February 28, 2010

Three Strikes In Yemen's Counterinsurgency

Brookings Institute is an arm of the US government. One look at their roll call shows this, but reading its reports and listening to speeches fully impresses the reality. Not that there is anything wrong with this setup.

Or is there?

Perhaps Matthew Frankel is a mouthpiece. We don’t mean to pick on him if so. But whatever the case, Frankel analyzes lessons from Pakistan to apply in Yemen’s insurgency. A profitable experiment - if the proper conclusions.

Frankel lists three points where Pakistan can be instructive and whiffs on all three.

First, “consistent U.S. pressure has galvanized the Pakistanis to take a more aggressive stance against the Taliban. Getting local forces on board is one of the larger obstacles facing us in Yemen.”

Almost true: consistent TTP pressure galvanized Pakistan. The TTP made a mistake in bringing its war into the cities. Had it laid low and aided the Taliban in Afghanistan, America would be in more trouble without Islamabad responding as it did. US pressure would have likely backfired without the TTP’s strategic error.

What should be understood is that extreme US pressure on an unpopular government mixed with an anti-US public is the wrong course of action in counterinsurgency in the long run. Pakistanis still want America to reduce its influence in their country.

Frankel’s next observation: “Our earlier efforts in Pakistan - which relied almost exclusively on one-off drone strikes against HVTs - also highlight the need for greater engagement in Yemen.”

Another half-truth, the evidence of governments. US policy in Yemen certainly requires more than drones to achieve lasting counterinsurgency progress against al-Qaeda. But compared to Pakistan, this means additional ground operations in rebel territory and boosted CIA/Blackwater operations.

Yemenis as a whole are not likely to accept these events.

“Finally, the Pakistan case demonstrates that in order to succeed, having a good understanding of enemy dynamics is mandatory.”

A confusing statement. Nothing is simpler than “know thy enemy,” so why did Frankel reach the conclusion that more force is the answer in Yemen? He came so close to an alternative.

He concludes, “In order to have a lasting impact against AQAP, the United States will have to do much more than just carry out or support raids and attacks against group commanders. Remote strikes and targeted raids need to be combined with broader operations, both military and non-military, to achieve maximum effectiveness. This means that, in order to succeed in Yemen, we will have to expand our efforts there and convince the Yemeni government to focus its attention on AQAP. Until that happens, we will simply be treading water with no hope of durable success.”

Aside the one mention of “non-military,” his answer is primarily military, with dash of civilian support. Frankel leaves us with outmoded counterinsurgency. But a glimmer of truth can be seen in Germany, where the exiled Ali Salem al-Baid called for “two days of southern sage” as Yemen and Saudi Arabia hold high-level meetings in Riyadh.

The streets delivered, something the TTP would not be capable of achieving across FATA towns.

“Protesters also demonstrated in the town of Lauder further northeast,” reports the AFP, “while in Dhaleh, thousands gathered in defiance of a curfew which had been imposed overnight, In Lahej, thousands demonstrated in the towns of Hutah and Al-Habilain, and rallies were held in Mukallah, the main city of Hadramawt.”

Reuters summarized Yemen officials as saying, “Security forces arrested 21 separatists trying to provoke rioting during demonstrations in a southern provincial capital as Yemen increased security to guard against attacks.”

The Southern Movement is demanding independence from Yemen - or death.

“It is too late for half measures or reforms,” said Zahra Saleh Abdullah, one of the few Southern Movement leaders who agreed to be identified. “We demand an independent southern republic, and we have the right to defend ourselves if they continue to kill us and imprison us.”

The New York Times reports, “Another movement leader, sitting across the room, held up a coin minted under the British in 1964 and pointed to the words engraved on it: South Arabia.”

“This is our true identity, not Yemen” he said, “A southern republic or death.”

Compared to Pakistan, southern Yemen is more Balochistan than Peshawar. There’s no sending in the drones then cleaning up the mess to the thanks of liberated refugees. Hostilities in north Yemen, where Houthi rebels once fought, have significantly decreased despite sporadic violence amid a slow implementation of the ceasefire.

But al-Qaeda isn’t in northern Yemen, its leaders are known to operate in southern Yemen, where the President Saleh is the most unpopular figure on Earth. And Frankel wants the Yemen army, paired with US forces, to increase operations in this powder-keg?

So we say Brookings is a factory of the government, despite the paradoxically dangerous “solutions” it produces for its maker. What we can apply from Pakistan to Yemen is more what not to do in counterinsurgency.

Rather than putting military options first, put non-military options first. Couple incentives to political and economic benchmarks instead of military objectives. Don’t lean too hard on the government, especially an unpopular one. Don’t rush to assassinate “terrorist targets” considered religious leaders.

Instead try to raise the government’s popularity, so that US assistance is eventually welcomed instead of grudgingly accepted and privately scorned.

Yemen is even poorer than Pakistan. The appearance must be kept up of increasing economic aid. This number should be double or triple military assistance (150$ million) and publicized just as much. America learned too late with the ill-fated Kerry-Lugar bill that counterinsurgency must be spearheaded by political and economic reform.

President Obama must remove the strings and help Yemen’s people in order to regain the local support needed to launch a campaign on AQAP.

Now, we plead guilty to naivety when we say President Saleh should get his military funding only when he politically addresses the Southern Movement. America should have made this demand part of the bargain the whole time, but it wasn’t and now it may be too late.

The Southern Movement, all of southern Yemen, has run out of patience. Negotiation may no longer be an option if Saleh refuses to allow the south to secede. Amidst the chaos America may be able to act covertly, but what problems will that truly solve?

Never would America be more in Yemen - and more out of it.

The last counterinsurgency Yemen needs is more pressure from Washington and more military operations in the openly hostile south. This strategy can’t even be called COIN. Non-military solutions must take precedent to safely navigate the turmoil, only then are military objectives capable of being permanently achieved.

America’s rapidly expanding war, as Frankel not so coincidentally advertises, comes off a last-ditch attempt to beat the clock before military operations become impossible in Southern Yemen.

February 27, 2010

America and Israel Sail into Icy Waters

It would be foolish conclude that America and Israel’s special relationship is charted for divorce. Any long-lasting marriage hits a few cold spells, and tough times often unite. But a storm has chilled the waters.

Now, will America and Israel hit an iceberg?

President Obama lost his battle with Prime Minister Netanyahu the moment it began. Not necessarily the ideological or pragmatic battle, for Obama’s principles, were they sincere and he stuck to them, stand a better chance of creating a Palestine than whatever Netanyahu has in mind. The political battle is over though.

Never a match for the veteran Netanyahu, US policy with Israel was burned by Obama's weakness - inexperience. The Gaza war struck a month after his election; Obama went silent (and would never say much about the war afterward). Another month later Netanyahu had returned to power, already smelling blood from Washington, and proceeded to bite Obama repeatedly in action, word, and tone.

Obama barely reacted to the peace process in general over 2009, Netanyahu even less. He also refused to place any blame on either himself or Netanyahu. Obama's approach must change if he expects any progress towards a sovereign Palestine and a secure Israel, or desires the potential healing benefits to the region. He must actively engage the process not just when negotiations begin but before, or run the risk of conflict between all parties involved.

US envoy George Mitchell can't move all the weight when
Netanyahu’s upper hand is manifesting itself everywhere.

Impatient with Obama's attempt to open a dialogue on Iran, Israel’s call for sanctions has escalated from “crippling” to “strangling” and finally unilaterally outside the UN. Recent denial of an attack after so many years of threats, coupled with its new drone fleet, further suggests preemptive activity. For now America is aware of the stupidity of a war against Iran and is restraining Israel in this aspect.

Yet for how long is anyone’s guess.

The bomb has a timer so it must go off sometime. One of two things should happen in the next two to five years, either Israel (and potential allies) strike Iran or it builds a nuclear weapons program. Both situations will add enormous stress to America and Israel’s relationship. So too will the refusal of Russia and China to crackdown on Iran, which appears likely.

But America is attempting to soften up Russia and assert itself over China at its own risk to other US interests.

Sensing the loss of momentum, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently proclaimed from Washington, "Iran is not just a challenge for Israel. I believe it is a challenge for the whole world. I can hardly think of a stable world order with a nuclear Iran.”

Unfortunately for him, America and Israel agree on that principle but not on the course of action. At least until the economy, health care, Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of improvement, and that could be slower than anticipated.

Standing next to Secretary Clinton, Barak added an unusual but sensible twist, “I don't think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, are going to drop it in the neighborhood. They fully understand what might follow - they are radical but not total 'meshugah’ (Yiddish for crazy). They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process and they understand realities.”

One could think of many answers, and still it’s hard not to wonder why any action is necessary if Iran doesn’t intend to use its nuclear weapons. The common denominator: America and Israel, along with the world, stand as good a chance to conflict over Iran as with Iran.

Yet smaller icebergs cannot be ignored because of over-attention to larger threats, especially when they play a part in determining America and Israel’s course on Iran. The more America can accomplish in Palestine the less chance of conflict with Iran or Syria, and vice versa. Obama's problem though, and a root problem of the region, is that progress with the Palestinians
chips away at Israel’s special bond.

The other day a UN
motion to renew its pursuit of an investigation into the Goldstone report and the Gaza war passed 98-7, with the other members abstaining or refusing to vote. The seven that voted against the non-binding resolution were Israel, America, Canada, Nauru, Panama, Micronesia, and Macedonia.

Apparently Israel and America didn’t want to be the only ones voting against investigating Gaza. That would be too obvious.

There are plenty - too many - examples of Israel’s settlement activity despite a litany of US protests, insincere as they may be. Israel’s 10-month “moratorium” hasn’t put the stop on building in Jerusalem or laying claim to religious sites without warning. Clashes between settlers, Palestinians, and Israeli security forces are still a regular occurrence in the West Bank.

Just days ago Israel green lit 600 new homes in a Jewish settlement in annexed East Jerusalem as protests and clashes entered day six in Hebron. Though Israeli officials say the plans were long in development, their approval shows no regard for the situation. One gets the strong feeling that Israel planned on stalling negotiations through other actions until its “moratorium” expires.

America has stood by helplessly and watched, exactly as Netanyahu expected and Palestinians feared.

A relatively similar scene is unfolding in the aftermath of Dubai. US officials have barely commented on the assassination of Hamas agent Mahmoud al-Mabhouh or Israel’s potential feuds with Britain, France, and Australia, but this time something might have to give. Dubai has sought the cooperation of America concerning credit card information from the assassination team, widely believed to be part of the Mossad's Kidon department.

Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim also told Al-Arabiya, "We have DNA evidence ... from the crime scene. The DNA of the criminals is there. We will work via European and Australian diplomatic channels - and perhaps American - to set up a working team formed from the Emirates police force and those of at least seven other states to track down the gang responsible for the assassination.”

Already in protection mode, “spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters he wasn't aware of a request for assistance from the U.A.E. in the probe. Spokesmen for the U.S. State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation both declined to comment Friday.”

Israel's single-minded pursuit of self-interest has inadvertently pitted its Western backers against their Gulf allies.
America’s level of assistance to Dubai will surely influence its relationship with Israel and yet turning down the UAE, a dutiful partner in the post-9/11 world, comes with its own consequences.

Ironically the pro-Israeli Wall Street Journal points out, at the bottom of a report, “Mr. Mabhouh's killing has won praise inside Israel. Earlier this week, opposition leader Tzipi Livni called the assassination ‘good news.’ But Israel's international standing has suffered. As the uproar over fraudulent passports grows, some analysts are starting to question whether Israel, if it was involved, made a strategic blunder despite a tactical victory.”

That same echo can be heard from Israel’s settlement construction,
encroachment upon religious sites, bombing of Gaza, all the way to jeopardizing relations with America in the first place. Even the best of circumstances dampen in the brewing storm. The other day Clinton actually put in a word for Gazans and the blockade that smothers them.

"We discussed it at length and Sen. Mitchell and I made clear some of the concerns that we had and some of the ideas about what more could and should be done," she told reporters after she and U.S. special envoy George Mitchell met Barak. "We hope to see progress there."

Unfortunately, based on America’s accumulated and Israel's current actions, these words carry little weight.

Daniel Levy, an analyst with the New America Foundation think tank, noted that Clinton was pressed by senior Arab officials when she visited the Gulf last week: "The threat to the peace talks is renewed violence in Gaza... but equally problematic for the United States is what the secretary heard in Qatar and Saudi Arabia... 'what are you doing for Gaza?' It undermines the credibility of the United States."

Only when America needs something from the Arab states does it stand up for Gazans. Israel still won’t like the move though, real or fake. Barak immediately blamed Hamas, meaning the blockade isn't coming down any time soon.

Many people would lament - and presently fear - the day America and Israel’s special relationship came to an end. Many more would cheer, not out of negativity necessarily, but in the positive hope that balance may finally be restored to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and possibly the Middle East.
America and Israel's special relationship shows no real signs of breaking, and maybe the day will never come.

But it is floating, somewhere out in the distant darkness, awaiting fatal miscalculations.

February 26, 2010

The Taliban-Naxalite Nexus: Red Parallels

The insurgencies in Afghanistan and India are like parallel worlds. While similar at the surface and molecular levels, each retains a distinct quality through miscellaneous differences, sharing inversions that simultaneously link and diverge their future.

In Afghanistan talks with the Taliban are conducted in secret, if they are at all. In India Naxalite rebels exchange phone and fax numbers through the media.

A day after the Maosist’s frontman Koteshwar Rao, alias Kishanji, proposed a "conditional" 72 day ceasefire with India in their 43 year old conflict. Home Minister P. Chidambaram rejected the offer and counter-offered an unconditional ceasefire, demanding a promise from the Maoists to renounce violence.

"I would like a short, simple statement... saying, 'We will abjure violence and we are prepared for talks," Chidambaram said. "I would like no ifs, no buts and no conditions. Once I receive the statement, I shall consult the prime minister... and respond promptly."

Chidambaram said if they could fulfill his demand then fax him directly on 011-23093155.

Kishanji quickly responded, ''If he (Chidambaram) wants to talk on our ceasefire proposal, let him speak to me on my phone number 09734695789. He is welcome to call me on February 25 but after 5pm.'' He explained that Chidambaram should call him on February 25 because, "on that day we will observe martyrs' day to mourn our slain comrades.”

And he left out Chidambaram’s demand.

Communications have gone silent as both sides debate internally. Kishanji’s deadline passed without a definitive reaction from either side, overshadowed by talks with Pakistan. The conflict’s complex history suggests that no matter what happens the Maoists won’t renounce violence and the Indian government won’t trust them either way.

Kishjani is said to consider Chidambaram untrustworthy, while several Indian states have burned themselves with fake ceasefires. President Singh recently called the Naxalites cowards.

So far away they seem from each other, and still light years closer than US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and TTP spokesman Azam Tariq directly communicating through the media. Or, considering Kishanji’s deputy status, a Taliban general on Mullah Omar’s high council.

For reasons we will make clear in later analysis, US leadership in the White House and Pentagon have no intentions of directly speaking with the Taliban, let alone negotiating. Not in public or private. They might if they must, if that’s the only way out of Afghanistan, but America is trying to fight its way out first.

This strategy hasn’t worked for India and many question whether it will for Afghanistan, new strategy or not.

The Taliban and the Naxalites are synchronized at a number of levels, with deep origins and causes rooted in injustice and inequality, however perverse that justification has become through their own actions. No one can refute the existing impoverishment and marginalization that spawned these movements.

The foot count of also seems to equate. The latest estimate from the Institute for Conflict Management (IFCM), a New Delhi think-tank, put the Naxalite rebels at 22,000, up from 15,000-20,000 in 2006. The Taliban is estimated between 20,000 and 30,000.

Both groups employ additional tens of thousands of local cells - part-time insurgents - while at the same time diverging at their potential pools, where the Naxalites possess a massive disparity in the Indian countryside.

Seeking to regain either the entire state of Afghanistan or carve out a regional autonomous zone, many players beyond the Taliban have long dreamt of Pashtunistan. With the Taliban specifically, they could either plot future attacks against international targets (unlikely), or hold the Kabul government in check and wait for it to fall (more likely) and try to make a national move (certain).

The Red Corridor was recently confirmed by Indian officials after the interrogation of senior leader Kobad Ghandy revealed connections to the Maoist leadership in Nepal. This would extend the Naxalities’ domain along India’s entire eastern flank, from Nepal to Kerala state off the Arabian sea.

A more tangible Pashtunistan, the Naxalites are in the process of creating, in accordance with Maoist tradition, an autonomous Compact Revolutionary Zone from which to expand operations outside their territory. They’re open about bringing their war into India’s main cities, Mumbai and New Delhi, along with Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Here is another divergence: the Taliban’s satisfaction with nationalism and the Naxalites transnational ambitions. Still, their ultimate objectives remain similar - overthrow the current political system.

And while the Naxalites operate in an area estimated to cover 40% of India’s territory, over 1.2 million km, their AO is more comparable to the Taliban than most guerrilla groups. The Red Corridor is estimated at 90,000 km; Helmand and Kandahar province at roughly 100,000 km.

Both groups also exploit cross-border action that complicates an counterinsurgency unlike an island or secured territory.

It may seem redundant to compare guerrilla groups since guerrilla tactics are often universal, but some groups succeed more than others. The Taliban and Naxalites have flourished because of extensive history, exploitable oppressed masses, unresponsive governments, foreign corruption, transnational logistics, and scholarly pursuit of guerrilla warfare.

They flirt with negotiations they have no intentions of following. The Taliban show little sincere interest in negotiations without actionable US withdrawal, while the Naxalites are said to merely need three months while the trees shed their leaves and the jungle shield grows back.

They’re forces are capable of launching simultaneous, complex attacks on active intelligence. Powerful despite a number of setbacks, both groups have lost senior leaders and come close to being extinguished. They’re disjointed enough to survive any attack except to the real heads, and those are never easy to confirm.

In another divergence Mullah Omar pulls ranks above Kishanji, yet their mystery is nearly parallel. Unlike the cloud over Omar’s entire life, the Hindustan Times claims of Kishanji, deputy leader Communist Party of India (Maoist), “Almost everything about him is known...”

Dubbing him the “Faceless face of the Maoists,” the Times records his:
Date of birth: July 25, 1956
Date of marriage: August 8, 1984
Wife’s name: Myna
Favorite color: Green
Favorite weapon: AK 47
Biggest regret: Never meeting Charu Mazumdar
The nexus with Omar - an unknown location. Despite 10 people tracing his phone at all times Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admits, “I know he makes frequent phone calls to media persons, but it is too tough to catch him.”

Describing “his feeble voice frail frame and his face wrapped in a striped scarf have by now been a familiar picture” (think the one-eyed Omar) the Times quotes Kishanji as explaining, “People shield me.”

Indeed, “according to police, the secret to Kishanji’s success so far is that despite being tech-savvy and fluent in English, Hindi and Bangla, Kishanji never stepped out of the jungle in 23 years.”

Omar has never stepped out of his own deserts and mountains, a nativeness that contributes mightily to his security and mystery.

Omar and Kishanji are also similarly ruthless as need be. The Taliban’s history can speak for itself, while Kishanji claimed responsibility for the recent attack that left 24 Indian policemen dead and the country rattled.

“We are calling it ‘Peace Hunt,’” he said, referring to the government’s ongoing Operation Green Hunt. “This is our reply to the anti-Naxalite operation the union government has launched.”

Here opens the final nexus between the Taliban and the Naxalites - force alone is futile. Only through full spectrum counterinsurgency, led by political reform, economic opportunity, and social mending, will either one of these guerrilla movements be mowed down for good.

In President Singhs own words, “I would like to state frankly that we have not achieved as much success as we would have liked in containing this menace. It is a matter of concern that despite our efforts the level of violence in the affected states continues to rise.”

These efforts have been mainly confined to security instead of the proper reform necessary. The Naxalites also recruit bottom caste members and it’s hard to see that issue tackled any time soon. Corporations must be regulated, another implausibility.

Violence has increased every year since 2000 in part because India has responded primarily with heavy handed law enforcement, which is another term for guerrilla steroids.

"Government has to stop the violence first, as ours is the only reaction to it," said P. Govindan Kutty, editor of People's March, the Indian Maoists' publication in Kerala state.

Hopefully Singh will heed his advice when he says, "As I have stated before dealing with left-wing extremism requires a nuanced strategy, a holistic approach. It can not be treated solely as a law and order problem."

America is learning the hard way that same lesson with right-wing extremism in Afghanistan. India will get nowhere without a political solution and neither will America - now will they apply the lessons learned?

Will America’s surge simply escalate the conflict in light of the looming political crisis between Kabul and Washington? Will India and America actually wage new counterinsurgency? Will they diverge over negotiations with their enemy, and if so what will the results be?

These are our questions going forward.

February 25, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The government of Pakistan has accepted Afghanistan's proposal for extraditing Mullah Brader and other Taliban who are in its custody and showed readiness to hand over those prisoners ... on the basis of an agreement between the two countries."

- statement from Hamid Karzai's office

February 24, 2010

COIN 101: Umbrellas

Today Voice of America, the US government’s media arm, released a brief election preview for Iraq. The summary amounts to a few quotes from US officials, some statistics, and a sunny view of Iraq going forward.

What is informative are the statements of General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq. Not that Iraq’s elections are important to the region or that America is warning other “agendas” to stay out, but that, according to VOA, “The people of Iraq are clear about what they want the government to address, and it isn't sectarian interests.”

General Odierno cites the prevalence of political polling, “and all the polls are very clear about what's important to the Iraqi people: Number 1 is the economy and jobs. Number 2, is basic services, electricity, water. Ultimately, those are the issues that Iraq's politicians will need to address.”

From this half-truth soup rises a exemplary example of counterinsurgency.

While Odierno’s numbers require a minor adjustment the basic premise of his argument remains unchanged. Number 1 is security in all forms, an umbrella for physical security (from violence and disease), political security. job security, and a general security of lifestyle.

No one can dispute Iraqis crave stability after 40 years of chaos, but covering these fundamental issues are Iraq’s political umbrellas that demonstrate a general law of counterinsurgency: military operations are ineffective without a political umbrella. Iraq’s relative turnaround in 2007 saw military progress only because America began patching the holes in its political umbrella.

Afghanistan’s only hope is the same task.

Yet serious doubts exist over whether sectarian interests are a thing of the past in Iraq. A decrease in sectarian violence hasn’t fully translated into political progress so much as having morphed from military to political conflict.

The system is experiencing turbulence unlikely to let up before the March 7th election. Shiite parties are jostling among their alliances, warning each other to unite instead of seek intra-sectarian alliances. Several Sunni parties are vowing boycott or angry at Shiite Iran and its Iraqi connections, and the Kurds are looking to capitalize wherever they can.

Odierno himself found himself amid a firestorm after triggering sectarian tensions.

Speaking at the Institute for the Study of War last week, Odierno said two people who run the Justice and Accountability Commission, Ahmed Chalabi and Ali Al-Allami, are, "clearly influenced by Iran. We have direct intelligence that tells us that."

One Sunni party, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, immediately announced a boycott of the election. Its leader, Saleh al-Mutlaq, had been banned by the commission.

"The National Dialogue Front has made its final stand," said party spokesman Haidar al-Mullah. "It will boycott the election, but it will stay part of the political process. The call is open for other political parties to take the same stand as our front. The whole issue is not related to [the candidate ban], rather the unsuitable atmosphere of this election."

“There is an obvious Iranian will that made critical and political decisions within the political process in the last few weeks,” he said.

In a recent CNN interview, al-Mutlaq “slammed” Chalabi, a leading Shiite political figure, for banning him said democracy in Iraq is "finished."

al-Mutlaq’s activity was followed by a statement from the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country’s largest Sunni party and a vocal critic of US influence. The IIP redirected the blame back on America for al-Mutlaq’s boycott rather than blame Shiite Iran and its Iraqi collaborators.

"Building an independent and unified Iraq can only be achieved through the participation of all Iraqis in free and fair elections, and allowing true representation for all components of the population, without the exclusion of any party for subjective reasons," the party said in a statement Monday.

This thinking falls in line with Ordeino’s suggestion that Iraqis want to move past sectarian politics, except the note is soured.

“We in the Iraqi Islamic Party are surprised to read statements from the US regarding the negative Iranian interference in internal Iraqi affairs. We ask: Who made Iraqi land an open theatre for regional and international interference? Who is legally and ethically responsible for the violations of Iraq?"

For all the desire to enter a new age of universality Iraq is still caught in the middle of a sectarian hurricane, with the election serving as the eye and post-election Iraq as a looming wall to break through.

The Shiites have their own discord. The latest poll conducted by the National Media Centre, which is linked to al-Maliki, found his State of Law Coalition in the lead with 29.9% of the vote. Ayad Allawi’s newly formed Iraqi National Movement, advertised as secular and non-sectarian, polled 21.8%.

However, the poll fails to mention Muqtada al-Sadr and the umbrella he patiently sits under. Obviously al-Sadr is considered an outlaw by al-Maliki, but he's also a direct Shiite political threat against al-Maliki and Allawi, himself a Shiite who has similarly attempted to suppress al-Sadr.

According to the Washington Post
, al-Sadr’s Shiite-oriented Iraqi National Alliance is sending a jolt of anxiety down al-Maliki’s coalition. This umbrella consists of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and the Sadrists.

The Washington Post reports, “SIIC officials are quietly acknowledging that the Sadrists are likely to emerge as the biggest winner in the bloc, thus robbing their own party of the chance to secure the prime minister's job,” and that, “Officials at al-Maliki's Shiite-led ‘State of Law’ coalition also have acknowledged the Sadrists will fare well in the vote.”

A senior SIIC official said the party is already trying to prevent the Sadrists from gaining control by securing the support of smaller groups within the umbrella. al-Maliki must be relieved to hear this because whoever finishes as the largest bloc in the newly-expanded 325 seat parliament holds the most influence in selecting the future president and prime minister.

Needless to say, America’s military power could be reduced to insignificance with al-Sadr actively influencing the Iraqi government.

It’s difficult to envision this possibility becoming reality; Shiites as a whole are unlikely to hand the country over to al-Sadr. Yet his reemergence is clearly threatening to poke new holes in America’s political umbrella, currently covering its military withdrawal.

He is a potential tipping point of Iraq’s other political feuds.

The threat he poses to US interests returns the spotlight to the dropped Blackwater case last month. In the coming months America must execute a near flawless political and diplomatic strategy to successfully exit militarily, which is preconditioned on a stabilizing Iraq. al-Sadr appears on his guerrilla game.

Guerrilla warfare has a transitioning life-cycle, from terrorist to insurgent to guerrilla, and finally authorized soldier of the state. Terrorists have little acceptance in a local society, necessary for true guerrilla warfare. An insurgency is the phase of gaining local popularity, and if successful in building a popular political base, transitions into full-fledged guerrilla warfare.

Shiite Hezbollah is the best living example - and al-Sadr sounds like he’s adopting its model.

According to the Washington Post, “he recently has appeared to be positioning himself as a politician, replacing his militia with a grass-roots social welfare network... Much of its rise is tied to its social, health and education services and tireless calls for the withdrawal of the Americans, a stand that resonates with mostly poor Shiites who see the U.S. presence as the root of the country's problems.”

al-Sadr has always combined insurgent, political, and social warfare, but he appears to have realized how much more potent this combination is with the emphasis on non-military operations. He wasn't defeated during America's surge, he's been busy rearranging his movement to politico-religious centric model supported by his militia.

As America must wage counterinsurgency under a political umbrella, al-Sadr wishes to wage his insurgency under a political umbrella.

Sami al-Askari, a close al-Maliki aide, “questioned the Sadrists' ability to forge a post-election alliance with the country's main Kurdish bloc - a necessity in Iraq's fractured political scene since no single bloc is expected to win enough votes to claim an outright majority.”

His observation, accurate as it is, misses the point however. We doubt al-Sadr’s ability to forge a post-election alliance outside the Shiites, but he’s still going to end up with political power to combine with his military backbone and growing religious influence.

al-Sadr isn’t going to become king, but a good showing by the the SIIC, at the least, will put him in the position of kingmaker. That would be more than enough to punch a hole through American’s counterinsurgency umbrella.

While the US media starts to question whether President Obama should continue with his withdrawal as planned, citing the uptick in violence, the only real way Washington can stabilize Iraq is a coherent, sensitive, nuanced, and pragmatic political strategy.

This is what the White House and Pentagon must deliver until the last US troop leaves Iraq. Delaying the withdraw won't matter as much if they can't.

Taliban-ISI Conspiracies Hit the Turbo

Blame the press. Blame skeptics, cynics, dissidents, rebels, terrorists, and conspiracy theorists. It doesn’t matter. The only ones actually at fault are America and Pakistan’s governments and militaries and their past behavior.

No one else is to blame for why so many have questioned whether Pakistan’s joint CIA-arrest of Taliban general Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, along with a handful of mid level al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders, is a “significant development” or not.

For one thing the phrase “significant development” pops up in every US speech, as if keyboards were passed out with a special key for the term. Officialdom speak at its finest.

“There is very little I am going to say here on this subject but it is a significant development,” US envoy Richard Holbrooke told reporters in Kabul last week.

The White House and US military leaders including Mullen, Gates, Jones, and Petraeus would follow suit.

"It is obvious that there have been a number of important detentions in Pakistan,” General Petraeus told reporters in Islamabad yesterday. “It is very clear that there have been some significant intelligence operations. There have been some important breakthroughs. I don't want to overstate this though either, because again there are a number of bad guys out there, but these have been significant.”

Any attempt at multidimensional counterinsurgency should be applauded, and it's hard to begrudge America for launching a propaganda assault after Baradar’s arrest. For too long the US military has ignored the propaganda effects inside a conflict, mainly focusing on influencing propaganda back home and internationally.

The current strategy may not work as planned (their saturation campaign is backfiring, creating the appearance of even greater US dependency), but political and military officials are fulfilling their pledge to be on top of every story inside Pakistan.

Baradar’s arrest is also playing well in America, having corresponded - some might say timed - perfectly with Operation Marjah. President Obama was dying for a boost in Afghanistan and this will do for now. Still the skeptics, or cynics as he often mistakes them for, are numerous and come armed with valid doubts.

The most prominent theory is that Pakistan seized Baradar and Taliban negotiations along with him. Some believe Islamabad is transitioning from manipulating the Taliban on the battlefield to holding them as bargaining chips at the negotiating table, safely away from Washington and Kabul’s clutches.

The BBC reports
, “Sources in Kabul say he and his envoys have been involved in secret talks with the Afghan president in Kabul, his representatives in southern Afghanistan and outside the country.”

“This may be good for public opinion but, for us, it can have a negative impact,” said one senior Afghan official. "It was easier for us to talk to him.”

The BBC also claims, “Reports from Kandahar last month speculated that Mullah Baradar would soon be arrested because of growing tensions with Mullah Omar,” a poor sign in itself that Baradar’s arrest will lead to a real breakthrough against Omar.

Though skepticism must have been anticipated from the Pentagon, or should have, US officials remain irked by the media aftermath.

Many, including Holbrooke, Gates, and Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, have brushed aside doubts as best they can. Petraeus himself dismissed speculation that Pakistan moved against Baradar and others because they were involved in talks with the Afghan government and it grabbed a seat at the table by arresting them.

''I wouldn't share your characterizations that, in a sense, (the Pakistanis) have always had this intelligence,” he said. “What has happened is that there has been some important breakthroughs.''

Yet the notion that Pakistan is stealing negotiations is certainly true to some degree. Why wouldn’t Pakistan want as many Taliban assets in its possession? The reason this is perceived as a problem is because America and Afghanistan want them too.

It’s also more logical that America is trying to sabotage ongoing the dialogue with the Taliban, hoping to defeat it militarily before being forced to negotiate a settlement. Pinning the perception on Pakistan could thus be part of a double-conspiracy.

But Petraeus speaks inadvertent truth when he says, "As always, there's no single factor or explanation for what has taken place. Rather it's a multi-varied equation.”

With all the focus trained on Taliban negotiations, the specter of US threats have flown under the radar.

America demanded action from Pakistan not once but three times, in North Waziristan, Quetta, and Karachi. Each time the message was “do it or we’ll do it.” Pakistan refused to launch another operation in North Waziristan after South Waziristan and the drones launched en masse. The same fate might have befallen Quetta, and the message was relayed again after Bruce Riedel announced the Taliban’s purported Quetta Shura had relocated to Karachi. The US Senate was just briefed on this topic.

Pakistan had to eventually act or America very well could have. It understands the last thing it needs is a CIA raid in Karachi that nabs a Taliban general under its nose. The embarrassment would be a disaster at the political, military, and media levels.

Pakistan, aside from valid reasons to control negotiations, was acting under orders from the barrel of a gun. It had to relieve the pressure from Washington before the CIA or JSOC (or Blackwater) blew.

In support of Pakistan’s alternative motives to assisting America rests a report, without proven validity, that confirms the suspicions of many. Adnkronos Security claims that every Taliban commander Pakistan arrested outside of Bardar had direct ties to the ISI.

An anonymous “strategic analyst” suggests Pakistan took action because, “army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani was looking to win favor with Washington, and create pressure on Islamabad to avoid retirement in November and extend his term.”

Viewing this theory on the grand scale Pakistan is deep in play with its pawns, removing those in danger from the board to shield them or use them on the political battlefield, possibly putting them back into play at a later date, sacrificing those it can or must. In this way Pakistan could relieve pressure from America with well-timed “arrests,” like a submarine ballast, or else risk ending up a volcano.

The single greatest threat of conspiracies is how logical they often sound.

Pakistan apparently concealed its catch from America for several days partially in fear of domestic political furry. Baradar’s arrest may ultimately prove “significant” to US-Pakistani relations, but it stands to reason that, given the absence of growth in any area outside the military sphere, that real progress remains superficial for the time being.

February 22, 2010

Moon Monday

There is no reason not to colonize the Moon - except the potential pollution of the Moon and the human species. Yet it is improbable that world powers, in conjunction with powerful individuals and consortiums, will resist the urge to weaponize and resource harvest the Moon. We have little choice other than to accept this inevitable future.

The wheels are already in motion. Understanding the process becomes the next best course of action.

By no means do we treat 2010 as the moment when lunar exploration takes off. Humans have been debating the finer points for over a century, and reports now can appear disturbingly similar to those dated 2000. Individual governments and private interests are still decades removed from establishing a permanent residence on the Moon.

That said, lunar exploration will become reality only through continual determination, awareness, and innovation, and we intend to contribute to the process. 2020-2030 should see significant lunar development. No party can afford to wait, each much strive every day until 2025 and beyond if they want to touch down first and claim the prime real-estate.

Monday night in The Trench is now Moon Monday. Here’s why:

1. Politics
2. Military bases

3. Extra-terrestrial experimentation of:
a. micro-gravity
b. space atmosphere
c. solar rays
d. the elements
e. agriculture
f. military technology
g. space technology

4. Resource harvesting
5. Space port to asteroids, Mars, and beyond
6. Lunar elevator
7. Tourism
8. Human curiosity and competition (intrinsic and political)
9. No Choice (global warming, excess population, low resources, etc.)
10. Inevitable (see above reasons)

These topics and more will be explored every Monday in hopes of constructing a theoretical lunar infrastructure. Space is the ultimate political frontier.

Quotes of the Day

"I'm not defending it at all. I'm just saying that these kinds of things, in many respects, are inherent in a war. It's what makes war so ugly... General McChrystal is doing everything humanly possible to avoid civilian casualties. There will be lessons learnt and they will be applied in the future."

- Defense Secretary Robert Gates, politically covering his man General McChrystal

"My vision is of an Israel that is a world technological superpower, anchored in values, reaching peace from strength. To this end, we are working to jump-start the economy, to augment our security and to strengthen Israel through inculcating basic national values. I see all this as part of an economic, educational and cultural revolution that is just beginning.

- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the opening of his Haaretz interview

Unjustifiable Counterinsurgency

Today should have been a good day in Afghanistan. District leader Abdul Zahir Aryan, the newly appointed civilian chief for Marjah, arrived Monday to begin restoring government authority. He plans to meet with community leaders and townspeople regardless of the security situation.

"The Marines have told us that the situation is better,” Aryan said. “It's OK. It's good. "I'm not scared because it is my home. I have come to serve the people."

Aryan could have carried Monday’s news cycle in Afghanistan. He’s going to be exposed and is already publicizing himself so he’s perfect journalistic material. But that prospect is gone now that the media cycle is dominated by at least 27 civilians killed in a NATO air-strike in Urōzgān province.

Mr. Aryan will spend the day bottom feeding on these reports.

"Yesterday a group of suspected insurgents, believed to be en route to attack a joint Afghan-ISAF unit, was engaged by an airborne weapons team resulting in a number of individuals killed and wounded," ISAF said in a statement. “After the joint ground force arrived at the scene and found women and children, they transported the wounded to medical treatment facilities.”

Zemarai Bashary, spokesman for Afghanistan's interior ministry, said the victims were traveling between the Kijran district and Chahar Chino district of Uruzgan when they were bombed.

"ISAF thought they were armed enemy elements who were driving towards their bases," he said.

America’s response was automatic. General McChrystal told reporters, “ We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives. I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission. We will redouble our efforts to regain that trust.”

But there is no evidence to trust his efforts, and the speed that he’s addressing casualties is actually beginning to backfire as the “tragic losses” stack up.

January closed with the deaths of four Afghan police mistakenly bombed by NATO. Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a NATO spokesman, called the event a “regrettable incident” and promised an investigation, saying, “We work extremely hard to coordinate and synchronize our operations."

Two weeks ago Afghan police shot dead seven Afghan villagers, young men who were collecting firewood at night.

On the eve of Operation Moshtarak we pointed to Paktia province as an indicator of the chaotic and uncontrollable nature of war. Moshtarak opened with a fireball that consumed 12 civilians. Three more were picked off over the next two days.

“It's regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost," General McChrystal would say amid the controversy. "We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents."

Elsewhere a NATO air-strike in Kandahar province mistook five civilians for Taliban laying an IED.

Just last Thursday, in Kunduz province, another NATO air strike missed its target and killed seven Afghan police while wounding two more.

"Afghan national security forces are critical to the security of this nation and the loss of a single Afghan life affects all of us," said Lieutenant General David Rodriguez in the statement. "We have committed to our Afghan partners every resource available to investigate this incident."

That was only February and every single time an investigation followed - as if that is the solution. These acts occur and will continue to occur because, for instance, the rockets that killed the 12 civilians were put back into the field.

After running all over the map on whether the HIMARS misfired or not, NATO concluded, “an investigation found that the weapon had not malfunctioned in Sunday's strike but that it still was not known why the house was hit.”

The statement also reads, "The review is still ongoing, but it has been determined that the HIMARS weapon system functioned properly,” meaning they know why the house was hit - they aimed at it despite a civilian presence.

General McChrystal is losing credibility.

He’s killed almost half as many civilians as Taliban over the course of Operation Moshtarak, and several incidents served as spectacular fodder for the media. President Karzai undermined him further by demanding zero casualties, an impossibility designed to protect and distance himself from America and its allies. That's not the plan.

25 or more fresh, dead civilians are certain to effect Operation Moshtarak going forward. By dropping bombs on innocent Afghans, America is dropping bombs on its own counterinsurgency.

Arrogance is deviously at work in the notion that civilian casualties can be minimized. US and NATO forces aren't necessarily making mistakes, they are succumbing to the inherent disadvantage in guerrilla warfare. War in general is chaotic, uncertain, uncontrollable, and McChrystal cannot deliver low casualties while fighting 20,000 Taliban at the same time.

Yet to kill busloads of men, women, and children instead of Taliban soldiers is truly heinous in itself and cannot be glossed over as a mistake of war. It is a crime of both humanity and counterinsurgency.

The possibility remains open for a Taliban setup, bad intel, but being tricked is not an excuse. Only a complete fabrication will save McChrystal. The Afghanistan Council of Ministers doesn't sound like it will accept "I'm sorry" this time, calling the mistake "unjustifiable."

The question then becomes: will the Afghan people?

February 21, 2010

Heron TPs in the Room

The IAI Eitan isn’t a new species of bird. Having evolved from the IAI Heron, the Eitan - or Heron TP - has been soaring freely in the sky, and over Gaza, for several years. But Israel has finally caged its fleet and by doing so has brought the birds into the room.

Assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel isn’t planning a war with Iran rang hollow without the public unveiling of the Heron TP, Israel’s state-of-the-art Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The elephant has proliferated so we’ll jump right on them. Every piece of evidence indicates Israel will ultimately strike militarily at Iran’s nuclear facilities and that the Heron TP will be an intricate part of the attack.

And most of the evidence comes from inside Israel.

Start from the fact that every report on the Heron TP, if not the headline itself, states early and often that it can reach Iran, a detail supplied by Israel itself. Then add the technical marvels of the drone relating to its large size: an operating altitude of 40,000 feet, a “diverse payload,” and quiet motors.

“Despite its mammoth proportions, its engine is quiet, so it can be used in covert operations,” reports the Jerusalem Post.

The technical aspects of the IAI Eitan appear tailored for a strike against Iran and the PR behind it does nothing to play down the possibility, suggesting Iran is the final destination.

Now multiply by the statements of Israeli officials, private and public, all implying that the Heron can achieve most any covert mission. Brig. Gen. Amikam Norkin, commander of the base that will operate the drones, hailed, “With the inauguration of the Heron TP, we are realizing the air force's dream. The Heron TP is a technological and operational breakthrough.”

A significant realm of the Israeli Air Force’s dream happens to be attacking Iran, seeing that it is the only branch of the IDF capable of doing so. Major General Ido Nehushtan, chief of Israel's Air Force, said the drone, "has the potential to be able to conduct new missions down the line as they become relevant.”

“New missions as the become relevant...” - sounds like Iran.

"I can tell you, it can do a lot of missions,” Lieutenant Colonel Eyal Asenheim, a drone operator, told the AP. “It can do some special missions, unique missions that no other UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] can do.”

What’s more special or unique than attacking Iran?

The probability of a strike increases further after stepping back to view the larger picture. To return to Netanyahu’s denial of a war plan, the transparency of his words are four-fold.

First, Israel had to talk up a strike to create and maintain the threat; as the hour approaches it must reverse and deny to mask its actions. Second, semantics are possibly at work as Netanyahu likely wants no more of a “war” than Iran does. Yet whether it expects retaliation or not, Israel considers attacking Iran to be a tactical strike, not a lengthy campaign, i.e. a war.

Third, Netanyahu was responding to Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s claim that Israel is, “seeking to start a war next spring or summer, although their decision is not final yet.” Brushing off Ahmadinejad was easy points to score with the international community in general and his personal audience at the time.

Netanyahu hadn’t voluntarily vowed to refrain from striking Iran. He was meeting President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, trying to delay Russia’s shipment of surface-to-air missile units of the S-300, considered one of the most advanced anti-missile systems, to Iran. He was also trying to squeeze out a promise for stiffer sanctions.

Thus Netanyahu downplayed the option of war because he needed something, not because he sincerely feels that way. This is someone who saw no potential problems with assassinating a Hamas agent in Dubai, and is liable to view Iran in the same rosy glasses.

But the Russian angle digs deeper still.

Soon after Netanyahu left, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov hit back at his favorite saying: “The term 'crippling sanctions' on Iran is totally unacceptable to us. The sanctions should aim at strengthening the regime of non-proliferation. We certainly cannot talk about sanctions that could be interpreted as punishment on the whole country and its people for some actions or inaction.”

Presuming that Putin feels the same way, we can see a clear divergence when Netanyahu states, “Russia understands very well the problem posed by a nuclear Iran. The most important thing now is that there is a general interest... that Iran not become a nuclear power."

To Russia (and China), the problem is maintaining a strong Iran while pursuing non-proliferation to appease the West. To Israel (and America) the problem is weakening Iran in totality - politically, economically, and militarily. As such, it’s difficult to believe Russia and China will ever approve of the sanctions that Israel and America desire.

It’s also debatable whether sanctions, crippling or otherwise, will deter Iran from producing nuclear weapons if that is its intent. All of these factors feed into the probability that Israel possesses only one true way to prevent or destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities - a military strike - and history shows Israel will act.

Today’s reports, after mentioning the Eitan’s range, often include accounts of Israel’s past behavior, notably the strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear plant in 2007 and a Hamas arms convoy in 2009.

A Heron shadow is especially prevalent in the the latter example. Soon after reports of Israel’s strike in Sudan started popping up, the London Times revealed that the attack was carried out by UAVs - Hermes 450s and the Eitan. Time reported that F-16’s took part in the strike instead, but Israeli officials later acknowledged the presence of drones.

One IDF sources reasonably explained why drones likely played a lead role, not just through surveillance, during the attack.

Calling the convoy, a “slippery” target, he said, “When you attack a fixed target, especially a big one, you are better off using jet aircraft. But with a moving target with no definite time for the move UAVs are best, as they can hover extremely high and remain unseen until the target is on the move.”

This account runs contrary to using UAVs to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the risk involved will make the possibility far more appealing. More to the point, the response of Israeli officials to the Sudan strike sounds exactly like Iran.

Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had declared shortly before, “We operate in every area where terrorist infrastructures can be struck. We are operating in locations near and far, and attack in a way that strengthens and increases deterrence. There is no point in elaborating. Everyone can use their imagination. Whoever needs to know, knows.”

And after the strike, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters while touring Golan Heights, “I don't believe that in our current situation we have the privilege to talk too much. We must do what is needed and keep quiet.”

With the securing and effects of “crippling sanctions” in doubt and American support by no means a sure thing, Barak voices the same philosophy that will lead to a strike against Iran. Israel has always put its own interests and security ahead of its allies - why will this time differ?

The Heron is a temporary signal of preemptive warning, a display of power, but it’s designed to carry tactical nuclear payloads without human operators as far as the Persian Gulf. With the world unlikely to treat Iran as it wishes, Israel’s new flock has many destinations but one overriding target.

February 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I don't predict a crisis with European allies because there is nothing that ties Israel to the assassination. Britain, France and Germany all share our interests in the fight against global terror, therefore there will be no crisis, instead our relations will continue to deepen."

- Office of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

Afghanistan Takes Down The Netherlands

Strange, but on to another question: is Britain next?

February 19, 2010

The Secret Is Out

Congratulations are in order. For almost a week America rode a wave of opinion that it has turned the corner with Pakistan.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry just happened to be in Islamabad, one of many US officials who flew in after the capture Taliban general Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. He told CBS that Baradar’s arrest, "demonstrates heightened cooperation between the Pakistanis and the United States. The capture demonstrates their [the Pakistanis'] commitment to the fight."

This notion was reinforced by the capture of a cluster of al-Qaeda operatives and two Taliban shadow governors. US officials plentifully leaked that Baradar is “talking” to create the appearance of a connection that may or may not exist. All of this has been first rate propaganda.

But now the secret's out, and raised expectations can start falling back to Earth. Apparently Pakistan didn’t mean to arrest Baradar, which, if true, distorts everything we’ve heard up to this point.

The New York Times reports, “American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications saying militants with a possible link to the Afghan Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, were meeting. Tipped off by the Americans, Pakistani counterterrorist officers took several men into custody, meeting no resistance.

Only after a careful process of identification did Pakistani and American officials realize they had captured Mullah Baradar himself, the man who had long overseen the Taliban insurgency against American, NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.”

A flood of doubts have come rushing back in like a pent-up high tide. Did America know Baradar was at the meeting and set up the ISI to raid who it otherwise wouldn't? Is the rumor of bringing Baradar in to negotiate still alive? Or does “getting lucky,” as one US official called it, not change the fact that Pakistan acted on the US tips regardless?

This wording, combined with recent revelations, revives the critical question: did Pakistan act on CIA information under its own volition or under pressure from Washington? Both American and Pakistan officials deny the Taliban raids came under stress. No, Washington and Islamabad’s relation has flourished since Pakistan realized the true threat of the Afghan Taliban.

“Through engagement... we've seen an increased amount of cooperation with them,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. “I think we're working constructively with them, meeting with them regularly. We have a better intelligence-sharing capability.”

He says these things with full knowledge that Pakistan didn’t actually intend to arrest Baradar. There is no way of knowing whether the ISI would have acted the same had it known beforehand, but the odds are unlikely.

The Politico article might hold the real answer to Pakistan’s actions, at the very bottom as typically found.

It reports, “The former government South Asia hand said veteran CIA and NSC official Bruce Riedel, who served as an Afpak advisor to the Obama White House for the first two months of his term, had argued for this approach.

“I gather this is the first time the [Pakistanis] have actually done what Riedel pressed on the Administration as a high priority during his 60 days in the White House — push the Pakistani military to go into the Quetta Shura,” the former official said. “’We know that they know where the Taliban leadership is — so do something about it!’ was [Riedel’s] line.”

“I believe the Pakistanis have finally concluded that the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban were cooperating against them in Waziristan and elsewhere,” Riedel just told the NYT for their report.

We have loads of information to analyze on this topic in the future. While Pakistan could have reached a point where it won’t be used and abused by the Taliban any longer, it could also be playing the same games as before. A part of the set has fallen down.

Pakistan was presented with information on Baradar and it had to act to maintain face with America. Or it could have also walked into a US trap. Regardless of the reality, America has officially lost control of the perception.

It's anyone's guess again.

February 18, 2010

Israel Loses Legal War in Dubai

As Sun Tzu observed long ago, many battles and wars are won or lost before they begin. The assassination of Hamas arms dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is such a case.

Israel was defeated at the strategic level the moment it decided to killed al-Mabhouh, particularly in a Gulf state like Abu Dubai. His death might be “one for the good guys,” but his loss will have little impact on Hamas’ command structure, even if it did “expose Hamas’s soft underbelly.”

In fact Israel’s problem stems from this exact mindset, valuing military over non-military means, tactical over strategic objectives. This is why killing al-Mabhouh was a non-starter from the beginning, destined to be more trouble than he was worth.

A day after Dubai police chief Lieutenant-General Dahi Khalfan Tamim informed reporters that he’s “99%, if not 100% certain” that the Mossad is behind his killing, he was quoted as saying,“Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of al-Mabhouh.”

Tamim is said to be preparing an arrest warrant for Meir Dagan, the Mossad chief, who happens to be feeling the heat at home, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The London Times reports, “An insider close to the case confirmed that Mr Dagan and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, are top of the Gulf state’s wanted list.”

And now Interpol has issued red notices, its highest alert level, for 11 suspects as requested by General Tamim. Keep in mind that he would be doing none of this without approval from the Abu Dubai government.

The sum of these events vividly demonstrates the fatal crack in Israel’s impenetrable armor - when it steps out of that armor. Superior military force has spawned lawfare blow-back, teleporting the battle from the military to legal battlefield where Israel is weaker and vulnerable.

Israel has already lost the battle because killing al-Mabhouh was only one aspect of the battle. Getting away is also part of the battle and it will not end quickly; instead the legal sphere is where the main part of the battle will be fought. Consider the assassination an opening salvo.

Whether Israel continues to value its own security over all others and all other factors is a result of arrogance, fear, or stupidity - or a combination of many factors - is still up for debate. As much as arrogance and fear play a role, at some point arrogance becomes stupidity. How Israel is fighting is not the way to fight in the 21st century.

Pride and ego still foster intelligence, but Israel’s strategy makes no sense.

After awarding Israel the victory in military battle, it goes on to lose the political, diplomatic, legal, and media battles that form the total battle of al-Mabhouh’s assassination, which is part of the wider war against Hamas.

Inevitability pervades Israel’s situation. Diplomatic rows with Britain and Ireland may amount to nothing in themselves because Britain apparently was in on the hit. They could, however, effect negotiations since America obviously knew as well.

Any sinister connection between Israel and Western states is another propaganda defeat and will drive Hamas to be that much more paranoid.

Israel’s flimsy defense is also unlikely to hold up - “shrugging off” accusations and demanding hard proof. Again, this mindset is the ultimate weakness. Even if no proof is ever presented almost everyone in the world believes the Mossad did the deed.

Israel demonstrates a lack of understanding of the dynamics between the legal court and the court of public opinion, believing denial will save it. But Israel has already lost in the court of public opinion, and the legal case looks doomed. Add these losses to the possibility of losing Dagan, and the price of al-Mabhouh is too high to be termed an Israel victory.

Defeat looms large. Tamim told Al-Bayan, another UAE newspaper based in Dubai, that, "Dubai police has more evidence, apart from the tapes and photos that were revealed earlier".

"The coming days will carry more surprises which will leave no room for doubt.”


From Al Jazeera

Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul was a military commander in the Pakistani Army in the 1980s, and served as the head of the country's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from 1987 to 1989.

But Gul's rise to fame came during the Pakistan-Saudi-US effort to keep funds and logistical support flowing to the Afghanistan mujahidin, who were eventually credited with defeating Soviet military and political forces.

During the Bush administration, the US sought to put Gul on a UN list of international terrorists but their efforts were blocked by the Chinese delegation.

Domestically, Gul has been an outspoken opponent of Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, and has called for the Supreme Court to be reinstated as the rule of law in Pakistan.

Al Jazeera interviewed Gul during a short visit to Doha.

Al Jazeera: You recently said 'the Taliban is the future, the Americans are the past in Afghanistan'. Isn't that a little far-fetched?

Hamid Gul: The Americans are defeated. It isn't necessarily because their firepower and their might has weakened, but it is because their own people are sick and tired [of engagement in Afghanistan]. There is fatigue now, fatigue is the threat and is the worst thing for a nation to suffer from. There is no way that the Americans can hold on to Afghanistan.

Could that lead to [Afghanistan President] Hamid Karzai's government being toppled?

Karzai is no more. He is now fighting for his life. They have already started telling him that by the end of this year he will have to shoulder the responsibility of security in Afghanistan. But what are they giving him for this? Nothing at all. In fact, more civilian casualties in military operations are going to weaken Karzai's position.

Some in Afghanistan believe that the extent of civilian casualties has empowered the Taliban's resurgence.

It is not only that. While the civilian casualties have certainly made the Taliban a popular movement in Afghanistan - some 80 per cent of the population support them - the people of Afghanistan are fed up with corruption.

They are sick of the influence of warlords and drug barons, and the continued American occupation.

If it was a shot stint - come in and get out after completing the job - the situation would have been different. But the Americans didn't do that. If they wanted to disperse al-Qaeda, they succeeded after the first year, and after that they should have pulled out. The fact they stayed on betrays their real intentions in Afghanistan until Barack Obama, the US president, came and started talking about withdrawal.

It was only last December that Obama announced that the US will pull out of Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton said the same thing, but there is a dichotomy.

On the one hand they say 'We are not here to stay in Afghanistan', but on the other hand they carry out surges and want to prop up and build the Afghan Army.

However, they don't give the money to build the Afghan Army - just $140mn. Compare this to how much it costs the US to keep just one soldier in Afghanistan - $1mn dollars per soldier per year in Afghanistan. They have now about 68,000 US troops. It is currently costing them $65bn just to maintain these troops. There are another 30,000 US troops now coming, so it will cost the US $100bn a year to maintain its forces in Afghanistan.

The US is a heavily indebted nation so how are they going to afford this? Some 57 per cent of Americans in the polls say they don't like this war and want their boys to return home. The Americans can't take casualties, that is their problem. To compensate, they started employing security contractors, some 104,000 security contractors currently in Afghanistan.

What does this mean? Mercenaries to be used where troops cannot be deployed? We have already seen what mercenaries did in Iraq. The Americans are more and more inclined - because the US military cannot suffer casualties - to employ mercenaries, not just from the US but also from the local population.

This is a very dangerous trend if we are to believe that mercenaries can win wars and carry forward the political objectives of the country. This means that whoever has more money can employ more mercenaries, win wars, win territories, etc.

Given everything you have just said, how do you think the latest US and Nato offensive against the Taliban is going to play out?

It is not going to work. I think it is an 'eye wash', it has political purpose back home. But there is no political purpose for Afghanistan. They are saying that they are protecting the civilian population, but they are dislodging the civilians from their homes in very harsh weather conditions in Afghanistan.

The cold winds from the steppes of Central Asia sweep these regions. When you launch such military operations, the people are inevitably dislodged and their fields abandoned. In this situation, what are the Americans trying to achieve - I don't know.

There is much ambiguity about their political objectives. Every military conflict must have a political purpose. I cannot discern that there is any political purpose.

From a strategic point of view, Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan has been seen as setting up a buffer, or deterrent, to India. But now that Pakistan has nuclear capability, how important is Afghanistan to Islamabad?

We want a friendly Afghanistan. We know India is playing havoc with us. The Pakistani Taliban are being sponsored by the Indian intelligence and the Mossad, by the way, to carry out their attacks in Pakistan. The Mossad is very active in Pakistan and they are providing all the guidance and technical support to the Indian intelligence. So, Pakistan has to have its back covered - no country can fight on two fronts.

We have to have a friendly Afghanistan, this does not mean that we dominate Afghanistan. No one can dominate Afghanistan, a country which has already buried two superpowers and the third one is about to be buried there.

No, that's not the purpose Pakistan has in Afghanistan.

Is the failure to stabilize Afghanistan adversely affecting Pakistan's own security?

Yes, indeed it is. The conflict is not just derivative of the failures of the Kabul government - that is a puppet government. The real cause of the conflict is the occupation of Afghanistan by the Americans. If they go out, and after such a time - post-US occupation, the OIC and the Muslim countries have to come in and play their part. Then Afghanistan can redeem itself.

I do not think that Afghanistan will be another Vietnam for the Americans because they have said they will pull out. Obama is a president who is very clear. In his State of the Union address, I think it was clear he was not addressing terrorism but instead focusing on such internal issues as healthcare, unemployment and debt servicing.

It appears he is more focused on the domestic front than foreign affairs. You can't focus on both at the same time.

There has been a surge in violence in Pakistan since the exit of Pervez Musharraf, the former president. The Pakistani Taliban threaten towns and cities, and there are tensions between the PPP and MQM in key ports like Karachi. What is needed to stabilise Pakistan right now?

Political cleaning up of the mess. The rule of law must take root in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the more powerful among the politicians and generals, when it comes to their turn - whether by martial law or civilian democracy - they want to run the affairs of the country according to their own predilections and propensities. And that is where we go wrong.

The political institution has to be set right; the Supreme Court and Parliament must be empowered. Right now, all the power is vested under the 17th Amendment, which was an amendment to the constitution passed by the dictator Musharraf in 2003. This gave more power to the office of the president and the ability to bypass the constitution and remain in leadership irrespective of elections.

Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, now has that power and he is refusing to budge. So, the 17th Amendment has to go, Parliament has to be empowered, rule of law by the Supreme Court has to be established and the army must not interfere. Then things will begin to fall in place and we will take the right direction.

Do you think the US is helping Zardari stay in power because he is seen as co-operating in the so-called war on terror?

I think there is ambivalence in their position and they sometimes do criticise him. The American press has in the past bashed Zardari, but it has gone quiet now. The Americans fear the return of the Supreme Court in Pakistan because it could rule that the US drone attacks are violations of the country's sovereignty.

If that happens, Parliament would have to act on the Supreme Court's decision and reverse the policy. The Americans are sceptical and suspicious that if the Supreme Court is given free reign in Pakistan, it is likely to rule against their interests and agenda in Pakistan.

Do you think the government will survive until the next national elections?

The government will survive but I am almost certain Zardari will not. I do not want to appear to be clairvoyant, but I doubt Zardari has many days left in government.

In recent years, US officials have accused you of having close ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. How do you respond to that?

No, this is wrong, I have no such ties. As far as al-Qaeda is concerned, I simply say come up with the evidence for 911. You haven't even charged Osama bin Laden so far, that means you don't have hard evidence against him. The full story is yet to come out.

In my opinion, all this is a gimmick, an inside job.

In regards to the Taliban, I support their cause of Afghan resistance. I lend them my moral support because I have in the past had strong connections with them. Incidentally, I maintained strong connections with both sides. Many in the Afghan government are my good friends.

But since the Taliban are representing the national spirit of resistance, I have given them my voice. The Americans sent my name to the UN Security Council to put me on a sanctions list and declare me an international terrorist. But they failed because the Chinese knew the truth well and blocked that move.

Basically, the Americans have nothing against me. I saw the charges and I replied to them in the English-language press in Pakistan. I said if they have anything against me to bring it forward, put me on trial. Tell me what wrong I have done. I have been taking moral stands. The Americans talk of freedom of speech, but apparently my speech hurts them because it counters their excesses.

I won't use the word 'interests' because what US policy-makers are doing runs against the interests of the American people. If I say this is right and this is wrong, I am exercising my right and ultimately, this is to the benefit of the American people.

But Zardari once told a western journal that you are a "political ideologue of terror".

I wrote a letter to Zardari that I am an ideologue of jihad, which is common between us. He is a Muslim like me and believes in the Quran. Terror is a totally different thing. I do not support terror at all, but jihad is our right when a nation is oppressed. According to the United Nations Charter, national resistance for liberation is a right. We call this a jihad.


For contrast.

Quotes of the Day

“Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of al Mabhouh. It is 99 per cent, if not 100 per cent that Mossad is standing behind the murder."

- Dubai police chief Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim

"The actions of al-Shabaab and other violent extremists are what are denying Somalis urgently needed humanitarian aid. The United States is committed to meeting humanitarian needs, including those in Somalia, and ensuring that our assistance does not fuel conflict."

- US spokesman Tommy Vietor, refusing any blame in Somalia

The Cheney-Biden Mutation

Let’s begin by stating what mostly everyone has become aware of - change is not coming, not in the form that President Obama promised.

Some of the White House’s policies could work out in the end. America’s deficit may be erased in ten years, a breakthrough might be achieved in alternative energy, Iraq could end up stabilizing. But uncertainty and doubt cloud the air and some crucial trends don’t look promising, like Israel and Palestine, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Obama sold himself as something completely new and so far he has failed to deliver. Dick Cheney projects a unique level of magnification onto this reality.

Last week Cheney had questioned Obama’s delayed decision to Afghanistan and his handling of Abdulmutallab and Guantanamo Bay. Vice President Joe Biden soon found himself in Vancouver for the weekend to cheer on Team USA and soak up face time on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The Washington Post reports, “The White House was informed early last week that Cheney would be appearing on ABC's ‘This Week’ and decided to deploy Biden, in the words of one senior administration official, to ‘hold the former vice president accountable to the facts in real time.’"

Biden took to both NBC and CBS to defend Obama’s policies, acting as if he relished the opportunity to throw gas on his personal feud with Cheney. The result was a media brouhaha that left both men looking a little childish - and closer than they usually like to appear.

The bulk of controversy has since settled around torture and “the next spectacular attack” on American soil. While valid concerns, they serve as a distraction to the prime significance of Cheney and Biden’s actions. Though they might appear to hate each other by just glancing at the news, their exchange reveals a different level of interaction.

Observe this LA Times headline: Biden and Cheney talk terrorism and war, and agree on little. The sub-headline follows: “The vice president and former vice president trade verbal jabs on seperate talk shows. One area of agreement: the war in Afghanistan.”

To be clear Biden represents the Obama administration as a whole. His main function is more in line with a traditional vice president - spokesman/decoy/helping hand - and he’s also said to have opposed a military buildup in Afghanistan. If Biden’s dissent was sincere then he is the delay Cheney criticized.

Cheney himself, while considered Bush’s brain, still represents the Bush administration as a whole, thus when they squabble head to head it’s the administrations which are theoretically clashing.

However, a closer look uncovers more than one area of contamination between the two. Bush and Obama’s foreign policies appear to diverge on torture and Guantanamo, yet the current White House’s refusal to investigate any of the past, including Iraq, demonstrates the length the system will go to protect itself. In a way Washington picks the president, and Obama and Biden were deemed acceptable to continue the status quo.

They have not disappointed in that regard. Drone assassinations, covert operations, and PMCs have been embraced. Assassinations are up because Guantanamo are Bagram are shutting down. Israeli favoritism persists, as does selective democracy - Bush in Pakistan and Palestine, Obama in Afghanistan and Iran.

Bush and Obama’s connection is severely exposed by Biden’s reaction to Cheney. Surely Bush would have escalated Afghanistan upon exiting Iraq if he had the chance; Cheney probably wanted Obama to surge right when he took office. Agreement on Afghanistan transcends Afghanistan though, seeping into the fundamental concept of the “War on Terror.”

Obama and his officials have dropped the name, but it’s Bush-like to play pointless mind games with labels. What Biden described in his media blitz is Bush’s “War on Terror” - an endless war across Africa and Asia, and Europe - which Cheney wouldn't object to.

For starters Biden and Cheney both enjoy raising the specter of rogue nuclear weapons from Pakistan.

"We agree [with Cheney], the worst nightmare is the possession of nuclear weapons or a radiological weapon by al Qaeda," Biden coyly alluded to Pakistan, after raising the possibility last week.

After ceding that Cheney’s concerns as “legitimate,” Biden replied, "The reason why I do not think it's likely, is because of all the resources we have put on this, considerably more than the last administration did, to see to it that it will not happen. They are, in fact, not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past.”

Biden insisted, “They are on the run. We are pursuing that war with a vigor like it’s never been seen.” In a line he played multiple times, “We have eliminated 12 of the top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. We’ve sent them under ground.”

If by underground he means Yemen, Somalia, and West Africa.

Afghanistan is sort of the inverse of Iraq. By luring the bulk of US resources and attention to Kabul, al-Qaeda creates enough room to infiltrate other unstable states and spread its virus. America couldn’t invade Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia at once, which is exactly what al-Qaeda is trying to trigger.

Biden spent most of his interviews falling into the same trap that Bush’s administration sprung on the American people. Triggered by Cheney’s assertion that he doesn’t take the odds of a “spectacular attack” seriously, Biden called Cheney’s statements "factually, substantively wrong,"

But he’s the one confusing the problem and the solution to be the same thing. At one point he says al-Qaeda has metastasized and called it a sign that America is winning the war. Another time he claims the biggest problem is al-Qaeda metastasizing.

“We have been relentless, absolutely relentless in isolating Al Qaeda, central Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda coming out of the Afghan-Pakistan region,” Biden told CBS. “We have been relentless in our effort to deal with keeping them isolated. They’ve been unable to operate in any significant, coordinated way.”

“That’s why you see al-Qaeda metastasize out of smaller operations out of the Arabian peninsula.”

Because this is al-Qaeda’s goal.

al-Qaeda isn’t supposed to be coordinated. It may operate at its peak in this condition, but it was designed to fragment and decentralize to prolong the chase for as long as possible. The strategy is no longer to operate as they once did or plan the spectacular attack, but to create the perception of threat and bleed countries dry trying to chase a ghost.

America has essentially done al-Qaeda’s biding by chasing it into Afghanistan, allowing it to scatter across Africa and Asia as the later phases of al-Qaeda’s post 9/11 strategy dictates. Biden is aware of much of this as he plays Bush’s game, hyping military achievements as total success when he knows the truth is deeper and darker.

Now America must pursue al-Qaeda everywhere beyond Afghanistan, which is what many believe Washington secretly wants and needs to continue justifying its military expansion into the Eastern hemisphere. This was Bush’s plan and nothing seems have changed with Obama.

Not so coincidentally, Biden is even guilty of the same offense he accuses Cheney of when he says, "I don't know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it's one thing, again, to criticize. It's another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?"

He replayed the card during his second interview, saying, “It’s almost like Dick is trying to rewrite history. I can understand why that would be an impulse...”

We, too, can understand the impulse of selling al-Qaeda’s exit from Afghanistan and Pakistan as being “on the run," and why Obama is so vigorous to pursue it into its next hosts. Or why Biden feels a similar urge as Cheney to remind the American public of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons - to justify the war in Afghanistan.

But does he really think Cheney is a great guy too? Biden repeated on "Meet the Press, “he is not entitled to rewrite history without it being challenged," though not before prefacing, “Dick Cheney's a fine fellow.”

Just yesterday Biden said he likes Cheney and doesn't question his patriotism, before again skewering him. Apparently liking a person and blocking their attempt to rewrite history isn’t mutually exclusive with so much in common.

Expecting the Obama administration to represent a true change from the Bush administration was always a futile hope, not necessarily in Obama as in the ability to “change Washington.” Sadly, it appears Washington will end up mutating him with the status quo.