Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

Tracking Eight Years of Airstrikes in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko Thursday, January 8, 2015

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

On October 7, 2001, the United States and United Kingdom, as part of the military campaign to topple the Taliban, began conducting airstrikes in Afghanistan. The air attacks were carried out by five B-1 and ten B-52 bombers operating out of Diego Garcia, twenty-five F-14 and F-18 fighter aircraft launched from naval carriers in the Arabian Sea, two B-2 bombers from Whiteman air force base in Missouri, as well as some fifty cruise missiles fired from off shore. Those initial airstrikes were against thirty-one targets consisting of air defense radars, Taliban airfields and command-and-control facilities, and al-Qaeda training camps. After the Taliban was removed from power and remnants of concentrated al-Qaeda fighters had dispersed, airstrikes were significantly curtailed by the end of December 2001. According to the U.S. Air Force, during the initial 76 days of bombing, some 6,500 strike sorties were flown, with 17,500 munitions dropped on over 520 targets. Read more »

If Cyberattacks Are Terror, Who’s the Biggest Terrorist?

by Micah Zenko Monday, January 5, 2015
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union where he proposed placing North Korea on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Menendez contended that the additional sanctions announced by the White House last week were insufficient, and that “we need to look at putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would have far more pervasive consequences.” Beyond claiming this would have additional consequences for North Korea, he disagreed with President Obama’s characterization of the alleged Sony hack as “an act of cyber vandalism”: Read more »

Guest Post: Booking a Return Flight

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Monday, December 22, 2014
A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014. (FBI handout via Reuters/Courtesy Reuters) A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014. (FBI handout via Reuters/Courtesy Reuters)

Harry Oppenheimer is a research associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken on an international flavor as foreign fighters continue to pour into Syria and Iraq from eighty nations as disparate as Kyrgyzstan and Spain. The number of foreign fighters is currently estimated to be as high as 16,000. While the most foreign fighters originate from Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, up to 2,000 are from the United Kingdom (UK), 930 from France, 300 from Sweden, 300 from Belgium, and 450 from Germany. The growing scope of the foreign fighter problem has made it a priority in policy discussions on ISIS, either as Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution wrote, “Homeward Bound? Don’t Hype the Threat of Returning Jihadists,” or as Pascale Siegel, founder of Insight Through Analysis, warned, “Foreign Fighters in Syria: Why We Should Be Worried.” These discussions ignore the real question—what happens when these people want to return to their home countries? Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Civilian Casualties in Iraq, High-Value Targets, and Treaties

by Micah Zenko Friday, December 19, 2014
Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, briefs reporters on the mission and provides an update on operations at the Pentagon, December 18, 2014. (Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Courtesy Department of Defense) Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, briefs reporters on the mission and provides an update on operations at the Pentagon, December 18, 2014. (Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Courtesy Department of Defense)

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Lt. Gen. Terry in the Pentagon Briefing Room, U.S. Department of Defense, December 18, 2014.

Q: I was hoping you could clarify how airstrikes are being conducted without any JTACs [joint terminal attack controllers] on the ground in most cases. And also how you assess civilian casualties in those cases, if at all. Read more »

Preventive Priorities Survey for 2015

by Micah Zenko Monday, December 15, 2014
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters) Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, we at the Center for Preventive Action released our Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) for 2015. This is the seventh in our annual effort to harness crowd wisdom and foreign policy expertise in order to identify plausible sources of political instability and violence and to rank them into three tiers based on their impact to U.S. interests and likelihood of happening in the upcoming year. The goal of the PPS is to help officials and policymakers focus on the most important conflict prevention demands. Despite all the early warning analysis done in the U.S. government, there is neither a systematic process that does this, nor a routine system for bringing such information to the attention of senior officials. The PPS represents our best effort to provide this once a year and, given the feedback we receive from officials, the survey is highly coveted and widely read. Read more »

How U.S. Officials and Congress Have Defended Drone Strikes in Light of the Torture Report

by Micah Zenko Friday, December 12, 2014

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, White House, December 11, 2014.

Q: And finally, has the President ever sought a formal assessment from the intelligence community about whether the drone program is a net asset, either because of our moral authority, or in terms of creating more enemies than it takes off the battlefield? Read more »

The CIA’s Torture Report Response

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, December 9, 2014
An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

There will be a tremendous number of reactions to the graphic and troubling findings contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) study’s executive study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. There will be far fewer reactions to the CIA response to the SSCI, in the form of a June 27, 2013, memo that the CIA released today. According to a forward from Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan, “The CIA’s comments on the Study were the result of a comprehensive and thorough review of the Study’s 20 conclusions and 20 case studies.” However, there is one CIA acknowledgment that should be as disturbing as anything that is contained within the SSCI study itself. Read more »

Guest Post: Chinese Troops in Africa: Protecting Civilians and Oil

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, December 2, 2014
The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters) The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters)

Sean J. Li is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

China announced in September that it would send a battalion of seven-hundred infantry soldiers to reinforce the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), a heretofore unprecedented move that triples its troop contribution. It is suspected by commentators, such as Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, that this commitment was made to shield the oil industry—which both UNMISS and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have denied. The increased international profile of Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) and other commercial interests, especially in Africa, has raised questions about whether China’s long-standing principle of non-interference will hold in the future. Read more »

Why Secretary Chuck Hagel Resigned

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, November 25, 2014
President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Gopal Ratnam, “Picking Up the Pieces at the Pentagon,” ForeignPolicy.com, November 25, 2014.

Although the White House portrayed Hagel’s departure as a usual cabinet change post a midterm election that resulted in Democrats losing their Senate majority, unnamed administration officials have said that Hagel wasn’t up to the task of leading the fight against the militant group also known as ISIS and ISIL that now controls broad parts of Iraq and SyriaRead more »