Nigeria On The Precipice: Why It Has Failed To Defeat Boko Haram And What …   no comments

Posted at 10:02 pm in the places I would like to go

In the last two months the world has been preoccupied with events in the Middle East, namely the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Islamic State in Iraq Syria (ISIS). The stories and pictures emanating from these places are absolutely gruesome and the world is right to focus on them. But I do not understand why the genocide and displacement of communities in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram (BH) has escaped the attention of the world, even though the situation there is arguably on a similar scale to what we are seeing in the Middle East right now.

Dr. Ijabla Raymond

In the last week alone, BH has captured three towns – Gwoza, Limankara and Madagali – in the northeastern states of Borno and Adamawa. In the style of ISIS fighters, the group has captured military bases, seized military hardware, burnt down entire villages, killed the inhabitants in the process, executed soldiers and civilians by beheading them, and caused the displacements of communities.

We all recall the abduction of nearly 250 girls and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Since then there have been more reports of abductions, attacks on schools and the murder of innocent students. I do not mean to trivialise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but no one needs to be reminded about the degree of global news coverage that followed the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the conflict that ensued.

Nigeria is a regional power and has taken part in many successful peacekeeping missions in Africa and around the world. Unfortunately, this giant is now confronted with a type of problem that it seems incapable of solving on its own. Only last week, a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary entitled “Nigeria’s Hidden War” revealed damning footages of unprofessional behaviour and gross human rights abuses by Nigerian soldiers in their attempt to contain BH. Their methods were indistinguishable from those employed by BH and have been rightly condemned by Amnesty International.

Quite why the largest army in Africa with its impressive record of successful international peacekeeping missions cannot defeat a domestic terrorist organisation is everybody’s guess. Why was this organisation even allowed to grow when it could have been nipped in the bud? The failure of the army to defeat BH has been attributed to corruption, unprofessionalism, under-resourcefulness, lack of equipment, poor motivation, the deliberate crippling of the military by successive military governments to prevent coups, and the infiltration of the army’s rank and file by BH sympathisers and saboteurs. But there is a more important reason – poor understanding of BH’s mission or a denial of it.

Jihadist terrorism is arguably the biggest threat to world peace in the 21st century. There is only one correct way to view BH, and that is, as jihadist terrorists. It is a serious error of judgement to presume that BH is a political tool put in place to humiliate a Christian president or to topple his government or to re-establish northern hegemony or that it is even a political party of some description. I suspect this is the advice that President Jonathan has received, and this may explain his apparent indecisiveness in dealing with BH. Lest we forget, BH started its violent campaigns during the presidency of Yar’Adua who was a Muslim from northern Nigeria. If BH wants to re-establish northern hegemony, then attempting to assassinate respected Northern leaders such as the Emir of Kano and the Shehu of Borno would seem like a stupid, counterintuitive and counterproductive thing to do.

BH is an islamo-fascist organisation whose only objective is to create an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria. It does not respect Nigeria’s internal borders, and like other islamo-fascist groups such as ISIS, the ultimate goal is the establishment of a worldwide caliphate.

Shekau has repeatedly told us that his targets are Christians. The Quran refers to Christians and Jews as “people of the BOOK. It is the way of life of these people (of the book) that BH refers to as “haram” or forbidden. There are no Jews in Nigeria and this jihad is directed against. Christians. Non-islamic education, democracy, civic institutions such as the police, military, judiciary are synonymous with Western civilisation and by implication Christianity. This is why BH wants to destroy these institutions and replace them with Sharia.

Shekau has also repeatedly said that any Muslim who does not subscribe to the ideology of BH or its version of Islam is a legitimate target for attack. This includes Muslims who participate in any process that is considered un-Islamic or non-compliant with Sharia e.g. politicians, democrats, policemen, military personnel, school students or university students. This is why BH sought to kill those respected emirs. It is why Shekau referred to the late but respected Muslim politicians, Sir Balewa and Mallam Aminu Kano, as infidels. He even called the king and princes of Saudi Arabia infidels. Otherwise, the death of any Muslim during BH campaigns is unintended and is purely collateral damage. This is an accurate assessment of the mindset of BH and is not designed to stir up hatred between Christians and Muslims. All peace-loving Nigerians, whether they be Christians or Muslims, must rise and fight this ideology.

I do not believe that the government fully understands the nature or the gravity of the problem that confronts it. There appears to be greater preoccupation with winning next year’s elections than with fighting BH. This is unfortunate because more northern Nigerian towns and villages are falling under the control of jihadist terrorists by the day. If you live outside the northeast zone and think you are immune from this problem, then think again!

Ladies and gentlemen, our country is at the edge of the precipice. Forgive me if this sounds alarmist but the video released by BH showing our soldiers fleeing into the mountains and across the border into Cameroon should raise alarm. We should be asking whether the Nigeria army has the capability to defeat BH, and if so, why this has not been used. How did our prestigious army, the largest in Africa, get to the point where it now runs away from a group of insurgents? If our army cannot defeat or contain these insurgents, shouldn’t we be asking for regional or international help now? After all, our army has helped to stabilise the governments of many countries around the world on it’s many peacekeeping missions – so why shouldn’t we get help when we need one?

Last year, I wrote an article in which I discussed the factors responsible for the birth of BH as well as short and long-term strategies for combating the insurgency. Fourteen months later, I am sad to note that we now have a terrorist group that has become more capable and daring, mainly because our government has only focused on military power and a state-of-emergency ruling.

It is pertinent to repeat some of my advice here. Military force alone is not sufficient to overcome violent religious extremism. We need to develop and propagate counter-narratives against the ideology that breeds such extremism.

There needs to be urgent action to address the problem of Almajiri destitution and to regulate what the Almajiris are being taught in Koranic schools. We can no longer afford to let fundamentalist preachers (whether native or invited from foreign countries) to continue running wild without some form of censorship.

President Jonathan and his advisers must change their tactic – we are a country at war against jihadist terrorists. It is regrettable that our president did not make a public statement on the Chibok abductions until he was forced to do so (many weeks after the abductions) by international pressure from the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Until now, the president has yet to visit these troubled spots. It was Malala Yusuf who finally managed to convince him fairly recently to meet the family of the abducted girls. The president must be advised that this is not a war by a group of enemies to topple his government and he must, from now on, fight this war with all the will, power and resources at his disposal.

As experience has shown in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia and with ISIS fighters in Iraq, situations like ours can degenerate very rapidly, but lives can be saved if the international community acts decisively and timely. Nigeria needs urgent help with training, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. We need to put the focus back on Nigeria. With a population of nearly 170 million people, nobody should want to see a refugee crisis situation develop in Nigeria!

Ijabla Raymond, a medical doctor of Nigerian heritage writes from the UK. Contact him at

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Written by enfoquec on August 27th, 2014

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The people who create their own ‘countries’   no comments

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When you’re not happy with your existing country, create your own. That’s the philosophy behind micronations, such as the Republic of Molossia (via Nevada). Visitors can tour the grounds with the president, Kevin Baugh, between April 15 and October 15, weather permitting.

Freetown Christiania in Denmark bought land from the government to establish its own autonomous community.

Akhziv Land is the only “country” in the Middle East that’s never engaged in military conflict.

The Free Republic of Alcatraz in Italy is a “utopia in progress” with its own artfully crafted banknotes, passports, flags and stamps.

Austrian artist Edwin Lipburger declared independence when his spherical house displeased authorities, refused to pay taxes and began printing his own stamps.

The Principality of Hutt River may not be recognized by the Australian government, but something much bigger does recognize it: Google Maps. It’s one of the only micronations that shows up.

President Kang Woo-hyon’s “culturally independent” eco-nation in South Korea attracts more than 2 million visitors a year.

If only Frank Zappa lived to see the day he became the inspiration for a micronation within Lithuania. Some 1,000 of the Republic’s 7,000 inhabitants are artists, so artistic endeavors are on the top of current president Roman Lileikis’ agenda.









(CNN) — Scotland will next month decide in a referendum whether it wants to go it alone as an independent country and split away from the United Kingdom.

But for some, it doesn’t take a vote involving millions of people to start a nation.

Earth is dotted with dozens of self-proclaimed kings, emperors, presidents and princesses presiding over a quirky collection of homemade empires known as “micronations.”

Many claim their own borders and laws, fashion their own currency and regalia and boast a growing number of “citizens” from around the world.

Dr. Judy Lattas of Macquarie University in Sydney is one of only a handful of academics studying the micronation phenomenon.

She defines a micronation as a self-declared entity that’s either virtual or very small (though some are actually quite large when compared with microstates such as Monaco or the Vatican).

What they share in common are characteristics of earlier utopian movements, a DIY spirit and a lack of formal recognition from established nations and global bodies like the United Nations.

But that’s where the similarities end.

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“There are incredible differences among them and no clear sense of unity at all,” Dr. Lattas explains.

“Many reject the notion of micronations outright. Some are secessionists and some aren’t. Some are more like virtual game-playing, some are art projects, some are very cyberpunk and others are quite serious political protests or indigenous sovereignty movements.”

From dissent to ‘independence’

Many of the non-virtual micronations, or those with territorial claims, are built out of a gripe with local authorities.

These generally follow a secession model and take inspiration from the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (signed in 1933 by the United States and numerous Latin American countries).

There must be a grievance, members and some sort of declaration against a perceived wrong.

And if that claim goes unanswered — you don’t, for example, receive any kind of formal rejection — then it’s assumed by default that you’ve succeeded in seceding.

There’s also the national sovereignty model in which you simply refuse to secede from a country you don’t recognize exists.

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Challenging legal parameters

Dr. Lattas believes micronations pose interesting questions regarding law and history.

Take Prince Leonard of the Principality of Hutt River.

His departure from Western Australia under the national sovereignty model is featured in legal and sociology textbooks around the world, while his idea galvanized scores of other Australians to draw up constitutions and paint invisible borders around their properties.

George Cruickshank is one of them.

He drew a dotted line around his yard and became the Emperor of Atlantium in 1981.

He’s also one of the quirky geopolitical phenomenon’s top researchers, creating a micronation wiki, maintaining the most popular Facebook group for micronationalists and coordinating the biannual PoliNation Conferences. (The next one will be July 11-12, 2015).

“The whole idea is to share information and make it easier for people to achieve success in their individual projects,” Cruickshank says.

His online forums attract thousands of participants — including many “bedroom kingdom kids” — and explore the roughly 250 micronations of historical merit.

Many like Cruickshank credit Ernest Hemingway’s younger brother Leicester with popularizing the concept in the mid-1960s when he towed an 8×30-foot bamboo raft to a spot 12 nautical miles off the southwest coast of Jamaica and declared it New Atlantis under the obscure Guano Islands Act of 1856.

This spawned the Principality of Sealand, built on an abandoned World War II sea fort off the coast of Britain in 1967, and could be seen as a precursor to PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s new Seasteading Institute.

Dr. Lattas says that while she takes the micronationalist movement seriously, she doesn’t think they’ll actually set up bona fide countries that will one day get recognized and thrive.

“I don’t really believe all that. But I do find them interesting as a social phenomenon that has enough spread that it really deserves a serious focus.

“Anthropologists write on cargo cults, which are very quirky, small, not very effective movements, but they’re interesting politically because of the kind of rhetoric they produce and the way they galvanize people to express ideas about freedom, sovereignty and protest against inequality. That’s the way I approach micronations.”

For anyone who’s ever wanted to tap in to the man who would be king within, here’s a look at eight micronations you can visit.

The Republic of Molossia

The Republic of Molossia is the befuddling outcome of one man’s childhood project that got entirely out of hand.

His Excellency, President Kevin Baugh, first dreamed up his own kingdom in 1977 and it evolved in the late 1990s into a territorial claim within the U.S. state of Nevada.

Baugh’s edicts (no products from Texas, no walruses) are as bizarre as his further territorial declarations (a large chunk of the planet Venus, a spot named Neptune Deep in the Pacific Ocean) and while passports aren’t required to enter Molossia from the United States, they’re recommended and will be stamped upon entry.

Location: Within the U.S. state of Nevada on the outskirts of Dayton.

Fee: Free, though an appointment is required.

What to see and do: Take a one-hour tour of the property with President Baugh between April 15 and October 15, weather permitting.

Highlights include a garden, post office, trading company, peace pole and tiki bar.


The Republic of Kugelmugel

What do you do when the government isn’t pleased with your ball-shaped house?

If you’re Austrian artist Edwin Lipburger, you declare independence, refuse to pay taxes and begin printing your own stamps.

And when you receive a prison sentence in court for your actions, you persuade the Austrian president to issue a pardon on your behalf.

The 78-year-old artist now lives in exile in Austria and while the Republic of Kugelmugel is closed off behind a foreboding barbed wire fence, its spherical centerpiece remains a popular tourist attraction in Vienna’s Prater Park.

Location: Within Prater Park in Vienna, Austria’s 2nd district.

Fee: Free

What to see and do: Take pictures, gaze in awe at the architecture and read about one man’s struggle to “beat the system.”

Website: (in German)

The Free Republic of Alcatraz

The Free Republic of Alcatraz is not only a quixotic eco-resort, it’s a “utopia in progress” with its own artfully crafted banknotes, passports, flags and stamps.

Italian writer, actor and director Jacopo Fo (son of Nobel laureate Dario Fo) founded Alcatraz in the woodlands between Gubbio and Perugia in 2009 as a protest against what he saw as the degradation of Italian society at the hands of then-leader Silvio Berlusconi.

It’s since blossomed into a haven for free thinkers with its own museum, restaurant and education center with workshops on everything from yoga to permaculture.

Location: Within Italy on 4 million square feet of land between Gubbio and Perugia.

Fee: Rates start at €35 ($47) for an overnight stay.

What to see and do: Get a water massage in the pool, enroll in a cooking class, visit Queen Eleonora Albanese’s Fantastic Wood Museum and take in one of the regular concerts.


Freetown Christiania

This self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of Copenhagen arose out of squatted military barracks in 1971 and became infamous the world over for its cannabis trade until Danish authorities stopped turning a blind eye in 2004.

Today, it boasts 1,000 peace-loving residents who pay rent to the community and have turned the reclaimed barracks into self-designed schools, houses and small businesses.

The social experiment finally became legal after 40 turbulent years when citizens purchased the land from the Danish government in April 2011 for a sobering SEK 76 million ($13.9 million).

Location: Within the neighborhood of Christianshavn in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Fee: Free

What to see and do: Down some vegetarian cuisine with a strong drink on Pusher Street, purchase a handcrafted bicycle and get lost in the commune’s quirky backstreets.


The Principality of Hutt River

Prince Leonard founded the Principality of Hutt River in 1970 as part of an agricultural protest writ large.

This “sovereign state” — which claims not to pay taxes to the Australian government, even though it does donate a “gift” of equivalent value — occupies a swath of arid land roughly the size of Hong Kong and subsists largely on wildflower exports, tourism and the sales of its coins, stamps and trinkets.

Even though the UN doesn’t recognize Hutt River’s presence, there’s one powerful entity that does: Google.

The Principality of Hutt River is one of the few micronations that actually shows up on Google Maps.

Location: Within the Australian state of West Australia about two hours north of Geraldton.

Fee: Passports must be stamped on arrival for a fee of A$2 ($1.85), but there’s no departure tax.

What to see and do: Check out the royal art collection, play putt putt golf and spend the night in the rustic campground.


Akhziv Land

There’s only one “country” in the Middle East that’s never engaged in military conflict, and it’s ruled by an Iranian-born Jew named Eli Avivi.

Avivi set up camp in the ruined village of Akhziv on Israel’s northern coastline in 1952 and proclaimed it the independent state of Akhzivland after the government intervened in 1970 to destroy his illegal structures.

Avivi won the ensuing court case, became a local folk hero and went on to extol his ideals of pacifism and freedom to all who’d listen.

The octogenarian’s 2.5-acre nation remains a popular tourist destination more than 40 years later with guest rooms, a campground and alluring views of Lebanon (to the north), Galilee (to the east) and the Mediterranean (to the west).

Location: Within Israel 2.5 miles north of Nahariya.

Fee: About $25 per night

What to see and do: Lounge on the private beach, get your passport stamped and check out the artifacts in the State Museum of Agriculture, Archaeology and Navigation.


The Naminara Republic

The West may house a preponderance of micronations, but it’s Asia that boasts the most visited of them all: The Naminara Republic.

President Kang Woo-hyon declared “cultural independence” from South Korea in 2006 and turned his half-moon shaped island into a popular eco-resort with art galleries, museums, performance venues and a hotel.

Each of the more than 2 million annual visitors must acquire a Naminara passport to enter and, once citizens, can purchase stamps, coins and telephone cards to get by.

Location: Within South Korea on a private island in the Han River near Chuncheon.

Fee: Approximately $10 in “visa fees” to enter the island.

What to see and do: Visit the Song Museum of ethnic musical instruments and attend events like the annual International Children’s Book Festival and YoPeFe, a festival of traditional dance.


The Republic of Uzupis

If only Frank Zappa lived to see the day he became the inspiration for a tiny micronation within Lithuania.

Sadly, he died two years before a group of artists and intellectuals erected a statue in his honor in a bohemian corner of the capital Vilnius and four years before he became the patron saint of that neighborhood when it seceded to become the Republic of Uzupis.

Some 1,000 of the Republic’s 7,000 inhabitants are artists, so artistic endeavors are, naturally, on the top of current president Roman Lileikis’ agenda.

Location: Within Vilnius’ Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fee: Free

What to see and do: Check out the art galleries and visit the Constitution Wall of Uz where you can read up on the edicts, including this one: “A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.”


Mark Johanson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Santiago, Chile. You can follow his adventures at

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Written by enfoquec on August 27th, 2014

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History in Flames: Belgium Recalls Leuven’s Ruins   no comments

Posted at 9:39 pm in the places I would like to go

A century after German forces burned down the Leuven University library, Marie Legrand still has visions of the horrid scene. Even the scent of smoke she smelled as a 3-year-old stings in her mind to this day.

“When I close my eyes like I do now, I see the whole city in front of me, and the flames,” she told The Associated Press at her home, fanning invisible flames with her frail hands.

“The old Leuven, the old town, the old history. In short: History itself all went up in flames,” she said of the fire that invading German forces started on Aug. 25, 1914, targeting the university library in the heart of the Belgian town east of Brussels.

World War I had started weeks earlier and Belgium had slowed Germany’s march on France much more than expected. German irritation turned to anger, then to atrocities.

The destruction of the university library served little strategic purpose beyond ruining what people held dear — a practice that continues to thrive today, especially in the Middle East and Africa, where roaming rebels and defiant dictators are robbing the world of some of the highlights of human history.

“The strategy is destroying the identity of a community,” said Leuven University archivist Mark Derez.

The torching of the Leuven University library drew international condemnation and was widely used in propaganda to purport that Germany lacked any civilized standards. Still, as shocking as it was a century ago, its example appears to have done nothing to check the practice of cultural vandalism during wartime.

“It is getting worse,” said Joris Kila, a heritage protection expert. “And strangely enough, the worse it gets, the less money and determination there is to do something about it.”

The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict makes it mandatory for signatory nations to ensure that such destruction does not happen. But many of today’s conflicts rage in states with weak central governments and rebel forces that answer only to themselves.

In March 2001, the Taliban in Afghanistan dynamited the huge Bamiyan Buddhas, deeming them idolatrous and anti-Muslim. It was one of the regime’s most widely condemned acts.

Two years ago, Muslim extremists destroyed key parts of the heritage of the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, razing tombs and burning ancient documents, saying they acted on divine orders. Similar actions have happened in Somalia and continue in Iraq, where the Islamic State group is destroying the holy shrines of other religions.

“You try to demoralize a local population. It is an attack on the identity of the population. It is an attack on the collective memory,” Kila said.

In today’s Leuven, the rebuilt university library displays a few of the charred books, sealed in glass cases and “serving as a kind of evidence for the German burning of the library,” Derez said.

The printed letters that once combined into sentences and books of wisdom are now blackened beyond recognition, gone at the edges, curled up at the center.

Among the library’s 300,000 lost books and manuscripts was the 16th century “Atlas of the human anatomy” by Andreas Vesalius, the founding father of that branch of science, a gift to the university from Emperor Charles V.

Derez said much evidence suggests that German forces wilfully destroyed the library to demoralize the people of Leuven, at the time a town of 42,500. The fires ultimately razed 1,081 of its 8,920 buildings.

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Written by enfoquec on August 25th, 2014

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China Rising   no comments

Posted at 9:39 pm in the places I would like to go

China recently conducted its third land-based missile-intercept test. These tests, most likely designed to facilitate “hit to kill” technologies critical for China’s missile defense and anti-satellite programs, are part of a well-planned, enormous military buildup in which the Chinese have been engaged for nearly 20 years.

Here are some features of that effort:

  • They have created a large and modern navy, which, by 2020, will be substantially larger than America’s. Its vessels are highly capable and armed with long-range, advanced, anti-ship missiles and air-defense missiles.
  • They are upgrading their nuclear arsenal and are on track to more than double the number of their nuclear warheads capable of striking the U.S. homeland over the next few years.
  • They already have the world’s largest and most lethal inventory of conventional ballistic missiles as well as large numbers of highly capable and long-range ground-, air- and sea-based cruise missiles. They will continue to expand, diversify, and improve their missile inventory, enhancing their ability to coerce or use force against the United States and its allies and partners in Asia. China now is able to threaten U.S. bases and operating areas throughout the region, including those that it previously could not reach with conventional weapons, such as Anderson Air Force Base on Guam.
  • They have almost 2,000 capable fighter aircraft and are on track to introduce two new fifth-generation fighters, which they will likely add to their inventory between 2017 and 2019. China also appears to be developing a new long-range stealth bomber.
  • They are significantly upgrading their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and improving their amphibious capabilities.
  • According to the Defense Science Board, they already have offensive cyber capabilities that can inflict existential damage on America’s critical infrastructure.

China’s military modernization is aimed primarily at one country: the United States. The Chinese have carefully studied America’s military and the wars it has fought over the past 20 years and have tailored their buildup accordingly. China’s leaders know that almost the entire firepower of America’s surface navy is centered on its aircraft-carrier task forces. It costs $13.5 billion to build an aircraft carrier but only about $10 million to build a missile with the range, velocity, and accuracy to sink an aircraft carrier. The Chinese have created a “missile centric” military in pursuit of a highly effective asymmetric strategy designed to keep America’s surface navy from intervening in a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait or in the East and South China Seas.

The Chinese also know that America’s armed forces depend almost completely on space satellites for targeting, intelligence, and communication. Hence the recent missile-intercept test and, more generally, China’s rapid development of anti-satellite capabilities designed to destroy or severely disrupt America’s space assets in every orbital regime. They will have that capability by 2020, if they don’t have it already.

How is America responding to all this? In the years when China’s military modernization first began to bear fruit, America’s armed forces were completely focused on counterinsurgency in the Middle East; the Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review didn’t even mention the word “China.” In 2011, then–secretary of defense Bob Gates proposed a ten-year budget with modest increases designed primarily to increase the size of the Bavy in response to the Chinese buildup. Congress and the president responded by cutting a half trillion dollars from the Gates budget and imposing another $500 billion in reductions by sequester.

As a result, both present and future readiness are declining across the force. The Navy, which currently has no effective defense against China’s missile strategy, is shrinking. The Air Force has fewer planes and an older inventory than at any time since the inception of the service. The Army is being reduced to pre–World War II levels. All of this, and more, was recently detailed in the unanimous report of the National Defense Panel, which found that unless the defense cuts were reversed, the armed forces would in the near future be at high risk of not being able to carry out their missions.

China, of course, has watched all this carefully, drawn the obvious conclusion, and stepped up its provocations in the western Pacific.

The Chinese government, which means the leaders of the Chinese Communist party, insists that the purpose of their military buildup is defensive, but anyone who believes that is not familiar either with China’s policy in the western Pacific or the strategy it is using to execute it.

I don’t believe the Chinese intend war with the United States. What they intend is to credibly threaten war, while continuing to shift the balance of power decisively in their favor and thereby achieve their objectives by intimidation. So far they are succeeding.

— Jim Talent serves on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, to which he was appointed by the U.S. Senate in 2012. He has served on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and is currently a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-chairman of the American Freedom and Enterprise Foundation.

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Written by enfoquec on August 25th, 2014

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Academics and Archaeologists Fight to Save Syria’s Artifacts   no comments

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Written by enfoquec on August 25th, 2014

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15 amazing natural bridges around the world   no comments

Posted at 9:24 pm in the places I would like to go

By Katia Hetter

(CNN) — Don’t try to drive over these bridges.

These rocky natural spans were formed over millennia by the flowing waters of a stream or other water source, which slowly eroded away the rock to create the shape of a bridge.

But are they arches or bridges?

The Natural Arch and Bridge Society, whose Indiana Jones-like members go hunting for these rock formations around the world, makes this distinction: A natural arch is made of rock, with a hole formed by natural forces, they say. A natural bridge is a type of arch, where water is the natural force making the hole.

Erosion created these magnificent structures, and erosion will eventually take them down. One such wonder was Aruba’s Natural Bridge, which was first formed by pounding surf eroding its coral limestone. The 100-foot-span gave way and collapsed in 2005. (The smaller Baby Bridge is still standing nearby.)

Here are 15 spectacular natural bridges around the world.

Green Bridge of Wales, United Kingdom

One of the most famous spots in Wales, the Green Bridge of Wales and the rocky Pembrokeshire coastline, are part of a national park. Nearby you can also spot the Stack Rocks, known as the Elegug Stacks in Welsh.

Eventually it’s expected that the ocean will wear away the Green Bridge and the middle will collapse, turning it into stacks. Visitors who continue along the coast to see Pen-y-Holt Stack should note that it’s in a British Army range and must be visited through walks organized by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

Ayres Natural Bridge, Wyoming

Not all the glory of Wyoming is found at its two internationally famous Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in the northwestern part of the state.

Less well-known but worth the visit is the majestic Ayres Natural Bridge in eastern Wyoming, about 40 miles east of Casper. The 50-foot tall, 100-foot-long natural bridge over LaPrele Creek is the star of this 22-acre park.

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

As streams cut into the canyon walls and flash floods further weakened them, the three mighty bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument in the southeastern corner of Utah were carved over millions of years.

The area was declared a national monument in 1908, and the three bridges were given the Hopi names “Owachomo,” “Kachina” and “Sipapu” in 1909. Further erosion has made the once thick and mighty Owachomo Bridge more delicate. While still massive and strong, Kachina Bridge did lose 4,000 tons of rock in 1992.

Pont d’Arc, France

A natural bridge formed by the Ardeche River in the south of France, the Pont d’Arc has a world-famous neighbor: the Chauvet cave paintings, the world’s oldest known such works, which date back 36,000 years.

Discovered in 1994, the site was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site this year. But the region’s natural beauty is also a national treasure. Classified as a French national heritage site in 1982, the 54-meter-long (177-foot-long) natural arch is the only French example of a natural bridge spanning a still-flowing river. It’s also a gateway to the river canyon.

Natural Bridges State Beach, California

A famous natural bridge anchors this Santa Cruz beach, which is best known for its tide pools — go exploring at low tide — and seasonal monarch butterfly residents. Up to 100,000 monarchs typically move into the state beach’s Monarch Grove in mid-October, and they depart the following January or February. There’s a party in October to welcome them, and seasonal tours are available.

London Bridge, Australia

Australia’s Port Campbell National Park is best known for the Twelve Apostles, towering limestone rock stacks carved by the Southern Ocean. The ocean is still working on the rock, with seven of eight formations still standing.

But there’s another gem in this park about 275 kilometers west of Melbourne: London Bridge, a natural offshore rock span that partially collapsed in 1990 and became a bridge without a connection. (People standing on the rocks were stranded when the middle collapsed and had to be rescued via helicopter.) It’s a good idea to stay on the accessible walking paths and scenic drives along the coast.

Fairy Bridge, China

China has quite a collection of natural bridges, including one that experts say has the longest span of any natural bridge in the world. The Fairy Bridge (Xianren Qiao), in southwestern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region near the border with Vietnam, has a 400-foot span.

Not that the bridge made of limestone karst is easy to measure. Members of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society took a boat to the site in 2010 and used laser equipment to measure the span, calling it the “longest known natural arch in the world, by a wide margin.”

Pravcicka Brana, Czech Republic

Hans Christian Andersen wrote part of “The Snow Queen” in Bohemian Switzerland, and several scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia were shot here. It’s no wonder: The fairytale landscape of this region, now part of the Czech Republic, is magical. Go see its most well-known symbol: the Pravcicka Brana, a natural bridge standing tall in Bohemian Switzerland National Park, now part of the Czech Republic.

While there are many rock formations rising up amid the forests and valleys in the park, Pravcicka Brana is the largest stone bridge on the European continent, with a span of 27 meters (nearly 90 feet) and a height of 21 meters (nearly 70 feet).

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Bedouin tribes still live in goat-hair tents in the Wadi Rum Protected Area of southern Jordan, which is 720 square kilometers (about 278 square miles) of mostly desert wilderness. Among the sandstone and granite mountains and valleys are natural bridges rising up to greet you.

Although visitors can take private cars or hike on foot to explore the bridges and the region, Bedouin cooperatives offer tours via basic Jeep or pickup trucks. And if you want a real adventure, book a camel ride to explore the area and overnight in a Bedouin camp.

Natural Bridge at Yoho National Park, Canada

While many nature loving explorers head to Canada’s famous Banff National Park, there are tall peaks, amazing waterfalls and a spectacular natural bridge to be found to the west at Yoho National Park.

Located on the western slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, Yoho definitely lives up to its name (a Cree expression of awe and wonder). Travelers can witness Kicking Horse River still carving its path through this natural bridge.

Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria

It’s true that southeastern Algeria’s Tassili n’Ajjer, named a World Heritage Site in 1982, is better known for more than 15,000 drawings and engravings dating back to 6,000 B.C. The drawings record climate change and human life in the region.

But tucked away in this tense region at the edge of the Sahara, near the border with Libya, Mali and Niger, this spot was also recognized as a UNESCO site for its remarkable collection of natural bridges and rock formations dense enough to be called “rock forests.”

The eroding sandstone “forests of rock” document the environmental changes, marking major climate change and geological transformation over the millennia. Water and wind have shaped this magical, lunar-like landscape.

Natural Bridge, Virginia

Long considered sacred by the Monacans, Virginia’s Natural Bridge was one of this English colony’s earliest recognized natural wonders. The bridge was created by an underground stream flowing through a cave, whose roof collapsed, according to the arch society.

It even had a famous owner: Thomas Jefferson bought the surrounding land and bridge from King George III of England in 1774, before the young republic’s founding.

A National Historic Landmark, the land in Rockbridge County remained in the hands of private owners for centuries. Now the state of Virginia has announced plans to turn the land into a park by the end of 2015.

Cueva de los Portales, Cuba

In the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio lies the Cueva de los Portales, a cavernous area near the Parque Nacional La Guira. The Río Caiguanabo flows beneath a natural bridge, which is connected to a cave that served as one of revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s hideouts during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The area is now popular with birdwatchers.

Hazarchishma Natural Bridge, Afghanistan

When Wildlife Conservation Society researchers traveled to Afghanistan in 2010 to conduct a wildlife survey in the troubled country, they discovered an enormous natural bridge that may be one of the largest in the world. They returned to Hazarchishma Natural Bridge, in the central highlands of Afghanistan, in 2011 to take measurements.

The bridge, which is named after a local village, is more than 60 feet high, has a span of more than 200 feet across its base and rises more than 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) above sea level. It was created over the millennia by the then-flowing waters of the dry Jawzari Canyon.

Lexington Arch, Nevada

Is it a natural bridge? A cornerstone of Great Basin National Park in Nevada, the Lexington Arch may actually be a bridge. There’s evidence to suggest that the waters of Lexington Creek flowed through a cave in the canyon wall long ago, expanding the tunnel that’s now Lexington Arch. Debate the question as you marvel at one of the few natural arches in the west made of limestone rather than sandstone.


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Written by enfoquec on August 23rd, 2014

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Carafano: Continue US air strikes; leave ground fighting to the Kurds   no comments

Posted at 9:24 pm in the places I would like to go

The best way to start winning a war is to stop losing. That axiom certainly applies to what’s going on in Iraq. But, that said, there is no place for American brigades in this battle.

Yes, Americans have a huge stake in preventing al-Qaida’s cousin from setting up a brutal caliphate in Iraq. The Middle East is a crossroads of the world. If unchecked, the malevolent influence of the Islamic State could spiral into a sectarian conflict engulfing the entire region.

By some estimates, there are now more than 10,000 foreign fighters in Iraq, including more than 3,000 from the U.S. and other Western nations. These fighters may, in future, be reassigned to return home and wage terrorist campaigns. No matter how you slice it, the longer a terrorist state stands in Iraq, the bigger the problem it poses.

Thus, America has every reason to act. The question is: How? The answer does not require massive American ground forces on Iraqi soil.

That’s not because Americans are “sick and tired of war.” Americans don’t like wars – and never have. Yet we fight when we have to. Americans are resilient and practical people. If there is a war to be won and our leaders lay out sensible reasons to fight and a practical, suitable and feasible way to win, Americans will march to the sound of the trumpets.

But not every crisis needs to be handled by sending in the Marines. In this case, the U.S. has practical options that fit well with our vital national interests and can help relieve the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

Washington should focus on marginalizing the destructive influence of Iran, choking off the pipeline that feeds foreign fighters to the Islamic State and setting the conditions that will allow the Iraqis to take back their country.

The Iranian regime is already overstretched. With a nuclear “deal” nowhere in sight, the U.S. has every reason to reinvigorate the sanctions regime against Tehran. This will force them to end their expensive forays into Iraq.

To halt the flow of foreign fighters, the U.S. should focus on disrupting pipeline operations in Turkey and other “countries of transit” where fighters stage to move in and out of the Syria-Iraq theater.

The rest of the solution lies in helping native assets on the ground do their jobs better. Kurdish security forces and volunteers are more than willing and capable of defending themselves.

What they need is rapid, effective support from the U.S. and other friends and allies. In the south, the Iraq military is still a force to be reckoned with.

What’s needed in both areas are air support, skilled advisors, intelligence gathering, ammo and other supplies.

The U.S. can help with all of that. And it should also keep working diplomatically to help Tehran’s sectarian, malfunctioning government get its act together.

The U.S. also needs to help nearby Jordan, which has borne the brunt of housing more than 600,000 registered refugees from Syria. Strained by that immense burden, Amman now finds itself in the crosshairs of the Islamic State.

Driving those fighters from the field requires American support, but not an American invasion.

Once the dual dangers of the Islamic State and Iran are rolled back, there might well be a role for an international force in Iraq to help stabilize things while the nation rebuilds.

This is a role that U.S. forces would have played, had they not been precipitously withdrawn in 2011. The scope and composition of that international force is something a farsighted leader might want to start thinking about. But for now, Washington must focus primarily on how to stop losing.

A 25-year Army veteran, James Jay Carafano is vice president of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies for The Heritage Foundation, (, a conservative think tank on Capitol Hill.

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Written by enfoquec on August 23rd, 2014

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