's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, U.S. officials raised concerns about national security. Chinese corporate espionage has targeted Westinghouse in the past, and U.S. officials are worried that a Chinese firm could simply buy access to the secrets it has tried before to steal.
Japan has concerns as well, though they are centered not on Westinghouse but on the sale of Toshiba's semiconductor unit. On March 30, Toshiba's shareholders voted to split off its NAND flash memory unit. Apple, Amazon, Google and several other U.S. firms expressed interest in acquiring it, as did Asian bidders from South Korea. Toshiba said April 7 that it had narrowed the list of bidders down to 10. But the group still includes Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision (otherwise known as Foxconn), with a bid of $27 billion, which could set the stage for a dispute down the road. Should a Chinese company — or even a Taiwanese company with extensive operations on the mainland — acquire the semiconductor business, it would undermine the competitiveness of Japan's tech sector relative to China's in the long run.
The timing couldn't be much better for Beijing, which is making semiconductor mergers and acquisitions the focal point of its overseas mergers and acquisitions strategy in much the same way it focused on oil and natural gas in the mid-2000s. On March 28, Tsinghua Unigroup, China's largest chipmaker, finalized $22 billion in funding from the China Development Bank and the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund to build up the country's semiconductor sector and push for global mergers and acquisitions. Tsinghua Unigroup is serious about growth; in January, it announced plans to build a $30 billion fabrication plant in Nanjing. Such growth would pose an existential threat to the semiconductor industries of Japan and South Korea, and the sale of Toshiba's semiconductor business to a Chinese company would only make such a scenario more likely.
None of these potential concerns about the fallout from Toshiba's corruption, mismanagement and financial problems is surprising. The United States has always had an interest in the sale of nuclear-related technology, and Japan's tech sector has long been one of its most important and most competitive industries. But the struggles of Toshiba and the demise of Westinghouse are a rare instance in which a corporate breakdown has important geopolitical consequences.
"A Bankruptcy of Nuclear Proportions is republished with permission of Stratfor."
The Chinese navy has reportedly seized a U.S. Navy unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) in the South China Sea, adding a new layer of tension to the two countries’ uneasy relationship. According to several reports, China deployed a boat on Dec. 15 to capture the vehicle in waters 50-100 nautical miles northwest of the Philippines’ Subic Bay port, just before the USNS Bowditch was preparing to retrieve the UUV. U.S. defense officials have said that Washington has requested, through the appropriate diplomatic channels, that Beijing return the vehicle. The incident comes amid increasingly harsh rhetoric between Chinese leaders and the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, though frictions have been worsening between Washington and Beijing for years as the United States has sought to counter Chinese expansionism in the disputed waters.
The USNS Bowditch, a Pathfinder-class survey ship under the Naval Oceanographic Office’s Maritime Sealift Command, is routinely deployed to survey and map the ocean floor. Though this mission is ostensibly civilian in nature, the data the ship collects also has useful military applications that are particularly relevant for submarine navigation. In its demand for the UUV’s safe return, the United States asserted that the vehicle had been captured in international waters.
A similar dispute arose in 2009 when Chinese naval, maritime security and fishing vessels trailed and harassed the USNS Impeccable. The Impeccable, also a U.S. Navy maritime surveillance ship, was using towed arrays to map the seafloor and, as Washington later admitted, to track the paths of Chinese submarines. During the incident, a Chinese fishing boat tried to grapple the sonar dragging behind the U.S. ship. But there are two major differences between the 2009 and 2016 spats. First, in the most recent case, China nabbed a U.S. naval vessel, even if it was unmanned. Second, it did so far from Chinese shores. (In 2009, the Impeccable was underway near Hainan Island, the main base for Beijing’s nuclear submarines.)
The latest episode appears to be a fairly bold move on China’s part. By taking physical action in the South China Sea, Beijing could be trying to assert its claims in the contested waters, many of which were likely undermined by the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling against China’s artificial island construction. That said, based on statements by U.S. defense officials, the incident supposedly occurred more than 50 nautical miles from the Scarborough Shoal, China’s nearest territorial claim. China is also, of course, attempting to address more direct security concerns. The underwater mapping that the Bowditch would have been engaged in can be used to support U.S. anti-submarine operations by identifying submarines’ most likely paths and, in doing so, improve the targeting and efficacy of anti-submarine monitoring and patrols.
China’s decision to take the UUV will certainly ratchet up tensions with the United States, though not to the same extent as in 2001, when Beijing held the crew members of a downed U.S. aircraft on Hainan Island. That incident, however, was accidental (even if Chinese jets were closely shadowing U.S. aircraft). This week’s was not. The premeditated move may have been a calculated signal of China’s willingness to pressure the United States, should Washington reconsider its recognition of Taiwan as it has hinted it may. Beijing may also be indicating that it has no intention of backing down from its assertive tactics in the South China Sea.
In the United States, the incident will no doubt inflame the heated political debate about how best to manage Washington’s relations to China in the years ahead, particularly as Trump prepares to take office. Meanwhile, for Southeast Asian states already struggling to safeguard their maritime interests, their positions in the disputed waters will only grow more precarious. Given the location of the capture and China’s blatant actions, according to U.S. allegations, the U.S. Navy will probably be compelled to respond by stepping up its presence in the South China Sea and providing armed escorts to U.S. surveillance vessels. This, in turn, could give rise to more posturing and harassment operations from China as Beijing pushes back against Washington’s growing footprint in the Asia-Pacific region.
"China Captures a U.S. Navy Drone in the South China Sea is republished with permission of Stratfor."
After months of intensive preparations, the battle of Mosul is fast approaching. For much of the past year, Iraqi security forces have been streaming north and working to put the necessary logistics into place in anticipation of the offensive. Iraqi army Chief of Staff Gen. Othman al-Ghanmi announced on Oct. 13 that the preparations are complete, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave the order to launch the offensive early Oct. 17. A look at the situation around Mosul and the forces arrayed for battle can offer insight into what will come next.
Mosul is in northern Iraq on the Tigris River, which flows south through the city toward the town of Qayyarah, the site of a strategic air base. The city, surrounded by the Nineveh plains on the north and east and flanked by the Badush and Atshan mountain ranges to the west and northwest, is near several key roadways. Highway 1 runs through the desert north toward Mosul before proceeding west between the Badush and Atshan mountains. Highway 80 heads toward the city through the Nineveh plains from the south and east of the Tigris, and Highway 2 leads west from Arbil to Mosul before heading north to Dohuk.
Before the Islamic State seized the city in 2014, Mosul was Iraq's second-most populous city. Though Sunni Arabs make up the majority of the city's residents, Mosul has historically been home to sizable Kurdish, Turkmen, Assyrian, Armenian and Yazidi minorities as well. During the Islamic State's occupation, however, many of these minorities have been persecuted and driven out, and many Sunnis have fled the city, depleting its population from almost 2 million to approximately 750,000. Nonetheless, the effort to recapture Mosul will be the largest urban operation yet for the Iraqi forces getting ready to advance on it.
Currently, the city is tucked in a salient surrounded on three sides. Kurdish peshmerga fighters are positioned 15 to 20 kilometers (roughly 9 to 12 miles) to the north and east of Mosul, and they hold all of the mountainous ground that overlooks the Nineveh plains. The front lines, filled out with the Iraqi security forces who have been making their way up from the south, lie about 50 kilometers south across an arid and depopulated region. To the west is the last remaining link between Mosul and the rest of the territory the Islamic State controls. Since a Kurdish offensive in November 2015 took Sinjar and cut key roads heading west — including the main highway between Mosul and Raqqa — the Islamic State's supply lines to Mosul now rely on secondary roads through the mountains.
Altogether, approximately 40,000 to 50,000 fighters have amassed for the seizure of Mosul. Although four peshmerga divisions, supplemented by local allies, account for between 10,000 and 15,000 of the fighters, Iraqi security personnel — mainly from the 9th, 15th, 16th and 37th divisions — form the bulk of the coalition. Several ancillary units from the federal police and Sunni tribal militias will also be on hand to support the Iraqi troops, and thousands of Popular Mobilization Forces will round out the force in an auxiliary capacity. Numbers of available Islamic State fighters in Mosul, meanwhile, are difficult to gauge; estimates range from 2,000 to 7,000 fighters.
The Advance to Mosul
The battle will take place in phases, separated by considerable pauses. In the first phase, the advance to Mosul, the coalition will have two principal objectives: to tighten the perimeter around Mosul, placing the city under siege, and to start preparations for the breach of the city. The peshmerga, bolstered by numerous Iraqi army units and tribal forces, are arrayed east and north of the city, and they will be instrumental in the first phase. From their elevated positions, the Kurds will try to advance down through the Nineveh plains and toward Mosul. In doing so, they will not only tighten the perimeter around the city but also divert the Islamic State's attention and resources and open alternative lines of advance into Mosul. While the peshmerga handle most of the fighting in the first phase — with help from their allies and the Iraqi security forces — the bulk of Iraq's manpower will move toward Mosul from positions in the south along highways 1 and 80 on either bank of the Tigris. Iraqi commando units and special operations forces will play a prominent role in spearheading the offensive from the south and in helping the peshmerga in key areas.
Two secondary operations can also be expected during this phase. The first will try to constrict the Islamic State-controlled Hawija pocket southeast of Qayyarah and east of Highway 1, from which the militant group could launch attacks on key Iraqi logistics lines leading into Mosul. Pushing back the Islamic State positions from the Tigris River would also help draw forces from defending critical supply lines. Advances toward the Adaya, Atsan and Zambar mountains are also likely, putting pressure on the Islamic State's last supply lines to Mosul. The predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces will likely play a central role in both operations, which will give them an important mission while avoiding conflict that could arise with the local Sunni population in Mosul.
Beyond these campaigns, secondary operations in the north — including strikes on Tal Abta, Tal Afar and its air base, and the villages south of Sinjar — could also figure prominently in the overall battle for Mosul. Such missions would force the Islamic State to dilute its forces and send reinforcements to other areas, depriving Mosul of additional units. For the coalition fighting against them, the fewer Islamic State fighters in the dense urban terrain of the city, the better.
With this in mind, Iraqi security forces will also have to decide whether Mosul should be fully or partially encircled in the first phase. In several previous battles to seize key urban areas from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, advancing forces have made a deliberate choice to leave an escape route open. The reasoning behind this is that fighting the Islamic State in the open is far preferable to fighting the group in the confines of a city. Not only is urban fighting more difficult, but it is also destructive, something the coalition would rather avoid as much as possible in Mosul, given its large population and historical importance. At the same time, in some instances, such as the recent battle for Manbij, the Islamic State has used the gap not to withdraw but to bring in reinforcements. In the initial advance to Mosul, the coalition will likely leave an escape route open. If the Islamic State does not withdraw, however, the Iraqi security forces and peshmerga will be quick to close it.
A Long, Slow March
The first phase of the fight to retake Mosul will probably unfold over a period of many days, if not weeks. As the coalition advances on the city, the Islamic State will attempt to stall it and inflict casualties, particularly through the use of improvised explosive devices and ambushes. The group may even make a few determined stands, especially in key towns throughout the Nineveh plains. But the Islamic State will save the majority of its forces for the battle for Mosul itself, taking advantage of the challenging urban terrain and the defenses it has built up there. In addition, by taking positions among the city's civilian population, the Islamic State fighters there will minimize the threat of airstrikes.
As with any difficult and complicated battle, much could go wrong in the expansive operation to take back Mosul. Coalition infighting is especially a risk in light of the various groups that the conflict has brought together. We will be tracking the battle closely as it evolves and moves toward Mosul.
"The Advance Toward Mosul Begins is republished with permission of Stratfor."
On the morning of Sept. 15, 1916, soldiers of the German 1st Army rushed to their defensive positions between Flers and Courcelette, on the Western Front. The lifting of the Allied artillery barrage typically presaged an infantry charge, and the defenders made their machine guns ready to cut down advancing British and French troops. But this time, instead of onrushing infantry, from the smoke and mist emerged grinding mechanical contraptions, spewing bullets and shells. The Germans poured machine-gun fire onto the strange, new vehicles lumbering across the ragged mud and wire of no man's land, but the bullets had little effect. The day of the tank — a concept that would go on to define land warfare in the 20th century — had arrived.
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette was part of the ongoing Battle of the Somme in France and the first time that modern armored fighting vehicles were deployed in combat. Yet despite triumphant claims in the British press of a new weapon that would turn the tide of war by breaking the impermeable German lines, the tank's initial deployment was largely inauspicious. Those first tanks were rushed into service and woefully underpowered for the terrain they would encounter while saddled with the weight of armor. Riddled with developmental problems and manned by crews with almost no training, of the 49 original Mark I tanks deployed to France 100 years ago, 36 set off from the British line of departure Sept. 15. Only 27 made it as far as German forward positions, and a meager six trundled as far as the secondary and tertiary objectives. Mechanical failure plagued the new invention, but the concept had been proved, and successive generations of tanks and tank tactics would turn a "mobile pillbox" into a battle-winning asset.
The concept of a mobile, protected engine of war has been around for millennia. A means of collectively defending assault troops from projectile weaponry — with the potential inclusion of offensive capability — has fascinated the greatest minds of every era.
Greek hoplites employed bronze armor to good effect in phalanx formation — shield, helmet and greaves protecting a fighting man from the front and effectively nullifying the Persian advantage of massed archers. A good example of early armored tactics is the testudo (tortoise) formation employed by the Roman legions, specifically to protect against light projectiles as soldiers advanced. By interlocking full-length shields forward and overhead, legionnaires could easily deflect harrying fire. Though useful for closing on a fixed enemy position or defending from swarms of arrows, the formation was slow and limited the infantry's ability to fight in close quarters.
The Romans also pioneered protective siege engines. These were designed to deliver troops to the enemy's doorstep in one piece and were less dependent on individuals managing to maintain formation. Towers, galleries and other mobile fortifications protected assault troops from an enemy's ranged weapons. In medieval warfare, mantlets and pavises, portable shelters or shields intended to protect clusters of troops from arrow fire, were common. A mantlet bore wheels for mobility, while the freestanding pavis was borne by one soldier.
In 1487, Leonardo da Vinci conceptualized an armored fighting vehicle, although his design was impractical because of the technology of the age. War engines or battlewagons pulled by horses were employed throughout history, but not until the industrial age did the armored fighting vehicle really come into its own. It needed the power of the internal combustion engine, mass-produced sheet metal and the technical sophistication to produce advanced running gear and automatic weaponry to make the true armored fighting vehicle feasible. The inspiration for the British tank was a mobile platform impervious to machine guns that could trample basic defenses, operating alongside infantry to breach and exploit enemy positions.
In June 1900, a young captain from the Corps of Royal Engineers had something of an epiphany, envisioning a possible solution to what he saw as the pressing military issue of the time: how to counter the withering, destructive capacity of the machine gun. He pursued his vision with vigor, becoming a respected tactician, innovator and staff officer. Maj. Gen. Ernest Swinton was a driving force when it came to the adoption and use of the armored fighting vehicle. He even coined the term "tank," which became synonymous with the new invention. Swinton was not alone in his aspirations, but he did consider how tactics would need to evolve to make the armored fighting vehicle useful on the battlefield, informing subsequent tacticians such as British compatriot Col. J.F.C. Fuller and German Gen. Heinz Guderian.
The Evolution of the Tank
The appalling conditions of static trench warfare in World War I made life miserable for the fighting troops, and the incessant mud and rain also presented severe logistical problems. Moving large amounts of men and materiel by sea and rail was efficient. But getting ammunition, supplies or replacement troops from the railhead or port to the front lines was not. The constant passage of foot traffic and light vehicles made the largely unpaved roads and dirt tracks impassable. The wheeled vehicles of the time were inadequate for the conditions. Engines lacked the power to cope with broken terrain, and wheels simply sank into the muck. As a result, most armies continued to use horses and horse-drawn artillery for the duration of the war.
Innovators of the industrial age prided themselves on finding mechanical solutions to man's problems, and the answer to moving heavy supplies to the front lines was continuous track technology — already prevalent in agriculture. That innovation was initially ignored by the British military establishment, but worsening battlefield conditions eventually resulted in trials of vehicles such as the Holt Caterpillar tractor, which was deemed suitable for hauling heavy artillery — but little else.
In a conflict known for its technological innovation and rapid prototyping, it is somewhat ironic that the inception of the tank was such a fraught and painful process. Early designs for armored fighting vehicles failed to capture the interest of the British or French hierarchy, and it fell to the Royal Navy to nurture the imaginatively titled "landships" project. At the insistence of Winston Churchill, then first lord of the admiralty, the Landships Committee sought to develop an armored fighting vehicle prototype. The aptly named "Little Willie" was tested Dec. 3, 1915, but was found insufficient for the breaching and crossing tasks envisaged. This led to the development of the now-classic rhomboidal tank design, which serves to this day as the insignia of the British Royal Tank Regiment. Following a successful demonstration during which the fledgling Mark I (christened "Mother") defeated a number of typical Western Front obstacles, including low wire entanglements, cratered ground, trench systems and parapets, an initial order of 100 vehicles was made.
The development of the vehicles was shrouded in secrecy, and the terminology associated with them is attributed to Swinton, then a lieutenant colonel and heavily involved with the clandestine project. Some of the steel originally used on the Mark I design was repurposed from water boilers, and the original factory paperwork referred to the new inventions as "water carriers," nomenclature adopted by workers who said they were manufacturing water tanks. Swinton made the "tank" code name official, then went on to give the two main types of Mark I vehicles their designations. "Male" tanks had a pair of Hotchkiss 57 mm Quick Firer naval guns in side-mounted sponsons, plus a brace of machine guns. "Female" tanks carried all machine guns and were, in effect, man-killers.Tactical AnalysisThe tank was originally conceived as an infantry support platform and moved at walking pace. Able to traverse trenches and breach wire obstacles, tanks relied on intimate support from ground troops. The steel armor offered some degree of protection from small arms, and the tanks' weapons were effective in knocking out German gun positions. Successive generations of tanks, most notably the Mark V, sought to rectify the mechanical problems that plagued the early designs. Even so, tanks remained prone to mechanical failure throughout World War I. Crew comfort was an afterthought, and conditions inside the first tanks were infamously bad. It was not uncommon for a tank to stop midattack because its crew had passed out from internal fumes.
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"The Dawn of the Armored Fighting Vehicle is republished with permission of Stratfor."
Iran received its first delivery of Russian-made S-300 air defense systems in May, and it is getting ready to put them to use. Satellite imagery provided by AllSource Analysis shows intensive construction underway at an air defense base near Tehran to accommodate the systems. The layout of the new construction at the base appears to be notably different from those of existing air defense positions in Iran, and the base's location indicates that it may not be a permanent S-300 station, but a training facility.
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Iran Beefs up Its Air Defenses is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Explained by Graphics: Tension in the South China. Sea Claims on the South China Sea, the recent ruling, and why China is ignoring it
The battle for Raqqa, the Islamic State's self-declared capital in Syria, has begun. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are advancing toward the city, engaging the jihadist group in the villages of al-Hisha, Tal Samen and Mutamshirij along the way. Because of Raqqa's strategic importance, the Islamic State will do everything in its power to keep the city within its grasp. Driving the militants from their stronghold will not be easy or cheap, but if the SDF is successful, it will greatly accelerate the Islamic State's defeat in Syria.
For months, the SDF, backed by the United States, has been positioned on the front lines roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Raqqa. Videos have emerged showing large convoys, including tank transporters carrying armored vehicles, moving throughout the area as the group prepared to retake the city from the Islamic State fighters who captured it in 2013. Over the past week, the United States began dropping leaflets on Raqqa urging its citizens to leave, proclaiming, "The time you have awaited has arrived. It's time to leave Raqqa." Then on May 21-22, U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel — the top U.S. Central Command general and the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to Syria during the conflict — visited SDF fighters in the country's north. As the signs of impending battle mounted, the Islamic State began making preparations of its own, ramping up its defenses throughout Raqqa. And on May 24, the SDF made its move, announcing the start of its long-awaited advance.
But just how close the group is able to get to the heart of the city will be determined by one thing: its ethnic composition. Raqqa is a city with an Arab majority. Because the SDF and its backers want to not only retake the city but also to hold and govern it, they will need a sizable Arab force if they hope to achieve their objectives with local support. However, the SDF is currently dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which have been effective against the Islamic State in territory they are familiar with in the north and northeast but are less inclined to spearhead operations farther south toward Raqqa. Moreover, the deeper the Kurds push into overwhelmingly Arab territory, the more they risk cementing local populations' suspicions of the rebels and support for the Islamic State.
Still, Arab fighters have been joining the SDF's ranks in droves. In fact, training these Syrian Arab Coalition fighters is one of the core purposes of the 250 U.S. special operations forces deployed to Syria in April, and Votel was likely checking up on their progress during his visit to the country. (The general subsequently traveled to Turkey to reassure Turkish officials of U.S. support for the SDF.)
Once the Syrian Arab Coalition grows to the ideal size and strength, and final preparations are complete, the SDF will shift its offensive to a direct attack on Raqqa. Because the Islamic State will not give up the city without a fight, the ensuing battle will likely be expensive and lengthy, easily lasting weeks if not months. ► Read More
Retaking Raqqa From the Islamic State is republished with permission of Stratfor.
For the first time in more than 35 years, North Korea is preparing to hold a full Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). Originally intended to be a regular occurrence for the WPK, party congresses convened only sporadically until 1980, when Kim Jong Il was named as Kim Il Sung's successor, and juche (loosely translated as self-reliance) was formalized as the government's official guiding philosophy. In the years since, though the WPK has officially remained at the center of the North Korean political system, party congresses have lost their central role in the political cycle. Scheduled to begin May 6, the 2016 congress marks the revival of a more public political style in the country, playing on the formalism of party structure and events. ► Read More
A Rare Congress and Mixed Signals in North Korea is republished with permission of Stratfor.
"Those Who Are (and Are Not) Sheltered From the Panama Papers
republished with permission of Stratfor."
Baibin Nighthawk writes spy fiction, thrillers and science fiction. She is the co-author of the Mark Savannah espionage series and of the Dhungwana Chronicles. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Certificate in Art (Martenot Arts Plastiques, Paris).