August 31, 2011

al-Shabaab's Show of Force

Read our latest analysis of al-Shabaab's "shift" in tactics and strategy.

Bahrain's New Martyr

The Obama administration is staying far away from Bahrain’s uprising.

Washington, al-Qaeda “2.0” Expand Their Horizons

Two days ago al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed the August 27th bombing at Algeria’s Cherchell military academy, the “most important symbol of the Algerian regime” according to spokesman Salah Abou Mohamed. Today Nigeria’s State Security Service released multiple sources of information linking AQIM to the August 26th bombing on the UN’s headquarters in Abuja. Carried about by the anti-Christian group Boko Haram, the attack left 23 people dead and 80 injured - and launched Boko on the global map.

A bubbling debate over groups’ interactivity had reached a boil just as a suicide bomber rammed through two security gates and brought down part of the building.

Although Boko was beginning to move its suicide bombings from local to high-profile targets, even releasing a public kill list, the UN attack represents a dramatic escalation in its war against the Nigerian state. More than the attack itself, seemingly styled after al-Qaeda’s tactics, the selection of an international target and timing of Cherchell’s bombing added weight to U.S. and Nigerian claims that the groups are moving towards enhanced cooperation.

Now Nigeria’s secret police has arrested two members of Boko suspected of involvement in the Abuja bombing. A third suspect, Mamman Nur, was named as the mastermind and linked to al-Qaeda, having recently returned from Somalia; his exact affiliation has yet to be clarified. State Security also showed The Wall Street Journal a June intelligence report documenting Boko’s international outreach. This report postulates a connection to AQIM in 2002, when AQIM was still known as the Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) and Boko was just beginning to coalesce. In 2007, an unnamed man "led a group of members to Afghanistan for training on IEDs and on their return they imparted their knowledge to others,” according to a Nigerian undercover official.

"Within the last year, they've established more contacts and training opportunities with AQIM," says an anonymous U.S. official, who dates a hard connection to 2009. "What we're seeing now is probably the result of the additional radicalization of their viewpoints and the training."

Regardless of their total veracity, these developments signify a grave danger across northern Africa. One on level, al-Qaeda’s local branches are looking to establish themselves internationally while also hunting for new recruits to grow the global brand. Skepticism is a necessary component of examining al-Qaeda’s activities, however the connection between AQIM and Boko appears to be coming into clearer view. Even limited interaction could draw Nigeria into the Sahel’s wider battlefield, intensifying AQIM’s war against north African states and Boko’s internal “jihad.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Washington is also looking for new opportunities to expand post-OBL. al-Qaeda “2.0,” as the group is now known inside the Pentagon and CIA, is fanning itself as much as U.S. officials are shaping its narrative. Elements within Washington’s establishment want al-Qaeda 2.0 to branch and connect, want the splinters to coordinate, so that one giant security net can be cast from Mauritania to Somalia. After the Algerian bombing, State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reaffirmed America’s, “strong bilateral relationship, and this tragedy highlights the need to continue to bolster our joint efforts as partners to fight terrorism in all its forms.”

The Algerian government also managed to beat off domestic attempts to mimic the Arab Spring. Having lifted a 19-year state of emergency to appease the masses, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika relied on a heavy police presence to quell the remaining dissent. The government is suspected of using AQIM as domestic political cover (similar to Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh) and to further its regional hegemony. Libya’s revolutionaries currently distinguish between Algeria’s “peace-loving people” and the regime, condemning the latter for harboring members of Gaddafi’s family and aiding his regime.

Labeled an “act of aggression” by Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), a source within Algeria’s Interior Ministry admitted, "A top priority will be the protection of the Gaddafi family, especially as Libyan rebels may try and pursue them here. For this reason they are in a top security area of Algiers." AQIM has tied its attacks into this support, further complicating Algeria’s regional influence.

The same renewed assistance was also offered to Nigeria’s government. AFRICOM chief Carter Ham mused on the possibility of extensive security cooperation before Boko struck the UN building, and vague statements of support have been issued in Ajuba’s aftermath. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others, declared, “Vicious terrorist attacks such as these only strengthen our resolve and commitment to the work of the United Nations and the people of Nigeria.”

Such a policy may seem natural given Nigeria’s political and economic ties with America, but feeds into a wider regional militarization pursued by all sides. This blanket strategy might also confuse national with regional solutions; although Mauritania, Nigeria and Somalia all suffer from poverty and government mismanagement, each requires a local solution based on the environment’s nuances. U.S. policy has crisscrossed local and international groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, a policy with lingering consequences. Merging the response to AQIM, Boko, Somalia’s AQ cadre and Yemen’s al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) will likely produce strategic errors.

Nigeria also represents enormous opportunity and risk in Washington’s ongoing war against “al-Qaeda 2.0.” Sharing traits with Pakistan - 150+ million people, high levels of poverty and unemployment, rampant government corruption (within the civilian and security branches), heavy-handed security forces, extensive arms trafficking and ethnic/religious fault-lines - Nigeria offers another opaque battlefield to manipulate. The obvious juxtaposition is Nigeria’s high approval for America, 80% to Pakistan’s 10%, but many issues can and eventually will go wrong as U.S. operations escalate inside the complex country.

What’s most frightening isn’t al-Qaeda’s intention to expand, but a synchronization with Washington’s need for a long war. The emerging question is whether al-Qaeda will continue to spread internationally, or whether Africa becomes the next central battleground against America and its allies.

August 30, 2011

Intense Battle for Yemen’s Information Field

Amid reports that Yemeni forces have retaken Dufas, an area west of Zinjibar and scene to intense fighting with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), all sides of the conflict have released some form of propaganda. Dozens, if not hundreds, of casualties have stacked up from continual ambushes, artillery and air-strikes, with each side claiming to get the best of the other. As observed over the past week, casualties estimates of AQAP are beginning to exceed its initial force estimate of 300-500 fighters.

A source at the Ministry of Interior now tells the Yemeni Observer that over 300 militants have been killed since Abyan’s conflict erupted in May. A combination of government exaggeration and AQAP’s successful recruiting may provide an accurate explanation.

Naturally this source neglects to mention that many Yemenis, including several military commanders, suspect that Ali Abdullah Saleh has played both sides of AQAP’s war. The group's presence allowed Yemen’s embattled president of 33 years to suppress the northern Houthi sect and the secessionist Southern Movement without consequence from the international community. U.S. military support and training for Saleh’s security forces, the Republican Guard and Central Security Organization, has swelled since December 2009, when AQAP sent Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to explode a plane over Detroit.

After Yemen’s revolution hit, Saleh left Abyan to his remaining regular units and deployed his personal forces to suppress protesters in Sana'a and Taiz. Although several U.S. officials fabricated that training was halted in May - once complicity in Saleh's crackdown was no longer plausibly deniable - military operations show no indication of stopping, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. UN sanctions against Saleh's regime have been successfully deflected. Trapped (perhaps willingly) in Saleh’s double-games, Washington has went along for the ride under cover of “exploiting Yemen’s power vacuum.” U.S. warplanes now target AQAP forces who, four months earlier, found an open city in Zinjibar and a stockpile of government arms.

Saleh adamantly believes that “victory” in the south will preserve his power base.

Publicly oblivious but surely aware of this scheme, the White House has put a friendly spin on America’s nebulous war against al-Qaeda. Today Press Secretary Jay Carney was questioned on a New York Times report detailing guidelines for 9/11’s 10th year anniversary. Asked whether the White House has anything new beyond “the Arab Spring is the future and al Qaeda is the past,” Carney replies that, “things that were true yesterday are true tomorrow. I mean, what we have seen happen in this past decade is the utter rejection of the ideology of al Qaeda by the very region of the world that was supposed to be its foundation and where it was supposed to get the most support.”

“We obviously find that encouraging,” he adds, “even as we remain absolutely vigilant in protecting the American homeland, protecting the American people, and taking the fight to al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

The NYT predicts such statements to occur regularly for the next two weeks. “A chief goal of our communications is to present a positive, forward-looking narrative,” says one pointer. Apparently some military and intelligence officials are upset that President Barack Obama won’t tie together 9/11 and the “War on Terror,” even though his major address will likely focus precisely on their connection.

Do they really want him to talk about Yemen though?

It’s true that the vast majority of Yemenis have rejected al-Qaeda’s ideology, with local protests in Abyan and national demonstrations in Sana’a and Taiz. Some protesters believe that AQAP is completely made up, many more believe that Saleh himself encouraged the group’s growth by alienating the populace and local tribes in the south. Except Yemenis oppose al-Qaeda in spite of America, not because of a policy that validates al-Qaeda’s ideology, and U.S. involvement justifies jihad to the few that join AQAP. Seven months of peaceful revolution have been marred by fighting between the government and tribal militias, yet most protesters still renounce violence and believe that peaceful revolution will prevail.

So far no further accounts of AQAP chief Nasser Al-Wuhayshi have surfaced. Reported KIA on Sunday by government forces in Zinjibar, the Yemeni Observer did report how Al-Wuhayshi escaped from the area on July 21th. This information was already known and appears incidentally related to rumors of his death, but it includes an explicit statement that, after factoring out the propaganda, matches Yemen’s reality more closely than U.S. rhetoric.

“Our people have gone beyond the political parties that want to take the victory of the Umma for their interest to please the Americans and Crusading West,” says Al-Wuhayshi. “The parties represent the minority, and they are loyal to the Crusaders. As for the American Crusader enemy, they stood incapacitated towards the situation in Yemen, except by doing some intelligence work and air bombing with unmanned planes, with acceptance from the government and the opposition, and with silence from other institutions towards this intervention and penetration of airspace.”

“It is worth noting that the regime has deliberately established new areas for armed conflict in several locations in Yemen, in Abyan, Ta'ez, Arhab and Sana'a and continues to bellow out cries for a civil war,” adds Yemen’s Coordinating Council for the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC), which absolutely rejects al-Qaeda’s ideology.

Yemenis have noticed a total concentration towards AQAP as Saleh stirs the rumors of his return, positive that the developments are connected. The reported death of Al-Wuhayshi, while still a possibility, appears to be a fabricated “coincidence.” Now Yemeni Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed has “survived an assassination attempt” after supposedly hitting a land-mine in Zibjibar, diverting all attention south even as the government denies these reports.

“In this regards,” he declared on Monday, “we have assigned a committee from the General People's Congress to communicate with the leading figures of the Joint Meeting Parties, the GCC foreign ministers, and the ambassadors of the United States and the European Union to set an implementation mechanism for the GCC initiative and sign it without any delays.”

Saleh’s typical double-speak - only his pen delays the GCC’s unpopular initiative - then gravitates south: “Terrorism is the reason behind the destruction of services, economic, and developmental facilities, and destabilizing life across Yemeni cities and governorates. Furthermore, it is preventing the execution of investment projects in Yemen. The persistence of criminal acts here and there aggravated damages on national economy, which increased unemployment, inflation, and poverty.”

Accusing his "enemies" of "envy," Saleh slanders the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) - his only domestic partner in the GCC’s initiative - by interchanging AQAP’s terrorism with the JMP’s “criminal acts.”

Despite the umbrella group’s low popularity, few Yemenis will blame their poverty or their country’s instability anyone except Saleh. Unfortunately the Obama administration has yet to comment on any of these developments. No statements have been issued on Saleh’s impending return, except the infrequent “order” that he sign the GCC’s proposal. Attacks on peaceful protesters and anti-government tribesmen go unnoticed. As Washington attempts to extract its assets, “the president’s son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, who leads the elite Republican Guards military unit... is stocking up on heavy weaponry, like tanks, which can be seen in the capital.”

This leaves America as the loser of Yemen’s information battle. While the administration has successfully silenced Yemen’s revolutionaries in the U.S. media, a key objective in preserving Saleh’s regime, all contact has been severed with the people. Both Saleh and AQAP have capitalized on this strategic error.

August 29, 2011

Taliban Reasonably Confident of Victory Over U.S.

Shortly before the State Department opened its Monday press briefing, Taliban chief Mullah Omar released a letter marking Eid al-Fitr and heralding “imminent victory” over U.S. and NATO forces. Concurrently, The Associated Press released an exclusive report detailing a collapse in negotiations between Washington and Taliban representatives. The merging flow of information painted an ugly outlook of the talks, and the State Department serves as a microcosm for all that has gone wrong in Afghanistan.

First questioned on Omar’s letter, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland concedes that she hasn’t seen “that particular report.” What Nuland can tell us - “I think you know where we’ve been on the larger issue of Taliban reconciliation” - is that high-level negotiations “need to be an Afghan-led process” and that Washington “will continue to support an Afghan-led process.”

However she must excuse us for not know where the Obama administration stands, because reality indicates the opposite position.

According to AP interviews with Afghan, U.S., Pakistani and Taliban officials, the White House’s most recent efforts to build the foundations of a political solution were terminated in June. Although talks with Tayyab Aga had only reached a preliminary stage, with each side focusing on prisoners, the relative progress led President Hamid Karzai to orchestrate a leak through “someone in the presidential palace.” Afghan officials told AP journalists that Washington had cut both Karzai and Islamabad out of the loop, expanding the trust deficit between each side.

Ultimately Karzai decided that the “secret” negotiations had become too much of a threat to his own position. A Western and Afghan official added a second reason: “Karzai's animosity toward the U.S.”

"The talks were a big deal, the real thing,” one source close to the talks told The Guardian earlier this month. “I hope people will learn the lesson on the importance of confidentiality in the early stages. People in the US are horrified about what has happened.”

Confidentially isn’t Washington's main problem though - the State Department’s claims illustrate everything wrong with these sensitive negotiations. Already an improbable task without additional friction, the entire operation appears to be running without a definitive blueprint or the necessarily regional coordination. Despite key areas of mutual interest cited by RAND, namely a desire that foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, U.S. and Taliban leaders continue to stand across a potentially unbridgeable gulf. While the Taliban has incrementally opened itself to America’s demands - renounce al-Qaeda and accept Afghanistan's constitution - Washington refuses to even consider the Taliban’s demand for an immediate withdrawal.

A residual force scheduled for post-2014 could stay the rest of the decade, likely longer.

RAND also acknowledges that negotiations “will probably require years of talking during which fighting will continue and even intensify.” This leaves the door open for a flash settlement in 2014, but dangerously tilts Afghanistan toward an indefinite cycle of fighting. RAND simply concludes that negotiations are “the only way in which this war is likely to end,” hardly an encouraging thought.

The utter lack of coordination - and possible obstruction - between Washington, Kabul and Islamabad has further eroded the odds of a political solution. The administration was reportedly “dismayed and angered” by Karzai’s actions and U.S. officials are currently reviewing their options to reprimand him, as if this “accountability” will create any benefit. Washington desperately needs to build trust with the man installed by U.S. and European officials, but with everyone fending for themselves, each party will undermine the other through uncoordinated contacts with Taliban factions.

A member of Karzai’s High Peace Council told the AP that, “all the key players — the United States, Afghan government, Afghan National Security Council and the High Peace Council — are holding separate and secret talks with their own contacts within the insurgency.” As for the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, anti-Taliban forces are reportedly arming themselves for eventual confrontation. The two groups have vied for Afghanistan’s north and south for the last 15 years.

Facing such disarray, Omar has reason to feel confident despite the Taliban’s territorial and leadership losses over the past 12 months. A lack of progress in Afghanistan’s governance has negated the fear of true “hold and build” operations. Needing to maintain momentum during America’s surge, Omar denied progressive talks during his victory call to “the faithful.” He also boasted of the Taliban’s recent takedown of a Chinook and its 23 U.S. Special Forces operatives, saying, “With the passage of each day, the Mujahideen become…[more] familiar with the enemy tactics; they are gaining access to hardware which is instrumental in causing greater losses to the enemy. All people are now witness to the tremendous…casualties of the enemy as well as the downing of their aircraft.”

The Taliban chief is a considered rational mind within the group’s extremist ideology, and he doesn’t appear to be lying when he characterizes current negotiations as prisoner oriented. Without any promise of a swift withdrawal, Omar will not accept a political agreement that leaves a sizable number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Branding the next international conference in Bonn, Germany an “effort to distract the public and prevent Afghans from solving their own problems,” Omar downplayed the event as "superficial and hype-oriented.” In plain language, he advises Washington that “limited withdrawal of the invading forces can in, no way, solve the issue of Afghanistan.”

Instead of international conferences, “The invading forces should seek a lasting and convincing solution to the issue by immediately withdrawing their forces.”

Given these recent developments and the Taliban’s sustained fighting throughout Obama’s surge, Omar doesn’t appear to be wandering too far from the truth. “Victory” is far from “imminent,” however the Taliban’s time-frame may consider five years to be “soon.” Already obvious to Afghans, U.S. officials are begrudgingly realizing that the Taliban cannot be “defeated” on the military battlefield, nor will the group negotiate at gunpoint. This stalemate, for an insurgency, is nearly as good as victory.

Securing territory and influence through a political agreement with Washington or Kabul would merely solidify the Taliban’s gains.

August 28, 2011

Al Wahishi’s “Body”: Another of Saleh’s Tricks?

In an unconfirmed development, the chief of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been reported killed by Adenonline. According to Yemen’s 201st Brigade and medical officials at Basuhaib Military Hospital, several unidentified bodies of suspected commander were brought to the Aden facility after clashing with group on the outskirts of Zinjibar, 40 miles to the northeast. Markings on one of these bodies were interpreted as Nasser Al Wahishi, AQAP’s leader since 2009.

The truth of this claim has yet to be verified by independent sources. Once an associate of Osama bin Laden, Al Wahishi has been prematurely crossed out before, including December 2009. Upon review, a series of U.S. strikes eliminated a cadre of AQAP fighters and dozens of Yemeni civilians, but not Al Wahishi or cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. No further accounts have been released in the eight hours since the initial report, and trusting a military source is never wise in Yemen. Officials at a military hospital are only a step above, although some have admitted to crimes that occurred Basuhaib, located in the Aden district of Tawahi.

Factoring in the need to confirm a high-value target, likely through U.S. forensics assistance, “one of those bodies matches the features of Al Wahishi” isn’t the most convincing statement.

At Yemen’s political level, local reports have also surfaced indicating a final round of American and Saudi pressure on Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen’s president of 33 years hasn’t stopped talking about his return and is still pushing “the ballot box” over the U.S.-Saudi proposal sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saleh needs another “win” in his pocket and Al Wahishi would make for a perfect “gift” to Washington, to be spun off as proof of his cooperation. The same pattern occurred in early May, when the GCC’s deal was declared dead by the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and GCC Secretary General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani.

U.S. air-strikes then began to intensify after Saleh started to feed new information. A Predator and Harrier would “narrowly miss” al-Awlaki, a concrete sign that the two sides planned to continue their cooperation regardless of Yemen’s revolution.

Several reasons could plausibly explain Al Wahishi’s death. Given that the 201st Brigade reported the kill as an internal act, not a drone strike, he would have to be surrounded in combat or by surprise. AQAP’s chief was reportedly killed while fighting in Zinjibar’s Doufas district, the battle’s current focal point, meaning that he could have realized its significance and transferred to the front. Commanders earn street cred online by actively participating in operations, and Al Wahishi would have realized this factor as well if he did find himself in Doufas.

So it wouldn’t be shocking if Al Wahishi ended up a casualty of his own war.

However problems would immediately surface from his death. An emboldened Saleh becomes the major obstacle from which all the others flow; his stimulated takeover of Abyan would continue to pay dividends after scaring the U.S. political sphere. Al Wahishi’s body takes the shape of a bargaining chip with Washington, to leverage even more favorable terms through the GCC or to void the proposal entirely. Because Saleh would use Al Wahishi’s death to protract Yemen’s crisis, one can safely conclude that his loss is a lose-lose situation. If he or his corrupt regime is left in power, the conditions that foster AQAP’s appeal and growth will remain unchanged and Al Wahishi will be replaced.

Either way AQAP’s war grinds on, to be exploited by Saleh and Washington.

Inside the U.S. Propaganda Machine

The Obama administration recently conjured another storm of verbal barrage against Bashar al-Assad, and with it came a volley of U.S. media reports applauding or criticizing the White House’s choice of words.

Only days before the August 18th assault, led by President Barack Obama and featuring several side-briefings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned against rhetoric that cannot be backed up in reality. Her rational advice was negated when she joined a chorus that didn’t sound qualitatively different from before - except Saudi Arabia has suddenly become an American hero in Syria’s revolution. Considering how Ali Abdullah Saleh is pulling Yemen’s strings from Riyadh, “stepping aside” and “getting out of the way” are incomplete phrases without mentioning where al-Assad is supposed to go.

Many reports and editorial boards, including The New York Times, hedged their praise of Obama’s demand for al-Assad’s resignation: “It took too long, but President Obama has finally - and unequivocally - called for the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to step down and end his murderous war against the Syrian people. In another belated but welcome move, Mr. Obama also ordered a stiff new array of sanctions, including freezing all Syrian government assets in the United States and banning American citizens and corporations from doing business with the Syrian government.”

Fortunately the U.S. media’s own silence and inaction during the Arab revolutions have helped lay bare its servile relationship with Washington’s establishment. Of course many Americans and non-Americans realized the media’s contribution to an unsustainable status quo before the 2010s, but accumulation of proof aids the scientific pursuit. A simple examination of the Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reveals how little difference exists between these “different” organizations, and how coordinated their responses are in tone and frequency.

Syria and Libya’s revolutionaries are making history through their resistance and certainly must be covered. However America’s major papers are also over-reporting where the Obama administration points its collective finger, silencing national debate where U.S. policy plunges to its lowest depths.

For instance, the Times has allocated eight editorials for Syria’s revolution and 15 to Libya, all urging the administration to do more without dragging America into war. Conversely, minimal focus is allocated to the administration's diplomatic inaction or ongoing military action in Yemen. Although Libya and Syria’s uprisings started after Yemen’s, the latter revolution has received two mentions in seven months of peaceful protesting and a massive security crackdown. The first came on March 26th, when the Times cautioned that protesters “have little reason to trust him [Saleh]” - only to “talk of a deal... with Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s patron.”

Again mixing technically sound advice on April 4th - “Yemen needs to move ahead without President Saleh” - with government speak - “a swift, smooth transition is in everyone’s interest” - the Times has since turned its lights out.

The Times developed a clear, quiet pattern from the start of Yemen’s revolution. An April “shift” against Saleh and a “concerned Obama,” products of White House insider David Sanger, exposed total coordination with the White House, to be followed by shallow reporting on the popular revolutionaries and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), non-coverage of brutalities and promotion of terror “threats.” Washington and Riyadh continue to guard Saleh in relative peace, free to suppress Yemen’s revolutionaries through the GCC’s initiative. All the Times has to do is publish the White House’s occasional ricin bomb.

A similar skew against Bahrain’s uprising has been accompanied by an open admission of the administration’s double-standard. In a March 15th editorial on Yemen and Bahrain, the Times concedes that, “Bahrain and Yemen are both important to American strategic interests. The former is home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet; the latter is battling, with Washington’s frequent participation, one of Al Qaeda’s stronger affiliates.” Then comes the double-speak: “For those reasons, the Obama administration has chosen quiet diplomacy to try to persuade their rulers to respond peacefully and credibly to popular demands for change. Rulers in both countries have chosen repression over reform. Washington needs another plan.”

Without any change to report three months later, the Times issued its usual “common sense” in warning, “Bahrain is home port to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the Obama administration has been too cautious in its criticism of the government. It must speak out more forcefully. If Bahrain continues to abuse its citizens, it will face more instability. And resentment of the United States will only grow.”

The Times has yet to respond since Bahrain’s “National Dialogue” collapsed in July.

The Times isn’t alone in its actions, but synchronized with the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and network news to manipulate U.S. impressions of the Arab revolutions. When combined they provide a reliable barometer of control between the government and mainstream media. The Washington Post has run over 10 editorials involving Syria and an equal amount in Libya, many criticizing the administration’s lack of public effort and diplomatic ingenuity. In the first of two editorials on Yemen, dated May 23rd, the Post “sensibly” advises, “Any remaining U.S. aid and support to Mr. Saleh and his forces should be ended, and the strongman should be told that he will be subject to sanctions and criminal prosecution unless he immediately accepts the transition agreement.”

Hours earlier Saleh had aborted a third signing ceremony of the GCC’s unpopular proposal, besieging the UAE embassy with loyalists and "trapping" U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, who would leave by helicopter.

Despite rising bloodshed against peaceful protesters, the Post’s double-speak continued to advocate the GCC’s initiative in order to preserve influence with the former - and future - regime. On June 8th, days after a still-undisclosed attack on Saleh’s presidential mosque forced him to Riyadh, the Post explicitly comments, “The best available policy nevertheless appears to be that being pursued by the Obama administration, which is pressing for acceptance of the deal brokered this spring by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council.”

This is state policy, not the work of real journalism, and the Post doesn’t seem concerned that U.S. military support continues despite a total political breakdown. Worse still, the Post advises enslaving Yemenis economically: “Already dirt poor, Yemen will desperately need economic resuscitation when and if the current crisis can be overcome. That should provide the United States a means of leverage with a new regime.”

Because open security access isn’t enough control.

As an overriding matter, the Post published a February 2nd editorial warning against “the Arab reform dodge,” then dodged the U.S.-sponsored dictators that didn’t reform. Yet the art of the cover-up recommends a shaded profile over a full blackout. The Post’s three responses to Bahrain’s uprising appear to have come down hard on the administration, with titles like “The U.S. silence on Bahrain’s crackdown.”

Except double-speak is omnipresent: “The Obama administration opposes the crackdown; it has tried to strengthen the regime’s reformists and has pushed for a return to negotiations. But apart from an initial critique of the use of force by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and one statement about the arrest of a blogger, the administration has remained silent.”

A month later and no progress to be seen, the Post again supplied an apparent voice of reason: “The administration clearly is trying to protect the strategic relationship with Bahrain. But by tolerating the repression it is endangering long-term U.S. interests, since the crackdown is likely to boomerang, sooner or later, against both the Bahraini and Saudi ruling families. The best way to protect American interests is to tell both regimes that a continued security relationship with the United States depends on an end to policies of sectarian repression and on the implementation of moderate reforms.”

Two months later the Post hailed Bahrain’s “National Dialogue” despite an ongoing crackdown, echoing the White House’s rhetorical footsteps. Like the administration and New York Times, the Washington Post has yet to comment on the dialogue's breakdown in July.

Demonstrating how the liberal, “neutral” and conservation media have aligned behind the Obama administration's response to the Arab revolution, the Wall Street Journal posted seven editorials on Syria since the end of May. Only a single editorial on Yemen surfaced in May, where the Wall Street Journal frames the entire revolution around al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and how to control Yemen’s next government. “The deal negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was flawed but worth a try,” the Journal argues in blatant double-speak.

“The best that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states can probably do is to help resolve the political deadlock and ensure that whatever follows Mr. Saleh doesn't see the country break up and turn into an even bigger terrorist haven."

As with the Times and Post, the Wall Street Journal carried its editorial imbalance into its general reporting on Yemen and Bahrain, the latter having received only one “outlook” since February. In vintage double-speak, the Journal warns that “Bahrain’s ruling family shouldn’t be given a pass,” but mainly because the Shia opposition’s gains could embolden Iran. The Journal has instead taken to publishing sponsored trips and direct statements from the Bahrain government.

Ultimately The Wall Street Journal is willing to say what the rest of mainstream media is thinking: “Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, we have argued that the Obama Administration needs to distinguish between its friends and enemies in the region, urging reforms on the former and encouraging regime change with the latter. By this measure, Bahrain falls into the camp of friends.”

The informal tally is some 50+ editorials devoted to Libya and Syria, with only 13 marked for Yemen and Bahrain. That some of these areas are difficult to cover is taken into consideration; Western media is technically banned in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. U.S. officials aren’t giving the media much to report on either. However the press’s job (theoretically) is to speak out when the government doesn’t - to uncover the truth when its not being reported - and Yemen and Bahrain’s revolutionaries have been dimmed accordingly.

A trickle-down effect into the lower media and think tanks further erodes the possibility of accurate reporting during the Arab revolutions, and precise coordination can only be interpreted one of several ways. In addition to maintaining the status quo abroad, a lack of domestic political awareness has generated no pressure for the Obama administration to support Yemenis or Bahrainis (or Egyptians and Tunisians), concealing a militarily-dominated policy. It’s difficult to conclude whether mainstream media is partially or fully controlled by the government - whether news groups simply desire the best access or are taking direct orders - but neither outcome provides any comfort.

The entire machine appears to be working from one blueprint, programmed to minimize the revolutions’ effects and the loss of U.S. influence in the Eastern Hemisphere.

August 27, 2011

Russia’s Counter Revolution Strikes Bahrain

Whether or not they’re working in tandem, Russia and China have proven equally counter-revolutionary as Saudi Arabia. Having obstructed UN resolutions and boycotted in Libya, Syria and Yemen, Moscow is also increasing security ties with the Bahraini monarchy. A source “close” to Russia’s Defense Ministry told Bloomberg that Rosoboronexport has lined up shipments of AK103 Kalashnikovs and grenade launchers. According to Bloomberg, Russia’s state-run arms trader is looking to expand its business as King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa struggles to contain the democratic uprising.

“The relationship between Russia and Bahrain has been increasingly getting stronger,” Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, a Bahraini government spokesman, told Bloomberg in response to its report. “We are looking to cooperate with Russia in trade and technical services. One of the fields is in the area of light arms.”

Anatoly Isaikin, Rosoboronexport’s Chief Executive Officer, made headlines last week when he shrugged off Hillary Clinton’s warning to halt arms transfers to Syria. After the Secretary of State told CBS News, "We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime," Isaikin countered that business with Syria would continue “as long as such sales remained legal under international law,” including Russia’s new fighter jet, the Yakovlev Yak-130. Isaikin added that Rosoboronexport has already lost $4 billion in arms contracts with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, as if this claim will induce any sympathy from protesters or the international community. He also admitted that Bahrain’s government has become a new customer.

“States in the region are interested in Russian air- defense systems, aviation equipment and weapons for ground forces,” Rosoboronexport told Bloomberg in an emailed response.

A combination of factors explain Russia’s ongoing response to the Arab revolutions. Beyond basic economics (Isaikin anticipates arms exports in excess of $9 billion), Moscow has vigorously protected old allies - Gaddafi, al-Assad and Saleh - in a bid to counter U.S. influence. Battle-lines have been drawn in Libya and Syria while opportunities are being exploited in Yemen and Bahrain. In every case arms have been dealt under the security of a UN veto. Although Moscow is unwise to position itself on the losing end of so many tyrants, its advantage is a lack of domestic and international expectation to uphold universal rights.

America as a whole bears this burden even though many citizens have little interest in the Arab revolutions. Some believe the Obama administration is wrong to intervene in any way. A majority of Russians will likely react indifferently to Bahrain’s crackdown, to the breakdown of a fatally-flawed “National Dialogue,” or to a potentially chaotic parliamentary election scheduled for September 24th.

Refusing to back down from its demands for greater political representation and judicial reform, Al Wefaq has stepped up its pressure after the “National Dialogue” collapsed in July. The Shia party held numerous rallies across the island, many of them suppressed by Saudi, Pakistani and Jordanian troops, culminating in an announced boycott of September’s election. The King’s chronic insincerity has delegitimized his reform process, and Al Wefaq considers the lower parliament’s makeup irrelevant without limitations on the powerful upper house.

"The core issue is that the legislative authority does not exist any more," Khalil al-Marzouq, a former Wefaq lawmaker and leading delegate in the National Dialogue. “There are no significant figures among the candidates... The coming parliament will not really represent the people.”

Al Wefaq could be bluffing up until the final hour, as it did before entering the “National Dialogue” at the last moment. Abdullah Al Buainain, the executive director of the elections, said that 33 candidates had registered in the Northern Governorate, traditional Al Wefaq territory. Barring government propaganda, the group could be preparing for both options depending on the situation. Meanwhile Khalifa al-Dhahrani, speaker of the 40-seat parliament, called the election an “opportunity for the people of Bahrain to vote in large numbers, thereby significantly boosting the reform process.”

If Shia don’t turn out in large numbers, the combination of a boycott and government corruption could prime the situation for a tampered verdict.

Aware that a gathering minority demands total regime change, Al Wefaq has grown more defiant over the previous months and will use September’s election as a non-violent flashpoint. Unlike their fellow oppositions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, Al Wefaq has yet to call for the downfall of King Hamid and his royal family. This position is eroding over time though, and Al Wefaq enjoys the political support to harden its demands. Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim, Al Wefaq’s leading cleric, rejected a hostile letter from Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ali al-Khalifa during his latest Friday sermon. This letter accused Qassim of inciting violence and using his sermons to announce a boycott of September’s election, slandering Al Wefaq’s political position.

Calling the regime’s actions "political suicide,” Qassim asked his followers, "Can't they learn from the fall of dictatorships and see what happens to those who denied their people basic rights? We now see what happens to the Libyan dictator, just as what happened to Tunisian and Egyptian despots... There is no exit to the crisis except through political reform. To run away from this fact will not solve anything and to delay reforms will only deepen the crisis."

The same warning should be delivered to Washington, Riyadh, London, Moscow and all the other governments running away from Bahrain.

August 26, 2011

Information Battle Over “al-Qaeda 2.0” Escalates

The UNHCR estimates that over 3,700 Somali refugees have fled to Yemen in August alone, many traveling hundreds of miles on makeshift rafts. If true this looks like the most concrete evidence that al-Shabaab could have landed Shaqa, roughly 40 miles from Abyan’s local capital of Zinjibar. Government officials issued such allegations earlier this week, claiming that 400 al-Shabaab fighters crossed the Gulf of Aden under cover of the refugees. These reinforcements, if false, are designed hype al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and keep the U.S. on Ali Abdullah Saleh’s side.

Yet as improbable as this scenario sounds, the insurgents’ ability to disguise themselves and secure faster vessels from cooperative pirate lords cannot be underestimated. Southern Yemen’s total breakdown in government authority renders their landing a nonissue.

Allowing for the possibility that al-Shabaab units could make the crossing undetected through a host of international navies, the question becomes whether they have such a force to send. The group’s strength is estimated in low thousands and has deployed much of its force in Somalia’s southern and central regions. Hundreds of fighters had holed up in Mogadishu until their abrupt withdrawal earlier this month, while African Union (AU) commanders estimated al-Shabaab’s Ramadan offensive at 300 reinforcements. Those fighters that haven’t withdrawn from the capital have been reported across Somalia’s southern half - Lower and Middle Shabelle, Bay, Gedo - in an apparent bid to both stop the remaining population from leaving and secure a perimeter around Mogadishu.

While al-Shabaab could have 400 fighters to throw at Yemen, it seems unlikely that the group can afford the loss during its realignment. A smaller cadre appears to be the most realistic possibility.

In a related development, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for bombing the UN’s Nigerian headquarters in Ajuba. At least 18 people were killed and many more injured when a suicide bomber drove up the building’s main reception area. The anti-Christian sect has began to employ this tactic with greater frequency and range from its northern territory, including a June bombing on the capital’s police headquarters. Western leaders responded with rapid condemnation but without mentioning the group.

Although President Barack Obama also ignored recent rumors of a connection to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), America’s generals have spoken for him. Now the question of whether AQIM assisted Boko’s latest bombing is on many observers’ minds. The Sahel group has released a steady stream of friendly propaganda since offering its assistance last year, and regional analysts suspect at least a few transfers of knowledge have resulted in more sophisticated attacks from Boko Haram. Factoring in an insurgency’s inherent manipulation of information and the Internet’s availability, AQIM’s personal outreach cannot be discounted entirely despite the Pentagon’s attempt to will the groups together.

In the latest of a string of connections between AQIM, al-Shabaab and AQAP, General Carter Ham told The Associated Press that "multiple sources" indicate a connection between Boko and AQIM. The chief of AFRICOM offered his own worst case scenario, explaining, "What is most worrying at present is, at least in my view, a clearly stated intent by Boko Haram and by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to coordinate and synchronize their efforts. I'm not so sure they're able to do that just yet, but it's clear to me they have the desire and intent to do that."

"I think it would be the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well,” Carter concluded.

The General’s alarmist claim has been met with a degree of suspicion from local and regional observers, partially because Ham added that a "loose" partnership also would include al-Shabaab. Somalia’s militants have yet to reach out publicly to AQIM or Boko. With Osama bin Laden out of the picture and Afghanistan supposedly “winding down,” U.S. officials have busied themselves connecting all of these “new” dots in order to run them through the same Special Forces machine. This is al-Qaeda 2.0 according to Navy SEAL Adm. Eric T. Olson, who just turned U.S. Special Operations Command over to Adm. William H. McRaven. Olson also warned of an “invisible bridge” between AQAP and al-Shabaab, a term loaded with deeper implications than an ideological bond.

For these reasons we remain skeptical on the overall connection between these groups; al-Qaeda 1.5 may be more accurate. AQAP in particular is nebulously enabled by Ali Saleh’s corrupt regime and U.S. support, a trajectory aimed at justifying prolonged security cooperation. U.S. strategy against AQIM has also been criticized in some quarters for delegating to a suspect Algerian government, labeled “a prickly, paranoid group” in a 2008 Embassy cable. Ham has already offered security training to the Nigerian government.

However we will not deny the truth as it is revealed either. If al-Qaeda is shifting into “2.0,” these events portend to another decade (or more) of decentralized warfare, open U.S. security expansion in Africa and a massive shadow operation. Washington and bin Laden’s visions of a long war, unfortunately, are colliding.

August 25, 2011

Saleh’s Regime Raining Propaganda

Without any political developments to drag attention away from southern Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s information war continues to escalate in the local and international media.

In a report published overnight by the Yemeni Observer, a pro-regime outlet, editor-in-chief Mohammed al-Kibsi boosted casualties over the last three days to 80, up from 30-40. Stranger still, al-Kibsi cites a dated Monday interview with Ali Al Ansi as his source. The head of Yemen’s National Security Agency (NSA) has been tasked to first exaggerate the strength of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), then highlight the regime’s “progress” against terrorism.

"Those who were killed and injured were hundreds, but those who were killed and identified by name were 80," Al Ansi told Al Methaq weekly, a media publication of the ruling General People’s Party (GPC).

As previously noted casualties figures in the hundreds bely estimates of AQAP’s strength, ranging between 300 to 700. “Dozens of militants” have been killed every week since May, when a combination of Saleh’s duplicity and AQAP’s opportunism resulted in the group’s quasi-takeover of Abyan governorate. If AQAP truly recruited and trained so many fighters, the corrupt Saleh and his U.S./Saudi muscles are largely responsible for validating al-Qaeda’s ideology. Some Yemenis suspect the regime of inflating casualties figures to keep the West at bay. Others believe with certainty that Yemen’s strongman literally inflated the death-toll by hiring his own “jihadists” to counter local opposition groups and anti-government tribes. These proxies are interpreted as AQAP by the Western media.

Most suspiciously, Saleh’s U.S.-trained “counter-terrorism” units are nowhere to be found on the southern front.

“The Yemeni government is waging a military campaign to drive out Islamic fighters who overran several southern towns months ago,” writes The Washington Post, a “news source” generally inactive in Yemen. “The militant takeover took place as the government was trying to suppress a nationwide protest movement seeking the ouster of the longtime president.”

“Government forces have been trying to remove the Islamist militants, but have made only modest headway after weeks of fighting and airstrikes,” adds Voice of America (VOA), whose propaganda sounds the same as mainstream U.S. media.

To help explain rising casualty figures and the fact that lesser-armed militants overwhelmed Yemen’s regular army, the Yemeni Observer now warns that 400 al-Shabaab reinforcements recently arrived in Shaqra, 40 miles from Abyan’s regional capital of Zinjibar. These rumors have reversed the arms flow from AQAP to al-Shabaab, speculation propagated by U.S. officials and Hajji Ahmed, Somalia’s consul in Yemen. Washington would like to see them link together as much as the groups themselves, yet this story hasn’t received nearly the attention that it deserves if true, creating doubts over its veracity. While AQAP and al-Shabaab are in communication, material evidence of a troop/weapons pipeline remains elusive.

Yemeni tribesmen have reported Somalis among the dead, so it’s not impossible that al-Shabaab could ship a small cadre of fighters across the Gulf of Aden. However Saleh’s regime (or Riyadh) is equally capable of contracting Somalis and playing them on the wrong side. And after conceding that al-Shabaab militants could smuggle themselves in as refugees, Sadat Mohammed believed that a crossing is too dangerous to be feasible.

"I think it is very difficult for armed Somalis to make it to Yemen, as the anti-piracy western forces are almost everywhere in the sea,” said the deputy head of the Somali community in Yemen.

The Somali angle has been paired with reports that “fighters” from across Yemen - specifically Ma'rib, Al Jawaf, and Sana'a - are flocking to Abyan’s battlefield. If the regime isn’t shipping in its own proxies, Saleh’s lightning rod is providing a sustainable recruitment source for AQAP. Either course is designed to generate instability in the south, with the ultimate objective of erasing Yemen’s revolution. First, Yemeni officials must keep AQAP’s threat high in Washington, justifying the need for Saleh’s regime. Conversely, motion in the south distracts from mass protests in Yemen’s urban cores, where protesters have denounced the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) power-sharing initiative and demanded justice for Saleh’s crimes.

Authored by U.S. and Saudi officials during negotiations between Saleh and the unpopular Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the GCC’s initiative would devolve a revolution into a “political crisis” and stifle a true democratic transition. The Obama administration and European Union continue to back this “plan” even though Saleh’s regime now speaks of “early elections” - and still refuses to end a bloody crackdown. Western inaction is a testament to how deeply they committed themselves to Saleh’s double-game.

While his remaining security forces lockdown the capital in anticipation of a Tripoli redux, the Republican Guard has maintained its barrage on the local tribe in Arhab district. Located outside of Sana’a near the airport and several military bases, Arhab has suffered a ferocious bombardment over the last month. Hundreds of tribesmen and local protesters have been shelled from the ground and air; the Guard then blocked ambulances from arriving and desecrated the dead, an offense that Yemenis wish to see referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Although the Pentagon and CIA trained the Republican Guard to fight in southern Yemen, the force has busied itself assaulting Arhab throughout the week. In a statement released by local tribal leaders, "We ask media outlets and human rights organizations to take photos of massacres committed against civilians, and explain for the international community the brutality of the Yemeni regime.”

Al Ansi offers the government’s explanation: al-Qaeda operatives have joined tribesmen in Arhab and Taiz, receiving support from defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar along the way.

As with al-Shabaab’s reinforcements, it is not inconceivable that Ali Mohsen’s First Armored Division (FAD) would provide support for AQAP in Sana’a. More likely, the regime is slandering three birds with one stone in an attempt to incorporate AQAP into the popular revolution. Last week Saleh belittled the JMP for “robbing the youth revolution,” blaming Abdul Majeed al-Zindani for inciting them to attack military camps. al-Zindani, a figure linked to AQAP, the Islah party and Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood, worked on Saleh’s side until defecting during the revolution. Thus his culprits trace back to himself.

In a blatant piece of propaganda, Al Ansi claims that security forces, "observed elements of Al Qaeda in the sit-in squares and inside the FAD, but the opposition made it difficult for us to arrest them."

Just another day in the lie of Ali Saleh.

August 24, 2011

Saleh’s Magical Spring of Militants

As usual, today’s reporting on Yemen has been high on al-Qaeda hype and low on political information. Units attributed to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) assaulted multiple positions near Zinjibar, mainly the base of Brigade 211 in Doufas district. Dozens of casualties have been reported on both sides after air-strikes (of an unconfirmed source) struck back at the militants. In total nine areas in Abyan province reported military activity.

This area, according to numerous U.S. officials, now represents the most dangerous threat to America’s national security. According to many Yemenis and observers, the conditions of southern Yemen have been manipulated to pose as a threat to the West.

Speculation has run wild throughout the last five months of fighting in Abyan and Aden governorates. Local witnesses speak of retreating government forces and Brigadier General Mohammed al-Sawmali, commander of Yemen’s 25th Mechanized Brigade, openly admitted to the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat, “The security services pulled out of Abyan leaving their weapons behind, and Al Qaeda seized these weapons, and is now using them against us. This is something that no one can deny.”

The General’s brigade was “encircled” by AQAP in July and left to fend for itself. At one point al-Sawmali condemned Yemen’s Defense Ministry for ignoring his requests for reinforcements. “Nobody is listening to us,” he warned weeks before reinforcements eventually arrived.

The available information indicates that Ali Abdullah Saleh’s exploitation of AQAP and Yemen’s southern governorates is no theory: the besieged tyrant allowed a takeover of Abyan in order to “take it back” with U.S. air-strikes, keeping himself useful in the process. al-Sawmali protected his comrades by refusing to answer why other security units withdrew, explaining that he doesn’t want to “cross the line and accuse my colleagues of complicity with Al Qaeda.” He chalks the developments up to “God,” “fear,” and “cowardice” after Zinjibar’s government officials fled, even though Saleh likely ordered the retreat.

al-Sawmali also explicitly criticized Saleh’s U.S.-trained “counter-terrorism units,” saying, “the Central Security Organization [affiliated to the Interior Minister] pulled out without confronting Al Qaeda, and this is shameful!” The unit is commanded by Yahya Mohammed Abdullah, Saleh’s nephew and a Pentagon liaison. Together with the Republican Guard, led by another Pentagon liaison (Saleh’s son, Ahmed), Central Security has carried out the regime’s crackdown in Sana’a, Taiz, Aden and other urban centers of revolution.

Meanwhile Ali al-Anesi, head of the Yemen National Security, triumphantly boasts, "Al Qaeda was aiming at attacking and controlling Aden province after the success in Abyan. But, government efforts halted their spread and we have retaken large areas of Abyan from militants hands.”

al-Anesi adds that Yemeni security forces have killed hundreds of militants since May, when chronic urban violence boiled into open assaults on southern towns. However the government’s soaring casualties figures, now exceeding AQAP’s force estimates, have simply added to public and international doubts. AQAP reportedly maintains between 300-500 hardcore fighters, by Saleh and Washington, a moderate to sustain a low-level threat for both sides. Now they have reason to inflate these figures, to increase the perceived threat but also to explain how a small guerrilla force could overrun multiple armored brigades.

The rising estimates of AQAP’s strength leaves few options: AQAP is successfully recruiting off of Saleh’s regime and U.S. support, or proxy-militants are being funded by the government. Or a combination of both factors could be driving the battles in southern Yemen.

Several fighters spoke of external influences to the Western media, hinting at a mysterious source of militants. Abu Abdullah told The Global Post from Doufas, "Every time we kill 100 of them, another new batch of 100 arrive to the fight... We do not know who is supporting the militants. They gathered from all over Yemen and do not get support from the tribes in Abyan. Only about 20 percent of the militants we’ve killed were known to be from Abyan, while others were from outside the province."

Mislabeled a “pro-government fighter” by CNN - those tribes now fighting against al-Qaeda are largely aligned against the government - Abdullah added that Saudis and Somalis were among the dead.

The only reaction Washington has to any of these developments is the occasional warning on AQAP. Never is any concern directed at Saleh’s regime, even though many strings running out of the south lead north to Sana’a. Using its local name of Ansar al Sharia (the Army of Islamic Law), one U.S. official recently told the Long War Journal that AQAP is seeking to emulate the Islamic State of Iraq and Talibanize southern Yemen, a duel-scare tactic. If AQAP does aim for such a high goal, its task is made easier by a corrupt despot supported by Washington and Riyadh - the ideal political arrangement to validate al-Qaeda’s ideology.

For the last decade Saleh has funded his own “jihadists” to exploit against the Southern Movement, and now re-designates local insurgents as AQAP militants for U.S. warplanes. The Pentagon and CIA likely suffer from an incomplete view of Yemen’s environment, unable to fully differentiate between AQAP, legitimate local groups, anti-government tribes and Saleh’s proxies.

Seemingly oblivious to the consequences - or perhaps seeking chaos - Washington continues to stoke Yemen’s fire through military action and diplomatic inaction. Obama officials have already jumped from Libya back to Syria, blocking out Yemen in the process. After ignoring the revolution on Monday and Tuesday, one reporter waited until the final seconds of Wednesday’s State Department briefing to ask if U.S. policy had updated on Saleh. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded, “Our position remains unchanged. Whether he stays, whether he comes back, we need him to sign this GCC agreement and move on, allow his country to move on. So our position is unchanged.”

Asked if Saleh’s return would further complicate Yemen’s political and military environment, Nuland said that she didn’t “think it matters where he is; he has the ability to use a pen and sign.”

While Saleh can operate from Sana’a or Riyadh (his location doesn’t have an immediate effect), a return would set Yemen aflame due to his provocative behavior. Improving health won’t persuade Saleh to sign the GCC’s intiative, but to retrench before a push towards government-overseen elections. Worst of all, the GCC’s biased initiative would increase instability by preserving Saleh’s regime and obstructing justice for his crimes. Pressing for his resignation under the GCC’s terms is the keystone in Washington’s political duplicity. Blocking out Yemen’s revolutionaries in the media has further contributed to instability by misinforming an apathetic U.S. public, leaving the Obama administration free to tune out DOD and CIA operations.

Brute counter-terrorism bears no resemblance to counterinsurgency, and will prolong Yemen’s cycle of violence indefinitely. Unfortunately this is exactly what Saleh and Washington desire.

Flipping Libya’s COIN

The revolutionary assault on Tripoli appears to have created more panic in the Western media than in the opposition’s ranks. Fear is grounded in reality; the whole of Tripoli has yet to be captured and Muammar Gaddafi’s family, now enraged, is roving at large. Nor does the fall of a country’s capital guarantee the end of hostilities, as the Taliban’s retreat from Kabul and Iraq’s “Mission Accomplished” recently demonstrated.

However blind hope isn’t necessary to remain optimistic on Libya’s trajectory.

Since all possibilities must be considered in military planning, three factors will undermine a sustainable rebuilding of Libya’s government and infrastructure. First, Gaddafi and his sons have signaled no intention to negotiate a ceasefire, instead vowing to “kill the rats” that infested Tripoli. In a broadcast on state T.V., Gaddafi took credit for the protesters filling Martyr’s Square and rejoiced in their jubilation, indicating that he will deny - and fight - Libya’s revolution to his end. More recently, Gaddafi claimed to have toured Tripoli in disguise without feeling “in danger," before vowing martyrdom or death.

“We will turn Libya into a volcano of lava and fire under the feet of the invaders and their treacherous agents," added Moussa Ibrahim, Gaddafi’s spokesman.

Disinformation and misreporting aside, the bulk of Tripoli appears to be in oppositional hands. Counterattacks have reportedly begun on the captured airport, but Gaddafi’s remaining forces could concentrate on secondary cities before regrouping in the western mountains or desert. Desperation also makes the Colonel more dangerous than usual. Now might be a logical time, in Gaddafi’s mind, to use any chemical or biological weapons in his possession.

The second major threat to stability is a lack of public institutions and services in a post-Gaddafi Libya. Due to widespread power outages, residents in many opposition-held cities learned of Tripoli’s assault after the outside world. The National Transitional Council will be able to counter Gaddafi’s insurgency if it can perform at the governmental level; thus failure to restore and improve basic services will inflict more damage than Gaddafi’s military campaign. The opposition flipped from insurgents to counter-insurgents almost overnight, and the “building” phase will determine the success of their “clear and hold” operations.

This challenge could be the deciding factor of Libya’s end game.

Many observers don’t trust Gaddafi, the NTC or NATO, a denominator that has become the recurring theme in Libya. Many suspect the alliance of using Libya (and potentially Syria) to rebound from Afghanistan, keeping itself relevant and funded in the process. These fears are anchored in reality; while Western leaders praise their own efforts in toned-down victory speeches, some European and American pundits heralded a new age of “intervention that works.” UK reports talk of a substantial “peacekeeping” force and Richard Hass, president of the powerful Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), wasted no time calling for “boots on the ground.”

NATO trainers could morph into an “international peacekeeping force,” accompanied by heavy economic influences. If these issues are forced on the NTC or the organization underestimates popular opposition, NATO’s presence will provide a lightning rod for Gaddafi and radical elements operating outside the NTC.

The positive side of Libya’s developments offers many countermeasures to prevent a slide into continual warfare. In our opinion negative perceptions from external factors including Western misinformation and hypocrisy, problems that must be separated from Libya’s situation. Western governments promised a quick war to a war-weary public, contrary to the protracted nature of revolution, creating a myth that Libya “took too long” and hence isn’t stable. From this concern spawned a second: the void of state institutions will overwhelm the NTC, resulting in a vicious fracture.

Considering the long odds Libya’s opposition are defiantly overcoming, six months to Tripoli qualifies as a swift uprising. Furthermore, when is a good time for revolution? Why wait for another opportunity after the Arab Spring? If the lack of state and economic institutions is Libya’s main deficiency, why not start building as soon as possible?

Having credited Gaddafi, his family and remaining loyalists as an ongoing threat, the opposite must now be considered: Gaddafi’s apparatus is weaker than ever. Soon after Tripoli’s “fall” spread online, Seif al-Islam surprised journalists at Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel in a dramatic show to prove his freedom. Gaddafi’s son had been reportedly captured but instead found himself chatting with journalists as he flashed the V sign. An inside account of the prison that is now Rixos tells of how Seif confidently boasted, "You've missed a great story. So come on with us, we're going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli.”

Looking “confident and defiant,” Seif drove through loyalists neighborhoods on his way to Bab al-Aziziya, Gaddafi’s main complex in Tripoli, “where about 200 men, volunteers defending the regime, were waiting for weapons.” At this point the journalists, held at de facto gunpoint, were returned to the Rixos. NTC fighters stormed Bab al-Aziziya the next day after an intense firefight, showing Gaddafi’s medical records and trinkets to journalists on the way out. None of his sons, including Seif, were found.

Gaddafi now claims that he abandoned the city in a tactical withdrawal, but the distance between him and al-Shabaab - between an insurgency and a government retreating from the capital - is a long fall.

At this point Gaddafi only appears capable of wrecking havoc in Tripoli, not recapturing it. Bombarding the city would waste resources and expose his remaining troops. An assault on Libya’s secondary cities - Zawiya, Mistrata, Brega, Sirte - would prolong the fight longer than a counteroffensive in Tripoli, which is swarming with NATO’s aerial presence. However the opposition possesses enough control in these cities that isolated attacks can be repelled, and Gaddafi will find his insurgency difficult to sustain without a territorial base. NTC fighters have already besieged Sabha in the southwest, and Gaddafi’s final “stronghold” appears headed for Tripoli’s fate.

For their part oppositional representatives have attempted to manage expectations. National Council chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil advised, "It is too early to say that the battle of Tripoli is over,” while Mahmoud Jibril, Head of International Affairs, appealed to justice in the streets: “We must not sully the final page of the revolution." Yet losing control of the capital will deal an immense psychological blow to Gaddafi’s recruitment efforts. For decades his loyalists and mercenaries fought on the assumption that Gaddafi would ultimately emerge victorious in the end.

Who will join him now?

Conversely, Libya’s opposition appears stronger than generally credited in the Western media. A thriving underground may not have yielded initial organization, but the revolutionary wellspring that rippled across Libya demonstrates a true uprising from the beginning. People of all ages and backgrounds created a great deal in a short amount of time. Although the NTC has a ways to grow before assuming a full-fledged government, Libya's revolutionaries learned from their mistakes, slowed down, and improved their performance as a political organization and guerrilla army.

Removing a dictator without advancing the quality of life could result in stalemate between the new government and people. However Libya’s umbrella of civil servants and activists shows no visible intentions of pulling a Hamas.

While NATO’s enhancement is obviously responsible for part of the NTC’s success, Tripoli’s “Operation Mermaid Dawn” highlights a rising cohesion within the structure. On top of political and military objectives, a surprise attack and symbolic date - the conquest of Mecca - generated maximum psychological effect. As the NTC gradually advanced west and east on a collision course, other troops infiltrated city over a period of weeks and smuggled in weapons (likely supplied by NATO). The NTC was able to converge on Tripoli at the assigned date, shipping in fighters from the east and advancing its western front straight into the capital.

Here the Tripoli Brigade, a unit of the National Liberation Army, spearheaded “Mermaid’s Dawn” and fulfilled its ultimate objective after months of grueling mountain warfare. The Brigade’s leader, Mahdi al-Harati, had returned from Ireland only to flee Tripoli’s initial crackdown in February. After regrouping in Benghazi with a select cadre, al-Harati and his men received UAE training in opposition territory before transferring to the Nafusa Mountains, where they would prove instrumental in the opposition’s takeover. The 500-man unit, which al-Harati claims is strictly civilian in nature, pushed the front into Tripoli under heavy NATO bombardment.

The NTC’s relative purity and organization affords the surest countermeasure against radical Islamic groups. Terrorism works best when the system is broken; a nationalist movement will negate militant influence from al-Qaeda or other radical offshoots so long as the opposition continues to function politically. Groups like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), now styled the Libyan Islamic Movement, could thrive if the opposition fails to perform, but will be marginalized in the opposite outcomes Libya’s many barriers.

It helps that NATO’s limited invasion falls short of Iraq’s massive occupation, that the opposition has willingly accepted the burden of governance and could reject a substantial foreign presence. Neocons and neoliberals may have simply learned to scale back America’s democracy promotion, but the NTC also demanded Western assistance amidst Gaddafi’s slaughter. Libyan revolutionaries cheered when NATO finally came to the rescue, and remain grateful when they could be aggravated by Western inaction.

Libya operates in a new age, shielded from extremist influences by the collective goodwill flowing from the Arab Spring. This effect works on multiple levels; first inspired by Tunisians and Egyptians, Libyans just became inspiration for protesters across the region. The “spirit of the times” has generated an enormous counterbalance against al-Qaeda, a tilt in favor of real democracy, and Western governments must ride this wave. They must support the end of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Africa - in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and ultimately Saudi Arabia.

Western governments don’t seem to realize that they have more to lose through inaction than action. Rather than ignoring the revolutionaries completely or protecting “friendly” regimes, all protesters should receive equal attention for as long as their struggles last.

August 22, 2011

Saleh Prepares His Next Double-Deal

As Yemen’s latest “National Council” struggles to keep itself together, it is important to appreciate the long odds Yemen’s revolutionaries are defiantly facing. Like their counterparts in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Bahrain, Yemenis have been pitted against each other in a simulated survival-of-the-fittest, designed to weaken every opponent at once. Ali Abdullah Saleh became especially accustomed to “dancing on the heads of snakes,” as he called the various factions that make up Yemen’s diverse political landscape.

All of these peoples have been suppressed and compartmentalized for decades, so to unify in less than a year qualifies as an extraordinary feat. American political leaders continued their political maneuvering after an eight year revolution, and Arabs from every generation deserve as long as their own revolution takes.

Yemen’s new “National Council” initially appeared to stand upright before wobbling to one knee again. Dual “revolutionary” councils announced by Tawakel Karman and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), which Karman belongs to through the Islah Party, failed to unify Yemen’s entire opposition and the NC promised to include all parties: the JMP, outlying tribes, northern Houthi sect, secessionist-oriented Southern Movement, the urban youth and popular revolutionaries of all ages. Although the NC was prepared and announced weeks in advanced, the déjà vu of Karman’s council struck by surprising some figures on 143-member council and unsettling others.

The council suffered its largest blow immediately when the southern bloc withdrew, citing its own under-representation amid a defense of the Houthis.

“We have been marginalized and our position and point of view have not been considered,” 23 opposition figures representing the southern cause said in a statement... “Any national council assumes the responsibility of leading the peaceful revolution of the people to overthrow the remains of the system, and should be equally divided between the South and the North, and would strengthen mutual trust and mobilize all energies and capabilities to accelerate the revolution.”

“The council also ignored some political forces in the country including the southern peaceful movement (Harak), the popular revolution, the Houthi Group and others which led the process of change in the country,” the group added.

Hussein al-Ahmar, a minor chief in Saleh’s own Hashid tribal confederation, has also withdrawn his National Tadhamon (Solidarity) Council under a common complaint: the NC only represents the bodies that formed it and thus misrepresents the whole opposition. al-Ahmar claims to have been offered - and turned down - the position of secretary-general in Saleh’s General People's Congress (GPC) several months before the revolution began. Although a suspect individual due to his association with both the al-Ahmar family and Saleh’s regime, which he defected from in late February, al-Ahmar public statements sync with a collection of youth coalitions, individual activists and human rights groups.

The Haq party, one element of the JMP, withdrew because "it's not a national council."

On top of the underlying principle that Yemen’s opposition needs time to organize a unified platform, a second factor reduces the negativity surrounding the NC’s complications. Instead of addressing the problems of initial councils - mainly unequal representation of the north, south and youth - the JMP remains unwilling to cede its political position. Now might be a good time for the coalition to dissolve, but the political factions and their tribal affiliations continue to syphon power from popular revolutionaries. Sadiq and Hamid al-Ahmar, the Hashid’s leaders, and defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar could win public support by leaving power to the people, but with minimal popular representation, Yemen’s traditional power brokers are only solidifying their greedy perceptions.

The Arab Sisters Forum rejected the NC because it "reproduced the dominance of the traditional tribal and military forces which were the essence of tyranny of the regime.” A statement from youth in Sana’a added, "The council of the opposition is only a response to the desire of Hamid Al Ahmar who wants to turn the youth and some activists of the civil society and some social figures to soldiers working him to achieve his ambitions to rule Yemen.”

The positive side of this imbalance leaves the door open for unification; the southern bloc, Houthis and youth remain open to a national revolutionary council that grants equal representation. Each party isn’t absolutely opposed to reconciliation, a critical fact often lost in foreign reporting of Yemen’s division. The council’s objectives must simplify the north-south divide into a united vision to end Saleh’s regime, with the reunification debate to follow. Unfortunately the JMP is left in the middle of progress.

While Yemenis may be able to overcome this weakness through organization, Saleh pounces on every JMP mistake and exploits the coalition as a scapegoat for revolution. It is for this reason, above all, that popular protesters must gain control of Yemen’s revolutionary council.

As he has done throughout the past six months, Saleh’s regime recently launched another coordinated assault on the JMP, first striking with propaganda before hitting Yemen’s political sphere. Whenever the regime isn’t slandering the JMP for all of Yemen’s woes - the fuel crisis, “corrupting the youth,” coordinating with AQAP - Saleh is only willing to negotiate with the JMP. Knowing that coalition wasn’t popular before the revolution started, Saleh made an early calculated decision to string the revolutionaries along through the JMP. The coalition played right into his hands by jockeying for position in a “post-Saleh” Yemen and angling the international community, mainly the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

After negotiating a deeply unpopular “transition” with the regime, the JMP has walked back from the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative without fully dropping its support.

Pleased with the JMP’s handling of a revolutionary council, Saleh’s regime has undermined the group with a loaded arsenal of political, military and economic tactics. Last week GPC officials blamed Hamid al-Ahmar, a leading JMP member through the Islah party, for the attempted assassination on Saleh, a claim that Hamid’s supporters and detractors equally disbelieve. The announcement coincided with reports that Saleh was “considering” new amendments to the GCC before agreeing to sign. This pattern is unchanging; any motion towards the GCC’s initiative is countered by propaganda against the JMP. Less than a day after accusing Hamid, Deputy Information Minister Abdo Al-Janadi “escaped” his own assassination outside his house.

The JMP does have reason to silence al-Janadi, one of Saleh’s loudest mouthpieces, after months of vilification. The minister has condemned each revolutionary council as a “coup,” denounced al-Ahmar’s tribal alliance and accused the JMP “of stealing the youth revolution by announcing formation of the National Council of the Revolution.” Some of his slander does hit the mark: "We see multiple names referring to the same entity. These names include the Joint Meeting Parties [JMP], the interim council, the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, the national assembly, as well as other names also adopted by the opposition.”

A valid complaint makes for decent propaganda, but the youth cannot be swayed to the government’s side, especially when it continues to negotiate with the JMP.

Considering these factors, an open attempt on al-Janadi’s life remains unlikely due to the government’s anticipated manipulation. A rogue faction is always a possibility, but so is the regime’s staging of an assassination attempt. Between meetings to “look over” the GCC’s initiative, Saleh’s regime barrages the JMP with threats in an attempt to provoke hostilities and further justify a crackdown. As suppressive fire paves the way for an invasion force, Saleh hopes to return to Sana’a and bring the GCC’s initiative down completely by shifting his narrative to elections. Wednesday marks the GPC’s 30th anniversary and the party, already allocated half of a transitional council through the GCC, expects to win big “at the ballot box.”

While al-Janadi blasts the JMP for not wanting to “engage in elections” or “acknowledge that the people are the source of power,” Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi recently declared that Saleh "has more supporters than the opposition." He called for early elections in place of a transitional council

The perceived downfall of Muammar Gaddafi has just ratcheted up Yemen’s tensions to a new level. Many forces are already converging: Saleh’s return, the JMP’s National Council, undying revolutionary fervor, the looming end of Ramadan. U.S. and Saudi support continues to embolden Saleh while driving the revolutionaries to desperation. Now the regime is planning for the “worst case scenario” and has cordoned off Sana’a with tanks and quick-triggered Republican Guards. Having listened to oppositional figures express their renewal, Saleh prepared for the same wave that Bashar al-Assad is on alert for.

Yemen’s revolution is unlikely to end in the next nine days, for all of the above reasons, but Saleh appears to be planning his next chain reaction. Severe turbulence is a high possibility.

August 21, 2011

Libyan Revolutionaries Storm Tripoli

In a quick turnaround from the assassination of Abdul Fatah Younis, military chief of Libya’s National Transitional Council, Western media is now reporting “the last hours of the Gaddafi regime.” European capitals are especially relieved to see Tripoli's clouds part. Meanwhile President Barack Obama, also under increasing domestic pressure, added to history’s moment from Martha’s Vineyard.

We haven’t written much on Libya since we lurk in the darker areas of U.S. foreign policy, but we’ve followed its military developments closely and support NATO’s assistance to the revolutionaries. By mismanaging expectations, Western governments committed a fundamental error of insurgency and counterinsurgency alike. At this point we doubt that Muammar Gaddafi will surrender (since he’s lost almost all negotiating leverage) and could be preparing to launch a viscous counterattack. If he lays low, he must choose between fleeing the country, hiding and mounting an insurgency with his remaining forces.

Monday morning in Tripoli is still witnessing history though:
On Saturday, rebels were still fighting to take the east of Zawiyah, 30 miles to the west. Then, as dusk fell and Libyans were celebrating the end of the daily Ramadan fast, a group of young men took over the Ben Nabi and other mosques in the centre of Tripoli, announcing a new uprising from within through loud-speakers normally used for the call to prayer. By midnight, there was fighting on the streets of the capital and defenses on the outskirts were crumbling.

Sunday, August 21

Midnight: In a co-ordinated assault, NATO bombs fell around the Gaddafi leadership compound of Bab al-Aziziya as fighting continued on the streets. Regime spokesmen said that a few rebels had crept into the city but been crushed. But the sound of shooting continues.

1.45: Col Gaddafi broadcasts live by telephone, congratulating his supporters for repelling the "rats" who had attacked Tripoli. "We have to put an end to this masquerade. You must march by the millions to free the destroyed towns," he says.
Abdel Salam Jalloud, Col Gaddafi's former prime minister and number two who fell out of favour in the Nineties, appears on television from Rome to call on Tripoli to rise up. He had defected on Friday.

4am: Rebels report fighting is under way in traditionally anti-Gaddafi eastern suburbs of Souk al-Jumaa and Tajoura

4.30am: State television shows Saif al-Islam addressing supporters. "You will never see us as Libyans surrender and raise the white flag: that is impossible," he says, though it is not clear when the footage was shot.

Dawn: a boat containing hundreds of fighters from Misurata lands on beaches to the east of the city to reinforce the uprising in Tajoura and the eastern suburbs.
9am: Rebel forces move east from Zawiyah, reaching 20 miles from Tripoli's centre.

10.30am: Sniper fire reported from roofs of Bab al-Aziziya

Noon: Rebels take town of Gaddayem on Tripoli's western outskirts. Gaddafi forces still shelling front lines.

1pm: Rebel leadership in Benghazi announces "Operation Mermaid Dawn" is under way to encircle Col Gaddafi through military advance from the west and uprising in the east of the city. Regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim says "thousands and thousands" of troops and volunteers are ready to defend Tripoli.

3pm: After seizing village of Maya, rebels to the west reach 15 miles from the city centre, near the headquarters of Libya's strongest fighting force, the 32nd or Khamis Brigade.

5pm: Rebels seize Khamis Brigade base as government troops flee. Fighting continues on the streets of the city itself.

6pm: Fighting reported inside the Mitiga Airbase, the main military airport.

6.45pm: Col Gaddafi makes a new appeal for residents to come out and defend the city. He says he is still in Tripoli, keeping his promise to stay, and that he will not surrender. But the rebel army is now seven miles away.

8pm: Rebels said to be in control of eastern suburbs of Tripoli, and negotiating the surrender of the Mitiga Airbase. In the centre, pro-regime forces open fire near Bab al-Aziziya and the Rixos Hotel.

11pm: Rebels reach two miles from the city centre, seize Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Leaders' son and heir apparent, who earlier vowed never to surrender.

11.30pm: Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the Transitional National Council, says he is ready to call a ceasefire if Col Gaddafi leaves. Moussa Ibrahim, the regime spokesman, also calls for a ceasefire but continues to insist negotiations must be led by Col. Gaddafi. "We expect the death toll to rise beyond anyone's imagination," he says. "It's really a true traumatic, a true tragic event taking place before you here in Tripoli, supported by the might of Nato."

Monday, August 22

Midnight: Col Gaddafi makes another appeal on television for residents to defend Tripoli as a "matter of life and death" as rebels start tearing down his portrait from the city's walls.

12.30: Libya's former deputy ambassador to the United Nations, who defected to the rebels, claims that 90 per cent of Tripoli is in the hands of the rebels. The Presidential Guard surrenders. NATO calls for a peaceful transition of power, and says the Transitional National Council has a "great responsibility" to ensure "reconciliation and respect for human rights."

1.15 am: Rebels reach Green Square. In the final advance, they say they met little resistance.
Future updates as Libya’s situation dictates, particularly the regional reaction. The Arab revolutionary wave is driven by fallen dictators and Libya could boost efforts in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, whose revolutionaries took Tunisians and Egyptians as their inspiration. Yemen’s capital of Sana’a has already been cordoned off in response to Tripoli’s events.