November 30, 2012

AQIM, MUJAO Localize In Mali With Tuareg Brigade

Magharebia, a surprisingly reliable news site given its AFRICOM sponsorship, has reported the next phase in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) politico-military strategy in northern Mali.

Building on its recent promotion of a Mauritanian commander, a move attributed to AQIM's diversification from Algerian leadership, the group has now announced the creation of a 6th "Tuareg Brigade" in Mali's Kidal region. Dubbed the "Youssef ben Tachfine," AQIM is employing al-Qaeda's standard operating procedure by intertwining itself with local militant networks, a key component of its force multiplication. El Kairouani Abu Abdelhamid al-Kidali, "a local Touareg" active with Ansar Dine, has been tasked to oversee his units' fortifications along Mali's mountainous border with Algeria. These cavernous bases serve negligible strategic interests for international powers except when occupied by militants, and the international coalition will be forced to entertain mountain warfare in order to clear the whole territory.

al-Kidali's area of operation extends from Mali's northeastern border to the towns of Kidal and Augelhok, both seized by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) before Ansar Dine took over.

This move also represents the latest sign that Ansar Dine is not negotiating with Mali's neighbors or the MNLA, but attempting to stall the foreign coalition assembling itself for an intervention. The two groups possess incompatible political and religious agendas; just as the international community opposes secession from southern Mali, Ansar Dine and the MNLA view northern Mali's prize as indivisible. Maghrebia has separately reported that Ansar al-Din leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, a former MNLA member, sent an envoy on November 24th to the MNLA camp in Lere.

"Ansar al-Din invites all MNLA fighters to lay down their arms and join its ranks; otherwise they will be fought and the group will establish its control all over Azawad," the emissary supposedly announced.

These words, whether truly spoken or not, align with the ground's reality and explain the recent events around Lere. Ghaly's message was predictably rejected and the MNLA appears to have shredded any remaining fibers connected to Ansar Dine. How each group now sits with the other, in the same room as international mediators, is uncertain. Realistically they have nothing to discuss - battlefield negotiations have yet to give way to table negotiations. According to MNLA activist al-Hasan Ag Mohamed el-Khair, "the MNLA has categorically rejected Iyad Ag Ghaly's request and considers it to be an express alliance with the terrorist groups that fight against the movement."

"Ansar al-Din's position in support of the terrorist groups became very clear when we managed to defeat MUJAO last week," said the MNLA's Attay Ag Mohamed in an attempt to spin the group's own defeat. "They now want to support these groups so as to exact revenge for their fallen victims. This position completely contradicts what the group said earlier this month about putting an end to ties with the terrorists."

Accepting the fact that they won't siphon too many MNLA loyalists to their Islamic vision, Ansar Dine deployed reinforcements to assist the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa's (MUJAO) capture of Lere. The town was captured later that night, and now a Tuareg-styled brigade has been announced to compensate for the MNLA's response. International blocs are trying their best to show unity and organization in Mali, but the Islamist alliance is outdoing them in both regards. The three-headed hydra of Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO serves all of their necessary functions: Ansar Dine contributes at the local level, MUJAO is recruiting from West Africa and AQIM is bringing in jihadists from outside the continent. Whether these forces can unite, rather than clash as Somalia's al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda have, will determine a significant factor in Mali's conflict.

At this point, though, the Islamists don't have nearly as much to complain about as their anxious foreign opponents.

November 29, 2012

Palestinians Secure UN Observer Status, New Battles Await

Today the Palestinians took a step towards self-determination after a popular landslide in the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of their observer status.

The vote culminates a multi-year plan by de facto Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose term officially ended in January 2009, and his dangerous dance with Israel and Western powers. These forces had hoped to use Abbas as their own pawn during final-status negotiations, a plan that contributed to Abbas's image as an U.S.-Israeli puppet, but they appear to have underestimated his pliability and survivalism. Abbas will now face a higher level of Western pressure to reengage the Israelis on their terms, before his UN mission and future elections potentially decreases the control over Palestinian leadership.

"Regardless of what happens in New York today," the State Department's Victoria Nuland told a group of incredulous reporters shortly before the vote, "the United States is going to continue to try to bring these parties back to the table. Obviously we’re going to. The President is committed to that, and I think the only question is what kind of environment we’re working in."

Obviously - because President Barack Obama has been so supportive of the Palestinians and generally engaging towards a frozen peace process.

There is no questioning the type of environment that Washington envisions. The Obama administration's new diplomatic push will almost certainly be directed behind Israeli and Western interests, rather than an equitable two-state solution. Accordingly, the administration attempted (futilely) to counteract these immovable perceptions by deploying UN Ambassador Susan Rice with a serious piece of doublespeak:
For decades, the United States has worked to help achieve a comprehensive end to the long and tragic Arab-Israeli conflict. We have always been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two peoples, with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.

That remains our goal, and we therefore measure any proposed action against that clear yardstick: will it bring the parties closer to peace or push them further apart? Will it help Israelis and Palestinians return to negotiations or hinder their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable agreement? Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. That is why the United States voted against it.
The rest of her speech continues to advance this argument: only the Israelis and Palestinians can solve their problems, therefore no one should get in the middle. Except if Rice meant what she said, Washington wouldn't dictate terms to the Palestinians at the behest of Israel - deciding Jerusalem's fate or a demilitarized Palestine, for example. Rice's twisted logic is designed to whitewash America's own dirty hands in the process, and to spin the source of obstruction from the Israelis back into the Palestinians. Israel's blockade of Gaza and disproportionate warfare is counterproductive to peace. So too is the U.S. bias in Israel's favor, whether inside or outside the Palestinian conflict. The Obama administration isn't protecting regional or world peace, only the private interests of Wasington and allies, and the Palestinians must guard against Western diplomatic retaliation.

Today's vote is widely viewed as a vote for or against oppression and occupation. The Obama administration possesses no rhetoric capable of burying this reality, but it will try in the coming months.

November 28, 2012

Islamic Network Outpacing International Blocs In North Mali

Mobility is the essence of guerrilla warfare for all sides of an asymmetric conflict. Those actors that move fastest - on the military and non-military battlefields - emerge on top of their foe. The general objective for a smaller force is to outmaneuver, disperse, confuse and sever a larger force, which has resulted in the advanced technologies designed to track insurgents and terrorists. This arms race cannot be extinguished as long as conventional and unconventional forces enter the same spheres of influences, and each side enjoys advantages over the other.

In the case of northern Mali's Islamic trio, who have no use for international legalities, foreign powers are gasping to catch up as they dodge obstacle after political obstacle.

Last week the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), with assistance from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed victory over the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), in the northeastern border-town of Malaka. The assault was staged as part of a wider campaign to drive the MNLA out of every position MUJAO and AQIM can locate, before the MNLA can assist the international force that is scheduled to arrive sometime next year. The MNLA has yet to concede defeat, instead countering that it killed many MUJAO fighters, because the loss of Menaka is a substantial blow.

This same process has now repeated in Lere, situated on the opposite side of northern Mali, after MUJAO and Ansar Dine encircled the camp for a week. MNLA spokesman Mohamed Ag Attaye admitted that the group's fighters had finally retreated to a base north of the town, similar to the MNLA's withdrawal from Menaka. Where the MNLA's parts will head next is uncertain; they will likely be forced north until they can regroup and stage an effective attack on the Islamists. Reports of their reinforcements have become semi-regular occurrences, as AQIM and MUJAO are drawing from Africa's regional jihadist network to secure northern Mali's population belt.

Holding Menaka and Lere also grants the Islamists control of northern Mali's entry points, in addition to Mali's section of the Niger River. This environment can be used for all sorts of guerrilla operations, from smuggling recruits to moving equipment to staging ambushes, and opens the possibly of river warfare.

Equally important is Ansar Dine's participation in Lere's siege. The group has entered into preliminary negotiations with the MNLA, arranged by Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré on behalf of the United Nations and African Union, and even promised rid Mali of drug-trafficking, kidnapping "foreigners." However this outreach appeared hollow from the beginning, a basic guerrilla tactic to stall for time and influence Mali's overall narrative. To the point, AQIM commander Abu Mosaab Abdulwadood just released a videotape appealing to Malians and warning against intervention: "It can be solved internally, through reconciliation between Muslims, without having to shed a single drop of blood."

It's difficult to foresee any advance in negotiations after the simultaneous attacks on MNLA positions, meaning an international force likely to meet a three-headed hydra when it lands.

Western capitals are fortunate to enjoy relations with multiple political blocs in Africa. One wouldn't be totally wrong to speculate that the developing crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is beginning to suck oxygen from Mali's response time. The pace of Mali's international plans is already running sluggishly due to the country's internal disputes, and the external shortfalls created by Libya's intervention and Syria's contingency planning. Now the DRC is further splitting the UN and AU's attention. The resulting irony has limited America and Europe's capacity to act in the immediacy, contrary to their long-term political and military plans for North Africa. Washington in particular intends to build "training" relationships with governments in the Sahel, complete with support bases, but the scale of Mali's crisis exceeded U.S. expectations.

As the situations stand, Western capitals have tasked a member the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to mediate between the DRC and M23. That leaves the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to remain focused on northern Mali, but doesn't necessary alleviate the brain-drain on Western capitals or AU, which must respond to both crises. Meanwhile the Islamist network in northern Mali continues to freely expand and entrench, and victory is the best recruiting tool available to a foreign force. The locally-minded MNLA has fallen to Mali's losing side, overwhelmed by the same momentum that attracts fighters from across Africa and the Middle East.

These moves further increases the pressure on the UN, AU, ECOWAS and NATO to rush an already risky intervention.

November 27, 2012

Washington & Colorado Marijuana Cards Need Playing

With his second term secured by 1 A.M. on November 7th, President Barack Obama and his administration finally retired from campaign life in order to resume business as usual. Except some unusual business awaited the White House at their hour of victory. Having obtained the consent of Washington and Colorado's voters during both of his campaigns, Obama is now expected to respect their decision to legalize personal amounts of marijuana.

The successful margin exceeded pollsters' expectations in both states - close to 55% - and gave Obama a real mandate in the process.

Naturally the White House chose to respond with quiet caution, opening an enormous void of speculation that can be as confusing as it is helpful. A sizable portion of one argument traces back to Kevin Sabet, a former drug adviser to three U.S. administrations (including President Obama), whose reaction seemed to trickle into every story on Initiative 502 and Amendment 64. He explains that the government, "has multiple avenues. They can wait until it's implemented, take action before it's implemented, reiterate what federal law is, send warning letters."

The Justice Department has only remarked, "We are reviewing the ballot initiatives and have no additional comment at this time."

This waiting period is likely to continue for weeks, obstructing the possibility of near-term decision (an issue of this magnitude shouldn't be rushed anyway). For starters, the provisions that define the user's terms have yet to be certified into state law, giving the administration breathing room to formulate a comprehensive response. These lower-level provisions aren't expected to draw serious attention from federal agencies; their concern focuses on the states' regulatory plans, which are due in Colorado on July 1st and by 2014 in Washington. The negotiations between federal and state representatives will continue throughout these developments, leaving the public to feed on any information that falls from their table.

What's not obstructed is the general direction that Obama's administration should sail: resounding approval.

No reason exists to bar two American states from carrying out the decision of its constituents. Legalizing and taxing marijuana, if done properly, will turn a profit for the state and reduce the various expenses accrued by enforcing anti-marijuana laws (peoples under 21 remain in violation). Both Washington and Colorado intend to make a business out of marijuana, seeking to establish a licensing policy similar to alcohol regulation, and should come out modestly ahead in revenue. Due to the regulations behind this plan, the Obama administration is supposedly open (according to various insider reports) to cooperating with Washington and Colorado's officials. These sources, along with the public faces that led each state's measure, claim that the administration targeted California dispensaries because of the state's ambiguous laws, not decriminalization itself.

"The federal government could go in and arrest everybody and indict everybody for distributing marijuana," says Alison Holcomb, the campaign director for New Approach Washington. "They're not doing that."

Although individual political interests don't factor into the equation of morality, opposing two measures that are supported by a healthy majority also makes for bad politics. Counter-protests would be assured. To this end an interest in the collective will is maintained by ceding to the majority's decision, and freedom counts for more than dollar signs. For libertarian and humanitarian reasons, Washington and Colorado's populations should be spared from a federal crackdown and allowed to govern themselves as they see fit. Ruling against them declares that the federal government knows best, a false assumption that wrecks all sorts of havoc.

Or, as Michael Moore recently told Obama in an open letter, "END THE DRUG WAR. It is not only an abysmal failure, it has returned us to the days of slavery. We have locked up millions of African Americans and Latinos and now fund a private prison-industrial complex that makes billions for a few lucky rich people. There are other ways to deal with the drugs that do cause harm - ways built around a sense of decency and compassion. We look like a bunch of sadistic racists. Stop it."

Internationally, the effects of Initiative 502 and 64 fit into the international community's gradual decriminalization and the study of its results. Latin American leaders from Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica wasted no time calling for a new review of public policy, hoping to bridge the gap between America's failed drug war and the emerging reality of decriminalization. Their argument is no different from Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank's advice to the Obama administration: "allowing responsible state authorities to carry out those wishes will provide valuable information in an important national debate."

The opportunity to conduct a relatively controlled social experiment provides the foremost reason to accept Washington and Colorado's measures. This information can then be applied to other states, to Latin America and to Europe, where decriminalization of marijuana is accelerating faster than anywhere else. America and the rest of the world already know what the "War on Drugs" looks like.

Now it's time to see what an alternative looks like.

November 24, 2012

John Mearsheimer: "A Pillar Built on Sand"

This analysis by John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israeli Lobby, immediately captured the futility of Israel's 4GW beyond anything The Trench witnessed during Gaza's latest battle:
In response to a recent upsurge in tit for tat strikes between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, Israel decided to ratchet up the violence even further by assassinating Hamas’s military chief, Ahmad Jabari. Hamas, which had been playing a minor role in these exchanges and even appears to have been interested in working out a long-term ceasefire, predictably responded by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, a few even landing near Tel Aviv. Not surprisingly, the Israelis have threatened a wider conflict, to include a possible invasion of Gaza to topple Hamas and eliminate the rocket threat.
There is some chance that Operation ‘Pillar of Defence’, as the Israelis are calling their current campaign, might become a full-scale war. But even if it does, it will not put an end to Israel’s troubles in Gaza. After all, Israel launched a devastating war against Hamas in the winter of 2008-9 – Operation Cast Lead – and Hamas is still in power and still firing rockets at Israel. In the summer of 2006 Israel went to war against Hizbullah in order to eliminate its missiles and weaken its political position in Lebanon. That offensive failed as well: Hizbullah has far more missiles today than it had in 2006 and its influence in Lebanon is arguably greater than it was in 2006. Pillar of Defence is likely to share a similar fate.
Israel can use force against Hamas in three distinct ways. First, it can try to cripple the organisation by assassinating its leaders, as it did when it killed Jabari two days ago. Decapitation will not work, however, because there is no shortage of subordinates to replace the dead leaders, and sometimes the new ones are more capable and dangerous than their predecessors. The Israelis found this out in Lebanon in 1992 when they assassinated Hizbullah’s leader, Abbas Musawi, only to find that his replacement, Hassan Nasrallah, was an even more formidable adversary.
Second, the Israelis can invade Gaza and take it over. The IDF could do this fairly easily, topple Hamas and put an end to the rocket fire from Gaza. But they would then have to occupy Gaza for years to come, since if they left Hamas would come back to power, the rocket attacks would resume, and Israel would be back where it started.
An occupation of Gaza would trigger bitter and bloody resistance, as the Israelis learned in southern Lebanon between 1982 and 2000. After 18 years of occupation they conceded defeat and withdrew all their forces. This experience is the reason the IDF did not try to invade and conquer southern Lebanon in 2006 or Gaza in 2008-9. Nothing has changed since then to make a full-scale invasion of Gaza a viable alternative today.
Occupying Gaza would also place another 1.5 million Palestinians under formal Israel control, thereby worsening the so-called ‘demographic threat’. Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005 to reduce the number of Palestinians living under the Israeli flag; going back now would be a huge strategic reversal.
The final, preferred option is aerial bombardment with aircraft, artillery, missiles, mortars and rockets. The problem, however, is that the strategy does not work as advertised. Israel used it against Hizbullah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008-9, but both groups are still in power and armed to the teeth with rockets and missiles. It is hard to believe that any serious defence analyst in Israel thinks another campaign of sustained bombardment against Gaza will topple Hamas and end the rocket fire permanently.
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November 22, 2012

MUJAO, AQIM Move On MNLA-Controlled Town

As reported last weekend, the militant tandem of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has entered the final stage of a campaign to uproot the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) from Mali's urban centers.

The two forces, one representing Islamic militants from the Eastern Hemisphere and the other stumping for Tuareg rights, have battled for months along northern Mali's population belt. MUJAO and the MNLA clashed on Friday amid significant confusion, with each claiming the initiative and subsequent victory following an ambush near Ansongo. Specifically, the MNLA claimed that its forces were attempting a counteroffensive on Gao, where the group was evicted by MUJAO and AQIM fighters in late June. MUJAO, in turn, placed its infiltration of Ansongo within a broader strategic offensive to take Menaka, the MNLA's temporary headquarters located near Niger's border.

Available information leaned in MUJAO's favor and was confirmed by the group's recent arrival in Menaka.

However Monday and Tuesday's fighting unfolded with equal ambiguity. On one side, MNLA spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid said “around 30 MUJAO and AQIM vehicles" preceded the attack on Menaka, but claimed that his group repelled their advance. He counted only one casualty. A statement posted on the MNLA's website revised their losses to six dead and six wounded, and explained that its forces have "positioned around Menaka... to avoid a human tragedy." The statement put MUJAO and AQIM's casualties at 36 dead and "many injured."

MUJAO offered a polarized version. Spokesman Omar Hamaha estimated the MNLA's death-toll above 90, counting 40 casualties on Friday and 50 on Monday. He said the group lost four fighters and was treating seven wounded. Another spokesman, Abu Walid Sahraoui, claimed to be speaking from within Menaka when he declared, "We've taken prisoners and there were many deaths on the MNLA side." Sahraoui thanked the support of "reinforcements from its Muslim brothers" - AQIM - boasting that the alliance now "controls everything."

Several local eyewitness said that MUJAO gunmen had "taken the military camp and are shouting Allah Akbar (God is great)."

The truth likely rests somewhere in the middle of both accounts. Assarid says that his group still controls part of the desert town, telling the AFP, "We have not given up on Menaka." MNLA fighters have encamped in the area and are liable to mount stiffer resistance than usual, on account that they have nowhere else to run except into Niger. Problematically for the group, northern Mali's overall situation favors the Islamist umbrella and reinforcements are overwhelming the MNLA's local resources. The group is operating as a shell of the force that stormed across Mali in early 2012, seemingly unable to recruit enough manpower from its own backyard. Conversely, MUJAO and AQIM's successes (along with the possibility of jihad against the U.S. and Europe) will continue attracting foot soldiers from West Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

The MNLA is treading water and stalling for time - foreign support is necessary in order to prove effective during the international community's intervention. Western and African powers themselves face an uphill battle to establish a legitimate government in Mali, mobilize African forces and provide them with Western logistics, estimate the Islamists' numbers and capabilities, understand the full range of non-military issues, and convince neighboring Algeria to approve an open-ended military campaign.

"Seeking to restore the unity of Malian territory by force is an adventure that will never succeed, because it will lead to a military confrontation that could exacerbate tensions in the region,” Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia told state radio on Tuesday.

Whether these develops accelerate the international community's decision-making remains to be seen, but new reports speculate that an operation could begin as early as January 2013. This dilemma is likely to increase the risk of heading into northern Mali's battlefield without a defined battle plan.

November 21, 2012

Israel Remains Careless In Gaza's Fourth-Generation Warfare

Israel's fresh bombardment of Gaza and its political aftershocks have reinforced a maddening status quo: Hamas's armed resistance cannot reverse Israel's statehood, IDF operations cannot physically destroy Hamas's resistance, and involved foreign powers lack a concrete plan to advance an equitable two-state solution.

Hamas and those Palestinian leaders that fail to offer an alternative deserve their share of responsibility for bringing Gaza to boil. Fatah's inability to move a peaceful solution forward, albeit within a biased system of international mediation, has given Hamas ample room to grow and kept Israel's leadership focused on military action. However the blunt reality of asymmetric warfare does not place the burden of responsibility on non-state actors, but on the state actors theoretically beholden to international standards. Non-state actors attract popular support by offering modest improvements over a tyrannical, corrupt government. For this reason (and others, of course), Hamas's behavior is partially or fully accepted by Palestinians and Muslims who view Israel's behavior as incomparably monstrous.

Advanced states can make fourth-generation warfare (4GW) look flawless and futile at the same time.

4GW is named for its placement after 3GW, a phase that technologically evolved the tactical and strategic concepts developed in the 20th century. A major difference between 3GW and 4GW stems from the balance of power; while 3GW conflicts generally occur between states, 4GW develops between state and non-state actors. Firepower becomes less important in this type of warfare as the conflict blurs deeper into the local civilian population, placing a premium on the non-military factors - political, economic and social - that govern a territory. This strategy addresses the need to protect an area's natural and human resources instead of destroying them, along with the tasks of cooperating with international organizations and keeping battlefield blunders out of the international news cycle.

Although amplified by technology, 4GW is designed to confound superior militaries and their technological advantages. Accordingly, retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes advises America's leadership against believing that technology can overcome non-military sources of conflict and their political manifestations. Having monitored Washington's delusional expeditions in Afghanistan, Iraq and the "War on Terror," Hammes holds this error above all others in asymmetric warfare.

"We continue to focus on technological solutions at the tactical and operational levels without a serious discussion of the strategic imperatives of the nature of the war we are fighting," he writes in The Sling and The Stone, an authoritative study of 4GW.

Israeli leadership and the soldiers under their command are similarly geared towards urban warfare rather than the totality of 4GW. Israel's objectives remain military-oriented: eliminate a key Hamas strategist, destroy his long-range weapons, stop Gazan rockets from falling on southern Israel, and ultimately impose a ceasefire that demands the elimination of Egypt's smuggling tunnels into Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political objective is domestic in nature, or else aimed at the Palestinians' upcoming recognition bid at the United Nations. Settling the conflict's non-military grievances has been noticeably absent from Netanyahu's agenda throughout his four-year term.

Israel certainly enjoys an abundance of political power and media influence, strong-arming Western governments with ease by dangling a ground invasion beneath a massive air raid. Netanyahu has reportedly told President Barack Obama that he will only launch a ground operation if Hamas continues firing rockets into Israel. Naturally Gaza's bombardment becomes more palatable in the face of a bloodier alternative, a comparison that helps maintain the West's green light for as long as possible. Furthermore, Netanyahu is attempting to portray himself as a tough but wise statesman (think Iran) ahead of January 22nd's election.

"Before deciding on a ground invasion, the prime minister intends to exhaust the diplomatic move in order to see if a long-term ceasefire can be achieved," a senior Israeli official said after Monday night's cabinet meeting.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now arrived in the region to broker a truce "in the days ahead," allowing Israel to continue bombing every last target and giving Hamas little incentive to comply. Except this Western reservoir of diplomatic power cannot fully overcome the power attributed to world opinion, and steamrolling over all objections to the disproportionate force being applied in Gaza generates more enemies - civilian and militant alike - than Israel can eliminate.

Israel's government has grown dangerously accustomed to winning Gaza's tactical battles and losing the conflict's wider political narrative. Its military and intelligence agencies, among the world's elite, skillfully locate arms caches, intercept rockets and track Hamas officials with a Skynet-like grid of technology. Over 1,350 air strikes were counted by Monday, a growing number of them launched from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Many of Hamas's Fajr-5 rockets, considered a "tie-breaker," were wiped out in the moments after Ahmed Jabari's assassination. The Israeli military just Tweeted that it "surgically targeted a Hamas intelligence operations centre" on the seventh floor of a media building.

Meanwhile Carmela Avner, Israel's chief information officer, boasts that Israel can fight a war on three technological fronts: "The first is physical, the second is on the world of social networks and the third is cyber."

All of these capabilities, as Hammes warns, gives Israel's leadership a false sense of control over Gaza's military and non-military battlefields. There will always be more rockets to intercept from the political status quo. New Hamas leaders will inevitably replace the fallen and Israel's own websites are being hacked by supporters of the Palestinians. Worse still, the false sense of security inspired by the Iron Dome emboldens Israel to strike with minimal consequence, producing more hostilities instead of reducing them. "Precision" air strikes, far from precise, contribute to the eventual stalemate imposed by the international community's frantic jockeying to savage credibility with their own populations.

Israel is a master of war - disproportionate warfare. Over 150 Palestinians have been killed (at least 50 of them civilians) and over 840 wounded, including 225 children, since Operation Pillar of Defense began on November 14th. Israelis have suffered five fatalities and an estimated 250 injuries from Gaza's rockets, underscoring the conflict's fundamentally disproportionate nature. The faces of dead Palestinian children will outweigh anything Israel has to say to the world at large, and the government is losing minds and hearts at an unsustainable pace. Contrary to resolving any sources of conflict, disproportionate force and the resulting spectacle functions as a main driver of 4GW.

Israel's government argues that Hamas's stockpile has essentially been reset, but the same breathing room failed to yield any progress towards a two-state solution following Gaza's last war. Netanyahu will emerge wrapped in victorious rhetoric, ignoring 4GW and dooming the cycle to repeat again.

And if his government doesn't care what the world thinks, why should the world treat Israel with special care?

November 19, 2012

Where Does Sudan Fit Into Gaza's Endgame?

On Saturday The New York Times reported one of the primary objectives of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip: Fajr-5 rockets capable of hitting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These rockets are allegedly shipped into Gaza via a complex smuggling chain, imported to Sudan in pieces and transported through Egypt before being assembled in Gaza by Hamas and Iranian arms experts. Each is then assigned a "special operator" to man his rocket on the "day of judgment" at the orders of Hamas's political leadership.

Problematically for Hamas, its "tie-breaker" broke minutes after an Israeli air strike terminated its senior military strategist, Ahmed Jabari.

The pinpoint destruction of Hamas's Iranian-manufactured Fajr-5 rockets, which range to 50 miles, appears to be the greatest tactical blow suffered thus far by the group (Hamas also lost its internal UAV plant). According to the Times, "most" of an estimated 100 rockets were destroyed in the first bombing waves; anonymous Israeli officials place their figure at a modest 20, leaving the probable number somewhere in between. The means of destruction, though, count more than its end. Largely a creation of Jabari, each piece of Hamas's stockpile had been monitored and tagged over several years by IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

"The innocent-looking launching sites, covered by soil, were supposed to go into action when the time came,” Al-Monitor reports. "However, the IDF was ahead of them: Just a few minutes following the targeting and killing of Jabari, the second wave of air strikes was already underway and within a quarter of an hour, virtually the entire lineup of Fajr-5 rockets was eliminated."

The upshot is that Hamas need more rockets and will almost certainly find a way to smuggle them in, taking into account Israel's sophisticated intelligence network. This development advances the question of what role, if any, Sudan's government plans to play in Gaza's renewed fighting.

Khartoum's likeliest immediate answer won't extend beyond political rancor. Shortly after Jabari's assassination, Sudanese President Omar Bashir called Israel the “Zionist enemy” that “will remain the enemy" of Sudan and Muslims. Sudan's Foreign Minister, Ali Karti, followed up his boss's rhetoric by calling for the Arab League's heads of state to hold an emergency summit. Raising more eyebrows, Hamas's Khalid Meshal popped up at Khartoum's Armed Forces Mosque after Friday Prayers, vowing retaliation for the Israeli strike on Yarmouk Ammunition Factory.

"You killed Jabari and you can go on and kill Mashaal and others," the defiant chairman told his audience, "but in the end it'll pave our way to Jerusalem… Assassinating our leaders will only make us more powerful."

Meshal boasted that the Sudanese people will "hear good news soon," and the emptiness of his promise is easily taken for granted. Yet the situation's terms do appear to be evolving and Israeli security observers believe that last month's attack on Yarmouk brought Sudan directly into the conflict. This preemptive raid and its warning shot now marks Israel's latest operation in Gaza, and is fortunately enjoying a large share of retrospective observation as a result. While Israel has targeted Sudanese interests throughout the last decade with minimal consequences, the accumulation of grievances and interconnectivity of Israel's relations with the Arab world cannot be underestimated either.

This is not to say that, in the event of an Israeli ground invasion, Sudan will assume any direct combat or support role for Hamas. What should be expected is renewed effort to outsmart the Israelis, improve the defenses of Hamas's armories and stock them with more advanced weaponry. Neither Iran nor Sudan's government will be deterred by Israeli military action, which also serves domestic interests, and Hamas isn't built to quit armed resistance. Rocket fire has yet to abate in the face of over 1,000 airstrikes. Both sides, in the end, are playing into each other's hands and maintaining a regional stalemate.

Gaza's current battle may burn out soon or rage for weeks, but one conclusion is already apparent: Hamas will re-up its weapons and replace Jalabi, leaving the region more hostile for all peoples. How the group refills its army is something to monitor until Gaza's next battle.

November 17, 2012

AQIM Reinforcements Part of Unfolding Offensive In Mali

Small incidents often leave big footprints in small wars, and Friday's skirmish between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) is a typical example. Fierce info-warfare has also broken out after the MNLA and MUJAO exchanged hostilities in northern Mali, with both sides claiming victory and government sources weighing in MUJAO's favor. An MNLA statement claimed that MUJAO was forced to retreat after losing over 20 men in an ambush.

However one Malian intelligence official put MUJAO on the offensive and attributed the majority of casualties in the MNLA. MUJAO spokesman Walid Abu Sahraoui subsequently told the AFP that his group, a trans-African jihadist umbrella, is preparing to sweep the MNLA out of its home territory.

Friday's hostilities are strikingly geopolitical in nature. Fighting began at around 10 a.m. near Ansongo, around the same time that the MNLA and Ansar Dine, a supposed ally of MUJAO and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), held a joint-mediation session with Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré. The minutes of these preliminary negotiations have yet to be made public, but Friday's fighting increases the pressure on Ansar Dine to pick a side and stay on it. According to Moussa Salem, an MNLA fighter, "our goal remains to retake Azawad from the hands of AQIM and its allies. We can fall back, but it's only to be able to better push forwards after."

The question is who Ansar Dine truly considers itself an ally of, as the situation could flip from 3-on-1 to 2-on-2.

Eyewitness reports of AQIM reinforcements have since followed Friday's attack, escalating the current anxiety of locals and international observers. This worry is justified by the apparent reality of northern Mali's future. Rather than a sporadic ambush or political message, MUJAO's ambush near Ansongo fits into a larger strategy to uproot the MNLA from its current position. For months MUJAO and AQIM have been stockpiling foreign recruits from West Africa and the Middle East, with varying estimates of success, as part of their effort to counter a foreign intervention. In the meantime MUJAO and AQIM want to reduce the MNLA before the middle of next year, when ECOWAS and NATO are finally expected to act.

To this end MUJAO deployed south to Ansongo, the main town situated between Gao and the eastern city of Menaka, where the MNLA established its headquarters after being pushed out of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. According to Djibril Moussa Diallo, village chief of the nearby Fafa, said that MUJAO has been sending fighters into the area to clear MNLA positions, pulling them "from Bourem, from Gao, from Timbuktu." Located some 250 miles east of Gao, Menaka's objective requires that MUJAO shift its forces and gives additional meaning to AQIM's new reinforcements in Timbuktu.

They represent MUJAO and AQIM's emerging supply chain through northern Mali's population belt.

These collective actions also reinforce the asymmetric battle-lines being drawn through northern Mali. The war is now being fought between Mali's Tuareg independence movement and the offshoot of an al-Qaeda branch originally allowed in by Ansar. Diallo explained of the MNLA, "MUJAO says that they are 'kafirs' (infidels). They say they are people who don't want to apply Shariah." Government and MNLA officials are presumably leaning on Ansar Dine's representatives at this moment, and Ansar Dine in turn must address its foreign allies.

A large amount of military and political fallout can be expected in the coming weeks and months.

November 16, 2012

Negotiating Mashup In Northern Mali

Seven months ago the rebel group Ansar Dine, an Islamist-Tuareg outfit, rode its way across northern Mali with the assistance of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

As the initial dust settled, observers began to credit part of the MNLA's military advances to Ansar Dine and the groups' ability to impose order/recruit. The two groups appeared to co-exist out of self-interest rather than mutual interests, telegraphing Ansar Dine's future mobilization and its division with the MNLA. Neither could find a compromise between their ultimate goal of a Taureg state or an Islamic state. After announcing a temporary pact in late May, Ansar Dine's partnership with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) evicted the MNLA from its Gao headquarters in July.

Mimicking the shifting sands of north Africa's dunes, northern Mali's politico-military equation has since swung back in the direction of MNLA-Ansar Dine negotiations. On Friday Burkina Faso's President, Blaise Compaore, welcomed a joint-delegation sent by the two groups.

"All the international instruments have been put in place (to deal with this crisis)," Tieman Coulibaly, Mali's Minister of Foreign Affairs, told reporters earlier this month. "And we are now weighing the options - either negotiations or military intervention in order to liberate northern Mali."

Entering into negotiations with the MNLA has been easy enough for African and Western capitals. Displaced by another Tuareg group and its foreign allies, the MNLA has little to lose by cutting a deal with the international community, which was never prepared to accept an independent Azawad. The group has yet to reverse its push for autonomy, but in most other ways is prepared to assist Mali's government in the overthrow of AQIM and MUJAO. This strategy is designed to recoup lost territory and sidestep any military operation conducted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Fresh information suggest that the MNLA suffered another defeat on Friday night after trying to retake Gao.

The plan to lure Ansar Dine away from AQIM and MUJAO began as early as June, and is proceeding as one would expect of such negotiations. Throughout this period Ansar Dine and its allies have solidified their military positions and carried out strict Islamic punishments, suggesting that Ansar Dine is only toying with foreign mediators. The group has also made contact with Algerian diplomats, whose government seeks to avoid a large-scale intervention that would effect its borders. Thus Ansar Dine's actions could intend to delay a foreign intervention rather than cooperate with foreign powers.

For now spokesman Mohammad Ag Aharib claims that Ansar Dine is prepared to "get rid of terrorism, drug trafficking and foreign groups," telling the AFP that "we don’t agree with taking hostages and drug trafficking." These operations are believed to provide the bulk of AQIM and MUJAO's financing. Problematically, Ag Aharib rejects the possibility of renouncing Shariah law, saying "we insist that it be applied where we live." Ansar Dine's terms indicate that no compromise is available with foreign powers, and that each is feeling the other's capabilities before hostilities begin. How much control Ansar Dine can apply over northern Mali also remains uncertain. Considering its offer to expel  "foreigners," meaning AQIM and MUJAO, the group may retain possession over less ground than its initial conquest.

If the group isn't feigning interest with the international community, Ansar Dine must hope to regain any national influence lost to AQIM and MUJAO's international agendas.

The dual track of negotiations and military action accompanies most wars, conventional or unconventional. Speaking to Mali's interim President, Diocounda Traore, on Thursday, French President Francois Hollande told his counterpart (and by extension ECOWAS), "The acceleration of this dialogue must accompany the progress in African military-planning efforts." Negotiating is generally superior to fighting during counterinsurgency, as it addresses non-military sources of friction, and foreign powers seek to fight as limited of an enemy as possible. For months the U.S. and NATO allies have hesitated to commit themselves militarily in northern Mali, realizing that Mali's interim government and a full network of militant groups equates to an unreasonably dangerous mission.

However Western forces are itching for some form of military engagement against AQIM and MUJAO, ruling out a non-violent resolution. Washington in particular doesn't want to miss this opportunity to strike directly at AQIM, and NATO as a whole views Mali as a profitable training ground. U.S. and French Special Forces operated in the country prior to March's coup as part of the Sahel's overall militarization; a large part of Mali's new mission is built around a Western-African training program. The Trench also speculates that a new drone base may find a home somewhere in the Sahel, given the long-term nature of Mali's mission and AQIM's lifespan.

These designs play a motivating role in General Carter Ham's statements from Paris, which linked the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi to AQIM. The outgoing commander of AFRICOM cautioned that the attack was not necessarily "an AQIM-planned or organized or led activity," but the direction of his message is clear enough. Former CIA Director David Petraeus gave a similar account on Friday to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees (not without its own controversy). Problematically, a military victory in northern Mali simply returns North Africa's environment to a pre-coup state, rather than permanently eliminate AQIM's presence.

Left in the militants’ vacuum: loose insurgents of all types, unresolved national grievances with a weak government, and the residue of Western imperialism.

November 15, 2012

Yemen's National Dialogue Delayed To Mid-December

After months of seesawing rumors pulled the status of Yemen's National Dialogue in opposite directions, two anonymous officials involved in the preparatory committee have informed Xinhua that November's conference is now postponed to December at the earliest. No reschedule has been set due to the uncertainty - or certainty, depending on who you ask in Yemen - surrounding the negotiations between Yemen's national government and representatives of the Southern Movement (Hirak).

“During meetings with UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Bin Omar in the Egyptian capital of Cairo last week, the southern leaders insisted to have an official recognition of the right of the people in the south to self-determination of independence as a precondition for the dialogue,” the officials are quoted as saying.

Other unresolved issues also threaten the dialogue's launch before it gets off the ground. Most parties in Yemen agree that the country's military must be restructured into a national institution before a national dialogue can be held, as the military will guarantee those decisions made at the conference. Yet the new government, led by former Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has left an incomplete mess to clean up during or after the dialogue. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh retains influence over his loyalists in the military and his Republican Guard, still commanded by his son Ahmed, remains a chronic threat to Yemen's stability. Many Yemenis believe that the Republican Guard should be eliminated completely.

For now both father and son operate under the immunity granted the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC), an arrangement facilitated by Washington and Riyadh. Yemen's revolutionaries naturally protest Saleh's immunity for obstructing a national dialogue and the continuation of their uprising. The chatter over Ahmed's presidential ambitions isn't calming nerves either. Multiple actors, including Saleh's own General People's Congress (GPC), have also called for a national debate on the drone program run by America and approved by Hadi,

Hadi and Washington presumably want to avoid a public forum - Saleh owes his immunity to insider knowledge of U.S. covert operations.

Separately, the oppositional Islah party utilized by foreign powers to maintain influence over Yemen's politics is causing problems for other actors. Nasser Alojaiby, co-founder of the Coordinating Council of Yemeni Revolution for Change (CCYRC), recently explained to The Trench how Islah moved to add new members to the dialogue's technical committee, and subsequently attempted to postpone the dialogue. Controlled by the wealthy al-Ahmar family, Islah has piggybacked on and outmaneuvered Yemen's unaffiliated protesters throughout their revolution, and enjoys the greatest mobilization of any oppositional party involved in the dialogue.

The northern Houthi sect claims to be open to participating, but their grievances with the national government stack so high that their presence may be counterproductive to national unity. Islah is accused of interfering with the Houthis and Southern Movement's political agendas.

Pushing these factors down its list of priorities, Yemen's national government has expended the majority of its energy trying to sort out its position with the Southern Movement. The first article of Yemen's draft constitution declares, “The Republic of Yemen is an Arab, Islamic and independent sovereign state whose integrity is inviolable, and no part of which may be ceded." A long-standing issue with die-hard supporters, the southern cause blocks national and international interests from advancing their interests in Yemen: Hadi desperately needs to hang onto half of the country, and the U.S. can't afford to lose authority over al-Qaeda's southern territory.

Xinhua reports, "Government officials said President Hadi has been exerting efforts to rally support from GCC leaders to press pro-independence southern leaders for participating into the planned national dialogue unconditionally and under the umbrella of the Yemeni unity."

Accordingly, Bin Omar and other diplomats working on behalf of Hadi are pushing hard for the Southern Movement's inclusion. Last week Ali Salim al-Beidh and Haidar al-Attas, South Yemen's former vice president and prime minister, announced that they would not participate in November's summit, viewing no progress on their end. Rather than take no for an answer, Hadi requested a Kuwaiti-Omani mediation initiative before flying off to both countries for high-level meetings. This effort clearly failed to produce a breakthrough in time for November 15th, an unrealistic deadline from the start.

The majority of southern Yemenis appear to wholeheartedly favor independence, presenting a legitimate but unhelpful roadblock to the country's overall political transition. Bin Omar, who's currently discussing options with Hadi, has warned, “the transition process will succeed or we will be going back to zero." Although postponing Yemen's National Dialogue is a wise decision in the moment - failure seemed inevitable - one month still doesn't leave enough time to solve any one issue, let alone all of them.

This turn of events adds to the mounting evidence that the GCC and UNSC mainly preserved the interests of established powers, both domestic and foreign, while creating as much chaos as order.

November 14, 2012

Reading The Omen Of Israel's Air Strike On Ahmed Jabari

The joint IDF-Shin Bet air strike that killed Ahmed Jabari, Hamas's senior military commander in Gaza, appears to present one of two scenarios: the decapitation strike heralds a finale to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's campaign against Gaza's elusive rocket-launchers, or the beginning of a new war that could exceed the last.

Current developments suggest that the first option remains an outside possibility. Having bagged a trophy for his voting public, Netanyahu may attempt to stay out of a longer, more costly intervention of the Gaza Strip and protect the gains he has secured. Or someone could manage to talk some sense into him, and convince him that a large-scale operation in or above Gaza is not the means to win votes in the UN General Assembly.

However Hamas and Gaza's militant offshoots have no choice except to deliver on their promised retaliation, a cycle that Israel is equally willing to perpetuate. Multiple "truces" have immediately broken down and both sides attribute responsibility to the other. This fire is likely to heat up before cooling down. On Monday the Islamic Jihad's Khaled al-Batsh explained his group's status: "The ball is in Israel's court. The resistance factions will observe Israel's behavior on the ground and will act accordingly."

Israeli Home Defense Minister Avi Dichter announced on Tuesday, "There is no precedent in history of destroying terror by air power alone. It hasn't happened and it won't happen. Thus it is necessary to reformat Gaza altogether."

The air strike on Jabari soon followed.

In the event of a large-scale conflict in Gaza, its fourth-generation waves will reach across oceans and could seriously threaten the region's stability. More political theater than war at this point, Netanyahu is visibly positioning his right-wing coalition with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for January 22d's election. He's also sending a twisted message to the UN General Assembly, as if to prove that Israel will do whatever it wants if it feels threatened. This message has been repeatedly delivered to and discarded by a sizable portion of the international community, which views Israel's disproportionate response as counterproductive to solving Gaza's dilemma. Its latest air strikes are on their way to killing more civilians than Palestinian rockets killed in the last 3 years.

The Israeli government is already floating the idea of withdrawing completely from the Oslo Accords if Mahmoud Abbas plays his hand for "advanced status" on November 29th.

And is there any coincidence to the fact that Ahmed Jabari was assassinated on the same day that President Barack Obama issued his first post-election address, remarks that focused on diplomacy with Iran? The attack on Gaza appears to be aimed equally at Hamas, Iran and Obama, who allowed 2008's invasion to pass in silence and appears unable to stop another. Obama could opt split the difference by opposing war in Gaza and the Palestinians's UN bid; Tehran, Damascus and Cairo's responses are less predictable. None of these options promise much for the people on the ground.

Many combustible factors are reacting to each other in the region, turning Gaza into a microcosm of its surroundings. Information and disinformation has spiked, and further advances in social media will infect the conflict. Only time will shakedown the possibilities into reality.

[Update - The U.S. State Department has just released the following statement voicing unequivocal support for Israel's actions:


Gaza Rocket Attacks

We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self determination.

November 12, 2012

Brennan Rumored As Petraeus's Replacement

Last Thursday, The Trench posted one of many reports fielding the replacement candidates for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Nearly all media sources, including McClatchy, have slotted Senator John Kerry and UN Ambassador in a two horse race, with Kerry supposedly overtaking Rice during Benghazi's political fallout. The Washington Post flipped this race on Monday by reporting that Clinton's position "will almost certainly go" to Rice, citing senior administration officials "familiar with the transition planning."

Kerry is now being privately vetted to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The Trench's observations conclude that Rice and Kerry will make adequate Secretaries, providing few unexpected thrills and generally adhering to the foreign policy crafted by Obama's National Security team. In the end, Clinton and Panetta's replacements are unlikely to oversee any major upheaval or discontinuation from Obama's first term. Assigning Rice and Kerry would herald a final diplomatic push towards Iran, drop Rice off along Sudan's war-torn border and leave Kerry to clean up America's withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most international elements of U.S. policy, along with America's accelerating use of drones and Special Forces, will remain unchanged.

The most disturbing scenario - for Americans and non-Americans alike - is recently created. With the Obama administration now searching for David Petraeus's replacement, The Washington Post reports that John Brennan "is a leading contender for the CIA job if he wants it." Obama's counterterrorism chief would surely comfort those individuals and groups who benefit from America's counterterrorism industry, and Brennan's worldview allegedly matches Obama's: “I don’t think we’ve had a disagreement."

To anyone opposing the non-transparent, potentially imperialistic use of drones - and those sitting on the wrong end of them - Brennan's promotion would turn nightmares into reality.

Originally considered for Obama's first CIA Director, the "czar" in possession of Washington's "disposition matrix" is dangerous for more reasons than one. Not only does Brennan view counterterrorism operations as an end all to terrorism - his arguments claim otherwise - he believes unequivocally in the "just war" he's waging. One of several WP profiles quotes him as saying, “I’m probably not a team player here, either. I tend to do what I think is right." Ready to spin and lie in order to draw a smile on U.S. counterterrorism, the stone-faced Brennan appears genuinely eager to promote the "ethics and efficacy of the President's counterterrorism strategy." He has an answer for just about any drone-related concern:
"As the President and others have acknowledged, there have indeed been instances when—despite the extraordinary precautions we take—civilians have been accidentally injured, or worse, killed in these strikes. It is exceedingly rare, but it has happened.  When it does, it pains us and we regret it deeply, as we do any time innocents are killed in war. And when this happens we take it seriously.  We go back and review our actions. We examine our practices. And we constantly work to improve and refine our efforts so that we are doing everything in our power to prevent the loss of innocent life.  This too is a reflection of our values as Americans."
Self-reflection, however, doesn't sit high on Brennan's agenda, either in Yemen or anywhere else that Reapers are programmed for. This is a man who responded to criticism of U.S. policy in Yemen by declaring:
"I’d simply say that all our CT efforts in Yemen are conducted in concert with the Yemeni government. When direct action is taken, every effort is made to avoid any civilian casualty. And contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP. In fact, we see the opposite, our Yemeni partners are more eager to work with us. Yemenese citizens who have been freed from the hellish grip of AQAP are more eager, not less, to work with the Yemeni government. In short, targeted strikes against the most senior and most dangerous AQAP terrorists are not the problem, they are part of the solution."
Brennan, a friend of the Saudis, naturally forgets to mention that Washington and Riyadh orchestrated the power-sharing agreement behind Yemen's new government. He ignores the fact that Yemeni tribesmen banded together against AQAP (in part) as a response to U.S. drone strikes, and that the majority of Yemenis oppose Washington's interference in their government. Civilians casualties in Yemen are routinely covered up by Washington.

Brennan also omits the fact that, due to U.S. drone activity and his personal relationship with former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, his own popularity in Yemen rests in the gutter.

The international reaction to Obama's reelection - four more years of drones - hasn't seen anything yet. Promoting Brennan to the CIA's Directorship would set a murderous tone for second term.

November 11, 2012

Yemeni Government Subservient To US, Saudi Regime

Press TV reports work on a hit or miss basis. This one hits:
Yemenis have staged several anti-US protests over Washington’s interference in Yemeni affairs and its assassination drone attacks in the country over the past few months. The protesters have called on the government to cut all ties with Washington over the drone strikes.

Press TV has conducted an interview with Moufid Jaber, Middle East Center for Studies and Public Relations, from Beirut, to further discuss the issue. Jaber is joined by Hakim al-Mesmari, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post, from Sana’a. The following is a rough transcription of the interview.

Press TV: Al-Mesmari is saying that the Yemeni government wants to see an increase in these drone attacks; however, we see almost on a daily basis or at least weekly, the Yemeni people taking to the streets and condemning these drone attacks. Where does it lie? Does the Yemeni government actually represent the Yemeni people or is it basically subservient to the US?

Jaber: As we know, the Yemeni government in its present form came largely as a result of a Saudi-brokered agreement. Without the approval of the US and of Saudi Arabia, there wouldn’t be a Yemeni government. [It] is largely decided in Saudi and the US. As you know, yes, the Yemeni government is to a great extent subservient to the US and to Saudi Arabia. 

November 9, 2012

Petraeus Resigns Over Affair With Biographer, Gets Away Easy

Given the non-military circumstances, The Trench has little to say in reaction to David Petraeus's resignation from the CIA's Directorship. Jokes can be left to others - more unconventional thinking is better suited here.

That Petraeus's star will momentarily dip appears inevitable, and any political involvement in 2016's election is now remote, but his career arc has by no means collapsed. Shielded by thick political insulation, Petraeus is already riding off into Washington's sunset as an unquestioned American hero and genius of war. As a result, neutral examination of his policies while overseeing CENTCOM, NATO's alliance in Afghanistan and the CIA is being buried under greater amounts of dirt. Surely Petraeus did some personal good during his stints, but his geopolitical record contains major gaps that his bosses have an interest in concealing.

President Barack Obama's statement did not include the reason for termination: "By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end."

Iraq's Long War

Petraeus broke no new ground in the study or application of counterinsurgency, so much as provide the willingness lacking in Washington's political and military circles. Himself a political-military hybrid, Petraeus employed his so-called "anaconda" during George Bush's surge to choke all military and non-military sources of an insurgency's energy. This strategy would manifest in temporary agreements between Baghdad and Iraq's sectarian actors, namely the Sunni tribes in the west and Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia. At face value the surge did dramatically reduce Iraq's level of violence - however it did not end the war responsibly. Many factors of strife were left uncorrected by Petraeus, the Bush administration and eventually the Obama administration.

As of now U.S. policy remains trapped in Nouri al-Maliki's corner, usurped of its dominance by Tehran's influence and bleeding credibility with the Kurds. This unpopular alliance has wrecked any hope of repairing national relations with Sunni leadership, while al-Sadr is cooperating with the Sunnis and Kurds to contain al-Maliki's autocratic tendencies. al-Qaeda in Iraq revived itself amid this turmoil, killing thousands of Iraqis after U.S. troops exited in December 2011, and is now feeding off the backend of Syria's revolution.

"His inspirational leadership and his genius were directly responsible - after years of failure - for the success of the surge in Iraq," Sen. John McCain said Friday.

Implementing the surge itself differs from the war's endgame.

Afghanistan's Open, Bleeding end

Petraeus's failure to create permanent "momentum" in Afghanistan is easier to explain. Having told Obama in the final moments of his own surge's approval that he could complete the mission within its limits (as commander of CENTCOM), Petraeus soon discovered that he lacked the time and resources to do so. The 18-month time limit placed on Obama's surge, as approved by Petraeus, remains GOP fodder for anti-Obama rhetoric; a lower amount of troops than requested - between 40,000 and 60,000 - further crippled Obama's surge at its launch. Due to a lack of forces, Petraeus was forced to concentrate in the southern provinces and never implemented the second phase of Obama's surge in Afghanistan's eastern mountains. This dilemma allowed the Taliban to remain operational in both areas, and the insurgency's ranks continue to be estimated in the 20,000s.

Shortages of ground forces also contributed to an extraordinary amount of airstrikes and Special Operations raids, which became Washington's primary kinetic tools against the Taliban. Blowback from a relatively minor number of incidents (the alleged 2% that kill innocents) would severely impair Petraeus's public outreach to the Afghan people.

Meanwhile Afghanistan's political factors remain more stagnant than the battlefield's. Relations with Islamabad were never seriously repaired during Petraeus's run in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Hamid Karzai has yet to reach a genuine relationship with Washington, and both capitals' negotiations with the Taliban are treading deep waters. The result: thousands upon thousands of dead Taliban and no sight of the war's "responsible" end.

As for Paula Broadwell, Petraeus's biographer and mistress, she found herself involved in the controversial razing of several Afghan villages. Fortunately this subject appears to be gaining new life.

Yemen's Rampage

In January 2010, six months before leaving CENTCOM to command ISAF, Petraeus intensified Washington's unseemly affair with Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resulting deal to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has killed many innocent Yemenis in the process, and contributed to Washington's general subversion of Yemen's national affairs. Director Petraeus later returned to negotiate a "secret" CIA base with Saleh, a project that the Obama administration accelerated once Yemen's revolution began in January 2011. Few men are more responsible for America's militarization in Yemen, a policy that runs contrary to COIN's non-military emphasis.

U.S. officials and loyal analysts argue that Saleh offered a necessary partnership against AQAP, but the notoriously wily dictator obstructed both governments' responses in order to continue receiving U.S. and Saudi support. Petraeus and the White House chose to play along with this scam, as it benefitted the self-interests of both parties, and Petraeus was duly rewarded for his personal efforts. Following his rise atop the CIA, the Obama administration managed to swap Saleh for his more obedient vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and proceeded with their original plans. Three weeks after Petraeus entered the CIA, U.S.-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Alwaki was located by several drones and terminated in a flurry of Hellfire missiles.

His 16-year old son, Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, was bombed two weeks later at a barbecue.

America generally cheered the first assassination and drowned out those protesting a constitutional breach. The U.S. mainstream media, which eagerly broadcast al-Alwaki's death, then buried his son's assassination. The Obama administration's policy marches onward and remains as unpopular as ever in Yemen - keeping AQAP alive. Naturally U.S. and Gulf operations must continue scaling up in response.

Washington's way of doing business has a more difficult time explaining an affair than the murder of innocent children. Unlike some other commentators, The Trench believes that Petraeus will bounce back and potentially reach greater heights in the future. Individuals and groups operating in Washington always have need for his type of services.