July 31, 2012

Bahrain's Prince Toes Path of Less Resistance

Maybe he's learned some sort of lesson after all. 

Considered the savviest and most "modern" member of Bahrain's royal family, Prince Salam Bin Hamad Al Khalifa has watched King Hamad counterproductively agitate protesters throughout the island's 18-month uprising. He's also supposedly keeping watch on his father's hardline uncle, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, in an attempt to gradually force the Prime Minister from power after 41 years in office. It's not implausible that Salam views Khalifa as the primary source of instability in Bahrain, given his staunch support for counterrevolutionary tactics, and at some point the Prince must have realized that his family's survival strategy has become its own threat.

“The directives of His Majesty the King," he announced on Tuesday, "the Supreme Commander, are very clear and stress the full respect of the constitution and the law and that they should not be abused in any way."

Speaking to senior officers from the Interior Ministry at an Iftar banquet, Salam came armed with meticulous rhetoric that could have been written by the U.S. State Department or a Western PR firm. Freedom of expression and assembly, private property and equal rights were all enshrined as fundamental values of Bahrain's royalty. He also tried to reduce the boiling tension in Bahrain's streets by ordering security officials to use force "only when all security alternatives have been exhausted." The Prince would pour an extra sweet layer over his statements, declaring that "we must extend bridges and bolster optimism in order to fulfill our ambitions of protecting and moving forward with the nation."

“Bahrain has always been for all people. The diversity of its society makes mutual respect a duty for everyone. We consider maintaining social peace and cohesion a principal objective. This is a responsibility that we assume fully in order to ensure that the future generations inherit the values of co-existence and tolerance between all the segments of the society."

If only he were sincere enough to manifest real change.

While Prince Salam could ultimately facilitate a political resolution between the monarchy and Bahrain's diverse oppositional network, he currently remains a counterrevolutionary tool in the region's grander scheme. Viewed as "the best possible partner" for Al Wefaq, a realistic position is negated by the fact that "there is no alternative to him." Such a non-competitive arrangement is far from productive and has yet to yield tangible benefits for the opposition. When Salam first attempted to engage Al Wefaq's coalition in negotiations, the Prime Minister led the Saudi-bankrolled Peninsula Shield across King Fahd Causeway and smashed protesters in Pearl Roundabout. His second "National Dialogue" quickly collapsed in summer 2011 before descending into another of the Prince's creations: Bahrain's Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The BICI would simultaneously concede human rights abuses and whitewash the King's responsibility by passing down blame to low level officers.

“We are for legitimacy and stability and we do not hesitate to engage in introspection," Salam claims. "Whoever says otherwise is wrong as was clear following the publication of the report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the implementation of its recommendations."

How openminded.

The Prince also plays an integral role in Washington's counterrevolutionary strategy; by providing a democratic figurehead to promote in U.S. policy, Salam has further contributed to the long-term suppression of Bahrain's opposition. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta would welcome him to Washington in May with the intention of releasing a new arms package, one that had been delayed by Congressional concerns. "We wanted to show that he could deliver," argued a senior U.S. official briefed on the Bahrain policy, but this logic is riddled with fallacies. Leading Bahraini activists such as Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Alkhawaja derided Salam's tour on Democracy Now!, explaining how they mocked U.S. and Bahraini statements from their jail cells.

Salam only returned with arms and conflict. His "moderate" voice continues to be shouted over as the regime and Washington exploit him to create a false sense of responding to Bahrain's conflict.

In the three months since Salam went stateside, Bahrain's situation has only grown more hostile to organized political movements and independent activists. Al Wefaq now endures a partial ban on protesting in the capital and Nabeel Rajab was thrown back in jail without any public response from Washington. A massive security presence continues to tamp down large-scale demonstrations, sparking dozens of conflict zones inside and outside of Manama. Security units have yet to tone down their non-lethal but violent (and noxious) response in the streets, while Al Wefaq is documenting a rise in home arrests. When the group's leadership approached a security blockade with flowers, they were gunned down in the head with bird shot, beaten and gassed into dispersal. Yet the Obama administration is only willing to break its silence to lobby a "dialogue" that cannot lift off the ground in its present condition.

According to one U.S. official, "The crown prince is one of the remaining, one of the only leaders and members of the royal family, who can reach across sectarian lines." Unfortunately for all Bahrainis, overly relying on the Prince to strike an end-all agreement with the opposition could be a fatal assumption. Bolstered by the confidence that Bahrain has "succeeded in addressing" past social conflicts - the new uprising proves that King Hamad failed to resolve the last one - Salam claims to understand the “need to use wisdom and objectivity in dealing with alien ideologies." He believes "we will succeed again by joining our efforts."

These words sound pragmatic until they start to sound delusional.

July 30, 2012

Long "Weeks" Ahead In Northern Mali

After staving off an intervention in his own country, with special thanks to previously deployed UN peacekeepers, Alassane Ouattara appears to have accelerated the Economic Community of West African States's campaign into northern Mali. Visiting Paris to discuss bilateral policies with President Francois Hollande, Côte d'Ivoire's newest President and current chairman of ECOWAS would lay political and military cables over the weekend before taking his plans public.

“If the situation doesn’t evolve favorably and rapidly, yes, there will be a military intervention in Mali,” he said in response to Le Journal du Dimanche's first question. “It seems inevitable.”

Besides the mounting anxiety in African and Western capitals, few conditions have changed since the United Nations ordered ECOWAS to clarify its initial request of force earlier this month. Ouattara begins by announcing the commonly-stated 3,300 troop level set by the bloc's Joint Chiefs of Staff, then partially elaborates that the force will be half Malian. Niger and Nigeria are expected to provide the majority of combat troops, and they in turn expect logistical and air support from Washington, Paris, London and possibly Madrid. Special Forces from the first three countries already operate inside and around Mali, but their numbers are expected to increase as demand for "counselors" rises.

Sticking to the U.S. script that seeks to eliminate "ground troops" from public perception, Ouattara said that he is "not considering the presence of ground troops who are not African."

With Hollande taking command of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, the diplomatic stars have aligned to green-light a pivotal intervention in northern Mali. Ouattara thinks that "we can talk in weeks, not in months," however his interview may produce a leap of inches rather than miles. First and foremost, 3,300 troops (including police and gendarmes) and a sizable contingent of Western military power cannot restore stability by themselves, and will require reinforcements in the near future. Many political considerations also remain unresolved, starting with the interim state of Mali's government; President Dioncounda Traore has finally returned from medical leave to announce a political overhaul, but a "government of national unity" is unlikely to be formed by the two week deadline that "regional mediators have requested." ECOWAS and the UN cannot launch an operation without a national government that is capable of restoring authority.

Even then, northern Malians may reject the legitimacy of any government formed without their input.

Traore also plans to establish a formal committee in a renewed effort to negotiate with "the armed groups in the north of Mali," a wise but complicated course of action. While some observers doubt that National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) will cooperate with African and Western capitals, failing to exhaust all means of negotiations would be equally rash. The group needs no coercion to move against the Islamic matrix that is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and the Movement For Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and also provides the only oppositional channel to the Tuaregs. Problematically, the MNLA's secessionist agenda is treated on par with international jihad, and foreign powers are unlikely to reach a mutual agreement with the group. That void will force the international community to confront each power individually and collectively, as Ansar Dine and MUJAO have no intention of negotiating their vision of an Islamic state.

African and Western capitals have yet to reach a public consensus on the negotiating front, and the private situation may not be any different.

These factors necessarily undermine the completeness of ECOWAS's military proposal. While some political and military dominoes are being arranged with relative ease, other lie in a disheveled pile and expose large gaps in the overall strategy. Months are still needed to attempt a final sorting of northern Mali's puzzle, otherwise ECOWAS and the UN will increase the risk of entering a political quagmire in a territory that is nearly the size of France.

July 29, 2012

U.S. Building African Proxy Armies

New rays of light are being increasingly cast on America's operations in Africa, specifically across the continent's upper half, as U.S. foreign policy chases al-Qaeda into the shadows. "Secret" bases, overflights, security contractors and renditions have gone as mainstream as possible. Less developed is the wider strategic picture that connects Washington and an assortment of receptive African capitals, as shadows can only do so much fighting. The Trench's previous analysis observed that the U.S. is hoping to use northern Mali's crisis to build combat experience in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

This arrangement is based on mutual needs: African capitals need Western air and logistics support, intelligence and financing for all of it, generating a natural control over the continent's largest proxy armies.

Today The Los Angeles Times recapped most of this blueprint's designs in Somalia. Although the Times reports that the Obama administration "has not disclosed much in public about its role... because African Union officials do not want their force seen as a Washington puppet," almost none of the presented information is fresh. In addition to financially injecting Somalia's government, the U.S. and European powers (such as France and Italy) have been training AMISOM forces to defeat al-Shabaab since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) formed in 2009 under UN guidance. Wafula Wamunyinyi, deputy head of the African Union mission, described the assistance of "quite enormous," and Washington is deeply involved in every level of operations.

In terms of payment, U.S. funds are covering the costs of lethal aid as EU pays out checks to AU soldiers in the field, a historically debilitating problem. Western trainers and/or contractors also assist/lead a 13-week basic training course and oversee specialized programs for engineers, intelligence personnel and medics. Recruits receive combat gear (uniforms, weapons, night vision devices, communications, medical aid and other supplies) and sometimes deploy to the field in Western-purchased armored personnel carriers. A large package that include RQ-11 Raven drones was delivered to Uganda in 2011, but this supply chain likely extends to multiple partners.

While U.S. officials claim that no military personnel are deployed to Somalia with African troops, independent evidence indicates the opposite. Shadow wars also demand skepticism rather than the inclination to believe government accounts. Michael Bittrick, a State Department official who oversees U.S. policy in the area, says that private firms hire "retired foreign military personnel" to advise in the field, except U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives are unilaterally embedded around Somalia's frontlines (French agents allegedly operate as liaisons by directly coordinating with AU units). According to the investigative reporting of The Nation's Jeremy Scahill, the CIA maintains a detention facility in the remnants of Siad Barre's torturous prison in Mogadishu, dubbed Godka or "The Hole." Here the CIA keeps Somali intelligence personnel on a private payroll due to government corruption, and arranges interrogations of national and foreign suspects.

"They support us in a big way financially,” a senior Somali intelligence official told Scahill in 2011. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

Special Forces and CIA personnel also operate aerial missions (including drones) out of Mogadishu's Aden Adde International airport.

The only new information offered by The Los Angeles Times is an itinerary of the Sierre Leone battalion in transport to Kenya, where it will be picked up by vehicles paid for by Washington and imported from ally South Africa. The soldiers will then be driven into southern Somalia and link with three Kenyan battalions "who have been bogged down" for months. Launched in late October 2011, Operation Linda Nchi ran straight into Somalia's second rainy season and has yet to reach its stated objective: clear al-Shabaab's port stronghold, Kismayo, before the TFG dissolves in August. The AU must eventually take the port or risk jeopardizing its ongoing national offensive.

The Los Angeles Times simply paints a picture of near-absolute control over AMISOM and Somalia's fledgling defense forces.

"Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union. But in truth, according to interviews by U.S. and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon, trained and supplied by the U.S. government and guided by dozens of retired foreign military personnel hired through private contractors.”

The positives of this strategy are evident. Combining all of the lessons learned from past errors, AMISOM's present force is cheaper and more relatable than an American or Ethiopian intervention. Now U.S. forces can operate freely out of Mogadishu with 10,000 AU soldiers patrolling the city and its surroundings, a vivid contrast from 1993's isolated mission. General Carter Ham, the chief of AFRICOM, implies that Somalia's model can be replicated in response to other African crises: "We think that's an ideal role for the United States — not a large U.S. military presence… but rather applying the resources that we do have to help those countries who are willing to contribute to this effort.”

Costs, on the other and, are already being felt outside of Somalia's battle zone. In return for their "generous" services, dictatorships in Uganda and Ethiopia maintain healthy relationships with Washington just as U.S. counterterrorism operations work in the Algerian government's favor. Those governments that pair with the U.S. and EU are encouraged to "reform" and "promote democracy," but manipulation of this arrangement is inevitable. Uganda's minor protests, for example, were crushed with minimal objection from the Obama administration. Higher still, the manipulation of political blocs could affect entire regions of people.

How solid U.S. military influence grows in Africa, along with any potential backlashes and human rights controversies, remains to be seen.

July 27, 2012

Thickening Fog of War Over Northern Mali

Despite a combination of factors that are working to generate al-Qaeda's largest sanctuary in its history, northern Mali remains a back-page story in most American media circles. The discrepancy is both easy and difficult to explain since U.S. military officials warn that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies, Ansar Dine and the Movement For Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), intend to strike American targets like the rest of al-Qaeda's branches. Except northern Mali has yet to receive the same official reaction bestowed on Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen, where U.S. counterterrorism operations accelerated from 15 to 100 MPH over the last 30 months. The Obama administration has chosen to respond to Mali with inactive silence, punctuated by dire but brief alarms of another terrorist haven.

This observation isn't made in demand a more public and weightier U.S. response to northern Mali. However the gap between Washington's reaction to northern Mali and al-Qaeda's other established sanctuaries is growing as fast as foreign fighters can enter the country. 

Washington's quiet is partially explainable and understandable - events in northern Mali simply present an unfavorable situation for Western and African capitals alike. What's left of the national government remains in turmoil after a military coup threw the country into total disarray in late March. By then the Tuareg-dominated National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Dine had already seized most of the north, and Timbuktu would fall soon after the coup struck Bamako. Having missed one deadline to hold elections, the interim government is still struggling to survive multiple shakeups and might not be reestablished before 2013. 

Failing to restore a legitimate government before launching a military campaign to retake the north, whether national or foreign-led, is risking disaster. 

Other political considerations are sinking beneath the reality on the ground. Stated as a fact, many analysts point out that the final months of a presidential campaign offer a terrible window to jump into another asymmetric war. One could argue that domestic support is necessary to sustain any military campaign, but the Obama administration is equally unlikely to enjoy this support after a November victory. That leaves northern Malians and their neighbors at the whim of American (and European) politics. With President Barack Obama constantly promoting the demise of al-Qaeda, bringing up Mali and the "lighter style" of warfare that failed to contain its descent (Special Forces are imbedded in and around the country) doesn't make for smart campaigning either. 

These factors are both ethically inexcusable and detrimental to organizing an efficient politico-military response. 

Militarily speaking, U.S. air forces are already stretched thin across the region and Syria's potential is sapping most of Washington's contingency focus. Although the Pentagon and CIA are visibly expanding their networks in north Africa, it's not unreasonable to conclude that Mali's mission is "too big" for Washington's comfort. The Sahel's genie essentially escaped and the coverup will consume more resources than anticipated: a larger conflict impedes the "lighter," cheaper strategy of pairing Special Forces with African militaries, creating potential friction between governments and local populations.

Islamic militants have redirected into northern Mali for a variety of reasons, but they collectively realize that they outmaneuvered the West's presence in the Gulf. 

Furthermore, bringing a U.S.-backed war to Mali could create a new quagmire in the heart of north Africa. The internal situations in the south and north are both incredibly complex, and the West would be walking nearly blind into the Tuareg's historic liberation movement. Many ethnic minorities are trapped in between and Mali's tribal politics are likely to be overlooked. On the militant side, it would be a mistake to believe that AQIM, Ansar Dine and MUJAO hope the West invades their newly christened Islamic state, as these groups would welcome an uninterrupted opportunity to grow roots. They know they would be initially routed from their urban strongpoints. At the same time, those in de facto control of northern Mali are vocally prepared to battle Americans and Europeans to the death, and they will retain many advantages in the north's vast expanse. 

On a strategic level, Washington seems to be primarily interested in developing the military experience of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This arrangement explains the West's hesitation and promotes internal solutions to African problems, while allowing Western capitals to exert their own military influence behind ECOWAS and the African Union's (AU) shields. Thus the likeliest possibility will send an ECOWAS force (presumably above the 3,000 awaiting deployment) to fight a ground war under Western air power, in order to defer costs and deter the impression of another American intervention in Africa. 

Nevertheless, developments in northern Mali continue to evolve under ambiguous circumstances. 

Enter General Carter Ham, commander of AFRICOM and vocal advocate of the Pentagon's "small footprints." For months the general has watched Islamic militants infiltrate the heart of his AO, only capable of mustering threats as he connects AQIM's dots with Nigeria's Boko Haram, Somalia's al-Shabaab and Yemen's al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Now he warns that the international community "missed an opportunity to deal with AQIM when they were weak," allowing the group to become "al-Qaeda's best funded, wealthiest affiliate.” 

Unfortunately Ham's latest testimony adds more uncertainty to Mali's power equation. No other branch's origins and funding, not even AQAP, is so vigorously doubted as AQIM's, which is suspected of doubling as an Algerian proxy against the Tuaregs and other ethnic groups. While the infiltration of Algeria's Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) is likely exaggerated, the narrative is prevalent enough to warrant serious concerns over U.S.-Algerian relations. Both stand accused of using AQIM's threat to expand their security profile in north Africa at the cost of Algeria's democratic growth, as demonstrated by Washington's non-reaction to limited protests.

Dismantling AQIM's network is impossible without addressing the shadows hanging over Algiers and Washington.

As the situation stands, General Ham admits that the dynamic between Mali's Islamist groups is "complex," and that "it was not clear if they were aligned on an ideological or a purely opportunistic basis." He claims that AQIM and its allies are determined to strike American targets, even though The Wall Street Journal reports, "U.S. counterterrorism officials said that for now, AQIM militants in Mali appear focused on local and regional issues, rather than on using the haven to plot attacks against the U.S." Elsewhere, anonymous "Western security officials" argue that Ansar Dine and MUJAO are operating as a front for AQIM, ultimately contaminating the Tuareg elements within Ansar Dine. 

“They organize everything," one official is quoted as saying. "Food, military training, intelligence, ideological training. Let us not be mistaken, the hundreds of youths being recruited in the name of MUJAO or Ansar Dine are really AQIM fighters." 

MUJAO allegedly broke away from AQIM due to its suspicions of Algerian influence. 

Regardless of the veracity of these intertwining accounts, Western capitals have overextended their credibility in north Africa and cannot be trusted at face value. With military ambitions rising in the absence of a greater situational awareness, Mali's fog of war will continue to thicken as each actor pursues their own agenda.

July 24, 2012

The Trials of Nabeel Rajab

Not the first time that Nabeel Rajab's 9-year old daughter, Malak, has protested her father's detention, and probably not the last

The concept of punishment generally revolves around a nucleus of theories: justice, education and retribution. Settling human conflict often begins by attempting to repair the damage caused at an equal or greater level, then correcting the long-term behavior of the actor or actors. These factors, however, have been suppressed in the minds of Bahrain's King Hamad Isa bin al-Khalifa and his royal family.

Instead they have chosen the final option of punishment - spite - for leading oppositional figure Nabeel Rajab, who currently languishes in Jaww's controversial prison on a two-month stint. Rajab's case is prototypically repressive. 

Jailed for "insulting" Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa with a Tweet (he predicted that the Premiers' supporters wouldn't show up without being paid), the head of Bahrain's Center For Human Rights (BCHR) had been released from detention only weeks earlier for "inciting an illegal gathering." Reports also surfaced claiming that many of Rajab's accusers doubled as employees of Bahrain's security forces, and he ultimately received no real due process before being sentanced. Rajab's appeal was postponed from July 18th to the 24th and now to August 5th, demonstrating a systematic harassment against one of the region's noblest activists. 

Problematically for King Hamad, his treatment of Rajab is simply brightening the aura of a non-violent protest leader. Like a mutant that feeds on radiation, Rajab's stature is only growing with each detention and he will eventually return to the streets more powerful than before. This counterproductive strategy has immediately manifested on the pavement and Internet, where Rajab's presence remains a concrete force of action. Bahrainis are organizing solidarity protests outside of Rajab's house and Twitter campaigns in his name, destroying the monarchy's feeble attempt to silence him. 

His followers have skyrocketed above 160,000 and counting. 

The agitating effects of Rajab's latest case have also influenced the motions of Bahrain's political opposition, further obstructing a resolution to the 17-month uprising. As if anticipating Al Wefaq's solidarity campaign, the monarchy recently announced a blackout on protest permits inside the capital governorate. Such a move could be viewed as independent of Rajab's situation, considering the stand-alone assault on Al Wefaq's leadership, but the simultaneous combination leaves nothing to chance. King Hamad, of course, should fear Al Wefaq's mobilization since the group has massed in Rajab's corner. His imprisonment warns Al Wefaq's leaders that they could be next and, as a result, accelerates their own actions. 

The result: another weekend of intense protests and security crackdowns in "72 areas." 

Although Rajab understandably wishes to be freed from prison, he is smart enough to realize the boost that an activist often receives from jail time. He must realize that his profile expands in prison, fuels demonstrators in the streets and attracts a higher amount of media attention than usual. Judging from Rajab's statements in the media, the activist considers each detention to be a revolutionary trial of his spirit. He has endured everything that the monarchy throws at him, giving him true confidence to face down King Hamad and inspiring others to follow. 

Rajab even seems to relish in the absence of any Western backing. While he initially expected Washington and the European Union to support Bahrain's opposition, rationalizing that they need a stable island to operate militarily, Rajab has since admitted that he lost hope in the Obama administration. Both the White House and State Department have ignored his latest detention, as have London and Paris, where King Hamad just enjoyed a leisurely and untroubled stay. Rajab now accepts that he must climb alone with his people, and this realization supplies a powerful motor to invigorate the opposition. 

Disproportionate and cruel punishment isn't the way to "correct" Rajab's behavior. The King needs a representative parliament, elected prime minister and independent judiciary to do that - if he's lucky.

July 23, 2012

King Abdullah Circling All Of His Chariots

Deep within the Saudi Kingdom lie the political blueprints of a spectacular offensive against democratic forces in the Gulf region and North Africa. Evidence of this plot is dispersed far and wide, but the latest proof has surfaced courtesy of Riyadh itself, where Prince Saud Al-Faisal just announced the Extraordinary Conference of Islamic Solidarity at the behest of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. The summit is penciled in for August 14-15, the prophetic "Blessed Night" (Lailatul Qadr'), with Mecca serving as a dramatic backdrop.

Saudi Arabia's King and Foreign Minister may have cooked up their most potent counterrevolutionary plot yet. 

Given no other details to analyze, observers are left to piece together the monarchy's probable thought-process. The Associated Press quotes one political analyst, Al-Yaum columnist Abdullah Al Shammri, to piece together a strategic explanation, but the truth is largely inferred by the Saudi conception of "Islamic diplomacy." Al Shammri claims that "everybody in the Arab world is getting more Islamist" and Riyadh doesn't want to "lose this chance" to "open the door" - even in "our house." More bluntly, the King and his royal family want to reassert their dominance amid a period of independent thinking, manipulate Islamic energies in the region and quell internal protests.

Immediate reactions to the "Extraordinary Conference of Islamic Solidarity" center around the urgency of Syria's revolution and Bashar al-Assad's ruthless crackdown. Beyond the material support that Riyadh is supplying to Syrian oppositional units, King Abdullah has also announced a national fund-raising campaign "to support our brothers in Syria," a development that stands to gain from the conference's venue. Having lost Mubarak's version of Egypt, Syria has ascended to Saudis' main priority as Riyadh attempts to inflict a counterstrike on Tehran. Gaining the upper hand, either through military means or influencing a political transition, would slow the Kingdom's blood-loss and reorient strategic boundaries in the region. By positioning the Kingdom as a defender of Islam and all Muslims, Saudi Arabia intends to mask the sectarian and totalitarian nature of its regional agenda. 

However Riyadh is preparing to fry every revolutionary fish at once. In May, Prince al-Faisal would don his Foreign Ministry hat at the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 14th Consultative Summit to accelerate the bloc's unionization. The Prince was forced to cool his hand after several states balked at his pace, telling reporters that the GCC's leadership "expects the issue to take time," but his objective shined through: “I am hoping that the six countries will unite in the next meeting." Days later, the media adviser of Bahraini King Hamad Isa bin Al-Khalifa announced that an "extraordinary" GCC summit would be held in the "coming months." 

Two summits in one summer would be "extraordinarily" counterrevolutionary. 

The list of secondary targets beyond Syria feel endless. At the top sit Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain's democratic movements, each vigorously assaulted by GCC's collective actions but refusing to quit. Media reports suggest that Riyadh hopes to capitalize on the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Egypt, along with the Islamic coalition that took Tunisia's election, as if either forgot that Saudi Arabia plays a counterrevolutionary role. Riyadh did everything possible to salvage Hosni Mubarak, then sent Bahrain's King to powwow with Egypt's generals and float the idea of GCC membership.

Tunisia's request to extradite Zine El Abidine Ben Ali went ignored. 

The Kingdom also forcibly stamped a GCC-sponsored "transition" on Yemen, a non-GCC member, and presumably hopes to absorb it in the future. Many Yemenis reject this move as unrepresentative of their national interests. Bahrain's mad dash under the GCC umbrella is ridiculed by its opposition as a sign of weakness, but the kingdoms possess every intention of crushing the uprising into submission. Key states experiencing minor unrest, such as Algeria and Morocco, are also targeted for sustained counterrevolution as part of a wider effort to preempt new outbreaks in the region. Thus reality stands opposite of the Kingdom's expressed goal to develop "unity" in the Muslim Umma. Far from "fragmentation," the Arab revolutionary wave has spread a new sense of unity amongst Arabs and filled the gaps between Islam and democracy. 

What's standing in the way of unity is the Kingdom of the Two Holy Mosques. Wrapped head to toe in the language of Islamic liberation - as if covering revolution with a Burqa - King Abdullah's regime aims to divide the Muslim world against a proliferating awareness of self-determination and free expression.

July 21, 2012

MUJAO Expands Network In Northern Mali

Yesterday Adnan Abu Elwalid Sahraoui, a member of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), announced that his group had freed three hostages in exchange for a reported $18.4 million and two imprisoned MUJAO members. The payoff culminates a 10-month test of endurance for two Spaniards and one Italian, captured from one of Algeria's Sahrawi refugee camps, and sowed new anxieties in African and Western capitals in the process. Repeated success has emboldened MUJAO to continue expanding its kidnapping operations across the Sahel region. According to Sahraoui, “We will take them as soon as they enter the territories of Mauritania, Mali, Algeria or Niger." 

For now, MUJAO can use its new funds to amass weapons and supplies for incoming recruits in northern Mali. 

If MUJAO's fortunes were traded in stock, the group's shares would have exploded between October 2011 and now. Less certain is the group's murky origins, which appear to be divided along two competing narratives: MUJAO emerged as a kidnapping outfit of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), or else broke off from AQIM after rejecting the influence of Algeria's government. In either case MUJAO has only needed a short span of months to deliver a rough jihadist paradise in Mali, a key step to establishing a haven in the wider Sahel. The group would belatedly pair with northern Mali's other Islamist network, Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), after the latter rode the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad's (MNLA) military uprising and capitalized on Mali's March coup. 

Once the government was displaced from Mali's vast northern territory, Ansar Dine and MUJAO then asserted their military and religious authority to supplant the MNLA's control of urban areas. Their rise to de facto power and open invitation to international jihadists has attracted hundreds of foreigners to Mali, triggering visions of Somalia circa 2006. Last month Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou claimed that Pakistani advisers had arrived to train recruits in Gao, the regional capital and garrison for both Islamic groups. The latest reports suggest that another foreign unit has just landed in Gao via neighboring Burkina Faso, possibly numbering in the 200s. The majority claim to possess citizenship from Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Niger, along with an average age of 16, and come for the two rewards of jihad - cash and promises of "the sun, moon and stars." A man by the name of Alioune, chief of Gao's Islamic police, added that the youths are separated onto two training camps "where they will undergo military and religious training." 

He's "awaiting many more." 

The prospect of youth soldiers won't yield the deterrence that MUJAO hopes to achieve against the international community, but they are symbolic of the group's efforts to effect a permanent takeover of northern Mali. Hundreds of trained fighters will do the immediate dirty work of policing territory and battling "invaders," keeping the youth recruits in reserve or training them for support missions. As time passes - an international intervention is unlikely to begin before 2013 - younger seeds will grow into more formidable fighters and augment the main force. They also form natural connectors to Africa's younger, technologically-savvy generations. 

On a second strategic level, conflicting reports have yet to pin down estimates of MUJAO and Ansar Dine's populations; the percentage of national and foreign recruits cannot be underestimated from either direction. Although the international web spun by Pakistanis, Afghans, Jordanians, Somalis and Nigerians has triggered a large amount of regional and international concern, an African-led movement would produce a more sustainable threat to Western Africa. The friction between national and international jihadist agendas has generated tangible fallout in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia, weakening each network relative to its maximum potential. If MUJAO and Ansar Dine can load the majority of their ranks with Africans, they should be able to instill at least some sense of local community within their base. Non-African elements would then assist as needed, not as they desire. 

Bilal Hicham, a Nigerien, styles himself as the first black leader of a "katiba" (fighting unit) and claims, "Here there are Malians, Somalis, Ivorians, Senegalese, Ghanaians, Gambians, Mauritanians, Algerians, Guineans, Nigeriens, all the Muslims are here." 

"We are many Africans, come from all over to join the mujahideen in Gao," says one Ivorian recruit.

MUJAO is also thinking ahead, at least publicly, by reacting to Ansar Dine's strict punishments in Timbuktu tombs reprisals and its own actions in Gao. Residents report an easing of Sharia law in Gao after protesters demonstrating a ban on playing football and watching TV. Enforcing new laws and securing the people's consent presents a constantly shifting line for insurgents to walk, and MUJAO must continue its religious agenda or risk its internal credibility. At the same time, a change in behavior cannot be ruled out when MUJAO is putting so much thought into its expansion. At least some commanders should realize that a supportive population mounts a higher level of resistance to external threats. The ongoing evolution of MUJAO injects another complicated dimension into a complex power equation. 

While the majority of political questions seem to center around an alliance that never truly existed (MNLA-Ansar Dine), the relationship between Ansar Dine and MUJAO may be of greater consequence to Malians and the international community. The latest information suggests that MUJAO, which considers itself to be above the AQIM-affiliated Ansar Dine, is now calling the shots in northern Mali. Instead of confronting one well-armed and motivated force (the Tuareg-dominated MNLA), African and Western powers must now dispose of three entities that have fused into a loose guerrilla network. 

Every last attempt to secure the MNLA's allegiance must made, but this possibility remains a longship despite extensive negotiations with African mediators; the group's liberation agenda is viewed as an equal threat to African stability. Worse still, Ansar Dine and MUJAO indicate no willingness to compromise their core objective of an Islamic state, instead ridiculing the UN's threat to punish the desecrators of Timbuktu tombs. And they could mount the most ferocious resistance if "invaders" do try to restore government rule in northern Mali. 

"Yes, we have placed military devices which are defending the town [Gao] against attacks," warns spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui." Our enemy is also all the countries who will send fighters here."

July 17, 2012

Bahraini King, Allies Throw More Fuel On Fire

Last Thursday the Associated Press's Matt Lee challenged the State Department's Patrick Ventrell to a rhetorical dual over the imprisonment of Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab. Lee would lay a decisive beating on Ventrell, who refused to cooperate with Lee's overall questioning or publicly call for Rajab's release. The U.S. officials have yet to make any follow up announcement concerning the human rights advocate, preferring the "private concern" that has let King Hamad off the hook throughout Bahrain's 16-month uprising.

One can only expect the administration to say nothing, or as little as possible, while the monarchy escalates its crackdown to new heights.

The latest alarms began to ring two weeks ago, when Minister of State for Information Affairs Samira Rajab told Reuters, “There is no plan to stop licensing them (protest marches), but all they are being asked to do is abide by the law." The following week, Bahrain's Interior Ministry announced that it denied 10 Friday permits to the oppositional Al Wefaq, citing "public interest" and "traffic concerns." A senior official said that protests wouldn't be banned outright, reasoning that the monarchy wanted to ensure they did not turn violent, but the current plan outlaws them inside the Capital Governorate. Warning "violators" that action would be taken against them, public security chief Tariq al-Hassan forcefully added, “The marches cannot be considered as responsible freedom of expression."

"His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa" also added a new paragraph to his Penal Code: “imprisonment shall be the penalty for any person who assaults a member of the Public Security, BDF, the National Guard or the National Security Body."

According to Minister Rajab, “Wefaq takes a license, then from inside the march people appear and throw molotovs at cars." She claims that the opposition "wants to cancel the law in Bahrain, they want to have absolute rights.” The first half of her assertion is undeniable; Bahrain's multifaceted opposition is employing elementary tactics of civil disobedience and fourth-generation warfare (4GW). Fundamentally, those who participate in democratic resistance movements don't abide by the law of a government that is perceived as illegitimate. The argument of "legal protests" disintegrates during a political uprising - defiance is a main weapon of people who have little to nothing. Sometimes civil disobedience verges into the low-intensity violence that symbolizes 4GW (rocks, bottles, metal pipes, Molotovs, explosive devices), but this reaction is often caused and justified by the government's disproportionate use of force. 

General al-Hassan is playing an established counterrevolutionary tactic: oppress protesters in the streets, obstruct a true national dialogue, then blame the opposition for failing to control independent youth groups and ad hoc cells. All endure King Hamad's crackdown in the end. 

However Minister Rajab is overtly propagandizing when she declares that Al Wefaq wants to "cancel all laws" in the country. The majority of protesters are demanding greater representation in parliament, not anarchy or totalitarianism. Bahrain's Shia majority doesn't seek absolute rule and the discrimination of island's Sunni minority - its leadership doesn't plan on making the same mistake that King Hamad has. Yet Al-Hassan again resorts to typical status quo propaganda used by governments and economic actors around the world, wrapping himself in "public interests" to criminalize protesting. Whose interests is he speaking of though? The government, its loyal supporters and those who are politically inactive would benefit most if Bahrain's opposition quit protesting today. 

Unless King Hamad miraculously addressed the opposition's grievances, Al Wefaq, its political allies, civil activists and youth coalitions stand to lose everything. 

The unjustifiable actors of Bahrain's conflict are empirically governmental. While Iran's alleged influence dominates the monarchy's mind and its supporters' defense, Washington and Riyadh have gifted a destabilized island to their nemesis. Intervening with the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) Peninsula Shield and beefing it up with ex-military from abroad turned into a pivotal strategic error. The monarchy and its GCC security analysts also attempted to concoct an elaborate system to funnel protesters away from financial districts in the capital, with limited success. Undaunted, the Interior Ministry is once again identifying “approved locations” for rallies, mimicking the infamous "free speech zones" that came to greater prominence during George Bush's presidency. This tactic aims to control the scope of protests and minimize their ultimate effects in the politico-information sphere. 

Problematically for the monarchy, its initial containment policy encouraged the proliferation of demonstrations inside and outside of Manama. Senior Wefaq member Abduljalil Khalil captured the explanation by telling Reuters: “This will lead to more escalation since people now feel no hope. There is no chance to their freedom, they have cornered everybody." 

As usual, Washington and other Western capitals in league with the monarchy have yet to issue any response to these developments. They appear no more willing to learn from their mistakes or compromise with Bahrain's opposition. While Rajab, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, their fellow activists and countless protesters languish in prison under murky charges, BDF Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa meets with CENTCOM Commander Lt. General David L. Goldfein discuss "current progress in bilateral friendly relations." Much like the monarchy itself, the Obama administration seems to believe that it can simply exhaust Bahrain's fire with more fire - that political, military and economic firepower trumps revolutionary desire. 

Except the odds aren't as high as King Hamad's court wants to believe.

July 15, 2012

UN Says Syrian Troops Targeted Opposition Fighters In Tremseh

Updates from the field:
The Syrian military attack on Tremseh mainly targeted guerrilla forces and their supporters, the United Nations has said, hours after its observers entered the battered town.

Residents of Tremseh, a small farming community in central Syria, say they were all targets of a bombardment on Thursday that involved mortars, artillery and helicopters. They claim that close to 150 people from the town are dead or missing.

The Syrian foreign ministry said on Sunday that 37 opposition fighters and two civilians had been killed in an operation against rebels who were using the town as a base to launch attacks on other areas.

The conflicting claims came as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it now regarded the violence in Syria as a civil war – a significant distinction that means international humanitarian law now applies in the country and any attacks on civilians and the abuse or killing of detainees could now constitute war crimes.

The Geneva-based agency had previously classed the violence in Syria as localised civil wars in three areas: Homs, Hama and Idlib. But hostilities have spread, with parts of southern Damascus on Sunday experiencing some of its heaviest daytime fighting to date, according to Reuters.

"There is a non-international armed conflict in Syria. Not every place is affected, but it is not only limited to those three areas; it has spread to several other areas," said an ICRC spokesman, Hicham Hassan.

There remains uncertainty over the deaths last week in Tremseh. The UN monitoring mission in Syria, which sent an 11-vehicle team of observers to the town, said in a statement late on Saturday: "The attack on Tremseh appeared targeted at specific groups and houses, mainly of army defectors and activists."

Opposition sources in Hama, around 20 miles south-east of Tremseh, say they have compiled a list of 103 fatalities, all of whom are male, which adds weight to the view that fighting-aged males were at least partly targeted.

Syria's government says it was fighting a terror gang in Tremseh, some of whose members had been responsible for a massacre in June in al-Kubeir village, a farming community in nearby Homs province.

A foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, said on Sunday: "What happened in Tremseh was a military operation, not a massacre." He denied accusations by the UN that state forces used heavy weapons and helicopters in the attack. "Government forces did not use planes or helicopters or tanks or artillery. The heaviest weapon used was an RPG ," Makdissi said.

"Yesterday we received a letter from Mr Kofi Annan [the UN envoy] addressed to the foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem. The least that can be said about this letter about what happened in Tremseh is that it did not rely on facts. As diplomatically as possible, we say that this letter was very rushed."

To support its claims, the government has offered testimonies of men it said had been ringleaders of a gang in Tremseh who had allegedly made confessions after their capture.

Observers who made it to Tremseh on Saturday reported scenes of destruction in the wake of the fighting, which the UN earlier said had involved between 50-100 explosions caused by artillery shells or rockets fired from helicopters.

"There were pools of blood and blood spatters in rooms of several homes together with bullet cases," said the UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh. "A wide range of weapons were used, including artillery, mortars and small arms."

Earlier Annan said he had been shocked and appalled by the violence in Tremseh. Monitors reported that many homes and a school had been badly damaged or destroyed.

Two Tremseh residents who spoke to the Observer on Saturday denied that guerrilla forces such as the Free Syria Army had been in Tremseh in large numbers before the fighting started. However, one witness said FSA elements had joined the battle by mid-afternoon on Thursday, when regime forces, backed by a militia, are thought to have entered the town.

Residents said they fled their homes and as regime forces entered and said some of them were hunted down in nearby crop fields. "We don't understand why they attacked us," said a local woman, Umm Khaled. "We haven't brought harm to the region. All we've done here is hold demonstrations.

"I swear that we don't have any terrorists, Salafists, or anyone from the outside here. People have been terrified ever since [regime forces] came to the village in January and killed 40 of us. This time they stole from our homes, they robbed jewellery from women. All of this because we support the revolution?"
New Evidence Points to Syrian Firefight:
New evidence on last week's killings in a village in central Syria indicate that the bloodshed may have involved a raid by heavily armed government forces to arrest male rebels that quickly evolved into a lopsided gunbattle in which opposition fighters were obliterated, rather than a deliberate massacre of around 200 civilians as initially reported by Syrian opposition leaders and their Western allies.

Preliminary findings by a team of Syria-based United Nations observers may ease the pressure on Russia and China to back tougher measures against Bashar al-Assad's government, underscoring how competing narratives and interpretations of events in Syria continue to divide world powers over how to end a conflict now recognized by most as a civil war.

Two casualty lists with the names, genders and ages of victims compiled by separate activist networks and seen by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday also appeared to corroborate this version of events in Treimseh, northwest of the city of Hama. The majority of the 65 to 68 people identified so far were men in their 20s, most likely rebels from Treimseh and surrounding villages affiliated to the so-called Free Syrian Army of local fighters and defecting military personnel.

"On the basis of some of the destruction observed in the town and the witness accounts, the attack appears targeted at army defectors and activists," said Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the U.N. observer team in Syria, on Sunday, hours after the monitors visited the village.

In a news conference in Damascus earlier Sunday, Syria's foreign-ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, insisted that the regime had every right to dispatch troops to Treimseh on Thursday to confront the fighters, whom he said had stockpiled an arsenal of weapons and ammunition inside the village to use as a launch pad for attacks on army checkpoints in the Hama countryside.

Mr. Makdissi said initial reports of a civilian massacre and the strong reactions that followed from the likes of U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were primarily intended to pressure Mr. Assad's ally Russia into backing a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution this week that would impose tough trade and financial sanctions on Damascus if it continues to use heavy weapons against populated areas.

"They wanted a vitamin boost to defeat the wise Russian endeavors in the Security Council," he said.

July 13, 2012

Annan, UN Out of Excuses In Syria

Beneath the international outcry directed at Bashar al-Assad and his murderous regime may lie the potential truth of Traymseh village. Up to 200 people have reportedly fallen victim to a coordinated ground and air assault by Syrian military forces, the latest massacre of a ruthless slaughter, but the exact details remain shrouded by the fog of war. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined many Western and Gulf officials by condemning al-Assad for "deliberately murdering" the lives of ”over 200 men, women, and children," except she recently exaggerated a helicopter story to squeeze Moscow's nerves (the plot failed). 

The regime and oppositional sources also seem to have reached a loose agreement over Traymseh's events. State media boasted that a "big number of terrorists" had been killed in a "qualitative operation," complete with pictures of their seized armaments. Conversely, local activists report that many of the casualties were members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), with pure civilians only accounting for some of the dead. This information may prove false as identities begin to surface, and other activists claim that government forces mowed down dozens of fleeing villagers.

If Syrian forces did surround a hundred or more FSA guerrillas, some of these men were still civilians when they died in combat.

Kofi Annan's visit cannot be verified as the shooter of Traymseh's massacre, but he is splattered by the blood of revolutionaries. Massacres and suspicious bombings have become a normal companion of the UN's actions, part of al-Assad's tug of war with the international community. With FSA units becoming more active in the village, al-Assad perceived Annan's Monday visit as another window of opportunity to crush the militarized opposition. Annan would express "shock" on Friday, four days after publicly accepted al-Assad's commitment to the UN's six-point plan. 

“I am shocked and appalled by news coming out of the village of Treimseh, near Hama, of intense fighting, significant casualties and the confirmed use of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks and helicopters,” Annan said. “This is in violation of the government’s undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and its commitment to the six-point plan.” 

Retrospect isn't needed to see that his meeting with al-Assad was a mistake, and Annan's new statements indicate that the UN remains trapped between a costly intervention and the illusions of diplomacy. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and company are trying to hammer out this dilemma by guilting Moscow and Beijing into pulling their political life-lines out of al-Assad's regime: "Inaction becomes a license for further massacres." Unfortunately Ki-moon returned straight to an idealistic world by telling reporters that Traymseh's assault, "casts serious doubts on President Assad's recent expression of commitment to the six-point plan in his meeting with the Joint Special Envoy." 

That doubt had already solidified when Annan met with al-Assad on Monday.

Guilty as the Russians and Chinese are in prolonging Syria's conflict, the UN's condemnation serves to conceal its own errors and counterrevolutionary plots. The body initially deferred its response to the Arab League in a futile attempt to mask Western desires for regime change. This process laid the groundwork for the UN's eventual response, but it also costs thousands of Syrian lives and has yet to deliver any benefits to the revolutionaries. The UN's political transition intends to hand off power to one of al-Assad's vice presidents in order to facilitate a "national dialogue" and elections, and this strategy may be only non-violent path out of a civil war. Problematically, foreign powers (America, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China) lack the unison that forced the Gulf Cooperation Council's "transition" upon Yemen's revolutionaries. 

U.S. and Saudi support of Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain's counterrevolutions add another dimension to Syria's conflict - the hypocritical dimension. 

Moscow has naturally balked at Washington's idea of a political transition because the Obama administration continues to cherry-pick the Arab revolutionary wave. The Russians simply won't give up Syria on American terms, and Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov would repeat his country's opposition to sanctions and intervention on Friday. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich spoke as though the FSA was solely responsible for Traymseh's crimes

“Without anticipating the results of the investigation of the crime, on which we insist, we would like to stress that we have no doubt that this atrocity benefits the forces that do not seek peace but obstinately keep trying to sow the seeds of sectarian strife and civil conflict in Syria, and those for whom the grief and suffering of the Syrian people mean nothing." 

Western and Gulf powers must intensify their actions on some level in response to Traymseh, otherwise al-Assad will believe that the UN Security Council is never going to act. This doesn't mean rushing into an intervention, but inaction will only escalate Syria to a point that the international community must act to preserve regional stability. At the least, UN officials cannot meet with al-Assad and act as though everything is OK - unless Annan wants to hear from Facebook pages and protests that “Syria is Annan’s second Rwanda." Scrapping his plan may come next now that Abdulbaset Sieda, the new chairman of the Syrian National Council (SNC), labeled it a "thing of the past." 

And the White house must change its own behavior in the region if its occupants expect Moscow to do the same.

July 12, 2012

Washington "Rushes" to Nabeel Rajab's "Defense"

Soon after Nabeel Rajab was led back to prison by masked police, the Trench observed a central dilemma of the Obama administration's silence and its overall response to Bahrain's uprising. During the 15 months that have elapsed since February 14th, 2011, all of the administration's support measures - King Hamad's "National Dialogue," his "Commission of Independent Inquiry," and a package of U.S. missile technology - have merely served to inflate the trust gap between both sides. 

The administration's silent treatment of Rajab and Bahrain's other leading activists has also devastated any credibility that Washington possessed with the opposition, further diminishing the odds of a political resolution. "Dialogue" with King Hamad Isa bin Al Khalifa and his royal family has been rendered meaningless. U.S. policy, in short, is extending the island's asymmetric conflict through direct and indirect errors. The "unauthorized" entry of Saudi Arabian, Jordanian and Pakistani forces (grouped behind the Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield) would catalyze the opposition at every level of Bahraini society. 

Yet the belief that Washington doesn't care about Rajab is apparently erroneous, according to the State Department's Patrick Ventrell. Finally confronted on Rajab's arrest three days after his imprisonment at Jaww, the press office's directer and fill-in spokesman appeared visibly unprepared to respond from a predetermined script. The Associated Press's Matt Lee, a rare correspondent who delights in challenging the State Department, begins by asking whether the administration agrees with Amnesty International's latest press release: "that he should be released immediately." Ventrell dodges Lee's initial question, responding that the White House is "actively following his case and continues to have a keen interest." 

Lee tries again: "Do you want him released?" 
MR. VENTRELL: We are concerned about the reports of the three-month prison sentence, and what I will say is that broadly speaking we want the Government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to respect the right to due process and transparent judicial proceedings.

QUESTION: But you’re not calling for his release?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re concerned about the three-month prison sentence.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR. VENTRELL: It means that we’re concerned about it.

QUESTION: Yeah. But what does that mean?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to go any further, Matt. Thanks.

QUESTION: Well, the question was that Amnesty International says that he should be released. You don’t share – it sounds as though you do not share that same opinion.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, what we want – the bigger picture of what we want is that, in regard to the treatment of all detainees, is that there’s a fair and transparent judicial process. So --
QUESTION: All right. Well, do you believe that that’s happened?

MR. VENTRELL: So there clearly have been cases where we’ve had concerns about the political ramifications. We’ve expressed concerns about his case in particular, and we’ll continue to raise it as appropriate with the Government of Bahrain. 
The State Department's propaganda is self-evident. Most obviously, the Obama administration wouldn't have commented publicly on Rajab's sentence if Lee didn't probe for a response; "concern" should have manifested immediately, not three days afterward. Equally disturbing is the existence of a rhetorical reply, which was prepared to deflect criticism in case someone did question Washington's response. Skipping to "the bigger picture of all detainees" is the most clever device employed by Ventrell, but he ultimately shoots himself by reminding reporters of the many activists that languish in dark cells. Ventrell, of course, never demands Rajab's release despite the fact that no aspect of his case has been "fair and transparent." 

The use of security officials as "plaintiffs" is one of many controversial details surrounding his imprisonment. Clearly the administration is more concerned about protecting Bahrain's monarchy than human rights. U.S. officials regularly meet with Bahraini officials in order to highlight their close relationship, sending a clear signal to King Hamad and his security team (which happens to include Americans). 

“If anyone is guilty of insult today, it is the Bahraini government, which has reminded citizens they’re not free to express political views,” says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Using masked men to arrest Rajab, a champion of peaceful protest and human rights, would be laughable if the reality wasn’t so tragic.” 

The same can be said of U.S. policy in Bahrain.

July 11, 2012

Inside the Taliban Mind: Anatomy of Asymmetric "Victory"

The preliminary quotes of an anonymous Taliban commander have sent a confusing shock wave through Afghanistan and the international sphere. Speaking to Michael Semple, the UN envoy to Afghanistan during Taliban rule, one "of the most senior surviving Taliban commanders and a confidant of the movement’s leadership" will officially go on record Thursday for Britain's New Statesman. Predictably, most media reactions have glanced over the preview's deeper strategic underpinnings in favor of loose generalities. The following points may be expanded upon after the New Statesman releases a full transcript, but their essence isn't likely to undergo significant alterations. 

Stalemate is almost as good as victory 
"It is in the nature of war that both sides dream of victory. But the balance of power in the Afghan conflict is obvious. It would take some kind of divine intervention for the Taliban to win this war. The Taliban capturing Kabul is a very distant prospect. Any Taliban leader expecting to be able to capture Kabul is making a grave mistake. Nevertheless, the leadership also knows that it cannot afford to acknowledge this weakness. To do so would undermine the morale of Taliban personnel. The leadership knows the truth – that they cannot prevail over the power they confront." 
Somewhat understandably, the Taliban commander's buzz-worthy admission has attracted the majority of media attention and speculation. The idea of fanatical religious militants losing faith in a divine victory appears to be a sign of weakness, a potentially fatal flaw in the insurgency's narrative. However this commander is simply stating the obvious in asymmetric warfare, and to believe that America can now go for the kill blow will only prolong the conflict. The Taliban's leadership was always aiming for survival - they lost control of most of their territory and were nearly annihilated during 2001's ground-air invasion. They accept the reality that they can't beat hundreds of thousands of heavily armed NATO troops, many of them American, and the massive airpower that they enjoy. 

They also know that NATO can't defeat them either, that America cannot kill every insurgent, hold every village, secure every mountain pass and close every sanctuary along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The solution proposed by the Taliban commander suggests that he enjoys a mutual understanding with Mullah Omar himself. Just as Omar has alluded to a regional strategy in lieu of a national takeover, the commander explains what has always been the group's probable endgame: "Taliban are fighting to expel the occupiers and to enforce shariat... If they fall short of achieving national power they have to settle for functioning as an organized party within the country." This practical thinking should concern U.S. policymakers more than a suicidal quest to retake Kabul in the name of Mohammed. A foolish guerrilla movement would exhaust itself trying to seize an objective that it cannot take. 

The strategy chosen by the Taliban - dodge a military knockout, infiltrate the Afghan army and police, gradually reassert influence as U.S. forces withdraw and shift to Kabul's political arena - is the only real course of action available to the group. A similar strategy has been pursued by Hezbollah, Hamas and Muqtada al-Sadr, with varying degrees of success. 

The commander also touches upon a key element of his boss's plan when he confronts the fundamental nature of insurgency and counterinsurgency. After explaining how the Taliban couldn't enforce universal Sharia across Afghanistan, the commander admits, "If the Taliban were ever to return to power they would face enormous problems. But they are a long way from having to grapple with the challenges of power..." By allowing the central government to remain operational, the Taliban can pursue many of its objectives at once without assuming the burden of governing. Assuming that Kabul does remain a corrupt center of power, the insurgency can simultaneously undermine the government's rural authority and complain about its performance inside parliament. 

This asymmetric arrangement of political and military power should keep the Taliban alive long after American hopes of its demise. 
"At least 70 per cent of the Taliban are angry at al-Qaeda. Our people consider al-Qaeda to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens. Some even concluded that al-Qaeda are actually the spies of America. Originally, the Taliban were naive and ignorant of politics and welcomed al-Qaeda into their homes. But al-Qaeda abused our hospitality. It was in Guantanamo that I realized how disloyal the al-Qaeda people were... To tell the truth, I was relieved at the death of Osama. Through his policies, he destroyed Afghanistan. If he really believed in jihad he should have gone to Saudi Arabia and done jihad there, rather than wrecking our country." 
The fact is that neither Mulla Omar nor the majority of his "faithful" wanted war with America in the first place. Anger and hatred doesn't necessarily imply a declaration of warfare; one can easily argue that the Taliban were perfectly content with their own little world. Their nationalist agenda had no use for the consequences of international jihad. Pawns on Osama bin Laden's chessboard, they soon lost everything because he attempted to recreate the ill-fated Soviet invasion for his own ideological gains, forcing them to rebuild the bulk of their organization. Now fast forward to 2012. If the Taliban stay relatively intact headed into 2014 and leverage political authority out of the war's "end," Mullah Omar stands to improve his position from 2001’s disastrous invasion. 

Stalemate is almost as good as victory for a lowly insurgent. The same cannot be said of the super-powered conventional force that expected quick victory and total hegemony.

July 10, 2012

Nabeel Rajab: Creating A Resistance Leader

Another revolutionary day in the life of Nabeel Rajab brought another arrest to his door on Monday. Six and counting.

Led out of his home by masked and dayglo-vested policemen, the head of Bahrain's Center for Human Rights (BCHR) was immediately deposited into the politically controversial Jaww prison, located on the island's southeastern half. He must now wait out the two+ months remaining on a three-month sentence, the product of a Tweet accusing Prime Minster Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa of buying his support. Rajab's lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, is preparing to lodge an appeal but the activist will likely remain imprisoned for the foreseeable future. After several cases of "incitement" were postponed prior to his temporary release from a three-week detention, Rajab won't enjoy another scheduled hearing until September. 

All according to the monarchy's plan.  

Less understandable is the objective that King Hamad hopes to achieve by isolating Rajab, who functions as the moral compass to Bahrain's uprising. Any prosecution simply enhances his image as a revolutionary leader, draws media attention to the island and extends the conflict's lifespan. Rajab's own mind and character are benefitting from arrest - these types of struggles often form the backbone of popular leaders - and he has personally revealed that the regime's harassment drives him forward. Rajab views imprisonment as a sign that he's walking the right path and he will return directly to the streets once released. 

Until then, Rajab's growing legion of supporters will take up his cause in the streets and possibly vent their anger towards Bahraini security forces. Although accused of inciting violence amongst protesters (including the use of Molotov cocktails), the activist leader has never advocated violent means to achieve their goals. All of his ad hoc demonstrations, some held with less than a dozen people, are conducted in the typical mold of non-violent civil disobedience. Rajab does, however, admit to understanding the youth's desperate use of force and has plenty of experiences to sympathize with. For example, he accuses security forces of regularly tear-gassing his house. 

The kingdom's treatment of Rajab also leaves little room for doubt over his prison conditions. While his supporters would just as quickly rush to his defense in a five-star prison, rumors and evidence of Rajab's harsh treatment at Jaww will further amplify the aura of injustice surrounding him. Speculation that his accusers hail from Bahrain's security units has already read across the island's oppositional networks. No prediction is necessary: Rajab's supporters automatically mobilized t-shirts, banners, videos, Tweets and any other methods of spreading their message. His own Twitter account continues to pump out information. 

Perhaps most importantly, any possibility of "dialogue" between Al Wefaq and the monarchy remains absolutely dead so long as Rajab remains in jail.

Another arrest also triggered another blackout in Washington, where no U.S. official has issued any type of defense in Rajab's name. This silence juxtaposes sharply with the State Department's condemnation of an alleged "terror" network discovered by Bahraini authorities; after opening her briefing with the latter development, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland did not afford the same opportunity to Rajab's latest harassment. In sum, the Obama administration continues to preach "dialogue" while keeping silent on Rajab's arrests. Such a reaction would loudly reverse course if he was advocating human rights in Syria, but Rajab expects nothing less than a double-standard from Washington. 

"We are very upset about United States’ position with Bahrain," he told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman between arrests. "We are very upset about United States trying to hide the crimes and trying to hide the violation happening in all the Gulf country. Because the Gulf country are a rich region, because it’s a big arm market, because it’s a big oil exporter, we have to suffer for that. We are victims for being a rich region. We are a victim of being a region that have an interest with the United States. Unfortunately, the United States—and the West, as well, comes after United States—have ignored completely the crime what’s happening here." 

It's no secret that Washington and Manama share a similar mindset: both want to cut down Bahrain's uprising without addressing its roots. Except they can't suppress one man, let alone the entire opposition.