September 9, 2012

Information Warfare Rules the World

Information warfare rests for no day, but some days appear to bring an extraordinary pace of intelligence and propaganda. Sunday is one of them. Across the so-called "arc of instability” that Washington and al-Qaeda are competing to infiltrate, the two forces and their allies are engaged in open conflict outside the strict military sphere. All of these development will receive wider strategic analysis in the near future:

Haqqanis Vow Retaliation For "Terrorist" Label

Amid the heated battle over the Haqqani's "terrorist" designation, a move that also advances the threat of designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, an urgent fragment of information has emerged in the fog of war. Citing a "senior member" of the group, the Associated Press reports that Sirajuddin Haqqani "wants to carry out 80 to 100 attacks on US forces in Afghanistan and 20 attacks on other Nato members." His motivation is attributed to Washington's political assault, not his younger brother's recent death-by-drone, but the Haqqanis' display of strength would presumably react to both factors.

The anonymous commander was also keen to emphasize the Taliban's consistent narrative that both groups are one and the same, fighting under the same banner in their own territory. Using their channels and the international media to carry messages to their solders, Sirajuddin has symbolically asked for permission to act from Mullah Omar in order to reinforce the Taliban's unity - a simple but effective tactic to counter Washington's actions. As part of the Haqqanis' media offensive, another "senior commander" told Reuters that the Obama administration has secretly contacted the group in conjunction with Mullah Omar's shura. He too declared the Afghan Taliban to be one network and rejected the possibility of the Haqqanis' exclusion.

”(US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham) Clinton should have the courage to tell the Americans about their contacts and even talks with us,” he said.

Perhaps the Obama administration intends to leverage its terrorist designation into a bargaining chip with the Haqqanis, but the odds of political resolution by 2015 remain stagnant.

Yemen, U.S. Scrub Civilian Casualties With AQAP

Last Sunday a U.S. drone strike in Raada, Yemen allegedly killed five militants traveling by vehicle. Soon afterward, local sources revealed that the barrage of Hellfire missiles had actually killed 14 civilians, including three women and three children. U.S. officials were predictably mum as they scrambled behind the scenes to collaborate their story with the Yemeni government, which often passes on the blame of civilian casualties.

"This was one of the very few times when our target was completely missed," a senior Yemeni Defense official admitted to CNN. "It was a mistake, but we hope it will not hurt our anti-terror efforts in the region."

Despite U.S. claims that drones create less tribal blowback than expected, local leaders and their supporters demanded a government explanation within 48 hours. Both governments have since justified the strike on the presence of local AQAP member Abdelrauf al-Dahab, who escaped the attack unharmed. al-Dahab, the brother of the man who led Raada's brief takeover in February, makes for a logical target in the war against AQAP, but the consequences are unacceptable from a counterinsurgency standpoint. That Tareq al-Dahab was legitimately eliminated by Yemen's tribal mechanisms contrasts vividly with errant U.S. missiles. The vast majority of Yemenis aren't opposed to the destruction of AQAP, so much as the unaccountable nature of U.S. counterterrorism and Washington's intrusive hegemony within the national government.

And they don't want "a new fleet of drones" flying over their country.

Suspicious Circumstances Surround Mali Executions

Already caught in a political struggle between itself, ECOWAS and the UNSC, the Mali government continues to damage a potential operation into the Islamic-held north before it begins. One of two events occurred Saturday night in the village of Diabaly. According to a Mali security official, 16 members of the Dawa sect refused to stop at a checkpoint and "after warning shots were fired were treated as enemies." The dead counted eight Malians and eight Mauritanians. Conversely, a local Mali police official and a relative of the victims speak of a horrific alternative: the group of men, including 12 Mauritanians, were "moderate" Islamists. Mohamed Bashir claims that two cousins died by execution "after soldiers arrested the preachers and then led into the darkness away from the village in the shooting."

A statement from Mauritania’s state media now confirms, ‘‘Mauritanian officials are in touch with Malian authorities in order to get more information on the circumstances of this affair and also to repatriate the bodies of the Mauritanians who were killed.’’

Recognizing the danger of a cover-up, the Mali government is gradually rolling back its story while refusing to acknowledge the execution. A statement has announced its "deep regret" and pledged an immediate investigation, "the results of which will be communicated to the public and the international community.’’ This swift reaction is admirable in a vacuum, but even northern Malians with no sympathy for the Islamist takeover may be affected by Diabaly. The three-headed network of Ansar Dine, the Movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and AQIM will certainly milk the execution to the last propaganda drop.

‘‘We do not recognize these words of condolences issued by Mali which has killed these innocent people,’’ said Oumar Ould Hamaha, a spokesman for Ansar Dine. ‘‘These preachers have nothing to do with jihad. They are moderate people, who were constantly preaching to us, to tell us to be more moderate in our actions. And if the Malian government has killed them in this barbaric fashion, we will seek revenge.’’

These types of visceral events magnify conflict lines and are capable of producing disproportionate effects in asymmetric warfare.

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