The Evening CSIS July 31 2015

Good Evening,

Welcome to The Evening CSIS—my daily guide to key insights CSIS brings to the events of the day plus HIGHLY RECOMMENDED content from around the world. To subscribe, please click here and if you want to view this in your browser, click here.

Wake of Mullah Omar
Reuters reports today, in an exclusive, that the confirmed death of Mullah Omar “raises the specter of a split” among the Taliban. “At the Taliban meeting this week where Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was named as the Islamist militant group’s new head, several senior figures in the movement, including the son and brother of late leader Mullah Omar, walked out in protest.”

Dive Deeper: CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman today authored a new commentary, “The Afghan Campaign and the Death of Mullah Omar.”

Hotline for Heated Seas
China and Southeast Asian nations have agreed to set up a foreign ministers’ hotline to tackle emergencies in the disputed South China Sea, a senior official of the ASEAN grouping told Reuters today.

The New York Times today launched a new interactive infographic report, “What China Has Been Building in the South China Sea,” with some help from CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

Dive Deeper: CSIS has created a microwebsite, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), which has all the latest satellite images and most comprehensive analysis to date on the South China Sea. Late yesterday, AMTI launched a new set of analysis, infographics, satellite images, and video on “Airpower in the South China Sea.”

Among other innovative ways of presenting the evolution of China’s land reclamation projects, AMTI created a visualization of the evolution of China’s airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, which you can watch on the AMTI microsite or CSIS’s YouTube Channel.

North Korea's Pastor
North Korea’s official news agency said Friday that a Canadian pastor who has been detained since February had confessed to crimes aimed at overthrowing the country’s government, Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times reports from Seoul.

Dive Deeper: A new analysis by CSIS’s Victor Cha addresses “Theories on Why North Korea Rejects the World.”

In that Number

The number of civilian casualties due to Taliban insurgency increases in Afghanistan, January 2009 through December 2014.
Source: Cordesman, “Afghan Campaign and the Death of Omar.”

Critical Question
Asked: How does the death of Mullah Omar affect the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government?

Answered: Anthony Cordesman, CSIS Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy:

The exact circumstances surrounding the reports of Mullah Omar’s death remain unclear, and some facts remain uncertain. It does seem likely, however, that the central power structure of the Taliban covered up his death in 2013 in an effort to preserve its influence, motivate Taliban fighters, and take advantage of the loyalty oath that those who join the Taliban took to Omar. It also seems clear that—in spite of denials of Omar’s death by those who were around him in “Taliban central”—Omar did not endorse peace negotiations and has not been actively planning Taliban military campaigns for some time. The fact that Omar only gave a “post-deathbed endorsement” of peace negotiations seems to have led to Taliban statements that Omar never did endorse such negotiations on July 29—only a day after the Afghan government publicly announced Omar’s death.

In any case, the public confirmation of Omar’s death raises three key questions for Afghanistan:

  • What does this mean in terms of the leadership of the insurgency against the Afghan government;
  • How will it affect the course of the fighting, and
  • How will it affect any future peace negotiations

In practice, the real answers to all three questions will only become apparent with time. It is easy to speculate and to suggest that Omar’s death will lead to major power struggles, to a weakening of the insurgent military effort, or to the success or failure of peace negotiations. Predicting a future has never made one happen. The most that can be said at this point is that the future importance of the top level leadership of the Taliban must be kept in careful perspective, that the Taliban and other insurgents are making major military gains and may continue to do so, and that peace negotiations are a two-edged sword and can easily become an extension of war by other means.

Read the rest of the analysis here.

One to Watch

CSIS’s Bonnie Glaser ( @BonnieGlaser) is a senior adviser for Asia with the Freeman Chair in China Studies, where she works on issues related to Chinese foreign and security policy. ICYMI, late last week, she participated in a must-watch panel discussion with Admiral Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, at the Aspen Ideas Forum called “Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea: Harbinger of Things to Come?” The New York Times quotes Bonnie yesterday in their story “China Blames U.S. Military Actions for Tensions in the South China Sea.” She is clearly one to watch and is superb on Twitter too.


Juan Zarate, CSIS senior adviser, testified before Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject of sanctions and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the P 5+1 and Iran. Zarate’s statement to the committee is available for download.

Highly Recommended
An incredible new film from Vice News, “The Siege of Aden,” reports on two weeks spent in Yemen’s seaport city of Aden while surrounded by Houthi militia rebels and under siege “from air, land, and sea.” (Warning: the video contains graphic content.)

This Town Monday
The changing nature and increased volume of cybercrime, espionage, and hacking raises questions regarding the evolving challenges of cyber-enabled warfare. On Monday at 11:30 a.m. Hudson Institute will host “Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge” to address these vulnerabilities and discuss steps that can be taken to defeat such warfare. Register for the event here.

CSIS on Demand
You can listen to all the most knowledgeable names in South China Sea politics at our fifth annual South China Sea Conference. Watch the panels on demand and download the transcript of Assistant Secretary of State Russel’s remarks here.

With Turkey stepping up its battle on terror, some have questioned Ankara’s true motives in fighting ISIS. The Financial Times’s World Weekly Podcast discusses Turkey’s strategy.

I Like It Like That
Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reports that the former house of Marxist revolutionary, theorist, Soviet politician, and Red Army founder Leon Trotsky on Istanbul’s Büyükada Island is up for sale on a real estate website. It’s going for $4.4 million and is something of a broken-down socialist palace.

We’re tangled up in birthdays at CSIS. Today is one of our favorite colleague’s birthday, Corynne Fish. Tomorrow, August 1, is my deputy Nahmyo Thomas’s birthday. Tomorrow is also my birthday. My first day at work at CSIS was also on August 1, and tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary to the day I started working here. I consider it the best birthday present possible that every year I get to celebrate my work anniversary at CSIS on the same day.

To complicate things, tomorrow, August 1, is also Jerry Garcia’s birthday. Jerry would have been 73. So in the spirit of being tangled up in birthdays (and anniversaries), I present to you, Jerry Garcia performing the Bob Dylan classic, “Tangled up in Blue,” with the Jerry Garcia Band in July 1977. Give the video a few seconds to come into focus; it’s old, but it’s so, so good. Happy Birthday everyone!

I always welcome and benefit from your feedback. Please drop me a line at