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Highlights Of OEWatch For September 2016

September 28, 2016

France Stormningen af Halle

Each month the US Army’s think tank the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) publishes its open source OEWatch magazine. It’s a superb brief featuring excerpts of news about ongoing wars and crises. These snippets gathered from various media outlets are accompanied by informed commentary that’s strong on context and analysis.

The FMSO releases OEWatch, together with its vast library of research papers on geopolitical issues, as free downloads.

The September 2016 issue of OEWatch runs 70 pages. The headline is Sri Lanka: Iran’s New Strategic Partner? with a photo of an Iranian warship during a port visit to the island nation in February 2015.

According to the OEWatch staff list the content is prepared by Editor-in-Chief Tom Wilhelm together with Editors Ray Finch and Karen Kaya, who appears to have replaced Harry Orenstein. The magazine’s layout is done by Design Editor Keith French rather than Padric Hall. This issue’s commentary is provided by 21 “regional analysts and expert contributors

September’s OEWatch is divided into eight sections and a Special Essay elaborating this month’s headline.The issue’s content appears evenly distributed, with the Turkey section expunged and slim pickings for Central Asia. A lot of familiar territory preoccupies the Middle East, with entries about Iraq and its neighbors. On page 7 is a detailed update on a new Iranian twin-boom UAV designed for electronic warfare against other airborne drones. Following it is an analysis of the fragile security at the Al-Rukban desert crossing controlled by Jordan to guard its border with Syria.

Capping the Middle East section on page 10 is a nice discussion of urban warfare tactics during the recent battle for Aleppo, where underground tunnels and DIY drones were used.

The Africa section might as well be renamed “Boko Haram” as nearly all its entries scrutinize the faltering terrorist group’s activities. The sole exception is on page 16 where the African Union’s mandate to save wrecked countries is assessed, i.e. Libya.

The Latin America section is just as monomaniacal with its focus on organized crime and narcotics across a dozen entries. There is a short update on the historic Colombian peace deal on page 22.

The Indo-Pacific Asia section is a bundle of surprises. It begins with an update on the Indian military’s deployment in Arunachal Pradesh to thwart China’s creeping expansion. There’s a minor update on the recent activities of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on page 30. The next page contemplates a great scoop–is an alliance between Cambodia and Indonesia possible?

Another Indonesian entry discusses the threat posed by jihadi cells after the death of a notorious militant named Santoso in July. The next entry expands on this idea and takes stock of the Islamic State’s prospects in Southeast Asia, where jihadi groups have multiple safe havens. The short essay on page 34 asks if the ASEAN’s disappointing East Asia Summit in Vientiane last month has doomed the organization in the face of China’s growing power.

The update on Vietnam’s acquisition of UAVs is a genuine treat. This is to improve Hanoi’s visibility in its disputed waters. What isn’t mentioned is the source of these UAVs–Israel. The Jewish state does get mentioned in the next page as it’s now a trusted supplier for the VPA’s thrust for advanced weapons, like ballistic missiles.

At last, the China, Korea, Japan section gets a proper mix unlike previous issues of OEWatch. There’s a long stretch of writing about Japan’s activities at near orbit. These are followed by snippets discussing aspects of China’s foreign policy. What kind of ties does China maintain with the Taliban? (Page 40.) Does Beijing have a grand strategy in the Middle East? (Page 41.) A fantastic bit of intelligence is found in the latter entry. It reveals Chinese military advisers are directing the Assad regime’s weapons production facilities amid the ongoing civil war in Syria.

This month’s Central Asia section is trivial by comparison and appears to have missed the death of Uzbekistan’s dictator.

OEWatch is at its best when poring over minutiae on the Russian armed forces. Almost 20 pages are loaded with blocks of text and detail. The best are the deployment of units along the western border (page 45-46), there’s a lengthy discussion of how the Armata vehicle family could change the army’s mechanized tactics (page 47-48), a closer look at Moscow’s actual defense spending (page 55-56), observations on rekindled diplomatic ties with Turkey (pages 54, 65, and 66), and activities in the Arctic circle (page 62-64).

The Special Essay spread across four pages is a brief on why Iran and Sri Lanka appear to be cozying up. As author Michael Rubin notes both countries have imperfect relations with the West though genuine bilateral ties between them aren’t significant either. As mentioned at the essay’s last paragraph, Iran is reaching out because its post-sanctions renaissance demands firm allies in the vital Indian Ocean. Hence, Sri Lanka is an ideal partner.

OEWatch often runs several dozen stories in a single issue. Readers should download copies to find what’s most relevant to their curiosity.

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